Friday, 10 January 2014

@bookmerica : Washington State #bookmerica


Drinking coffee around St James before a meeting, I thought of another book for the bookmerica.org project. Yesterday I picked New York State, this time I've gone for Washington State.

Two books again as a starting point.

First up, 'The Financial Lives of the Poets', by Jess Walter, which I read about a month ago.

This isn't explicitly set in Washington State, and is a kind of 'Anywhere, USA' suburban tale.

The smart money says it's based in the author's hometown of Spokane, WA, and that's my excuse for including it here.

It's the tale of a middle-aged man who gets fired, is being foreclosed on his house (his wife doesn't know) and stumbles into a little pot-dealing after meeting some slackers in a 7/11 store. His wife is having an affair with the man from the DIY store.

Matt Prior was a newspaper reporter, who now narrates this story of our time as the forces of economic collapse, digital replacements and fast food see him living on the edge of ruin. His misadventures receive police attention, but even that doesn't go smoothly.

If it sounds bleak, its actually quite funny, treading along the edge of a crumbling America, with characters exhibiting both dumb moves and survivalist instincts whilst trapped in a suburban middle class bubble.

One to read to get a slightly nutty sense of mainly white suburban anywhere in troubled times.

My second Washington State book is Microserfs, by Douglas Coupland.

I first read this back in 1995, and recently found my original loaned-out hardback copy for a reprise. It still had the bookmark price ticket in it.

There's a familiarity because I've visited Microsoft's Redmond campuses a few times, spent time in the neighbourhood and lived out of hotels in Belleview and Kirkland, which feature in the story.

It's narrated in the form of a Apple Powerbook diary by Dan Underwood. He's a computer programmer for Microsoft, and it tells how he lives with a bunch of other developers around Seattle. There's plenty of references to a recognisable Microsoft, and their offbeat '90s lifestyle.

It has plenty of colour such as the flat food to be passed under doors into the coding rooms, the jargon of vesting shares and dozens of wearably quotable lines:
"I say ‘Uhmm...’ a lot. I mentioned this to Karla and she says it’s a CPU word. It means you’re assembling data in your head - spooling.”

“Beware of the corporate invasion of private memory.”

“Happy. And then I got afraid that it would vanish as quickly as it came. That it was accidental-- that I didn't deserve it. It's like this very, very nice car crash that never ends.”

“...most guys have about 73 calories of shopping energy, and once these calories are gone, they're gone for the day - if not the week - and can't be regenerated simply by having an Orange Julius at the Food Fair.”

The second half of the book sees the gang branch out into a start-up company, ahead of the dot bomb. They move off to Silicon Valley and here the tale is around Sand Hills Road and San Jose, where they illustrate a kind of beta test of parts of the world we all live in, now, in the early 21st Century.

If I could choose just one of them to put into the bookmerica machine, it'll have to be the Coupland. I've loved most of Coupland's books anyway. Girlfriend in a coma is another bittersweet favourite.

As Coupland is saying: everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything.

2 comments:

Pat said...

I like the sound of the first one.

rashbre said...

Pat It's quite a funny and fast read.