Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thursday update: Two Days Until Christmas edition

I read another book a couple of weeks ago.  I've started on three more since then, and I don't know that I'll get any of them finished before 2011. 

The Great Hunt
by Robert Jordan
Tor Fantasy, 1990
585 pages

This is the second book in Jordan's Wheel of Time series (the first, The Eye of the World, I read a few months ago).  As a writer, I find it a little depressing to read Jordan's epic because I realize I will never, ever, ever write anything anywhere near this good.  A friend recently told me that this, Eye of the World, and the third book in the series (The Dragon Reborn) were originally intended to be one book instead of three.  That would have been a very long book.  However, it does explain why, in a lot of ways, this book felt like it was the middle of a story and not a story in and of itself. That isn't to say that it was bad or even unsatisfactory, because it was neither, but as a novel its structure wasn't quite as solid as Eye.  The climactic final chapters felt a bit like they had been forced together and souped up a bit in order to bring the book to an exciting conclusion.  (And, indeed, the ending itself is strong and launches perfectly into a new volume)  As with Eye of the World, everything was solid.  It's a thoroughly enjoyable fantasy reading experience, and while it's still not so convoluted that a casual reader can't keep everything straight, I can see where the larger story may be in danger of spreading itself a bit thin (a complaint I've heard from a few who've ventured further than I have). 

In short, I enjoy the story, the characters, the mythology, and the tone of the narrative.  One of the most fun fantasy stories I've ever picked up. 

Currently thumbing through The Sacred Romance (a Christian nonfiction book about discovering the hidden yearnings of our heart), Relic (a murder/crime investigation novel that is apparently about some sort of monster, as the first two quotes on the back cover have compared it to Jurassic Park), and The Dragon Reborn (which will most likely be the first of these three books I finish).  Got to get one of them done before New Years to boost my page total ever so slightly for the calendar year!

Merry Christmas, by the way.  In the immortal words of Handy: "READ A BOOK!"

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tuesday Update: "You Can't Spell Adventure Without 'Advent'" Edition

Thanksgiving holiday!  I finished/read THREE books with my time off!  It was awesome!!

The Grey Fairy Book
Edited by Andrew Lang
387 pages
Dover Publications, Inc., 1967
(An unabridged and unaltered replication of the work originally published in 1900)

One day, while stumbling around Wikipedia, I came across a bizarre little fairy tale simply titled The Bear.  Long and short of it: a king loves his daughter so much, he locks her up and never lets her leave the castle.  This makes her sad, so her fairy godmother or some such instructs her to ask the king for a bear's skin and a wheelbarrow.  The fairy then places a spell on the wheelbarrow so it will take the Princess anywhere she wants to go.  So, disguised as a bear riding in a magic wheelbarrow, the Princess escapes without drawing any attention to herself whatsoever.  She's eventually captured by a Prince of another kingdom, who takes the amazing talking bear home to do chores for him.  Eventually he falls in love with her (sans bear skin) at a party, and they get married. 

Wikipedia told me this and other similarly strange, obscure fairy tales had been collected into a volume called The Grey Fairy Book, and I knew I had to read it.  So I did.

These stories were collected from all over Europe and north Africa and it really showed, as the style and subject matter varied from demon ponies to fairy charms to thieving Jews to cannibals.  Some of our heroes slaughtered people in gruesome ways due to a simple insult.  In one story, a boy who could see two days into the future (more or less) killed his mother and father as well as an old woman, seven young boys, and his uncle's boss, mostly because his uncle was a fool.  Many of these stories were just a random sequence of events that seemed to end only when the storyteller grew bored, at which point everything wrapped up in about three sentences. Just weird, weird stuff.

There were one or two tales I really did enjoy, however.  And it was really very cool to get a glimpse at the many different types of fairy tale tradition.  I don't know that there's a lot in here for me to adapt into a children's theatre format one day, but you never know.  That delightful story where the sparrow tricks a carter into killing both of his horses before tricking his wife into cutting off his head because the man ran over her friend the dog is just screaming to be made into a musical!

The Green River Trail
by Ralph Compton
304 pages
St. Martin's Paperbacks, 2011

I'm not sure when this was originally published, but it wasn't 2011.  Actually, the copy I read was an older print, but I don't have that publishing information at hand, so I'll just use the newer info.

I haven't decided yet if I like westerns or not.  This is only my second, and I've enjoyed both of them, for what they are.  It seems to me the strength of the western is generally the Wild West mystique rather than the story itself.  Green River Trail was a pretty standard trail drive story.  Four guys decide to drive some cattle from Texas to Utah.  They buy horses, they take wives, they hire some cowboys, they drive to Utah.  There are savage Indian attacks, desperadoes, crooked sheriffs, stampedes, and all that jazz.  The women are tough, the men are tough, everybody's tough.  And then they get where they're going.  So if you're into that, pick up Green River Trail.  It's a pretty entertaining little read.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories
by Salman Rushdie
224 pages
Penguin Books, 1991

For those who say I've completely abandoned my original reading project list, I submit to you Haroun and the Sea of Stories.  Boo-yah.

This was a very clever book.  Not necessarily in the popular "Wit-as-humor" way, but in the way the idea was plotted into a story and the care with which the idea was executed within the narrative.  It's fairly silly, and the author knows and uses that effectively.  It is a story written for those who love stories.  Even if it's fairly obvious at times where the story is going, it's still a remarkably charming tale.  And a quick read, too. I finished the first 75% of the book in a single sitting.  (And I would have finished it, but it was after 2 a.m. and I had a rehearsal the following morning)  So if you're looking for something that's altogether silly, charming, adventurous, light-hearted, and fast, then this is one I'd recommend.

Am currently reading The Sacred Romance (note: Also from the original reading list) and The Great Hunt, book 2 of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time.  For some reason, Green River Trail really made me want to re-read Eye of the World, but since that book's only available via interlibrary loan (until I one day own it) I figured I'd go with the more readily-available second book in the series.

Friday, November 19, 2010

It's been a month: How's about some awards?

It's been a month-plus since I've written in this blog.  Sadly, it's been that longs since I've finished a book. I got crazy-busy with Winnie-the-Pooh and The Littlest Angel both going on at the same time--both plays, by the way, based on books!

I'm pesudo-back-on-track with reading now, and hopefully I'll have something new to put here soon.  In the meantime, I'm overdue for some awards.  So here's what I've read since we last gathered 'round the podium:

Cell by Stephen King
Gretzky's Tears by Stephen Brunt
The Baseball Codes by Jason Turnbow with Michael Duca
Powerless by Matthew Cody
Sometime Never by Roald Dahl
Me, Myself, and Bob by Phil Vischer
From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming
The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-Pooh by A. A. Milne
The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
One Red Paperclip by Kyle MacDonald
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

The "Book That Had The Most Direct Impact On My Life the Past Two Months" Award goes to
Obviously.  Which means this book also wins the "Book That Won The Award With The Longest Title" Award

The Batman Bounce-back Award goes to:
Sometime Never!
Or, more specifically, to Roald Dahl.  Much as folks thought the Caped Crusader would never bounce back after Bat-nipples, cold puns, and Alicia Silverstone, I don't imagine many would have expected Dahl to have the wildly successful career he had after reading this debut novel.

The "Most of this Didn't Have to Happen" Award goes to
From Russia With Love!
Which wasn't a bad book.  The more I've thought about it, the more I realize that most of what occurred in the first half of the book was actually pretty irrelevant.  However, it did introduce one of the greatest Bond support characters we've seen (up to this point in the series)

The "Coolest Interpretation of the Werewolf Mythos" Award goes to:
The Graveyard Book!
Though I don't think any of the rest of these books dealt with the werewolf mythos...nevertheless, I really liked what Gaiman did with it in this story.

The "What Have We Learned Song" Award goes to
Me, Myself, and Bob!
When it was done burying you in technical information regarding computer animation, this ended up being a really insightful and challenging read on dreams, faith, and growth.  Like, uber challenging/convicting.  Not bad for a book with a talking tomato on the cover.

The "Redemption of the Internet" Award goes to
One Red Paperclip!
Proof that, yes, good and worthwhile things do sometimes happen on the World Wide Web.

The "Holding Out Hope for a Sequel" Award goes to
A really fun, innovative story for kids that starts to feel (toward the end) that it's not so much telling a story any more as it is trying to set up a franchise.  

The "Most Likely To Restore Your Faith In Baseball, Only To Potentially Dash It To The Ground" Award goes to:
The Baseball Codes
Which also gets the "Book That Won The Award That Supplanted That Other Award For The Title Of Award With The Longest Title Award" Award.

The "Oh, They'll Accept It All Right.  They'll Accept It And They'll Like It!" Award goes to
Does it ever feel like Stephen King is just daring you to say, "Okay, now that's just a little too far-fetched"? 

The "How Has Nobody In Canada Made This Into a Movie Starring George Clooney Yet?" Award goes to
Gretzky's Tears
Clooney wouldn't play Gretzky, but I think he'd make a dynamite Bruce McNall.  Alan Thicke would play Alan Thicke.

The "Hands Down Favorite Book (Of This Grouping)" Award goes to
The Eye of the World
The award title is pretty self-explanatory.  But the more I think back on this book, the more I like it.

The "I Can't Believe It's A Debut Novel!" Award goes to
Quite the opposite of what I said about Roald Dahl with Sometime Never.  I'm sure this one raised the bar sky-high on expectations for Brandon Sanderson's career.

And, done.  Close to finishing a book of obscure fairy tales.  That'll be a fun one to write about.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday update: Feels Like Thursday edition

Yesterday felt like Friday ALL DAY LONG. Today somehow felt like Thursday. So I guess we're all caught up.

