Tuesday, November 27, 2007

On the Nightstand

(Spoilers may lie ahead)

Into the Wild - Jon Krakauer
I actually have a prologue still to go, but for the purposes of this post it's done. While I liked the book, and while reading it has me interested in the Sean Penn movie, it very much felt like what it was - a very good magazine article (not that I read Krakauer's original Outside article) injected with filler to expand it to book length. The accounts of Krakauer's background, his trips into the wild, and especially his fatal trip to Alaska were engrossing and moving; but the extended look at "other people who died in the wilderness" and at Krakauer's own close call with death in Alaska at a young age felt like the filler they were.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - Barbara Kingsolver
I liked this book - an accounting of Kingsolver's family's year spent living on nothing but food grown locally (as "locavores") - less than I expected to, while still liking it fine. In retrospect though, the book's dynamics were kind of predictable. The personal stories and details were highly entertaining and illuminating, while much of the hectoring about the evils of eating oranges out of season felt like, well, hectoring. Kingsolver made her points well, but in the end those pieces just felt too much like schoolmarmish lectures and were not as integrated into the story of that year as well as I might have hoped. Plus, the interspersed dry essays from her husband on various corporate evils and recipe-laden chapter-ending contributions from her college-aged daughter were intrusive and poorly written, respectively, thus adding to the feel of the book's primary narrative - the story of that year - being undercut again and again.

Runaways - Brian K. Vaughn
Been reading this in trades, and it's one of the most enjoyable Marvel super hero stories I've read in a while. Vaughn's respectful, fun, and clever use of continuity is a blast, and the storylines he spins come across as eminently logical outcomes of Marvel Universe life. That a support group for faded teen superheroes, secretly funded by Rick Jones, would exist in the Marvel Universe is just . . . perfect. Plus, he manages one of the most emotionally affecting deaths in a comic I've ever read (in large part because for once I'm not convinced the character will return at some point).

Blaze - Stephen King
This trunk novel is actually one of King's best in a while. A clean, straightforward, lean tale of a tragedy bound young criminal nicknamed Blaze, the story has King hitting beats he hasn't in a long while. The Of Mice and Men parallels are obvious but hardly disguised, and, more importantly, they worked. The end of this one had me more affected than many a King novel's.

Lisey's Story - Stephen King
King writes a novel from the point of view of a woman for the first time in a while (since Rose Madder I guess), and it's a damn good one. In the end it leans a little too heavily on the whole Talisman/Dark Tower universe's notion of parallel worlds that exist alongside our own, but much of it, especially the opening material about a widow coming to terms with the death of her husband, is deeply moving. As the old Blaze showed, it's really time for King to write a non-supernatural novel again. He handles the real-world stuff so well, you wonder sometimes why he's so quick to jump to the supernatural.

On Chesil Beach - Ian McEwan
A lean and economical novella about a frigid young bride and her patient but excited husband on their honeymoon night that spins almost entirely out of that one horrible night. McEwan makes you care for his characters despite their problems, and forces the reader to take an uncomfortable look at his or her own notions of how sex and marriage are intertwined.

Until Whenever

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