Art Books Genre Recommendations

The devil’s dictionary of fragrance, & SF thought experiments

I love this short essay by Charles Yu about how all family stories are time travel stories, particularly this bit:

Science fiction allows a writer to selectively question assumptions about the world, about ourselves, to fiddle with this dial, tweak this parameter or that one, then run the simulation, boot up a cosmos and see what happens. For me, it is about possibility more than probability.

I know I always bring up Johnson’s line about Shakespeare approximating the remote and familiarizing the wonderful, but it’s applicable once again — Yu enjoys SF because it allows him to play out a trial to which a person (or a family) could not really be exposed, “and see what happens.” Yes, I say. Yes! Really looking forward to reading Yu’s book.

And on an entirely unrelated note, this book about perfume is worth a look even if you, like me, know nothing about the topic. The reviews are beautifully detailed, crisp, cutting, and wittily allusive. For example, here’s a bit from Luca Turin’s review of Guerlain’s “Quand Vient l’Été,” a “dry floral” that gets three stars out of five:

I’m of two minds about this fragrance: on the one hand, I am not fond of this style, a slightly sour, metallic (helional) floral accord that smells like a sucked silver spoon. On the other hand, this one is beautifully executed and has a prim, starchy prettiness that suggests Edwardian TV drama and passions corseted to the bursting point. It brings to mind Ambrose Bierce’s definition of garters: “An elastic band intended to keep a woman from coming out of her stockings and desolating the country.”

One of the things I love most about the internet is the way niche interests become more accessible to clueless outsiders. Like I said, I know nothing about perfume or its history, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take pleasure in watching people who do deploy their knowledge.


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