6th 5 o'2008


030) Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett, finished April 13
    I love Terry Pratchett and the eighteen months or so I've gone without reading a Terry Pratchett novel is probably the longest Pratchett drought I've had since reading my first book of his the summer of 2002. The impetus to read this one was twofold: Lady Steed was removing most of the Pratchett books from the front room and this one's title was an obvious reference to Macbeth which I was about to start reading (see below). (Also, it's one of only three that we own that I hadn't yet read.)

    In fact, the two books even share the same opening line of dialogue. Using Google Books, I've copied these first lines from each book (though not from the editions I read) for your comparative pleasure (haha):

    Wyrd Sisters

    Not quite the same.

    If you don't know Pratchett, you don't know the whirlwind it is to read him. He's not just a master joke teller, but he's one of the plain best writers I know. Wyrd Sisters is one of the earlier Discworld novels and the only two earlier ones I've read I consider among his weakest works. By Wyrd however, he's fully arrived. This book gives him the opportunity to spit out references to everything from Charlie Chaplin to Samuel Beckett and nothing is safe.

    (The Oxford Times calls him "Simply the best humorous writer of the twentieth century" which is certainly arguable -- the main competition being Douglas Adams and P.G. Wodehouse.)

    The book seems to be based on Macbeth and the play-within-a-play tries to be based on Macbeth, but in the end, I think both are closer to Hamlet.

    Anyway, you should read a Discworld novel. Depending on the person, my recommendation for first read is usually either Thief of Time, The Truth or Monstrous Regiment, but I don't think you'ld go wrong with Wyrd Sisters. Ours is about to go in a box, but if you want to take it around the block, we'll pull it back out for you.

    a week

029) Animal Farm by George Orwell, finished April 8
    I know. Again. And I don't even really like this book -- I certainly don't like reading it. By the end of the month I will have read it three more times. But I'm not going to count those. Twice in four months is plenty counting enough.

    about ten days

028) Macbeth by William Shakespeare, finished April 7
    I don't know the last time I read Shakespeare just because I wanted to read Shakespeare and for no other reason--possibly even ten years. I find this remarkable. Certainly not what me at 18 would have expected. Poor me at 18--always getting disappointed by me at later ages.

    Anyway, I don't think I've read Macbeth since high school. I read way more Shakespeare in college than the average high school student--likely even more than the average English major--yet somehow I haven't touched Macbeth in like...14 years? A long time anyway.

    And I totally fell for Malcolm's I-am-a-bad-guy speech. I didn't even get what it was about--I had to consult the notes then go back and reread it. (At which point it was obvious and I felt stupid. This feeling must be why I haven't read for fun any tragedies I'm not already familiar with. Titus Andronicus for example. Or Coriolanus.)

    Anyway, I don't like Macbeth all that much. I just don't think it has as much to say as, say, Hamlet. Or Romeo and Juliet. It's sort of a one-note opera.

    (Although I still think the current Broadway version with Patrick Stewart would be an awesome way to spend an evening.

    Now: not being Hamlet does not make a thing bad.

    Else all the world would be bad.

    let's say ten hours

027) On the Road to Heaven by Coke Newell, finished April 4
    I need to preface remarks by saying I liked this book very much and I recommend it to anyone. I need to say that because it might seem like many of my comments are denigratory, but remember: I liked this book. I laughed. I cried. The former literally. The latter darn near. A few more tear molecules and I would have spilled over.

    My biggest problem with the book is a problem I got over (eventually) (mostly) and that is it's style. The book is widely rumored to read like Kerouac, but, never having read Kerouac, I can't say. There's not doubt the book was highly influenced by the man -- the title even plays on one of his titles -- and is a phrase lifted straight from another Jack book. Plus: lots of Kerouac epigrams. So the Kerouac thing I'm guessing is a yes.

    And it's not very . . . literary. I finally figured out what it was when I hit the final page: the style is conversational. Only, not conversational in the sense Coke and I are chatting. No, it's more like he's a master storyteller and we're in matching recliners and he's spinning his old-man yarns of long ago. And you want him to go on and on and never stop until he says "But that's another story altogether" and you have to admit he's right and then you stand and stretch and clap him on the back and thank him for having you over and assure him you can see yourself out, no problem, thanks again.

