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