Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

The cover of 'The Road', which is written in red distressed letters along with Cormac McCarthy's name in dark grey letters, all of which sits on a black backdrop. With my new job came a 5-day-a-week train commute. I love it. As a result, the number of books I’ve read this past month has spiked dramatically. After reading a brief synopsis of the plot, I picked up Cormac McCarthy’s The Road over lunch. By the next evening, I’d finished it.

The plot, to frame it in a manner as spare as McCarthy’s style, follows the journey of a father and son traveling by foot across a portion of the U.S. in a world roughly a decade (give or take) after an apocalyptic occurrence, which has left both the earth and humanity barren and blackened.

McCarthy’s style is, apparently, quite spare as a matter of course, so I’m not sure if The Road is in line with his other books or even more stripped down than usual. Either way, the tale is delivered with a simplicity and clarity that I’ve hungered for in so many other situations, but hadn’t received. McCarthy’s style is a kind of poetic prose. It has all of the weight and careful crafting of poetry but its payload is delivered with the unassuming clarity and directness of prose. The typesetting is deceptive and adds pages to what is a fairly brief novel, but I found it to be the perfect length. At its opening, we join the man and boy in the midst of their journey, as though we’ve encountered them in the fog along one of the long-deserted highways. In the end, we leave just as quietly, knowing that our time with them was simply a crucial scene, rather than the full story.

From beginning to end, I was pulled into the relationship of the man and boy (who are also father and son) and deeply touched by the questions and emotions it brought to the surface. There were moments in the telling of the tale that cut straight through to my core in the best possible ways. The post-apocalyptic setting is a still but savage canvas upon which McCarthy makes stark strokes, evoking an emotional depth and enfolding sense of place. The immersive completeness of it was surprising, given how little context and few details are given. The effortless simplicity of it all belies the great skill clearly at work in its construction.

I wholeheartedly recommend The Road to everyone. It’s not an easy read, emotionally speaking, but its rewards are proportionally great.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

The full wraparound illustration of the seventh Harry Potter book. Harry Potter and Voldemort, with their hands extended towards an orange sky, surrounded by archways and wreckage.

It’s done. And it’s great.

Spoilers warning: while I do not give any true spoilers or plot specifics, I describe the book in a general way. And for some, even that’s too much.

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Shamed But Seeking Redemption

Saturday, April 28th, 2007

I’ve been shamed by Greg Storey. Oh, I don’t know Greg personally. And he doesn’t know me. But last month, I was reading a post of his and was confronted by my own delinquency. I had known what I should do, and I had even known when. Heck, I had even tried to do it, but I lost sight of my goals and let things slide. It took a stranger’s account of that glorious moment, that laying bare of the state of things, to remind me that I forgot to order my copy of FontBook.

I’m happy to say that I once was lost, but now I’m found.

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World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Friday, October 13th, 2006

The cover to World War Z, which has a weathered but contemporary look.

Wow. Where do I start? Max Brooks’ World War Z is freakin’ great. I enjoyed literally every page of this book. As I read, I dreaded reaching the end, not in fear of a particular outcome, but because it meant no more delicious zombie war goodness. What sets WWZ apart from most books I’ve read is the unadulterated pleasure I experienced while reading it. The telling is so varied, so deep, and so thorough in its concept (battling an all-out global zombie infestation), that I was compelled by every paragraph, and gripped by every testimonial. I believe Brooks has shown that his Zombie Survival Guide was more than just a toss-off coffee table book riding on the coattails of the Worst-Case Scenarios Survival Handbook, or the work of some Wikipedia-esque obsessive-compulsive, it was the genesis of WWZ.

Mild Spoilers alert: I reveal elements of the book in this post, but I try not to give away any of the specific plot points that aren’t obvious from the title alone. Anyway, the delivery of the novel is less about plot points and more about individual tales, so it’s easy to discuss elements of the over-arching plot without ruining the experience.

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Borders Is Totally Lying, Night Watch Is Here!

Friday, July 21st, 2006

The trade paperback cover of 'Night Watch'.Contrary to what Borders is saying via Amazon and on their in-store inventory system (surprisingly), the English translation of the Russian novel Night Watch (the first in the trilogy of novels that sparked the films) shipped ahead of the July 27th release date and is on their shelves. Both my sister in law and I have copies obtained at two different Borders.

You have your reconnaissance, now go! GO!

His Dark Materials, Book 1: The Golden Compass

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

The Knopf trade paperback edition cover for The Golden Compass.

