Reading Resolutions 2009: John Lingan

(John Lingan is a frequent contributor to The Quarterly Conversation. In the Winter issue, he reconsidered William Gaddis’s novels The Recognitions and J R through the lens of work.)

See all of TQC’s Reading Resolutions here.

A number of my most rewarding reads of 2008 were total surprises, but I plan to follow their lead into ’09. First, my inaugural encounters with Philip K. Dick and Stanislaw Lem (A Scanner Darkly and Solaris, respectively) led me to work backwards and revisit some of H.G. Wells’ early novels, which I loved as a kid. These were all exciting enough that I’ll be making a concerted effort to belatedly get into science fiction (I suppose I should be calling it "sf"?) this year. Looking at the bookshelf, it seems I’ll be starting with The Left Hand of Darkness, A Canticle for Leibowitz, and James Blish’s Cities in Flight tetralogy. Obvious choices, sure, but I’m a neophyte here and have some catching up to do. Recommendations welcome.

I also started both Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and Loren Eiseley’s The Invisible Pyramid purely by pulling them off different shelves on a whim. The former is as canonized as the latter is obscure, but both are the kind of meditative, morally urgent writing that I find myself desiring more and more these days. Leopold was a naturalist and outdoorsman and Eiseley was a scientist, but they both used the natural world and man’s destruction of it as a jumping-off point for nearly Montaigne-like (in both scope and aesthetic achievement) pronouncements on greater themes. With those two (and bits of William Vollmann’s The Atlas) as my inspiration, I’ll be searching out more nature/travel nonfiction writing, starting with Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Apsley Cherry Garrard’s The Worst Journey in the World, and, if I’m up for the attention-span challenge Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, by Rebecca West.

Happy reading to everyone in the new year.

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I quite enjoyed your recent article on Gaddis. As a consumer of both literary and science fiction novels, I hope I can repay you with recommendations. With Lem and Dick, you’ve certainly started well. Here are some others that you might find appealing.
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
Gun With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem
River of Gods by Ian McDonald
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
Hyperion/The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges (which you may already have read.)

I would recommend anything by Gene Wolfe, especially the Book of the News Sun and the Book of the Long Sun. Nabokov/Borges inspired stuff.

I have indeed read most of that Borges collection, as well as the Huxley, but the rest are all well noted and appreciated. I’ll have to put in a shameless plug for the website I edit, as we featured an article about Gene Wolfe a while back that made me want to read his stuff very much.
Happy New year and thanks for reading.

I was very, very disappointed by Cities in Flight. I know it is well reviewed on Amazon, a fact that I find unaccountable. A large part of is that it tries to hard to stretch the Oklahoma dust bowl train hobo metaphor, e.g. the Okie bindlestiff cities.
Huh, looks like (thanks google!) I actually wrote an review for it several years ago:
Some older scifi that I thought held up reasonably well: Day of the Triffids, The Space Merchants, The Stars My Destination, The Man Who Folder Himself, Behold The Man, Rogue Moon.

I second the recommendations of The Sparrow, Perdido Street Station, River of Gods, The Space Merchants, and The Stars My Destination. Also Wyndham, though The Kraken Wakes or The Chrysalids would be my picks. Also M. John Harrison’s Light, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Pacific Edge (or Red Mars), Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others, James Tiptree Jr’s Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, and Geoff Ryman’s The Child Garden.


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