Back to Neal Stephenson ….

I think the first Neal Stephenson book I read was Snow Crash, though it was some sort of partial online copy and I didn’t finish it all the way through. This was sometime in the late 90s. I liked it, didn’t fully get it, and I forgot it.

Then I read Anathem, and it blew me away, and I still think it’s my favorite. Not so much for what happens in the story itself (in fact, I’m forgetting the ending as I write this (and I’m not sure he does a good job of endings in general, hmm …)), but more about the world in it, all the wonderful details, and how they’re revealed.

Then I read Snow Crash again, and I loved it this time, and … this “linguistic superpower meta-meme” went into my mind and embedded itself there, one of possibly only three or four others like it (the meta-meme of psychohistory being another old, deep idea, but more on that some other time).

Then I read the Baroque trilogy, and was thrilled to bits. This was on my Kindle (new at the time to me, I’m talking about a decade ago from today), and created a side-passion of etymology for me (I’d been lost in the endless link-following of Wikipedia earlier, this was the same but for word-origins …). (Also, I don’t think I would’ve been able to read them in their paper forms, which I realized when I saw a copy of The System of the World (my favorite of the three, I think) in a bookshop and realized there was no way I was going to lug that around with me.)

Anyway, I was aware of him continuing to write but hadn’t really read any fiction in many years, and while a colleague had recommended Seveneves to me last year, it had languished on my wish-list … until this week, when I started reading it again (in e-book form, if you must know).

Not much of a spoiler alert to share the very first line of the book: The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason. So yes, a compelling reason to keep reading. And about 7% of the way through, I’m enjoying it (small observation though: this definitely belongs in the pre-2016-age-of-innocence era when it comes to describing human beings).

When I’m done I think I’ll revisit everything else he’s been up to lately (D.o.d.o and Reamde), which means I have several months of reading pipeline filled up …

The only way to read these days …

(By way of “what have you been up to?”, or “have a blog, say something!”)

I just finished two fairly large reading projects, and I’m quite happy I stuck with it and finished it. A decade ago, I used to read in short, intense bursts (days on end of doing nothing else), and when this became no longer possible (less time!), I stopped reading, more or less, until about two or three years ago when I slowly began reading bits and pieces again. What I figured out was this: there’s only one long-term sustainable way to keep reading, and that’s the “slow and steady” way.

So now, I read on average two or three pages a day. Sometimes five or six. But never beyond ten. Always at least one. And I think this works for most books.

The first of the two isn’t a book but a series of online articles — more accurately, a series of usenet posts, all written by Erik Naggum over a ten-year period from 1994-2004. The entire list is here. Now you either don’t know about this guy at all, or if you do you probably have a negative preconception, just as I did, based on (say) his Wikipedia page, or some highly opinionated (and IMHO, ignorant) posts like this one; but I’m not the only one to advocate a more open-minded reading of his posts, c.f. Stanislav here, so you may be interested too.

The second is a series of books. I first came across Eric Hobsbawm in a very negative context (a youtube clip of him quixotically refusing to reconsider his prior stance, decades ago, on communism) — and I expected his writing to be similarly polemical. Imagine my surprise, then, when it was not (what really confuses me, then, is this contrast between the historian self and the public interview self). Instead, the series “The Age of Revolution (1789-1848)”, “The Age of Capital (1848-1875)”, “The Age of Empire (1875-1914)” and “The Age of Extremes (1914-1991)” is the best grand overview of everything that I’ve come across. The last one, if you’re curious, is actually logically three books (“Catastrophe”, “The Golden Years”, “Landslide”) which explains its semi-frustrating length. I wonder what he would make of the post 9/11 era, though he wasn’t very optimistic about the end of the Landslide.