Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Not Doing So Hot


I don't update again until May???

And the sad thing is, I haven't actually done that much reading since my last post.  I also haven't done quotes or page counts on my last few books.  I'll find them before my end-of-the-year list. 

I've read a lot of partial books.  I'm still working on the Piper book I've been going at for a while (but I lost it), and I've started reading Dune at long last, but other priorities (such as my new job) have gotten in the way.

Regardless, here's what I've read the last few months:

The Descendants 
by Kaui Hart Hemmings
Starring George Clooney (not really)

As I read The Descendants, two thoughts kept popping to my mind.  1) I would love to live in Hawaii for a year or two.  2) I don't want to see this movie.  Not because I didn't like the story.  (I did like the story, though I wasn't crazy about the pacing in points)  Because I love the way the story was written, as a book, and the strength of the novel wasn't in the dialogue or the story or even necessarily the emotional pull.  It was in what was going on in the character's mind.  The things that didn't have to be said.  The subtleties as he realized that everybody was pretty messed up.  And I'm sure all these things come across just fine in the film.  I'm sure it's a good movie (it was nominated for BP, after all).  But I was so thoroughly satisfied with it as a novel, I just don't care to see it done another way.

I like books as books. It's actually been a while since I heard about a film adaptation upcoming from a book I've enjoyed and been excited about it, The Hobbit excluded.  I just don't get as much from two hours with a set of characters as I get when I spend, say, a week with them.  When I see a film version of a book I've enjoyed, I almost always leave feeling disappointed, at least when it's a straight adaptation (which is why Moneyball worked so well for me). 

That said, if I see a movie based on a book I wasn't all that excited about, I often end up liking it. 

But I digress. The Descendants is about a man (it's been so long I've forgotten his name, but George Clooney plays him in the movie) whose wife is in a coma in the hospital after a boating accident.  He keeps telling himself she'll be okay and their family will go back to normal, but it turns out she won't recover, and Clooney has to deal with the fact that he'll now be a single parent to his two girls, ages 10 and 17 (or thereabouts).  As he goes about the business of telling his wife's family and friends the bad news, he begins to uncover some details that suggest that force him to examine his family life and realize that it wasn't as great as he had told himself it had been, and through the story he resolves to make a more concerted effort to enjoy his life and love his daughters than he has before. 

And then there's also this really intriguing subplot about selling some ancestral land.  It seems a bit insignificant at the beginning of the novel but gets pretty dang hot by the end.  About eighty pages into this book, I was about ready to write it off, but as the story unfolds it really does just keep getting better.

The Jungle Book
by Rudyard Kipling

The Jungle Book is NOT what Disney cartoons would leave you to believe!  While many of the characters from the book are in the Disney classic, the story itself is vastly different.  Which isn't unusual for Disney adaptations, or animated film adaptations in general.  I only mention it here to illustrate how I was met with surprises at just about every turn of this book. 

For one thing, this is not really "a" story, but a collection of short stories, only a few about Mowgli and friends, and several of which don't even take place in a jungle.  The first three stories focus on Mowgli, Baloo, Bagheera, and the like.  Shere Khan is a total wimp. Mowgli gets cast out of the jungle and goes to live in the man's village, but ultimately they chase him out, too.  Then there's a story in the middle about monkeys kidnapping Mowgli and Bagheera and Baloo coming to his rescue (one of the best stories in the book).

But then, the next story is about a white seal trying to find a beach where his people won't be clubbed to death. (Pretty brutal scene, by the way)  And the next story is Rikki Tikki Tavi, about the mongoose that kills to cobras to protect a human family.  After that, you have a really neat story about a boy named Toomai and a secret gathering of elephants.  And finally, you've got a quirky little exchange between the military animals of the British army stationed in India, comparing their lives.  And each story ends with a song or poem. 

The surprising thing for me was that, in my mind, the Mowgli stories were actually the least interesting parts of The Jungle Book. I kind of wish Disney had made the White Seal movie instead (Rankin Bass did one, I believe). 

I just learned recently there's a Second Jungle Book, so I'm working through that right now.