This is going to shock some people, but I read a book from my original list of reading suggestions. I know, I know. Whoa. However, it was one that I was really looking forward to because it had been recommended by TWO lovely ladies who I greatly admire both intellectually and artistically. Unfortunately, the Houston Library only seemed to have one copy. And it was missing. So eventually, they just bought a new one, and because I'd been on hold for months waiting for the missing copy to suddenly materialize again, I got to be the first person ever to read the new copy of Brandon Sanderson's Elantris. (This is because I rock.)

by Brandon Sanderson
Tor Books, 2005 (1st edition)
496 pages

Sanderson's debut novel is a fantasy, mystery, and political novel rolled effectively into one captivating story about one cursed city and one highly unfortunate one.  Kae, the capital city of the country of Arelon, is ruled by a short-sighted and greedy opportunist who the subjects pretty much all hate.  Fortunately, he has an incredibly virtuous, compassionate, and capable son.  Unfortunately, the book opens with his son falling victim to a mysterious curse that banishes him to Kae's neighbor, the walled city of Elantris.  For years, Elantris was a magical city ruled by godlike-humans with special powers.  The Elantrians provided goods for all of Arelon.  They provided protection from foreign powers, they healed the sick and injured, these men and women were pretty much awesome.  Each Elantrian had been born a citizen of Arelon until one day (and with no discernible cause or pattern) they awoke transformed into an Elantrian and spent the rest of their days living as perfect beings in a paradise of a city.  Then, one day ten years ago, something went wrong, and the Elantrians went from angels on earth to diseased wretches, stumbling along with blotches all over their skin, hair falling out, no heartbeat, no godlike powers.  Their wounds never healed and their pains never abated until eventually they went insane.  The city itself fell under some sort of supernatural sludge plague, and Elantris went from being heaven to a prison for these cursed creatures. 

I know that seems like a lot of background, but this is where the book starts, and you get most of that within the first two chapters. 

The story shifts between three separate perspectives: the fallen prince Raoden (living under a new identity as an Elantrian), his betrothed foreign princess Sarene (technically, due to some legality, they're already married, though they've never met, and since the king says Raoden is dead rather than telling the world he's become an Elantrian, she's technically-technically a widow before she arrived at Arelon), and the gyorn (that's like a high priest of one of the many religions in the book) Hrathen, who has been given the divine directive to convert all of Arelon to his religion before that religion's equivalent of the Prophet Mohammed sends an army to destroy the country.  There is a lot going on in this book.  Sarene joins up with a small group of Arelon's nobility (former followers of Raoden's) seeking to unravel the incompetent king Iodan's rule; Raoden spends all of his time trying unravel the mystery of what happened to Elantris ten years ago; Hrathen's executes a carefully calculated plan to capitulate the senior religion in the country, one of only two not currently controlled by the Shu Dereth religion. 

Now first, the negatives: It took me a little while to get into this book.  You might think it'd be hard to get in because there's so much information that's vital to understanding the story as it unravels, but no, I actually think the way the narrative handles the doling out of information is one of the book's many strengths.  Rather, I think I just enjoyed the last half of the book so much better than the first because the beginning of the book just isn't as strong as the middle or end.  It felt like we spent a lot of ink re-establishing certain character traits or societal prejudices that had already effectively been established.  Also, I wasn't able to "buy" some of the characters in the early-going.  I guess most of it gravitates toward Sarene's scenario.  Early in the book, you have a lot of scenes that bring home the "Sarene is your headstrong heroine" and "People in Arelon had never seen a strong woman before" and "Sarene was much smarter than everybody else" vibe.  You also had a lot of scenes where the narrative would outright tell you how smart someone had just been when I didn't feel like they'd actually done anything particularly witty.  Seemed like there were a lot of secondary characters suffering from Frank Peretti syndrome ("I have to be stupid now for the story to advance").  Finally, some of the book's earlier episodes seemed kind of pointless, and as the book progressed it turned out some of them actually were.  So a little--really, a tiny--bit of early trimming and I don't think I'd be able to say anything bad about this book.

Because once it took off, wow, did it take off.  As the multiple story threads started interweaving, I found myself having more trouble putting the book away when it was time to do other stuff (like go to bed or return from my lunch break).  As Hrathen's relatively droll chapters started getting shorter and Raoden's and Sarene's stories began to overlap, anything I hadn't liked about the first hundred and fifty or so pages corrected itself.  The mysteries of Elantris, the political subversion in Arelon, and the religious aggression of Shu Dereth were equally compelling storylines.  Every few pages offered another hint at the bigger picture; it's like putting together a puzzle where you've got most of the pieces but have never seen the finished product.  The characters also became more lively and complex.  The book is structured a bit like a roller coaster: a bit of a wait as you climb the first hill, but once you're over the crest you can only go one direction, and it picks up speed the further along you go.  And of course, there are the surprise twists and turns.  Unlike other fantasies I've read recently, however, the surprises come out of carefully disguised clues that you likely overlooked completely when you read them.  See?  It only feels like it came out of nowhere ;-)  I will say that some may find the ending a bit rushed and/or hard to completely follow, but if you're willing to go with it anyway then Elantris is a highly satisfying read. 

Now, who knows?  It may be that the recommendations had hyped this book up for me a little much, so I was bound to be disappointed at first, but then the disappointment lowered my expectations which allowed me to appreciate the rest.  Doesn't matter, I guess.  I liked the book a lot.  The writing has a few hiccups, but the idea (and the execution of the idea) is one of the best I've read this year.  It's probably not a book that's going to rock your world, and if you're one who prefers fantasy novels full of epic quests and dragon-slaying, you'll probably be disappointed, but I found it a very satisfying read and a different take on a genre than I usually see.

by Neil Gaiman
Harper Collins, 2008 (1st edition)
312 pages
Winner: Hugo Award, Newbery Award, Carnegie Medal, and Locus Award.

This book  won a lot of awards. 

I was intrigued by this book because A) I really liked Coraline, and B) I always find Gaiman's stories to be, if nothing else, really imaginative. 

The target audience for this book is high school, and I can see this kind of story appealing to a lot of high school kids who are into fantasy books.  Nobody Owens is a live boy being raised by ghosts in a cemetery.  He doesn't really belong in that world, but he doesn't seem to fit in in the world of the living, either.  Within this series of supernatural adventures is essentially a coming-of-age story of a boy trying to find his identity.  Bod has all the struggles most kids have--he struggles to find suitable playmates, he has trouble focusing on his lessons, he has an episode with some school bullies, he even deals with girl troubles on one level.  Of course, the consequences in Bod's world are different than the world in which the rest of us live.  If we don't pay attention in school, we fail a quiz.  If Bod doesn't pay attention, he might one day find himself being dragged away by ghouls to a very hell-like place and not know how to call out in the correct tongue for the benevolent flying monsters overhead to rescue him.  But other than that, it's pretty much the same thing.

Okay, now I have to admit that long portions of this book bored me.  And I realize I'm not that target audience, and I may be too far removed from some of these situations to enjoy these stories.  More likely, however, is that I had trouble connecting the dots.  It felt to me like a collection of short stories that happened to be about the same boy, and the last chapter was an attempt to tie all the threads together.  (Turns out, after I read the acknowledgments, that was exactly what it was.  Who knew?)  The book opens with infant-Bod's entire family murdered by a character known only as "the man Jack," but little Bod fortunately happened to fall out of his crib and toddle down to a nearby cemetery, where his mother's spirit pleads with the ghosts to protect her baby.  So they do.  And the mystery of the murderer isn't really addressed again until the end of the book.  (And, for my taste, the whole thing behind the man Jack ends up being kind of lame compared to the rest of the book) 

Additionally, I also have to admit that I've got some prejudices here.  Since I've had a couple of experiences with the supernatural in my own life, I sometimes find stories about spirits and the dead a little more difficult to enjoy.  So, while this book stayed away from demons and hell and whatnot, that may have played a part somewhere in my disconnect. 

That said, I really loved certain things in this book.  The character of Silas, Bod's guardian, was probably the high point of the whole thing.  I also really liked Gaiman's take on the "Hounds of God."  I thought the chapter about the Danse Macabre was absolutely lovely.  And the little bit near the end about the poet's revenge was actually laugh-out-loud funny.  The Graveyard Book definitely had some moments and concepts that I really liked, and I can see where its intended audience may have latched on, but for my time, it's probably not a book I'm going to be picking up again anytime soon. 


I've actually put myself on library book probation.  I've got a stack of seven books I've borrowed from people, intending to get to them "sooner or later."  Well, it's time to start giving them back, so the next seven books I read (barring the arrival of something I have on ILL, because you really only get one shot at those) will be books I've borrowed.  Some of them are on my original list.  Most of them will be a bit off the fantasy path, which is good because I'm getting into that "rut."  Not that I don't enjoy the fantasy rut.  But I want to keep expanding my horizons. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

Monday Update: One Small Paperback edition

Currently reading 3 different fantasy books. Am in a fantasy rut. Which I like, but it's not good for broadening my horizons. Unfortunately, I know I can't finish Milne's biography before it's due, so I'll pick it back up later.

I did however, just finish up this little gem:

One Red Paperclip
(Or, How an Ordinary Man Achieved His Dream with the Help of a Simple Office Supply)
by Kyle MacDonald
310 pages
Three River Press, 2007

I kinda hope someone buys me this book for Christmas because A) it's a paperback and should therefore be cheap, and B) it's a book I'll probably recommend to a LOT of people over the years. A lot of folks have heard about the story in this book: Canadian twenty-something professional job-searcher Kyle MacDonald was looking for a way to provide some future and stability for himself and his girlfriend (who he was living with at the time) and so he decided to play the ultimate game of Bigger and Better. (I've played this awesome game once. In high school. My team lost. Another team came back with two kittens. It was a crazy day) He started posting trade offers on Craigslist, starting with--wait for it--one red paperclip (We have title!) in the hopes of eventually trading up to a house. Long story short, he does it in fourteen trades. Even more amazing, he gets it done in one year. And then he writes an awesome, funny, accessible, and uplifting book about it.

