The Electric Commentary

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The 50 Book Challenge

can be found here.

#8. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
#9.The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell
#10. The Final Solution, by Michael Chabon

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is about a world in which magic exists but has been forgotten, and how two magicians return magic to England. It's a fun read, and actually more of a comedy of English manners than a fantasy a la Tolkien.

Norrell is an academic. He sits in his study all day and all night reading books. He's overly cautious, and skeptical of anyone else practicing magic, often employing the arm of the state to prevent anyone else from joining in his studies.

Strange is more entrepreneurial. He goes out into the world and simply does magic. He never backs away from a challenge, although he is occasionally careless.

The most compelling part of the book is actually contained largely in the footnotes, and lays out a compelling mythology of Northern England which was ruled for 300 years by the greatest magician in history, John Uskglass, The Raven King. It is definitely worth a read (although it is quite long) and do not skip the footnotes.

The Tipping Point deals with certain phenomenon that mirror epidemics in how they spread. Gladwell discusses things like fads, fashion, Sesame Street and Blues Clues, and Paul Revere. I think that the idea of information as an epidemic is an interesting one and I've actually (somewhat coincidentally) read a few other (fiction) books dealing with the subject recently (Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk, and Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson). A very interesting book.

The Final Solution finds Chabon writing a Sherlock Holmes story. Holmes is never mentioned by name, and it takes place in his elderly years, but it is very clearly him. Holmes, now retired, has turned to bee keeping as a hobby. One day a small boy passes buy with a parrot on his shoulder and almost touches the third rail of a train track. Holmes saves the boy, and in the process discovers that the boy has recently escaped from Nazi Germany, is mute, and that the parrot spews forth a series of numbers for some reason. Murder and mayhem ensues, and Holmes must come out of retirement to solve the case.

A nice short read.

On deck:

Lummox, by Mike Magnuson
Gravity's Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson


  • Glad to see you're finally getting to the Diamond Age, I think it remains my favorite Stevenson book. I may have to pick up numbers 9&10 once I'm done with school.

    By Anonymous A, at 10:38 AM  

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