I very, very rarely read non-fiction, but I have read two back-to-back just now. One was for my class – Food Inc. by Peter Pringle about genetically modified organisms, and the other was because I heard the author on BookTV while lazing away in a hotel in Yuma, and was so captivated by him and his book that I immediately purchased it – The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined in the World, by Steven Pinker.
Oddly enough, they both intersect at the same point: information wants to flow free. In Food Inc, it was clear that gene-flow, the basic unit of information in life, moves as much as it can, whether we want it to or not; In Angels, shared communication and literature and reasoning bring us out of instinctive and cultural violence. I am in love with Angels. I want to give it to everyone I know.
The Better Angels of our Nature is a 700-page tome that I read in a week in a half. The author flits from history to religion to neurobiology to current events to cognitive psychology to pulp culture to sociology and anthropology, weaving a rug you want to fly on. The view you get flying through this book is breath-taking. It will probably be the best book I will read this year. And am I reading more of his stuff?
I was going to read Black Mountain, Red Moon by Joy Chant, and the dedication seemed auspicious – to a professor in Welsh Aberystwth of all places. But it was a children’s book, and not a good one either. I think I am going to bypass children’s books now, except for the Classics, from now on. (And maybe not even then.)
Kushiel’s Dart was long, too. It was the author’s first book, 800 pages long, and readable with enjoyably articulated sentences and entertaining imagery in the medieval genre, even though the protagonist, Phaedre, seemed to have no flaws and didn’t seem to learn or grow through her amazing journey (-- as long as you don’t consider as being under the “no flaws clause” that she is a masochistic prostitute). It was a bit surprising that a book touted as erotica had so many scenes ending with “and everyone knows what happened next.” The last third of the book wasn’t really that interesting, the ending was wrapped up a little too twee for me, and of course, there was the obligatory hint of the expected sequel. But give the woman a break: it was a first book!
Lessons: this book was the kind of fantasy genre I usually shy away from – boilerplate magical kingdoms with impossibly beautiful people vying for power – but something made this book lovely to read. I’m not sure what that was, but I think it was the movement of the story, the ups and downs each chapter took. It gave a ride.
More on Pinker's Angels and More on Carey's Masochists!