Sunday, July 2, 2006

recent reading: summer

Sorry things have been so quiet over here in blogland lately. I've been writing a lot elsewhere, mostly in the form of steady progess on the Novel of Adequacy (currently titled Meanwhile, although that might change). I just wrapped up Chapter Nine, and the chart has been complicating pleasingly. I'm working on a few other visualizations of the book's network; expect them to appear here if I ever finish them.

In other news, still broke, which means I've been continuing to churn through summer reading. Who wants capsule reviews?

Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World by Jack Goldsmith & Tim Wu
This book lucidly debunks the notion that the Internet inherently possesses territorial independence or extra-legality, mostly by clearly laying out various ways that governments can (and do) enact enforceable restrictions upon Internet content and behavior. Recommended.

Video Green: Los Angeles Art and the Triumph of Nothingness by Chris Kraus
A curious book, collecting essays which straddle the line between art review and memoir of alienation (book club question: is Kraus' BDSM practice a cure or a symptom?). The institutional critique is sharp, the observations on LA are witty / bleak, and the overall grimness is leavened by Kraus' obvious yearning for meaningful human interconnection (and art that can express it). Bracing, enticing.

Demonology by Rick Moody
A frustratingly uneven collection, containing one story which I'd consider to be a modern classic ('Demonology') and one story so torturously overwritten as to be unreadable ('Pan's Fair Throng'). Sometimes I found myself suppressing the feeling that these stories exist primarily as an excuse to showboat, that they're really more about Moody as a stylist than they are about the people they are ostensibly about. In this way the book ends up reminding me of the Coen Brothers movies: inventive, flashy, often entertaining, but with little sense of human urgency.

Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter, by Steven Johnson
Breezy book making what essentially amounts to a three-point argument: that video games engage mental skills such as problem-solving and pattern recognition, that a lot of contemporary TV indulges in fairly complex narrative strategies, and that online discourse rewards writing skills and in-depth thinking. I'm pretty sympathetic to these arguments, so the book's conclusions felt a bit foregone to me, although certain examples felt freshly cogent (the diagrams of character networks in a show like 24, for instance).

On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt
This slim volume attempts to develop a theory which will position bullshit in the framework of moral philosophy, and along the way answers questions like: how does bullshit differ from the lie? A blast to read, although I disagree with almost every major conclusion Frankfurt makes (with the anti-postmodernism argument that closes the book being particularly unwelcome).

I might write up a more thorough critique of the Frankfurt at some point, we'll have to see. And, despite the fact that I finished the Moody book only under some (self-imposed) duress, my interest in literary fiction does seem to have re-awakened after the slumber of the last few years. Consequently, I'm looking for recommendations: use the comments link down there if you want to plug anything.