I am not sure who this book is for. If it is for the sort of people it is written about, I am guessing they are too far gone to read the book. If it i...moreI am not sure who this book is for. If it is for the sort of people it is written about, I am guessing they are too far gone to read the book. If it is intended as a cautionary tale for the people who are on the path of alcoholism, it's going to be a difficult, emotional read (made much worse by deWitt's decision to write in a second person narrative). If it is for anyone else, I can't see them enjoying the read. Ablutions Notes for a Novel is not entertaining. In fact, I'd say it is one of the most depressing books I've read.
There is not a character in this book that is redeeming, but worse for me, I couldn't find an irredeemable character to like. There are plenty of nasty protagonists or antagonists I've loved over the years, and no matter how depressing the tale, I can like it and even love it if there is a character I can cheer for (even when I shouldn't). But I didn't like anyone in this story, and there was no way to cheer for the people making up its misanthropic cast.
The fact that Patrick deWitt then makes his audience part of the cast by writing in the second person makes this even more trying. I think most readers would be hard pressed to avoid some level of alienation from the text as it draws them in and uses them. I know I struggled. I felt like I had to build a wall to protect myself from harm. Oh how tired I was of being addressed as "you."
Yet there is something quite astounding going on in Ablutions,a and once I force my subjectivity aside it becomes clear. Patrick deWitt is a technician of the first order. He has taken the toughest of narrative voices, experimented with a fragmented plot (though I think he failed to commit fully) and applied these to the toughest of subjects; his execution is damn near flawless. He is a writer's writer, a man who loves words and loves shaping them, and I must read more of his work.
But this work? This work made me want to cry with frustration more than once. This work made me wish death on its denizens. This work cast me into a serious depression. This work found itself relegated to my shower, so that I would only read it for ten to fifteen minutes a day. This book is hard.
Read it if you are a writer or if you feel the need to wallow, but if you're not reading it for either of these reasons, go find a different Patrick deWitt book, I can't recommend any yet, but they can't be as depressing as this. At least I hope not. (less)
I bought Ysabel, but it languishes on my bookshelf even now. I avoided Under Heaven until it became our fantasy book in the Sci-Fi & Fantasy Book club. Once it won the vote, I thought it might be time to return to Kay.
I was a third into the book when my daughter, Scoutie, booknapped it and hid it under the love seat in the Sun Room. It resurfaced while we were vaccuuming, but by then my book club had outstripped me, and their comments suggested that the rest of the book was a let down. I let it sit for a few more days for fear I would be let down too, and I may have been if not for the pause.
Reading the comments in the book discussions and flirting with a couple of my friends' reviews (I've not read any in detail yet) prepared me for disappointment, and because of that preparation the disappointment never came.
I expected to be disappointed when it was revealed who sent assassins to kill Shen Tai and why, but I wasn't disappointed. I expected to be disappointed by the way each thread in the story touched others in the story, the way everything wove tightly together, but I wasn't. I expected to be disappointed by the resolutions of machinations and intrigues, but I wasn't. I found that by expecting to be disappointed I was released from disappointment, and I feel like that release gave me a way into the book that I wouldn't have had otherwise.
I would have expected the more traditional Kay narrative of big armies and big wars and heroic battles playing out in our faces or the little battles playing out on the periphery, but I was freed of that expectation and was able to luxuriate in the simplicity of this tale. I think that's what Kay was trying to achieve with Under Heaven -- simplicity. It was in his prose. His prose was as adjective free as it has ever been, moreso, and there was an immediacy born of that simplicity that worked for me. And the poetry of Kitai was just as simple. Another reflection of Kay's purpose, I imagine.
Moreover, that simplicity went further than just the words Kay chose. This simplicity defined the plot and action. We've come to expect complicated motivations from Kay, but here the motivations were the most mundane (disappointingly so for many); we've come to expect complicated emotions, emotional cross-purposes, but the emotions of Shen Tai and Wei Song and Le-Mei and Spring Rain and Sima Zian were only complex because of their simplicity. Many strands of this story appeared and hinted at great complexity then turned out to be tiny threads poking out of the tapestry merely needing to be trimmed. Simple in their messiness. But true.
I came to love this book by the end for its simplicity. I think it was what Kay was going for, but I can understand the disappointment of others. As I said, I think I'd have suffered from the disappointment too if circumstances had been different. But they weren't different. My circumstances were what they were, and they led me to love this book. I am glad for that, and sad for those who only met disappointment.
Finally, I thought the resolution, the ending at Kuala Nor was beautiful. Full circle. Honourable. And a sentiment I share with the men who put those ghosts to rest. (less)
I love this book because Brontë loves this book. And Brontë loves sharks, and this book is the reason Brontë loves sharks (interesting that Zombies ar...moreI love this book because Brontë loves this book. And Brontë loves sharks, and this book is the reason Brontë loves sharks (interesting that Zombies are her favourite monster and sharks are her favourite animal, isn't it?). And I can see why.
Anne Schreiber doesn't dumb things down for the kids. She brings them along with her in a conversation about sharks, and when she talks about predators and prey, or cartilege, or serrated teeth, she takes the time (in little side blurbs) to explain what she's going on about. I also dig the little fill in the blanks paragraph on the inside back cover. What a great way for a kid to contextualize and use the words they've learned. Nice touch.
So Schreiber's writing coupled with amazing National Geographic photographs makes National Geographic Readers Sharks a winning combination. The perfect accompaniment to a hot shower, or a great way to instill love of marine life into your favourite little girl or boy. (less)
I am a much bigger cynic than M. Clifford. He believes that change is possible, much like his protagonist, Holden. He believes that his imaginary dyst...moreI am a much bigger cynic than M. Clifford. He believes that change is possible, much like his protagonist, Holden. He believes that his imaginary dystopia is avoidable. I don’t.
I believe that his dystopia is already upon us and growing stronger every day. I believe there is no way to overthrow it or change its direction. I believe we’re fucked. But like I said, I am a cynic.
M. Clifford isn’t. His book, The Book is about a “near future” dystopia where the state sponsored media and the powers that be -– embodied by the “Department of Homeland Preservation and Restoration” -- alter every book in existence or delete them completely from the record. It all begins with The Great Recycling, a morally satisfying environmental moment wherein the world trades their paper books for a one-size-fits-all government issue digital reader. All books are outlawed and easily corrupted digitization becomes the norm.
