30 December 2012

Books read in 2012

After Borders closed in September of 2011, I spent the rest of the year trying to find a job. When not toiling with that, I read. For the first time in a while, I was able to put a small dent in my unread book collection. When 2012 began, I kinda of thought that I would not repeat the book count (33) of what I read in the previous year because…well, because I thought I would have a job by now.

But as this year comes to close, I’m still jobless and quickly running out of money. Perhaps that is why in the last six months I read less than the previous six, well, three books less. Depression has hit with like a ton of bricks, and I’m feeling hopeless and unsure about where I sit now. There are many time, days, nights and months where I ponder if I have outlived my usefulness.

But I digress. I could have, I guess, reached 46 completed books, but I spent about 2 ½ months not reading –and to be honest, I don’t know how that happened. Well, that might be a lie. Dark thoughts have kept me from really hunkering down, I guess. While I’ve certainly watched less TV - I try to keep it off until 4 or 5-, I’ve spent too much time on Facebook –especially during the last few months of the election, prattling on like I knew what I was talking about. And I’ve become restless. You would think that this forced me into activities such as jogging or bike riding. But it more or less made me want to stay in the house, hoping no one could see that I was being lazy, not trying real hard to find a job. Though I did try.

As for 2013, well…who the hell knows.

01.   A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin (969 pages)

02.   Something Like Summer by Jay Bell (279 pages)

03.   The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson (309 pages)

04.   A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin (1128 pages)

05.   Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson (334 pages)

06.   How Evan Broke His Head and Other Stories by Garth Stein (359 pages)

07.   Life After Genius by M. Ann Jacoby (386 pages)

08.   The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett (201 pages)

09.   The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (531 pages)

10.   Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan (231 pages)

11.   To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (376 pages)

12.   Sacré Bleu by Christopher Moore (394 pages)

13.   The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (487 pages)

14.   Star Trek: DTI: Forgotten History by  Christopher L. Bennett (346 pages)

15.   The Wind Through the Keyhold by Stephen King (309 pages)

16.   The Hunger Games by Suzzane Collins (374 pages)

17.   The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving (450 pages)

18.   Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury (184 pages)

19.   Plays Well with Others by Allan Gurganus (337 pages)

20.   Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (850 pages)

21.   Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon (947 pages)

22.   The World According to Garp by John Irving (609 pages)

23.   Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi (385 pages) 

6/30/12- 10, 775 pages.

24.   The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (1,250 pages)

25.   Doctor Who: Shada by Gareth Roberts (376 pages)

26.   Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (240 pages) Re-read

27.   The Alchemyst: The Secret Life of Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott (369 pages)

28.   Blue Heaven by Joe Keenan (279 pages)

29.   Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving (554 pages)

30.   The Shining by Stephen King (683 pages) re-read

31.   One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper (324 pages)

32.   The Pirates! In an Adventure with Romantics by Gideon Defoe (301 pages)

33.   Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon (465 pages)

34.   The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (503 pages)

35.   Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (509 pages)

36.   The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde (287 pages)

37.   The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde (363 pages)

38.   Let Nothing You Dismay by Mark O’Donnell (193 pages)

39.   Life of Pi by Yann Martel (319 pages)

40.   Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (372 pages)

41.   The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (485 pages)

42.   Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski (349 pages)

8, 221 pages read

Total for 2012: 18,996 pages

28 December 2012

Books: Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski (2007)

I knew about Mischa Berlinski’s Fieldwork when it was released back in 2007. But like a lot of fiction that passed through my hands when sorting through the hundreds of boxes while working for Borders, it did not strike then as something I might read. And sadly, like hundreds of other books that get released and ignored by 99.9% of the population, it may have never sold more than a handful  of copies –well, beyond students of anthropology anyways.

But fate would intervene in Fieldwork's life of going from hardcover (probably never to see the light in paperback) to the remainder bin. In the April 15th 2007 issue of Entertainment Weekly, author Stephen King praised the book and criticized the author’s publishers -Farrar, Straus & Giroux- for their handling of the release: “Why, why, why would a company publish a book this good and then practically demand that people not read it? Why should this book go to waste? Is it because there are people in publishing who believe that readers who liked The Memory Keeper's Daughter are too dumb to enjoy a killer novel like Fieldwork? If so, shame on them for their elitism.” He went on to write about the novel's complexity, its "narrative voice full of humor and sadness," and suspense. It was, in some mind, a scathing attack on its publisher for its poor marketing choices (mainly the look of the hardcover version, which King claimed was dull. When Berlinski won the Whiting Award, he had great "luck" because "the most famous writer in the world, picked up my book because he didn't like the cover"). King went on to lament "As of March 26 (2007), Fieldwork was No. 24,571 on the Amazon best-seller list, and not apt to go much higher. The reason why is illustrative of how the book biz became the invalid of the entertainment industry, and why fiction sales are down across the board (with the possible exception of chick lit). Critics, with their stubborn insistence that there's a difference between ''literature'' and ''popular fiction,'' are part of the problem, but the publishers themselves, who have bought into this elitist twaddle, are also to blame."

