Saturday, October 27, 2012

As it is Now and Ever Shall Be

World Without End by Ken Follett is the enormous sequel to Follett's earlier BFB, Pillars of the Earth.  In Pillars, Jack Builder struggled to build a cathedral in Kingsbridge.  World begins 300 years after Pillars ends and includes people who think, but seem to be not quite sure, that they are Jack's descendants.

World opens with four children running off into the woods together.  The children are Gwenda, the daughter of a poor laborer; Caris, the daughter of a wealthy merchant; and Ralph and Merthin, the sons of a knight who has fallen on hard times.  While in the woods, the children accidentally save a knight from being murdered.  This knight, Thomas Langley, is injured in the fighting, and seeks sanctuary in the Kingsbridge cathedral.  After all of the children except Merthin run off, Thomas buries a letter, and tells Merthin that if anything ever happens to him, he should bring the letter to a priest. 

Throughout the next 1000 pages, the children grow up, and to some extent, prosper, and Thomas becomes a monk.  The book is divided into four parts.  The first focuses mainly on efforts to build a new bridge to Kingsbridge.  The next is about power struggles between the priory and the businessmen of Kingsbridge.  The third is the longest part, and it is about the toll that the Black Plague takes on the people of the town.  The fourth and final part wraps everything up, so that justice is finally served.

I delayed reading World because I had heard that it was not as good as Pillars, and I didn't love Pillars.  However, I think that I liked World  more.  All of the characters were well developed, and while some were not at all likable, they were consistent.  Follett recently came out with a new book, Winter of the World, which is set in the time of World War II.  I am definitely interested in that one because I love books of that period.  However, it is the second in a trilogy, and so I feel like I should read the first, Fall of Giants before its sequel.  I liked World so much, that I'm ready to put Fall of Giants on my TBR list, even though it's another 960 pages.

I started off listening to the book on CD, and it was taking forever!  When I finally started reading when I was home, and listening while I was driving, the book went really fast.  I found that if I read at night for a half hour or 45 minutes, I could cover as much material as was on a disc, which lasted an hour and 15 minutes.  This was probably because of the dramatic way in which the story was read.  However, the reader wasn't cheesy, and it was nice listening, if you have 45 hours to spare.

That's the penultimate book for the Off the Shelf Challenge!  I love that word, penultimate . . . and I love being almost done!

Next up on CD:  The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

Next up on Paper:  Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller

Monday, October 22, 2012

Bogged Down in the Paddies

After reading the first 50 pages of The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli, I thought that it would be an easy read, that I would just tear through.  However, after sinking my teeth into it, I got stuck in the quagmire of Vietnam, and found that book wasn't quite as easy as I thought it would be. 

Seriously though, and I know that it must sound like I am grasping for a metaphor by comparing the pacing of a book about the Vietnam War to the war itself, in the beginning, I thought that I would read the The Lotus Eaters in just a few days.  The book opens with a scene that could have come straight from "Miss Saigon", with the American photographer trying to get herself and her Vietnamese husband onto one of the final helicopters.  I couldn't put the book down, and my heart was racing.  But then, we flashed back to 1965, when the photographer, Helen Adams, had first come to Vietnam.  Thinking, like an American, that the war would be a quickie, Helen dropped out of college to document the story, afraid that it would be over by the time that she would have graduated.  Helen was proven wrong on that count, and the pace of the story slows, but it never bores.

In Saigon, Helen finds that everything happens faster than in America, with everyone in a frenzy, and worried that each story might be their last.  Helen falls in love with a famous photographer who is also covering the conflict, and because of the frantic war atmosphere, she sees no problem with the fact that he is married.  Her love interest, Sam Darrow, has a Vietnamese assistant, Linh, who Helen is not sure she can trust.   Ultimately, Linh's story, which is told in fragments, is the most interesting, although the least complete.

The Lotus Eaters tells some of the tales that we have heard before.  The South Vietnamese soldiers who don't want to do what the Americans want them to do, and are sometimes vicious to their own people.  The North Vietnamese forcing people to fight for their side.  The Americans confused as to who the enemies are.  But the story also seems fair to all sides.  No one is only good or only bad.  The question of why we went to Vietnam in the first place is raised, but not answered.

This is another book that I got from The Typical Book Exchange last year, and another one down for the Off the Shelf Challenge.  It was also a NYT Notable for 2010.

Next up:  I'm going to tackle World Without End in both paper and audio form, so that I can get through it faster.  I am on the 28th disc, so I have less than 1/4 of the book left to go.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Book Group Reports

Last night, The Typical Book Group got together to talk about Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst.  There were 7 of us there, and everyone had read the book, although our most timid reader skipped the "scary parts".  In fact, there are not really any scary parts in the horror movie sense in DOB, but there were times when the reader was worried that Paul would do something stupid.

One thing that we talked about a lot was why Paul, who was highly educated, didn't see more of Lexy's demons, and get her help.  We decided that Paul had co-dependent tendencies.  Mid discussion, we found ourselves confused about whether the ex-wife was an alcoholic in this book, or in 11/22/63 by Stephen King, which we discussed last month.  We even joked about changing the name of our group to "The Alcoholic Ex-Wives", which is only funny because none of us are ex-wives.   There's no need to jinx ourselves, so I don't see a name change in our immediate future.  However, the correct answer is that the ex-wife was an alcoholic in 11/22/63, and an obsessive compulsive control freak in DOB.  No danger of me catching OCD, that's for sure.

