PopCo by Scarlett Thomas

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: PopCo

Author: Scarlett Thomas

Type of Book: Fiction, cryptography, veganism, mystery

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Like the works of Chuck Palahniuk, this book can be seen as a gateway odd book. While a bit strange, it is not wholly odd but for the right reader, it will open all kinds of odd doors. For some, a mere mention of the Voynich Manuscript is virtual assurance of hours spent in a very odd world.

Availability: Published by Fourth Estate in 2004, it appears to be out of print and in the “bargain book” stage. However, you can still score a new copy online:

Comments: A few years ago, I ran a blog called Ghostroses, a terribly unfocused journal wherein I just wrote aimlessly about whatever topic came to mind. I reviewed some books over there, too. This month I noticed that I was getting some hits on IROB from a cryptography site. I was never able to pin down any entry here that would ping the interests of a cryptography enthusiast, but I ended up reading that site for a couple of hours because it focuses heavily on one of my favorite unsolved mysteries: the Voynich Manuscript. If you have time, check the site out. It’s quite interesting. As I read, I remembered the long discussion I wrote five or six years ago about PopCo, a book which discusses in depth cryptography in general and the Voynich Manuscript specifically, though briefly. No idea why I have visitors from a cryptography site now (hello and welcome!), but I am pleased I remembered this old discussion, because I really liked the book a lot.

Since I am preparing for Bizarro Week and spent far too much time fielding some unrelated nonsense on this site, I am behind on my discussions.  So I decided to edit (and in some places gut) my old discussion of PopCo.  It was interesting to realize that I was just as verbose back then, and that despite not having a brain cut out for the hard logic and mathematics of cryptography, I am not quite the dilettante I thought I was, as my interest in the topic persists to this day. Or maybe I am just a persistent dilettante.

At any rate, this book covers a lot of ground – media and marketing studies, mathematics, cryptography, veganism, toys, and social resistance.It is interesting for me reading this discussion because I wrote it not to discuss a book but rather my reaction to a book, which may seem like a specious distinction given my still intense, personal reactions to books. But in this review, I was just regurgitating how this book affected me and didn’t talk enough about how the book was excellent outside of my reaction to it. Like any personal blog entry, this is just a discussion of my life – it just so happens that this one is shaped around a book. Still, even in this somewhat disjointed discussion, I hope I convey what a fabulous book this is.