Thursday, January 8, 2015

My Year in Books, 2014

Once again, I'm flagrantly ripping off paying homage to my friends at A Fiercer Delight and a Fiercer Discontent, and Are There Any More Cookies as I present to you My Year in Books, 2014.  This is a delightful yearly tradition in which I sink into deep literary envy as my friends' reading lists dwarf  my feeble efforts[i].

I had a goal to read at least 3 books a month. In the carefree days of my youth[ii], I would burn great golden afternoons plowing through books. Not having been carefree for some time now, I try to find reading time where I can. This year, despite months-long sickness bouts, and the all encompassing life-whirlwind that is early toddler, I met my 3 book-a-month goal and even exceeded it by one.

Not everything was top shelf lit this year, and there were more than an average year's worth of disappointments, but there were also some unexpectedly enjoyable reads that popped up too. In past years I've tried ranking the books, etc, but this was not an honest way to track my progress through the year. So this year, I'm just listing them in chronological order, which should give some idea to the careening pinball nature of my reading habits.   

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls - David Sedaris
While Sedaris always manages at least a few poignant insights, this book was mostly a disappointment. I hate to be a literary hipster, but I really do "like his early stuff better". This book mostly talks about his post-success ennui living in Paris. Unfortunately, most of what I loved about his dark comedy is missing here. It feels like he's run out of material a bit; a lot of half-hearted complaining about what seems to be a fairly comfortable existence.

The Celtic Twilight - William Butler Yeats
At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Yeats' literary exploration of the supernatural lore of Ireland was surprisingly good. Even as someone who's an avowed Yeats fanboy, I was pretty happy with this pick. Yeats exploration is really an examination of the changing nature of the country and its people, and the impact of the onset of modernity on its character, its relationship to the past, and to its spiritual character. This is one of those works that I could return to and peel layers and layers more deeply into it. The great thing about it is that it works equally well as just a chronicling of popular folklore. 


Ethan Frome - Edith Wharton
This is one of far too many entries on my "I should have read this in high school but didn't" list. In this case, however, it turns out I missed absolutely nothing. The narrative was heavy-handed, the writing hit or miss, and the outcome almost silly[iii]. Thankfully it was short. Not quite Tess of the D'Urbervilles bad, but not enjoyable either.
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
Another missed high school book, this literary exploration of  the excesses and decay  of British colonialism was hard to read without “Apocalypse Now” running through my head. The movie was so evocative, for better or for worse, that it overshadowed the somewhat less extreme extremes of the book. What makes it worth the price of admission for me, was the opening scene alone. The language and storytelling invoked in the “men rowing” reminded me a lot of Joyce in capturing dialect and conversational complexity.  Sadly, it was not as consistent throughout the book, and I think some of the motifs don't stand the test of time incredibly well.

The Big Year – Mark Obmascik
Before it was a heartwarming movie with lovable comic characters, The Big Year was a book chronicling a less heartwarming real story. Big Years are a thing birders actually attempt...seeing as many species in one geographic area (usually North America minus Mexico) as possible within a single year. It started as a more grassroots “gonzo” style endeavor in the 70s[iv], but has evolved to be an exercise in spending increasingly extravagant amount of travel money for diminishing returns. The titular Big Year of the book was a rivalry between three particular birders on a year in which a greater than usual number of species were present. Obmascik does a good job neither glorifying or demonizing the participants, but simply chronicling the story in a fairly accessible way. To me it was an interesting glimpse at the excesses of “listing” that doesn't paint the majority of the birdwatching community in a very good light. For a book about birds, it's mostly about human mania. The movie was more enjoyable, but the book was a more “realistic” take on the actual events.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
This was easily one of my favorite books this year, and that is no mean feat when Erdrich,Yeats, Marquez and Proulx are in the mix. This is a tight, fully realized little world, and Gaiman has really poured a lot of humanity into it. It's a story of childhood and adulthood figuratively butting heads within the supernaturally-enhanced backdrop of a lovingly crafted set of characters. The short length was like a fantastic meal that left you just short of full...where you're still savoring the tastes instead of unbuttoning your pants in the midst of the literary equivalent of a food coma. It was a refreshing change from the mega-world building of Martin I slogged through last year. Gaiman says more with a a handful of three-dimensional characters than a thousand pages of Martin's army of cardboard cutouts. To pack another simile into this review, it's like the difference between going into a kitchen party of musicians, and having back row at a stadium show. The former is a far more human experience, just like this novel.   

