Books

Day’s Verse:
The first woe is past; two other woes are yet to come.
Revelation 9:12 (context)

Purify MeI just finished re-reading The Wreck of the River of Stars, by Michael Flynn. It’s up there among my favorite books of all time, along with Time Traveler’s Wife, Snow Falling on Cedars, and Cryptonomicon.

As I thought about these books, particularly Time Traveler’s Wife and Wreck of the River of Stars — and, now I as I think about it, Snow Falling on Cedars to a lesser degree, as well — have a couple of interesting shared characteristics.

  • A sense of inevitability. In these novels, the reader knows almost from the first page what will happen to the characters, at least in a general sense. The characters all have a destiny, and no amount of struggling against that destiny will change it. Characters are driven by their flaws to do exactly what they do, and nothing else. Satterwaithe, Ratline, and Corrigan will hoist the sails again in Wreck of the River of Stars, but it won’t save them. Time Traveler’s Wife is interesting because it explicitly explores Henry’s inability to change the past on his time travel there. He watches his mother die dozens of times, but cannot prevent the tragedy. When Henry and Claire are house-hunting, they are fated to choose the house that Henry has visited in the future. This inexorability is a hallmark of a classic tragedy, a stylistic choice that results in a deeply moving narrative in these novels.

    As an interesting side note, in Wreck of the River of Stars, Michael Flynn employs — with great effectiveness — an unusual 19th Century style of writing reminiscent of Charles Dickens or Henry James in which events are subsumed beneath the exploration of the characters’ personalities.

  • Deep characterization. Wreck of the River of Stars is unusual in science fiction writing in that characters, rather than plot, drive the story. One review says “Not much happens in Wreck of the River of Stars…” and to some extent that’s true. In these books, the characters’ humanity, their flaws, comprise the fabric of the story. The actual events — Ratline stealing the hobartium from Engineering; Henry time traveling to the field by Claire’s house during hunting season; Ishmael finding the record of a large ship deviating from the shipping lanes — are less important than their impact on the characters’ inner lives. External events drive characters to respond in their unique ways, and nothing will change the way they respond. The characters are all blinded by their own limitations, responding within the confines of their experiences and personalities, often (unknowingly) to their own detriment. Individual choices, like different instruments in an orchestra each playing a separate score, combine to create a something greater than the sum of its parts: a symphony.

These books showcase the best of modern-day characterization, combining it with compelling plots and vivid descriptive detail to create literature worth revisiting time and again. I cannot read these books and come away unmoved. And that, I think, is a true measure of success.

Vacation: Day 3

Day’s Verse:
Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
2 Timothy 2:22

Remember how a month and a bit ago, I posted a picture of bookshelves we were getting? Kenis Loven said it would take about 6 weeks, and I’ll say that those were the fastest weeks I’ve ever heard of: our new shelves (artist’s rendering shown below) are scheduled to be installed starting on October 25, which is nearly upon us! It will take them 2 or 3 days to finish the job.

Bookshelves

So to be ready for this exciting occurrence, I cleaned out the library yesterday in the morning. Then I painted the wall above where the shelves will be installed. Deborah came and did a beautiful job cutting in way up in tippy top corners and high-up, hard-to-reach edges:

Library Prep: Painting

You may be asking yourself, “Where have all the boxes of books gone?” This is a very valid question, since the books were slowly taking over the entire room as we unearthed ones we wanted to read. Conservation of matter says the books must have gone somewhere, and you’re quite right. More space in the library means…

Library Prep: Books
…less space in the living room. This pile o’ books will remain there for another 10 days or so, which is nothing. I vacuumed under there before we put the boxes down and that’ll be the cleanest patch of floor in the entire house.

In the background you can kind of see a brown pillow on our couch. Jane stopped by and generously brought us two pillows as an early Christmas present. Thank you, Jane! They’re much comfier than the old ones.

Yesterday I also obtained a desk annex from Craigslist, and that freed up a nice little end table for us to use in the library. Our lamp no longer has to list on a falling-apart cardboard box. And last but by no means least, I’m working on a project on the computer that’s taking a lot of time but should be pretty awesome when I’m done.

I haven’t mentioned Ian’s job at all for a very long time. He has a nasty deadline today, and lately the stress level of the job has dramatically increased as a result. He’s doing a great job, and StrataGen is lucky to have a developer as diligent and awesome as Ian. I hope they recognize that and reward him appropriately. Fortunately, Ian has a mini-vacation coming up: He’s going to New Orleans for his cousin’s wedding. That should help release some of the pressure that’s built up over the last few months.

As for me, I have no idea what my future holds. It may have the Bicycle Alliance in it for another year or two, if the contract they offer me looks appealing; otherwise, things certainly look murky. I’m just hoping there’s a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy somewhere in that murk.