Ostensibly, I've read it over the last twelve days. Finishing it took over my life just a little, and I don't know how many nights I p...moreThis book. Wow.
Ostensibly, I've read it over the last twelve days. Finishing it took over my life just a little, and I don't know how many nights I put it down and got to bed before 4am. Probably not many. It feels like I've been living with The Stand for much longer than that, though, and in another respect, I've really been reading it for almost three years. I made my first attempt at it in April 2009. At the time, IIRC, the only Stephen King books I'd read in full were Misery, Dolores Claiborne and Cell - the first two years beforehand, and all of them pamphlet length compared to the doorstop-sized Stand.
I've always had a taste for the apocalypse, and so the premise appealed greatly to me. The first chapter bore that out, but I hit a stumbling block with the introduction to Stu Redman. At the time, I just wasn't acclimatised to King's tendency to use twenty words where one would do, and by the time I fought my way through to meet Frannie Goldsmith on a pier in Maine, I was ready to give it up as a bad job.
Still, over the months that followed, my mind would turn back to it from time to time, and in November of that year I gave it another shot. I got a lot further that time around. Over the course of three or four months, dipping in and out, never reading for too long in order to savour every chapter, I eventually reached page 466, only just shy of finishing the first book, "Captain Trips". I can't really say why I never finished it from there. Mostly, it was never wanting the book to end. By then, I wasn't frazzled with Stu and Frannie, I loved them, and Larry Underwood and Nick Andros too. I wanted to feel that their world was there waiting any time I wanted to visit. The Stand was put to one side, and while I always kept it on my 'currently reading' list, I don't think I opened it once between February or March of 2010, and present.
One night a couple of weeks ago, I wasn't feeling great and couldn't sleep. Laying in bed, wide awake at 3am, I scanned my shelves for something to read, and paused on The Stand. The time felt right to give it another try. I was pretty confident that I could still pick up from where I'd left off, bookmarked just after Nick leaves Shoyo and before Larry awakens beyond the Lincoln Tunnel. But I thought back on those 466 pages, of seeing the world end over a couple of weeks from mid-June to early-July, and wanted to read it all over again. So I did. I re-met the old characters and fell in love with them all over again. And when I got to page 466, I kept on going, right through "Captain Trips", through "On The Border", "The Stand" and "The Circle Closes". It was exhausting, frequently frustrating, and I don't know that I'll ever have it in me to read it again, but I utterly loved it, and can happily say that this belongs on my favourites shelf.
All of this is not to say that The Stand is without flaws. I don't hold its length against it (though in the event of a future re-read, I'd plump for the original, rather than uncut edition). I think my first real discontent began with the introduction of Randall Flagg, the levitating, near-omniscient bad guy. I'm not keen on books that begin grounded in the real world, go on that way for hundreds of pages, and then throw in a surprise supernatural twist. I was even less keen when the emergence of Mother Abagail made plain that not only would the following events be strongly supernatural, they'd be driven by religion. Good v evil, God v devil. Not my cup of tea at all. Once it became clear that The Stand is very much a homage to Lord of The Rings (which, by great coincidence, is next on my re-read list), I could accept the supernatural elements and Flagg's all-seeing eye more easily. I never got so accustomed to the constant presence of God. When Larry went bravely into Vegas in the expectation that it was what God intended, and that He had something in motion that would come through... that was probably the pinnacle of my frustration, because I'm a cynical, pre-Mother Abagale Glen Bateman at heart.
Other things bothered me too. I was never all that interested in the antagonists, but might have been more so if "On the Border" hadn't been almost exclusively in the good guys' camp in Boulder, and "The Stand" with the bad guys in Vegas. I'd have liked a little more intermingling. The second book was my least favourite overall. The chapters were too long for my liking, the focus too squarely upon Stu, Frannie and Larry. Nick all but disappeared in this book, and I'd come to love him so in "Captain Trips". From reading King's On Writing last year, I knew about the bomb. I didn't know who would die, and for a chapter there I could hardly read on through fear. But afterwards... I didn't feel so much. I'd become emotionally disconnected from the lack of focus. It hurt more in "The Stand", when Nick came to Tom in dreams.
It shouldn't have come as a surprise that the women were mostly background characters, either weak or under developed or repulsive. King does this a lot. And then there was bloody Nadine, who was all of these and less. My least favourite character, without a doubt. The shift from when we met her, to our next encounter where she was CRAZY was just bizarre, and I could never but never empathise with her. There was Mother Abagale, yes, and I did enjoy her segments, but she was the utter embodiment of the "magical negro" trope. And as for the page where Frannie and Lucy sit sadly drinking tea while their men go bravely off to confront Flagg... oh my eyes about rolled out of my head. Two characters I would have loved to have seen more of were Susan Stern and Dayna Jurgens. Strong and brave and utterly badass, but with hardly ten pages of development between them. There was a much more fulfilling story there waiting to be told.