There are those who discover the truth, however. A pipe fitter who loves books discovers that the stories he thought he knew and loved have been changed. Some subtly and others drastically. His moment of discovery gives birth to a movement that eventually offers the hope of freedom to a world in the grip of digital mind control. M. Clifford’s The Book believes in this hope, the human desire for truth and the indefatigability of the human spirit. Maybe he’s right.
But a couple of things have happened this month that give me pause. In fact, they’ve disheartened me to the point of undermining what little faith I had in the human thirst for truth.
First, there is the “Twain-scholar” sanctioned editing of “nigger” from the New South Press’s edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Dr. Alan Gribben of Auburn University Montgomery has had difficulty reading the word aloud for some time now (presumably due to discomfort), and he’s sad that Huckleberry Finn has been removed from so many school reading lists, so his answer is to avoid what he calls “pre-emptive school board” censorship by offering his own pre-emptively censored edition of the great American classic:
NewSouth publisher Suzanne La Rosa said. "We were very persuaded by Dr. Gribben’s point of view of what he called the amount of ‘preemptive censorship’ going on at the school level. It pained him personally to see ... the way that Twain’s novels were being de-listed from curricula across the nation. It became difficult for teachers to engage in discussion about the text when the kids were so uncomfortable, particularly with the n-word.
Interestingly, the negative reaction to this about to be published edition has been negligible. We’re told in the few stories written about this development that the Mark Twain guild, populated by Gribben’s fellow Twain scholars, is mostly disapproving, but the rest of the response is as wishy washy as correspondent Michael Tomasky’s blog piece in the Guardian. And even those who are not sympathetic with the motivations behind the editing changes (which Tomasky is, even though he wouldn't go so far as to censor the work himself) seem to be of the opinion that since this is merely one edition, and that faithful editions that keep Twain’s language intact will still be available, this really isn’t such a big deal. Where’s the outrage? Where’s the debate? Where’s the discussion? It is nearly impossible to find. So tacit acceptance of censorship wins the day.
It’s a step towards M. Clifford’s dystopia, and it hasn’t even required the guilty propaganda of his Great Recycling.
[C]ould everyone do me a favor? Go to the Kindle version on Amazon and click on "report poor quality and formatting" under the Feedback box. / Then politely tell the publisher that Jesus is the Son of God, not the Son of Cod, and to stop using COD every single time.
Luckily, Lara Amber heard right back from, of all people, Dan Simmons’ literary agent, and then from Dan Simmons himself:
I want to thank you for contacting me re: the low quality of transfer from hardcopy prose to e-text for your Kindle edition of Hyperion. As someone who works endless days and nights proofreading and re-proofreading text, the news made me sick. ("Oh my Cod! Cod damn it!" Ridiculous.
By now you've heard from my NY agent, Richard Curtis, who's one of the most respected agents in the business. Richard contacted the highest people at Bantam Books immediately and they admit to such errors in their "earlier editions" and have already begun a special RTF file check to correct Hyperion. (What it takes, of course, is an alert human eye and brain, such as yours.) When the top Bantam people asked Richard -- "Should we re-check the other three books in the Hyperion Cantos?" -- his answer was "Absolutely!" Such errors -- such absolute sloppiness -- damage the spell being cast by any novel and simply can't be tolerated.
Thank you again for writing to me promptly about this outrage.
Best, Dan Simmons
Now that’s a pretty damn cool response from Simmons. But it’s also scary that he even needs to respond. A seemingly small error, probably a slip up that was repeated “innocently” throughout the book (although “c”and “g” aren’t really close enough on a key board that they could be a typo, are they?), but it gets out there in a digital version and requires direct action from the author to rectify. What if the author happened to be dead? What if there were no printed version to compare it to? What if the “mistake” became the norm? Would anyone realize or care? Well, those “what ifs” are precisely what M. Clifford’s The Book is about, but here and now those mistakes are happening without conscious action by any big controlling body, and I have to wonder how many e-copies of other books are error laden without anyone fixing them up.
It makes Clifford’s vision for our digital future even scarier.
But I am still nowhere near as hopeful as he is. I see that dystopia coming, and I see no hope for a revolutionary group like Holden’s Ex Libris coming to keep “truth” alive. In fact, I find myself more in line with the feelings of Holden’s mentor, Winston Pratt (or at least the way he felt mid-book)
Over time, despite how depressing reality is, that fact remains true. There is nothing we can do to spot [the Recyclers]. You must bear your fate and enjoy what life you have left. Enjoy this world. Enjoy each other. This is a harsh reality, but it is the one we were born into. Accept it. We do not have a choice.
I don’t believe that the fight in The Book is a fight that anyone could win because I don’t believe anyone would actually engage in the fight. But I’d sure love to believe it is possible, and if M. Clifford’s inspired work of “near future” dystopia contributes to making the fight possible, then it will take its place alongside other great dystopian books that Clifford clearly venerates (like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451).
The cover of the The Book says Don’t Read The Book.
• The cover art by Stephen Youll is killer in a cheesy old movie way. So killer that it made me buy this book against my better judgement...moreThe Coolness—
• The cover art by Stephen Youll is killer in a cheesy old movie way. So killer that it made me buy this book against my better judgement. The Gill-man on the cover, looking like he’s just risen from the swamp, dripping water from his forearms with some aquatic flora hanging loose from his chitinous armour, is a hoot, and coupled with old B-movie, Creature font, it is impossible to resist.
• Cody and Brice are nude. A lot! That’s what happens, I guess, when you’re back in the Devonian with the one that you love and no society is around to tell you to keep your clothes on.
• Zombie Gill-men!
• There’s this kick ass burial ritual for the “civilized” Gill-men where they liquefy their dead and return them to The Mother. I would love to have seen this used better in a different context. But it’s pretty cool nonetheless.
