Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Humans: Every few years we have to convince some alien race that we deserve to live and also that our noses are nice. Oh, the burdens of humanity.

Matt Haig retweets a lot of the nice things people say about his book (which you shouldn't do too often, authors, please keep in mind) and I suppose all that niceness wheedled its way into the book-choosing region of my brain.

So it came to be that I was opening The Humans, without knowing much of anything about it.

I should be annoyed with you, but here I come I guess.

The premise is pretty simple: Andrew Martin, a prominent mathematician at Cambridge University, has unlocked a mystery of prime numbers that could change the course of human history. A member of an advanced alien race in another galaxy is sent to Earth to make sure no one ever finds out about this breakthrough. The alien takes over Andrew's body, infiltrating his workplace and family, and sets to work undoing his progress. The book is a first-person record of the experience, addressed to his fellow aliens.

At first, Alien Andrew is horrified and disgusted by the human form (especially noses, because what are those all about?) and the primitive ways of the human species. The members of his race have always believed the worst about humans, and his observations often corroborate that view.
The humans are an arrogant species, defined by violence and greed. . . . They have created a world of divisions and categories and have continually failed to see the similarities among themselves.
But the longer he spends in Andrew Martin's body, the more he sees the complexity and value of humanity, messy as it is.

Alien Andrew makes loads of poignant observations about the human condition, but he's at his best when he's describing the mundane.
The "pub" was an invention of humans living in England, designed as compensation for the fact that they were humans living in England.
This is what dogs liked to do, I discovered. They liked to run around on grass, pretending they were free, shouting, "We're free, we're free, look, look how free we are!" at each other. It really was a sorry sight.
So yes, I'm glad the hive mind convinced me to read this tidy black comedy with hints of Doctor Who, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and The Rosie Project. Very glad indeed . . . if just a little bit more self-conscious about my nose.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Dear Library: It's not you, it's me.

I was surveying a list of the books I read in 2014 . . . you know, just to see how it went in a general way. I felt like I'd read quite a few books written by women, and I did make a conscious effort to step outside my comfort zone with genre and culture and such.

I did OK I guess.

Looking at the list, it's pretty obvious and completely unsurprising to me that I need to focus more on nonfiction and nonwhite authors, and I'd also like to get back into the classics, which I seem to have wandered away from in recent years.

But that's small potatoes compared with the other thing the list showed me.

I have a habit that got completely out of hand last year, and I can't make light of it any longer. I'm staging an intervention for myself. You're all invited, and we can drink booze at it, obviously.

Out of the 67 titles I read last year, 46 were from the public library. That means, despite my sizable and ever-increasing personal library, I continue to ignore most of the books I share my home with.

My husband, every damn day.

The cycle goes like this: (1) See a book I've been meaning to read and am actually pretty excited about reading. (2) Buy it (and usually several others shut up). (3) Lovingly shelve it by genre and author's last name. (4) Promptly forget it ever existed.

Once I get a book home, an invisible switch is flipped and I immediately start taking it for granted. I know it will be there waiting for me indefinitely, like a long-suffering friend. But the thing is, it isn't always. I can't tell you how many times I've loaned out a book and never seen it again. And if I've already read the book, that's a minor irritation, but I usually haven't read the book.

Don't go! I can be better!

I think this problem stems from a lack of impulse control. If someone on the Internet is raving about a book and all I have to do is add it to my library hold list and wait passively until it's my turn, I'm gonna do that. Multiply that by every time someone raves about a book on the Internet and you get a massive library hold list that's steadily supplying books, all of which have the sexy allure of an expiration date.


I think I have just one title on hold going into 2015, and it's Station Eleven. Everyone's been drooling over that one, so it can be my bit of fun on the side. But I'm making a point this year to focus on loving the ones I'm with. Incidentally, that includes a few Joan Didions, a couple of Donna Tartts, some William Gibsons, several George Eliots, and the Absolute All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison.

And they all deserve my time and attention.

Thanks for being patient, books. Now get off those shelves and let's boogie.