Well that was disappointing. I’ve read some of George Saunders’s short stories and was entertained, but I didn’t much enjoy Lincoln in the Bardo. It’s the story of Abraham Lincoln coming to the graveyard to visit his newly dead son William, told from the perspective of a variety of lost souls that don’t believe they’re dead. There was no plot to speak of, and none of the large cast of characters was appealing. I did enjoy the sections that were fictional quotes from contemporary histories, many of which contradicted each other on the details, and some of the characters told funny stories, but it didn’t hold together as a novel.
Widely acclaimed, winner of the Man Booker Prize, on many best of 2017 lists. Not my cup of tea.
Music I listened to while reading this:
- Carlow Town, Seamus Fogarty
- You’ve Got Tonight, Wiretree
It’s one day until The Tournament of Books announces the list of books for this year’s competition, and I’ve been reading some of the Long List, including the book commented on here, Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays. I throughly enjoyed it. The writing sparkles, the narrator is hilarously self-deprecating, and because of the premise, there is a lot of insightful commentary about contemporary society.
The main plot line is that the main character grew up in an alternative timeline where a device that produces free energy was invented in 1965 and put into the public domain. With free energy and fifty plus years, his world is something of a techonological utopia (especially compared with our present). However, for reasons best left unspoiled, he alters the timeline and is stuck here in our timeline with the rest of us.
The narrator on waking up for the first time in our timeline:
Here, it’s like nobody has considered using even the most rudimentary technology to improve the process. Mattresses don’t subtly vibrate to keep your muscles loose. Targeted steam valves don’t clean your body in slumber. I mean, blankets are made from tufts of plant fiber spun into thread and occasionally stuffed with feathers. Feathers. Like from actual birds.
While there’s a lot of science-fiction concepts in the story, it’s really more of a love story than what it sounds like it’d be. There were a couple plot points I probably would have written differently, but the book is really funny, touching and thoughful. I highly recommend it. Best book I’ve read in 2018 so far…
A couple other quotes I found particularly timely:
Part of the problem is this world is basically a cesspool of misogyny, male entitlement, and deeply demented gender constructs accepted as casual fact by outrageously large swaths of the human population.
People are despondent about the future because they’re increasingly aware that we, as a species, chased an inspiring dream that led us to ruin. We told ourselves the world is here for us to control, so the better our technology, the better our control, the better our world will be. The fact that for every leap in technology the world gets more sour and chaotic is deeply confusing. The better things we build keep making it worse. The belief that the world is here for humans to control is the philosophical bedrock of our civilization, but it’s a mistaken belief. Optimism is the pyre on which we’ve been setting ourselves aflame.
Music I listened to while reading this book:
- Jesus Christ, Brand New
- House of Cards, Radiohead
- Conundrum, Hak Baker
- Die Young, Sylvan Esso
- Feat & Force, Vagabon
- No War, Cari Cari