Category Archives: Books

Addendum to Prior Post and more IT

Despite my prior post denigrating much of the 20th century literature, I must say that there is much that I did like. This didn’t really occur to me until further into the day after my doses of caffeine started to kick in. But most of what I did like was the second half of the twentieth century, the first half I still regard as pretty sad.

As a lifelong bibliophile who goes through books like Michael Moore goes through buckets of KFC, I simply forget a lot of what I have read. Because even more than the stories themselves, with exceptions, I enjoy reading as an activity.

I dislike intensely the icons of the early and mid twentieth century. Hemingway bores me to tears, as does Steinbeck and Lewis – Sinclair, not C.S. Even Ayn Rand (who I was an ardent fan of for years) is of this strict realism school. Her saving grace from the world of boredom was her attempt to produce the ideal man – indeed The Ideal.

So I did like Rand, and I still think that The Fountainhead was an excellently written book even if full of some heinous ideas (and some good ones). So there is her. And I like Flannery O’Connor. I remember liking Aldous Huxley’s After Many a Summer quite a lot. That book, however, was not full of your run o’ the mill characters, nor was the plot. There was some Australian author who I liked also from the mid 20th century whose name escapes me at the moment. I liked Margret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. I am sure there are others I am failing to drudge up.

But there was little that compared to 19th century literature. Much like painting and art in general, it just wasn’t as good. No one compared to Hugo and Dostoyevsky, nor Dickens or Austen. It is like van Gogh to Caravaggio – I mean, come on.

For the most part. But I am of the opinion that the twentieth century belonged to the genres. That is where the imagination, the speculation, went to live. And I got more reflection out of Frederik Pohl’s The World at the End of Time than in most anything else of the twentieth century literature I read.

That said.

I will sometimes scan reviews of books I am about to read or am in the middle of reading for curiosity at times. And I did that with Stephen King’s IT. Five star reviews I never read, what one loves another can hate. I always go for the one star reviews.

Among the complaints is that it is too long and that King goes into too much detail. It is a 1200 or so page book and at page 133, he is not yet done introducing the cast of characters. Not that there are an overwhelming number of them, nor is the character sketches entirely deep, but King likes to put a lot of concrete detail about one’s youth, family, childhood traumas, and what is in one’s medicine cabinet (not the most telling detail, but it can tell something, no?). It took about twenty pages to get done introducing one character only to have him slit his wrists in the tub upon receiving the phone call. Bye bye.

Now despite this it is Stephen King, people. He is my guilty pleasure read because I like horror and you can slam through one of his books (no matter the size) pretty quickly. After reading some esoteric chapter on ancient Jewish conceptions of the afterlife, or trying to figure out some Lafferty story I just read, King is a relaxation. And he has a way of connecting with a reader that almost never fails. They are usually through common human bonds that only a misanthrope would fail to register. I mean his book Christine (and for that matter, The Tommyknockers) is about friendship not really about some demonically possessed car.

But I cannot believe some people simper that the book is too long and King doesn’t “get to the point.” These kids (and I suppose they must be of the iPhone generation) would never be able to read, for instance, the unabridged Les Miserables. I think, if memory serves, there is even a thirty-some page description on glass manufacturing in it that has no bearing on the story itself. I think there were quite a few asides in there like that that I skipped over after awhile. Or the two and a half page paragraph, or seventeen pages of description (talking of books in general back then) with absolutely no dialogue.

They couldn’t do it. Could they keep reading long enough for Raskolnikov to commit his heinous crime? Or how about all that book that comes after? How boring! Oh shit, How about The Idiot? What the hell is that about when you are on page fifty? Anybody?

Tolstoy’s War and Peace? They would glaze over by page six, “Oh dear God! Will a Transformer please show up or something! I’m so bored right now!”

If Stephen King is too long and plodding for you, put down the book, go watch the movie. Leave the reading to the readers.

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IT

Alright, damn it, I am reading IT. For some reason the book never interested me even though I am on a “forever” end-of-time book project (that, at my pace, will be done at the end of time) that has villainous clowns. I just didn’t feel like reading a giant tome about Chester-the-molester clown which I figured it was. Turns out there is an inter-dimensional aspect to the story which I can get behind.