The book reminded me a lot of A Walk Across America in that it is more a story about people and adventure than it is about Kyle MacDonald and trading up to a house. That's a reflection of the author's character, as he turns down some corporate-minded shortcuts in order to keep the focus of the project to be about people; specifically, meeting interesting people and helping fellow dreamers. The result is an adventure that is stranger than fiction, larger than life, nuttier than a PayDay, and 100% real. It's also one heck of an encouraging book, and nobody's really writing those any more.

Well, I take that book: nobody's writing encouraging books that don't suck any more.

Except Kyle MacDonald.


Anyway, Kyle's website is . I haven't spent a ton of time checking it out yet, but I'm sure I will. This is really a simple guy writing a simple story of what amazing things can happen if you'll allow them to. It's a reminder that there are "good people" out there--that, in fact, there are a LOT of good people out there. It's encouragement that dreams can happen, and you can actually play a pretty big role in making them come true.

Go read this book. It's not a hard read, and it's not too long. Even if you think the whole thing is total bunk, at least it's funny bunk. But I almost guarantee Kyle's story will leave you with a smile on your face. (Yup, that's cheesy. But sometimes, life is cheesy)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wednesday Update: Irregular Update Schedule edition

Work, writing, and church are all going better now. Which means reading is down. Nevertheless, I ought to post about the last couple of books I read.

The Eye of the World
by Robert Jordan
Published by Tor Fantasy, 1990
670 pages

My good friend Helena has been raving about the Wheel of Time series for pretty much as long as I've known her. I've actually tried to pick it up before, but I could never find the first book at any library. I assumed this was because they were so incredibly popular. Turns out, the Houston Public Library does not have the first book in the WoT series, so I ILL'ed it from Richmond, TX.

Very long, fantastic novel. I thoroughly enjoyed just about every element of it. The characters are clearly its strongest point, in my opinion, and the characters are generally the most important part of any story, fiction or non, in my mind. The book is amazingly clean, especially for a fantasy novel. I've become so accustomed to reading crass language or explicit sex scenes that I was a little discombobulated to pick up a GOOD novel for grown-up people with none of that. So, A+, late Robert Jordan.

Interestingly, there was nothing about this book that made my jaw absolutely drop. It was just a remarkably solid effort the whole way through. I found no glaring weaknesses and very few weaknesses at all. It's long (670 pages, and they are DENSE pages) but constantly engaging, and things happen at a pretty quick pace, which is also a plus for me.

If you're looking for a good epic fantasy adventure that you can commit a sizable amount of time to, Eye of the World looks to be a pretty good place to start. (I'd probably be able to write in better detail, but I actually finished this book something like three weeks ago)

The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-Pooh
by A. A. Milne
Collects Winnie-the-Pooh and The House on Pooh Corner
Dutton Children's Books, 1994
(Original books published 1926 & 1928)
344 pages

Yes, these pages are large type and some of them have pictures, but with Eye of the World ahead of it, I'm pretty sure it all evens out ;-)

I'm playing Winnie-the-Pooh in a children's play right now and picked this up as research. Turns out, it is one of the funniest things I have read in a long time. It's so charming and innocent yet chocked full of child-like wit and whimsy. You can really sense the love between the narrator and his own son, Christopher Robin, in the voice and the action of each individual story. As a father who makes up stories about zoo bears for his own son every night before bed, I freely admit that I started to tear up over the end of Pooh Corner, where Christopher Robin takes Pooh to a special place where they can always play and explore together, "no matter what happens" as life goes on.

Really, this book is just wonderful. The characters, the stories, the language, the miscommunications, the hijinks...I really think this one would've been a beloved classic even without Disney's help. (That said, I really like the early Disney cartoons and think they stayed very true to the intent of the author. But that's another blog)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Thursday update: Labor Day 2010 edition

Bah, regular updates. Bah, reading lists. I think this is officially just another "What I'm Reading" blog, and I think there's nothing wrong with that. ;-)

From Russia with Love
by Ian Fleming
The James Bond Classics Library edition
MJF Books, 1997
253 pages

And, back to James Bond. This was a strange sort of Bond book; the first half of the book featured Russian spykilling organization SMERSH plotting and planning. That's it, just half a book of plotting and planning. The second half of the book is the plan that was plotted in execution. And even then, it was more positioning and lovemaking with a sudden burst of action in the middle and then a hair-raising showdown on a train at the end. Of the Bond books I've read so far, this one was easily the talkiest, with some "Bond going out for dinner" scenes thrown in for variety's sake.

Needless to say, I wasn't terribly excited by this book, though I thought the story was pretty good, and I actually enjoyed most of the new characters. It just felt (to me) like it took an awful long time to get going, and there wasn't much in the way of actual spy work for Bond to worry about. The conniving trap wasn't all that complicated, and the whole thing had already been spelled out for you in advance, so there wasn't a ton of intrigue until Bond was finally face to face with his executioner. Which was a good scene, don't get me wrong, but even that felt a bit more pulled-it-out-of-a-hat than usual.

That said, all the quotes on the back called this the most exciting book of the series, and it's well-documented that I'm in the minority of a lot of popular opinions, so it may just be me. Again.

Me, Myself, and Bob: A True Story About Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables
by Phil Vischer
Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2008
260 pages

This book really surprised me. I knew the Christian children's entertainment mega-giant-hit-machine Veggie Tales had gone from humble beginnings to major empire in a time when computer animation was far from the norm. I also knew that, at one point, there were some money issues and bankruptcy going on. What I didn't know was that Vischer, the company's founder, creator, and owner, lost everything at the height of its popularity and was forced to sell the company. The story is startling and surprising, but Vischer's honest and contemplative look at the rise and fall of his Veggie empire is a profoundly challenging look at what it means to have and follow dreams, especially when you believe that the following of those dreams is God's plan for your life. How do you respond to failure when it felt as though your success was preordained by God Himself? Really beautiful story, entertaining and personable. There are times when the earlier chapters about the animation technology of the early 1990's may get a tad too technical to be interesting to the casual reader, but on the whole this is a book I'd recommend to just about anybody.

Sometime Never: A Fable for Supermen
by Roald Dahl
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1948
255 pages

Yeah. Good luck finding this book, because they never reprinted it after its initial release in either the U.S. or the U.K. has 4 used copies starting at $144. Interlibrary Loan had to go to the University of Oregon to find a copy for me. RARE BOOK.

So, why is this one so rare? Why was it never reprinted?


This book has all of the bizarreness of one of Dahl's children's books with none of the charm. It's like he came back disillusioned from the war and had some issues to work out, and he did them all here. The book starts with strange gremlins that sabotage English planes during World War II. They eventually stop, though, deciding that eventually mankind will destroy themselves, since all they can do is invent more efficient ways of destroying one another. One hundred and fifty pages later, mankind finally dies completely, and the gremlins inherit the earth. A few days later, they disappear from existence completely. The end.

In the middle, there's lots of thinly-veiled social and political commentary as well as doomsday prophecies for every corner of the world, along with strange gremlinish things.

Of note: Apparently this is where snozzberries came from, because they're the only thing the gremlins appeared to eat. All righty then.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Monday Update: The "Catching Back Up" Update for 8/16/10

Been awhile. Here's what I've been reading lately.

by Matthew Cody
279 pages
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2009

Powerless is a "young adult" book that I picked up on a whim. (I'm doing a lot more impulse reading lately. Also, why is "young adult" generally defined as late teens, but when it comes to fiction "young adult" always means 10-13 year-olds?) Powerless is Cody's first book, and a pretty good one. In the story, a 12-year-old boy named Daniel moves to a new town in which some of the kids for some unknown reason have super-powers. This has been going on in this little town for generations. Another peculiarity: on their 13th birthday, these kids inevitably wake up having lost not only their powers, but all their memories of ever having had powers in the first place. Daniel (an avid reader of Sherlock Holmes stories) sets out on what ends up being a detective-type story of his own to try to save his new friends and their fantastic abilities. It's a fun shift for the normal kid to be the hope of all the supers and it's a quick, fun, imaginative tale. The story loses some of its charm and cleverness toward the ending, and part of that is because the author was clearly hoping to leave the door open for a series (and it turns out, he's working on the second book right now!!) but overall, Powerless is a good read and would probably have been one of my five favorite books when I was a young 'un.

The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, & Bench-Clearing Brawls: The unwritten rules of America's pastime
by Jason Turnbow with Michael Duca
265 pages
Pantheon, 2010

Fantastic book. A must-read for any sports fan not offended by what I will call "clubhouse vernacular." Incredibly well-researched insight into the unwritten rules that govern professional baseball: their origins, their repercussions, their evolution, and their most famous instances. The acknowledgments at the end of the book thanked every single former player, coach, play-by-play analyst, and manager the authors interviewed. The list spanned three full pages.

In addition to the impressive amount of research that went into its writing, the book is also really stinking fun. Many of the most colorful people in the history of the sport are here, and the examples pulled from baseball history range from unbelievable to hilarious. There's also a commentary on the changes Big Money has brought to the sport, and to sports in general. It's a really insightful, enjoyable read that manages to be uncannily informative at the same time.

Gretzky's Tears: Hockey, America, and the Day Everything Changed
by Stephen Brunt
255 pages
Triumph Books, 2009

As hardcore of a hockey fan as I am, I didn't expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. The story behind one of the most influential moments in modern hockey history is intricate, bewildering, and surprisingly compelling. The layers of social, emotional, and economic implications, not only for the working-class city of Edmonton but the entertainment Mecca of Los Angeles, were/are utterly fascinating. So too are the principal characters in this drama--in this corner, automotive philanthropist Peter Pocklington. In the other, media millionaire Bruce McNall. (Both would one day end up in jail) And then, of course, there's Wayne Gretzky, Mr. Nice Guys Finish First. The man somehow found himself embroiled in one bad situation after another and yet managed to keep himself clean.

