Category Archives: Reading

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.


Graves, Balls and Crosses

Finished Lafferty’s The Elliptical Grave on Tuesday. The whole focus of the book seems to even come at you elliptically – and at the last minute. It wasn’t until the final two chapters that it all came together. Before that I slogged through it for three weeks.

Because I thought there was nothing behind the curtain. Oh, there was something behind the curtain alright. A bet. That was what was behind that curtain. A bet of ultimate consequences.

This is one of those Lafferty books that I find slightly annoying in that, although I will want to reread it anyway, I have to reread it because I am sure I missed 99% of the fruit’s juice. He can throw so much indirection and misdirection at you (to say nothing of the constant word play) it is like coming into a joke at the punchline. You thought you were in a joke or a jest but only opaquely – and then the drum snap and the crowd laughter. Hold on! Back to the beginning.

If Lafferty were instructed to write the plain fact that a cat is on a mat, he’d entertain us for 40 pages and we still wouldn’t have a simple fact, but a multiplicity… a multiplicity that may involve a cat (a feline of some sort at least) and some derivative form of dorsal support. But the cat would have died and resurrected, or simply continued to decompose, or assumed a chair at the Institute for Impure Science and the mat would be constructed by St. Joseph himself (bonus points to whomever can guess the Lafferty reference there).

But once I got the hook. What a story! His stories are like the Spanish Inquisition – no one expects it!

Now to the balls and the crosses.

I was talking to suspected android/writing machine author (or time traveller, or possessor of the 48 hour day) John C. Wright the other day (actually he was talking, me and a few others were listening) about religion in science fiction (talk about an untapped field) and he mentioned G.K. Chesterton’s The Ball and the Cross.

Few authors will get a pass to the front of the line. G.K. Chesterton is one of the few. I already own and am a HUGE fan of his books Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man, and I love his Father Brown stories. So when I heard mention this book about a duel (and one supposes debate) between a fledging secular atheist at the dawn of the 20th century and a Christian (I suppose a stand-in for Chesterton himself although I haven’t got that far yet) well, how can one resist that?

Think of it though. That was a new creature (pretty new, anyway) in 1905. Fresh and full of vigor, and full of utopian answers that were yet to kill millions upon millions of people. Although the French had the news.

Over a century before he and his brethren whittled down the edifice of Western Civilization enough where we can start to see the prayer mats our grandchildren will be kneeling – or bleeding – upon.

This should be a fascinating read.


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!


FIRST THINGS talks PAST MASTER

The Christian online (online?) magazine FIRST THINGS, talks PAST MASTER, and DEAD LADY OF CLOWN TOWN, MANSIONS IN SPACE, and a few others.

Hey, they got the essential theme right!


New Acquisitions in Fantasy

I found a good source for widening my fantasy reading experience. I hope. I haven’t read very much in fantasy as compared to science fiction. I feel that this is because while science fiction had many influences (including fantasy itself) a lot of fantasy is occupied by derivatives of Tolkein’s works. Current releases probably mirror George RR Martin’s work which is really just a nihilistic, modern take on conventional fantasy. In fact, I was in the science fiction/fantasy isle lat month and saw two such titles by different authors that began like “A Game of…” “A Dance of…”, much like in the late 90’s and early 2000’s you ran across YA books like “Charlie Bone and the….” Derivative.

The source for widening my fantasy experience is Lin Carter’s Ballentine Adult Fantasy series from the 60’s and 70’s (note – many of the works in the series predate the 60’s and 70’s by several or more decades, many being rereleases). Hat tip (yet again) to Mr. John C. Wright for bringing this series to my attention.

Right now I have about 50 pages of Peter S/ Beagle’s THE LAST UNICORN left and then Michael Moorcock’s STORMBRINGER. Then I think I may rip through these and then tackle R.A. Lafferty’s PAST MASTER again.

Happy Reading everyone!