Recent reading: Pnin, Ancillary Mercy, The Other Wind, The Right and the Power

I use this blog partly to recall books and papers I have read, but lately I have not been taking the time, so now I have to play catch-up.  Here are three books I finished in last few weeks.

Pnin, by Vladimir Nabokov. I told my book group this was “awesome.” Many of them were ho-hum about it, enjoying the humor, definitely enjoying the writing, but wondering what was the point really? To me it was like a having a tour guide tell the rest of the group to take a break, and she was going to show me, just me, through the museum of literary fiction, step by step. I found as I went deeper into the novel, and started reading sections, paragraphs, alone, I was just just amazed by what Nabokov was doing. Especially once I got to the ending, where the whole thing loops around to Cremona, it was like the guide saying, “now you have to start all over, and notice what you missed, and try to see why you missed it and what it is doing.”

Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie. I bought this, thinking it was the second in the trilogy, but after 50 pages I realized it was the third. Then of course I felt like I had saved time, and so could enjoy it more, if you know what I mean. Leckie I think is one of the few sci-fi writers who can pull off a novel primarily about emotions: very good stuff the relationships between Breq, crewmembers, others. The action such as it was and concepts (basically just AI) play second-fiddle to the evolving emotional understandings. One thing that makes no sense as I think about the trilogy (caveat only having read two) is that somehow all the AI ethics conferences and social scientists and humanists who think about these things… well, their work had been forgotten? Humans learned to bend space but the ethics of AI was still at Asimov level? I think Culture series does much better with that.

The Other Wind, by Ursula Le Guin. Her Earthsea series very good, very light reading. This one a little darker, and some gaps (I am not a huge Earthsea fan, so some of the sections seemed like shout-outs to fans), but overall enjoyable fantasy reading.

The Right and the Power, by Leon Jaworski. A neighbor was selling her books so I picked this up. Fascinating stuff. So timely, as the Mueller Report came out just as I finished reading. And Leslie and I watched All the President’s Men on Netflix- what a powerful, gripping movie, very daring in pacing and composition. The Deep Throat scenes the only misstep (they could have edited those out and movie would have been even better). Anyone who purports to care about Trump era make a regular habit of occasionally reading and watching thoughtful work on Watergate.

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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