October 12th, 2009

Dead Dog Cat

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On our drive home today, I finished reading the new Terry Pratchett novel, Unseen Academicals. As some may recall, I really like nearly all of Pratchett's novels, but this one truly rates in the top five. It fits into his Discworld series. Nice work!

Book 21: A Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole [link]

I first read this book a couple months ago in preparation for my English class. I read it again recently for the actual class, and as such have decided to count it again. Reflecting upon my first review of it, I did enjoy the book the first time, but this reading was even better! Now that I actually had the benefit of analyzing and discussing the book with my class and professor (who is actually very knowledgeable about the book), I loved the book even more. Definitely one of my new favorites!

Trying to summarize the plot is impossible - the book cannot really be categorized. Ignatius is an over-educated oaf who stays home filling his writing tablets full of his offbeat musings on ancient history, which he plans to organize and publish some day but which presently reside all over his bedroom floor. He then works at a series of odd jobs, all the while he begins work on his latest opus, The Journal of the Working Boy.

Up Next: Re-reading "Slaughterhouse-Five" (Also for my English class.)

21 / 50 books ~ 42% done!

4497 / 15000 pages ~ 30% done!
C'est Baxter!

Book 17: The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)

First line:
"When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him."
Summary: A father and son wander across a bleak post-apocalyptic landscape in the aftermath of an unexplained global disaster. (If this doesn't sound like much of a synopsis, it's because there's not much of a plot.)

Reaction: After all the hype (and a Pulitzer Prize), I expected more from The Road. This was my first McCarthy novel and I was thrown by the lack of any punctuation except for periods and (a few) commas. (After learning that all his books lack punctuation, The Road will likely be my last McCarthy novel.) In interviews, McCarthy claims that his lack of punctuation and simple declarative sentences make his books easier to read. Um, no. I am usually a speedy reader, but the book's style slowed reading to a crawl. This isn't to say I'm a grammar purist. I'm open to experimental lit if there's a reason for it. Ey injoyd the poast pokliptik speek in Hoban's Riddley Walker and the weird formatting of Danielewski's Only Revolutions; in both cases the format added to the reading experience. In McCarthy's case, I get the impression that the formatting is his attempt at a distinctive literary gimmick. An unknown author probably wouldn't get this book accepted by a publisher. Why should McCarthy, when the publisher knows his name will sell it?

The style and formatting were peeve number one. Number two is the setting. I'm a fan of hard sci-fi and post-apocalyptic fiction. I also appreciate internal consistency in what I read. I didn't expect an in-depth explanation of the disaster that destroyed the world. McCarthy never explains and that's fine. The setting serves its purpose by providing emotional and physical obstacles for the boy and the man to overcome. But the setting doesn't make sense. Most species of life on earth (including plants) are dead. It has been years since the disaster. Preserved food should be gone. Cannibals should've turned on each other. The logistics of survival don't make sense in the world of The Road. Then there's the climate. It is consistently described as cold, muddy, slushy, rainy, etc. Yet there are always fires burning on the horizon. Fires usually burn in the dry season, not in the middle of a damp, cold, (maybe) nuclear winter. The setting is suitably hellish, but distractingly implausible for anyone who is accustomed to quality world-building. Some might argue that scientific accuracy is less important than conveying the bleak destruction surrounding the characters. For me, the nonsensical world short-circuited the gritty feel of the book. I was constantly reminded that the scenario was impossible and this lessened the impact of the novel.

Finally, the substance of the story. The interaction of the man and boy - father and son - is the highlight of the otherwise frustrating novel. The plot is minimal, but the simple exchanges between the two characters illustrate the bond between them. With the mother out of the picture, the son is all the man has left. McCarthy shows the persistence of fatherly love in the face of certain death. (The novel follows their journey toward a warmer South, but this is only a delaying tactic as irreplaceable scavenged food dwindles.) The book also explores the persistence of innocence at the end of the world. The father's drive to keep his son alive at any cost conflicts with his son's desire to help the other survivors they occasionally encounter. Compared with the obvious (and boring) post-apocalyptic external conflict, the maintenance of the son's innocence in the face of his father's love is the most compelling aspect in the novel.

Bottom line: An unnecessarily painful read with poor world-building (from a sci-fi perspective), but interesting character interactions.

Thumbs: Down.
  • ydnimyd

Books 32 - 39

#32 - Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko (2006, 455 pages)

Anton Gorodetsky may seem like a normal guy...until you factor in that he is a light magician working for the Night Watch organization, helping hold the balance between light and dark. In one of his first major cases, he finds himself embroiled in the middle of a battle for a boy's destiny as well as trying to stop the world from being destroyed by a cursed woman. Helping Anton are the Others Olga, a woman forced to live as an owl after an unmentionable crime; Simeon, a wise magician with a mischevious side; Bear and Tiger Cub, two shape shifters; and Gesar, Anton's wise boss and head of the Night Watch.

I love how seamlessly Lukyanenko ties our world to Anton's magical world and how such magical beings seem so natural. Reading this, I wished that this were real and that I would one day be discovered as an Other. The story combines great action with thought-provoking situations, leaving you to wonder what you would do if you were so fortunate as to become an Other.

The book is told in three tales, and if you have seen the Night Watch and Day Watch films, they are told using the three stories in this novel. This is an English translation from an original Russian novel, but I think everything translated very well. I give this book a very, very strong five out of five light Others.

#33 - Day Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko (2006, 453 pages)

The stories of the Light and Dark Others introduced in the novel Night Watch are continued in this book. Lukyanenko provides readers with three stories from the point of view of the Day Watch. The stories are not quite as fluid as the ones in the first novel, but they still tell a fascinating chronological tale.

