Sunday, January 08, 2006

Form Follows Failure

posted by Tim Walters @ 8:38 PM

Henry Petroski, The Evolution Of Useful Things.

Did you know that the can was invented decades before the can opener? Neither did I. Petroski sets out to debunk the maxim "form follows function," and succeeds--although it does seem like a bit of a straw man, as I always understood that maxim to be an aesthetic prescription rather than a theory of technological development. In any case, he paints a vivid picture of generations of inventors getting fed up with the limitations of everyday objects, and fixing them--for a while.

Tell The Bees

posted by Tim Walters @ 8:24 PM

Graham Joyce, The Facts Of Life.

This is very different from The Tooth Fairy, and surprisingly, well, normal. In fact, it verges on chick-lit, with that currently popular whiff of magic realism. There's even a handy book-club primer in the back. It's the story of a large extended working-class family ruled by a canny, benevolent matriarch who talks to ghosts, and while I can't think of another novel with exactly those ingredients off the top of my head, it does seem like well-trodden ground.

That said, it's excellent. The evocation of post-war life (and the Blitz itself) are near-perfect (although a premature Sixties vibe crops up in places), the creepy bits are, as one might expect, quite successful, and the characters are a pleasure to visit. While I wouldn't rate it as high as The Tooth Fairy, I'm glad to see that Joyce is versatile.

Bridge To Terabithia

posted by Tim Walters @ 8:14 PM

Katherine Paterson, Bridge To Terabithia.

A children's book with what is in some ways a very standard story: two outsider kids get together and become best friends. But two things make a big difference:

--It's much better written than usual, without the overdramatization that so often accompanies this trope, and with all characters well-drawn, and

--there's a big surprise. At least, it would have been a big surprise, if it weren't trumpeted on book flap, and even the LoC classification. However, knowing it in advance didn't ruin anything.

First-rate kidlit. I'm not at all surprised that it won a Newberry.

Being-Hit-On-The-Head Lessons

posted by Tim Walters @ 7:59 PM

Evelyn Waugh, Put Out More Flags.

When one's first name is of the wrong gender*, and one's last name is a sound effect, perhaps one inevitably grows up a wee bit misanthropic. But Waugh's curse is our blessing. This is some seriously ballsy satire--not only does he expertly walk the fine line between pitilessness and cruelty, but he savaged the war effort (specifically the "Phony War" period, between the invasion of Poland and the invasion of France) in 1942, with Britain still hard beset. It's hard to believe that some official didn't harrumph and hand him a line about the paper shortage.

This seems to be part of an ongoing series--it begins and ends in medias res--but that was no problem for me. While I'm not sure I'd want to read a lot of this at once, lest I lose my faith in human nature, in a one-book dose it's wonderfully wicked. Recommended.

*Turns out his first wife's name was also "Evelyn." Ye gods.