Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The bridge of San Luis Rey

Thornton Wilder was both a playwright and a novelist.  The Bridge of San Luis Rey is a slim little novel with a pretty fascinating premise.  A bridge suddenly collapses, killing five people.  Why those five?  Why not a different set of people?

Great question.  I can think of a million different ways to take that story.  Wilder did none of them.  Instead he wrote chapters that talked about the lives of three of the individuals.  These three chapters were framed with chapters about a man who hypothesized that those five were taken because they had lived a complete life.

Here's the problem.  Wilder wrote chapters about three of the individuals.  The other two people killed were tag-alongs to these three.  And the three chapters didn't succeed in giving me a sense of whether their lives were complete or not.  The chapters read to me like character sketches for the story Wilder didn't write.  Maybe he intended for us to write the story ourselves, draw our conclusions about the characters.  But then why the bookend chapters?

This novel really left me scratching my head.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The sisterhood of the traveling pants

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares is a young adult novel that lives up to the hype that surrounds it.  It is the story of four girls who have been thrust together since birth and who believe that their strength comes from each other.  They are both right and wrong in that belief.

The summer of the novel they are separated.  Forced to develop relationships with people outside of their sisterhood.  They come to realize that the sisterhood just enhances what each of them holds inside.

The magical pants are secondary.

I am most fascinated by the four characters drawn by Brashares.  She started with nuggets of what could be considered stereotypes.  But she wrote them so deeply that they become real.  These four characters breathe.

Really a magical book.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The science of Sherlock Holmes

The Science of Sherlock Holmes by E. J. Wagner was not quite what I expected.  I expected the book to be tightly focused on the Sherlock Holmes stories and simply explain the forensics behind solving the crimes.  What this book is is much more.

This book really is a history of the early days of criminal investigation, using Sherlock Holmes as a springboard and touchstone.  Cases such as Lizzie Borden and Jack the Ripper are tied to the stories and the methods used to solve (or not solve) the cases.

Overall, a really interesting look back into history and how horribly naive and delusional we were.  What it really did is make me want to read some of the Sherlock Holmes stories.  Somehow, I never have.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The keep

Imagine that you are a Jew, affected by scleroderma, confined to a wheelchair, hoping that today won't be the day you die.  You are taken from your home to The Keep (F Paul Wilson) which is currently occupied by Nazi militia.  They are having a problem with something that goes bump in the night (and kills their soldiers) and want you to make it go away.  You discover that the culprit is a vampire. 

Which is worse: Nazis or a vampire?

What if you can manipulate the vampire to take out this Nazi group and then go after Hitler? 

What if the vampire also has the power to heal you, make you whole again?

Which devil do you make a deal with?

Thursday, June 16, 2011


You drove a stake through the vampire's heart and it died.  Again.  Unfortunately, the body did not turn to dust.  So much for easy clean-up.  Now you have a body that you need to dispose of.  That is the premise of Richard Laymon's novel Bite.

Like any body disposal, things do not go smoothly.  A blown out tire leads to a man named Snow White.  Snow White becomes a serious hitch in the body disposal process.  He also brings in two new "hostages" who turn out to be a different form of vampire.

At it's heart, this novel is about belief.  Do you believe that vampires exist?  Do you believe in the person sitting next to you?  Do you believe in yourself?  All in all, a fun ride through Vampireland.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Night shift

Yes, Stephen King writes very long novels.  But he is also a master of the short story.  Night Shift is the first collection of shorts published by King.  Most of these stories were written before I was born.  They still work.

This collection contains the short story that has kept me up more nights than any other story I've read.  I first read The Boogeyman when my oldest kiddo was still in the toddler/ poor communicator stage of life.  Perhaps that's why the story haunted me.  At that point in my life, it read like a series of events that could actually happen.  I almost skipped over the story when I reread the collection this time, out of fear that it would haunt me again.  I wish I had skipped it.  Not because it gave me nightmares, but because the story was not the same as I remembered it.  I found it much less scary and resonant this time through.  Because my kids are well past that stage of life?  Whatever the reason, I now miss the hold that story had over me. 

These stories are some of the earliest King wrote.  Reading the collection, it is obvious that many of the stories clung to King, bouncing around in his brain for years afterward.  Many of these short stories grew up to become full length novels.  Most interesting is the short Jerusalem's Lot which by the title you would assume was the baby version of the novel 'Salem's Lot.  Really the short story One for the Road contains the kernel that eventually became the novel.  Also in this collection is the precursor for The Stand.  And the stories that became the movies Lawnmower Man and Maximum Overdrive.  Overall, a pretty good collection of bits for a "fledgling" writer!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Weetzie bat

I was attempting to read most of what Francesca Lia Block wrote.  I am stopping with Weetzie Bat.

My purpose in reading Block was to get an idea of what made a successful YA writer.  I think I get what makes her writing popular with certain readers.  I definitely get that it would never work for me.

Block's style and themes are far from anything that I would write.  Her works have a large fantasy (think fairies) element.  Her characters are of indeterminate age, though if I were forced to, I'd put them in their late teens.  Adults in her stories are borderline evil.  At best, they are absent and neglectful.

I know there are many who love Block's stories, but they are not what I want to read.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tough customer

Tough Customer is one of Sandra Brown's recent novels.  It's a suspense novel (although this time I clearly saw the ending coming) with a hefty dose of romance thrown in.

While I was slightly disappointed in the plot, Brown did something really interesting with the romance subplot.  Brown took the standard romance sequence of events and split them over two couples.  It was interesting seeing different aspects of the love story play out in two different story lines.  I was also fascinated by her ability to get two characters to believably fall in love while never being alone together.  Constantly in the presence of, and watched by, others, their story is still believable.

The flaw for me in this novel is the bad guy.  His character seemed very flat.  Instead of showing us his motivations, Brown told us about them.  He then commits what should be a deeply personal crime through a puppet.  It just didn't ring true for me.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

All the king's men

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren is a political novel (though it's more about human relationships) set in the early 1900s.  It tells the story of one man's rise to political success and his ultimate demise.  But at it's heart, it's not about the politician at all.

This story is told through the eyes of an assistant to the eventual governor.  His perspective on the events is the real story.  A self-proclaimed student of history, we watch him lose sight of his own story as he participates in the story of the governor.  As things tend to do, story lines collide, and the narrator is forced to come to terms with his own history. 

On a political note, many would read this and watch the governor manipulate and blackmail his way to power and declare that this could never happen today.  I disagree.  Today he would make it all the way to the white house.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What we believe but cannot prove

John Brockman (virtually) gathered a group of "great thinkers" and asked them a simple question: What do you believe that you cannot prove to be true?  The results are compiled in the book What We Believe But Cannot Prove

It's a great question, even if it is scientifically wrong.  Science believes we can't prove anything, we can only disprove hypotheses.  The more times we fail to prove a hypothesis wrong, the more likely it is that we have stumbled upon the "truth."  Of course, we reserve the right to prove ourselves wrong at a later date.

Given that most of the responders were scientists there were a fair number of there is no God/ no meaning to life type answers.  Showing the inherent bias of the group sampled, only one brave soul stated a belief in God.  Most of the responses, however, grouped around the existence of life other than on Earth (both for and against) and a wide variety of physics topics that frankly, I barely skimmed through.

My favorite entry was written by Kai Krause.  He doesn't believe in Zen, living in the moment.  He instead believes that the best moments in life are those spent remembering "back then" and anticipating what's coming next.  He makes a really good point.  Yeah, it's good to be present in the moment, but isn't the anticipation of the first kiss always better than the kiss itself?