CULTURE: BOOKS READ IN AMERICA

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"Böcker äro en källa till vederkvickelse och lärdom; en logaritmtabell är en bok; alltså är en logaritmtabell en källa till vederkvickelse och lärdom."
W.S. Jevons: Logikens grunder. Bonniers, 1925.
(Translation: Books are sources of recreation and knowledge, a logarithm table is a book, consequently a logarithm table is a source of recreation and knowledge.) 


Some of the books I read between October, 1996 and October, 1997:
 
Author/Title
Comments
Stephen Billias: 
The American Book of the Dead
Original, Zen-inspired WW3-story (purchased at Harlem City Library!). Reminds a bit of Robert Sheckley at times, but is not as purely comedy as he probably would have written it.
E.L. Doctorow: 
The Waterworks
This story is probably best if you have a bit of an idea what Manhattan is like, and if you have an interest in its past. A "serious" book with a plot featuring a mad scientist doing unethical human experiments, in a historically accurate setting from the years of civic corruption (the "Boss Tweed" government).
Michael Crichton: 
The Andromeda Strain
Congo
Jurassic Park 
Sphere
Rising Sun
I wonder if Crichton will ever again write a book as good as The Andromeda Strain. It seems that the more he gets paid, the worse his stories get. "Rising Sun" should have been called "Sherlock Holmes vs. The Yellow Peril". 
Sigmund Freud: 
Three Case Histories
The Sexual Enlightenment of Children
What can we say about Freud - a man with deep insights, certainly, but in attempting to explain absolutely every phrase and action as a message from the subconcious, he often became rather cabalistic.
Paul Theroux:
My secret history
Rather interesting, semi-autobiographical novel mostly about sexual encounters in different countries. Well written, with very skillfully drawn characters.
The 8th Annual Best SF:74. Editors Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss. Some stories are better, others worse.
Albert Speer: Erinnerungen (English translation: Inside the Third Reich) I warmly recommend this autobiography to anyone who wants to get an idea of how Nazi Germany was run. Good and interesting reading.
John Maddox Roberts: 
Conan the Bold
If you want a Conan story, you get one here. Barbaric as usual.
John Irving: 
The World According to Garp
The Hotel New Hampshire
The 158-pound Marriage
Funny, intelligent, and all rather much the same. Highly recommended.
Arthur Miller: Focus Sometimes hard-to-believe story of professional (!) American antisemite with poor eyesight and a Jewish physiognomy. The story still avoids the threatening pitfalls and ends on a more complex note than could be expected.
Olof Möller: 
Åter till Jorden
Nostalgic re-reading of a story by Sweden's worst science-fiction writer. Book left behind by visitor.
Voltaire: 
Candide 
(and shorter stories)
Certainly very radical and intelligent, 250 years ago. Still moderately interesting, but with an often predictable plot. Also, Voltaire often belabours the point.
William Gibson: 
Idoru
Very good, intelligent, original story. Never mind that the ending is a bit strained; the journey there is worth it. Gibson managed not to plagiarise himself, this time.
Tommy Schinkler: 
Ricky och John - Storslam i Sibirien
Now, this is a hack writer. Book left behind by visitor.
Mircea Eliade: The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. The third book by Eliade that I've read. I think I dare recommend all his books. About the phenomenon of religion, for those of you who don't know already.
Anne Rice: 
Memnoch the Devil
A horrible embarrasment. Just a vehicle for puerile and obvious criticism of the absurdities in Christian religion. Little literary value, only lots of open doors smashed in. 
Anne Rice: Lasher Also quite bad. Don't bother to read it.
A. C. Crombie:
Medieval and Early Modern Science, Volume 1
As the Swedish saying goes, "alla är vi barn i början". Read this to learn about how the world was once explained in terms of elements, humours, virtues and spheres.
Örjan Gerhardsson
(a.k.a. Peter Glas?): Zebradrömmen
Joker
I honestly admire this guy: instead of accepting defeat when nobody would consider publishing his writings, he bought a printing press and learned by trial and error to print his own books. He has since become a successful publisher, but still is a mediocre author who occasionally comes upon a memorable phrase. The books are mosaics of the author's statements of faith in himself and some lectures on how life should be lived, some possibly real and some clearly fictional adventures he has been through, how to print books, and his attempts to patch together a crashed relationship.