That and I can’t answer the question: “you haven’t read IT? Really?” again. On top of that the question: “You haven’t watched the original IT with Tim Curry?” And soon to be added, “You haven’t watched the new movie version of IT?”

Most people can accept I haven’t read the book. But you haven’t seen the movie? As a general rule if a movie is based on a book, and there is a chance I will read the book in the future, I will not see the movie until the book is read. And even then perhaps not. The book is primary for one. And for two – it is much easier to wade through a movie whose book you have read than a book whose story you have seen.

Coming in at 1138 pages, I would definitely not read it after seeing the movie. It’s King not Dostoyevsky for Pete’s sake.

And these questions are usually asked of me by people that were 3 or 4 years old when King’s novel first came out. Look, I was reading King before your daddy got a randy idea one night, alright? But one can’t keep up with such a prolific writer unless one shuns a great deal of others. So, sometimes King just has to wait. This is the same reason for which, even though I acquired his collection over a year ago, I have only read a few of the item from the Lafferty collection thus far.

The best reader, the best experience of being a reader, is the nomadic reading experience. I do not believe in sticking to one genre anymore than I believe in sticking to no genre (the mainstream literature reader). And no writer should dominate to the exclusion of other writers in the readers occupation.

Now I cheat a bit as I really just can’t read modern or current literature. I like my 19th century literature just find, my two favorites being Dostoyevsky and Dickens. The first half of the twentieth century puts a bad taste in my mouth.

In fact, this just occured to me. The first half of the twentieth century literature is like that salty, sickly taste you get in your mouth that is the precursor to vomiting all over the place. The second half of the twentieth century is pretty much the equivalent of shitting and barfing constantly after barely making it to the bathroom.

In fact, I remember in 1993 I had my last bout of the flu. And thank God the bath tub is right next to the toilet in almost all apartments. Because while I was hitting the surface of the water with enough force to splash up and wet my butt cheeks, I was making gore on the white plastic of the shower bed. That is the equivalency there.

Except for some books they had you read in school, I really can’t name a book of “literature” from the second half of the twentieth century that I have read to finish. I’d prefer to read the adventures of Pippy Longstocking again (yeah, I read those as a child, you want some of this shit?!). Hell, maybe I will, I seem to recall they were quite fun. Ooo! and Encyclopedia Brown as well! Well, I graduated to Chesterton’s Father Brown anyway.

The genres kept their head above water until recently, but literature, as they call it still, I cannot stomach. Genres are the literature now, I don’t know what the literature even is.

Boy, what a rant. Anyway. It has taken me thirty years to get to Stephen King’s IT.

And it starts off rather well. I was actually creeped out by the first scene.


Still in the Grave and Summer Vacations

I am still reading Lafferty’s The Elliptical Grave. It is slow going. One, I really had this amped up in my mind. Two, this is one of his later books which consists mainly of dialogue and some pretty bizarre action. It seems to belong to a family of later Lafferty works like East of Laughter, Aurelia, and Serpent’s Egg. They are, all four of them, very similar in a lot of ways.

They are sort of like carnival philosophical dialogues if Augustine liked to write such things while slightly high on peyote. While the characters and the action are as some distorted, highly stylized cartoon/animation, the subject matter (both overall and in dialogue) center on technical theological and philosophical points. And on a first reading you can only get a flash – hold it – is he actually talking about eternity and the concept of time in relation to resurrection?

This is certainly NOT one of the Lafferty novels to start with. If one starts reading Lafferty from here, they probably won’t get very far. Better to start with the pretty straightforward Past Master.

I’m three weeks into The Elliptical Grave and I’m not sure what I am reading.

No news on the writing front, although daydreaming never stops. I am covering summer vacations at present and only have one day off at a time. And, being too old for the job, it usually takes a significant part of that day to recuperate to functionality!


The Elliptical Grave

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I can’t believe I am finally reading this! I really had given up hope of ever finding this in any form. So much so that I have to move it to the top of my reading list. Ahead, even, of other works of Lafferty that I have yet to get to like ARRIVE AT EASTERWINE, SINBAD THE THIRTEENTH VOYAGE, and the (or so I’ve heard) impenetrable NOT TO MENTION CAMELS, and a couple of others.

