It seems I’m going longer and longer before updating my 26/52 year-long challenge. In this case I’ve finished 6 books, and am halfway through 2 others. At least I’m still on track for my goal by years end, even if I haven’t been keeping up with my blog.
“The Master & Margarita” (Bulgakov) is an interesting russian novel. Unlike some of the classic Russian novels, it isn’t quite the very long slog. In fact, I found it a pretty easy read, and the plot and characters kept me coming back for more. Beyond that, the novel is chock full of satire, and religious mythos and references. The devil and his entourage are fun as they play with the Soviets, and the satire and tone are widely accessible, even to those not ensconced in life in the early USSR. I found that I genuinely cared for all of the characters, and for the entirety of my (short) visit to Margarita’s world I was wholly invested. A great read, reminiscent of Zamyarin’s “We.”
“The Outfit” (Stark) is another of the Parker Novels that I’ve read previously. These novels are really nothing great. They’re written well enough in the “hardboiled” style, but again, from the side of the criminal, rather than the detective. I think if I’m going to spend much more time in the genre I’m going to check out some of the “classics,” like Mickey Spillane and his ilk. The novels are still fun, I’d put them in the same category with, say, George RR Martin: I don’t mind reading them, but I’m not going to make a huge effort to go looking for them.
“American Gods” (Gaiman) was a great bit of nostalgic reading for me. This (along with “Ender’s Game” and “The Company Man” below) have been on my reading list for a while now. Just from the description when I first heard about it it reminded me of the sci-fi novels I used to read from the library (2-3/week) when I was in highschool. The book did not at all disappoint, it was full of the same out-there ideas and messianic adventures that I remember. The basic plot is the old gods in America (think Thor, Anubis, etc) have been abandoned by their worshippers, and there’s a war brewing. At the moment the book opens it’s a kind of cross between a cold war and a mob war, with “hits,” and sneaking around in safe-houses. The gods themselves appear mostly as humans, but immortal humans. The book was great, guilty fun.
“The Company Man” (Bennett) was, like “American Gods,” a big nostalgia kick for me. It has been on my “to read” list since I read a review of it someplace or other (I want to say “Harper’s?”). The basic plot is that in the early 20th century one company has come to control much of the world with fantastic steam-punk-esq technology that is far beyond anything the world has seen. This technology has both changed the course of history (WWI didn’t happen, and the novel takes place before WWII would have), and changed the balance of power towards the corporation. The story follows one corporate investigator who has the ability to read minds to a certain degree. This book was a lot of fun, and quite a great ride. It was a great mix of sci-fi, steam-punk, and almost film noir/hardboiled. It was a great read to follow “American Gods,” keeping me feeling like a kid.
Mark Twain gets credited with saying everything, so I’m going to assume he also said that the best way to teach someone was to not let them know you were doing it. In this regard, “The Story of B” (Quinn) is as much of a failure as “The Celestine Prophesy.” Every so often, someone tells me about one of these high-concept books, like Prophesy or anything by Dan Brown, where the story itself is really just a vessel for putting forth an argument or idea (the high-concept). In the best books, the high-concept is woven so well into the story you don’t even know it’s there (anti-racism in Huck Finn, for example). But then there’s books like “B,” and “Prophesy,” where the characters, the plot, the setting, are cardboard cut-outs that serve at the pleasure of the high concept. And the “splendid adventure” that is driving the story forward is some sort of ride at an amusement park: A ride where the cart on the rails takes you past each mechanical event designed to form a narrative-driven argument. You may as well be reading Ayn Rand, because it’s the same, but sans the 21 page soliloquy that recaps the argument every 100 or so pages. Regardless of the message in “B,” the novel was a big pile of “meh” to me. And that rhyme was the most I got out of the book.
“Ender’s Game” (Card), is like “American Gods” and “The Company Man” in the way that it’s easily a book that made me nostalgic for all the novels I read in high school. In fact, now that I’ve finished it, I was struck throughout the book by how familiar it seemed. I think I may have read it before, but for the purposes of my challenge I’m going to assume not, since I can’t say with any certainty that I have actually read it before. The main reason that I picked it up is because I keep seeing it referenced everywhere and by everyone. Like most sci-fi, I think it’s a young adult novel, or whatever they’re calling that these days: aimed at the same audience as “The Hunger Games,” or “Harry Potter.” By this I mean you have a young main character (under 16), who is an outsider within the usual community (school), but is taken out of that community because he is special, and sent on a mission to save the world. Perfect escapism for the average pre-teen/teen who can relate. Like most good sci-fi there’s a high-concept (that seamlessly melts in, unlike B or Prophesy, for example), and I was amazed at how this book written in 1977 is so prophetic about video games and simulations (this being how they train their warriors). After reading it, you can definitely see it as an influence on pop culture (eg “The Last Starfighter”). Fun and nostalgia.
I dare anyone to try to read “A Clockwork Orange” (Burgess) without having the narrator’s voice in your head as Malcolm McDowel, my brothers. I found it impossible; his voice would always creep in. Like a half the books on this last group, this one seems to be written for the young adult, making it immensely readable. Like all the good ones, there’s a subtle satire that ensnares the high-concept. An exploration of the source of morality. There probably aren’t that many people left who haven’t read the book yet (I only saw the movie), but in a nutshell it’s about a teenager who likes to get wasted on drugs and cause mayhem (the old ultra-violence). He’s busted, arrested, and goes to jail, where he undergoes a treatment to brain wash him into behaving. If you haven’t read it, go ahead, it’s great and you could easily knock it off in a weekend.