Then came the ending. After my second failed attempt at reading The Stand, I read a Goodreads review of it, so I knew one fact. (view spoiler)[I knew Larry was going to die. (hide spoiler)] There were times that I was desperately sad and scared for him, but in the final confrontation and aftermath... again, I didn't feel so much. I genuinely thought this book was going to tear my heart out, stomp all over it and make me cry. The closest it ever came to doing that was when Stu broke his leg and sent the others off without him. I closed that chapter almost literally shaking with the unfairness of it all, but even then, there was some hope. There was Tom Cullen. Words cannot describe how much I love Tom Cullen. If I had to pick a favourite character, I think he would be it. And yes the final journey was protracted and slowed the pace down when we should have been racing for the finish, but despite that, despite all these gripes and complaints, I'm sat here the afternoon after finishing it reflecting on how satisfying it was, all told.
The Stand isn't a literary masterpiece. It isn't perfect, and maybe it was even better 400 pages lighter. But it is a bloody good book, one of my all-time favourites, and I'm so glad to have finally read it. In a way, it doesn't feel like I've sat in a recliner and read it for twelve days. It feels like I've been on a journey. Like an experience.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I flipping love this book. I'd always liked it, but it took until my 2011 re-read to realise that it's up there jostling for first place with Hallows...moreI flipping love this book. I'd always liked it, but it took until my 2011 re-read to realise that it's up there jostling for first place with Hallows and PS. I love the routine of it - classes and Quidditch galore - and although Harry/Ginny seems much more left field when re-read over a short period, I love how, for a good five hundred pages or so, they're all allowed to just be normal teenagers. The ending is a total wrench - I remember finishing it for the first time and just wandering around the house forlornly, feeling like nothing was right with the world anymore (a melodramatic teenager? I? Never) - but I love all the build up to it, all the Riddle flashbacks. Add in marvellous new characters like Slughorn, brilliant subplots like Molly v. Fleur and Tonks/Remus and it's six hundred pages of pure brilliance. (23 Aug-1 Sep 2011)(less)
Azkaban is definitely one of my favourite Harry Potter novels. I love that it's the first time we really start to pull back from the trio and delve in...moreAzkaban is definitely one of my favourite Harry Potter novels. I love that it's the first time we really start to pull back from the trio and delve into the wider wizarding world and the older generation. It's a very different experience reading it now compared to the first time - I still remember being utterly stunned through the later chapters (view spoiler)[('GASP, he's a werewolf! He's helping Sirius Black! Scabbers is Pettigrew! Sirius is innocent!). (hide spoiler)] It's a wonder I didn't just keel over, frankly. Now, of course, the shock is gone, but if anything the story feels all the more poignant. It's very strange to encounter Lupin for the first time on the Hogwarts Express, to follow Harry through his visits with him, and know how much the man must be cherishing these moments, and how cruel the intervening years since they were last so close have been. I love Lupin. I love Sirius. One element I'm rather more 'meh' on is the relationship between Sirius and Remus. Knowing so many shippers now, it's very hard for me not to read it from a romantic POV, and I actually feel like their relationship was more touching when I could see them just as friends and near-brothers. But of course, that's not the fault of JKR at all, and Azkaban is definitely a book which is standing the test of time.(less)
Having spent a good five years of my life obsessing over Lost - whatever else that may say about me - I think it's fair to say I love a good castaway...moreHaving spent a good five years of my life obsessing over Lost - whatever else that may say about me - I think it's fair to say I love a good castaway story. And Lord of the Flies is definitely a good castaway story. I was one of the apparent minority that never covered this in school, so bought it in my first week of university (September 2005) with every intention of finding out what I'd been missing out on. It didn't go quite that smoothly. I opened the thing up, started reading the introduction, and gah, hello massive plot spoilers. So I put the stupid thing down, picked it up again six years later - finally having managed to forget who died... and my annoying kid brother, who did study it in school, went and blurted it out when I was two-thirds of the way through. Not. Impressed.
Still, incredible irritation aside, it's definitely a good story, and I absolutely understand now why it's so widely read and well-loved. I'd really like to see the film. I'd also like the spoil the ending of every plot-twist movie ever made for my brother, but that's neither here nor there. One of those books that I'm glad to have read.(less)
20-21 March 2012: The only reason I've given this a 4 instead of a 5 is because I don't think this is a series that needs romance at all. It's hardly...more20-21 March 2012: The only reason I've given this a 4 instead of a 5 is because I don't think this is a series that needs romance at all. It's hardly Twilight, but it felt as though they spent about six years in that cave, and the rest of it was just so damn good. So good. This one is definitely my favourite of the trilogy, but I'll probably save a lengthy review for after I've re-read it, which I intend to do pretty soon. I suspect this one will make its way to my all-time favourites shelf before too long.(less)
This is the first Murakami that I've read. I'll definitely be reading more.
Set roughly between midnight and 7am on a single city night, After Dark mea...moreThis is the first Murakami that I've read. I'll definitely be reading more.
Set roughly between midnight and 7am on a single city night, After Dark meanders through the lives of a loosely connected group of people. Mari meets an old acquaintance of her sister's while whiling away time in a Denny's, and events unfold from there.