I started Grave last night. So far it is pure Lafferty and pretty interesting. I will, of course, write a review when I am done. A review, as all my Lafferty reviews, that will probably be a mixture of confusion and praise.


Father Elijah

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Father Elijah

This is my first overtly Christian (actually Catholic) novel. Although I have always considered Crime and Punishment to be overtly Christian.

It was a great read. I had been afraid I was going to be in for a corny Left Behind type book. Well, I’ve been told the Left Behind series is corny.  I’ve never read it.

One thing off the bat. I have a pretty sharp eye for proofreading errors. I have never read a cleaner book in my life – not even close. My eye did not catch a single error, not one. And errors usually jump out at me in size 48 font like a loud honking car horn. So kudos to Ignatius Press for that job. Sometimes it is hard to take books at all seriously when it seems it was brought to me by the second grade class of Gump Elementary. No offense to those kids, just to the adults who should go buy some red pencils and get to work!

Going with my usual policy of giving away no spoilers:

The book is surprising deep on both a moral and theological level. It is very dialogue heavy (one drawback of the book is the dialogue can go back and forth without narrative for such a length that you can lose track of who is speaking to whom) but most of these discussions are discussing eschatology or some point of theology or a character’s struggle with temptation., etc.

There is a long conversion scene of a wicked old man that takes place in a dank apartment in Warsaw that was so finely done it etched itself upon my mind.

The book is a thriller but not an action and flimsy quip style thriller.

You are traveling in the world of Catholic priests, bishops and cardinals, and one Pope who practically stole the show. I looked around, “where is this guy at?”

You will enter a world that is pretty foreign unless you are a Catholic, and even then (given some Catholics I have heard about) probably altogether unfamiliar. I learned more theology in this book than in most of my other reading. Although I had read it elsewhere, this book made it clear what accepting Christ and picking up one’s cross means.

You accept your cross even unto death.

Needless to say, there are not many Catholics let alone Christians out there. Not at that level at least.

In Father Elijah you will be traveling with men that take their cross even unto death. And some that do not or will not – they serve a different god.

The book harrowingly mirrors certain aspects of the Catholic Church as a whole at this time.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

 

 


I HAVE FOUND THE ELLIPTICAL GRAVE!!!

Sing that as falsetto or Norse metal growl it still sounds great! I HAVE FOUND THE ELLIPTICAL GRAVE ARRRR!!! ONTO THE VILLIAGE, MATES FOR TONIGHT WE FEED ON HUMAAAAAAANNNNNNNN!!!!!!!!!!

Seriously though. For about four years I have been on the hunt for R.A. Lafferty’s The Elliptical Grave. I searched for a hard copy with absolutely no luck. The closest I got was some sort of online documentation that a private copy with handwritten page numbering had sold on eBay in 2009.

There were a couple of links in earlier searches that claimed to have The Elliptical Grave but took you to dubious websites written in the Cyrillic alphabet. Probably Russian, and no one not internet-stupid clicks a button on a Russian site – or does anything but high tail it out of there. Erase history, wipe all caches, and pray to St. James they have a dime left to their name come morning!

But I went a little further today and landed on a site that turned out not to be a link to the cesspool of the internet but just a plain old long online text of the book. Man, I copy and pasted that sucker into Scrivener, hit the Compile as ePub button and flopped that baby like a eel onto my iBooks on my iPad.

Kudos to iBooks for letting me just put a file like that right into the program to read. Kudos to Scrivener for being the awesome product it has always been, but manages to surprise me anew every time. It made a great formatted book in about ten seconds with little effort. All I did was hit command c on the website, opened new project in Scrivener, opened a single chapter file, commanded V that whole book into the single chapter and ran it off in compile. Less than a minute for the whole operation.

Later I think I’ll work with it in Scrivener and make it into a more presentable eBook, maybe even give it a cover (for myself, I’m not the bootlegging type) and break it up into chapters. Although that last would require me to read it first.

And, lastly, a little thumbs down to Kindle for not being able to do anything with it that wasn’t from Amazon.


New Acquisitions

Someone please stop me!!

First pick-up was:

I love C.S. Lewis’s work in general and his theological work in particular (although do I prefer Chesterton over Lewis? hmmm). And how can I pass up a book that contains an essay titled “Fern Seeds and Elephants.”