Krister Gerhardsson:
(a.k.a. Dekius Lack?) Källarkungen
(Brother of the above?) Much about the same subjects but the book is, honestly speaking, pretty bad, and unlike the previous author he doesn't really seem to have much to say.
Huysmans: À Rebours (Against Nature)  An account of the excesses of a sickly, decadent nobleman, with chapters that are almost like separate essays on various aspects of esthetics. Not as scandalous as rumour would have it, the book has other qualities that makes it well worth reading. It depends on the reader's temperament whether he'll regard the central character as a role model or as a warning to others.
W. Somerset Maugham: The Razor's Edge This must be an exceptionally well-written story, since I loved it and was quite thrilled despite the slow-moving plot, commonplace events and (part of the time) ridiculous upper-class setting. The only weakness I could spot was that the subplot involving a character's spiritual enlightening through the study of Brahmanism hasn't aged as well as the rest of the story, probably because gurus, meditation and Hindu cults have since then become just one sordid line of business among others.
Hal Clement: 
Ocean On Top
Long-winded, very detailed but still not believable story of a secret colony on the sea bottom. Almost no plot, very sketchy characters. All setting with nothing taking place in it.
Liv Ullman: 
Forandringen 
(Eng. transl.: Changing)
Autobiography of a Scandinavian living between two cultures, often working in America, but feeling at home in Norway and Sweden. Offers interesting insights in American manners, differences between Swedish and American filmmaking, and what it is like to be living with a highly excentric genius. Beautiful and poetic style.
Mikael Hallström: 
Narrens vingar
Rather amateuristic but still pretty good surrealistic, violent and indecent story about the world seen through the eyes of a madman.
James Dickey: Selected poems 1957?1979 (Sw. transl.: Jakten på Buckheadpojkarna) A well-needed reminder that American culture is not only action movies.
Frank Moorhouse: 
The Electrical Experience
(Sw. transl.: Den elektriska erfarenheten)
Interesting, mosaic picture of an Americanised Australian who firmly believes in Capitalism, Rotary, Readers Digest and Scout Ideals, and turns out a repulsive emotional cripple, more to be pitied than hated.
Vladimir Nabokov: 
Speak, Memory 
(Sw. transl.: Låt höra av dig, minne)
More about the lives of Nabokov's innumerable nannies, private teachers, ancestors and relatives than about his own life and work. Ends before Nabokov's writing career begins. Puzzling, but probably written more from a need to get his childhood memories straight than from a wish to entertain the reader.
J. Salinger: Nine Stories (Sw. transl.: Till Esmé - kärleksfullt och solkigt) The stories are well-wrought although often peculiarly anticlimactic. The translation, by Birgitta Hammar, is a disaster.
Martin Enkell: 
Hibakusha Go Go 
Poor experimental-provocative item of 96 pages written in polyglot language. Surprising that such an immature work found a publisher.
Naguib Mahfouz: 
Tharthara fawq al-Nil 
(Sw. transl.: Sorl över Nilen)
In the supposedly progressive Egypt of the Sixties, a group of middle-class bums and idlers anaesthesise their sense of guilt over their lack of ideals - or their lack of faith in either Allah or social reform - with whisky, hashish and opium. Constructed somewhat like a modern stage play with many possible interpretations and hidden meanings.
Eno Raud: 
Naksitrallid I?II
Delightful Estonian fairytale. The first book I've read in the Estonian language!
Fritz Leiber
Gather, Darkness!
Weak performance by an often great writer.
Dean Koontz:
Ticktock
Very odd, highly unconventional horror/monster story. Victim of Vietnamese magic is aided by alien abductee. The author labels it as a "screwball comedy".
Laura Fermi: 
Atoms in the Family. My life with Enrico Fermi
Biography of Enrico Fermi, written by his wife. Very readable.
Joseph Conrad: 
Victory
Rather awful melodrama set in the East Indies. The noble Baron is Swedish, while the villain is German. The latter's thoroughly rotten character is time and again explained in terms of his "Teutonic" temperament.
Njals saga Needs no presentation, I hope.