Sweet Tooth – Ian McEwan
McEwan is a bit hit or miss with me. I love his characters, but sometimes find his story-telling tedious, or vice versa. I thought this British literary spy novel would be something along the lines of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but it ended up being a tad too dry. And that's saying a lot for someone whose favorite authors include Kazuo Ishiguro, of Remains of the Day fame. The ending feels slapdash, and there's a lot of relationship trudging without revelation or plot advancement. Beautifully written in places, but ultimately somewhat mediocre.  Still very much worth the read if for no other reasons than to enjoy the juxtaposition of its themes with Sense of an Ending (further down the list).

Plague of Doves – Louise Erdrich
I discovered Erdrich last year, and was blown away by the writing in The Roundhouse. I read the critically acclaimed Plague of Doves expecting the same sort of approach, but ended up with something wildly different. Plague is another novel focused on a tight-knit Native American community, but in a much different scale. Once I got past the shock of the discrepancy in style between this and Round House, I really came to appreciate what a fantastic book it was. It's worth reading for the first few chapter or two alone. Its multi-generational connections condensed into beautifully subtle prose are what Silko's Almanac of the Dead wishes it could have been. This was my favorite novel of the year.
Photographer's Miscellany – Pring
Honestly, this was probably not even worth counting as a book read, but it was nominally a book, and I read it in the sense I ingested the words on page 1 through the end, so here it is. I picked this up at a bookstore because it looked like an interesting little book about random photography history and arcana. It ended up being a bathroom-book type little low-calorie jumble of miscellaneous trivia. Interesting bits here and there, but mostly pretty dull.

Ceremony – Leslie Marmon Silko
I had read Silko's Almanac of the Dead, and enjoyed it even despite its mediocre writing style, simply because the story was so ambitiously rambunctious. Ceremony is a much more subdued novel, though not necessarily subtle in its own regard. The story follows the trials and tribulations of a Native American Vietnam war vet, and his ultimate path toward healing. The general themes of the dissolution of Native America communities echo other works/real life[vi] , but are sometimes unnecessarily heavy handed[vii]. Regardless, it was interesting as a counterpoint to some similar themes in Plague of Doves.  

Lions and Tigers and Bears (The Internet Strikes Back) – George Takei
The former Mr. Sulu has carved out an interwebs niche for himself with a mix of humorous forwards and wry commentary. Takei, who has become a fairly prominent advocate for marriage equality, has had some of the most humorous and disarming rebuttals to bigotry I've seen. I did not read his other recent book, but came across Lions on Kindle, for the attractive price of free. It's a collection of musings, mostly centered on his reflections of the oddity of his internet phenomenon. Some are a bit self-aggrandizing, some are embarrassingly indicative of his age (there's a little bit of get-off-my-damn-lawn self-righteous indignation about internet haters), but some are enjoyable. His description of his experiences in internment camps during WWII was something I wish he would revisit at greater length later on.
Legends of the Fall – James Harrison
The movie of the same name has long been a semi-guilty pleasure[viii]Mostly because I'm embarrassed to admit loving a movie that spends no small amount of time on lovingly close shots of Brad Pitt. That being said, I think the epic scope and sweep of the movie (and the outstanding score by James Horner) are outstanding. The book was a pleasant is a much more literary take on the same story, that almost works as a counterpoint. The generational tale of fathers and sons (and love interests and war and bears...) picks up some of the moments not present in the film, while the film adds some content not in the books. Instead of competing, the stories are very complimentary. Like other Harrison works, this book is actually three novellas. The other two include a El Mariachi style revenge scenario, and a more nuanced look at a man in transition from a comfortable life, but really aren't as good as Legends. 