Second Pic was:

This is from 1954 and is pre-Vatican Two. It has some lovely (and some rather homely) art in it and a wealth of information on many things Catholic: stations of the cross, extreme unction, baptism, the thingamabobs that make up a priests “uniform”, etc, etc.

In the Missal (a thing I still find hard to penetrate conceptually) they give you the years 1954 thru 1972 instead of using a generic system by which you identity which of the possible fourteen calendars you are in for any possible year, say 2017? Can you imagine someone throwing this set out and getting a new one in 1973 because they ran out of years?

Ah, and the smell of the set. That old book smell. I don’t know what it is. Do books that come out now end up with that smell? Is it the ink? This is a closed box set so the aging of the pages and ink and binding is somewhat preserved in a hermetical atmosphere and the tones are that much more sweet. You can’t get that out of a digital book. And they will always be at a loss for it.

But it proves a nice thing to begin the day looking them over.

But as it is I am four weeks into N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God and I am only on page 67. My reading slows to an absolute crawl during allergy season and my waking hours are usually less than sleeping hours.

Of course a crawl is about 200 pages a week, but it has been all fiction as I can’t attain the level of focus required for Wright’s subject at this time. I hope the Cottonwood clears up by next week.

Interestingly, my wife has just recently started to suffer from seasonal allergies and she is hating it. “This is what you have been living under all these years?! I feel as if I’m having a stroke!”

Yeah, love, it sucks big time.


Bishop Robert Barron, Popularity, Blog Stats, Father Elijah an Apocalypse

I have noticed that I have provided links to two of Bishop Robert Barron’s articles or videos in the last month or so. I have noticed that those links have not been used. Even when yesterday’s post would have been better understood with the requisite background. I believe that is because most people’s thought nowadays are “Priest? What the hell do they know?”

Hilariously, I have seen this said about love or relationships – what would a priest know about it? After I clean my pants from laughing too hard I would say – a lot than you would think.

Now, the “logical” thing for me to do, given modern ways of thinking, is to look at my stats and say, “hmm, this Barron guy isn’t very popular with my audience such as there may be (Hi Mom!), he will have to go.”

But, unless you are new here, I detest modern ways of thinking. So, I am going to bump up my links, weekly, of related topics Bishop Barron covers. I may even see if I can find an esoteric blogger of Christology.

Heh heh heh, my thinking may seem to not make sense, stand on your head and it will be clearer…

Sometime in the whirlwind that was early last year Mr. Wright at his blog was praising a book he was reading during Lent instead of what he was supposed to be reading for Lent. I have a strange memory where I will remember such a thing as such a post, what was said in it and the comments, and the book author and title.

So, last Thursday I was back at one of my old haunts Half-Priced books in Bellevue WA (East Side!) and came across the title sitting on top of the Hindu section under “religion.”

I am hoping it is a good read and not a Left Behind clone. Not that I’ve read the latter and not that I will – yuck. I think I have read every sort of genre out there except this one. And yes, I have read Westerns. Alright no Romance novels… But what man has?


Yet Another Acquisition and Tommyknockers Knockin’ at my Door

This one I had to get because, at the time, it was the only available copy on the internet and I already had number two. You never know if the one on the internet is the first of forty to show up tomorrow or the only one that is going to show up for forty years. So I bit.

I have to put a temporary halt on book buying. I can no longer even pretend that I am keeping up. Hell, last Friday I decided to reread The Tommyknockers by Stephen King on a whim.

Not totally a whim. It is one of my favorites. For one it was the first book I read in my very first place on my own. No television. Just beer and piles of books. And that was when I could read for 6 hours at a spin. Now I have to start fighting a nap within a half hour. That may be because I wear x3 magnification and hold the thing up to my face.

No television, no internet, no computers. Ah, those were the days, brother, those were the days.

Another reason I like it is it is a good story. Stephen King said in an interview it was his least favorite book and he doesn’t remember a lot of the writing. It was at the height of his drinking and cocaine days. And there are places in the book where you think, “ah, man, this was an eight-ball night for him for sure.” By this time he was a lot like Lucas I would imagine – editors as yes-men.