    And that's okay.

    Anyway, if you haven't been paying attention or have had your attention riveted to things like the Democratic Primaries or the Wall Street Journal, you probably don't know, but On the Road to Heaven swept the Mormon awards this year, novel of the year from both the AML and the Whitneys (here's a nice breakdown on the difference and whether on not this fact even matters). I don't know if it deserved it as I haven't read much of the competition, but I would like to make a plea to Mormon bookstores to carry this book. Yes, it has breasts and pot and stuff, but anyone who thinks this book is not beautiful and holy and totally 13th is out of their mind. Or, more likely, can't read.

    So, would you like a plot summary? Here you go.

    This book, which, although masquerading as fiction is almost 100% Coke's real story, takes our young Colorado hippie from long hair and pot and mountaintop vigils and Kerouac and Black Elk and Thoreau and even Ram Dass to the Book of Mormon of all things and, woh, a mission to Columbia complete with tapeworms and earthquakes.

    See? Plot summaries are lame.

    But the book's not.

    about a week and a half

026) The Great American Citizenship Quiz: Can You Pass Your Own Country's Citizenship Test? by Solomon M. Skolnick, finished March 23
    This book uses questions off the test given to those becoming naturalized citizens of the United States as a launch into bite-sized portions of history and political theory. A fun book with occasional unknown nuggets. I for instance did not know the British occupied New York City for two years after the surrender at Yorktown. How did that work? I don't know.

    I also found a typo on page 98. Do I get a prize?

    (Also worth noting, even though I only skimmed the appendices: The Constitution is such a beautiful document in its brevity and perfection. Really gets me right here, like a four-inch needle of patriotism straight to the heart.)

    an hour and a half maybe



  1. Terry Pratchett has got to be one of my favorite authors ever. My favorite books to start with, though, would be Guards, Guards for the Night Watch books; Wee Free Men for YA books (or even just plain hilarious reading); Witches Abroad or Lords and Ladies for the Witches; and Mort for the Death series.

  2. .

    I really don't think of them as separate series although I guess they really are -- and it's true sometimes I will just want to read about, say, the Watch.

    I'm glad to have read a good witches book -- I held off on Wyrd Sisters because of the two books I wasn't crazy about, one was Equal Rites which was their first.

  3. I fully and openly admit a raving addiction to Pratchett.

    I think the books that both of you suggest starting with are good. The only other book I'd throw in (not Discworld) is Good Omens.

  4. I, too, must admit that I love Pratchett. That man: sheer genius. I can't tell you the number of times people have given me odd looks while I'm riding public transportation and snickering more than a little because I'm reading one of his books.

    And I'd have to second the recommendation of Good Omens.

  5. .

    I read Good Omens and was totally mystified by its mix of Gaiman subject and Pratchett style. Having since read G's Neverwhere, I've learned that, in fact, Gaiman is very Pratchetty when he wants to be. And, of course, there really isn't such a thing as nonPratchetty subject.

    It wasn't one of my personal favorites, but most people count it as one of theres, so I might go ahead and recommend it anyway.

  6. So, I don't suppose this was the post whose place was being held...?

  7. Oh. And, yeah: Terry Pratchett's pretty cool.

  8. .

    Who are you and what did you do with the real Schmetterling?

  9. What, not enthusiastic enough for you?



    Better? I hope so 'cuz now I feel like a hypocrite for only ever having read two of his books. It's a pity and a sin--one I've oft thought of repenting for--but as I have not, I feel somewhat unworthy to purport myself as any sort of actual fan. You understand.

  10. .

    But it's speculative fiction!!! You must explain yourself.

