Friday, March 13, 2015

Second Verse, Same as the First

Sir Terry Pratchett died today. I’m too sad to write an intro. The man deserves a eulogy, not a blog post.

#24 – A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
Recommended by: LW

I read this book for the first time in my early 20s. When I was in my early 30s, I was able to attend a reading given by John Irving (with Stephen King and J.K Rowling) at Radio City Music Hall. When he read aloud in Owen Meany’s fractured, broken voice, I got the shivers. Now, in my early 40s, I have read this book again. While I still love it, and would recommend it, I find I have reservations. The first act and the sections detailing the Christmas Pageant are about as good as it gets in terms of writing. But the second act does not hold up as well for me. Also, while I blithely use the term “acts,” I’m really talking about a few hundred pages each. The deft hand of an editor is clearly missing and the older Owen gets the more remote and disagreeable he becomes. The third act feels rushed, with plot holes being filled in with quicksand rather than granite. I also don’t like that our narrator is nothing more than a prop. John Wheelright is always a bystander, he exists merely to facilitate, encourage, and provide for Owen. He is the most passive character in a book filled with passive characters. Everyone and everything in the book revolves around Owen and while all of the characters are well written, they aren’t given much to do. A Prayer for Owen Meany is complicated and my feelings about it are just as complicated. It is about the belief in God, in war, and in miracles. Various characters grapple with that in many different ways, and I’m not sure how I feel about all of it. Maybe when I read it again in 10 years, I’ll have a better understanding.

#25 – A Dirty Job – Christopher Moore
Recommended by: PGR

I’m on the record in regard to Christopher Moore novels. The more of them I read, the less of them I like. In theory, I should love him. He takes Shakespeare, adds humor, and puts a modern spin on them. In practice, though, I find him infantile and ridiculous. Fool had the bones of a really great retelling of King Lear, but it was overly sexual in a way that was just flat out unfunny. And I read 50 Shades, so I know all about unfunny sex. I had the same problem with The Serpent of Venice. It could have been so much better. This book, about those that help Death collect souls, was actually much better the second time around. I had lowered my expectations quite a bit, and as such, wasn’t disappointed. (How’s that for damning with faint praise!) I was able to read it for exactly what it is, a comic take on death with some laugh out loud funny bits and a rushed ending. This book was helped, quite a lot, by the inclusion of my absolute favorite character of all time – the Emperor of San Francisco. The real-life Emperor Norton spent years wandering the streets of San Francisco making proclamations and being insane, but he was well loved and well taken care of by the citizens of the city. I had forgotten a fictionalized version of the Emperor was in this book and my delight in finding him once earned this book a full letter grade more than it deserved.

#26 – Lamb – Christopher Moore
Recommended by: PGR

This book is exactly what I mean about Christopher Moore – there was so much potential, but so little good writing. A satiric look at the missing years in the life of Christ, as told by his friend Biff (which is the noise that is made when one is smacked in the head) could have, would have, should have been so many things – but wasn’t really anything. It was just dumb. The only and I mean the ONLY part I liked was the second to last line in the book where the middle name of Jesus H. Christ is finally revealed. 

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