A few capsule reviews of what I've been reading lately.
And one of them didn't have any pictures!
by Gregory Maguire
I picked this book up because I liked the cover. I'd seen it on my friend Julie's shelf and I took that as recommendation enough. But I also bought it because the blurb on the back cover sucked me right in.
Billed as the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Wicked
gives history, motivation, and above all a name to the Wicked Witch of the West, the famed villain of both book and film The Wizard of Oz. Maguire divides his book into five sections, each a definitive moment in the life of the witch, whom Maguire names Elphaba. It is largely episodic, but not condescending. It leaves a lot to the reader to pick up details of Ephaba's life.
I give the book a thumbs up, though the quality of writing in the third section is different. Not better or worse, necessarily. Just more wordy and inconsistent with the rest of the novel--almost as if this section was written well before or well after the other portions of the book. It was a little distracting to me.
On the whole, however, I think rather highly of Wicked, if only because of the juxtaposition it forces the reader to make concerning our existing opinion of the nasty, nasty witch from the movie to the character we come to care about in the novel.
Brave New World
by Aldous Huxley
I've had this one on my shelf for a long time intending to read it but never going so far as to pick it up. With all the pro-wrestling, comic books and fast food in my life lately, I had to find something a little more challenging.
I'm sure it's been mentioned, though I've never taken notice, but BNW is a hell of a science fiction story. If you haven't read: it's a world that measures its time from Henry Ford, whose revolutions in industry they regard with the esteem generally reserved for the creation myth. People are a product of industry, living for industry to work the industry. Even in death, their remains are broken down into the simplest forms for re-use.
It's a cold, cold world. And, honestly, I came to really dislike most of the characters. Normally, it's a bad thing, but you keep reading because you want one of them to prove that the paradigm that exists in their world is wrong.
What surprises me a little (although it probably shouldn't) is how coldly Huxley treats his characters. The glimpse into the world of Brave New World is almost like looking through a looking glass. We focus on one, sometimes two, characters at a time at length. But never for very long, as characters drift from view, melting into the periphery and then floating back into view. And characters that initially are likable shift quite quickly to the other side.
Like the people in the book. They're important for a little while. They do their job, I guess.
by Carl Hiaasen
Carl Hiaasen doesn't write books. He writes zany road-trips through Florida. And, to be honest, I got my fix, now. I've read enough Carl Hiaasen for a little while. I got SW for Christmas, and pulled it off the shelf to read at bed time.
And one night as I went to bed, I read for about a hundred pages. It's actually not the book I should have chosen. See, I'm a sucker for zany characters and the situations they hurl themselves or get hurled into. As I read, though, I kept having the faintest feeling that I've read all this before. And the next morning, I realized that my problem is that two characters in Stormy Weather appeared together in another of Hiaasen's books that I've read (and they may appear in others--I seem to be reading Carl in the reverse order that he's published his books). But also troubling me was that all the other characters appeared, in form if not name, in each of his other books.
So you're not reading for the characters. It's the situations.
In the end, I was too distracted by the overall zaniness of the whole thing to really be amused by it.
Call it a result of reading four of Carl's books in a year's time. I'll take a break before reading another.
I give Stormy Weather a Z
Batman: Captured by the Engines
by Joe Lansdale.
Okay. This one's a guilty pleasure. Batman's my favorite comic character (behind Angar the Screamer and Roadblock from the G.I.Joe comics, and also Foofur).
Joe Lansdale is one of my favorite writers. He writes guy stories. Lots of fights. Lots of cussing. Mostly taking place around his hometown of Nagodoches, Texas. His website is here
He has free stories. I recommend him on that account, too.
I wanted this book. My buddy Keith gave it to me for Christmas. For which I am grateful and indebted.
I'll also say this: this Batman novel, printed when the hype surrounding the 1989 Tim Burton Batman film was waning, is a guilty pleasure.
Kind of like when you're impressed by a big ball of phlegm you've just produced.
Only this wasn't as pleasurable as that, surprisingly enough.
It had everything I wanted, ultimately, but apparently it wasn't enough.
The trouble is Lansdale has his own stories, and Batman has his. And under the best circumstances, they should meld fairly well. But here, they don't. And what happens is Lansdale uses a bit of license in order to make the characters fit into his stories a little better. I almost want to call it another case of Carl Hiaasen Zaniness, where none of the characters conform to regular conventions.
Its failings as a Batman story: Batman's a little melodramatic in his journals, for my tastes. The whole thing where Batman and Jim Gordon are buddy/buddy--I always felt they were respected business associates. Lansdale's portrayal of Alfred really bugged me.
Its failings as a Lansdale story: Joe seems to have a problem writing characters who actually have their shit together. Everybody's got to have some kind of identifiable flaw in their makeup, be it physical or mental. I don't need to get inside the head of Batman that much, and I think that's the biggest failing.
I've been blasting it. The good stuff? Lots of good fight material. I can't write fights, so I'm always impressed by somebody who can. There's some actual funny stuff. In the end, the story stays true to itself: nothing happens that shouldn't.
I like having the book because it combines two of my favorite things.
You'd think pizza and snickers bars would go pretty good together, too. But in the end....