Slice of life with supernatural undertones, I found After Dark entrancing. The writing is understated but commanding, and I was fully immersed in the characters' lives for the few hours spent with them. They felt real. They felt like people I'd willingly spend dozens more hours and hundreds more pages with. There's just something utterly captivating about the whole thing - it's not a novel weighted down by plot, but instead allowed to drift around with its rich, rounded characters as they come and go. One of those books where you don't want to so much as blink for fear of breaking the spell, and overall a delight to read.
I've had Murakami recommended to me on numerous occasions over the past few years, but had just never gotten around to reading any before now. I was skulking around the 'M' section of the library a couple of weeks ago, and noticed After Dark nestled beside The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. The latter looked entirely too much like a paperweight for my liking, and I picked up After Dark chiefly because it looked like something that could be read in one sitting, and no great loss if it turned out that it didn't appeal. It very much did, however, and that 'paperweight' is definitely coming home with me next time. I love that feeling of discovering an author and seeing the next few months stretch out into hours and hours of contented reading.(less)
I love this book. As a fan of ASOUE for over ten years now, it was a pleasure to revisit The Unauthorised Autobiography and find it just as maddeningl...moreI love this book. As a fan of ASOUE for over ten years now, it was a pleasure to revisit The Unauthorised Autobiography and find it just as maddeningly coded, light on real information and full of inanities as I remembered. I can appreciate why it wouldn't suit readers in search of actual answers, but given the lack-thereof in the series as a whole, TUA is a perfect accompaniment. It delves just far enough into the shrouded world of VFD to tantalise, without destroying the mysterious premise of the series by laying anything out plainly. For those that occasionally tire of the routine structure of the Baudelaire tales and wish to spend some time with the older generation, this is a must-read.(less)
Re-reading this for approximately the millionth time, it was still every bit as magical as the first. For some strange reason, I read Chamber of Secre...moreRe-reading this for approximately the millionth time, it was still every bit as magical as the first. For some strange reason, I read Chamber of Secrets first as a child (I vividly remember picking it up from my brother's bookcase and starting to read, but it's quite beyond me why it didn't seem a good idea to start with number one...) Still, I remember the delight when I did move on to this one and found all the wonderful build up. The Diagon Alley chapter still causes a physical pang of longing to be part of Harry's world. It's quite strange re-reading the whole series knowing exactly what's to come and how it ends. In a way I feel sad for the generation of children that will grow up seeing the films and knowing the plots before ever starting on the books. I think some of the magic will be lost to them, but there's still so much here to love, I can't imagine ever not wanting to re-read them all. Before the first film came out, I set myself the ridiculous task of trying to learn the whole book off by heart. Needless to say, I didn't succeed, but it was quite alarming to realise on this read-through that I still have a good portion of the first chapter stored away word for word! Just a wonderful way to spend a day.(less)
There isn't a single person I wouldn't recommend this book to. Barbara Demick is a journalist for the LA Times, assigned to Korea. Over a number of ye...moreThere isn't a single person I wouldn't recommend this book to. Barbara Demick is a journalist for the LA Times, assigned to Korea. Over a number of years, she's interviewed a hundred people who have defected from North to South Korea. Nothing to Envy tells six of their stories, accompanied by a history of North Korea from the country's split to present day. This book is immensely readable, and those unaccustomed to non-fiction shouldn't be deterred. Given how little about North Korea is taught in our schools or reported on our news, this was an absolute eye-opener for me, and there were places where it almost read like fiction, because it was so hard to accept that this is really happening now.
My only criticisms are trivial - Demick repeats herself on minor points from time to time, and some of the biographies are more fleshed out than others. Mi-ran and Jun-sang, sweethearts who defect separately and reunite too late to have a future together are very well represented, as is Mrs Song, a housewife who for many years is loyal to the regime. Her rebellious daughter Oak-Hee receives considerably less page time, as do Dr. Kim, a doctor who eventually makes the heartbreaking discovery that Chinese dogs are fed better than North Korean doctors, and Kim Hyuck, whose father places him in an orphanage as a teenager because he can no longer care for him. The stories told here are immensely powerful and haunting. Although these people all eventually escape to South Korea, most find it difficult to adjust, and must live with the guilt of knowing that their defections have led their families to hardships or even labour camps. This has been an absolute eye-opener for me, and I hope it will only be the start of my reading on North Korea.(less)
Would I have enjoyed this more had I not spoiled major plot events for myself? Undoubtedly. Is this a King classic that will stay with me forever, lik...moreWould I have enjoyed this more had I not spoiled major plot events for myself? Undoubtedly. Is this a King classic that will stay with me forever, like The Stand? Doubtful. And is it overlong, repetitve, all-seams-on-show writing? Well, yeah.
But did I cry? Did I spend a month living with and loving Jake, Sadie, Deke, Miz Ellie, Jodie and the Land of Ago? Do I feel sick and sad and bereft now that it's done? Oh, you betcha.
Fuller review to follow once it's had a little time to settle.(less)