Why do I read?
I think that my reasons are pretty much the same as everyone else. I read fiction mainly for the purpose of relaxation, I find that a good book is a sure cure for a bad mood and a wonderful way to “escape” from the “real” world for a time. I read non-fiction for the opposite purpose, to become informed and to feel more connected to reality. Now, can fiction do the same things as non-fiction? Of course it can and the reverse is true as well. But fiction or non, I have to feel a connection with the author or else… well, life is too short to be reading bad writing (as Truman Capote reported said about another writer’s book, “That’s not writing, that’s typing”).
What do I like to read?
Everything. No, really…I don’t think there is a genre or topic that I would not at least consider reading about if the author was able to grab and hold my attention. But I do have to admit that Science Fiction and Fantasy are my go to favorites, with Fantasy/Mystery blends becoming a strong third.
What is important to me in a story?
Details, details, details. SOME people in our book groups (and you know who you are, LOL) would call me a “nitpicker”, but I just find inconsistencies and inaccuracies break my “willing suspension of disbelief”. If you tell me on page one that the dragon has blue scales and then tell me on page fifteen that it has green scales, you better have told me about the dye job it got on, say, page ten. Getting seven rounds out of a gun that only holds six without reloading, that could be just an editorial slip up. But if you put an M16 into the hands of a WWI soldier, then you had better give me a darn good explanation for it being there fifty years BEFORE its invention. In this “Information Age” fact checking has become easy enough that not doing it is really not excusable (and I also believe that it is the writer’s job as well as the editor’s). When there are too many obvious mistakes, it is a clear sign that the author doesn’t know, or even cares to know his subject.
Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel
333 pages (2014)
Stories about how the world ends are nothing new; they exist in our earliest myths and legends. Even the currently popular “Dystopian Future” genre can trace its roots back as far as the early part of the 20th century. Well known authors such as Jack London (The Iron Heel, 1907) and Ayn Rand (Anthem, 1937) explored the idea that flaws in our societies would ultimately result in their collapse and replacement. But it wasn’t until the advent of the Cold War that novelists began to write about the possibility of the actual physical destruction of the world through the actions of mankind. Two of the best known novels from this era are On the Beach by Nevil Shute (1957) and Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank (1959). Both novels focus on groups of people struggling to cope with a world ravaged by nuclear warfare and beg the question: “will mankind survive?” And once that question is answered, that is where the story ends, leaving us asking “what happens next?”
This is the story that Station Eleven focuses on, what people do when everything they have ever depended on simply goes away. Fifteen years after the “Georgia Flu” has wiped out 99 percent of the human population their world is radically different. There are no phones, no internet, no lights except for the flicker of candles, for the electricity has long since stopped flowing. There are no generators, no planes, not even cars or trucks for all the fuel has been used up or gone stale. Humanity has been reduced to small, isolated enclaves in an increasingly wild and dangerous world; their whole lives dedicated to doing whatever it takes to survive. Except, in a remote part of the Michigan Lakeshore region, we find “The Traveling Symphony” moving slowly from village to village performing Shakespeare and music for these survivors. Why? Consider their motto (stolen from Star Trek); “Because survival is insufficient.”
How this group came to be, with their multiple intertwining story lines, and where they are headed is told in a series of non-linear flash backs and fast forwards, making this novel rich in imagery, vast in scope, and, yes, sometimes a little confusing. As a novel it is not perfect. Its climax and ending feel a little too close together and abrupt. But as a story about how relationships between people are formed in situations of great adversity I consider this one of the best books I have read in years.
Little Bead Boxes – Julia S. Pretl
112 pages (2006)
I was introduced to this book by Kim Robbins, one of our Reference Librarians, who knew that I was on the lookout for new craft projects. I flipped through the book and was really drawn in by the pictures of the finished projects, so I decided to check the book out and read it. I had not done any serious beading before this, but since most craft books devote the first couple of chapters to reviewing the materials, tools and techniques used in the projects detailed, I wasn’t too concerned when I started reading. It quickly became apparent this author assumes that the reader knows all this information and jumps right into the projects. I ended up putting this book aside until I had time to read up on and practice some of the basic skills I would need to try out these projects. Once I returned to this book I found the writing clear and the steps well explained in the text, which is fortunate since the step diagrams, while enlarged to show details, are one-colored drawings using darker tints to indicate beads from the previous step and lighter tints to show beads being worked in the current step. This works all right with some colors (green and blue), but not so well with others (grey and tan). Contrasting colors would have been a better choice, but that could have been a decision made by the publisher. My final quibble is that there are no photographs of the boxes as a work in progress. All that being said, after rereading this book I could not wait to try making one of these boxes. Fortunately, I could not find Delicas™ in any of our local craft stores and so I was forced to practice using Perler™ (plastic fusible beads) at first and then the Mini-Perler™ beads. While they are not quite the right shape (which results in curved instead of straight edges), having worked through the steps with these larger beads has made working with the much, much smaller Delicas™ a lot less frustrating. The best thing I can say about this book is that the instructions are divided into well thought out steps that work the first time without further tweaking or adjustments needed. Definitely a book I would recommend to my craftier friends.
The Blade Itself, – Joe Abercrombie
531 pp. (2007)
This book is the first book in The First Law trilogy and, incidentally, also Joe Abercrombie’s first published novel, which makes it (no pun intended) something of a novelty itself. Most writers when they start writing fantasy want to write about characters that are heroic in stature from the first time we meet them in the story and then never waiver from that mold. Joe Abercrombie’s take on the fantasy hero is more….well, realistic would be a good term. For instance, take Logen Ninefingers, also known as “the Bloody Nine,” at least that is what the people who he hasn’t killed in battle (yet) call him. Yet when we first see him, he is running for his life, pursued by enemies, cut off from his companions and about to fall (literally and figuratively) out of luck. Then there are characters like guard Captain Jezal dan Luthar. When we first meet him he is, in a word a fop….dandy….a rake….a player….a card shark who doesn’t care about fleecing his friends….a swordsman who has never been in a real fight. Okay, that is a lot more than just one word, but in short Luthar is a character that you are hoping the author will serve a great big slice of humble pie, right in his face, and turn him into a knight in shining armor. And Joe does this and he doesn’t, remember this is a realistic fantasy. Take wizards for example. Bayaz turns out to be a thin bald guy with a terrible temper, a pathetic assistant and a sense of entitlement bordering on megalomania. Think Tolkien’s Gandalf (power, knowledge and long life) crossed with Machiavelli’s “The Prince” (political astuteness and amoral practicality). Even secondary supporting characters are well developed and “fleshed out” by the end of the trilogy. Flowing writing, interesting characters and enough plot twists to tie a snake in knots, if you like a fantasy with meat in it (and blood and teeth and all else) then this book and series will satisfy.