  11. Oh. Yeah. That's right....

    What I meant to say was



    Actually, I do like the two Discworld books I've read, but that's because they are very different from most speculative fiction. I think my problem with speculative fiction (or, at least, one of my problems with it; every time this topic comes up, I seem to invent a different excuse for not liking it) is that it takes itself so seriously. I mean, sure, fiction in general HAS to take itself seriously if it wants to be taken seriously, but the difference is that, whereas non-speculative stories work within the feasible realms of known reality to produce something believable, speculative fiction goes off into worlds and realms unknown and unknowable and then tries to present itself as something worthy of being respectable on the basis that it is totally unencumbered by anything even remotely relevant to reality, thus unwittingly obliterating the possibility that clearly-thinking persons will be able to willingly suspend their disbelief long enough to catch whatever trumped up, moralistic message the story is trying to convey.

    [Bitter enough for you? I exploded my feelings way out of proportion for the sake of sensationalism, which may make me a hypocrite, I don't know.]

    But Discworld does not take itself seriously. Discworld says, "Hey, I realize that I'm ridiculous, so why not enjoy me?" But rather than producing simple nonsense, Pratchett crafts tales that are genuinely entertaining--but little more than that. Perhaps that's why I haven't gone out of my way to read any more of the Discworld books: life's too short to dabble with intellectual popcorn while a veritable feast of more worthy goods is as easily enjoyed.

    Terry Pratchett is very good at what he does and is certainly deserving of my appellation "pretty cool." I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call him "sheer genius" like Confuzzled, but I am willing to concede that he is a comedic mastermind, so I certainly don't begrudge anyone's desire to lavish him with praise he may not fully deserve.

  12. Did you ever notice that popcorn is rather filling?

    Seriously, though, I stand by what I just said. Pratchett can't just be classified as humor or fantasy. He's written satirical commentary on everything under the sun, which makes him hilarious to both the average person and to the well-informed mind.

    And everything I love about Good Omens, I can probably attribute to Pratchett. (I can't help it; I find the idea that every tape turns into the Best of Queen after two weeks funny)

  13. Leaving metaphors behind, I own my own popcorn popper, and I eat the stuff fairly regularly, occasionally going through phases where I make at least one batch a day. I love popcorn, and I would be very sad if some snobbish nutritionist razzed me about it.

    Back to the metaphor: I think it's fine for people to like popcorn; there are certainly worse things to love.

    Final note: satirical commentary is a hard thing to do well, but if anyone can do it, I'm sure Pratchett's the man for the job. He is good at what he does; mostly my above comment is a rant for the sake of ranting.

  14. Oh. And to the folks at The Oxford Times I say, Terry Pratchett so thoroughly blows Douglas Adams out of the proverbial water that comparing the two is roughly like comparing--uh--I dunno--off-brand microwave popcorn to Orville Redenbacher popped in a popper, seeing's we've got this popcorn motif goin' on.

  15. .

    I was the one who brought Douglas Adams into the mix.

    And do you really think that "speculative fiction goes off into worlds and realms unknown and unknowable and then tries to present itself as something worthy of being respectable on the basis that it is totally unencumbered by anything even remotely relevant to reality"? Now, I stopped reading speculative fiction in the amounts I did in high school because I was disappointed in almost all I read. But, say, "Speaker for the Dead" doesn't ask for respect on the basis of having pigs that mate with trees, it demands respect on the basis of being one of the finest moral romances ever written.

    On a similar note, although, alas, most humorous fiction probably does only offer its jokes up for respect, we can't dismiss humor as a viable medium for greatness. What about Jonathan Swift? Alexander Pope? William Shakespeare? John Donne? James Thurber? Dorothy Parker? P.G. Wodehouse? Some of our greatest artistic triumphs have been really really funny.

  16. Loving the Pratchman. I particularly loved Mort and Lords & Ladies, both new takes on old subjects. He's terribly entertaining live, too. I was sad to hear the news that he's dealing with early Altzeimer's. He's a class act.

    Seeing his mate Gaiman in two weeks, yah!

  17. .

    Gaiman's a great reader. I'm horrified to learn Pratchett will be dealing with Alzheimer's. It's horrible to hear that about anyone, of course, but somehow it's worse when it's a brain I've spent such enjoyable hours with.