Books read while travelling


Three weeks on the road. Five books finished. Many books started but unfinished for various reasons (nephew returned it to the library, competition with kids, Pratchett audiobook proved to have more familywide appeal*, just never finished it alas). But it was a week of great variety and this is how it went:


080) The Novel by James C. Michener, finished July 12

Having grown fatigued of The Man, I replaced it with my first time reading a Michener novel. Luckily, I generally ignore blurbs until after reading a book because the ones on this were darn misleading. All the calls for adventure and thrills were . . . not exactly so. Perhaps out of context? I don't know.

I'm not sure what is the novel referred to in the title. At first I thought it was Lukas Yoder's eight novel as that is what the first section of the book---written in Yoder's voice---is about. But it doesn't even get mentioned in the second section starring his longtime editor. Maybe THE NOVEL is about the concept of the novel?
Some kind of platonic ideal? I'm not sure.

So the novel is broken into four sections. Writer, Editor, Critic, Reader. Each is narrated by such a person. Each narrator has his or her own motivations and concerns.
It does come together as a single, cohesive work with plot and everything! in the final section, but those aspects are also some of the most clunky in terms of the actual writing.

I found it most fruitful to read The Novel as an intellectual memoir in metaphorical form. Yoder, in this reading, is both an idealized version of Michener and a confession of what many of his contemporaries dismissed about him. It's hard to read this book and not think about the $30 million dollars he put up to endow the creative writing program in Austin. The book both defends the stodgy old and celebrates the daring new. It's various sections allow Michener to write both to a popular audience and to an audience of elites (though I don't know if the latter accepted his feelers).

It seems to me that UT MFA candidates should read this book. It's not great---it's not pushing me in the direction of more Michener novels (which, after all, on average are much longer than this one)---but it does intrigue. It certainly has made me question decisions I have made in my own writing over my unsuccessful years....
about than four months


079) Dodger by Terry Pratchett, finished July 11

Like Nation, this is a standalone novel for younger readers.
Like Nation, it takes place between a hundred and two ago. Like Nation, it features brilliantly conceived young protagonists. Like Nation, it's absolutely terrific.

Here's the gist: Dodger, a seventeen-year-old tosher (one who makes his living searching the sewers of London for lost valuables) saves a girl from being murdered which sets off a sequence of events that catapults him through all layers of society.

It's Pratchett-smart stuff and, listening to it, I kept thinking how tailer-made it is for BBC adaptation. It takes place in Victorian England. It features a wide variety of fascinating sets from the grimiest to the most glamorous (and all the people to match). It has fish-out-of-water. It has the opportunity for Sherlock-like "thinking." It even has some upstairs/downstairs stuff! And if all that wasn't enough, it also features all sorts of cameos historical (Charles Dickens,
Queen Victoria) and fictional (Sweeney Todd).

Were it up to me, I would ask Edgar Wright to take on this task, though I imagine more people would think first of Guy Ritchie. But it doesn't have to be someone with a movie background, of course.
It just can't be the people who've been making the BBC's Discworld nonsense.
about ten days


078) Big Nate: Great Minds Think Alike by Lincoln Peirce, finished July 10

If it wasn't for Big Nate and the Wimpy Kid, would boys read? I honestly do not know.

I feel obliged to read some Wimpy Kid, but haven't been able to talk myself into more than a few pages. Big Nate (the strip, not the Wimpy Kid-style books) is an easier sale. It's a smart strip, consistently funny. In that respect, it can stand proudly alongside the greats like Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes. However,
Big Nate doesn't have much to say beyond that. In other words, it has daily quality, but it does not have the broad years-wide quality of the greats.

This is not a knock. It's a good strip and good on Peirce for making money.

Fine book. I'm surprised I got through it though considering how many boys my reading was in competition with....
two days


077) Living Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson, finished July 7

This is a wonderful book. Like most people, I know Jackson best through "The Lottery" and one or two of her novels, but I also know the Charlie essay and so I got this collection for Lady Steed this Christmas, with the plan I would read it after her.

Lady Steed loved it. At first. And it never stopped being funny, but the way Jackson captures the oppression of being a mother was stressful for her to read.

From a professional standpoint, two things to observe. One, how she takes disparate essays published separately and turns them into one whole. Two, how well she uses adverbs in tags, something every writing teacher will tell you can't be done. But instead of being redundant or insulting the reader's intelligence or becoming swifties, Jackson's sly and ironic usage is like a secondary punchline---almost a parallel storytelling. It's quite something. She is a master humorist. Even if that's not how we remember her best.
not sure, but not that many days of actual reading time, most of them centered in the last couple weeks


076) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, finished June 30?

Of the books I downloaded for our trip, this is the one the kids chose to listen to first.

It's been a looong time since I've visited Narnia, so although the plot of the book was familiar to me, but of the rest was newly seen through an adult's eyes. For instance: the symbolism is actually quite heavyhanded. And the narrative voice has the sort of charm I know best, these days, as parodied by Lemony Snicket---but without the moralistic excesses Snicket is inoculating us against.

In the end, I enjoyed it. I expect I would still now, as then, prefer the standalone books (The Horse and His Boy and The Silver Chair), but I don't deny its classic status.
three or four days ish

Previously in 2017