Pygmy – Chuck Palahniuk
Palahniuk has been a standing recommendation from many friends, and I really enjoyed Fight Club, so I thought I’d pick up a couple of his other books. Pygmy is the story of a foreign secret agent living as a foreign exchange student with a suburban American family whilst secretly plotting subterfuge. At face value, the send-up of American excess and our foreign stereotypes comes off as a bit over-the-top. However, the relentlessly heavy-handed character of his portrayals is balanced with dark humor and itself seems to be part of the satire. Meta-satire if you will. It’s a fairly skillful skewering of propaganda, foreign and domestic.
Invisible Monsters – Chuck Palahniuk
Back to back Palahniuk may not have been fair as it may have made this second novel less…novel. That being said, Palahniuk’s novel about a disfigured actress and a motley assortment of characters at the fringe of society’s beauty image really didn’t work for me. The premise of examining beauty as a concept and force is interesting, but the writing was hit or miss for me (mostly miss). The dialogue and characters were shallow, and I really couldn’t bring myself to be actively interested in any of them. Even if you view the book as a broader social commentary on what beauty is and how its illusion shapes us, I just don’t think it works very well. I have friends who rave about the book, so I certainly concede it just may not have been written to speak to me specifically. That being said, I just don’t think it’s his best work and gets mired down pretty quickly.  Thank God I’m pretty, I guess.
An Account of Egypt – Herodotus
At some point I need to work my way fully through Herodotus’ Histories, but I thought this element might be a good entry point. It was a dense read, but it was fascinating to see the roots of historical writing emerge. The Egypt he describes is not the Old Kingdom of popular culture’s fascination, but Ptolemaic Egypt. It was interesting, even with bits of obvious “OMG DRAGONS” wackiness. I think a lot of the implication and cultural understanding that his contemporaries would have had is missing to me reading it mostly out of context. It would probably be just as, if not more, interesting to read commentary on this work by current historians as it is to read the archaic work itself.
The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes
Barnes is a master of prose, no argument. This novel of relationships and philosophy is beautifully written, with subtle insights dropped like emotional bombs throughout. I feel like I’m supposed to like this novel far more than I did. The story of academic colleagues going their separate ways and the interweaving of love interests over their lifetimes had great potential, but felt overly stilted to me. It was a bit like “The End of the Affair” if you removed the drama of war and nothing terribly interesting happened. The writing is beautiful, subtle and sort of wasted in spots on a story that doesn’t live up to it. I like dry, understated British prose in general, but this story could use some re-hydration.   Still a great exercise in writing, if not storytelling, and wonderful pieces reflecting on age and change. But if it says anything, I had to look up the plot on Wikipedia to remind myself what happened in a book I read only 6 months ago, only to be assured that nothing much did, after all, happen.
Buddha in the Attic – Julie Otsuka
I read this book mostly because it was on a nearby table when I finished another book. I’m glad I did, though, because it had a tragic beauty to it. In general, the book is ostensibly a novel, but reads more as a …nonfiction poem? It describes the lives of female Japanese immigrants (specifically an entire generation of mail order brides) coming to American in the early half of the 20th century. While this might have made for a so-so historical novel or a run of the mill nonfiction account, Otsuka’s choice of narrative style is what makes the book unique and powerful. She used the first personal plural “we” consistently throughout the book instead of specific characters. She is simultaneously telling her whole generation’s story through the time period, multi-faceted and flowing. It escapes the formula of historical accounts told through the experiences of a couple families/viewpoints (unlike the Worst Hard Time, below). And what could have been a gimmicky approach proves a masterful way of expressing a sense of identity and community across a broad expanse of experiences and times.  This was a sleeper hit for me, once my brain settled into the churning flow of the narrative style.

