The Books I Read: September – October 2012
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
My mom was surprised I’d never read it. And I saw the movie, which I loved for its campy 80’s-ness and animation that wasn’t Disney. The book follows the movie pretty damn well. It’s almost word-for-word. So much that I’m afraid my experience with the movie colored my opinion of the book. I guess it’s like when you hear the remix to a song first, then you hear the original version. But the remix was the first one you heard so you like that better. I’m sure there’s a name for that phenomenon.
Anyway, I wish I could say I enjoyed it and could recommend it, but the fact is, I think I got more out of the movie than the book. Sorry to be that way. Maybe it was meant for the seventies. Maybe it was supposed to be old-world satirical, like “The Once and Future King”.
For instance, one of the bandits eats a taco. I had to read that several times and look it up to make sure taco didn’t have some weird etymology. And there are other weird anachronisms like the Rastafarian butterfly, Jewish names, and magic that works when the story needs it to.
But I also didn’t like “The Once and Future King”. I guess if you’re going to make a humorous fantasy novel, you gotta go whole hog like “The Princess Bride”. The movie felt more alive, with bright colors and good voice acting and better tension. But I’m glad I read it.
Stardust by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Charlie Vess
I picked this up in the graphic novel section of my library by mistake. It’s actually the novel’s full text, saturated with illustrations, in the shape and size of a graphic novel. At first I wasn’t going to read it — I’d already seen the movie and it’s one of Gaiman’s very first forays into text, which are always stumbling. But then I thought, well, it’s Neil Gaiman, so what the heck.
Like “The Last Unicorn”, this might be a case of “first version” syndrome. I saw the movie first, and it follows so closely, I feel like that’s my preferred version. The movie has more — Robert DeNiro is a gay sky pirate, crying Claire Danes, and there’s an awesome climax battle.
In the book, it feels like the plotlines aren’t woven together, but in the movie, they are. Plus the added bonus of the visuals. Maybe that’s why they turned it into a graphic novel.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Oh boy. Grab a cup of tea for this review. I got a lot to say.
When this book was assigned for book club, my first thought was that it was going to be like Eat, Pray, Love. Instead of shirking her responsibilities to work and family and spending a bunch of money she doesn’t have so she can eat grubs with toothless monks and have sex with strange European men, Cheryl Strayed takes a short cut and just hikes the Pacific Crest trail.
This kind of story is always bullshit. I couldn’t get past the introduction without immediately disliking her.
In the first section, she presents herself as divorced, a drug user, an adulterer, homecoming queen, and cheerleader. And to boot, she colors Minnesotans as north woods cabin-dwellers with no electricity or running water. And I’m supposed to root for her?
In the first chapter, she’s already hating her husband of four years (who she married at twenty) for no reason, despite the fact that he has been calling her every day (out of concern) while she’s at the hospital with her dying mother. But nope, whatever connection she thinks they had broke. No reason why, it just happened. No reason to make an effort to try and put things back together either. Solid. You sound like a good person to me.
Especially after you leave your husband and start doing heroin. Then he drives eight hours across the country to intervention you away from this asshole. With nothing to gain from it — out of the goodness of his heart he does this. After a few months of dealing with the divorce and the death of her mom (and not having a job or source of income), she decides on a whim that she’ll hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Based solely on a book she picked up.
Listen to me. You are not courageous. You are a fuck-up that doesn’t know you’re a fuck-up, and then wonders why there’s consequences for your actions. You’ve been acting selfish all your life, then go out and do something selfish under the guise of “finding yourself”, then write a book all about it because you can’t fuel your ego enough.
You hiking up the Pacific seaboard without learning how to hike properly is not a struggle. It’s you being stupid. Your sole source of information was a book published in 1989 (hike took place in 2006) and the pimple-face at REI. You don’t know how to wear boots or pack a bag. I read “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson. That means I’m more qualified than she was.
But Strayed makes sure to mention each and every other book she reads on the trail (before she burns them for campfire fuel). Not that any of them help her — it’s all pretentious literary bullshit like “As I Lay Dying”, “Dubliners” and “The Novel”. And just in case we forget that she’s “well-read”, there’s a handy list at the back of the book.
