Thoughts on “A Single Man”

I may have mentioned before the King County Library System 10 to Try challenge I’m participating in this year. Reading 10 books over the course of a year doesn’t present much of a challenge, but I like how the 10 different categories push me to read outside of my comfort zone.

Last year I read The Satanic Verses, a book on the banned book list that I never would have normally found. I hated it, but it was very educational and a good experience. Also, now I can say I’ve read a book that people were killed over. Can’t stay that about much literature. Continue Reading >>

Familiar

I don’t know if any of you who knew me as a kid recognize these, but Benji’s new passion, which has even surpassed strawberries, is my old Matchbox truck collection. He lines the cabs and trailers up, then moves them all to a different place and starts over again. This occupies him for, I kid you not, hours.

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When not doing this, he goes into the library and I hear him turning pages and “reading” aloud to himself. I can tell what book based on his self-dialogue – vrooming must be Things That Go; cawing like a crow must be the birds book, etc. He’s meticulously careful and never rips pages.

Gee, could he be my son?

My Favorite Books are All Sad

Day’s Verse:
The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
in readiness for God from day one.

John 1:1-2

Ian is reading The Passage, by Justin Cronin. I read this book last year (ish), and suffice it to say the descriptions of vampires had me turning on all the lights in the house before I walked around after dark. Creepy. Just the fact that Ian’s reading it gives me the shivers when I remember it.

I, on the other hand, just finished Portrait of Dorian Gray and have started in on The Sparrow. I’d never read Dorian Gray before, and I enjoyed the writing, of course, although I found the philosophy espoused revolting. I have nothing thoughtful to say about Dorian Gray, I’m sorry to say.

The Sparrow I read once before, some years ago. It’s the type of book I find myself drawn to, even though I can’t bear to read it more than once every few years. Books of inexorable fate slowly bearing down on the characters, regardless of their choices, behavior, or struggles; books in which the characters’ interpretation of events, reactions, and misunderstandings drive them to their fates, one inexorable step at a time; in short, tragedies. Last January I described that very type of book. Lo and behold, The Sparrow has that sense of inevitability and deep characterization that I find myself drawn to. It’s melancholy, but beautiful. Usually those types of books leave me thoughtfully pondering their themes much longer than otherwise.

I aspire to one day write a story that leaves the reader feeling the way she does at the end of The Sparrow, Time Traveler’s Wife, The Giver, or Wreck of the River of Stars.

Anyway, after this, I may need to read something cheerful and upbeat. Any recommendations?

What I’ve Been Reading

Day’s Verse:
Jesus’ refusal was curt: “Beat it, Satan!” He backed his rebuke with a third quotation from Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God, and only him. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.”
Matthew 4:10 (context)

I’ve read a bunch of books in the last week and a half, in an attempt to avoid the reality of High Pass Challenge and the join-a-bicycling-team decision. I have read:

Sworm of Swords and Feast for Crows, books 3 and 4 in the Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin
House Justice, by Mike Lawson
Disturbed, by Kevin O’Brien

Hmm, was there something else? I can’t remember if there was another paper book, but I also just finished Call of the Wild on our Kindle, which makes it not feel like a real book somehow. In total, I’ve probably read 3,500 pages or so in the last 10 days. That’s not so much, actually. Felt like a bit more. Here’s my take on the books.

Ice and Fire series: It’s starting to feel too much like Wheel of Time* to me. Proliferating numbers of characters, plots of Gordian knot-like complexity, excessive attention to details of clothing and scenery (important, yes, but honestly, sometimes it just drags things out unnecessarily). I like his propensity for killing off characters unexpectedly — keeps the reader interested — but honestly, this series is feeling increasing like a “till death do us part” commitment on the author’s part. Even so, the writing quality and character development remain better than your average fantasy book. Likelihood I’d reread at some point: 90%.

House Justice: A mashup of John Grisham and Michael Crichton. Actually pretty well written, engaging, with characters of some depth and a reasonably entertaining (if somewhat excessively convoluted) plot. The annoying thing about this book was that it involved previously-established characters, so it felt like I was missing quite a bit of the back story, and his attempts at filling in that back-story were fairly heavy-handed. Likelihood I’d reread at some point: <10%.

Disturbed: I can’t even remember the title of this book most of the time. It had that uncomfortable feeling of the reader missing some crucial information, like the author assumed you knew something he didn’t tell you. The writing quality was chatty and not overly educated, but not bad. He did a fairly good job with the teen’s perspective, but the plot was fairly obvious. Likelihood I’d reread at some point: 0%.

Call of the Wild: I’m hardly qualified to review a classic author like Jack London, so I’ll just say that I enjoyed it. I don’t think I’ve read Call of the Wild before, but I’m familiar with Jack London’s style in general, so the overall writing and plot styles matched my expectations. What I didn’t expect was for Buck’s human to get killed and for Buck to basically shrug and then happily join up with the wolves. The title tells you that Buck will end up running wild, but he’s pretty cavalier about his beloved person dying.

Anyway, reading is one one of the non-bicycling activities I’ve done lately as the oft-promised OSPI trainings for PE teachers continue receding, mirage-like, into the future. I am going to try to do NaNoWriMo again this year, too, and my goal (in a dramatic departure from my previous NaNo novels) is to write an actual quality book — or the start of one.