• You can’t have a good novel without an issue to revolve around, or at least that’s what I imagine Hackosaurid di Filippo’s creative writing teacher telling him. So di Filippo does the responsible thing and throws in some environmentalism for us. The world’s a mess in 2015 because of of our destruction of the environment, so good ol’ boy Brice wants to splice us together with a Gill-man to save our species from the eventual destruction our industrialization has wrought. Don’t worry, though, there’s no crisis or craziness happening when Brice goes back. Just an increase in temperatures and air conditioning. This could have been an excellent addition if it had been handled with some subtlety, but Hackosaurids are not known for their subtlety. They’re more like T-Rexes trying to be stealthy.
• The stupidity of Cody and Brice was sorta funny to begin with, but then it just gets annoying. What a pair of idiots. Still, it’s really easy to buy their stupidity, so they deserve everything they get. But then the super-genius who created the time machine adds his stupidity to the mix, and the Gill-People are just as stupid as all of them, so the stupidity is interminable and painful.
• There is some really, and I mean REALLY, crappy wish fulfillment going on in this book. Case in point: “You own every part of me now, Brice, whether you ever wanted to or not. Don’t ever forget that.” You see, Cody was almost eaten by a seventy foot, prehistoric shark, but her geeky, marine biologist boyfriend, Brice just happen to nuke it from his kayak with a kick ass automatic rifle, saving her life. Then we get this little vow of personal enslavement, just before a crazy tumble in the bog between the two randy lovers, and all so Brice can daydream about the amazing foreplay that is a near death experience. Gill-man alive!
• AND there is some seriously shitty dialogue. Just consider this gem from Hackosaurid di Filippo when his heroes (and I use the term loosely), lose their iPod time machine and discover they’re stuck in the Devonian: “Brice showed Cody the empty holster on his hip. He tried to be light about their devastating loss. ‘Our ticket home’s been punched already. No mileage left.’” Umm ... need I say more?
• The Gill-folk are telepaths and water shapers and earth shapers and air shapers and aliens! Wow! Don’t you just love sci-fantasy? It’s like the cheesiest X-Men story ever.
• Gill-Folk = Noble Savages = Devonian Utopia. Then the Gill Zombies come and screw it all up. But the “base-line” Gill-People remain so nice and so understanding and soooooo peaceful. Oh joy, oh Devonian bliss. Silly assed foolishness.
• Most of the book. But at least it is better than The Spell of Zalanon. Barely. I better get a good pulpy fix soon our my head is going to explode. Trash is good, but vomit is unacceptable.(less)
I am an excellent reader, as I know many of my friends on goodreads are, but I don’t think there’s enough appreciation of reading as a skill in our wo...moreI am an excellent reader, as I know many of my friends on goodreads are, but I don’t think there’s enough appreciation of reading as a skill in our world. We take it for granted, those of us who are “literate,” and because it is the base of the things that we learn, we tend to ignore those who excel. Of course, many of those who read well are told they “analyze things too much” or that they “dig too deep” by those who might be solid readers, but probably don’t have serious reading chops.
I think of it this way: the critics of analysis are the Sunday co-ed softball players who enjoy the game, like to escape for a few hours of exercise and fun, and like to hit the occasional home run or catch a tricky pop fly. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But for all the thousands of recreational ball players, there are a handful of professional ball players, whose skills are ever so much better (and whose skills stretch from Single A to the Big Leagues). They are the ones who get more from a hit, or a perfectly executed throw; they’re the ones who will stretch a double into a triple; they’re the ones who will take a fastball in the back rather than bail out of the box. And as readers go, they’re the ones who make the connections, who read the patterns that most people don't. They're the ones who analyze too much.
My reading of Pattern Recognition puts me in the category of the pro ball players. I loved the book on its own merits, and I know that I was able to read the merits in a way that others won’t be able to access. Many will, of course, and they will love what they've found, but there's plenty there for those who won't. And there is certainly nothing wrong with whatever reading those recreational players come up with.
Why do I feel this way? How can I say these things? Because I didn’t just read this book, I created it as I turned every page. I was part of the process; I wasn’t just reading someone else’s finished process; I was the final important element of the patterns William Gibson was laying out for connection. The book needed me, and those like me, to be complete. Every time this book is read by a talented reader, it is being written.
So there’s no point in really talking about the book's particulars. I’m not going to summarize the plot or point out specific moments of prose brilliance. I am not going to discuss the connections in the book. I am not going to talk about how personal this was to read. Just read it yourself. Make your own connections. Become part of the process of Pattern Recognition and let yourself analyze it, let yourself dig deep. And if you can’t do those things, you should still read it because I’m guessing it’s good enough for every level of play.(less)
Thank you for the dazzling joy of Freedom & Necessity. This book went toe to...moreSummerside, Prince Edward Island 29th August 2010
Dear Steven and Emma,
Thank you for the dazzling joy of Freedom & Necessity. This book went toe to toe with Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian and won the battle for my attention (and that's saying something). I don't know how you did it, but I am so glad you did. THIS was one of the best reading experiences of my life. Where do I begin?
I want to begin with the form you chose. But I am going to hold off on that and talk about Hegel, Engels and Marx. Hegel, your unifying thread, was used in a way that I am sure he would approve of; he was the natural connection between your boys. Richard and James sparring over the Science of Logic while their lives are at their most uncertain was pure genius. Then you gave us Engels, but not Engels as an abstract ideologue whose impossible ideals inform the characters' actions but as a fully developed character whose realism is a fulcrum about which the novel's action necessarily turns. Then you add Karl Marx in a family man cameo that brings the great historical thinker down to the Earth of his family life. Again...genius.
But you weren't content with your brilliant invocation of historical figures. No. You wanted us to believe in your four main characters. No. More than that. You wanted us to love and pull for and fear for and cheer for your lead cast. And you succeeded. James Cobham, Susan Voight, Kitty Holbourn and Richard Cobham are the most completely realized characters I've read since Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin in Perdido Street Station (and speaking of Perdido, thanks to China Miéville for pointing me towards your marvelous book). They go beyond the page. They live and breathe. Their relationships feel true because they are true. They are petty and self-indulgent and unrelenting and selfish and cruel and spiteful and occasionally silly. But they're also heroic and outward looking and tractable and selfless and kind and mostly serious. They are people I want to know, and they're people I do know thanks to you two.
