Archive for the 'fascinating' Category

High-Rise by J.G. Ballard

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

This was good. Not great, but good.

The plot: the yuppie universe implodes.

The setting: a monstrous apartment tower that immediately brings to mind Le Corbusier’s plan for central Paris. (”Eighteen, sixty-story cruciform towers” each of them home to 40,000 inhabitants. Alain de Botton talks about it in his wonderful book “The Architecture of Happiness“, which I highly recommend.)

Ballard has a wonderful eye for little details of behavior and personality; however, the weakness of the book, I feel, is in the lack of character arcs. People may devolve, but they do not change — their essential personality merely regresses to its crudest form. So, instead of an arc, we have a straight line into a brick wall. I think you have to accept the fact that this is not a realistic novel about believable characters in a particular situation; it’s bigger in scope than that, more parable-like.

There are scenes in this book that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Many of them. Brutally visceral and full of dark truths, they have this epic, symbolic quality to them without straining for it. Worth reading.

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An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007

Oliver Sacks An Anthropologist on MarsWherein Oliver Sacks hangs out with different people who have various neurological disorders. One essay per person, seven in all — fascinating stuff.

I’ve always had a weakness for anything brain-related. (Probably because I’m so fond of my own.) And I’ve always enjoyed Oliver Sacks. How can you not be fond of a man who raises ferns?

One of the essays that really stuck with me was the one about the painter who lost the ability to see color. And it wasn’t even that simple–not a world of black and white, but of unprocessed wavelengths which he described as nightmarish and alien.

Two other artists Sacks devotes essays to are Franco Magnani and Stephen Wiltshire (an “artistic autistic savant”) — both of whom have an astounding visual memory.

Another essay is devoted to Temple Grandin, who is a biologist and engineer famous for her work with animals; specifically, she designs more humane slaughterhouses. As a realistic vegetarian, I think this is honorable work. She has had an incredible influence on the industry and its treatment of animals.

All of these people have lives very different from the “ordinary”, whatever that might really be. Oliver Sacks pulls us in as close as he himself can get and shows us glimpses of these unusual experiences of the world. And in doing so, makes us rethink our own.

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