Getting off of social media to work on fiction always also helps me find more reading time. If you missed it, one of my favorite novels of the spring was McKenzie’s The Portable Veblen, which I reviewed for the LA Times. Favorite long read recently was Robert McFarlane’s “Generation Anthropocene“. Here are some recent reads of note.
Lost Landscapes by the LOLA Landscape Architects – A linked series of stunning essays by Dutch architects, Lost Landscapes also features some great landscape architecture images to illustrate various points. Something about the narrowed focus on one country and a few projects allows the writers great clarity not just in setting out basic ideas about their profession but also thoughts on ecology, leisure, and the interstitial spaces between cities and countryside. I especially appreciated how much thought went into the layout and design–it’s seamless.
The Hare by Cesar Aira – I finally got around to this cagey, sneaky account of a nineteenth-century Argentine expedition to find a mythical rabbit. Aira does a great job of evoking the era and of raising issues related to culture and nature, and the cultural nature of evil. The characterization is accomplished in nimble thumbnails, slipping into and out of points-of-view.
Bleak Houses: Disappointment and Failure in Architecture by Timothy Brittain-Catlin – Apparently nothing is more entertaining that reading about people who didn’t quite make it, or who failed disastrously, or were overshadowed by famous fathers. In talking about Gothic, Edwardian, and other styles of architecture, Brittain-Catlin makes a compelling case for not discarding architectural failures and for re-examining the idea of “failure” in architecture altogether. In part this case is made by pointing out how architectural ideologies tend to exert force and pressure outside of the context of the actual creations that come about because of them. That, and how personalities and lucky circumstances can lift up one architecture over another. Like any field, really, except it’s rather astounding how many failures still exist in our local landscapes–the name may be writ in water, but the results were writ in brick, wood, and stone.
Dispute Plan to Prevent Future Luxury Constitution by Benjamin H. Bratton – Perhaps it’s because Bratton is a kind of architect-philosopher or because his mosaic of stories stitched together into a novel don’t have to follow any kind of commercial fiction template…but whatever the reason, Bratton’s Dispute Plan from 2015 strikes me as fresher and more relevant than a lot of more linear novel-like science fiction. The ideas are layered thick but never in an unclear way, and by bringing in issues like claims to the South China Sea the book feels relevant and contemporary. Yet there’s also Ballardian compression and expansion of time and space in Dispute Plan and a fascinating overall narrative structure.
To Save Everything, Click Here by Evgeny Morozov – A great antidote to the simplistic technophile/luddite duality that seems to haunt every discussion about “the Internet.” In criticizing giants like Google and Facebook (while also pointing out their benefits), Morozov rightly points out the uselessness of referring to “the Internet” when we actually mean individual power players who have made conscious (and often for-profit) decisions about how we use social media and other aspects of the internet. He also makes a compelling case for why some of the efficiencies so desired by Silicon Valley re politics and other “meat world” situations are actually counter-productive to the workings of a democracy. Every once in a while, Morozov’s a bit repetitive or the argument gets thin, but in general this is a great book to get people to think about what they’re doing on “the Internet.”
Hot Milk by Deborah Levy – I love Levy’s fiction and have since having my mind blown away by Beautiful Mutants long ago. Levy isn’t formally experimental, and yet there are experimental and transgressive impulses very near the surface in her work. She’s also an exceptional stylist, with a slightly different approach in each novel. In Hot Milk, about a daughter who takes her mother to a health retreat to solve a problem with her legs, that takes the form of a narrator tic that works really well: some key word in one paragraph then used in the next to go off on a riff into other topics entirely. Which, unexpectedly, has a lot more cohesion and relevance than one would’ve thought. It’s also another dangerous novel, with ominous bristlings, and wonderful dialogue.
The Biology and Ecology of Giant Kelp Forests by David R. Schiel & Michael S. Foster – I like to pick up books about particular ecosystems, even if it’s likely the book in question may include information beyond a layperson’s interest. This tome on giant kelp forests contains enough for the non-scientist in terms of the history and intricacies of these fascinating ecosystems but also enough scientific data to satisfy biologists (I think). Am I the only one who thrills to discussions of “beach wrack” and “animal assemblages”? Seriously–this is an exciting exploration, as are most books about incredibly productive and intricate places. It’s also more optimistic than some books on particular ecosystems, because giant kelp forests are hanging in there and doing fairly well considering the worldwide ecological problems we face.