Sunday, March 11, 2007

Misc. titles read recently

Ian Sansom's The Case of the Missing Books is light librarian entertainment.
Justina Robson's Silver Screen shows cyberpunk is alive and well in 2005.
Timothy Egan's The Winemaker's Daughter blends ecology and the art of winemaking into a thrilling romance full of tragedy and recuperation.

Richard Powers

The Echo Maker is one of my favorite authors at his cerebral best (see earlier posts). As I prefer to let authors speak for themselves, a few quotes: "He wrote for the insight of the phrase, to locate, in some strange chain, its surprise truth. The way a reader received his stories said as much about the reader's story as about the story itself." (p.221) "We told ourselves backward into diagnosis and forward into treatment. Story was the storm at the cortex's core." (p.414)

"Confabulation: inventing stories to patch over the missing bits...the fabric of reality rewoven by a vitamin-B deficiency...humans probably being the only creatures who can have memories of things that never happened." (p.101) demanding that we each "...question the solidity of the self. We were not one, continuous, indivisible whole, but instead, hundreds of separate subsystems, with changes in any one sufficient to disperse the provisional confederation into unrecognizable new countries." (p.171)

Or quote within quote, quoting the work of the cognitive neurologist protagonist: "'Consciousness works by telling a story, one that is whole, continuous, and stable. When the story breaks, consciousness rewrites it. Each revised draft claims to be the orginal.'" (p.185)

"As she shrunk and the sea of grass expanded, she saw the scale of life--millions of tangled tests, more answers than there were questions, and a nature so swarmingly wasteful that no single experiment mattered. ...Nature could sell at a loss; it made up in volume. Guess relentlessly, and it didn't matter if almost every guess was wrong." (p.75)

"The brain that retrieved a memory was not the brain that had formed it. Even retrieving a memory mangled what was formerly there. ...the mind's eye cannibalizing the brain's eye, social intelligence stealing the circuitry of spatial orientation. What-if mimicking what-is; simulations simulating simulations. ...The self bled out, the work of mirror neurons, empathy circuits, selected for and reserved through many species for their obscure survival value." (p.383)

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Queen of Dreams bibliotherapeutic quotes: "I heard my mother say that each of us lives in a separate universe, one we have dreamed into being. We love people when their dream coincides with ours, the way two cutout designs laid on top of the other might match. But dream worlds are not static like cutouts; sooner or later they change shape, leading to misunderstanding, loneliness and loss of love." (p.157)

"The story hangs in the night air between them. ...In the mind of each, different images swirl up and fall away, and each holds on to a different part of the story, thinking it the most important. And if each were to speak of what it meant, they would say things so different you would not know it was the same story they were speaking of. But the sharing of the story has created something that stretches, trembling like the thinnest strand of a spiderweb between them." (p.192)

Divakaruni's cultural background tints the novel in the soft light of maya, she quotes the Brihat Swapna Sarita: "The dream comes heralding joy. /I welcome the dream./ The dream comes heralding sorrow./ I welcome the dream./ The dream is a mirror showing me my beauty./ I bless the dream./ The dream is a mirror showing me my ugliness./ I bless the dream./ My life is nothing but a dream/From which I will wake into death,/which is nothing but a dream of life.

The story hovers in the reader's mind like Rikki's dragonfly, not resting on one theme, rather flitting from the first and second generation immigrant experience to mother/daughter-father/daughter relationships to 9/11 flashbacks to arrive unselfconsciously, "Thoughts thud through my head like a herd of elephants. ...But these are not my real thoughts. The real thoughts are the ones I'm staving off by filling my mind, as fast as I can, with unnecessary chatter." (p.315) When, a few pages earlier, Divakaruni summed up for all of us why the chatter is there: "A wild bird shrieks somewhere. We all flinch. But it's not the night that is frightening, nor its birds, however wild they may be. There's nothing out there that's worse than human beings." (p.300)