"No wise man or woman was ever the worse for reading novels."
- Mary Elizabeth Braddon
As promised, Gentle Reader, I am starting a new weekly column that will be This Blog’s Answer to the "Quick Hits Through My Pop Culture World" problem. In short, I want to have a consistent response to pop culture, rather than a random, whenever-the-mood-strikes-me post. And in celebration of My Return To The States, I would like to present you with the following theme for today’s inaugural column:
What I Read On My Christmas Vacation
Imagine, if you will, Friends, the following scenario: over 24 hours in a plane over the course of 12 days with the following movie options: John Tucker Must Die, Open Season, School for Scoundrels, and various episodes of CSI or Without a Trace. This means that I read. A lot. I read so much, in fact, that I had to buy not one but *two* replacement books. And now, I share the highlights of that reading experience with you.
Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris
I adore Ms. Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series, and picked the first book in this series up on a whim. Harper Connelly was struck by lightning as an adolescent, and as a result, she now has the power to find the dead. The first book in the series, Grave Sight, detailed Harper's unusual power and even more unusual business venture using said power, and how her stepbrother, Tolliver Lang, manages her business and helps her manage her life. I found Grave Surprise a very enjoyable read, but definitely eye candy rather than heady stuff.
Book of Fate by Brad Meltzer
Yes, Friends, you know how much the Reads Household adores Mr. Meltzer. Pup Reads finds his books The Tastiest, and Mr. Reads and I enjoy his work—-both comic and fiction—-immensely. And I will be the first to admit that Book of Fate was a fast, fun, enjoyable read. The strength of this book is in its main character and narrator, Wes Holloway. Disfigured in the line of duty working for the President, Wes still is, several years later, the former President's body man, with no real promotion or advancement in sight. After seeing alive a fellow coworker who died in the attack, Wes becomes embroiled in a massive cross-agency conspiracy.
Fast, fun, highly enjoyable. My one big complaint would be the use—-or lack thereof-—of the Freemasonry symbolism that seems so important in the beginning of the novel, and then trickles off towards the middle and end. It seems highly superfluous for this story, and definitely unnecessary. I like Mr. Meltzer's character pieces, and this felt more character piece than conspiracy theory.
Bag of Bones by Stephen King
I finished Book of Fate halfway through the trip, and Mr. Reads still had Lisey's Story to finish before I could take it over. I also had finished the graphic novels we took with us--The Invincible Iron Man and 2 volumes of The New Avengers (review coming soon!)--and wasn't in the mood for the Bryson travel memoir, Notes From a Small Island that I had also brought with me. What to do, what to do? I couldn't find Kage Baker's Machine's Child or the other book I was looking for, Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn until the very end of the trip. So I picked up Bag of Bones on a whim, and certainly have not regretted it.
Sometimes I feel like one of the few people left in the world who enjoys Stephen King as Literature rather than Pulp Fiction. I find Mr. King a Master Of His Craft, and that is the craft of Writing Books, not Making Money, as some have accused him of. Now you've heard me say it before, Gentle Reader, that I feel if we are to ask others to take Mysteries or Comics or Horror Novels seriously, then we, too, must take them seriously. I review Comics the same as I review Canonical Literature, because both are that important to me. And Mr. King's work is so very often worthy of Canonical status.
Hearts in Atlantis, for example, is one of the best books I've ever read, and Bag of Bones is definitely high up on the list. It is a ghost story, and a love story, and a writer's story, a horror novel, a suspenseful mystery, even a bildungsroman to some extent. But what it is *not* is For The Faint Of Heart. It begins with tragedy and ends that way, too, and it's hard, truly hard, to go into a book with that expectation.
But then, it's Stephen King, so we must belie *all* expectations.
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
And finally, the cream rises to the top.
I don't often buy books advertised in magazines, or on television, and I certainly have never bought a book advertised in a tube station. Perhaps that's because I grew up in New Orleans, and the last thing in the world we'll ever have is the subway. Six to eight feet below sea level does not lend itself well to underground transportation. Goodness, Dear Reader, we can't even bury our ancestors underground, unless we fortify them with marble houses first!
But what our British Brothers and Sisters have that we Americans do not is this simple thing:
A Reading Population.
I am sure my British readers are nodding and smiling at this moment, and perhaps my Canadian brethren are lifting their hands to say that they, too, have A Reading Population. And I'm certain my readers from across the globe-—including those of us in The United States—-would certainly argue that their population, on the whole, reads.
But it seems to me—-just seems, Gentle Reader!-—that we Americans don't value reading as much as we should.
How can I say this? Well, have you ever seen a book vending machine in the US? I haven't, but I saw at least three in the UK, not to mention the bookstores in every train and tube station, every airport, and really, every street corner. Free transit papers for those traveling on public services, full papers left on the train for others to share, and really, one cannot board a train without seeing at least 80% of the passengers reading in some form or another.
All of this to say that I saw Ms. Flynn's novel advertised in several tube stations, and finally, on the day of my departure, found it in the Gatwick airport bookstore. A true blessing, Friends, since I had exhausted our book supply and was Quite Concerned that I would have to resort to Desperate Measures, i.e. buying something I already owned, or buying a book that I wouldn't like.
When asked to describe the book, I told Mr. Reads that it was Stephen King meets The Bell Jar: smart, cruel, horrifying, intriguing, and, here's the kicker, Gentle Reader, I couldn't put it down. Camille Preaker, our alcoholic and self-abusive main character and narrator, returns to her claustrophobic hometown to report on two unsolved child murders. While home, she returns to several bad habits and many more moments of crisis as her mother, her half-sister, and her stepfather approach frightening levels of self-indulgence, selfishness, and isolation. You don't like these characters, and rarely do you sympathize with them, but you are fascinated by them, and in that fascination, you love to hate them and hate to love them. The horror, while slow to build, is tragic, terrifying, and unexpected. Even worse, it's real. This is a tale that can and probably does happen in Small Town America, over and over again. I can't recommend this book enough.
Thank you, Dear Friends, for reading this first of what I hope to be a consistent weekly production, and please, remember, I am always, always taking book recommendations!
Friday, January 19, 2007
"No wise man or woman was ever the worse for reading novels."