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Grab Bag of Reads

by Jonathan 2 Comments

Just plowed through three books in the last couple of weeks. The first two are fantasy reads, but very different in their subject matter. The third book was a classic I was never required to read in high school or college.

Miserere: An Autumn Tale by Teresa Frohock

I’d been meaning to read this one for a while as it was written by someone I’ve come to know to a degree via blogging and twitter. Frohock weaves a tale against the backdrop of the eternal struggle between good and evil in Woerld, a parallel universe that is the front line in this struggle. Particularly interesting to me was how Frohock handled the characters and how their pasts had come to shape them. In addition she revealed the important information in the context of the characters’ thoughts and dialogue and in all cases these reveals were germane to the plot of the current story.

The Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

This good old fashioned fantasy romp struck me as a Dungeons & Dragons-style adventure, to the point that you could almost pick out the cleric, the paladin, the thief and the druid. I definitely wanted more depth in both the characters and the world; it almost read like a YA novel except for some fairly gruesome scenes and colorful language. Still, it was an entertaining story set in a middle-eastern desert city, which I’m always a sucker for.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’m always pleasantly surprised when a classic is a page turner. The Great Gatsby rocked. Compelling characters, mystery and a glimpse into a world most of us only see from afar. There’s probably not a whole lot I can say here that hasn’t already been said. For what it’s worth, there are almost as many flawed characters in this story as there are alcoholic drinks. Between the mint juleps and the philandering and Fitzgerald’s writing, there’s plenty here for everyone. FWIW, there’s no way I would have enjoyed this as much at 22 as I did at 42.

What are you reading these days?

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


John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck

In the last two weeks I’ve delved into The Grapes of Wrath (Steinbeck) and I Am Legend (Matheson). I am currently reading The Sun Also Rises (Hemingway). I can’t get enough. Back in high school, somewhere in the late 80’s, I was loathe to read the assigned books. I read a lot of Stephen King and Robert Ludlum. Those guys wove (and still weave in King’s case) great stories that resonated with me. I still read both authors today.

Looking back, I think I avoided the classics was because I couldn’t relate, because I had such a narrow view of the world. Also, the writing style was just different enough as to sit crookedly in my brain, making it difficult to concentrate on reading and comprehending.

What a joy to read these books for the first time and fall in love with the characters, the prose, the whole deal. I should probably thank my wife, a devout devourer of all manner of books, classic and otherwise. My good friends in Indiana deserve credit for my rediscovering Steinbeck. The gushed about The Grapes of Wrath and went so far as to push a worn copy into my hands. I love having a great reading network.

If you stumble across this post, let me know your thoughts on some classics. I’d love to hear them.