Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Surf, Swords, and Shootin'

Man!  I read a lot! For me, anyway.  What happens when I'm left alone without Internet for a weekend?  Books happen.

The Way of Kings
Brandon Sanderson
TOR Hardcover (Tom Daugherty Associates, LLC), New York
1,007 pages

The last Sanderson book I read left me frustrated and annoyed initially, bored about 1/3 of the way through, and riveted for the last 1/2 of the book.  Oddly enough, this book followed almost exactly the same path, though it was 600 pages longer so it took me longer to get to the payoff.  It still felt like the book went out of its way to belabor some points that I think were already pretty clear, at least from the emotional angle. The novel could probably have stood a little less brooding from the hero, a little less indecision from the heroine, and fewer interludes involving characters who supposedly will make their way into the series at some point, but for now just served to break up the central narrative of the story(s).  Also, as in Elantris, I got sick of everyone--especially the impartial narrator--telling me how clever the young heroine was.  If she's actually witty and clever, I'll figure it out.  I'm a guy who enjoys bad puns, but I'll generally use them with the realization that no, they're not actually that clever.
Character A: "...if I may be so forward."
Heroine: "Actually, you're walking backwards."
Novel: No one could get used to the fact that she was astoundingly clever!
(Exaggeration mine) 

As in the other book, however, once they stopped trying to prove how witty Shallan was, or how honorable Kaladin was, or how loyal Delinar was, everything worked together very well.  I will admit that, at about page 500, I'd decided I would finish the book and probably not bother with the rest of the (yet unwritten) series.  After all, there's a lot of good fantasy out there, and while this was a good book I thought I'd be fine without the rest. 

Here's the problem with that, though: ultimately, Sanderson's stories and mythologies are really stinking fantastic.  So they take a little time to pick up steam.  Doesn't matter. When things were rolling, they were really rolling.  The last hundred-and-fifty or so pages were "Do Not Put Me Down" exciting. This is one of the few books that I've read that drew multiple audible reactions from me toward the end.  The major reveals in the final arc of the story are masterful. And I don't really think there's any way I'm going to be able to skip book two of The Stormlight Archive.  Hopefully, now that we've established the kingdom and the government and the characters and some of the magical rules, we can jump into the story a bit quicker next time.  Because ultimately, this was a really good book.

Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board
by Bethany Hamilton with Sheryl Berk and Rick Bundschuh
Pocket Books and MTV Books
213 page

I was pretty juiced by the time I finished Book of Kings because it had been a pretty long process, and my family was out of town so I had nothing better to do, so I picked up and read this book as soon as I finished that one.  There's a movie out about this book now, and the only reason I read it was because my wife had it from the library and said I ought to read it.  So now I've read two autobiographical books about people losing their arms in the last three months. 

This book was written by a thirteen-year-old girl in Hawaii who had her arm bitten completely off by a shark while surfing and has since worked her way back into competitive surfing.  She and her family are committed Christians, so while she dislikes the spotlight she's excited about using her story to inspire others to find faith in God.  So that's cool.  The book itself isn't all that interesting, because the girl isn't really a writer.  But it is pretty short.  I finished it in about three hours.  And I'm sure for its target audience (fellow pre-teens and early teenagers) it probably hits the spot profoundly. 

True Grit
by Charles Portis
The Overlook Press, New York
2004 (originally published 1968)
235 pages

This was the last of this year's Best Picture Nominee books.  It was quite different from the other two westerns I've ever read as it did not take place on a trail.  It was kind of a tamer, western-er version of Winter's Bone.  A fourteen-year-old girl (Mattie) sets off for vengeance after her father is shot and killed by a drunken horse thief.  She gets help from a couple of federal marshals who don't want Mattie to come along on their manhunt, but she shows her moxy and comes along anyway, so eventually they let her.  The first half of the book has an awful lot of setting up the trip and the last half is the adventure itself.  There are moments of action-packed tension and moments of sitting around wrangling for dollars and cents.  It's a strange book.  Enjoyable, though.  After plowing through Sanderson's rich histories, mythologies, backgrounds, and character developments, it's a bit of a switch to take Charles Portis' "Here it is" approach to storytelling.  Nice to remember that you can tell a story without spending more than a couple of pages on biography per character.  A good study in the distinctness of different authors' styles.  Also: the narrative voice (an older Mattie looking back on this episode of her life) is quirky, engaging, and enjoyable.  It does sound like an old lady sitting on her rocker on the porch telling you the way it used to be.  Only the story happens to be about hunting down a murder in the Indian territory.  And there are snakes involved.  And it's all quite matter-of-fact to this dear old Christian woman.  She's funny without trying to crack jokes, and that's often the best kind of funny.

The afterward for this book was kind of weird, as it was basically a graduate-level book review written by a True Grit fangirl.  The bulk of it is a recap of the book you've just read with a few comparisons to Huck Finn and The Wizard of Oz thrown in for academic purposes.  That said, apparently this book had been out of print for a while, and the recent movie revived interest and so it's making a comeback.  That's good, I think, because Portis provides a different view of the West than, say, Louis L'Amour leaves us with. 

I also read a Pearls Before Swine collection that I bought with a Borders' 20% off coupon for my birthday.  I ought to start keeping track of comic collections and graphic novels I read, even if I don't count them as part of my annual "List of Books."  

1 comment:

  1. I think i'd like to read True Grit. Thanks.