She’s surprised that there’s no such thing as a bad hair day on the trail. She’s no longer worried about the intricacies of being thin or fat. Women have been discovering that for decades. Do you think Mia Hamm or the female American Gladiators worry about their hair? (Well, the gladiators might. They’re on TV, after all.) This women is so deep in her self, the idea that anyone around her might have already discovered these gems or feels the same way never occurs to her. She thinks she’s finding all these things herself for the first time. And then she doesn’t even learn anything. She still has sex with anonymous partners. Just to experience “what a man feels like again”.
And if that’s not enough, if you get the Oprah Book Club edition, you can enjoy all of Queen O’s laudations and notes about how she’s so courageous, how she’s such a good writer, all the passages she loves about “past-bloom flowers in the wind” and being in love with words. Make me puke.
The biggest example of her idiocy occurs midway through the book. A man in a car stops up and asks to her interview her for Hobo Times. “But I’m not a hobo,” she says, “I’m a backpacker.”
“Do you have a permanent home?” he asks.
“Are you walking on the road?”
“How many times have you slept with a roof over your head in the past month?”
“Is your backpack all you have in the world?”
“Are you getting around by hitchhiking?”
“Then please take this standard hobo care package.”
Which she does. Nice. Way to stay true to your convictions. If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck…
This book perpetuates the same idea I had in Merm-8, that people who break the rules get it all, while the people who follow the rules, go to work every day and do their job, get shafted. Please, women. Please don’t look up to self-absorbed people like this for your inspiration.
Mogworld by Yahtzee Croshaw
After that book I had to get something a little more my style. Mogworld is the first book written by the very awesome creator of the very awesome video game review series “Zero Punctuation”. Imagine the Angry Video Game Nerd on speed and Australian.
All Jim wanted was a little peace and quiet. Not much to ask for, being dead after all. But after a necromancer raises him for his unholy army of the night (with a nice health-care package), Jim tries everything to get back to his crypt. But things keep getting in the way, like the zealot priest, “Slippery John”, the crafty thief who keeps referring to himself in third person, and the Deleters — mysterious, ghost-like apparitions that seem to have more control over the world than anyone really should.
Okay, I don’t know why I just wrote a query for this book (a bad one, at that). The book combines a little Terry Pratchett and a little Video Game Memebase. There are so few books out there that treat video games as legit (like Ready Player One) it’s a pleasure to find something that’s this well-written. My only beef is that it’s so satirical and biting that there aren’t enough really likable characters in it. Like a lot of nerd humor, it relies on Asperger’s syndrome or douche-bag characters for its humor.
Pulling Up Stakes (Part 1) by Peter David
I love Peter David, and this book was only $.99 so why not? The problem as I soon discovered is that this is only part one. I’m not even sure if it’s the first half. (I think it is, cause the end blurb says “Coming Soon: the conclusion”) There’s no indication that this is just the first part, and no indication where the second half is or if it’s even forthcoming.
If I hadn’t paid just a buck for it, I might be pissed. I know how books are — sometimes it can be months or years between sequels (George R. R. Martin). Sometimes the writers never come back to those works — they just don’t feel like writing them anymore (Anne Rice). Sometimes they get made but never get published because of market demands (Fiona Apple).
What I do not like is getting half a story, no matter how cheap it was. I’m a bit of a completionist, and knowing that the story might be hanging out there forever, like a song that never reaches its final chord, does not make me a happy customer. It’s like making a recipe, but you can only make part of it now — the rest of the ingredients will come later. When maybe you don’t feel like eating anymore.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Sigh. I wanted to like this, but I guess I’m a meat-and-potatoes guy when it comes to books. I like my plot and I like my characters. Any fancy dressing or style tends to get in the way for me. I don’t like all this weird flowery roundabout writing, or lacy descriptions, or jumping around between events, or being narrated to by Death, who should be omniscient and godlike. But he/she gets presented as a human being concerned with the day-to-days of a single ant. It’s not plausible for me.
Not to mention I already had a certain level of prejudice. “Number the Stars” was recently finished and I’d seen Anne Frank a few times. How many different ways can you tell the story of a young girl in the Nazi occupation? Without the stylistics and obfuscations of what’s going on, the core story is really quite bland. Maybe I’m reading it wrong. Maybe I’m not the target audience.
The novel has its strengths and weaknesses. Near the end, I actually did like the idea of Death as a narrator, but I would have rather Death was an actual character, a protagonist a la Neil Gaiman (but that might be my bias showing through). I like the frequent uses of colored skies, and how they relate to the novel, but I can’t get out of my head that that’s something a high schooler would do. An author’s first duty is to the story. And it would have been stronger with the fat boiled away.