Barrack Room Ballads – Rudyard Kipling
This selection, and the next, are compilations of poems by Kipling focusing on the martial life of the British Empire in its heyday. There are more than one bit of decidedly archaic racial and social attitudes, but in context it’s an interesting window into a time and place. I liked the counterpoint it provided to Heart of Darkness. The bravo and bluster of the Empire mixed with fairly frank descriptions of the carnage of war. Kipling is certainly not in the highest tier of poets, just as Teddy Roosevelt isn’t among the greatest authors of all time. However, it’s been very interesting to read them both as they write from a style[ix] that is almost anathema to our post-modern jadedness.
Departmental Ditties – Rudyard Kipling
As above. This is sort of the b-sides for the previous.
The Importance of Being Earnest – Oscar Wilde
This is a bit of fluff of a play, but the dialogue sets the standard for snappy patter. While it veers dangerously close to the “Upper Class Mistaken Identity and Romantic Misunderstandings” trope, it is intelligent enough to make fun of itself. Oscar Wilde is my anti-Austen. Keep Calm and Go Bunburrying.
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union – Michael Chabon
Kavalier and Klay was one of my favorite books for the past few years, based almost entirely on its deft interweaving of organic, witty patter with a dense cultural history. I had been meaning to read something else by Chabon and finally got around to it mid-year. Yiddish Policeman’s Union starts with a premise that is both darkly comical and also grabbed my attention. What if most of Israel was evacuated to remote Alaska after being overrun? Chabon’s bizarrely rich premise is almost just backdrop to another story full of rich comic dialogue.  Chabon’s noir-ish local detective plot is set against global geopolitics, but its strong themes of history and identity play out artfully in the minutia[x]. All of this, however, doesn’t make the book as satisfying as Kavalier. The dialogue is not as good, the story not as compelling, the world not as organic, etc. Regardless, it’s worth a read and I enjoyed it.
Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
Note: When I read this, I had no idea that it was the novelization of a TV show Gaiman was involved with, even though that should have been blatantly obvious from the cover. So I had my bar set higher than I probably would have for, say “Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8 (the comic)”. So take this review with a grain of salt.
Gaiman makes a stab at world building here, but it falls a bit flat. The story revolves around a too-common premise of a hidden world layered with our own. While the details are well crafted, the premise is just too derivative of other work and without its own merit. It has none of the humanity or even literary weight of Ocean at the End of the Lane or American Gods. Man, I am hard on British books this year…

