Spreadsheets, Interplanetary Travel and Housekeeping – The New York Times

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Hello, readers.
Although Read Like the Wind is relatively new to The New York Times, it has existed in some form for four years. When I first started the newsletter, a link at the bottom urged people to recommend books to me through a public Google doc. This was partly a selfish maneuver so that I could harvest reading ideas, but it was also a miniature social experiment: Would it be possible to initiate a space of anonymous exchange on the internet that did not instantly become warped by malign forces? And the answer was “yes”!
Well, “yes” for three years. After that utopian period someone started deleting random entries, so I changed the settings. But the experiment lasted approximately 1,094 days longer than expected. The doc abides if your hunger for book recommendations is truly unbounded. (Note: There are tabs at the bottom of the page that lead to further spreadsheets. If “bottomless pit of spreadsheets” sounds like your worst nightmare, do not open that link.)
I still spend many hours frolicking among those messy rows and columns. One of the recommendations below originated in such a session.
Fiction, 1969
Do you feel paranoid and distracted? Do you have the sense that death is nibbling away at your form, even as you walk and breathe? Try “Ubik”!
In this, my favorite of Philip K. Dick’s novels, a bunch of people are sent on a mission to another planet. But it’s a setup. As soon as they arrive, a bomb explodes. They escape by a hair and return to Earth, which is inexplicably decomposing. When a character orders coffee, the cream is sour. A cigarette crumbles between his fingers. His money is obsolete. Why?
If you’re new to Dick, one helpful (perhaps controversial) tip is to let the gobbledygook envelop you as a gentle fog. Protophasonic flow. Ident-flag. Homosimulacric substitute. Such phrases are the trills of Dick’s prose; they accentuate the melody but needn’t draw your attention too far from it. (On the other hand, many readers relish this game of decoding.)
It may be worth noting that what jelly beans were to President Reagan, amphetamine tablets were to Dick. The man simply loved his uppers. Sometimes I approximate his state of mind by bolting a Monster energy drink before settling in for some sci-fi. (My favorite flavor of Monster is called “Assault.” It tastes like Coca-Cola mixed with poison.) The blurb on this copy of “Ubik” describes Dick as “The most brilliant SF mind on any planet.” Any planet!
Read if you like: Cryogenics, the sneaking suspicion that technology has destroyed your personality if not your soul, lucid dreams, Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”
Available from: Your online used bookshop of choice, or in e-book form
Fiction, 2022
An American banker receives a promotion that requires him to move his family — wife, two little girls — to Sydney. They rent a house built to resemble a British manor, complete with walled garden, orchard and a garage disguised as stables. Alice Armstrong, the banker’s wife, is immediately defeated by the unfamiliar requirements of household management: There are piles of silverware to polish, acres of carpets to beat, expanses of parquet floor to wax. It doesn’t occur to her to hire “help” until one of the other banking wives urges her to do so, which augurs the arrival of a maid/babysitter/cook/mysterious character named Simone Funk. (If that is her real name!)
The unmanageable house is — as houses often are, when they figure heavily into the plots of novels — a reflection of someone’s psychological state. This is a snack-size book of witty observations about status anxiety, domestic discord and new money. Pure delight.
Read if you like: Evan S. Connell’s “Mrs. Bridge” and “Mr. Bridge” novels, Tessa Hadley, cocktail hour
Available from: IPG
Try “The Portable Veblen” if you WOLFED DOWN Maria Semple’s “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”?
SCORCH your fingertips on this thriller that reminded me (more than once) of “Absalom, Absalom!”?
Tell me what you think of Jane Campion’s 1996 adaptation of Henry James’s “The Portrait of a Lady,” which I only just watched?
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