Brian Lumley: 
Necroscope
First in a "trilogy" consisting of five titles, if we shall believe the cover (does the publisher know what a trilogy is, one wonders). Starts out very well as a battle between evil Communist and noble British government psychics, and with the recent disclosures of the US military ESP programme in mind, it again seems that fact indeed imitates fiction. However, at the end of the first part, the villain had advanced from a talented necromancer to a powerful vampire, with the Evil Eye to boot, while the hero has become a literary and mathematical genious, expert in martial arts and close combat, mastered teleportation and time travel, commands the legions of the dead, and is immediately reincarnated if physically destroyed. A bit of overkill, there... considering that it is only the first volume of five.
Lucius Shepard: 
The Golden
Original, esthetical, tastefully pornographical vampire/detective story in an eerie, surrealistic setting. A rare gem in the sadly over-exploited vampire genre. Highly recommended to vampire enthusiasts.
Lisa Tuttle (Ed.):
Skin of the Soul
Advertised as "Irresistible New Tales of Terror by Women". Subject matters include pregnancies, wife beaters, menstruations, rats, weird phonecallers, cockroaches, tit grabbers, dirty uncles and other horrors especially menacing to women. Probably best appreciated by women, too.
Clive Barker:
The Inhuman Condition
Rather dull, often unoriginal horror stories. Even includes an appearance by the infamous Creeping Severed Hand, which I hoped I had heard the last of. The last thing the horror field needs is yet another Five-Fingered Monster.
William Gibson and Bruce Sterling:
The Difference Engine
Alternate history novel, set in a Britain where the Industrial Revolution was accompanied by a political revolution, placing scientists, engineers and industrialists in a House of Lords of sorts. The plot itself is rather boring, but the society and technology described are interesting.
Isaac Asimov:
Gold
The estate of the good doctor scrapes the barrel... Old editorials, a few remaining unanthologised short stories ranging from those best forgotten to half-decent ones, several essays, nothing really essential. Completists only.
Richard P. Feynman:
"What Do You Care What Other People Think?" Further adventures of a curious character
Not as delightful as "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman", but still quite good. The multi-talented theoretical physicist tells more anecdotes from his life. No pretense at modesty; being quite aware of his brilliant mind himself, he makes sure everybody else gets the point, too.
Djuna Barnes:
Nightwood
An exercise in extraordinarily convoluted prose, obscure and circumlocutory. No doubt remarkable as a work of art, it is hard reading, and although it often effectively communicates a certain atmosphere, I frequently failed to follow the development of the plot or, in the dialog, to even understand what the characters were trying to say.
Douglas Adams:
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
In both of these very amusing books, the actually quite weak story is more than compensated for with liberal amounts of absurdity and wit. Somewhat reminiscent of Oscar Wilde's more whimsical plays.
Margaret Cheney:
Tesla: Man out of Time
This biography of the talented but highly excentric inventor Nikola Tesla makes every effort to present him as originator of almost all modern inventions, while smoothing over his tendency to substitute scientific method with wishful thinking. Not only does the book lack all scientific content - no attempt is made to describe, in physical terms, the working principle of the many practical inventions and fanciful contraptions Tesla actually made or just boasted about being able to build - but at times it is deliberately misleading, confusing the issue and obscuring the fact that many of Teslas pet projects were fundamentally flawed and could never have been made to work, no matter what resources he had been given.
Larry Niven:
Tales of Known Space
Good honest solid-fuel science fiction. Quote: "He had a valuable cargo, twenty kilos of pure magnetic north poles".
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.:
The Sirens of Titan
After this re-reading, ten years after I read it the first time, and after reading numerous other books by the same author, I'm still not sure I like Vonnegut's nihilistic, misantropic style at all. But then, to demand that all books be optimistic and edifying is not an attitude I'm comfortable with, either.
Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle:
The Gripping hand
A sequel published 18 years after the outstanding novel "The Mote in God's Eye". Unfortunately, a disappointment. Few new ideas, mostly a series of space battles and tactical manouvers that are difficult to follow despite the maps on the inside of the cover. Little intellectual content.
Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle:
Footfall
Another Aliens-Invade-Earth story. Not too bad; as in "The Mote in God's Eye" the authors create an interesting, not really evil, alien species and present the conflict also as it appears to them, filtered through their preconceptions and considering their situation. Interesting and exciting weapons technology, although a battleship constructed in a Human crash project appears rather unlikely to achieve the performance described.
Ed McBain:
Vespers
Tricks
American police novels are not a particularly advanced form of literature, but considering the thematic limitations of the genre, Ed McBain's stories are pretty well crafted.

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