This is an odd book because it's not really a hockey book, not really a biography, and not really a story of how a monumental business deal was struck behind close doors. It's all of those things, because they were all so delicately tied together at the time. Whatever else Gretzky's Tears is, it's definitely fascinating and dynamic on its own levels.

by Stephen King
451 pages
Pocket Star publishers, 2006

One of King's more grisly recent novels, Cell probably shouldn't have work, but it did because King's a very good writer. The premise: one day, everyone using a cell phone goes insane and starts attacking anything in sight. There's murder, dismemberment, cannibalism, and a lot of babbling rage. It's almost like a zombie story, but after a hundred pages or so, these "phone crazies" start behaving strangely, almost like they're a part of a flock rather than a bunch of mindless roaming individuals. In true King fashion, our survivors take a journey to try to connect with missing loved ones (and hope they haven't gone phone-crazy-zombie, too), and along the way they try to piece together what exactly is going on. I found myself drawn in as the characters uncovered one bit of information at a time to try to put together all the pieces of the puzzle, but the book sorta of jumped the shark toward the end, and it felt like the idea the author had spent the first 400 pages weaving came more or less unraveled by the need for an ending. It was a fun read, though, and quick for four-plus-hundred pages. A "popcorn novel" to borrow a term from cinema, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Currently reading:

I'm about to finish From Russia With Love, the next Bond book. After that, I've got an autobiography from Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales, called Me, Myself, and Bob. I have two books on interlibrarly loan that I have a month to get through: Sometime Never by Roald Dahl (a story about nuclear war that nobody really liked when it came out) and The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. I have a paperback by Terry Pratchett, but I don't think I'll have time to get to it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Forty Down, More Awards

Hey look, at some point I read ten more books. Only one was actually on my recommended reading list, which has expanded from 60 to 80. Eyes on the prize, man, eyes on the prize...

Here are the last ten books, in no particular order:
Wistrix Donn by Peter DeVries
Blasphemy by Douglas C Preston
The Cherokee Trail by Louis L'Amour
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King
Christ the Lord by Anne Rice
Goblin War by Jim C. Hines
The Game by Ken Dryden
Diamonds are Forever by Ian Fleming
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl
Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming

Remember, everybody's a winner here at WAR. Which only cheapens the entire experience.

The "WHO wrote this?" award goes to..
The Game.
Or, more specifically, to Ken Dryden, who has got to be one of the most intelligent, eloquent professional athletes in North American history. (I'd say "In history," but I'll bet all those crazy naked Greeks could probably wax philosophical with the best of them) Seriously a must-read for any sports fan who cares about what goes on beyond the field of play.

The "Well, at least it isn't another vampire story" award goes to...
Christ the Lord (the book, not the Man) by Anne Rice
It wasn't a great book, nor was it particularly well written, but hey, at least Rice gifted the world with something other than yet another vampire novel. Because there are far too many printed pages devoted to vampires of every mythology these days. I mean, the X-Men are currently fighting vampires. I wish I were joking.

The "You can't say I didn't warn you" award goes to...
Blasphemy, by Douglas Preston.
The book wasn't technically blasphemous. It's hard for a work of fiction to be truly blasphemous. Nevertheless, with that title, you really should have a pretty good idea what you're in for if you are of any particular religious persuasion.

The "Weaponized Shark" award goes to...
Live and Let Die, by Ian Fleming
Seriously. So many clever ways of killing and maiming people in this book. Mr. Big was one legitimately bad dude and a worthy foil to Bond, and I think it made this book stronger than any of the other Bond books I've read.

The "Everyone's a hero in their own way" award goes to...
Wistrix Donn, by Peter DeVries their own not-that-heroic way...

The "Yeah, I just had space aliens devour humans in your kid's book. What of it?" award goes to...
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl. Because, you know, he has space aliens devour humans. With crunching and screaming and everything.

The "Hotel Award" goes to...
The Cherokee Trail by Louis L'Amour
Because it was the Best Western. Get it?

The "Always a bridesmaid" award goes to...
Diamonds are Forever by Ian Fleming
Somehow, this book manages to be the runner up in two different categories: It is the 2nd best Bond book on this list and, in a way, the 2nd best Western as well. It was, however, probably the best horse-racing book in this batch, but I found the horse-racing part boring.

The "TMI" award goes to...
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King
Really, any of King's books could probably win this award. For those who've read it, I'm thinking specifically of the night in the cave after drinking the streamwater. T...M...I...

The "Best Use of the Giving Tree Mythos" award goes to...
Goblin War, by Jim C. Hines
Curious as to why? Read the book. I really don't want to spoil it. But it was wonderful.

Allll righty, that's 40 books checked off the list, here are my 9 favorites so far:

9. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

8. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis

7. Goblin War by Jim C. Hines

6. Blood Feud by Adrian Dater

5. The Game by Ken Dryden

4. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

3. Ilium by Dan Simmons

2. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

1. The Stand: Complete and Uncut Edition by Stephen King

Monday, July 19, 2010

Monday Update: "Ilya Kovulchuk is actually signing somewhere" update

Have been reading a couple of books, but I had to lay down the fantastic Baseball Codes because I have one ILL book due today and another (Frank Peretti's Prohpet) due Wednesday. But I thought I ought to drop by and give a brief reflection on Peter De Vries' Wistrix Donn.

Book #40 of 80
Wistrix Donn
by Peter De Vries
# of pages: 371
Total pages: 12,639
Avg pages/book: 315.975 (+.415)

Don't read Wistrix Donn by Peter De Vries.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Thursday update: Post-vacation edition

Polished off a couple of paperbacks in my last few days of vacation. I'll talk about them here.

Book 38 (of 80)
by Douglas C Preston

I'm learning that "New York Times Bestseller" does not necessarily equal "Good Book." This wasn't a horrible book, but there were points, especially in the early going, that felt really cliched and predictable. Now sometimes, cliche is cliche for a reason, because it works. In most of these instances, however, it felt more like you were traveling a well-worn formula toward a generic blockbuster in terms of characters, relationships, and mysterious suicide/homicides. Sorta been-there, done-that kinda stuff.

This book comes out making evangelicals look pretty bad. The author points out in his note at the end of the book that the novel is not anti-Christian, as the book's hero is a Catholic (the author called him a devout Catholic, but other than saying 'I grew up Catholic and used to be a monk, but I left that because I didn't find God there,' not much in the book seemed to devout about his faith to me), but only anti-bigot. His definition of a bigot, however, appears to be anybody who believes in one religious truth above all others. He takes this premise to what he believes is its only ultimate conclusion: that all who believe in such a premise as "No man comes unto the Father except by Me" will, with a little manipulation and absolutely no free thought, take up arms and kill on sight anyone who will not immediately accept their views.

Obviously, Preston and I will probably never come to agreement on this premise.

A sort of cynical naivety pervaded throughout the book. It was a very quick read, even at 536 pages, and at times managed to build some strong momentum and intrigue. About halfway through, however, the book started to telegraph its ending, and after figuring out the big twist at the end, the final hundred and fifty pages were sort of a jumbled mess, jumping back and forth from philosophical babble to an angry mob of Christians mercilessly executing those who didn't confess Jesus Christ as Lord. Troubling scenes, as they were intended to be, but almost comic in the melodramatic representation of the religiously convicted.

Book 39
The Cherokee Trail
by Louis L'Amour

Okay, look. It's summer vacation. Nothing wrong with a steady diet of hot dogs and cotton candy (or, in this case, fantasy, suspense, and westerns) ;-)

I'd never read a Western before, save for Stephen King's The Gunslinger. My grandfather-in-law practically lives on them, so I asked him for a recommendation. (This because I have a character/story idea I'd like to do someday, but I know practically nothing about the genre) He naturally led me to L'Amour and handed me The Cherokee Trail and another book.

The Cherokee Trail is really not about the Cherokee Trail, though it does take place at a stagecoach stop along that trail. I guess after writing over a hundred and twenty Westerns, titles get harder to come by. The story is about a woman who comes west to manage the station in place of her husband, who was killed by a bunch of guerilla fighters. At first, everyone reacts with the typical "But you're a WOMAN!" mindset, but she's a good cook and a hard worker, and she soon wins everybody over. Constantly proving her worth, Mary Dreyden has to deal with horse thieves, Indians, common jerks, and--dun dun dun!--the man who killed her husband, who is running for governor of Colorado. There's gunfighting, whipfighting, mysteriously dangerous but good heroes, tough orphans, and pretty much everything else you think ought to be in a Western.

So there's that.

Pages: Blasphemy (536) The Cherokee Trail (222) = 758
Total pages: 12,268
Avg pages/book: 315.56 (+3.48)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday update: Robbie's birthday edition

Technically, Robbie's birthday is tomorrow. But you know.

I read three grown-up books this week! Man, I wish I was still involved in Book-It! I'd have so many personal pan pizzas right now...

My goal was to finish my two library books before I left for vacation. The third was a super-quick read that was absolutely perfect summer vacation reading. Two fairly heavy and (in once case, surprisingly) spiritual stories followed by a light-hearted romp through the world of goblins and other monsters.

Book #35 of 78
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
by Stephen King

Stephen King is an author who is consistently surprising me. In this case, I was stunned at the profoundly spiritual flavor this book had. The writing is very good (if a tad repetitive for the first half of the book) and, as always, the story is well-told, but at some point this graphically survival tale of a nine-year-old girl in the forest becomes a profoundly theological fable. Now, you could very easily read the book without embracing any theology present and just enjoy it for the story, but as I read more of King I'm really starting to notice a strong thread of spiritual struggle and victory permeating a lot of his later work. Whether you embrace the spiritual material or not, it's definitely a story that leaves you thinking after you close the back cover. There's a lot of meat in these two-hundred-and-some quick pages.

