Posts Tagged ‘black death’

I have a policy.

July 8, 2010 - 11:30 am No Comments

If I’m reading a book, which are at about a standard of 300 pages, give or take, and I find myself about one-third of the way through with no real emotion or curiosity for the rest, I put it down.  I let it go.  It may sound fickle, but there are So Many Books and So Little Time.  Obviously, I’ll give consideration if a book is 700 pages long, and if it’s less than 200 I’ll probably finish it at any rate, having only lost between 1-3 hours on it.

I am (was) reading two books, and feel nothing for them.

The first one is, as I mentioned in a previous blog post, The Black Death by John Hatcher.  As I mentioned before, it’s very dry, and distant, with very little character development.  Now, it’s a history, mostly, and I really like reading flat-out history texts, so I didn’t think that would bother me terribly.

But here’s the thing. The full title of the novel is The Black Death: A Personal History. There’s a five(ish) page preface which is pretty much just Hatcher ranting about how this isn’t just a flat-out history text, and that he wanted to get a story involved.  That there had been enough histories written.

Mr. John Hatcher, you have failed.  I’m sorry.  I’m over 100 pages in, and the facts are great, and the details of how this one tiny English village related to the rest of the world is just splendid, but everyone knows all of that already.  I am over 100 pages in and I. do. not. care. who. lives. or. dies.  And when there are actual, real characters involved, you sort of have to care.

In sum, it’s not a novel.  It’s a strong history, a weak story, and I couldn’t tell you the first thing about any of the characters involved.  So I quit.

The second book on my I Don’t Give a Damn list is An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England by Brock Clarke.

I wanted to like this.  I wanted to like this soooo bad.  The title is clever, and it is not a metaphor.  The author’s name is Brock Clarke.  Brock fucking Clarke.  That’s up there with Chuck Norris.  The narrative is clever, it’s witty, it’s a really great picture of a washed-up guy who made some mistakes and is turning his life around, it’s a really fresh look at the idiosyncrasies of suburbian life.

But I’ve read this book before.  It was called A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore, except Arsonist’s Guide lacks all of the fantasy, and… well, okay, the death thing.  But mostly the fantasy.  And the readability.

It tries way too hard.  It feels like it’s going for the joke.  There is so much crammed into one long, whining paragraph that it’s more funny if you skip half of it.  It wants to feel incidental and hap-hazard and it kind of does but not in the good way.  It just feels sad, and you’re constantly embarrassed for this guy, not in a “NO DON’T GO IN THERE” way or a “YOU DIDN’T JUST SAY THAT” way, but a “OH FOR FUCK’S SAKE YES I’VE HEARD THIS BEFORE NO I PROMISE I GET IT PLEASE STOP” way.

It’s on the nose, and the whole point was to be tongue-in-cheek, which is a completely different part of the human face.

So I quit.

Next time! Brisingr by Christopher Paolini!  Would have done it this  time!  But it really didn’t fit the theme of the post!  Because I like it!

People of the Book and The Black Death

July 4, 2010 - 12:48 am No Comments

As promised, I did finally finish Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book, and let me tell you, it’s just as amazing as my previous post, written at about the 2/3 read mark, would lead you to believe.  In an effort not to repeat myself, I’m actually going to skip reiterating the plot points and make mention of a few other things that really stood out to me.

First of all, this book is absolutely brimming with strong female characters.  For all of the pain and torment most of them have suffered, the female protagonists seem to be the strongest, most noble characters one could hope to come across in such a text.  They are not perfect by any means, and often they allow themselves to be weak, but that’s what makes them strong, in the end.

Second of all, the book is inspiring.  The sheer coming together of religions for a common cause, even though (or perhaps more because) it was completely a non-issue to those involved in the rescue of the book, the displays honesty, of respect, and of understanding are really an inspiration.  Even if all of the characters are fictional, the journey the book took, the number of times it had to be saved, is fact.  It really happened.  So whether or not the events went down exactly as Ms. Brooks speculated or not is only half of the story.

Third, it’s simply amazingly well-written. It switches easily, un-jarringly between main character Hanna Heath’s first-person slang-laden Australian internal dialogue to other POVs, sometimes third person, sometimes first.  It doesn’t interrupt the story at all, and actually serves to enhance it.  Point of view is something I’m really sensitive toward in books, so the fact that this didn’t throw me off or even bother me at all is a tribute to its fluidity.  In addition, Hanna’s internal narrative, when situations allow it to be, is absolutely hilarious, drawing away (but not discounting) some of the darkness from more heavy sections before and after her internal monologue.

I have to be honest: I picked up this book because the cover had glitter on it (oh don’t even pretend you’ve never done the same thing) and it ended up being one of my favorite books of 2010 so far.

The book I’m working on right now is John Hatcher’s The Black Death (you know, for lighter, summer reading material).

I’m about a 1/3 of the way in and I want to avoid saying anything which might change in the remaining two-hundred pages (but come on, it’s the goddamn plague; we know how it’s gonna end) but what I have to say is this: this book is so. incredibly. dry.  It’s an historical narrative, but it is very historical and very little narrative.  There is a non-fiction, italicized insert at the beginning of every chapter, and to be honest, with the way the actually prose is written, it feels kind of redundant.  It’s good for explanation, but I feel like if the narrative is this flat, the disclaimers could have some how been worked into the body of the story itself.

That being said, it’s not a bad writing style, it just feels like its doing itself a disservice by having blatantly un-story segments followed by the story, which is written in almost the same voice.  The content is heady and dark enough, pressing enough, to carry the story by itself, but I almost feel like it shouldn’t have to.

Finally, a note on the blog: I failed to mention this in the previous post, but I’ve instituted the use of categories; they can now be found in the sidebar.  So if you’re looking for something specific, you won’t have to fumble through all of my posts about food to get to a particular book review.

Stay tuned: next time I’ll be talking about An Arsonists’ Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England and, if I can just man-up and finish it, the third and final installment in Christopher Paolini’s Inheretance Trilogy, Brisingr.

Hope my Canadian friends had a great Canada Day, and I hope my American friends find an excuse to blow something up later today (they always do…).