And now it is time to talk about your form, because the epistolary nature of Freedom & Necessity -- and your masterful execution -- makes all of this possible -- this and so much more. James, Susan, Kitty and Richard are given to us on their own terms because everything is shared with us through their journals and letters (and by the end I felt like one of their children reading the family's history, which I am sure you intended). We only know them through what they want to tell us and through what they need to say about and to one another, and there is no truer record of a life or lives than one's own correspondence coupled with the thoughts and epistles of others.
But even that wasn't enough for you. You had to create one of the most compelling adventure-intrigue-mystery-historical fictions ever written, and again the ultimate genius was in your choice of the epistolary form. I have never read an ending like that, Steven and Emma. You build and build and build towards the denouement, then you skip ahead a couple of days because that's when the players would be ready to write their thoughts, so we get fragments from Richard, nothing from Kitty and James, and the perfect recall of Susan (albeit from her limited perspective). You withhold and withhold and then deliver in dribs and drabs the final actions of your tale in a way that blows my mind. Druidic conspiracies mix with greedy grabs for property mix with labour disputes and revolution, and all of it is delivered from the perspective of our four correspondents. UTTERLY...FUCKING...BRILLIANT!
So thank you for your genius. I am going to read your solo books A.S.A.P, and I beg you, please, to come together and write another novel because Freedom & Necessity is damn near perfect. I want more.
Yours in humility,
p.s. thanks, Jacob, for giving me the final push to pluck this off my shelf and read it. I am forever indebted.(less)
Cormac McCarthy is talking about big things in Blood Meridian, and he is doing them extremely well. But what are those big things? Is he talking about violence? The sacred? Violence and the sacred? Is it war, as the judge says? Is McCarthy talking about ineluctability of humanity and humanism? Is he talking about hubris? The divine in man? The divine itself? Is he talking about the cost of living? The cost of being conscious? The cost of being a killer species that pretends to avoid its murderousness? The cost of conscience? The worth of conscience? Or is it all of these and more at once?
And then I wonder whose story this is. Is it the kid's? The judge's? The U.S.A.'s? Everyone's? Is it our story? Is this the story of mankind? Is this a gospel of man?
And just who is the judge? Is he a nation? Is he the devil? Is he an immortal? Is he merely a man? Is he mankind itself? A mirror held up to make us shudder? Is he the übermensch while the kid is man? Is the judge Yahweh the vengeful? Is his violence born of love? Of hate? Of necessity? Of desire? Of fulfillment? Of being human?
And how does this book slip under the radar of those who would ban books (though, perhaps it doesn't; I haven't researched that yet)? It is the single most violent text I have ever read (except The Bible). It's far more violent than American Psycho or A Clockwork Orange and just as graphic. Is it that the bulk of the violence -- though nowhere near all -- takes place amongst men engaged in a pseudo-war (I say "pseudo" because it is a personal, paid, roving genocide perpetrated by Glanton and his men, and while what they do is what warriors everywhere and always do, to call it war feels like ennobling their acts)? Is it that the violence is so beyond anything we're familiar with (apart from a couple of Tarantino movies) that we are quickly desensitized and can't help accepting what's put before us? Or is it that violence on that scale and of that much detached cruelty is so deeply a part of what humanity is that we are enervated by its familiarity?
My answer is that "I don't know. I'm not sure." And the contemplation of these questions (I am positive I have missed a few that I will remember later) is far from over.
Blood Meridian Or the Evening Redness in the West is as exhausting as it is sublime. It's going to be with me forever, I think. The only question left is "When will I read it again?" Not soon, I can tell you that. It took an awful lot out of me. But someday not too soon.(less)
Every once in a while, when I am in a bookstore, I find myself needing to leave, but I have nothing in my hands. Sometimes it's because I am wandering...moreEvery once in a while, when I am in a bookstore, I find myself needing to leave, but I have nothing in my hands. Sometimes it's because I am wandering around while the kids are in ballet and I need to get back to pick them up; sometimes it's because I came for something specific and it isn't there; and sometimes it's because I am in the middle of an indecisive phase.
But I have an answer for all this. With time ticking away, I pick a section -- Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery, History, Biography, Fiction, whatever -- and I look for the first name or cover that captures my attention. If it is by an author I don't know I buy it.
I've found this method can turn up some gems, and Philip Palmer's debut novel, Debatable Space, is a particularly shiny example of my spontaneous luck. It sat on my to-read stack for over a year (and when I started reading Debatable Space it was only supposed to give me something to do while I brushed my teeth), but now I wish that I'd read it sooner.
Palmer writes in the classic space opera mode: alien races, bloody battles, interstellar travel, big ideas, even bigger technologies, hot sex, and an epic scope. And he does it with a joy I have seldom witnessed. It's one thing for me to enjoy a book and enjoy my time reading it, but it is quite another to actually feel the author enjoying the writing. I felt Palmer doing just that all the way through Debatable Space.
Palmer really loved writing this book. He loved his version of the universe, of course, and his imaginary technologies. But mostly he loved his characters, and that passion for Lena, Flanagan, the Cheo, Alby and the others makes Debatable Space one hell of a fun read.
Some reviewers have complained about Debatable Space's first person narrative and the way it shifts from character to character (sort of As I Lay Dying on speed), writing that it doesn't really work, but I think most of that frustration comes from their dislike of Palmer's characters. The biggest complaint seems to be that his characters are universally unlikable, which makes me cringe a little because I found them universally the reverse. Flawed, violent, occasionally nasty, but infinitely likable (I imagine that says something about me and the way I see the world)
Setting aside Palmer's love for his characters, though, if a reader doesn't connect with them, I can see how Debatable Space could be difficult to enjoy. Luckily, I didn't have that problem and, while there were some times early on when the characters' voices seemed too alike, I found the first person narrative and multiple viewpoints refreshing.
I was annoyed, though, by some of Palmer's more gimmicky moments -- such as a hang gliding sequence that used two otherwise blank pages to go "up up up" and "down down down" -- and I am not so sure this book will hold up to repeated readings. Still, I have great hope for his future works, one of which, Red Claw, is already out there.
I genuinely loved the time I spent in Palmer's universe.
I also love that if I hadn't been in such a hurry to get home that day all those months ago, I never would have found myself reading about Earth's next thousand years. Spontaneity is good. Try it sometime. (less)
There's a travel weariness in Right to the Edge that has begun to diminish the shine that was so much a part of his earlier journeys. In the past, Boorman's trips had very specific boundaries that forced him or his team to tough out everything from impassable stretches of road and bad accidents to racing against self-imposed timetables or the elements. This led to genuine moments of adventure that were formed and shaped within the journeys themselves.
