Monday, July 30, 2007

Specimen Days

I did a lot of reading on Friday and Saturday. I finished Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days, which was really quite good. It's a novel in three parts, all set in NYC; the first part is historical fiction set in the late 1800's, the second part is modern, and the third part is set in the future. All are loosely tied to Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" in some way. He also seems to recycle characters throughout the three eras. They aren't the same people, but their names are the same and the general feel of the character remains the same. Very well done.

I especially liked the way he tied in some of Whitman's philosophies, and had the characters illustrate his ideas. One of the main ideas was that one returns to nature when one dies and experiences the joy of being one with the world, which is a relief from the pain of living. The epiphanies the characters have are very beautiful and touching. Each of the characters also has to make a difficult decision at some point, which has both good and bad consequences, very bittersweet decisions. Lots of emotion in this book.

It was recommended to me by a friend; I don't remember all he told me about it at the time, but I can see now why he was so enthusiastic about it. I wish I could remember now what he said. I will definitely have to have a conversation about it with him soon.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Harry Potter 7 (no spoilers)

I did read and finish the last Harry Potter book. It took me about 9 hours to read, it's a fat book but also a real page-turner, like the earlier books in the series.

I really like reading serialized novels since I like to get lost in the world that is invented. Harry Potter of course exemplifies this ideal, (which is also partly why they were such a hit, I think) and I am sad to know that the world, and Harry's story, ends here. That is always the case with me. Narnia, Lord of the Rings, The Golden Compass trilogy, the Death Gate Cycle, and the Otherland books have all done this to me to varying degrees. Luckily I enjoy re-reading books, so I can go ahead and revisit these lands whenever I want; but it is never quite the same.

Anyway, HP7 was well done. To keep this area relatively spoiler free, I will resist saying more. I'll just say it was just as satisfying and exciting as the others, and followed much the same formula. I think I could have done without the epilogue though.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

My avatar

Your humble reviewer:

Yahoo! Avatars

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Worst Hard Time

I'm not sure if I've mentioned before that a friend and I started a book group where we work. Our book for July was The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan. I think I've mentioned before that I have a hard time read non-fiction; well, in this case I had no problem at all. In fact, I read this quite fast. Egan took the time to introduce many characters and set up a situation in a well-described setting, all components of my favorite kinds of fiction. He really built up a sense of dread and foreboding, as the time of the great dust storms of the 1930's arrived. It's really a disaster story. I think those who enjoyed reading about the Titanic or Into Thin Air (about a horrible Mount Everest expedition) would appreciate this as well. We watch as the characters we got to know so well, and who seemed to be thriving in the American mid-west, lose everything, and still struggle to hang on and resist leaving their adopted land. Before reading this I really had no idea of the struggle these people endured. In fact, I hadn't even heard of these great dust storms either. It's really quite amazing. Crops were buried under dust, farm animals died from lungs and stomachs getting filled with dust, families huddled in their homes, hanging wet sheets around all the doors and windows to try to keep the dust out... for nearly ten years. Incredible.

Timothy Egan bases his narrative on interviews he had with survivors from the storms or from the writings of those who lived in it. Filled with historical details, yet it retains the feel of a story rather than a history book. Highly recommended.