The Hero and the Crown is Palmer's favorite kid-book, which is why I read it. I read The Blue Sword first because there was some confusion which of the two is actually his favorite. Here's why: both were written by Robin McKinley, whowrote The Blue Sword first, but The Hero and the Crown is its prequel. I'm glad, though, that I (kind of) read them in the wrong order because The Hero and the Crown is so much better. I really, really enjoyed it.
This one's about Aerin, daughter of the king of Damar. She's a bit of an outsider because her mother was a commoner from the (evilish) North, and lots of the citizens consider her mother, now dead, a "witchwoman," and think some sort of evil rubbed off on Aerin. Tor, a cousin, is slated to become king, and he is in love with Aerin, who keeps getting into trouble. She befriends and rehabilitates her father's lame warhorse and investigates an ancient ointment that protects the wearer from fire, then runs off to fight dragons (which are about the size of dogs but much more dangerous). Her father is having problems with the Northerners, and while he goes off to battle, she kills the last of the giant dragons, Maur, and is seriously injured. As she lays in bed dying, she dreams about a silver lake and a blond-haired man who says he can help her. She musters her strength and makes it to the lake, where she meets Luthe, who saves her but also makes her "not quite mortal," and once she is well, she travels to fight her uncle in a tall black tower. Then more stuff happens.
It appears that McKinley has taken care of some of her style issues that made The Blue Sword seem sooooo long. The Hero and the Crown flew by, and I found myself wishing there was more. There's a scene about three-quarters through the book in which Aerin is climbing up an amazingly long flight of stairs, but we only find out later that it's taken her thousands of years. McKinley made it seem like a couple hours. But there was less awkward language, and it was an easier, more pleasant read. I wish she'd write more in this series.
I really need to be better about posting quickly after I finish a novel. Unless it falls into the Best Novel Ever category, I forget what I wanted to say before I write anything down. Once I hit this year's quota, I might take a break from the writing part. Or not. We'll see.
I decided to read The Devil All the Time because it sounded similar to stories and novels by Flannery O'Connor and Cormac McCarthy, at least in substance. I'm generally pretty bad at reading pop fiction, a category into which this novel definitely fits, though I didn't have a hard time getting through this one. I think it's a story that could easily have come from either O'Connor or McCarthy - and it's certainly as gruesome.
The Devil All the Time is about various damaged people in terrible situations trying to survive. One is a young boy whose mother is dying of cancer. His father wants his mother to live so badly that he builds an alter in the woods behind his house and sacrifices animals (and one person), hanging them onto homemade crosses. Then there's the couple who drives across the country picking up young male hitchhikers, raping and killing them. The storylines eventually converge.
I enjoyed this novel more than I thought I would. It's better-written than I'd expect it to be, though I'd never heard of Donald Ray Pollock before, so I guess I didn't know what to expect. The plot is well thought-out, and the style is good. Pollock wrote another novel that, I think, is somehow related to this one, called Knockemstiff (the name of a town that reminds me of a certain author who wrote a series of novels set in another town with a stupid name, though Knockemstiff really exists), and I think I might be interested enough to read it. We shall see.
Several years ago, I dated a guy whose mother so often said that Kevin Costner was originally cast in Patrick Swayze's role in Ghost, that her sons came up with a gesture to express it more succinctly: they would simply touch their index fingers to their foreheads. I need to come up with similar gesture for my usual excuse of waiting too long after I've read a book to write about it. Or I could just abide by my general rule of posting about the book I've just read before I begin the next, though that idea doesn't seem to be working for me too well. So maybe I'll raise my hands above my head and cough.
Anyway. About a week ago, I finished The Book of Sand, my second Borges collection. This time it was all fiction, which was a plus, though, in general, I enjoyed Labyrinths much more. I felt challenged and entranced throughout the short stories in Labyrinths, but I found myself a bit bored with The Book of Sand.
The only story I really like in this collection is "The Book of Sand," which is about an infinite book. A bible salesman appears at the protagonist's door, offering to sell him a book with no beginning or end. As you turn to the back of the book, more and more pages appear, and the same thing happens when you try to find the front. Pages also continually change in the middle. The protagonist (who calls himself Jorge Luis Borges) buys the book, becomes obsessed with it, and realizes that it's a curse, so he does his best to get rid of it.
There are a couple more good stories, like "The Mirror and the Mask" and "The Disk," but I didn't see any comparable to one like "The Library of Babel" in Labyrinths, which just might be one of my favorite stories ever.
