Orion Reads
a diary of books etc.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Road, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel, Uncle Tungsten, and IJ

Just this hour finished Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Probably anybody reading this has already read it and felt the strange feelings one feels when reading that last passage about the past's trout in underwater glens, muscled and smelling of moss in the hand - so evocative! - but for those as haven't, a quick synopsis. The Road is published in 2006, and posits a nuclear apocalypse in say about 2006, followed by a nuclear winter in which the entire world has turned to ash and nothing grows and nothing lives save a very, very few humans* who for the most part are cannibal and entirely wretched. The action follows a father and his son about five years into the post-apocalypse.

Every scene in The Road is predicated on hopelessness. There is clearly, starkly, no future even conceivable. But the book's magic is that it communicates hope and love. I can't/won't really try to describe it further than that. It's good.

The only other McCarthy novel i've read is All The Pretty Horses, and my only complaint about both of them is that they're too damn short. I feel like McCarthy is still writing his Farewell To Arms, and i look forward greatly to his For Whom The Bell Tolls.

* why humans walk the earth when cockroaches and grasses don't is a bit unclear to me, but otherwise the technical points seem pretty solid.


Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was loaned to me by Niki, and i'm super glad that it was. Thanks Niki! It's a good two or three inches of solid modern fairy tale telling and i enjoyes every millimeter of it. Set in Napoleonic Brittain (ie, early 1800s), Susanna Clarke's tale is that of a supremely pedantic and spiritually cramped man named Norrell who sets about resurrecting "English Magic", and gets more than he bargained for. (Sorry, i couldn't resist)
If you've ever enjoyed a Piers Anthony or Terry Pratchet novel, you'll likely enjoy this. It's sort of like Harry Potter for grown-ups. I do have to concurr with some folks that the ending is a bit unsupported, but otherwise a fine book.


Jonathan inspired me to get us a couple kilogram-hunks of tungsten, which is one of the most dense materials available without straying into the truly exotic and radioactive. It's twice as heavy as lead and very satisfying to hold in the hand. Along the way i stumbld on a book Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks. It's pretty much as titled, stories of growing up in pre- and post-world war II London, with a family rich in scientific and intellectual spirit. The sotries are great and also it has a bunch of interesting facts about various elements and science history.