Stuff I have read recently
Velocity by Dean Koontz
Koontz is quite a good writer in some ways. Who notices things like pacing and structure when reading? Well, you probably do but I don't. However, at a guess these are the things Koontz does very well, because the plot churns forward, and you keep reading, more or less. His sentence-level writing is good craft quality too. However, the last two books by Koontz I have read were mental. The characterisation is unnatural and the values are weird; in this he reminds me of later Larry Niven, and of the right wing blogosphere. In both the recent books his touchstone for evil is 'Utilitarianism' (yes, as in 19th century moral philosophy) which he describes as an infection. In Velocity this is related to relativism and modern art. This is some american religious/moral debate which I can't really relate to, and comes across as very creepy, and a strange basis for a thriller.
Buddha by Karen Armstrong
A reconstruction of the historical period when Gautama preached in North India, putting his teachings into context, and trying to reconstruct a realistic timeline. I always enjoy Karen Armstrong. I suspect this book forms a piece with her more comprehensive recent book the Axial Age, about those religious transformations which hit societies as they become urbanised and literate.
A Shadow without a Name by Ignacio Padilla
Read this for my book group. Tried to anyway. Dull and inexplicable. The story as far as I read it was affectless, and the people behaved in bizarre ways (causing a rail crash to kill someone who has never done you any harm, and you haven't seen for thirty years). The story starts with a chess game, and the characters are as faceless as pawns and jump about meaninglessly like pieces. Why bother to read about them? I got to a sentence that said 'then my mother died of syphilis' and I was like, WTF, you never said she was ill, and how come you don't care? If you don't, I don't.
Love's executioner by Irving Yalom
My sister loaned me this book. Yalom writes with some honesty about a few therapy patients, their experiences and the ideas arising. I think Yalom works quite a lot with older and dying patients so there was quite a lot about coming to terms with death. These stories have very little resolution - some of his key patients simply wander off never to return, and he doesn't know what happens to them. All very thought provoking.