I still love Borges, of course, but I hope that most of his work (that I haven't read) is more like Labyrinths than The Book of Sand, though I guess they're both the same type of thing. One of the blurbs on the back of the book compared it to Labyrinths, but it's certainly not as good.
I had forgotten that Kafka died before finishing The Castle , or I probably wouldn't have picked it up. Few things annoy me more than not knowing how a novel is supposed to end, though, I guess, good ol' Wikipedia gives us a clue, but that's only a bit of a consolation because, of course, it is Wikipedia. The Castle has been on my reading list for a few years. I started reading it a long time ago, but I didn't get very far. I don't remember why. I think it might have put me to sleep. This time, though, it held my attention throughout, and I really enjoyed it - until it cut off at the end with absolutely no resolution.
Here's the general plot: A man named K. wanders into a village governed by officials in a castle not far away. He checks into an inn, goes to sleep, and is awakened by the innkeeper and one of those officials, who says he doesn't have permission to stay in the village and that he must leave immediately. K. claims to be a land-surveyor summoned by the castle (we never really learn whether he is or not, but I assume he's lying), and after some phone calls, he is allowed to stay. So he sleeps. The next morning, he tries to contact various officials, but he finds it impossible. He thinks he has a chance at talking to an official who knows an official, etc, etc, etc, but, of course, he doesn't. It's the same general idea as The Trial , though they're certainly two different novels. And then it breaks off. The end.
It doesn't sound like it, but I really do like Kafka. I read The Metamorphosis when I was in high school, and I really enjoyed it. I read The Trial when I was in college and, for a while, thought it was the best novel I'd ever read. The Castle was okay. Next time, I'll read one Kafka finished writing.
I generally like kids' novels - Harry Potter, for instance, or The Hunger Games, or The Golden Compass, or The Blue Sword, etc, etc, etc. I think it's because I can usually identify with the characters, and an adult having written them probably helps. That said, The Mysterious Benedict Society didn't work for me. It might be aimed at a younger crowd than I'm used to, though these kids are 11 and 12, and Harry Potter started out at that age. I was also somewhere around 18 at that point - certainly nowhere near 30.
The Mysterious Benedict Society is about four kids, all of them basically orphans, who see an add in the newspaper offering adventures to kids who can pass a test. They're the only for who pass, and they're taken to a large house and, eventually, told what's going on: There's a Bad Guy who is sending out subliminal messages saying that he is awesome and that they should do whatever he says. He runs a school on an island just out of town, and they're supposed to infiltrate it and discover his secrets. Well, they do both, then, in a heroic move, they decide to stay and try to destroy him. Things continue to happen. The end.
Again, I'm not a fan. It almost seems like Trenton Lee Stewart started writing a novel for a slightly older age group, then, mid-novel, decided he should aim a bit younger. I liked the beginning well enough. Stewart's style is okay, though the characters are a bit flat, and there aren't any particularly slow points. I found myself thinking too many times through the novel that the kids were being dumb and taking risks that even kids wouldn't take. They seemed to be acting even younger than they were, which really irritated me. And then there are some stupid twists that made me roll my eyes. For instance (spoiler!): one of the kids is really short and pouty, though she turns out necessary. She's probably as smart of the rest of them, but she has a really bad attitude. We find out why at the end of the novel: she's a precocious two-year-old. Urrrrgh. Then, there are the life issues brought up in the beginning and then tied up way too simply at the end. Like (another spoiler!) one of the kids has a ridiculous photographic memory, and his parents take advantage of him, signing him up for game shows and amassing piles of money. He runs away, and his parents get tons of donations to help find him, which they spend on themselves. The kid seems a bit bitter, as he should be. At the end of the novel, though, when all the kids are being adopted (meh), his parents show up all apologetic, and all, saying they decided they missed him and went into debt looking for him. Instead of being angry like any normal kid would do, this particularly smart kid is perfectly happy to be reunited with his parents, and things go on as if nothing had ever happened. Yeah, right. I was annoyed.
So I guess I've just found a novel aimed at too young an audience with which I can identify, though the top of the book's cover claims that it was at the top of the New York Times' bestseller list, and I don't know how it could do that without a bunch of adult readers. It's also a series: the Mysterious Benedict Society has quite a few adventures on the bookshelves. I won't be checking those out anytime soon.
