Tag 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.


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!


Today Starts the Day

When I make a serious study of poetry, that is! I am using Laurence Perrine’s Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry Eleventh Edition. I went with a later edition for cost purposes, I hope I don’t regret that choice. As frequent readers have probably heard me say before – I hold older is better as we approach the terminal retardation levels portrayed in Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. It seems it retains one of the authors that was present on earlier editions with Perrine, and browsing through the list of poets, seems to cover mostly the classics.

I found no entries “analyzing” Ziggy Ho’ Doggs Where ‘Dem White Hoe’s At? Nor anything discussing the deep meaning of the “song” Pimp Juice (yes, kiddies that’s a “song”). They did oust the limerick in this edition, but I think we can get by.

This should be fun. I have read poetry in the past and have even dabbled in constructing a few. However I simply read them straight through, if it appealed to me, I liked it, if not, not. If I understood it, I would be prone to like it, if not, not.

This, I am sure is the most common approach to poetry. Life is short, etc, etc.

I finished the first little section earlier. It starts with a poem called THE EAGLE by Tennyson which is a great one to start with because it is quite straightforward, is singular in subject and it is short.

The next one is WINTER by Shakespeare. I found myself having to go to the dictionary on the second line. “And Dick the shepherd blows his nail.” He does what? So I had to look up and see alternative definitions for nail. Still not sure specifically what this means. It is supposed to be a winter image since the poem consists of a series of images of English country winter. Oh, and the hoot of the owl!

Poems this old represent a different level of challenge; greasy Joan keels the Continue 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.


I READ IT IN ONE SITTING! EH, I DON’T BELIEVE YOU

I don’t know how many times I have read someone say of a book, “It was so great I read it in one sitting!” I then usually find out the work they are referring to is 390 pages or some ridiculous number. I can grant that you didn’t really mean one sitting unless you wear a catheter and don’t actually have to get up to pee.

But there must be a lot of talented speed readers out there. A four hundred page book in one sitting. Bullshit. Is it just a┬ásaying that everyone but me understands is not to be taken literally? Even finishing such a book in a day can only be called skimming. See, I wouldn’t take it as a complement if someone said that about my work.

“Ah, yes, thank you for taking the time to skim over my work!”


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!


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Photo on 8-15-14 at 3.53 AM


Little Toodads

I just noticed my receipt from Half-Priced Books from last weekend. I have always thought the Bellevue location at least had a little personal skew when organizing some of their books. Skewed in such a way that I thought it safe to assume it was of a liberal bent.

Before I had always noticed that all of Ayn Rand’s non-fiction philosophy books were shelved in the fiction section. Whether one thinks her philosophy is wrong or just so much sewage, it has as much right in the philosophy section as much of the muck that makes up a modern philosophy section.

My assumptions, it still seems, are usually quite on the mark.

The huge NAB family Bible I bought last week (everything else on the receipt (all used) was by title) had this for its title “Nostalgia”.

How is that for a post-Christian declaration? “This is a book people sometimes buy when they want to Continue reading