100 Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
This is one of those Important Novels™ I am supposed to have read by now. Whenever it has come up and I admit I haven’t read it yet, the reaction (especially from English majors) is akin to what one might expect if I casually mentioned that I love drowning kittens[xi]. I finally broke down and read it. It was well written, and I enjoyed the vibrant characters but somehow the saga of the multigenerational family in the confines of a single place felt a little stifling. There was a lot of what just seemed extraneous detail, especially in the admittedly artful but over   the top focus on the slavering, unwashed, base elements of human existence. It reminded me a bit of some of Steinbeck’s place-focused books (The Long Valley, Tortilla Flats), but with a very unique voice. I didn’t, however, love it with the undying ardor of so many. I read commentary on its context, etc, and while I can appreciate it, It still didn’t amount to love for me. Probably ruined a bit by the hype. If literature were measured in standardized Joyce units, I would say I was expecting Ulysses, and instead got Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim – David Sedaris
After having sort-of-liked Me Talk Pretty One Day, and really not liking Squirrel Meets Chipmunk and Let’s Explore….Owls, I was hesitant to pick up another Sedaris book.This earlier work, however, was about a perfect blend of maturity of style and lingering dark humor. Vignettes drawn from the family semi-trauma of growing up feel real and fully fleshed, and his wit is sharp and cutting. This is the   first bit by Sedaris past “Santaland Diaries” that I have laughed at without forcing it.
Wool – Hugh Howey
The general premise of this post-apocalyptic action novel is not entirely unique. The “living underground in man made structures to escape a contaminated surface” genre is pretty well explored (Fallout[xii], etc).  Even if it was a little derivative, the pacing of the book was good and the plot enjoyable. It reminded me a bit of enjoying The Passage a couple years ago. Neither is exceptionally well written or unique, but the authors know how to pace the action to keep you turning pages.  It’s not literature grade writing, but it’s a fun read, and the sequels bring it to a satisfying, if not surprising, close.
A Princess of Mars – Edgar Rice Burroughs
After Disney managed to completely mangle its take on the John Carter series, I took a read through the original Burroughs book. I’ve always loved Burroughs as a writer of pulpy adventure fiction masquerading as actual novels. Straightforward without nuance, but still enjoyable in the scope of its imagination. This tale of an enigmatic human transported to Mars to rise as a leader amongst its warring tribes should have made for a great movie. However, some of the elements that I love about Burroughs, like his unfettered imagination, don’t translate well from headspace to screen. Even with admittedly rampant sexism of his times, the book still manages to have strong female characters despite its hyper manly-man main character.  Another good-in-context read.
The River Swimmer – Jim Harrison
Another Harrison book for the year, and also a collection (pair, really) of novellas. The first is a tale of a young man (the titular River Swimmer) experiencing life at 17. It delves a bit oddly into Marquez’s trademark of magical realism, but most just captures the “trying to wrap your arms around the world”  sensation of being 17 and figuring the world out. The second, more reserved story, is about a painter in his 60’s trying to reconcile his age and his relationship with his family. While the two books are ostensibly separate, they reflect well on each other, showing life at two critical points. The style of writing shifts almost imperceptibly between the two as well, complimenting the age and viewpoint of the main character. The first is written through the expansive vistas of youth, and the second in the increasingly insular world of older age. It is not as well written as Legends, but was still enjoyable. Oddly, for some reason it feels as if it was written in the 70s, but came out only a few years ago.


Shift – Hugh Howey
The second installment[xiii] in Howey’s trio of novels[xiv] starting with Wool (above), this book manages to give a lot of exposition on the mysterious back story of the Silos without killing the pacing or removing all questions to be answered. If anything, it seems like it’s trying to constantly one-up itself with new twists. I think this is the tightest of the three Silo novels. Still not literature grade, but a good page turner.

Band of Brothers – Stephen Ambrose
I usually disdain the greatest generation/rah rah war/History Channel sort of books, but this was fairly enjoyable. Ambrose does a good job of using personal accounts to tell the story of Easy Company of the 506th. However, I think a good deal of the credit goes to history itself…the 506th just happened to be   involved in some of the most crucial operations of the ETO, so it works on a larger scale than just the history of one unit. Where the book (and series) drag a little is where Easy’s action dragged in the actual war. However, the somewhat one-sided perspective of the war, and war in general, told with a heavy veil of sentimentality, is less than enjoyable. There are better books on WWII, but this was an undeniably interesting unit against a backdrop of epic scale.
Gods of Mars – Edgar Rice Burroughs
I enjoyed Princess of Mars enough to see if further installments in the Barsoom Saga would be worth a shot. Gods was pretty much more of the same, and I think one meal of that style had been enough for me. Enjoyable, but archaic. It ended with a cliffhanger that I didn’t care enough about to motivate me to read the next novel[xv].

Dust – Hugh Howey
The final installment in Howey’s Silo series feels a little flat compared to the preceding two books. The end for Howey’s Silo dwellers is somewhat predictable and straightforward and the pacing feels off. He turns the dial to “happy ending”, sets it, and forgets it. I think he could have condensed the three book into two (or even one) novels and told a tighter, better story. Still, as someone who has written exactly 0 novels, I will still give it up to him for keeping me around through a third novel.      