Book 36:
Christ the Lord
by Anne Rice

Anne Rice is the lady who wrote all those dark vampire novels before coming back to the church in the mid-2000s. (Or was it the early 2000s? I don't recall exactly) This novel is a fictitious account of the year or two from Christ and His family's return from Egypt to Nazareth. It is steeped very heavily in Roman Catholic tradition and mythology, drawing from some of the apocryphal stories of the Gospel of Thomas (which Rice concedes in her author's note is making a presumption that these writings can be trusted as scripture, a presumption she's willing to make). It's also very boring and often formulaic, as you go from a chapter of young Jesus settling in and being happy to a chapter of some historical tragedy to a chapter of Jesus doing a miracle and not understanding how He can do such things, then things settle down and He's happy again until the next tragedy. You get about four or five cycles before He learns the truth of His birth and the slaughter of the babies in Bethlehem. (Uh, spoilers, I guess?)

HOWEVER, as I finished the book, I found myself struck, not by the writing, but by the reality of Christ in the flesh, born of a woman, living as a child and then a man, learning, struggling, living. Whether or not I agreed with the way Anne Rice presented it (I didn't, mostly) I was forced to reckon with that idea, and it was pretty humbling and awesome. Fully-God, fully-man. Amazing.

Also, I deeply appreciated the nearly-30-page author's note at the end, where Rice talked about her spiritual journey from faithful Catholic to hardcore atheist to honest seeker back to believer. Really fascinating insight.

So, take that for what you will.

Book 37:
Goblin War
by Jim C. Hines

This is currently the biggest surprise on my ever-expanding reading list. I picked this up half-expecting it to be terrible and obnoxious, but it was actually fairly clever and quite charming. The story is well-woven with some amusing twists and surprises that, for the most part, aren't terribly far-fetched.

This is the third book in a set, but from my experience you really didn't need the earlier volumes to understand what was happening. They reference events from the other Jig the Goblin stories, but it's always in past-tense, and it usually brings you up to speed in regards to what you need to know. I read this book in a day and a half, and that with plenty of distractions, so it's a super-fast read with a lot of fun packed into each chapter.

Further, if you've ever been disenchanted with the classic children's book The Giving Tree, then this novel is a MUST read. I won't say anything more, but your jaw will drop. It's really one of the most amazing pages I've read in the past year. ;-)

So, in review: If you like dark suspense stories with surprising depth, check out Tom Gordon. If you like boring, speculative Catholic fiction about Jesus, you want Christ the Lord. If you want fun and nothing more, enjoy Goblin War.

Pages: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (272) Christ the Lord (322) Goblin War (336) = 930
Total pages: 11,510
Avg pages/book: 311.08

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday update: Fathers' Day 2010

Not a bad week for reading. I finished three books, two of them short (one a children's novella) and one I've been picking at for the last, oh, three weeks or so.

Book #32 of 75:
The Game
by Ken Dryden

This is recognized by many as the definitive hockey book of the 20th century. I can understand why. Dryden is not only more intellectually articulate than any other hockey player (or writer, for that matter) that I've ever read, but his insight is incredibly fascinating. The Game is the best look I've read at the psyche of a professional hockey player and team (specifically, Dryden's last team, the 1979 Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens). Dryden's ruminations go beyond hockey, however, and shed light onto the life of any pro athlete, any celebrity, any patriot, any Canadian citizen, anybody who's ever been afraid of failure, anybody who's ever realized that the end of a good thing was just around the corner. At times melancholy, at times dynamic, sometimes alienating yet often friendly, The Game is really a fantastic piece of nonfiction.

As a hockey fan, it's such an interesting read because it gives such a well-articulated look into the Habs dynasty of the 70's, the stars of the NHL in the '60s and '70s (Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Bobby Hull, Guy Lafleur, Bobby Clarke, Dennis Potvin, etc) while detailing, blow-by-blow, what a tumultuous time that was for North American hockey in general. (The rise of the Soviets, the WHA, poor television exposure, the Broad Street Bullies) The life of the hockey champion appears both exciting and exhausting, important and insignificant, grueling and gratifying, flipping between the two extremes dozens of times per day.

It is really quite a trip, and Dryden is a more-than-capable guide.

This is the one that took me the longest to read, and I think it's because it had so much to digest. There's just a lot of thought in every page of this book, and there's a lot of vulnerability from its author. From ball-hockey games in the back driveway of a Toronto-area childhood to playing goal opposite his brother in his first NHL season, every struggle, every joy, every nerve-wracking moment of a goaltender's life is up close and personal.

I also really found it fascinating to read Dryden's thoughts on the game circa 1979 and what he thought and hoped the future held for it. Dryden, of course, didn't know who Wayne Gretzky was (or, if he did, he surely couldn't have known what Gretzky would become). He wouldn't have guessed that the Oilers and Islander would basically take turns ruling the 1980s; he suspected that the Canadiens dynasties were over, but surely he wouldn't have guessed that the Habs would only win two of the next thirty Stanley Cups. Forget Crosby and Ovechkin; Lemieux and Bure weren't on the radar yet. Nobody played the Butterfly style of goaltending. The Trap was fifteen years from prominence, clutch-and-grab hockey was thankfully still years away. Would he have guessed Stanley Cup parades would ever go through Tampa Bay? Anaheim? Raleigh? That it would be the Americans, not the Canadians, to finally embarrass the Soviets on the international stage?

Probably not.

I wonder who the voice that'll leave this sort of mark for our generation will be, or if we'll get one.

Oh, forgot: my favorite part of the book was near the end, where Dryden delves into the history of ice hockey, starting in the 1870's and tracing it right up through the turbulent times of the 1970's (in an attempt to discover what about the game it is that really changes). Really, really fascinating stuff.

A lot packed into these 248 pages.

Book #33
Diamonds are Forever
by Ian Fleming

More Bond!

I didn't like this one quite as much as the last one I read. In this story, Bond is tracking down a diamond smuggling operation in the states, so he's undercover in one of the biggest mobs in the U.S. There's an awful lot about horse racing that seemed to distract from the main thrust of the story, and so that lost me a little bit. Fleming really seemed to enjoy exploring the various types of criminals and branches of organized crime. In the four novels I've read, each has had a vastly different "villain", each a different machine that Bond is trying to understand and dismantle. In Casino Royale it was an international gambling pro; in Live and Let Die Bond tangled with the brutal underground criminal operations in the superstitious corners of Harlem all the way to the Caribbean; in Moonraker you had a covert military operation run by terrorists, and now the mafia. Really fascinating stuff, but it can get a bit off-track at times.

That said, when the story is moving, it moves well. The characters, as always, are fun, and there are some really tense moments in the last third of the book. These are fun, gritty, quick, but intense reads.

Book #34:
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
by Roald Dahl

This book is weird. I kind of read it on a whim and downed the whole thing in one sitting. It wasn't long. There are two basic thrusts to the story, which takes place immediately following the event of the more popular Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Willy Wonka and Charlie's entire family shoot into space in the great glass elevator and board the world's first space hotel, where they're attacked by carnivorous aliens called Vernicious Knids (pronounced with a hard K). While Charlie and co. escape harm, some of the hotel staff aren't so lucky, as over a dozen are eaten alive by the beasts. After saving what's left of the staff, Charlie and the others go back to the chocolate factory, where three of Charlie's grandparents take too much of a special pill Wonka invented to make them 20 years younger. They take too many, though, and end up as babies (except for Grandma Georgana, who ends up -2, prompting Charlie and Mr. Wonka to go to the hellish minus-world to rescue her. Minus World is actually pretty frightening, too)

So, there's that.

The book also has some legitimate laugh-out-loud funny moments. The scenes with the President and his cabinet feature some of the funniest stuff I've read in awhile, kids book or not. It's still bizarre, but it's funny-bone-tickling bizarre.

This week, I'm going to read a couple of smaller novels I picked up from the library before I go on vacation. I've got two books from my original list to take with me to the midwest, so I didn't want to start on them before we left, lest I run out of things to read. Started on Stephen King's The Girl Who Loved Tom Gorden (which I will probably finish tomorrow) and then will cautiously check out Anne Rice's Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.

Pages: 248 (The Game) 229 (Diamonds are Forever) 166 (Great Glass Elevator)
Total pages: 10,580 (Broke 10,000! Yay!)
Pages/book: 311.176

Monday, June 14, 2010

Monday Update: 6/14 (31/72)

Book #31 (of 72, so far) Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming

Of the three Bond books I've read (as research, of course), this one offered the most consistent thrills. Each book has had its gripping moments; LALD just happened to have more of them. There was actually very little attention paid to card-playing and 007 actually faced a significant death threat just about every day in this story. The frighteningly calculating Mr. Big was really a grim, fantastic villain. Aided by the fact that over half the story took place in the U.S., this story is James Bond on the streets. Everything is very gritty, real, and brutal. It also deals with elements of Voodoo and Caribbean mysticism, which is just creepy.

I was actually pretty impressed with this short novel. It's violent, it's racy, it's definitely not for kids, but it's some of the best "popcorn reading" I've ever done.

# of pages: 229
Total pages; 9,937
# of books: 31
Avg pages/book: 320.55

Still working on The Game, but first I have another Bond book (Diamonds are Forever) that I've got to get back to the library by first-thing Thursday. Dryden's book is due back next Monday. It's really very good (though a bit melancholy) and hopefully I'll riff on it a bit next week.

Then, I'm going back to my original list for a bit, I think. Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring and Gold's Carter Beats the Devil will be next.

