BOTM for April

I got delayed in posting the BOTM for April, but now feels like the perfect time for a little distraction. It was again a low month for reading (I'm beginning to think that those days of reading 5+ books a month are gone), but with the passing of Kurt Vonnegut I had to break out one of the few remaining books of his I hadn't read, Welcome to the Monkey House.

No one else even had a chance.

Sometimes you read an author and you just have to soak up everything that person's written, as fast as you can, and that's great. But every once in a while you come across an author that affects you so deeply, on such a basic level, that you want to prolong the experience as much as you can. So you parcel out the books sparingly, savoring each one like a fine wine whose vintage has come and gone.

For me Vonnegut is at the top of that list. Welcome to the Monkey House provides wonderful snapshots of everything Vonnegut has done. Wacky SF, biting social commentary, even gentle, warm humor and love. Although most people would be familiar with "Harrison Begeron" with its image of people being "equalized" by any means necessary and its truly lackluster movie adaptation, my favorite piece is the gentle "Long Walk to Forever," which recounts Vonnegut's declaration of love for his future wife. It doesn't have the intensity of Slaughterhouse 5, or the cosmic scope of Cat's Cradle, but Welcome to the Monkey House perhaps provides a glimpse into all the facets of Vonnegut's skills as a writer and view of humanity.

  • Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan - A lot of writers (for both books and the screen) have tried to take the seat of paranoia and future history formerly occupied by Philip K. Dick. Altered Carbon is the first of what to be a series of novels by Richard K. Morgan that sets itself in a universe where changing bodies is just a matter of how much money you have, and death begins to lose its meaning when your entire existence can be found in a cube located in the base of your neck. Ex-envoy Takeshi Kovaks slips his way into a hard boiled film noir world as he attempts to solve the murder of a man who is still alive. Instead of trying to perfectly emulate Dick, Morgan stirs his stew with doses of Chandler, King, and Heinlein to tell a story moves at a great pace. The fusion of old and new feels real, and was reminiscent of the Uplift novels by China Mieville. I'm definitely looking forward to reading the next in the series.
  • Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham - I never read Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Hours, so I have nothing to base his new work Specimen Days on. It's three separate stories involving three people embodying different characters over a span of hundreds of years. Both New York City and Walt Whitman play key roles in each of the stories, and whether it's a modern story of terrorism, a future where cyborgs run to find a haven from persecution, or simply life, love, and loss in the late 19th century, Specimen Days tries (with varying success) to find what makes America what it is, and what it's destiny may be. Good, but I wasn't taken enough to strongly recommend it.
  • The New Dad's Survival Guide by Scott Mactavish - It's short, it's funny, and it looks at how to deal with the impending arrival of a NFU (New Family Unit) in a guy's life. And I use the word "guy" purposely. Mactavish writes like a Everybody Loves Raymond episode - the book's written like a field manual, there's sage advice from Mr. T (BCF stands for Be Cool, Fool), and it preps the average guy for life starting from 1 month prior to birth up to 3 months after. It's a fun guide, and one I'm currently re-reading as we wait for our own NFU.

Short month. Right now I have two books going simultaneously, The Castle in the Forest by Norman Mailer and Bush at War by Bob Woodward. May is going to be an interesting month.