King’s strongest story-telling has always centered around friendship and this one is no exception. That, and the man knows the throws of alcohol abuse – quite intimate on that he is.

Anyway, it is one of my favorite science fiction / horror stories. Those are two genres that haven’t always mixed well, or believably. This one is a gem in my book. Love it. And it’s fast too. There is no hidden symbolism in King’s work, no meta-anything – just straight forward storytelling, contemporary Americana, and some shots of terror.

Hey, I just started a book called The Resurrection of the Son of God – go look up the table of contents. I need some rest after some of my reading!


STORMBRINGER II

Still not quite done with this book yet but…

I have a few more observations. First is the bleakness of it. In this world there are two opposing forces Chaos and Law. The reign of either spells the doom of man. Chaos is winning and Elric the “hero” (and, comparatively, to today’s standards he passes as one – he’s basically Conan with albinism who draws his power from his runeblade’s ability to suck out the souls of its victims) must defeat the forces of Chaos and establish the reign of Law. The reign of law will also spell the end of man. This would be the end of magic basically and the warrior man and bring about common man like us.

Something like that.

But either way, Elric and his race are fighting for their own doom. He does not save the girl she dies horribly, etc, etc.

The other observation is I believe Moorcock wrote this either on amphetamines or close to lethal doses of caffeine. The pace is relentless nobody stops for anything. And this includes the author who often did not check to make sure to carry through his character’s action through exposition.

There is one sea battle scene where three of the heroes are treading water amongst the debris of wrecked ships and dark Chaotic forces. Also one of their number is unconscious and is being supported in the rough waters by the other two. In comes their “guide” in some sort of bubble craft. He starts to “info dump” and they are having a page and a half discussion.

After a while I was thinking, “Why doesn’t this jerk let them into his craft, they’re going to drown gabbing away like this.” A few sentences later the writer has them exiting this bubble craft back at the guide’s lair (sorry, I don’t have the book in front of me I don’t have all these names on recall) in Nahrain (I think that’s it).

Hold it. What? But they never left the water! And – before any one contradicts me, you are wrong! If you do not take them out of the water, they stay in the water. It is not my job as a reader to, when they suddenly exit this bubble-craft I did not know they were on, to backtrack in my mind, “oh, well, they were on it the whole time!” No, you have just thrown me out of the story.

Another instance was merely clumsy. Elric comes to his wife Zonizoria (its close something like that) who is hiding from the forces of Chaos that have almost taken the whole of the earth. He tells her he must leave, he cannot stay long. And then proceeds to make sweet love to her and to stay all night until the next morning. And the next morning when he is getting ready are his three (or two?) war companions simply waiting for him as if they instinctively knew that even though he had to leave soon, that meant at least a full night’s sleep and making whoopee. Are these characters or things that are just there when they need to be? The way it is written makes it hard to feel anything or care when they later die.

Later on in the book they have to go steal a magical shield from some giant that protects against the maligning forces of Chaos so Elric can get in there and kill the baddies. The giant has known for eons, through prophesy, that Elric would one day come to slay the giant, himself, for this shield. When Elric and gang fight through the giant’s defenses and confront the giant himself, the giant, sad and resigned to his fate (he had been immortal, made mortal and spent eons fearing the encroachment of his death) he asks Elric mercy and lays the sword at his feet.

Elric agrees to let the giant die by the passage of time at not by his soul-sucking blade, and so the giant walks off and Elric picks up the shield and turns to leave. Oh, hell no, thinks one of his compatriots and murders the poor giant from behind – because? Prophesy. Oh, and Elric killed one of his own fighting through the giant’s defenses (and not entirely by accident) so the giant has to die because Elric couldn’t control the power and passionate rage that courses through him when he and his sword are slicing through the flesh and sucking up the soul of their enemy in battle.

That did get a reaction out of me. I felt sorry for the giant, and I thought “man, Moorcock, you dick. you had a nice moment there, but you had to ruin it for a little more blood.” Seriously, I bet George RR Martin worships this guy.

Anyway, that is probably all I’ll write about this book. I will remember some parts of it, but as you can see I can barely remember some of the names as I am reading it. It is not, by far, the worst book I have read in recent years. That still goes to Ann Leckie’s terribly galactic letdown.