Posted by: Matt | August 26, 2007

Making the List

Here we are after another week. I’ve got a couple of books to add today from recommendations by bloggers. Now if I can just remember which bloggers…

  • Gold Bug Variations by Richard Powers – “This strange, overwritten, often infuriating, manically intelligent and sometimes deeply moving novel could hardly have been produced by a writer of mere talent. Powers has woven an extraordinary knowledge of music, of science (particularly of the search for genetic coding, and of computer programming), of the mysteries of language and art history, into a saga that is dazzling and wearying in almost equal measure. The novel jumps back and forth between the late ’50s, when brilliant scientist Stuart Ressler is involved with an Illinois research team trying to break the mysteries of DNA coding, and the ’80s, when librarian Jan O’Deigh and computer programmer Franklin Todd get to know Ressler, now holding an insignificant night job at a massive computer database operation in Brooklyn, N.Y., and try to figure what derailed his promising career. Not a great deal happens, in a conventional narrative sense. Ressler has an affair with one married fellow scientist and learns music from another; his scientific career is, in fact, aborted by his resulting passion for music. O’Deigh leaves her glib Madison Avenue boyfriend, takes up with Todd and is then abandoned by him in his vain search for information about an obscure 16th-century Flemish artist. Toward the end the three principals are involved in a massive computer scam to help a stricken colleague. Despite occasional bewilderment at arid patches of scientific jargon and interminable displays of arcane knowledge for its own sake, a reader persists with The Gold Bug Variations (the title, obviously, is a play on Bach’s Goldberg Variations , which have a key role in the book’s intellectual structure, and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Gold Bug , about the solving of a puzzle). For there is a perpetual air of surprise about the book, of intellectual excitement, a passionate involvement with words that expands into delightfully witty dialogue and profoundly evocative description. Reading it is hard work, but it’s also deeply enriching; the decade is not likely to bring another novel half as challenging and original.” I have no problem remembering who recommended this one, it was Ted at BookeyWookey.
  • The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll by Alvaro Mutis – “Maqroll the Gaviero (the Lookout) is one of the most alluring and memorable characters in the fiction of the last twenty-five years. His extravagant and hopeless undertakings, his brushes with the law and scrapes with death, and his enduring friendships and unlooked-for love affairs make him a Don Quixote for our day, driven from one place to another by a restless and irregular quest for the absolute. Álvaro Mutis’s seven dazzling chronicles of the adventures and misadventures of Maqroll have won him numerous honors and a passionately devoted readership throughout the world. Here for the first time in English all these wonderful stories appear in a single volume in Edith Grossman’s prize-winning translation.” This is another of the NYRB Classics. Ah, and I’ve remembered this was recommended by the folks over at The Millions.


  1. The Gold Bug Variations sounds right up my alley. Maqroll? Not as much.

  2. Go Matt! I’ll be cheering you on from the sidelines.

  3. Oooh, sounds interesting!

    By the way, I like the new look. I think it looks “cleaner” if that makes sense.

  4. Carrie K – I’m not absolutely sure about Maqroll myself, but it comes highly recommended by others.

    Ted – Thanks for the support, I’m a little intimidated because from what I’ve read it’s a very complex book.

    Heather – Don’t worry, I think I know what you mean by it looking “cleaner”.

  5. Unlike most novels, I couldn’t read it on the stair-master. I either had enough energy to exercise or enough to read it, but never both. I would find myself coming to a standstill. On the other hand, you don’t really have to get all the science or the music to get the story. (Although it is nice to listen to the famous Glenn Gould recording of The Goldberg Variations while reading it). It is complex, sure, but I thought its many layers made for great pay-off.

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