Category Archives: Books/literature

Book reviews

Cross-post from Chronica Minora.

I have been writing book reviews for the Irish Examiner for a few months, but I have forgotten to post links to them (and I can no longer find the links for some, although I have the original texts).

The most recent is ‘A Squalid, Senseless War’ by Norman Rose.

Before that I reviewed Eddie Chuculate’s story collection Cheyenne Madonna.

A full list of what I’ve reviewed can be found under my academic profile, top left.

My faithful friends


Enough books to keep you busy on a cold night

Some might even call them children. When in doubt, there is always the consolation of philosophy… or the consolation of books, at least. I find myself in a very strange place: I have far too many books for one man, and yet I feel as if I need more. This is not, I hope you understand, an impulsive binge-buying outlet, but rather my own little attempt at gathering my interests. I haven’t even read all of the ones I have, although in some cases I never will as that particular fancy has drifted off.

Perhaps it’s the simple fact that there is so much to be learned from books (I love learning). Perhaps I like how the occasional colourful turn of phrase keeps me interested (here’s a nice passage from Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, where an anarchist dwells on the futility of his endeavours: “He drank and relapsed into his peculiarly close manner of silence. The thought of a mankind as numerous as the sands of the seashore, as indestructible, as difficult to handle, oppressed him. The sound of exploding bombs was lost in their immensity of passive grains without an echo.”) Perhaps there’s an element of the collector in me (I especially like the Thames & Hudson and Norton Critical Edition series).


This collection was one of my biggest splurges. Only time will tell if it was a sound investment.

Whatever the root cause of my acquisitions, spending the last day or so cataloguing and tabulating my small library — because it has expanded in the last three years and some have gone missing — has put me more in touch with what had, for some time, been mere volumes on the shelves. Small flashes of memory and connection as I thumbed through a tome looking for some small detail or description. Paths abandoned for lack of time, others for diminished interest. And yet above all else came the feeling that this is not the end of it, even if I never read every book in full. There will be more additions, and there are decades yet ahead of me to pursue new and even more obscure interests.

But where will I put them all?

Links o' the day 20/11/08

China’s output per head of population is smaller than Albania’s. Except China could probably buy swathes of the planet.

Wooly mammoth DNA decoded. Am I the only one who wants to see this species roam the Earth again?

A gallery of the greatest conspiracy theories.

Prices at Dubai’s Palm developments are down 40% to a paltry $2.7m.

Vive la France (in digital library terms at least).

It seems 21% of Americans can’t find the Pacific Ocean on a map. On the plus side, 94% can find the US.

The fakir who was buried alive for 40 days.

Alfred Bester

Dark Roasted Blend has a nice review up of Alfred Bester’s The Computer Connection as part of the site’s look at some classic science fiction.

I haven’t read that novel yet, but The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination (originally called Tiger! Tiger! after the William Blake poem) are among my favourite books. Although they were written in the 50s, they are still fresh and accessible, dealing as they do with justice, freedom and human potential.

His use of technology as aiding punishment in The Demolished Man is excellent and not at all unrealistic: the point is that this is an extreme, but effective, form of chastisement in a possible future. Whether the demolition of a human’s mind is ethical is another point, but it makes you ponder the limits of justice: should we allow science and technology to advance to the point where it can completely dominate the individual, or maintain more traditional forms of punishment. It also throws up a traditional literary motif, which is what can happen if such power can be abused.

The Stars My Destination has a reasonably light beginning regarding teleportation through willpower, but is a profound story on humanity’s potential when it thinks outside the familiar three dimensions. Not at all upbeat yet no less valuable for it, the novel also silently wonders about how society so readily forms into classes and hierarchies.

An unusual turn of events

I managed to keep my nose out of the company book sale today. Not much of an achievement, I hear you snort, but when you’re as compulsive about acquiring books as I am, it’s something. My head overruled my heart here: I have too many books and not enough time to read them. A small something, to be sure, but certainly out of character for me.