Friday, December 31, 2010

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

I just finished reading 'Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell'. It is a very good book. The most concise and accurate description I can give it is 'An adult version of Harry Potter' It is sophisticated, high-quality fiction from a previously unknown British author. It draws on a wide literary tradition and does an excellent job of building a world and characters.

The book was published in 2004, in a publicity campaign that was massive by the standards of the publishing industry, and earned a blizzard of positive award and prizes, including a Hugo Award. And yet I had never heard of it before this year. I first saw it on a friend's bookshelf, and it looked interesting, but I had never heard of it so I assumed that it was a bit of mediocre genre fiction. But then I saw it on a list of the most impressive fiction of the last decade, from a very smart blogger who reads very extensively, so I decided to borrow and read it.

It is scary how such a famous and high-quality book in a genre that I like could have escaped my notice for so long. There was once a time when every literate person read every good new book that their society produced. Now I cannot even keep up with the good speculative fiction books that my society produces. The dizzying array of options and choices in the modern world really has had the effect of fragmenting our culture.

Maybe I should resolve to read all of the Hugo Award winners, and to ignore any sci-fi or fantasy books that have not won the award. That would definitely improve the average quality of the books I read, and increase the odds that I could talk about books with people like me. It is a good solution to the coordination game of what to read and talk about. But it would also mean that I miss out on really fun books, like the 'Monster Hunter' books from Larry Correia that I really enjoyed reading.

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