I just finished Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy, as recommended by Rebecca and Alisa, and I loved it. It’s a solid fantasy story that provides the character depth and internal workings of Ender’s Game, with a distinct and engaging world full of creatures, political intrigue, magic, science, and adventure. Even though this book is often shelved in the young adult or children’s sections, it sits in the general fiction section with equal aplomb. I recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone looking for a good read. Plus, each book has been reissued in a Knopf trade paperback edition, each with a gorgeous cover design featuring the work of Ericka Meltzer O’Rourke and lettering by Lilly Lee. With their comfortable size and inviting typesetting, there’s no reason not to pick these up.

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Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon

Monday, October 3rd, 2005

the Cryptonomicon logo I finally finished Cryptonomicon a few weeks ago and I really, really enjoyed it. However, it’s probably not for everyone, even though it’s one of Those Books You Have to Read for certain groups.

Stephenson, in this novel at least, has a very particular style, which contributes to the book’s brick-like proportions (as I wrote about previously). I found it fascinating and at times hilarious, some may find it tedious or pointless. There are about three or four main narrative threads in Cryptonomicon, but they occupy two chronological streams: the nascent days of the web as a consumer/public tool and both theatres of World War II. There are obvious connections that Stephenson gives us early on: two characters are related (grandson and grandfather), data encryption’s roots in cryptography, and mathematics. However, these connections seem more coincidental and conceptual that narrative or structural. Stephenson spins these amazing but fairly straightforward plots into over 1,000 pages in two ways: by narrating the scenes from the mental perspective of the character, who often has only a small idea of what’s happening to them, and by delving into very thorough explanatory tangents. You’ll either revel in this or be driven crazy by it. I reveled in it.

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Friday, July 29th, 2005

Dumbledore and Harry from the cover illustration.

Done. Man, that was fun.

Better than The Order of the Phoenix but just as lengthy. It’s darker, but it fits perfectly with the overall development of the plot and characters. And thank god Harry got over being an idiot, for the most part. I wanted to smack the little jerk in the last book. Another plus is that, for the most part, she avoided the long explaining-past-plot-points-again thing, which avoided a lot of the dragging points in the previous book.

One this book’s greatest strengths is how Rowling capitalizes on the tensions she’s been building since the beginning, which allowed her to follow the general formula of the series without driving you crazy. Even with all of the talk about the major plot points before I got my hands on the book, very few moments felt expected or obvious.

Well, it was totally obvious that Luke Skywalker is the Half-Blood Prince. But you didn’t need me to tell you that.

Cryptonomicon. And on. And on.

Tuesday, June 21st, 2005

I’ve just started reading Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, which I picked up during my trip to Mexico after exhausting my other reading options with 6 hours of travel time still ahead of me. My selection was limited and my list of Books I Want to Read was not yielding anything useful. Cryptonomicon, on the other hand, has always been one of those Books You Should Read. Well, at least for me, having just enough interest in computers, mathematics, WWII, sci-fi, snarky world views, espionage, and other nerdy and semi-nerdy subjects. Besides the magnitude of the You Need to Read This-ness of this novel, the physical magnitude has always kept me away from it. The paperback edition is a bit shorter than, but otherwise nearly identical to, your average, run-of-the-mill, red brick. Oof.

I’m 91 pages into it at the moment, and if Stephenson can keep this up for the remaining 80-squinjillion, this book may make it to my top ten. It’s a book that’s essentially about its own audience and, as such, hits the target relentlessly. The effort required to navigate his prose is not inconsequential, but the reward far outweighs it.

I probably shouldn’t judge a book by roughly 8% of its total content, but considering that this amount of writing is around 35% of most novels, I don’t feel out of line displaying this much optimism.

The “Typographers’ Bible”

Tuesday, March 8th, 2005

Elements of Typographic Style cover title

Anyone interested in becoming a graphic designer and dealing with typography should buy a copy of Robert Bringhurst’s Elements of Typographic Style when they become a student. They should read it once through after or in the midst of a basic typography course, and leave it by their desk for easy reference. Then, after a year or two, they should pick it back up and read it again (Who knows? Maybe there’ll be a new edition by then. There are already three) and put it back by their desk. Then, when they’re ready again, most likely after they’ve left school and worked for a while, they should read it again. If they’re lucky, they’ll readily understand 60% of it and benefit immensely from the additional 20–30% they’ve picked up since the last time.

But, like most canonical works, Elements mirrors the art it elucidates: a pool that warmly invites the reader to wade and provides depth and enjoyment for those who know how far out they can push themselves, but will appear murky and cold to newcomers unfamiliar with the waters. I’ve recommended this book to roughly 60 design grad students and probably an equivalent number of undergrads and designers. I’ve given it as a gift, and even recommended it to a few non-designers. This method probably left a few stranded swimmers, but until I teach again, with a class of my own, I probably won’t stop.

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