First, Dark Other Alisa finds herself being sent to a childrens' camp in an effort to restore her powers. While there, she falls in love with a Light Other, a situation with brings about disastrous consequences. Next, a young man mysteriously finds his way to Moscow at the same time an ancient artifact is stolen. The two situations seem to be concidental, but as time goes on, they are intricately entwined. Finally, the two stories are wrapped up as Anton and a member of the Day Watch are called to serve as lawyers in the trial of Alisa's lover Igor. It's a nice conclusion to the book.

While this novel is not quite as strong as its predecessor, it still is an amazing book. Again, the worlds flow seamlessly together, and Lukyanenko's story is so creative. I give this a great four out of five witches.

#34 - Twilight Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko (2007, 405 pages)

Anton is back as the narrator of the series. In these three tales, he finds himself forced to leave his family vacation to help solve a mystery of a stolen book. The book was believed to have been a fairy tale...until it was stolen. The book, if used, could lead to the destruction of the human race, and as a result, the Others.

The three tales in this book all tell the tale from Anton's discovering a plot for a human to become an other, to finding an ancient witch who is hell-bent on staying hidden from the Watches to finally discovering who exactly took the book. The path is dangerous, and at time, no one, not even Anton's family, who are also Others, are safe.

I love the action in this book. While the second dropped off a little, the third is back in perfect form. I absolutely love this book, and I give it a powerful five out of five great sorceresses.

#35 - Last Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko (2009, 370 pages)

Anton's work in the third book continues. Although he found the stolen book and solved the case of who was trying to destroy the human race, he finds that things have not ended. Following the murder of a young Russian in a haunted house in Scotland, Anton is sent to help solve the case.

The three stories in this book follow Anton's work, and things become even more dangerous for Anton, who is now a Higher Magician. At every turn, someone is trying to kill him and those who help fight on his side. As the case winds on, Anton finds himself seeking the help of a former great magician, one of a few who managed to switch from Light to Dark, the great Merlin. Anton must unravel a riddle Merlin created that has baffled members of the Day and Night Watches for centuries and stop the world from being destroyed.

As with the first and third books, this one has a great deal of action. Though it may seem trite that Lukyanenko entwined Merlin's tale into this series, he does it so deftly that it works perfectly. I cannot give this book a stronger five out of five Higher Magicians.

#36 - The Road
by Cormack McCarthy (2006, 241 pages)

In a post-apocalyptic world, a man and his son find themselves trying to move south toward safer territory and warmer climates. Along the way, they battle not only the weather but sadistic humans who will do anything to survive and entirely at the risk of others.

There are so many things that I love about this novel. The narrative is simplistic but haunting at the same time. The grammar used adds to that haunting detail. What I also really appreciate is how Cormack McCarthy doesn't outright say what exactly has happened to the world. You're given hints, but it's left ambiguous, which I think helps, because you're focused on the boy and his father, not on what happened before.

I admit the preview for the film drew me to the book, along with some great reviews by some of my friends. I really am fortunately to have read this, as it is a beautiful and haunting novel. I give this five out of five pathways.

#37 - Tombs of Endearment by Casey Daniels (2007, 307 pages)

I've been reading this series out of order, first reading book four, then book one and this is book three. But, fortunately for me, the stories, while intertwined, are each individual stories so I don't feel completely lost.

In this third installment of the Pepper Martin mystery series, Pepper is asked by the ghost of rock star Damon Curtis to help prevent his ghost from being channeled by a former band mate. But the mystery of this case does not end there, and it is up to Pepper and Damon to figure out what is keeping his ghost on Earth.

This is one of the most fun books of the series, though I did feel that it faltered slightly at the end. The story had a lot of great twists and turns, but the end just kind of fell flat, leaving me asking, "That's it??" The case, though, is intriguing and the situations Pepper faces mix comedy and suspense quite well. It's not my favorite in the series, but it is toward the top, which is why I give this three and a half out of five specters.

#38 - Hellboy: Wake the Devil by Mike Mignola (1997, 144 pages)

I admit it, while I can't stand most graphic novels, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Hellboy series. In this second edition of the series, Hellboy once again finds himself on the tail of Russian terror, Rasputin. Adding to the mystery is a vampire tale of Guirescu, who was once recruited by the Nazi forces as part of their reign of terror. Hellboy and others from the bureau travel to Europe trying to find Guirescu and stop him from being reanimated. Tension is added to the tale in a situation in which Liz is nearly drained of all of her power by a mysterious being.

I really enjoyed this particular Hellboy tale, and it pushed me to get my hands upon the third graphic novel in the series, which I fortunately read immediately after putting this one down. I give this particular Hellboy graphic novel a delighted four out of five Bureaus for Paranormal Research and Defense.

#39 - Hellboy: The Chained Coffin and Others by Mike Mignola (1998, 168 pages)

Hellboy's adventures continue in this series of short tales based upon various European folklore. The stories range from a Christmas story involving werewolves and how Baba Yaga lost her eye in a battle with Hellboy to how Liz regains her powers and how Hellboy saves a young child from certain doom.

I like that short story format, as I feel I get more Hellboy due to each story featuring different aspects of Hellboy and his adventures. I also like how well Mignola tied Hellboy's history into some fairly common tales like Baba Yaga. The situations are fun and really inspire the reader to enjoy what's presented. I give this a fun four and a half out of five Right Hands of Doom.

Total Books Read: 39 / 50 (78 percent)
Total Pages Read: 11,197 / 15,000 (75 percent)
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