Thursday, February 12, 2015

Coupla book thoughts.

Maybe it's just the being unemployed, but I seem to have been doing a bit more reading than usual lately, and had a couple of book thoughts that seemed appropriate to dump here.

So, lately I've read:

The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.  I was expecting to enjoy/appreciate these, and I did.  It's not (and doesn't pretend to be) high literature, but on the other hand it's quite a bit more than "just" young adult fare, too.  Lots of good freedomista observations, with enough leftovers for bickering over the less important details.  There's a fair share of suspension of disbelief (as just one example, during the first Hunger Games of the series, Katniss is treed by enemies, for several hours and then overnight...but somehow, nobody thinks simply to light the tree on fire to flush her out) but hey, the story goes on, and usually it does a pretty good job at keeping your attention.  The first book stands well enough on its own as an anti-state statement, but it is impressive to see all that happens in the latter half of Mockingjay, to cement the idea that revolution, by itself, is not a sustainable solution to the real problem.  That was rather nicely done. 

And I also much appreciated the author's attention to a few detail matters such as food, medicine and sustainable trade;  this appeared to be more than just an author sticking in a few references--Collins really seemed to weave it integrally into the story, and it came across well. 

I look forward to seeing the films, which I understand have been pretty well done.

No Country For Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy.  This is my first McCarthy book, oddly enough given his wide acclaim and popularity.  All in all, I'm mostly left wondering what the fawningly superlative hubbub is about.  I should perhaps withhold judgment about the textual style that omits all quotation marks in dialogue, omits apostrophes in common contractions (but not possessives), and uses improper locutions (e.g., "could of" for "could have", etc.) even in third-omniscient narration, as a deliberate conceit;  at least until I've read a second of his works to compare it to.  (Perhaps.  That style remained actively annoying throughout the book.)  I can see what he was going for with the arrangement of Bell's ongoing reminisce set against the main action, but I found it more dissipating than enriching.  I can appreciate what was probably a deliberate decision to let the action and dialogue, only, drive characterization for the first good bit of the story, and only add observation and development in down the line, but with me it seems to have backfired at least a bit:  the most interesting character interaction of the entire novel was the all-too-short interaction between Chigurh and Wells.  And ultimately, I'm not sure I was as moved by the book's core observations as many others seemed to expect me to be.  Maybe this is because I've contemplated several of those observations for a number of years now on my own, and have found a peace with them already--or maybe it's just me being ademographic again. 

At any rate, it was far from uninteresting, but ultimately I think I was expecting more than I got. As with Hunger Games, now I can see the film, which I understand was well-done. 

The Portrait by Iain Pears.  Now this is actually my favorite author.  Or at least, the author of two of the finest books I have ever read.  The Portrait is probably my least favorite of his standalone novels, but that still allows it to be an outstanding piece of work.  (It is probably not even fair to compare it to the magnificent tour-de-perspective of An Instance of the Fingerpost, or the you-impossibly-magnificent-bastard punchline of Stone's Fall, but it also may not be possible to resist.)  His authorial style here is on full display, and the actual writing challenge of The Portrait must have been intense, given the first-person voice, addressing the you in not-quite-letter style, and given both the topic and expected outcome.  And the extended exploration of the roles of artist and critic reminded me of an old description of Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky, as "examining what it means to be a tourist versus a traveler".  A worthwhile read.

The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde.  This is the third book in Fforde's "Chronicles of Kazam" series, which is playfully witty and amusing in a parallel (not really "similar") way as his "Nursery Crime" books (which themselves feature Detective Jack Spratt and Sgt. Mary Mary, investigating such cases as the unfortunate demise of one Reginald H. Dumpty, and the possible existence of a fourth bear...  You get the idea.  Fforde does a nice job of honorably covering territory that could so easily be done very badly.).  The Kazam series is narrated by teenage indentured servant Jennifer Strange, who has improbably found herself the manager of Kazam Mystical Arts, an agency that employs sorcerers, seers and other practitioners of magic.  It's a fun series with lots of ideas, amusing dialogue, and a fair share of "serious" observations underneath all the jokes.  (That latter seems to be something of a style point for Fforde.  The first novel in his "Shades of Grey" series, called The Road To High Saffron, is actually an unexpectedly powerful piece of work--it blew me away how complex and layered all the metaphors were, even when buried under jokes both good and really, really bad.  It is an absolutely excellent "freedom book" without making any attempt to be or call itself that.)


MamaLiberty said...

In the last year or so I've turned to reading mysteries, from the high camp type to the near horror.

I found that some I'd enjoyed in my youth were now insipid and even irritating, such as Agatha Christie - boring and stilted, especially the later ones. Older British mysteries in general are fairly good, but the newer ones are poor to terrible.

Much of that has to do with the slant towards socialism, characters unable, unwilling or horrified to defend themselves rationally, and general ignorance about crime and guns.

I've not enjoyed any of the "SHTF" novels, so far, and find most of them boring and unrealistic. Some are simply too religious, and some make no sense at all. The John Ross book is simply vile, as far as I'm concerned. I couldn't get past the first third.

I used to read a lot of historical fiction... and enjoyed the outlander series by Diana Gabaldon - a mix of fantasy and historical figures/settings.

Memorized a great deal of Heinlein in my youth as well, but generally don't much care for science fiction. Even L. Neil Smith - though he wrote some good ones - is not a favorite.

Most recently, I read Vin Suprynowicz' "The Testament of James," and am eagerly looking forward to the next book in the series.

So much to read... so little time. :)

Kevin Wilmeth said...

In my case, I'm certainly glad I read, say, "Molon Labe!", "Unintended Consequences", and the Bracken "Enemies" trilogy, but honestly the things I enjoyed most about those books were the geeksplaining components which did little to advance the stories...stories which needed more than a little advancement. In none of these works are you ever unaware of who the author is and what his voice sounds like, and that alone makes for a wooden story, no matter how many great ideas may be shoehorned into it. I wonder, sometimes, what could be made of some of these same ideas by a really good writer--as in someone who could write anything well.

I've heard some good things about Gabaldon's work, and will probably give one a try at some point--but for my money the best historical fiction I've ever seen is Iain Pears. Holy smackers, but that fella has a gift! And I actually think he makes a very strong anti-State case in his work...without ever saying so, but rather just by drawing the lines around everything that happens. You know, subtlety! No need to hit the audience over the head with a bludgeon; it's actually considerably more powerful to let the reader figure it out for himself.