In Long Way Round, Ewan and Charley found themselves taking a train to the Road of Bones because Siberia was just too damn huge; in Race to Dakar, Charley broke both his wrists early in the race, but stayed to chronicle the progress of the team he'd assembled, giving the Dakar a different face than is usually seen; in Long Way Down, the boys were faced with tough decisions brought on by having Americans with them on the trip, decisions that kept part of their crew out of Libya, changed their already tight schedule, and created team tension that bore some genuine drama; in By Any Means, Charley's dedication to using as many means of transportation as possible -- excluding commercial aircraft -- led to two harrowing experiences on the ocean, a thrilling water-ski from one country to another, and some tropically drenched dirt bike rides through South-East Asian jungles.
These adventures made for compelling reading, even if they weren't always as entertaining as they could have been. But Boorman's Right to the Edge (an embarrassingly misleading title) is more comfortable than compelling -- both for him and us. Charley pretends to have the same conviction to use anything other than a commercial airplane to travel, but he is more than happy to hop on a plane if there's even a whiff of high seas or rough weather or pirates. And while he does spend a little time playing around with modes of transportation that are unique to Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and the Philippines, he spends most of his time with his beloved motorcycles. This isn't a bad thing, necessarily, but it is safe and comfortable, and for the first time, one of Charley's trips felt more like an extended vacation than an adventure.
It's kind of nice to spend some mellow time with Charley Boorman, especially because his own relaxation led to an increase in the time he spent getting to know the people he met along the way rather than putting all his focus on the machinery he was using to move from place to place. I think, though, that he needs a break from his trips, some real time away so that his wonder of the world can be restored. Charley Boorman is now a bonafide world traveler, and while there is still much out there to see and do, his traveling innocence is gone.
Sure he'll never get the innocence back, but a breath or two away from his experience will cut down on his jadedness and the readers'. This is worth a read if you're a fan of Charley Boorman, but if you're coming to his travels for the first time make sure you start at the beginning. Long Way Round is still his best. (less)
I finally get it. I get the love for George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones. I didn’t think I’d get it, but I find it hard to remember now why I thought...moreI finally get it. I get the love for George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones. I didn’t think I’d get it, but I find it hard to remember now why I thought that way. I know that one thing holding me back was some random comment from a random, now forgotten person, that led me to believe I would hate Martin’s politics, and that they’d play themselves out in a distracting way, but that never manifested for me. Beyond that I can’t recall why I thought I would hate the book.
Perhaps it was because many of the people who’d recommended A Song of Ice and Fire to me had also recommended RA Salvatore’s Drizzt books, which I loathe to the very core of my being (and continue to read like some bizarre masochistic ritual).
Whatever the reason, I thought it would be crap and even though I had a copy on my shelf for years, I refused to pick it up and get reading. But then HBO had to go and make a series out of it, and I couldn’t watch the show (which I had to because of the presence of Lena Headey and Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage) without reading the book first, so my hand was forced.
And here I am willing to eat a message bearing crow and say, “I was wrong.”
This series is good. Damn good. It deserves tons of its praise. But is it eligible for the title “Best Fantasy Series” ever? Probably not. Is it on par with The Lord of the Rings? No. But I don’t think they are the same kind of book, so they shouldn’t really be compared.
What A Game of Thrones is -- and I say this fondly -- is a boy’s own soap opera. It is dark and sinister and nasty; it is full of violence and sex and even a hint of magic and the supernatural; it is full of big, brash characters who engage in incest, hide their secrets, make dirty deals, and generally screw up themselves, their families and their friends. It is Days of Our Lives with plate mail armour and bloody battles. And that is all very, very good.
Yet even with its overarching soapiness, A Game of Thrones impressed me most with the way it made me believe in the reality of its world. The brutality, the drive to vengeance, the fact that no character -- however heroic -- is safe, the overwhelming pathos in every action and reaction, the textures and smells and sounds of the our world transplanted in Martin’s made me believe that all of it was possible, even the two punch dénouement of the final Catelyn and Daenerys chapters.
So y’all were right. Everyone who told me I would love this book, you were right. I do. And now I will probably wind up ploughing quickly to the end of the books and find myself right where you’ve all been for so much longer than me. Waiting. But at least my wait won’t be, can’t be, nearly as long as yours. Suckers. ;P
And for anyone who's interested, here're links to my four volume reading journal. Enjoy.
Lee Stephens would make an excellent head writer for a TV show. I imagine him taking his natural skill for plotting, relationships, and breathless act...moreLee Stephens would make an excellent head writer for a TV show. I imagine him taking his natural skill for plotting, relationships, and breathless action, dropping his creation in the laps of excellent screenwriters, then marshaling their strengths for character depth, dialogue and world building to accomplish an alien invasion series that would easily put ABC’s V reboot to shame.
But he’s not a leader of that team, and he’s not writing a TV series. He’s writing Epic, a trilogy of military sci-fi novels (with Christian overtones) whose inadequacies can be infuriating.
Outlaw Trigger, the second book in the Epic trilogy, is shorter, darker and more tightly packed than its predecessor, Dawn of Destiny. The plot, which follows the assassination of Lt. Scott Remington’s fiancé and its fallout, makes for some exciting interactions between the characters, compelling the reader to keep reading even when what’s coming is obvious. It’s a good, albeit pedestrian, plot, and it works on an emotional level, fulfilling most of the reader expectations Stephens sets up.
But the plot is the book’s strongest element. I kept hoping the characters wouldn’t be polarized between simplistic visions of good and evil, but they were. I kept hoping that the dialogue would become more inspired, less repetitive (if there had been any more teasing discussions about potential adultery between the characters I would have been forced to stop reading), but it didn’t. I kept hoping that the politics that led to Earth’s world government, EDEN, would come clear. But they didn’t either. And all of these failings make me wish for a team of writers to help Stephens.
His ideas are good. They’re potentially better than good. And Stephens is a pretty darn good writer, but I can’t help feeling other voices could have made the Epic series stronger, more accomplished, deeper, flat-out better.