For my own record's sake: I've read 20 of my original 60. I'm technically a third of the way through!!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The third ten (actually nine) aWARds

Remember last time, how I accidentally read 11 books instead of 10 to get to 20? This time around, we're only giving out awards for the last 9, so we'll be all evened up at #30. And, following my theory that everybody who gets a book published is a winner in some way or other, it's time to hand out some aWARds!

For review, the eligible books are

#22: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
#23: Coraline by Neil Gaiman
#24: Moonraker by Ian Fleming
#25: Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema
#26: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
#27: Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
#28: Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield
#29: Blood Feud by Adrian Dater
#30: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Hm...that's a lot of "guy books.".

And off we go!

The "This Would Even Creep Roald Dahl Out" Award goes to Neil Gaiman for Coraline. Because seriously, Corline would even creep Roald Dahl out. (And if you don't think Dahl could be suitably creepy...Giants that eat children! Children that turn into blueberries! Aliens that devour space hotel guests! Giant fruit that flattens adults! Witches!)

The "'Got Any Threes?' 'Go fish...for TORTURE!'" Award goes to Ian Fleming for Casino Royale. The book is focused almost entirely on the premise of the good guy trying to beat the bad guy and cards. Then, suddenly, you're faced with a realistic depiction of a type of torture that would make men everywhere positively cringe (and possibly cry).

The "This is a Trophy That Sits on the Podium That Was Built from the Wood That Came From the Tree That Grew on the Plain" Award goes to Verna Aardema for Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain. If you've read it, it makes perfect sense.

The "Oh Don't Worry, We're Saving the Most Disturbing for Last!" Awards goes to Gabriel Garcia Marquez for One Hundred Years of Solitude. Cuz a lot of bizarre and disturbing stuff happens in this book, but the gruesome fate that meets the youngest Buendia with about five pages left may just be the most disturbing image in the hundred years.

The "Gordie!" Award goes to Adrian Dater for Blood Feud. Avs and Red Wings. Old-time hockey, coach.

The "This Introduction is Almost Eerie" Award goes to Orson Scott Card for Ender's Game. Seriously. Card provided a bit of his biography in the introduction, and I found it so similar to mine that it's eerie. From a religious background, goes through college not really sure what he'll do, gets out of college and embarks on a career in theatre, but isn't that good of an actor, so he does what he can--notably, building sets and directing--and becomes a playwright. Learns his basics of scene and story structuring from playwriting and then realizes there's no money in playwriting, so he starts writing fiction. Now, if only the rest of our biographies can manage to play out in similar fashion...(well, except for the Mormon thing)

The "Surprisingly Cool, Even to This Not-So-Hip Kid" Award goes to Rob Sheffield for Love is a Mix Tape. I'll be honest, I was afraid we might have a High Fidelity flashback, where my complete ignorance of all things pop culture was going to make this book an annoying waste of my time. Not so. Well-written and introspective, Sheffield's honest examination of his romance and tragically short marriage really resonated with this young still-fairly-newlywed.

The "Just When You Thought He Couldn't Fit Any More Plot In There" Award goes to Michael Chabon for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. "Jews trying to escape Czechoslovakia during Nazi occupation? Budding comic book geniuses at the advent of the superhero book? Young love in 1940s New York City? Sexual identity crises? Check. Oh, you don't think I can fit a lengthy military stint in the Arctic in here? Just watch me, pal!"

The "Best Walking Off Alone Into the Sunset Moment" Award goes to Ian Fleming for Moonraker, for..well, for having an awesome walking off alone into the sunset moment. The book had very little to do with the moon, though, and even less to do with raking.


Finally, the top five from the Twenty Down Awards has expanded to the Top Seven! (I'll probably keep expanding it by two every ten books I read) So here are the current favorites on this reading project. Remember, these aren't necessarily the seven best (in fact, I know they're not), but just my faves:

#7 - Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

#6 - Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis

#5 - Blood Feud by Adrian Dater

#4 - The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

#3 - Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

#2 - Ilium by Dan Simmons

#1 - The Stand, Complete and Uncut Edition by Stephen King

Thanks for reading!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sunday update on a Monday! 6/7/10

Howdy, all. Hope you enjoyed last week's break from blogging in observation of Memorial Day. I meant to blog last night, but blogger said NO! NOBODY BLOGS TONITE! EVERYBODY GO TO BED!

I know this is true, because all my other Blogspot friends had the same problem.

Have finished two books since I last wrote, Adrian Dater's Blood Feud and Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. That puts me at 30 and necessitates a new awards ceremony. (Not today)

I absolutely LOVED Blood Feud. It's Denver sportswriter Adrian Dater's recounting of the epic rivalry between the NHL's Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche from 1996-2002. Dater objectively hits all the high and low points and does a great job of profiling some of the major players in what is really one heck of an engaging sports story. I really think its appeal extends beyond Avs and Red Wings fans. I'd consider it a must-read for any modern hockey fan that isn't offended by coarse language. It was amazing how much I'd forgotten about specific events in the ten-plus years since the Avs/Wings rivalry began. Reading Dater's account got my blood boiling all over again, ten years after the fact. You really get a sense of the people on both side of the line, and that adds a great personal interest element that you wouldn't expect given the genre and subject matter.

And you don't have to take my word on this, either. Mild-at-best-hockey-fan Tarvis the Mighty read and loved this book, too. ;-)

I also just finished Ender's Game yesterday. It is a fantastic, engaging, intense, enjoyable, troubling book. If you haven't read it, you really ought to. (Unless you get turned off by somewhat disturbing and/or depressing situations, especially when they are set upon children who, admittedly, don't think or act like children)

This is one of my favorite books I've read in the last couple years. I would probably blog for too long about it, and I've got to be out the door in a few minutes, but if you have read it and want to chat about it, hit me up. I just finished the book, so everything is still fresh and I'm dying to bounce some thoughts and ideas off of some fellow readers.

See, this is when you need a book club.

Still working on Ken Dryden's The Game. It's a lot slower and heavier than Dater's hockey book. Could be because it's by a lawyer and not a sportswriter. Could be because it's got a bit of a melancholy flavor to it, as Dryden is looking back on his final season in the NHL and some of the disenchantment he felt playing his last time through the hockey player superstar life of Montreal. Either way, hopefully I'll get through it before it's due back. It's an ILL, so no renewals!

Blood Feud: 238 pages
Ender's Game: 324 pages
Total pages: 9,708
Books: 30
Pages/book: 323.6

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday update: 5/23/10

So, I think instead of just posting whenever I start or finish a book, I'm going to try weekly updates instead, either every Sunday or Monday. We'll see how that goes.

Finished One Hundred Years of Solitude, at long last! I couldn't devote the time necessary to this story when I was directing two shows at once, so I had to turn it back in when I was a mere 262 pages into the saga of the family Buendia. This time, it only took a few days to play through the rest of it (about another 200 pages). See what a difference free time can make?

I didn't love this book as much as several of my friends did, though I did love, admire, respect, and live in awe of the writing, if that makes any sense. The whole thing is wonderfully put together, and I can see why it has been hailed as such a revolutionary work of fiction, not only for Spanish-language literature, but internationally as well. There were just several stretches of narrative where I would find myself bored with the story. The book follows a family through seven generations of bizarre happenings in a small town founded by one particular family. The narrative weaves together realism with history with mysticism with religion with downright weirdness in a way that makes it all seem perfectly natural. (According to the "About the Author" at the back--which, interestingly enough, was my favorite part of the book--this was a storytelling technique he picked up from his grandmother, who would tell cold hard factual events and fairy tale/myths with the exact same deadpan sense of gravity--"brick face," Marquez called it) From start to finish, it really is a marvel or language and storytelling.

Throughout the century of this fantastically miserable family, the town of Macando sees gypsy carnivals, plagues of insomnia, four-year rainstorms, avian mass-suicides, beauties of epic proportions, ghosts, ascensions to heaven, and conspiratorial cover-ups of mass killings. Among other things. In addition to these events, the Buendias family sees a retired war general obsessed with making golden fishes, a girl who eats wall plaster, a man who goes mad and suddenly speaks only in Latin (which he hadn't previously known), a woman who shrinks to the size of an infant before dying, and a deranged mother who believes her son is destined to become the new pope. Among other oddities.

Really, this book never stops serving up the strange without letting it all seem strange. Which, I think, was one of my disappointments. Nothing seemed related to anything else, and you could literally skip pages at a time and really not be any more lost when you rejoined the narrative ten pages later. (I tried this once as an experiment; don't worry, I went back to pick up what I missed) Again, this sensible madness is part of what makes the book great, as is the maddening fact that almost every male name in the book is some variation of Arcadio, Aureliano, or Jose. It's supposed to drive you crazy. I get that.

Still, at times, it just sorta drove me crazy ;-)

Anyway. I would agree that all serious writers and all serious readers ought to read this book. It really is a masterpiece, and a lot of parts of it are just really, really fun. Just be prepared for things to be weird, cyclical, and unsatisfying, and for them to stay that way for 450 pages, and you'll be fine.

Books read: 28
Pages: 458
Total pages: 9,146
Pages/book: 326.64

Blast. Only boosted my average by 5 pages.

Next up: In honor of the Stanley Cup Final, I'm reading some hockey books. The first is a book I've read before. Easy, easy reading. I will probably finish it tomorrow if I don't tonight. It's called Blood Feud and it's by the Denver Post's NHL beat writer, Adrian Dater. Blood Feud is a chronicle of the nasty years of the Colorado Avalanche/Detroit Red Wings rivalry of the mid-1990's through the early 2000's. It is well written, well-balanced, well-researched, and well worth your time for any marginal-to-maniacal hockey fan.