Fast forward to 2012 and I’m strolling through Iliad’s Used Bookstore in North Hollywood a month or so ago and saw Fieldwork on the $2 shelf. I grabbed it quickly, remembering that old King article back then. Now finished with it, I can say I’m glad I read it, but I can also say that I understand how the publishers might have felt back 2006 when they bought the manuscript, as its more than the sum of its parts.

The novel is set in Thailand, and is told from the point of view of a fictional narrator named Mischa Berlinski. It tells the story of a tribe called the Dyalo, a family of Protestant missionaries attempting to convert them to Christianity, and Martiya, an anthropologist who is studying the tribe and who murders one of the missionaries and then commits suicide in prison. Unable to get Martiya's story out of his head, Mischa digs up some of her work, which is brilliant, and becomes obsessed with telling her story. As a field worker with the remote Dyalo tribe, Martiya lived among her subjects, adopting their ways and falling deeply in love with a Dyalo man. As it turns out, the murder victim was also a Dyalo expert, albeit with a very different mission.

The author notes in the Afterword that his original intention was to write a nonfiction book on the history of the conversion of the Lisu people of Northern Thailand to Christianity. But it seems the author was stumped on how to proceed, so like a bunch of books released in the last decade or so (probably starting with John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but you can also include the novel by Thomas Keneally that became Schindler's List. Keneally always said he was a novelist, and not a historian, so that's why he chose to write that way) he decided to wrap a fictional story around real historical happenings. Thus the Lisu become the fictional Dyalo, though my speculation is most of the anthropological observations are combinations of many other real tribes that existed in Thialand through the centuries. 

The novel sparkles with original, eyewitness observations of remote tribes and western missionaries alike, yet there are bumps along the road, as the author struggles with all writers’ impulse to tell you everything they know. It is funny at times and page-turning as well, and I highly recommend the book, but there were times I did feel –especially in the middle section- were I was reading more of an anthropology dissertation than a novel. 

I suppose had not Stephen King reviewed the book, Berlinski’s tome may have vanished in the mists of Fiction Hell. Most well-known authors receive countless Advanced Readers Copies of books a week –sci-fi author John Scalzi said on his Whatever blog he gets up to fifty a week- and many are passed over. But it shows you as well that sometimes –like a bland cover- an author like King saw beyond a publishers misstep in marketing and gave the author a chance to play with the Big Kids.

20 December 2012

Books: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (2007)

The first volume in this series for kids, The Mysterious Benedict Society, takes some a basic premise borrowed from James Bond, adds a dash of macabre adults ala Roald Dahl and Lemony Snicket, and fashions a bit of Harry Potter wonder into a story that is well written, but a bit long in the tooth as well. 

The story begins with children responding to a peculiar ad in the newspaper. They are then put through a series of mind-bending tests. Only four children-two boys and two girls-succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and inventive children could complete. To accomplish it they will have to go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, where the only rule is that there are no rules. But what they'll find in the hidden underground tunnels of the school is more than your average school supplies. 

The book is inventive and for younger audiences, he invites them to come along as author Trenton Lee Stewart gives them some wild adventures, but also a bunch of head-scratching conundrums. The cast of orphaned kids include Reynie Muldoon, the ringleader of sorts, is great at problem-solving and reading people's emotions. Then there is Kate Wetherell , athletic and resourceful –and apparently the Q of series, as she carries a bucket that contains everything anyone would need who goes on secret missions. George "Sticky" Washington is a somewhat nervous kid with a photographic memory. Finally, there is Constance Contraire, the youngest of the bunch. Only her cleverness keeps her from being a complete annoyance to the other three.

The rest of the plot is right out of James Bond movies, with a mysterious island and a creepy, wheelchair bound villain who is out to wipe the minds of everyone so he can take over the world. It is also a world, as Roald Dahl always assumed, where kids are smarter than the adults. And like all super villains –in both children and adult literature- he surrounds himself with dimwits. The older adults are mean and seem to take a joy out of torturing younger kids, but they all are not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree.

I do think the book is a bit long, at nearly 500 pages I think kids could be intimidated by it, even if they've read Harry Potter -Rowling is a better writer. There are four other volumes of this series out, by the way. I’m unsure at this juncture whether I’ll continue, unless I find used copies somewhere.