Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Book reviews… Because you didn’t ask for them…

I read books. A LOT of books. And, I’m often forced to blindly select a book based on its flimsy premise or a stirring blurb by another writer I enjoy (“You’ll love this book… it has illustrations!” – Ghandi). Other times, I can read through some questionable reviews that are so extremely supportive or critical that finding out what’s actually in the book is impossible.

So, I make educated guesses and am often annoyed with the outcome. As such, I have taken this opportunity to review a couple books I recently finished, neither of which I would recommend. So, you can just look at the titles and note them as ‘sucking’ or read the rest of this post for what will surely be hilarious witticism.

Up first is A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Now, let’s start this with the caveat that I actually enjoy classic literature. If you are looking for a good read, grab Watership Down, Ivanhoe, or Animal Farm. All are excellent stories and have numerous educational subtexts. And, they don’t suck. A Tale of Two Cities suffers from Dickens writing salary. He was paid by the word. So, he rambles on for 200 pages before anything interesting happens. By then, you just want to get to the French Revolution so that you can imagine the sweet release of losing your own head in the guillotine to end your suffering.

The characters are uninteresting save Sidney Carton who – though often quoted by millions of literary experts – is so underdeveloped and wasted that you have to wonder if Dickens wrote the entire book and then read it himself and thought…. This is absolute shit! I have to put something in here worth remembering! The plot jumps around sporadically, and you find you’re months later in the chronology than where you were a paragraph earlier. This, coupled with Dickens overly ornate writing style, makes reading it the literary equivalent of being stuck in rush hour traffic.

This halting story is made more painful by the fact that the ending is clear 150 pages before you get there. The main plot theme that wraps it up at the end has been seen dozens of times, but one presumes that this may have been the first time it was used centuries ago. This is further confused by the fact that – when you finish – you feel like you’ve aged 20 years yourself.

Score: 1.5 frogs out of 5

Instead Read: Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. It’s a great book with many similar themes. But, the environment is a character in itself, and it is set in Russia instead of France. Since no one in America likes France, and we at least respect Russia, it works.

Next is A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins. I enjoy travel narratives since no one can conceivably see everything this world has to offer. But, I can’t recommend this book. The focus wanders from the adage of ‘finding oneself’ to ‘being a whiny bitch.’ It starts well with the author planning a walk across the US starting in New York. Through DC and Virginia, his recollections of his time with his only companion, a malamute named Cooper, are vividly detailed. And, the way he relates his time with an old crazy mountain man in Tennessee and living months with a black family while working a at sawmill are telling.

But, the way he tells Cooper’s story is weak, and somewhere in Alabama he presumably goes absolutely bat-shit insane and veers way off target. With about 15 pages left, he’s only made it to New Orleans, and you quickly come to the conclusion either he doesn’t make it to the Pacific or there is some epic To Be Continued at the end of it all. Well, this book was published in the early 80s, so there is no to be continued. (Note: The most interesting thing about this book is how no one could do this in this day and age. No one would put up a blurry-eyed stranger for the night or give this guy the time of day now.) But, he doesn’t make it to the Pacific either. Instead he spends 10 pages telling how he fell in love. Damn Hippies.

Score: 0.5 bong hits out of 5

Instead read: McCarthy’s Bar by Pete McCarthy. Covering a multiweek wander of Ireland, it’s a great study on the differences between Americans, Brits (the author) and the Irish (the locals). Based on the premise that you should never pass by a bar that has your name on it, the book reads like the diary of a guy that just likes wandering from historic spot to historic spot drinking beer. I can get behind that.

Plus, no effing hippies.

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