The next book is more of a classic, Hall-of-Fame goalie Ken Dryden's The Game. This is one of those books every serious hockey fan was supposed to read, so I got it on InterLibrary Loan. I need to pick it up after my early morning booking tomorrow. And those two ought to wrap up my next ten. Then, I'm back on to my original list for a little while. Good things are definitely coming!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Closing Thoughts: Love is a Mix Tape

Took me a full week to read this book. The first 2/3 of the book really clips along. The last 1/3 is tough to read. Sheffield has such a great, down-to-earth sort of writing that makes me identify so easily with everything he says, even if I rarely had any idea what pop culture reference the man was making. As a guy married almost five years, a LOT of what he said rang really true to my experience, as well. Which is why it was so tough to get through the portion of the book where he was dealing with his own wife's random, instantaneous death. Generally, I wouldn't read more than one chapter of it at a time,and that set my pace back a bit.

On the whole, though, I really dug this book. It made me want to make mix CD's, quit my job, and play in a rock and roll band the rest of my life. I didn't do any of these things because A) I don't generally have a CD player, B) I thought it would be awfully poser-ish of me to suddenly make all these mix CD's just because I read a book about mix tapes, and C) it would be irresponsible of me to quit my job when I don't even have a band to play with.


But I should.

Pages: 224
Total pages: 8,688
Books: 27
Pages/book: 321.78

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Book 28 of 68: Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield

Here's another one I probably wouldn't have picked up on my own. It's a book that was literally thrust into my hands recently. I'm hoping my lack of pop culture savvy won't ruin this one for me. (My friend recommended I youtube some of the songs reference online if I feel I'm getting lost; that's not a terrible idea)

The premise, according to the inside flap of the cover, is pretty simple: a contributing editor from Rolling Stone magazine tells the story of his too-short relationship with a girl/girlfriend/wife named Renee through a series of mix-tapes they made for one another.

So there you have it. A love story told through the music of the 1990's. Or, as the book's tag line puts it: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time.

ClosingThoughts: Casino Royale

Well lookit that, I read a book in a day!

Not a WHOLE lot to be proud of; it was a short book and an easy read and I had plenty of spare time in which to do it. (Well, the hours I couldn't fall asleep, anyway)

While I was reading this book, I was wondering how exactly it created a major franchise of books, films, video games, etc. It wasn't bad, but it didn't seem like something you'd pick up and say, "I need MORE of this type of story!!!" The first half of the book was about playing cards. After that, protagonist underwent torture that was really quite horrible to read about. (I remember wincing at the scene in the movie; reading it was easily three times worse, because the character didn't manage to hold himself together nearly as well) I actually found it pretty disturbing, though well done. Still, I wasn't sure how 007 became a staple of British pup culture until the end, where he basically declares war on communist Russia. I can see Brits in the '50s getting pretty excited about that.

Anyway, some good stuff in the book. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I did Moonraker, and it was certainly more graphic than the other one (both in love and in violence), but it made for a good, quick read. Not a lot of real "spy" stuff going on; it's pretty much cards, car-chasing, torture, recovery, and then the twist ending. It's a lot like the movie, only set in the 1950's instead of today and with a lot less action. It is, however, an origin story, and you certainly walk away from the book with the feeling that there'll be more, and it's not going to be pretty for the Ruskies. (Side note: I've read Moonraker, which I believe was the third book, and it didn't deal with Russians at all. Go figure)

Pages: 187
Total: 8,464
Books: 26 (I just re-counted)
Pages/book: 325.54

Monday, May 10, 2010

James Bond on Texans:

"It turned out that Leiter was from Texas. While he talked on about his job with the Joint Intelligence Staff of N.A.T.O. and the difficulty of maintaining security in an organization where so many nationalities were represented, Bond reflected that good Americans were fine people and that most of them seemed to come from Texas."

Books 26, 27 of 67

Am I even on-list anymore? (Answer: not really, but I fully intend to get back to it)

I'm reading just about everything somebody recommends to me these days. Thus I picked up the 26th book on my ever-expanding reading list, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. Historical fiction, WWII era, examination of the early years of the superhero comic book genre, and a whole slew of honors:

Pulitzer prize (2001)
New York Times Bestseller
National Book Critics Circle Award nomination (2000)
PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction nomination (2000)

Plus, it helped out with my total page count.

Pages: 639
Total pages: 8,277
Books: 24
Pages/book: 344.875

Muy better.

This is really a unique and fantastically-written story. I can't imagine the amount of research that had to go into writing it: research into the history of comic books, Jewish myths and mysticism, Harry Houdini and magic/escape artist illusion, even obscure Antarctic World War II outposts played prominently into the life story of cousins Sammy Clay and Josef Kavalier. And while it sounds like that would make for a really random, convoluted story (a la Christopher Moore's Fluke from far earlier in this experiment), it really doesn't. Everything flows surprisingly well.

Now, there are a few quibbles I have with the book, naturally, and if you're sensitive to language or fairly vivid descriptions of nude women, this book might put you off, but even then it's not really gratuitous. Everything seems to fit in the story. There are portions where I felt the book was too well-written for its own good, which is really an odd comment, and if that's the worst thing I can say about a book you know you're dealing with some choice fiction.

Of course, you really don't need my opinions to validate Kavalier and Clay. There are dozens of far more qualified voices who have already gone on and on about Mr. Chabon's "magnum opus." (Or so says the 2007 New York Review of Books)


Moving on:

I think I mentioned earlier that I was reading James Bond novels as a sort of research for a story I want to write. I finally picked up Casino Royale via Interlibrary Loan, so I'm getting started there. It's only 198 pages, and I got through Moonraker pretty quickly, so I should be through it fairly quickly. All I know for sure about Casino Royale is that the movie was pretty good. And if that doesn't make the book a sure thing, then I don't know what does! ;-)

Soon, moving back to finish up 100 Years of Solitude.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Updates, and my thoungs on Moonraker

Okay, I had to put down One Hundred Years of Solitude for now. I got 262 pages into it and have been enjoying reading it, but it's a very large book and the rather disjointed nature of the narrative makes it easy to get bogged down in. Well, I've also been working 14+hour days just about every day for the past month, so I haven't had the time to devote to delving into this Nobel-winner, so I'm going to come back to it when I can read the rest of it properly.

It shouldn't really ruin my enjoying of the story. The events are pretty loosely connected and the characters are named so similarly that it's pretty difficult to keep them all straight anyway. Plus, the narrative is pretty good about reminding you who is who as you go along.

It's an odd book, really.

Anyway, I decided to move on to some lighter reading that I could finish quickly and not have to invest so heavily into, so I read the James Bond novel Moonraker by Sir Ian Fleming.

Pages: 247
Total pages: 7,638
Books read: 23
Pages/book: 332.09

The only experience I'd had with anything Bond was the film version of Casino Royale (which was good) and all of the James Bond stereotypes. Shaken, not stirred, and the theme music, and all that good stuff. So I'm going to read some of these books to figure out what makes this character such a mainstay in popular culture.

Moonraker is a fun short spy novel that isn't terribly taxing intellectually but keeps a fair share of tasty twists and turns as it moves along (for the most part) and a good quick clip. It's split into thirds: the first third deals primarily with playing cards, and even though I don't really know the games in question very well, Fleming's prose makes it easy enough to follow what is happening, even without a thorough knowledge of the rules. Even managed to make it fairly suspenseful. (Incidentally, one of the things I remembered about the film Casino Royale was that it actually made an engaging, exciting sequence out of poker, which is generally one of the dullest things in the world for me to try to watch)

The second and third portions of the book feature the story's namesake and some more traditional spy-novel stuff. Secret identities, searching for clues, mysterious death-attempts, and bald Germans with mustaches. Of course, everybody is terribly suspicious, and even the premise itself seems a little obviously dubious to my post-9/11 worldview, but when you pick up a 007 story, I assume you're planning on going along for the ride anyway. Which I did, and I rather enjoyed it.

With my crazy-packed schedule, I managed to read this book in two days. Quick, fun, and done. One o' them "palette cleansers" as my friend Dave-O likes to say. And at times, the prose was good enough to give me chills. What more can you want out of a 247-page post-WWII spy story?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Closing Thoughts: Coraline

# of pages: 162
Total pages: 7,391
Avg pages/book: 321.35

Ahh! My pages-per-book number is dying!!!

As usual, Gaiman crafts a really creative tale of dark fantasy, this time targeted for younger readers. The book actually had all the qualities of a classic Roald Dahl tale, only much darker. (And I realize that Roald could get kinda creepy, but he never had, say, three hollowed-out children whose souls had been slowly eaten away and were now locked in a closet) Your protagonist is an adventurous youngster with busy parents, constantly misunderstood and underappreciated by the adults in her life, who finds a magical world behind a magic door. Said child eventually has to save the day by rescuing her parent and defeating an evil witch-like entity. It's definitely a winning formula.

At times, Coraline reads like a ghost story, like a haunted house on steroids. When I was a kid, I remember the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series of books were quite popular with my classmates. Similarly, my friends and I loved to watch Are You Afraid of the Dark? on Nickelodeon. Looking back, some of those stories were downright creepy, and it just never bothered me at that age. I think Coraline fits into that category. I'm not sure why kids (say, 10-14 or so) have such an appetite for the supernaturally spooky, but my guess is I'd have been less creeped out by Gaiman's Coraline at age twelve than I was at age twenty-seven.

That said, it's definitely a reminder that I want to be reading what my kid is reading as he grows up, so we can discuss things like Coraline to make sure we're developing a nice healthy appetite for fantasy, keeping things like good and evil in perspective, and not just fostering nightmare fodder. :-)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Books 23, 24, and 25 of 65

So, it looks like I'm going back into one of those crazy things where I'm reading four books at once, right?

Well, not really. These are mostly pretty short books. One is for kids, one is for young adults, and the other is only 247 small pages.

There goes my page count average.

