night I sat down with Fin to read her a bedtime story, and she
did the most amazing thing. She reached for the book, but two of
her fingers were caught in her sleeve, so first she stretched her
arm straight out, popping her hand free, then took the book.
Maybe that doesn’t sound so amazing. But I was flabergasted.
It was so grown up.
When I first saw Fin, she was seven cells. I saw her on a TV
monitor, while Fin herself floated around inside an IVF doctor’s
syringe. For the month prior to that, she was in frozen storage
(and for this reason was called “Popsicle” during
most of the pregnancy). She was seven cells. And now
she can free her hand from her sleeve and climb stairs and
wave at trains and moo at pictures of cows.
She’s 14 months old today. I know they grow up fast. But: wow.
Now you know I hate blowing my own trumpet every time something happens
in the real world that’s straight out of one of my books. Well, maybe
“hate” is too strong a word. I mean, “enjoy on a deep, almost
sexual level.” Yeah. That’s more like it.
Anyway, I think this one is worth mentioning because it’s at the more extreme
end: it’s that thing in Jennifer Government where everyone takes
their surname from their employer. John Nike. Billy NRA. Violet ExxonMobil.
And so on.
There’s a historical precedent for this: in centuries past,
John Smith was the town blacksmith, Tim Baker really was a baker, and
Geoff Wang was… well, let’s not think. In the Jennifer
Government world, where a person’s job is the most important
thing about them, returning to that concept made
sense to me. Also, when I worked in sales, I’d get a call from “Michael
Jamieson” or whoever, and frantically think, “Jamieson, Jamieson… who
the hell is that?” It would have been so much simpler if he was “Michael
Now, we’ve already seen
their surnames to corporations,
and even a particularly disturbing case of
parents auctioning naming rights to their baby.
But does it really count as a fulfilled prophesy when the people doing
the fulfilling are missing some essential part of their brain?
I dunno. I think that’s a little like saying, “I foresee a day when
people will smack themselves in the face with hammers for fun,” and then
claiming it came true because of my cousin Donny. Poor Donny. Well, you
pity his parents, mostly. But back to the issue. For me to feel
like I really nailed this one, it has to be done in all seriousness.
Nobody should even see anything wrong with it.
So here we are. Lately companies have been stampeding into
Second Life, a virtual reality
of the kind that everyone thought
the internet would be, before discovering it was just typing and
clicking on links. In Second Life, you create an avatar—a little person
to be—and run around… um, doing stuff. You know, like walking around…
or going shopping… or building a house. But without having to stand
So. The news agency Reuters just
opened an office
there and assigned reporter Adam Pasick to the beat. So now there’s an
avatar that looks like Adam in Second Life, reporting on news.
Only what’s his name? Adam Reuters.
Oh yes. Innocuous. That’s how it starts.
I’m reading a succession of crappy books. Not deliberately. That would
be weird. It just turned out this way: dud after dud. Every time I
crack open a new one, I hope that I’m about to get that feeling:
that moment when I realize, “Ooh, this is good.” But: nope. Nothing.
I’ve even started abandoning books before the end,
which I never used to do no matter how bad they were. (Instead, I
would complain to Jen every night until I finished, stopping to point
out particularly egregious passages. She prefers the new method.)
So it’s a good time to remember that I have read some
good books recently. Of course, when
I say “recently,” I mean “since I last updated
my list of favorite reads,”
i.e. in the last three years.
But if I can assume that you care about
my opinion, and aren’t here just because you googled for lonelygirl15,
then maybe you’re interested in my recommendations.
Here are some books that, if you stopped by my house and said, “Got
anything good to read?”, I would loan to you. I mean, once we had gotten past
the screaming and “how did you get in here” stage.
Corpsing (Toby Litt):
This was the first book of Toby’s I ever read, and I
loved it so much that I keep buying more of his, even though
all of those have turned out to be terrible. For me, Toby is that guy
you know is trouble but can’t keep away from, because maybe this time
it will be different; maybe he’ll treat you right. He never does. He’s
a bad, bad man.
The Baroque Cycle:
The Confusion, and
The System of the World (Neal Stephenson):
I adored these. Almost everybody I’ve recommended
them to has given up about 150 pages into the first book, saying, “Why
the hell did you think I’d like that?” It’s inexplicable. I think
all three books are amazing. If I had tried to write something like this, it would
have taken me about 40 years. In fact, it would have taken me that long just
to type them out, because they’re about 900 pages each.
Apathy and Other Small Victories (Paul Neilan):
Certain Chemistry (Mil Millington):
The British do excruciating better than anybody. Reading this was like
having my fingernails pulled out, only with more laughing. When I’d
finished I felt like I had been beaten around the head, but with love.
of this I’m putting it ahead of
My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About, which is also very good and
Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger):
This one is a rough ride, too. Some of it is astonishingly beautiful,
some is unbearably tragic. I thought it dragged a little in the middle,
but still loved it.
Astonishing X-Men (Joss Whedon):
I’ve been reading some comics lately, and this one is gorgeous. Book
3 (“Torn”) is especially juicy. Joss Whedon is, of course, one of the greatest
human beings to ever walk the Earth, and he’s in great form here.
I obsessively read X-Men comics in high school and college, and
it’s very cool to return to these characters and see them handled so well.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon):
I have never heard anyone say anything bad about this book, ever.
So there’s no need for me to praise it. I’ll just say: they’re right.
The Men Who Stare At Goats (Jon Ronson) [non-fiction]:
This book started out as a light, ridiculous, funny read, then turned dark
and disturbing. I love that.
The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse (Robert Rankin):
It’s funny and it’s clever, but more than that it has a surprising and
dynamic between the two main characters. Warm, snuggly, and gooey (in
a good way).
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell (Susanna Clarke):
I don’t usually read the backs of books until I’ve finished them, but
I snuck a look at this one early and discovered that it was Time
Magazine’s Book of the Year (2004). I wish I hadn’t
done that, because from that point onward all I could think was,
“Well, it’s good, but is it Book of the Year good?” So try not
to do that. It is an absorbing read: simultaneously rich and dry.
Watching Racehorses: A Guide to Betting on Behaviour (Geoffrey Hutson) [non-fiction]:
I don’t care about racehorses. I have no interest in betting on them. I
only read this book because Geoff is a neighbor. But it was genuinely
fascinating, very funny, and worth it for the section on clitoral
winking alone. (I know. Intriguing.)
Haunted (Chuck Palahniuk):
This is a bunch of short stories with a novel wrapped around it.
As with any short story collection, the quality varies, but some of the
ones in here scared the absolute crap out of me. So even though I wouldn’t
rate this as Chuck’s best, it was a good read. Incidentally,
I read a review of this in The Washington Post that was more like
a drive-by shooting, with several bullets aimed below the belt,
and noticed that Amazon.com chose
that one, that one, to put on their site. It was nice to see that
that doesn’t just happen to me.
The Beach (Alex Garland):
Yeah, it’s already on my old list. But I re-read it,
and ohhh, it’s so good.