Saturday, May 31, 2008

Looking for a word...

We need a descriptive term for brains that are on overload -- something that succinctly expresses in a single phrase that condition where one's relatively reliable brain has no more capacity to absorb anything than a sponge after scrubbing plates and silverware for an eighteen person dinner party. Despite attempts to read and digest the content of a wide range of books, diverse in genre and style, I have not had much success in processing anything of substance; I just haven't retained as much as might be wished. But here's the list of what I "read" this month.

1. The Return of King Arthur: The Legend Through Victorian Eyes. This actually pertains to artistic and cultural thinking surrounding the Arthurian Myth as presented in Tennyson's Idylls of the King. This is primarily an art book, published by Harry N. Abrams and the illustrations (engravings, oil paintings, woodcuts, etc.) are really delightful to study. The text is equally interesting. My stumbling block here was that the book was over-sized (as is standard with art books) which made it difficult to read comfortably. More information here.

2. Pearls Before Swine (published in the UK as Coroner's Pidgin). This is a very complex but intriguing Albert Campion mystery. Muse of Ire and I, after meeting each other virtually on LibraryThing, subsequently met up in the city a few weekends back in order to foster a better acquaintance in real life. She generously offered me first crack at nearly two dozen Campion mysteries in mass market paperback editions. This particular one opens with Lugg and an elderly duchess maneuvering a dead body into the living room of Campion's flat, unaware that Campion has returned from work elsewhere. Campion emerges from the bath to discover said corpse on the couch. Stop and think about that one -- I think it is a brilliant set-up for a mystery. The average person encounters that in the first chapter and has to know what happens next. Who is the dead person? Where did she come from? Why would an properly aristocratic duchess be involved in something so clearly unpleasant?

3. The Shadow of the Wind. This was the book we were supposed to discuss at Didi's house two weeks ago. It was not a popular choice. We weren't sure whether to attribute the problem to the original author or to the translator. The book just didn't grab the imagination or attention of any one in the group. Maybe I'll give it another whirl sometime later in the fall. For some reason, I keep thinking that I should have "gotten" this one.

4. Point of Honour This was the book for the township discussion group and I was a little concerned. It's not a particularly sophisticated effort, but the mystery followed an interesting course. In fact, there was one particularly well-done bit that we talked about from the perspective of writing conventions for mysteries. In one chapter, Sarah Tolerance, the heroine sleuth, and her client, Verseillion, are set upon by a set of thugs unexpectedly. In the next chapter, she explains to her client by counting out five items just how she could determine that one of his associates had turned on him. You could go through the scene where the assault took place and tick off those five ways in which the author had carefully laid out legitimate clues to the reader. It was a great way to underscore the writing requirements for a mystery writer in playing fair with the reader. Here's a review that I found; I don't really agree with the hard-boiled characterization.

5. Steampunk. This was much more of a challenge to read than I would have anticipated. The anthology was devoted to short works in this highly specific sub-genre of alternate history. I had read about steampunk in the New York Times and had thought it might be interesting. I must not get it. Didn't strike me as either good speculative fiction or good science fiction. Maybe I'll try again in six months.

And then two titles that were work-related:

5. Groundswell. This is a business title by two Forrester analysts, Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. The discussion focuses on laying out the business rationale for integrating web 2.0 technologies with strategic initiatives for the enterprise. Lots of case studies, lots of data, lots of bullet points. I would love to interpret this book as a harbinger of a happy, interactive future, if only because I've worked with all of the various technologies. But I personally suspect it will be another few years before wesuccessfully persuade C-Level executives that web 2.0 is the future.

6. Here Comes Everybody. This one I started this morning. There's also a humorous story tied to this that indicates why I think my brain is overloaded. A friend had recommended this book to me in an email. For some reason, my brain decided instead that she had recommended Groundswell (as above) so I waxed enthusiastic to her at lunch yesterday about what an interesting read it was. She looked a tad bemused and then gently explained my error. (Oops, awkward moment -- I'm supposed to be brilliant in keeping these things straight.) It is most fortunate she's a real friend and not just a business colleague. She's forgiving and won't spread the tale of my general vacuity.

There will be a prize for the person who comes up with the best descriptive phrase for my condition, the only rule being that the winning phrase may not make specific reference to middle age or mental competency.

Bonus bit of humor (assumes you've already seen the most recent Indiana Jones flick; the real punch line is in the fine print under the final graphic in the lower right hand corner.)