We also questioned if a person could actually die from falling from even the highest branches of an apple tree.  We realized that Lexy had to fall from a fruit tree so that there could be a plausible reason for her climb, but we couldn't think of a fruit tree that grows very high, other than a palm tree, which would be hard to climb, and harder to find in Virginia. 

Next month we are going to read The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon.

To add to this jam packed week, The Friends Book Group met tonight.  There were only 3 of us there, unless you count the host's husband and son, who also participated.  All 5 of us loved the book, which tells me that 100% of readers agree, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is a great read.  We spent most of the time talking about our favorite parts. 

You might recall that The Friends Book Group is made up of people who are members of a support group for parents and friends of different learners.  At the most recent meeting of the support group, we had a speaker in to talk about cyber addiction and its effect on kids with ADHD.  This topic was completely on point for Ready Player One.  The speaker addressed the addictive nature of massively multiplayer online games.  There could not possibly be a more addictive massively multiplayer online game than the Oasis, as described by Cline.  Our speaker warned about kids who have good friends who they play online games with, but who they may not have ever met in real life.  This was one of the issues that Wade faced in RPO.  He trusted those who he met online more than his relatives, and with good reason.  Perhaps the future is bright for our kids with ADHD who spend too much time playing video games, if Cline's predictions come true.

Given the consistent low attendance with this group, I think there is a good chance that this was the last meeting of this group. I mean really, if people won't come out to discuss Ready Player One  what will they show up for?  If there is a next meeting, you can be assured that I will post about it.

Still Reading:  The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli  This one is going slower than I expected.  Hoping for it to pick up soon.

Still Listening to:  World Without End by Ken Follett.  I'm on disc 24 now - 2/3 of the way through . . . still interested.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Translit Trip

Who, What, Where, When and Why.  This is what you need to know, right?  Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru dodges these questions, while weaving an interesting story. 

Who:  There is quite a cast of characters in Gods, including animals who were men, men who were named for animals, people who believe that they can communicate with aliens, and most importantly, Jaz, Lisa, and their son, Raj, wealthy New Yorkers who have lost their way. 

What:  Well, I'm not quite sure.  At times the characters are people innocently looking for enlightenment.  At other times, they appear to be a cult.  Some of the characters are just looking for a vacation.  Others for the answer to all of life's questions.

Where:  Another good question.  All of the characters are bound together by "Pinnacle Rocks."  However, the Pinnacle Rocks in the story, while said to be in a National Park, don't seem to be part of the Pinnacles National Monument in California.  Kunzru's Pinnacle Rocks involve three points, blatantly like a holy trinity.  The characters all feel a need to be near the rocks, even if they are not sure why.  When flying to Kunzru's rocks, one would fly into Las Vegas.  Due to their attraction to aliens, they seem to be closer to Area 51 than Los Angeles.

When:  That's an easy one.  1947, 1778, 1958, 1920, 1970, 1871, 1971, and 1775, in that order, but with chapters from 2008 and 2009 alternated between the other years. 

Why:  Hmmm.  Several of the characters, especially the twentieth century characters, are drawn to the rocks and the group that surrounds them by a desire to communicate with aliens.  The earlier characters are on missions to explore the territory, but find strange things.  The characters from 2008 and 2009 are running away, with nowhere to go, and find themselves at the rocks.

Much of the story focuses on Jaz, Lisa, and Raj.  Raj has autism, which has shifted the entire focus of the family from the pursuit of happiness to just getting through the day.  Jaz is Indian and Lisa is Jewish, but they don't think that makes any difference in their relationship until they face an unexpected challenge, and both turn to people of their faith to confide.

I read Gods Without Men after reading THIS review in the NYT.  I was really interested in the new genre that the critic/author, Douglas Coupland, describes as "Translit".  Per Coupland, "Translit novels cross history without being historical; they span geography without changing psychic place.  Translit collapses time and space as it seeks to generate narrative traction in the reader's mind. . . With Translit, we get our delicious cake, and we get to eat it, too, as we visit multiple pasts safe in the knowledge we'll get off the ride intact, in our new perpetual every-era/no-era."  Sounds great, doesn't it?  If I had read THIS NYT Review instead, I would have skipped it.  It's hard to believe that the two reviewers are even talking about the same book, let alone in the same Times.

The briefest summary of Gods, and again, in Coupland's words, would be this:   "People come and go, damage is done, people return and some vanish".  While I certainly don't regret reading Gods, I probably won't frequently recommend it.

And my friends, that completes the Support Your Library Challenge.  24 books from my library read or listened to (so far) this year.

Half Time Report:  I am now on disc 18 of the 36 CDs that make up World Without End by Ken Follett.  I am really enjoying listening to it, and am in no rush to finish.  So far, much of the drama has centered on whether or not a new bridge should be built, and if so, who should build it, who should pay for it, and who should get the tolls.  Sounds pretty boring and 14th century doesn't it?  Not if you live in Metro Detroit!  Right now, a businessman named Matty Moroun, and his Ambassador Bridge Company are waging what appears to be a multi-million dollar campaign to try to keep the State of Michigan from building a new bridge to Canada, so that he can build it instead.  Either Governor Snyder or Matty Moroun should read World Without End to get some tips on how to be conniving and persuasive.  Follett even has a character named Matty, but right now she's in hiding after being accused of being a witch.  Snyder might be wishing he could take Moroun out of the action with an accusation like that about now.

In Other News:  Yep, it's that time again.  I just ordered my Thanksgiving turkey today.  Click on this link to understand why this has anything to do with reading or not running!

Next up:  The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
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