American Gods, 10th Anniversary Edition
by Neil Gaiman

I always love Neil Gaiman's imagination, and his ideas, and his plots, and yet I almost always feel let down by the end of the book.  So it is with American Gods.  It's important to note that I was reading the expanded 10th Anniversary Edition, and I don't know what of the things I didn't like may have been omitted originally.  The whole thing felt too long, and it felt like there were too many things that really didn't add much to the story.  The idea was fantastic: all the gods of the peoples who traveled to this country are alive, though weakened through lack of worshipers, and the new gods of America--gods of television, Internet, workaholism--are hunting them down to exterminate them.  And our hero, a man called Shadow, has been hired by Odin (who goes by the name of Mr. Wednesday) to try to recruit all of the old gods for one final war against the new gods.  A very cool idea, and it clips along pretty well up until Shadow stays in Lakeside.  At that point, the story gets kind of monotonous for a while.  They go off, try to recruit another old god, come back, Shadow hangs around Lakeside, they go try to recruit another old god.  After a while, the book becomes more a who's who of mythology and less of a coherent plot.  Once the story picks up again, though, it really kicks it into a high gear, and it's hard to put the book down for the last hundred pages or so...until you get to the climax, which is extremely anti-climactic.  The major conflict resolves so suddenly you have to wonder what the point of the first 500 pages was. 

And while that is, I think, part of the point of the story, it left me with a bit of a negative vibe. 

In addition, there were interludes between chapters that had nothing to do with the story.  They served as stories of how other gods came to America, or what they did there.  If you're geeking out about the myths in this book, then you probably loved these interludes.  Once I realized they were about characters we weren't even ever going to see, I started wanting to skip them. 

And finally, parts of the book are just nasty.  And descriptive.  (Warning: I'm going to tell you almost exactly what I'm talking about here, so you may want to skip to the next paragraph)  For example, when Shadow is let out of prison at the beginning, he discovers that his wife is dead.  At her funeral, he learns that she'd been cheating on him with his best friend.  It wasn't enough to have her just cheating on him, though.  No, it turns out the reason she and his best friend were dead was because she was giving him a blow job while he was driving on the highway.  Seriously.  Now, it may just be that I don't understand the mythological undertones of that particular incident, but it felt incredibly unnecessary to me.  Also, in one of the interludes, we see a prostitute who is actually an erotic goddess devour the man who is making love with her through her labia majora.  I remember thinking that it was the dumbest thing I had ever read.  And unlike most of the interlude characters, we actually do see this woman again.  Only for her to be immediately killed. 

Now, when this book is good, it's great.  It's often hilarious.  It's wildly creative.  I love the way it ties in old-world style religious faith with modern cultural phenomena.  But it often feels like it's lost its way in all the pseudo-philosophical exploration of American identity and love for obscure foreign religion.  I honestly didn't dislike this book.  I just feel like it didn't deliver all the bang it promised in the setup. 

The Invincible Iron Man: Extremis
by Warren Ellis

I've heard that the film Iron Man 3 could be based on this storyline, so I went ahead and checked it out.  I hated it.  I was pretty darn bored.  I did recognize a lot of the elements of the origin story from the first Iron Man film which came from this book.  And all of that was okay.  But the Extremis storyline itself just didn't make a whole lot of sense.  The dialogue wasn't snappy, the action was painfully slow, the villain was bland, the art was gross-out (to the extent that a mainstream comic would be, of course), and there was very little action for six issues of comic book.  And maybe the whole Extremis project is explained better somewhere else within the Iron Man canon, but it wasn't really clear exactly what the stuff did.  Nor how Tony Stark knew how it would work so well. 

That said, the end result (Tony Stark can basically communicate with all of his tech telepathically, or something) was kind of cool, if confusing.  The whole book is bloody, though, and none of the characters are very interesting. And you get a LONG debate on science, and ethics, and military funding for medical benefits, and hippies.  And man, is THAT ever what you pick up a comic book for, or what???

Okay, like I said, currently working on a few different books at once, but also got a couple of writing projects and a new part-time job.  Something tells me I won't be working through twenty YA novels this summer. 


  1. And now it's almost September. So much for doing better.

  2. Just so you know, I am just OCD enough to still check this blog every day.