But that’s not to say Outlaw Trigger is bad. I am impressed enough to go on, and I will certainly read Hero, the conclusion of Stephens’ series.
No, Outlaw Trigger didn’t turn me off; in fact, I enjoyed my time so much that I took it to the beach to finish it in the sun. And that is high praise in the entertainment department. I just hope I am not quite so frustrated by what could have been by the end of Stephens’ Epic series because I hope for better for Lee Stephens and his baby.(less)
I love being made to feel, and I love it even more when that feeling is passed to me through literature, and I love it more still when that feeling is...moreI love being made to feel, and I love it even more when that feeling is passed to me through literature, and I love it more still when that feeling is completely unexpected, and I love it most of all when it leaves me on the edge of weeping joyfully.
I had zero expectations for Isherwood's A Single Man. I knew nothing about it when I plucked it from the bookshelf, but I saw Colin Firth's face and my adoration (along with his Oscar nomination for his leading role in Tom Ford's film adaptation, which I still haven't seen) made buying it an unavoidable impulse.
Then it sat on my shelf for months.
Last week I needed something late at night, flipped it open and found myself on the dedication page: "TO GORE VIDAL." That was good enough to get me started, but Isherwood's gorgeous writing ripped me into the flow of his book. At first I was able to put it down after dipping into the beauty of his words. But each dip made me need more. Today I drowned in Isherwood until I was finished.
The story of one day in the life of a fifty-something English prof is unremarkable. It's just a day. He's just a man. But there is such beauty in that day and that man, in the way that he lives, in the way that he finds easy joy in mundanity, in the way he avoids preciousness and self-pity, in the way he lives in the now for the now, that I came to love George in a way I haven't loved a character for a while. I know that some of my love for George is narcissistic. I connect with most every element of the man (even if we're not the same). But I'm okay with that. I love myself. I can admit it.
What I mean to say, I suppose, is that this book was for me even if it may not be for you. And that's okay.
I know I'm going to be back reading this book a few months from now, and I'll let you know if it holds up (I sure hope my response isn't just the mood I'm in), but I'm not terribly worried. I have a feeling Christoper Isherwood is really as good as I feel he is.(less)
1. It's misogynistic. 2. It's packed with cliché. 3. It's too convoluted. 4. It's too disturbing. 5. Lisbeth wasn't autistic enough or was foolishly autistic. 6. There were too many red herrings, and the damn Nazi red herring didn't have the usual payoff. 7. Too/Two many plots. 8. Too hard on Leviticus.
I will answer these in a moment, but first I must declare that I am an unrepentant fan of this book. This is one of the rare times when I long for goodreads to have half grades, because I would love to give this 4.5. I can't give it a full 5, though, because I sense Mr. Larsson's series is going to grow in his last two books.
And now...back to the top eight complaints:
1. Perhaps, but how can a book whose original Swedish title is "Men Who Hate Women" avoid misogyny? It can't. But at least the misogyny present is a comment on misogyny. Larsson isn't being misogynist. He's attacking misogyny.
Moreover, our hero, Mikael Blomkvist, is not one of the men who hate women. He is a pretty good guy, actually; in fact, he's one of the rare guys I would actually categorize as a "good guy" in most modern literature. Sure...he's a bad Dad. Sure...he has a failed marriage and many sexual relationships. Sure...he makes some decisions that challenge his ethics. But he remains a "good guy." He tries to do well in an ugly world. He never succumbs to cynicism. And he genuinely cares about all the people in his life. Male and female.
And it's not like Berger and Salander are weak women -- far from it. There may be misogyny in Men Who Hate Women, but it is wholly the characters' misogyny -- those who have it -- and not the author's.
2. With apologies to my friend who's first name starts with T: Cliché, smiché! Yes there's some cliché -- maybe plenty of cliché -- but who cares?! Seriously? We're not talking about Proust here. We're talking about a mystery novel, a serial killer who-dunnit. Complaining about cliché in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is like complaining about "pinko sympathies" in The Communist Manifesto.
There's communism in Marx? Really? You think!?
3 & 7. Yep. There's a couple of distinct plots here, but there's a level of verisimilitude to that. Have even our banal lives ever had anything important happen without something else important occurring at the same time? Not mine, and to have multiple incidents happening simultaneously makes sense to me. The search for Harriet Vanger wasn't hampered at all by the Wennerström drama, and vice versa. And to be honest, I loved having a pair of mysteries solved in the same novel.
4. Too disturbing compared to what? It's nowhere near as disturbing as American Psycho, and it's about average as far as the serial killer genre goes. Plus, I think there is a power in the graphic moments of this novel, particularly Lisbeth's vengeance on her guardian. I am not on her side when it comes to this vengeance, but I understand it, and the drive to take vengeance in such a way -- such a human way -- fascinates me. Who'd have thought, besides maybe my friend Manny, that the Swedes have it in them?
5. Perhaps this is true, but at this point I have only read one of the trilogy, and the only person who suggested that Lisbeth was autistic was Mikael, and while he thought she was suffering from Asberger's his guess was only in passing. I can cut the book some slack here. (suspend my disbelief, suspend my disbelief).
6. I was stoked that, for once, the Nazis were a red herring rather than the ultimate, degenerated evil. We all expect the Nazis to be the worst of the worst, so it is refreshing to see them as a deflection instead.
8. Can anyone really be too hard on Leviticus? Ummmmm...nope.
Now, I admit that I might love this novel simply because it is set in Sweden. After all, I do love ABBA, Fredrik Ljungberg, IKEA (my apologies), glögg, Stellan Skarsgård, Max von Sydow, Ingmar Bergman, and Mats Sundin. I looked into emigrating to Sweden but had no excuse, being a resident of Canada with no skills the Swedes were looking for, and I am a fan of Norse Mythology, but I do love Sweden, and I was jazzed by the setting of Larsson's book. All that aside, however, I think The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a compelling, entertaining and unabashedly thrilling read.
If you can overlook the eight complaints, or consider them in a different light, you'll like this book too. I promise. (less)
Destiny: Around page two hundred I wondered whether Lukyanenko was going to throw us a Perdido Street Station style curveball and make The Night Watch...moreDestiny: Around page two hundred I wondered whether Lukyanenko was going to throw us a Perdido Street Station style curveball and make The Night Watch about something other than a triple header search for an unsanctioned vampire, her young Other hostage, and the uber-powerful Warlock/Witch responsible for the great black Vortex hovering over the head of a nice, pretty little general practitioner (can you tell I've been reading too many mysteries and watching too much film noir lately? Sorry).