1Q84 finally made it into English. I'd been waiting to read this novel since the Japanese version was announced a couple of years ago. I even pre-ordered it on my Kindle (who wants to lug around a thousand-page hardback?) and got it at midnight on October 25th, the very second it was released. And I dove right in.
I'm not quite sure what to say about Midnight's Children except that it's fantastic. Really. If you haven't read it, head over to your local library and pick it up right now. Disregard your Christmas planning, ignore the hurt faces of your family, and hole yourself up for a week, book in one hand, cup of coffee in the other. You won't regret it. Children are resilient: a few years of therapy, and they'll learn that some things are more important than having parents at Christmas.
I'm kidding, of course. Kind of.
At this point, I'm trying to figure out why I haven't read this before. I've ranted several times about colleges not assigning long books anymore, so I won't rehash that here. But everyone should read this novel. It's about everything: history, family, love, good, evil, etc, etc. Just like One Hundred Years of Solitude, which, I'm sure, is why I liked it so very, very much.
That's not to say it's easy reading: Rushdie isn't easy. I had a helluva time with Satanic Verses, but that one was worth it, too. Midnight's Children, though, is my favorite of Rushdie's so far. I picked up a couple of his other novels when I was in Houston, and I'll read them soon. After the Christmas Crunch is over. But I'll talk about that later.
Midnight's Children is about the children born at midnight on India's first day of independence from the British and how they, specifically Saleem Sinai, fit into and affect that history. It's an autobiography from Saleem's point of view, beginning before he was born with an account of his grandfather's life, and then his parents', and then his own.
I had a hard time reading it at the beginning: as I've said, Rushdie isn't easy, and his syntax takes a bit of getting used to. But you read and you read, and then you can't stop reading. A year or two ago, a friend of mine was reading it, and he excitedly told me that it's a challenge until you hit a certain page (which I will not divulge as he refused to remind me), and then BAM. You're in it for the ride, and you can't give up on it because you know it'll be worth it in the end.
The closest analog that I've read is One Hundred Years of Solitude, which gives you a sense of a sweeping history, like all things are encapsulated somewhere in the novel. There's also the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Haruki Murakami. Rushdie creates a whole world around you, and you can't help but be a part of it, swept up in the chaos of Indian independence and what follows. And the end! The end! But I won't go there.
Seriously. If you've never tried Rushdie and you hadn't planned to because of what you'd heard about his books (So many rumors! He's not at all what I expected!) or the man himself. I remember hearing about what happened after he published The Satanic Verses when I was too little to understand what was going on, and now I can see how both of these novels are incredibly controversial - but that's all the more reason to read them. He knew there'd be a scandal (seems like a petty word to use in that case), and he did it anyway. The result is incredibly moving - and, quite often, funny. I had no idea until I puffed up my chest and said, "Hey. Today, I'm gonna tackle Rushdie." I haven't looked back.
I first read Slaughterhouse-Five many years ago. So long ago, in fact, that I have no idea when it was. I might have been in high school, or I might have been in college. I only remembered a vague outline involving Dresden and time travel - and that I really didn't like it. Not one bit. The funny thing is that I'm a huge fan of Vonnegut. I've read most of his novels, and this is the only one I didn't like. Something must be wrong.
So, several years later, I decided to give it a second chance. That chance happened a couple of days ago because it's almost the end of the year, and I'd only read 46 books. This is the Christmas Crunch, and I need short books. Slaughterhouse-Five definitely fits into that category.
It's about a young (then old, then young again, etc, etc) man who has just joined the army and ends up a POW in Dresden just before the fire bombing decimates the city. Except (the first words of the novel-within-the-novel) "Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time." He travels back and forth to different points in his life - and death. Including an alien abduction that makes him understand life, death, and time differently.
I liked it better this time, though I'm still a bit ambivalent. It's okay. It's certainly not my favorite Vonnegut novel. I think I've fallen into a long novel morass, coming off of Midnight's Children, 1Q84, and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Long novels give authors opportunities to fill in gaps left in stories. Vonnegut wasn't one to write a long novel, of course, and he wasn't one to write particularly intense ones, either. My favorites are The Sirens of Titan and Cat's Cradle, both of which are pretty funny. Slaughterhouse-Five is funny in its own way, too, and poignant. I guess I just didn't spend enough time reading it to internalize it. Maybe that's what happened when I read it before.
So it goes.
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