Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Juggling the Hat Trick

I find myself in an odd circumstance: I'm reading three books at once.  Many people do this but not me.

Firebirds Rising is delivering a solid crash and burn.  It's not bad.  It's no where near as captivating as Firebirds, and Firebirds Soaring. (Perhaps it's that middle book syndrome; didn't know it applied to anthologies.)  I'm halfway through and while everything has been solid, nothing has been particularly special. 

I'm also at the halfway point in Guy Gavriel Kay's Sailing to Sarantium.  It's everything I've come to expect from Kay: vast, expansive, well executed and a gridlocked sense of control concerning pacing.  This isn't a bad thing either, but Sailing to Sarantium is a big book and as much as I'm enjoying it. it's hard to feel like I'm making progress. 

In a further effort to pick up something that takes off and doesn't stop the library notified me that my hold for Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare was ready.  A day later I'm a hundred pages in and if nothing else Clare has a serious choke hold on forward motion.  And that is a very good thing. 

I'd much rather find one book start, and finish it.  I don't like the juggling act, but I'm trying to make it work.  I look forward to finishing Kay.  It's odd considering how much I liked the first and third Firebird installments but Firebirds Rising has got me a bit anxious.   

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Couple of False Starts; Buried Treasure in Used Books and (Wait for it...) Pictures

A long time ago Terry told me to read Possession by A.S. Byatt so I got a copy at a used book store and it's been sitting on my shelves for a few years.  A few days ago Marion re-read the book and sparked my interest again.  She also informed me that I got lucky when I bought my copy and got 'the good cover.'  

She would be correct.

Last night I sat down to start reading and it took me forever and a day to get through twenty pages.  It may have been a bad reading day for me, (I was due for one) but I wasn't connecting with the text in anyway so I'll pick it up again at a later date and try again.  It wasn't the feeling of 'This book is not for me' rather it may have been the wrong thing at the wrong time. 

So this morning before work randomly I grabbed Lyonesse by Jack Vance.  I've no idea what led me to this book but that is part of the fun in having a large selection of unread stuff; you can always surprise yourself.  Like Possession, Lyonesse also has a badass bit of full front to back cover art.  

After reading the preface, I was hooked by the non-fiction tone of voice and historical telling aspect.  After reading a few footnotes in the preface that told me to consult glossaries I-III for further information on certain details I was chomping a the bit to actually start the narrative; thirty pages into the actually story and I realized this book was going now at a snails pace.  I skipped ahead two chapters and I still couldn't find anything masquerading as tension.  Oh well... 

Two false starts of two different kinds both concerning badass cover art.

Lyonesse feels really vast and deep.  The kind of world that could not only grant sequels but wouldn't come close to being exhausted even with spin off stories.  After reading ten pages of preface and glossary--the non fiction stuff--the world feels as expansive as Catherynne M. Valente's Pentexore from her Dirge for Prester John series or Tolkien's The Silmarillion.  A very good thing so far as I'm concerned.  The story just wasn't there.

I can't seem to read a collection of short stories straight through without picking up something else.  I am enjoying Firebirds Rising though there are a couple of rankling issues but by far and away the best part of this book, which I bought used is this:

Left to me by the previous owner I should think.  I feel connected to this person and though I only have our reading material with which to judge us, we are both awesome. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

No.  John Green I refuse to let you manipulate my emotions.  I am in control of me; and will not yield to you.  I actively started not reading this book about a year ago when it first came out and I felt the world was telling me I had to read it immediately.  In addition to feeling like I was being commanded to read the book I learned what it was about and then attempted to put even greater distance between myself and the book.  As 2012 came to a close there were very few 'best of list' that featured fiction and didn't have The Fault in Our Stars listed.  After about three quarters of a year's worth of John Green anxiety and hearing about this particular book I read Paper Towns to scratch the itch.  A year later and Green is my favorite new-to-me author and here i am adding to the limitless talk about The Fault in Our Stars.  

It's a doomed young adult romance in which Hazel, the story's main character, has terminal cancer.  I can guarantee that if I hadn't already read Paper Towns I wouldn't have picked up this book.  It's sad and you have to sign up for that before you even start reading.  It's unexpected and poignant and certainly not the cancer book you may think it is.  (Green actually addressed the stigma of writing 'that cancer book' within the narrative.)   