But nope. It wrapped itself up quite nicely and satisfyingly. Our hero Anton Gorodetsky, a Wizard working for the Night Watch (the "good" guys) who is unsure of his powers, delivers an underdog victory against the forces of the Day Watch (the "bad" guys) and their bad ass leader, Zabulon. Anton manages to maintain the all important balance between good and evil (this struggle for balance is one of my favourite parts The Night Watch, by the way), to save the boy, to save Doctor Svetlana and her untapped power (she is a seriously good ass wizard + she has a great name), and to rise in the estimation of his colleagues, despite being tricked into questioning the decisions of his boss, the toughest s.o.b. in Moscow, Boris Ignatievich.
Then it ends. And that's when I turned the page to discover that The Night Watch is really a compilation of three novellas. One down, two to go. Hope they're all as good as the first.
Among His Own Kind: The second novella opens a few months later, and a serial killer named Maxim -- one of the Light -- has escaped detection over the course of his life, and he is busy slaying those of the Dark. He senses their evil, channels his good through a wooden toy dagger, and wipes out the souls of the Dark Ones with righteous fervor.
The Night and Day Watches are then scrambling to put an end to Maxim's reign of terror as it threatens to tip the balance. Lukyanenko keeps us guessing who's really to blame, how Maxim's killings fit into the great chess game that is the Treaty, and the action drives on to yet another satisfying conclusion, but what this second tale is really about is the exploration of the concepts of good and evil from an Eastern European perspective. Neither good nor evil, you see, is about actions. Both the Light and the Dark engage in some pretty questionable behaviour -- murders, killings, betrayals, rule breaking, involuntary sacrifice -- but it is not these actions that make the difference between the Light and Dark in Lukyanenko's Russia; it is the choice between the individual and the group.
The Dark Ones are evil because they believe in the individual. Their greatest selling point for new Others trying to find their way is their belief in absolute freedom. They can and do have happy loving families. They can love, grieve and care regardless of their selfishness, but they are evil because they care about themselves first and foremost.
The Light Ones are good because they believe in the group. They believe in a greater good, and their individual needs and freedoms are second to the needs of everyone else (theoretically). And Lukyanenko, with all this talk about good and evil, makes sure we never lose sight of the balance between the two forces, which is necessary for peace. It's fascinating stuff, wrapped up and well concealed in an exciting urban fantasy. I can't help loving it.
All for My Own Kind: And then it becomes a love story and my love for the book slips into mere appreciation. Although I feel more for Anton in the third episode of The Night Watch and I am impressed by the further muddying of the ethical waters (the boundaries between the actions of the Light Magicians and Dark Magicians are practically non-existent), the final tale was too rushed to succeed.
This part of the story could and should have been a novel all to itself. It is not long enough, and is, therefore, too rushed. I needed more time with Anton as he struggled with the direction of the Light, more time with Gesar and Olga (especially more about her background) and Svetlana to understand the decisions they were making and to develop some sustained suspense, more history of the Light's social experiments (Russian Revolution, Nazi Germany and others), more investment in the peripheral characters so that I cared for something beyond Anton and his philosophical struggles, and much much more of Zabulon and the Dark Ones.
It's a bit of a let down after the genuine entertainment of the first two parts, but not such a let down that I will stop reading Lukyanenko. Still, a couple of days ago I was planning to plow straight into The Day Watch, but now I think I'll wait until I have a long flight ahead of me. I bet it will make the perfect airplane book.(less)
For me, Meursault is a hero. Not for killing the Arab on the beach -- which was carried out with far more motivation than I expected -- but for his to...moreFor me, Meursault is a hero. Not for killing the Arab on the beach -- which was carried out with far more motivation than I expected -- but for his total refusal to bullshit. He is a human stripped of our indoctrination to seek ease through conformity, leaving him as human as a human can be. For that, Meursault is a hero to me. And so is Camus.(less)
There is a comparison that is valuable, however. It doesn’t place impossible expectations on burgeoning authors; it doesn’t reduce the work they are doing; it simply places them in the context of literary history and points us in the direction of their progenitors. What I am talking about is authorial inheritance. There are some authors who, for whatever reason or in whatever way, have “inherited” a technique or a focus or an obsession from an established author and somehow built upon what came before.
Tolkien’s world building, especially linguistically, is legendary. He knew everything there was to know about the races, religions, languages and histories of Middle Earth. It remains a world of immense richness, and Fantasy authors of every generation have aspired to create worlds that match Tolkien’s genius.
I don’t think Vandermeer is one of those authors, at least not consciously. I don’t think he’s sitting down with his scribbled maps and booklets of backstories and rules of behaviour, aspiring to be the next Tolkien.
Yet what Vandermeer has done is create a world every bit as alive and teeming as Tolkien’s, and he has done it in a way that is unique to his time and personal experience and place in the world (a Pannsylvanian born, Fiji raised, Floridian).
Can you imagine a world where the grey skinned alien invaders people fear come from below, not from above, and are living, breathing fungus beings? Jeff Vandermeer can. Can you imagine a world where historians and artists are the venerated celebrities of the day, rather than actors and athletes? Vandermeer can. Can you imagine a world where weapons of mass destruction are fungal weapons that alter the world in a fearful burst of steampunky modernity? Vandermeer can.
But Vandermeer doesn’t stop at these peculiarities. He produces artifacts for reproduction, like a fungus rotted page from Janice Shriek’s Afterword, complete with Duncan Shriek’s annotations, and reproduces it in Sirin’s Afterword to her Afterword. He offers us photos of Janice’s mushroom overrun typewriter, the key artefact of her writing process, the green, glowing keys she writes about as she writes about her brother and Mary Sabon and Ambergris and herself.
And Vandermeer doesn’t stop there either. He invites bands into his world to write soundtracks for the works he’s writing. He hints at characters whose roots might be our world, madmen trapped in Ambergrisian madhouses. He offers histories of commerce and religion every bit as alive as the creations of any other world builder. And there’s more, so much more. It's in City of Saints and Madmen. It's in Finch. It's in Vandermeer's mind.
