This is one in a series of essays about enthralling books. I asked my friends and colleagues to recommend a book that took over their life. I told them the book didn't have to be a literary masterpiece. The only thing that mattered was that the book captivated them and carried them into the world within its pages, making them ignore the world around them. I asked: "Did you shirk responsibilities so you could read it? Did you call in sick? Did you read it until dawn? That's the book I want you to tell us about!" See all the essays in the Enthralling Book series here. -- Mark
The book that most enthralled me -- or at least first enthralled me on the level you're talking about -- was Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I was in college, on my way to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to direct my friend Walter Kirn's play "Soft White Kids in Leather," loosely based on Warhol's Factory. Although I had read up on a lot of the New York scene of that era, it wasn't until I found Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (in the mass-market paperback edition in one of those used book bins) that I realized I had finally found someone who could not only express the experience of the group trip, but could also articulate the dynamics and ideology of the psychedelic commune. (Yes, Kesey and the Dead were the West Coast, tie-dyed counterpart to the black turtleneck culture of Warhol and Leary. But the sense of commitment to higher ideals and convenient forgetting of more day-to-day ethics were common to both scenes.)
Anyway, once I started this one I couldn't stop. This was back when taking a trip to Europe was still a really really big thing, so I had planned to travel from Italy to England to Scotland over a slow week of touring before starting rehearsals in Edinburgh. But I spent most of my time in hotel rooms and cafes just reading this book. Twice.
I don't think anything Wolfe has written really comes close, except maybe some of the essays. The book was my model for Cyberia - a similar foray into a psychedelic culture, where some fictionalizing was required to convey deeper non-fiction truths. I hope there's another psychedelic renaissance of this magnitude in my lifetime, just so I have the chance to write or even just read about it one more time.
In 2012, Kim Stanley Robinson published 2312, imagining how the world and its neighbors might look in 300 years, loosely coupled with the seminal Red Mars books, a futuristically pastoral novel about the way that technology can celebrate the glories of nature; in 2015, Robinson followed it up with Aurora, the best book I read that year, which used 2312’s futures to demolish the idea that we can treat space colonization (and other muscular technological projects) as Plan B for climate change — a belief that is very comforting to those who don’t or can’t imagine transforming capitalism into a political system that doesn’t demolish the planet. Now, with New York 2140, Robinson starts to connect the dots between these different futures with a bold, exhilarating story of life in a permanent climate crisis, where most people come together in adversity, but where a small rump of greedy, powerful people get in their way.
Last December, I published my review of Andrew “bunnie” Huang’s astoundingly great book The Hardware Hacker: Adventures in Making and Breaking Hardware — without realizing that the book’s release had been delayed because the published decided to do some very fancy and cool stuff with the printing process.
It’s been fifteen years since the first edition of educator Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabes was published; now in its third edition — updated with current, timely material about social media and other fast-moving subjects, as well as reflections from girls who were raised on the techniques in the previous editions — the book is a compassionate, aware, and intensely practical guide to navigating the toxic, gendered lives of young girls in a diverse, politicized world.
You know the drill. You go to the dentist and they ask you how often you floss. You lie through your teeth and say, “every day!” (Bonus points if you have some cilantro or chives stuck in your gums from lunch). You don’t want to keep up the charade any longer, but rubbing that tiny strand […]
The Raspberry Pi Foundation has done outstanding work packing a fully capable desktop computer into a package the size of a deck cards—especially one that only costs $35. But if you already have a working laptop, why should you care? Oh, how much you have to learn. Besides operating well as a compact digital media hub, […]
Custom coffee vessels are the perfect piece of office flair, but it’s just a matter of time before your VOTE FOR PEDRO mug will start to lose its relevant wit. Why not have a new one every day, with whatever silly nonsense you want sticking off the sides? You can save big on your novelty […]