Hazel meets her boyfriend, Augustus, at a cancer support group for teenagers and while the book's infrastructure is set to accommodate the most mopey, sad book about kids with various horrible cancers that is exactly not what we get.  Green is hilarious and while he never seeks to skirt the gravity of the subject matter his characters laugh at their condition just as they are assuredly terrified of their reality.  The story is very simple as we watch Hazel and Augustus' relationship develop in spite of a rapid health decline.   

Part of me felt that events moved too fast.  Nothing came across as rushed and while Green's writing is super easy to read the absurdly funny dialogue is balanced with some very substantial prose.  In the beginning, the scenario plot points seemed to move really quickly from point a to b.  Hazel breaks out of secluded depression mighty fast.  She turned into a moody social teenager with a quickness considering how she describes her life on the first page.  There were a few other points that felt a bit false to me, but nothing that was going to keep me from turning pages. 
I have this hangup with dialogue, readers of my blog may already be familiar with this gripe.  While it's not a 'chatty' book, and even though nearly everything said is funny, I did at times question what was being said.  Their words were never fake or too old for their age (though a couple times came close) and while super quick witty dialogue is great and a blast to read it's also not realistic.  I was okay with all the jokes (and the feeling that some characters had a few preloaded and waiting to go) and the responses they got, but some of the speeches Augustus made made me think, 'People don't talk like this.'  I understand his situation and how it would have to alter his view on many things, but it was almost as if he had thought out these lofty ideas and principles in advance and then was merely waiting for the perfect moment to pontificate.  Which, to me, cheapened some of his interaction with Hazel, as if she were just a prop to help him soapbox.  I felt Green perhaps indulged my complaint--if not thought the same thing--when during a conversation Hazel interrupts Augustus and he makes a joke about having memorized this speech and how important it was for her to not interrupt so he can get through it.  It was funny at the time that Augustus called himself out, but it also served to focus and highlight my 'people don't talk like this' gripe.  None of this comes off as poorly done and it took me a few days after finishing to put a finger on what was bothering me.   

If you have a pulse you should expect to fall apart when reading and though you can't be shocked at what happens there certainly is a huge surprise at the end.  It's funny.  It's fast.  It will even get you thinking.  (How many other books have 'existentially wrought free throws?')  In the future I will refrain from starting my new year in reading with a book that so many thought to be the best of the previous year; doing so sets the bar way too high. 

For another take on the same book, check out what Maria has to say. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Prestige by Christopher Priest

The prestige is the part of a magic trick in which the audience is made to contend with something seemingly impossible and the magician gloats in the stage lights.  Priest novel's features two magicians at the turn of the twentieth century and while they each love to get the reaction from the audience more than this they want to impress and 'one up' each other. 

We see Alfred Borden and Rupert Angier start humbly and then become the top of the game in London.  The feud between them starts rather innocent and comic despite professional ethics as Borden takes exception to the seances conducted by Angier and the money he makes while deceiving the living into thinking that they are communicating with the recently deceased. 

The first part of the book is told by from Borden's point of view by way of a now forgotten book he had written.  Events are primarily comic and move swiftly.  At the conclusion of Borden's book Angier's journal begins and in it we say many of the same events from a different perspective and come to see the nature of their rivalry: the pranks, the sabotage, the attempts to embarrass the other.  We also see some aspects of their rivalry that were a bit darker in their result and much more damaging than we may have come to see in Borden's book.  We also start to see many events involving Borden that was not previously recounted.

As I started wondering 'How many Alfred Borden's are there' Angier starts thinking the same thing as Borden unveils his new illusion which makes him distinctly better and separates him from the pack.  It is as Angier tries to better Borden's trick that the books third primarily character gets involved, and at least in mind, greatly slowed things down.  
Inventor Nikola Tesla is contracted by Angier to build him a electric machine that can duplicate through science that which Angier can't understand how Borden is working his illusion. 

The Prestige is a story of success, rivalry, families and the lives people lead not being what they appear.  Priest does an excellent job of handling the characters voice and making them all sound distinct from each other. It's a very well controlled novel in which the tension between Borden and Angier is always obvious but one in which it's just as easy to tell that there are stronger narrative elements being unravelled than their feud.  It is very absorbing in trying to understand the exact nature of the duplicity that seems to become a theme in itself.  The primarily intrigue is in trying to understand current events that descendants of Borden and Angier go through and putting them in context concerning their ancestors.  It's a long little book one full of many puzzles and magic tricks; the greatest is making you want to start over upon finishing to play the author's game again and see if you got everything right.