In the Garden of Beasts – Erik Larsen
The story of the rise of Hitler’s Germany in the 20’s/30’s is told through the viewpoint of the Dodds, the American ambassador and his family. The direct connection between the personal level and the larger scale makes for a tighter story than Devil, in the White City but maybe not as interesting. In Larsen’s defense, the material he had to work with is not as interesting as one would think. Hitler’s long simmering rise to power and the hand wringing of the rest of the world didn’t happen overnight, and boils down to a lot of small chess moves and personalities. Beasts paints an insider’s look at both the German personalities involved and the American political reaction. This is dry geopolitics made slightly less dry by new perspective and some personal anecdotes.   
Sand – Hugh Howey
Sand was a quick read, and much in the same vein as Wool, etc. A different post-apocalyptic world, this one based on a drying climate and technological adaptations allowing people to dive under the sand (Think Waterworld, with sand). Howey’s world is small and not entirely three dimensional, but fun and has some original elements. It wraps up a bit too neatly and quickly. 

A Dance with Dragons – George RR Martin
I imagine an actual dance with a dragon would be somewhat akin to the experience of reading this book: something I knew was a bad idea going in, and which couldn’t end soon enough.. It took me most of the year to slog through this, not because it was that long (which it was) or that it was that dense with unnecessary characters and text (it was) but that I just couldn’t force myself through it. I kept reading a chapter, and then leaving it for a month. It was almost a debt to pay off rather than a bounty to enjoy. Martin continues his devolution of his overly large world, clumsily fumbling about with his characters.  There were some engaging bits, but like the previous novel, it gets completely lost in the slog. Martin has created a very fully-realized world, he just has lost the ability to selectively tell stories in it. It feels like he’s trying to tell every story simultaneously[xvi] and by doing so, failing to tell any of them in a satisfying way. I will say it was better than the preceding book. Part of my experience here is still hampered by the fact that Martin can world-build and imagine, but his grasp of actual writing style is still pretty pulpy. I don’t need him to be Ishiguro, but I need him to at least get me from set piece A to set piece 5043b in a decently eloquent manner.
The Worst Hard Time – Timothy Egan
While it relied a lot on the Ken Burns formula of historical documentation, Egan’s book on the origins and human impacts of the Dust Bowl was engaging enough to keep me reading. Often in the shadow of World War II and the Depression, not as much has been written about the Dust Bowl itself. In fact, the more popular narrative is that it was all a function of drought. The reality of speculative market forces, immigration, farming technique, and large scale politics is treated with great nuance here. The use of specific families as waypoints through the history compliments the main narrative rather than being a crutch for it.
Accordion Crimes – Annie Proulx
Proulx is a master of the underdog and the human foible. The Shipping News, and Wyoming Stories are favorites of mine. I finally took Accordion Crimes off the “to read” shelf this year and gave it a shot. Wow, what a book. Proulx crams about 12 novels worth of stories into one, dense but coherent novel. Essentially the interconnected stories of immigrants, criminals, bluesmen, more immigrants, and other people at the fringe of societies across the length of the 20th century, all of whom in some way come into contact or possession of a specific accordion. The ultimate end of its travels is fitting, and the sheer span of characters in between is amazing. Unlike Martin’s stick figures, Proulx gives remarkable depth and dimension to all of her wholly original characters. She writes as compactly as she does eloquently, with some minor characters enjoying rich lives wholly summed up in a single paragraph. An excellent mix of style and story.
Kingbird Highway – Kenn Kaufman
I hit book 36 in late December, but managed to blow through Kaufman’s book in two days, ending on New Year’s Eve. While it was a quick read, it was also unexpectedly good and a great end cap for the year. Kaufman dropped out of high school to hitchhike around the country looking at birds, eventually competing in a formative Big Year. Unlike The Big Year up the list, though, Kingbird Highway is an intensely human and philosophical book without being pretentious. Kaufman revels in odd characters encountered and delves into deeper considerations of the human propensity for collection and listing. If nothing else, it points out the vast differences between the grass roots birdwatching community of the 70’s and the commercialized big money world shown in The Big Year.