Vandermeer lives and breathes Ambergris and cities and nations it competes with, and all its environs, and his world is always expanding, always becoming. In its own way, Vandermeer’s world is as alive and important as Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and he has one leg up on the old master. He’s still alive, still working, and Vandermeer’s world can continue to grow.
Jaws is the tale of a marriage on the edge of failure. Chief Brody, head of the Amity police, is married to Ellen. They've three kids. He's a native o...moreJaws is the tale of a marriage on the edge of failure. Chief Brody, head of the Amity police, is married to Ellen. They've three kids. He's a native of the area; one of the poor boys who spent his days on the beaches while the rich folks came down to vacation from the big cities. She's from one of those big cities, from one of those rich families, and since she married Chief Brody she's been an outsider amongst the natives and outsider amongst the tourists. She belongs nowhere and feels herself wasting away in the tiny beach town, and she pines for what once was. (view spoiler)[She ends up sleeping with Matt Hooper, ichthyologist and younger brother of a boy she once loved, much to the Chief's chagrin (hide spoiler)].
Jaws is the tale of shady land speculation, organized crime and local governmental corruption, wherein another poor local boy "makes good," becomes Mayor, becomes one of the "nouveau riche," then winds up putting lives at risk to save his own skin and pay his bad debts.(view spoiler)[ A storyline that parallels and informs what's happening with Ellen, showing us what happens to those moving between classes in either direction (and suggesting that, perhaps, everyone should stay where they fucking belong, amongst their own people -- much to my discomfort and frustration) (hide spoiler)].
Oh yeah ... Jaws is also the tale of a killer shark that starts eating swimmers off the coast of Amity. Chief Brody, Matt Hooper and Quint (the infamous modern Ahab captured so wonderfully by Robert Shaw in Spielberg's movie, although he only shows up in the book in the last eighty pages after one brief half page cameo early on) go out and try to save the people and Amity's economy by catching the greatest of great white sharks. (view spoiler)[Hooper dies in this version, and the final take down of the Shark is Quint's rather than Brody's , then Brody swims towards a light house on the coast all by his lonesome. (hide spoiler)] It all feels like an afterthought, a tacked on third act of a book that never knew what it wanted to be, and the total lack of closure as the novel ends is pretty disappointing.
Once again, the movie proves to be better than the book. Much, much better.
Glad I reread this, though. A woman I loved told me to read this again, once upon a time, and I promised I would. It took a decade, but I lived up to the promise.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
It's not that The Gargoyle is bad. There are a couple of exquisite moments in the story that even my natural cynicism can't reject, and Andrew Davidso...moreIt's not that The Gargoyle is bad. There are a couple of exquisite moments in the story that even my natural cynicism can't reject, and Andrew Davidson is a competent (if overly self-indulgent) writer. The pacing of the story is good, the idea is entertaining (and could make an excellent HBO Mini-Series), the two main characters are believable (which is a feat) and the way the story deals with mental health feels genuine, so I can see why people love this book.
My problem, however, is as deep as it is simple. I spent the entire book wishing I was reading someone else. But it was worse than that. I didn't just want to be reading another author, I wanted to be reading the same story written by another author.
It started as a desire for Michael Ondaatje. I wanted his poetic prose for the story of the narrator's burns and rehabilitation. I wanted The Gargoyle to be a sort of pop-culture English Patient. Then I found myself pining for early Hemingway, back when Papa was cutting all the "good lines" from his work because clever turns of phrase call too much attention to the author and detract from the narrator (and there were so many "good lines" in this story that I started to see Davidson sitting on his laptop like Narcissus kneeling over the pond*). My desire for Hemingway lasted throughout. But I also wanted Irvine Welsh because he's an author who can take an idea like the "bitch-snake" and make it more than precious (read Filth for the perfect expression of a manipulative parasite). Then I longed for Margaret Atwood to write Marianne so the nun-sculptress-schizophrenic would be imbued with feminist power. And I wound up wishing I was reading Dante's Inferno rather than the narrator's blah morphine version packed into a chapter.
Ondaatje, Hemingway, Welsh, Atwood, Dante. Five authors I'd rather have been reading; five authors who could have told this story better.
If that's not enough to explain why this book was never more than okay for me, I've got two more little peeves: the bizarre font choices for the voices in the narrator's head (completely unnecessary), and the extra eighteen pages of drivel that were tacked on to the story's natural end. Where the hell are the Scribners and Pounds when authors like Andrew Davidson need them? Mouldering in their graves while today's "editors" are busy tweeting their days away and rushing the next big thing to press without proper care and attention.
For the record: those moments I mentioned earlier were Marianne Engel's perfectly fitting demise and the love story of Sigurd Sigurdson. Both exquisite.
Is the Terror a mythical beast in the Arctic? The Tuunbaq? Is the Terror Her Majesty’s Ship of the same name? Is the Terror nights that never end? Is the...moreIs the Terror a mythical beast in the Arctic? The Tuunbaq? Is the Terror Her Majesty’s Ship of the same name? Is the Terror nights that never end? Is the Terror a Ripper style murderer and his penchant for mutilation? Is the Terror knowledge? Is the Terror sodomy? Is the Terror a silent Esqimaux? Is the Terror scurvy? Is the Terror unrelenting ice floes? Is the Terror belief? Is the Terror remembrance? Is the Terror dreams? Is the Terror the past? Is the Terror cannibalism? Is the Terror doubt? Is the Terror hope? Is the Terror ignorance? Is the Terror magic? Is the Terror misunderstanding? Is the Terror fire? Is the Terror interminable cycles? Is the Terror hubris? Is the Terror hate? Is the Terror capitalism? Is the Terror “civilization”? Is the Terror humanity? Is the Terror the unknown? Is the Terror failure? Is the Terror duty? Is the Terror ego? Is the Terror alcohol? Is the Terror visions and hallucinations? Is the Terror death? Is the Terror suffering? Is the Terror starvation? Is the Terror ice? Is the Terror morality? Is the Terror shame? Is the Terror foolishness? Is the Terror delusion? Is the Terror love? Is the Terror life? Is the Terror solitude?(less)