Monday, August 17, 2009

What I'm Reading

While I was in Bellingham over the weekend, Elvis and I stopped in Village Books and I picked up a couple of things.

I’ve been meaning to get this for a while: Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip--Confessions of a Cynical Waiter, by Steve Dublanica. My father’s in the hospitality business, and I’ve waited tables and tended bar myself – the only kind of jobs I’ve ever had that didn’t require someone taking off their clothes. (Although now that I think about it, some of the uniforms I had to wear were rather… abbreviated.) So I’m sure I’ll enjoy that.

I also got this: Diamond: The History of a Cold-Blooded Love Affair, by Matthew Hart. I am a complete sucker for “The History Of…” books. I bet I have twenty or more books with titles that contain that phrase. It hardly even matters what it is. I read a whole book about the history of cod, for heaven’s sake. Yeah, the fish. I’m serious. Even while I read it, I kept thinking to myself, I cannot believe I am reading a book about codfish. It was actually sort of interesting, in a more-than-I-ever-needed-to-know type of way.

But diamonds are much more interesting to me than fish. Much. Although I can't logically explain why. They're sparkly rocks. That's nice, but why do I care? From a strictly biological point of view, something I can eat (like a fish) should be more compelling to me than sparkly rocks.

And yet, if someone gave me a dead fish in a velvet box, it would not really make my sparkly-loving heart go pit-a-pat. When it comes to diamonds, however, I am pure Lorelei Lee. Perhaps this books will give me a better understanding of why. The reviews make mention of another, related book called The Last Empire: De Beers, Diamonds, and the World, which I think I’ll order.

While we’re on the subject of history, I am also pleased to note that Diana Gabaldon’s new book is coming out soon. Okay, sure, it’s fiction, but they are impressively researched. Ms. Gabaldon is right up there with Michael Crichton in that department.

Besides, I just like the series overall. I usually dislike time-travel stories, but this author handles it exactly right, in my mind: she doesn’t dwell too lengthily on the mechanics of it. I don’t want to get bogged down in stuff like that. It’s magic, okay? Just tell me that, Author-person. Tell me in a way that’s understandable and that fits with the story overall, and then get on with the action.

That’s one of the reasons I don’t read for a lot of science fiction – I do not care how, exactly, the rocket ship flies, or how people teleport through space, or how they shoot laser beams out of their eyes, or whatever. Do not stop the action and teach me a damn physics class – and then explain for page after page about how these characters are able to do something that technically, they should not be able to do. I don’t understand most of it, and I don't care. To me, it’s magic. Get on with it.

Also? Don’t make me learn a whole alien language to understand your dialogue. It should be done like writing a character who speaks with an accent – give me a phrase or two, an occasional word here and there, but do not make me consult a alien/otherworldly glossary every third sentence. Publish an armchair-companion if you want to maunder on about space engineering and the linguistics of Zoran-4. But don’t bog down the story with it. (Unless of course you’re Douglas Adams. But unfortunately, you probably aren’t.)

EDIT: a Doubting Thomas just sent me an email. “Twenty? Name them.” Okay, from where I’m sitting, I can see: Salt, tea, oysters, coffee, chocolate, caviar, the telegraph, tobacco, cocaine, absinthe, electricity, sexuality (numerous ones) sex work, (again, numerous different ones) smallpox, hotels, vampires, stage magicians, surgery, oil painting, photography, and marriage.

Those are not, by any means, all the books about history I have. Not by a long shot. But those are the ones I can see from my desk, that have the word “history” somewhere in the title, and that focus on a specific object or concept, rather than a time period or a geographic region. I do not possess a cod, and I don't have that many diamonds either, but I have a truly ridiculous number of books.

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