[i]     A friend asked me if I choose my books based on getting them listed, i.e. reading to the list. This was a fitting conversation for the year, because the topic of listing came up in two of the books; The Big Year, and Kingbird Highway. I think I tend to side with the latter, which argues that listing should not be the goal, but that if keeping a list spurs you to watch birds, or in this case read, more, then it was a beneficial thing as long as you don't lose track of the reason you started the list. I couldn't say specifically how viewing the books through the frame of them being added to a list altered the reading itself, and he suggested it was like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle applied to books. Which I think has something to do with reading whilst cooking meth.
[ii]    Which were June 23rd through 25th, 1982. Everything else involved at least some degree of care.
[iii]   Deus-ex-improbable-sledding-accident.
[iv]   As detailed exceptionally well by Kenn Kauffman in “Kingbird Highway” at the end of the list.
[v]    I was sick a good chunk of April. While one might think that would lend itself to a lot of reading in bed, it did not. It mostly lent itself to staring at a wall between bouts of chills.
[vi]   It's hard to read this without hearing “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” in my head.
[vii]  And, as is sometimes the case with Silko, strays a bit too far into the “Indians are MAGIC” stereotypes.
[ix] That I can best describe as “particularly rambunctious literary Tyrannosaurus”.
[x] Metaphor-y chess game goodness.
[xi] This is hyperbolic example, of course. I don’t actually love drowning kittens. I mean, the mewling is too annoying.
[xii] The Vault-tec corporation, I mean, “government” built these underground Vaults, I mean, “Silos”….With apologies to Fallout, “Premise. Premise never changes.”
[xiii] In actuality, all of the novels in the series were released in serial form, comprised of multiple installments themselves. I’m glad I read them in omnibus form. Waiting for each new serial might have heightened anticipation, but more likely just annoyed me.
[xiv] Why is it that everything these days has to be a series? Not that series are a bad format. It’s just the preponderance of them these days that seems odd. It’s hard to look through a best-sellers list without seeing a good number of “Book (x) of the (Y) series”. I understand it’s especially bad in the sparkly vampire werewolf quagmire of YA books. I’d rather read a well-crafted single novel, than have an idea stretched out over three mediocre novels. I guess the money’s in the sequel…
[xv] Though to be honest, I did look it up on Wikipedia.
[xvi] Which was interesting to compare to Otsuka’s Buddha in the Attic, which tells the simultaneous story of a whole generation, but in a style that allows for it. Even more to the point, Proulx’s Accordion Crimes (further down the list) manages to tell many characters’ stories, but in a much more literary, engaging way. 


stanford said...

I really like "ambitiously rambunctions" as a plot description.

YPMU is going to be my next Chabon...hopefully this year.

I may just stop while I'm ahead on I&F. Even though I liked the first three more than you did, I totally believe your report on the last two, and don't have those kinds of pages to throw away on the prinicple of finishing (plus, I have acces to the narrative in other forms).

Looking forward to checking a couple of these out.

Justin Bower said...

I think YPMU works better if there's some air between it and Kavalier. I think I read them too closely together. Also, I couldn't stop picturing Liev Shrieber as the lead, which I'm not sure is what Chabon would want.

As usual, there's something about Martin that just makes me cranky. probably the fact that he could make me keep reading unnecessarily long books. Looking back, I enjoyed books 1-3 probably more than I let on. And I know the issues behind the splitting of books 4 and 5, I just think it was ill-handled and shows in the result. I read somewhere that some fan had come up with a reading order for 4/5 based on reading both reading chapter 1 and 2 in Feast, then 3 in Dragons, and back, and so on. Don't miss out solely on my regard. I am hoping the next book will be more cohesive and plot-advancing. I haven't made up my mind whether to come back. He's set up some great elements for it, it just took about 2000 pages too much text to do so, in my opinion.