* Full disclosure: I have not read all the Wheel of Time books to date. I’ve read up through book 10, Crossroads of Twilight. The problem is that I keep forgetting what happened and have to start all over again, and then by the time I get through all those previous books to the next book I’m so annoyed I don’t even want to read any more Wheel of Time, ever.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves

Day’s Verse:
Keep me safe, O God, I’ve run for dear life to you.
I say to God, “Be my Lord!”
Without you, nothing makes sense.

Psalm 16:1-2

I just read Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss, courtesy of Rachel Klas. The book opens:

Either this will ring bells for you, or it won’t. A printed banner has appeared on the concourse of a petrol station near where I live. “Come inside,” it says, “for CD’s, VIDEO’s, DVD’s, and BOOK’s.”

If this satanic sprinkling of redundant apostrophes causes no little gasp of horror or quickening of the pulse, you should probably put down this book at once. By all means congratulate yourself that you are not a pedant or even a stickler; that you are happily equipped to live in a world of plummeting punctuation standards; but just don’t bother to go any further. For any true stickler, you see, the sight of the plural word “Book’s” with an apostrophe in it will trigger a ghastly private emotional process similar to the stages of bereavement, though greatly accelerated. First there is shock. Within seconds, shock gives way to disbelief, disbelief to pain, and pain to anger. Finally (and this is where the analogy breaks down), anger gives way to a righteous urge to perpetrate an act of criminal damage with the aid of a permanent marker. (1-2) Continue Reading >>

Accidental Poetry

Day’s Verse:
Better a bread crust shared in love
than a slab of prime rib served in hate.

Proverbs 15:17

Back story: My co-LCI on the Bike Alliance trainings* said she always brings an extra wheel to classes. I asked if it was necessary for our trainings, since the schedule was so tight and we didn’t have time for fix-a-flat. When I received her reply, I couldn’t help but read it as poetry. She wrote, with this exact formatting,

I will bring one or two along. My usual way of handling
It is to leave it to the end for those who want
To stay and learn. Sometimes a few want it,
sometimes not.

I can’t help but read this the same way I’d read a haiku. And frankly, although I gave you the background, it really stands alone.

And, in other literary news, Ian and I received our copy of A Wise Man’s Fear. To forestall the inevitable fights over who gets to read it first (I hate having to beat Ian up; it’s so bad for our marriage’s morale), we’re reading it aloud. We did this successfully with the final Harry Potter book back in 2007, taking a total of 19 hours over 2 days to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows aloud in its entirety. Unfortunately these days we have other claims on our time, so we haven’t blazed through A Wise Man’s Fear at quite that blistering pace. We’re making respectable headway, though, enough to give Patrick Rothfuss credit for writing a sequel that lives up to the first book. Most sequels don’t.

Speaking of books that don’t live up to my expectations, I just received Revelation Space from the library. I got it on the recommendation of a bookstore employee, and I waited a while for it. Now, frankly, I’m disappointed. It’s hard sci-fi and the blot is complex, to say the least, both of which are OK. Unfortunately the book lacks anything to help the reader bond with the characters, and the author heavy-handedly conceals important plot points from the readers until it’s time for the astonishing reveal. But since the reader generally knows as much as the characters do, those omissions feel kludgy. Actually, it’s like an exceptionally complicated Isaac Asimov book in many respects. I’ll finish it because I want to know what happens, but I probably won’t pick up another book by the author.

Finally, I have You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto waiting in the wings. More on that when I finish Revelation Space.

*The first of which is coming up next week in Lynden. This time I made a list and am much calmer.

Historical Novel, Circa 1994

Day’s Verse:
When you’re kind to others, you help yourself; when you’re cruel to others, you hurt yourself.
Proverbs 11:17

Back in college I took a history class called US History through the Novel. In it, we read such cheerful novels as McTeague, House of Mirth, Maggie, a Girl of the Streets, and (if I recall correctly) Frankenstein; we read with an eye towards what the books told us about the culture and history of the time, rather than for literary analysis. This way of approaching history by looking at what novelists capture in their verbal snapshots of a time continues to interest me.

Recently I started reading Microserfs, by Douglas Coupland. You can read the first chapter or so at the Wired archive, where it was originally published as a short story. The interesting thing about this book is that it, like McTeague or House of Mirth, captures a historical moment. Written in 1994, this epistolary story follows a group of Microsoft programmers as they try to start up their own company in Silicon Valley. Because technology permeates the book completely, it has become historical in well under a generation. Technology has advanced so far since this book was written in 1994 that it’s hard to wrap my head around it.

Remember 1994? (Read the link. It’s Dave Barry’s year in review for 1994*. So worth it. I’d totally forgotten Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding/the Norway Winter Olympics, OJ Simpson, and the Shumacher-Levy asteroid, but it’s all coming back to me.) That’s 17 years ago, although when I hear the date I don’t think of it as that long ago. It was before the prevalent Internet, before the .com bubble, before most people even had computers. The “information superhighway” was going to be really cool. “Multimedia” was the bandwagon to jump on. Use of the terms “nerd” and “geek” began expanding dramatically. The average age of tech people hardly ever exceeded 32 years. It was before even this phenomenon.

So I’m enjoying the in-depth reminder of what the tech world used to be. Despite its historicality (?), Microserfs covers some pretty thought-provoking territory. For example, at one point he says:

“I wonder if I’ve missed the boat on CD-ROM interactive — if I’m too old. The big companies are zeroing in on the 10-year-olds**. I think you only ever truly feel comfortable with the level of digitization that was normal for you from the age of five to fifteen. I mean sure, I can make new games workable, but it won’t be a kick the way Tetris was. Or will it?” (143) Continue Reading >>