Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Newest reads -- a science fiction class and a biography of a flashy newspaper photographer

In the past two days, I finished my first work of non-fiction in 2019 and re-read a classic of science fiction.

The non-fiction book was Flash, The Making of Weegee The Famous by Christopher Bonanos. The sci-fi classic was A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. 

Bonanos does nothing wrong in this biography of the flashy (pun intended) newspaper photographer. Bonanos prose is readable and his research impeccable, but . . . do we really need 319 pages of prose about Arthur Fellig, the self-styled Weegee the Famous?

No, of course not.  There’s so much here that just not of genuine interest.  I would have preferred a Penguin Lives-style biography of the (semi-) famous newspaper photograph.  

Penguin Lives was a series that ran in the early part of this century.  Each biography was about 150 pages in length, and often written by a notable author such as Larry McMurtry or Jane Smiley.

Because the books were small, even if you weren’t certain you wanted to read a biography of Mozart or Mao or Woodrow Wilson, they were inviting.  Yeah, sure, I can tackle that subject for a couple of days. In contrast, Flash took me two-thirds of a month.  

A Canticle for Leibowitz, a post-apocalyptic novel set in a Catholic monastery in the southwestern United States, was first published in 1959 and won the Hugo Award for best novel in 1961.

I’m not certain, but I must have first read the book between 1970 and 1972.

The novel is comprised of three sections spanning centuries.   Each section originally appeared  in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Miller later made significant revisions as he shaped the material into a novel, expanding scenes, adding characters and increasing the complexity of the story.  

It was the only novel he would write in his long career.

A Canticle For Liebowitz explores a variety of themes, including the struggle between secular authority and the church, the cyclical nature of man’s inhumanity and his tendency to self-destruction.  It is a bleak story, but contains a glimmer of hope.  

It ranks among the best science fiction. Not the wild tales of aliens, space ships and robots, but works like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984 by George Orwell or Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

Books not confined by genre, but which speaks truth to power,  probes the human condition, serves as a sobering parable for our times and a warning that we may not find the  future as hospitable as today.

Book read -- January
1. Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens
2. Voodoo River, Robert Crais
3. Yossel, April 19, 1943, Joe Kubert
4. Lie In The Dark, Dan Fesperman
5. A Canticle For Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
6. Flash, The Making of Weegee The Famous by Christopher Bonanos

Currently  Reading --
The League of Regrettable Sidekicks by Jon Morris
Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross
The Big Fella, Babe Ruth and the World He Created by Jane Leavy

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