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Writing on the Road (or not)

by Jonathan 0 Comments
Yeah, Journey.

Yeah, Journey.

They say that the road ain’t no place to start a family.

–Steve Perry, lead singer of Journey.

The road is also no place for me to start a story. We just got back from Nags Head, NC where we visited with some old friends. I always marvel at how much I enjoy seeing those guys. This time our daughters, all around the 3 year mark played together and oozed cuteness wherever they trod. As much a success as the child’s play was, the writing suffered. I managed about 400 words during bed time one night and that was it. I didn’t get the opportunity to feel my way through the beginning of the story. The results were unsatisfactory, but at least they were something.

The weather was spectacular, not so much in a sunny paradise, brilliant sunset way, but in a rainy, windy, giant waves rolling in kind of way. Even so, it was a nice trip.

I also managed to read a hundred or so pages in Neal Stephenson’s Anathem. Good stuff. As he did with Quicksilver, Stephenson captivated me with his worldbuilding that is both alien and comfortably familiar–no small feat. I like to think of it as research.

Latest Reads

by Jonathan 0 Comments
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Check Out All These Cool Fish!

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Check Out All These Cool Fish!

I finally finished Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver a few weeks ago. I had planned to hit Don Quixote next, but, for reasons too complicated and too boring to recount, I opted for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I’m a little over half way through and I have to say that I’m getting more and more resentful with each page. I really wanted to like this book, but, so far I don’t.

Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat

First Edition of Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat

The story starts off well enough with a mysterious sea monster attacking ships, but bogs down in Verne’s love affair with marine biology. It’s kind of like ready Moby Dick, which is a pretty cool story, but having to slog through page after page of treatises on different whales and their respective anatomies. Hey Jules Verne, if I wanted to know so much about sea life, I would have been an ichthyologist. Perhaps if he had stuck with more sweeping description and less minutiae I would be less bitter.

On that note, I put down Verne and picked up Tortilla Flat by Steinbeck at the recommendation of a friend. I posted a couple of months ago about The Grapes of Wrath – if you don’t feel like checking that post out, just know that Grapes vaulted into my top 5 books of all time and I don’t even know what two of my top five are! Maybe that makes it a top 3. For the record Lord of the Rings and Song of Ice and Fire are my top 2.

Tortilla Flat delivers that same kind of feel as Grapes of Wrath. Set in Monteray, California at the end of World War I, Steinbeck delves into the lives of the paisanos just returned from war.

From Tortilla Flat Wikipedia Entry:

Above a town of Monterey on the California coast lies the shabby district of Tortilla Flat, inhabited by a loose gang of jobless locals of Mexican descent (who typically claim Spanish descent) whose riotous adventures are compared by Steinbeck to the exploits of the Knights of King Arthur.

Soft-hearted, unquestioningly loyal to one another, and in complete disregard of social conventions and expectations, the gutsy paisanos of Tortilla Flat cheerfully reside in a world of idyllic poverty. Steinbeck gives a description of a paisano, who according to Steinbeck speaks English with a paisano accent, and Spanish with a paisano accent: “He is a mixture of Spanish, Indian, Mexican and assorted Caucasian bloods. His ancestors have lived in California for a hundred years or two…. He lives in that uphill district above the town of Monterey called Tortilla Flat, though it isn’t flat at all.” Most of the action which takes place in the novel is in the idyllic time of Steinbeck’s own late teenage and young adult years, shortly after WW I (1919, approximately).

It’s a quick read and highly entertaining. I enjoy the way Steinbeck explores the ability of men to rationalize what would otherwise be considered reprehensible actions. If you haven’t read this, do yourself a favor and check this out. In the meantime, it’s back to 20,000 Leagues for me. Hopefully the story will emerge more frequently than the Nautilus does.

Inside Captain Nemos Floating Man Cave

Inside Captain Nemo's Floating Man Cave

Stephenson's Quicksilver

I just started reading Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson. I’m only about 30-some pages into it, but I’m loving it. I love the heft of the thing. I love the words packed onto each page. I love that there are two more volumes of The Baroque Cycle. I have to confess that I bought it for my mother for Christmas, hoping she would dig it. But, I was also hoping I’d get to read it as well. I got Anathem for my brother. Neither have completed their books as of yet. If I can read both and give them the big thumbs up, perhaps they’ll reconsider.

Neal Stephensons Quicksilver

Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver

The only other work of his I’ve read (book on tape) is Snow Crash. I found that to be okay, but definitely zoned out during the Librarian explanations. Because of his style, I am definitely leery of a similar situation in Quicksilver.

On the flap there is a review quote that likens it to the erudition of The Name of the Rose, which I read this Spring.  I think I can hang with that. I like learning a little something (or a lot of something) whilst I enjoy a good tale.

I’ll update this post upon completion, but if you have any thoughts on this or any of Mr. Stephenson’s offerings, feel free to comment.

Update 6/26/09

I’m now about 115 pages in. It’s still captivating. If you like the idea of the great minds of the natural sciences running around, making trouble, challenging the known world, this is pretty cool. From young Ben Franklin, Sir Isaac Newton, and Christopher Wren to John Wilkins and Robert Boyle, and Robert Hooke, this book seems to include them all in a very human light. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Society for a little background on the Royal Society that features so prominently in Stephenson’s book.