One was on my original list, and the others I'm adding.

Book 23: Coraline, by Neil Gaiman
I'm reading the actual novel, not the graphic novel that came afterward. I haven't seen the movie. I'm just thoroughly curious as to what this dark fantasy is all about. It's received really, really high praise according to the front page of the book, and it has a slew of awards to its credit (ALA Notable Children's Book, ALA Best Book for Young Adults, IRA/CBC Children's Choice, Publisher's Weekly Best Book, Hugo Award for Best Novella, just to name a few). Small pages, 162, and double-spaced. Should be finished with it very quickly.

Book 24: Moonraker, by Ian Fleming
James Bond novel. Why? Well, I've never read a James Bond novel. I'm also using it as research for a story I want to write. I tried to get the first Bond novel, Casino Royale (I have seen that movie, for the record), but not a single library in the Houston area has it, and the interlibrary loan program appears to be a joke. This is the earliest novel in the series I've been able to find, so I'm going with it for now.

Book 25: Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain, by Verna Aardema
This was on my original suggested list.'s a Reading Rainbow book. The author wrote a ton of children's books which all seem to have an African theme. Here, you know what? I don't think I need a separate post for before and after reading this book. Hold on, I'll be right back.


Okay, done. That was a nice book :-) I liked the rhyme and the rhythm, and the repetitive nature of the narrative is reminiscent of some books and songs I remember growing up with (There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, for example, or There's a Hole in the Middle of the Sea) so that it would be a book younger readers could probably memorize pretty easily. I can see how this would stick with a child long after they'd outgrown this type of book. The pictures were fun and colorful, too.

Page count is now at 7229, with an average of 328.59 per book. Dang, that really brought me down.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Book 22/63: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

When a book becomes the second best-selling Spanish book ever (behind only Don Quixote), you gotta think it's doing something right. Colombian author Marquez won a Nobel Prize for Literature. (Or he may have gotten the Nobel Prize for Literature while he was still talking about one day becoming a great author, I'm not entirely sure)


Anyway, I'm about 60 pages into the book, and it's very funny. The book's cover tells me pretty much nothing about the content, thanks again to the classification stickers/decals of the Houston Public Library. (Wait, that sounds familiar!) The praise on the back is quite high, and a friend recently mentioned this book to me, saying it was one of the best-written things she'd ever read. She told me I needed to read it, which was a little creepy, because just an hour earlier I'd submitted the hold request at HPL.

It's a long book, so you may not see anything from me on this blog for awhile. However, I'm pretty proud of my recent book-a-week pace, so we'll see what I can do. Should be a great read, anyway. Those are my initial thoughts: it should be a great read.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Twenty (One) Down Awards

Another ten books crossed of the list (which I'm almost certain will be 80 before I'm finished, but what the hey? Why not?), which means it's time for another awards ceremony! Yay!

Also, apparently I had two #12s, so I've actually read 21 books. So I guess this is actually the 21-down awards. My bad. So I guess we'll have 11 award this time, and only 9 next time.

Remember, here at PCC, everybody's a winner of something or other.

Here's a list of our second group of nominees:

#11: Walking on Water by Madeline L'Engle
#12: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
#13: The Stand by Stephen King
#14: Woyzeck by Georg Buchner
#15: Powers: The 25 Coolest Dead Superheroes of All Time by Brian Michael Bendis
#16: Through Painted Deserts by Donald Miller
#17: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
#18: Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis
#19: Evil: A Primer by William Hart
#20: Olympos by Dan Simmons
#21: White Oleander by Janet Finch

And now, for the winners!

The "Most Buffy the Vampire Slayer References" award goes to:
Evil: A Primer
Congratulations, Mr. Hart. Because nothing lends credence to your intellectual dissertation like a few well-placed Buffy throwbacks.

The "Best Use of Woodland Creatures as Characters" award goes to:
The Secret Garden
When she wasn't describing flowers or reminding us that fresh air was, in fact, making Mary and Colin stronger, or talking about the Magic, that Great Good that exists in all things, Burnett was creating some delightfully simple characters. One of the more memorable contributions to the story was the almost-human thoughts and reaction of the robin as it befriended old Ben Weatherstaff, helped Mary find the secret garden, and protect its mate and its nest. Good, innocent, fun stuff.

The "Always One Step Ahead" award goes to
Walking on Water
In her book of reflections on faith and art, Madeline L'Engle further proves that she was ahead of her time, reflecting on issues that have become prominent troubles in Christian art (and Christianity in general) twenty or thirty years before the issues became widespread and considered "relevant." (I wonder what L'Engle would think of The Message, for example?)

The "Who Chopped Down My Cherry Tree" award goes to
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation
I can not tell a lie. This was a fantastic book.

The "With a Name Like That, It's Got To" award goes to
Say it! Woyzeck! Now say it with a funny voice. Woyzeck! Woyzeck! Woyzeck! It's a fun word to say! Oh, it's a pretty good play, too, especially from a country that isn't steeped in a particularly rich theatre tradition.

The "Top 5" award goes to
High Fidelity
Makes me wish I was well-versed enough in--well, anything--to be able to rattle off top-five lists with my friends in casual conversations. If I'd known anything about what they were debating, I probably would have enjoyed this book at last twice as much as I did. Either way, the top-five thing was a cool device, and it made for a cool theme.

The "Most Laborious and Rewarding Read" award goes to
The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition
That's a lot of pages. And there's a lot of meat in them. And of the 1300 or so pages, I'd probably only have given back, oh, 110 or so of them. Just an awesome, awesome book.

The "Both Least and Most Effective Use of a Title Within the Narrative" award goes to
White Oleander
The first few chapters seemed to talk about oleanders on every other page. Yes, I get it. Oleander. Like the title. Thank you. However, once the story really got moving, we stopped making blatant oleander references in every chapter, and when it finally tied in again at the end of the story, I found it profoundly poignant and a bit stirring.

The "Just Because You're a Comic Book, That Doesn't Mean I Have to Like You" award goes to
Powers: The 25 Coolest Dead Superheroes of All Time
Hm..I think this award title is pretty self-explanatory.
Side note: I also read Planet Hulk during this time, but I've decided not to count graphic novels unless they were specifically recommended to me, like Powers was.

The "Hey, I've Been There" award goes to
Through Painted Deserts
No, really. I've been to a lot of the places in the first 2/3 of the book, since Paul and Don started in Houston and then traced the route my family and I used to take to drive to California in the summers when I was a kid. Definite nostalgic kick.

The "Spider-Man 3" award goes to:
Wow. How many storylines/antagonists/monsters/wars can you possibly cram into seven hundred pages??? According to Dan Simmons: eight trillion.


Also, now that I'm twenty books in I'm going to keep a running top-ten style list. Only, I'm only going to do five for now, and I'll add two every time we have an awards ceremony. So, here are my top five books through the first twenty(one) stops on this journey:

#5 - Walking on Water by Madeline L'Engle

#4 - Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

#3 - Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis

#2 - Ilium by Dan Simmons

#1 - The Stand: Complete and Uncut Edition by Stephen King

Thanks for reading!

Closing Thoughts: White Oleander

Pages: 391
Total pages: 7,203
Books: 20
Pages/book: 360.15

Okay, everybody sing with me:

OOOOOOOOOOOLEANDER, where the foster parents are all jerks,
Sleep with your step-dad, he's not that bad,
And corrupt law systems that don't work!

OOOOOOOOOOOLEANDER, every night she stares up at the sky,
Everyone's a skank, so who's to thank?
It's her mom who murdered some jerk-guy!


This was actually a pretty good book. Depressing, but good. I actually think it would be a good book for pretty much any mature male who is married and/or almost married to read, because it's a really good look into the female psyche. What makes the character of Astrid so heartbreaking to me is that she's not deranged or predisposed to depression; she's a fairly normal girl forced into a pretty crappy life who makes some awful choices. Her choices, however, are almost always motivated because some need in her heart isn't being met--in a general sense, it's the need to be loved, but there are some specifics within that generality that I think a lot of men don't understand are really crucial to almost all women.

Why only recommended reading for mature, married, and/or almost married? Well, a lot of these needs are expressed in the act of lovemaking, and I've never felt a graphic depiction of that event nor the psychological/emotional effects it has on a woman during the act is generally a necessary or healthy experience for most guys outside a marriage relationship.

So there's that.

Anyway, the story is, for the most part, a downer. There aren't a lot of characters who are really likable. Everybody is deeply flawed (which is realistic, of course, but is it really that hard to find one person who isn't constantly acting selfishly or wallowing in self-pity?), and Astrid's situation goes from bad to worse to tolerable to worse to even worse to apathetic to bad cetera.

The plot is pretty simple: 12-year-old Astrid lives lone with her poet mother, a soldier in the crusade against the oppressive nature of "a man's world." Surprisingly, her mother falls madly in love with a musician, and when he cheats on her, her evil side shows, and she starts stalking him, and eventually she poisons him and goes to jail. The entirety of Astrid's teenage years sends her bouncing from foster home to foster home, where she makes all kinds of poor choices and ruins some lives, helps a few, has her own world shattered time and time again, and ultimately comes to hate her mother.

That's not the ending, of course. I actually really liked the ending. I believed it. I was satisfied. And no, Astrid doesn't die.

While Janet Fitch's view of humanity seems more than a trifle distressing, I really admired her use of words. She painted some great, vivid pictures. Images that were lyrical, poetic, without being pretentious. It was a beauty within a downward spiral into continually worsening circumstances. Beauty was a central theme in the book, and the narrative voice was often beautiful, even if the protagonist didn't see herself or the world as beautiful.

On the whole, While Oleander was not mind-blowing, nor would I call it a "must-read," but I enjoyed it, and even if I disagree with some of what I saw, I think there's a lot of truth to be gleaned from its pages as well.