The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Readings for February 2012

This month I read three novels and four periodicals (well, four and a half). This was a good reading month overall. At the start of March my wife and I are choosing each other's selections. We're making it a new tradition. I report on her choice for me next month.

The Well of Ascensionby Brandon Sanderson

Here I am, reading more Sanderson. I could very well finish his entire published corpus in a single year (excluding his work on the Wheel of Time). Only two more books to go for that milestone. As usual, I love Sanderson's stories. This is a good middle chapter in the Mistborn trilogy, and I doubt I'll be able to wait long before moving on the the final installment, The Hero of Ages.

Shutter Islandby Dennis LeHane

I had the opportunity to get this book for free. Having seen and enjoyed the film, I decided to give this a shot. I liked it overall. There is a high degree of fidelity from the novel to the screenplay, which I take as a compliment to Lehane, given that Scorsese was the director of the film. Of course having seen the film there were no big revelations for me in the book, but it was an enjoyable and swift read nonetheless.

The Lathe of Heavenby Ursula K. LeGuin

The Lathe of HeavenPublished in the early 1970s, this is a fairly early LeGuin work. Of course I loved it. It is really a standout in the "speculative fiction" genre. The action takes place in Portland, which is even better. I found myself soaring over the protagonist's home whilst riding the Portland Aerial Tram the other day. It was also somewhat amusing to read a description of Mt. St. Helens as having a perfectly conical shape.

The novel takes place just after the turn of the century, so there are necessarily some expressions of LeGuin's imagination of the future. That future has become our recent past, and so we have hindsight. The result range between hilarity and just plain shocking wrongness. In writing fiction LeGuin was not making predictions per se, so I cannot hold them against her. Yet I am amazed by the outlook for the future in the early 70s. Of particular note is that the fictitious world of 7 billion humans is so scarce for food that Americans are skinny and distilled spirits are rare. As we all know, with a 7 billion mouths to feed, obesity in the US is higher than ever.

In spite of all that, the story is great. Suspension of disbelief was not a problem for me. LeGuin delivers again.


  • International Socialist Review, January-February 2012. I bought this on a random whim at the book shop, and I suppose I am on a watch-list or something now. 2011 was apparently an invigorating year for leftists, though the pages of this magazine seemed to be filled with uncertainty on how best to interpret and channel the rebellious energy of the Arab spring and Occupy Wall Street. The most compelling parts of this issue were the historical articles. I found the implication of violent revolution distasteful to my pacifist Christian sensibilities.
  • Harper's, February 2012. One of my favorite aspects of Harper's is its ability to take a completely obscure (to me) subject and make it incredibly interesting. Daniel Alarc√≥n's write-up of an election in a Peruvian prison fits the bill perfectly.
  • Harper's, March 2012. "The Tyranny of Breast Feeding" by Elizabeth Badinter was a perplexing read, and not just because I disagree with her fundamental position. Essentially her argument is that La Leche League and other breastfeeding advocates have moderately overstated the benefits of breastfeeding and therefore their influence should decrease. I find it odd to imagine that subjecting the feeding of one's child to a formula producer is somehow throwing off tyranny.
  • Scientific American,February 2012. The careful reader will note that I skipped January 2012. In truth I read about half of it, but I marooned it on vacation, and my completion is probably delayed until late summer. As for this issue, I feel fairly certain that I want to keep my children out of hockey and American football after reading yet another article on the correlation between repeated head trauma and myriad health problems