My 1,300 Page Weekend

I always feel bad when I don’t update regularly, like I am letting down the four people that read this blog. Today, I have my reviews of a couple of books that I have read this past weekend and half-week. As the good people at This American Life would say, a book report in three acts:
I am incredibly privileged to attend Reed College. As a prospective student looking at different schools, I tended to pay way too much attention to features of the school that just don’t apply to me. For example, I still brag about Reed’s science programs, even though I really don’t want to complete the science requirement and resent the department for siphoning off music funds.
One feature of the school that I am glad now applies to me is the MILL, or comic book library and reading room (yeah, we know). It is an amazing room filled with extensive collections of golden-age franchises and a surprising depth of non-Japanese modern comics. I spent five hours of my Sunday reading the first volume of the complete collection of The Sandman. I don’t really want to go too much into it here, because I plan on giving a full review once I finish the omnibus. However, it does fit into the unintended theme of the post: religious speculative fiction.
Every once in a while, I fall in love with the story of the creation of a work more than the merits of the work itself. That is why I was so happy that Ken Follett’s novel The Pillars of the Earth was so entertaining and well written. I really love the idea of a pulp spy novel writer publishing a 600+ page historical novel set in 12th Century England and having it take off. I understand those who might not consider it highbrow literature; it is extremely plot heavy and the occasional winks to the modern reader in conversations among the characters, but I found it thoroughly enjoyable and well worth my time. Follett does an incredible job of dramatizing the scale and glory of cathedrals. I found myself doubting the idea that a cathedral would be completed within the lifetime of any person, but that only underscores the sheer ambition of those that were constructed over centuries.
It also made me a little sad that we really have evolved as a global society beyond such works on that scale. Can you imagine a building project that employs hundreds of workers for centuries being started now? The Notre Dame in Paris took 300 years to complete. The new cathedral in Los Angeles was built in 8.

Anathem by Neal Stephenson is probably the largest-scale work I have ever read. The size of it is intimidating; the final page count is 890. Stephenson not only creates his own universe within the pages of the books, but four parallel universes that touch it. Every page feels like it is the synthesis of hundreds of pages of philosophical and mathematic research read while the book was being written.
Stephenson is a little bit like the Eddie Izzard of the science fiction genre. Like Izzard, he uses the tropes and conventions of his form, but he makes it such an intellectual exercise that it feels like nothing you’ve ever read before, even if its about, you know, aliens. Many times I found myself unable to distinguish between real philosophical ideas and the fiction part of science fiction.
Like everything else, I am a little bit late to the party on this one, but if you feel like you can keep up with the ideas in the book, and you have the time to read an almost 900 page novel, I reccomend it.

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