Review: After the King

After the King edited by Martin H. Greenberg


No figure looms larger in fantasy than J. R. R. Tolkien. One hundred and twenty-one (or eleventy-eleven) years after his birth and fifty-nine years after the publication of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings still functions as the baseline for the entire genre of high fantasy. (There’s a very valid argument to be made that we need to move forward from that baseline, but that’s another post for another time.) But a lot of Tolkien-inspired fantasy only mimics the most obvious trappings of the good Professor’s legendarium. That’s not necessarily a judgment on the quality of those works—Blizzard Entertainment used those trappings as a stepping stone to create their own interesting, engaging world for the Warcraft franchise, and Eragon… well, Eragon exists. It can go either way. Continue reading

The Sunday Salon: The Totemic Book

I have been hitting thrift stores with a vengeance lately; I’m watching my money, it’s always an adventure, and you never know what you’ll find. For instance, one of my favorite t-shirts is a Duran Duran 2008 Red Carpet Massacre tour shirt, because every time I put it on to express some New Wave love, I wonder about who went to the concert, bought the shirt, and then donated it. Adorning the door to my room right now is a LP of She’s So Unusual, which I just had to buy because of both the cover art (I never realized Lauper was making such a serious face!) and because Sheba, the previous owner, has written her name on it. Every time I head out for the day, I wonder about how Sheba experienced the eighties and what lead her or her friends and family to donate the album. It’s questions like that that make me love used books and other books with stories.

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Review: The Long Earth

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Ah, Terry Pratchett. I was first introduced to Pratchett through Good Omens. I’ve read two Discworld novels—Moving Pictures and Monstrous Regiment— and The Wee Free Men as a kid, which I enjoyed, but I haven’t read anything else by him. After his recent diagnosis of early on-set Alzheimer’s, I thought that Pratchett’s prodigious output would be slowed, but I was surprised to find him collaborating with Stephen Baxter, an author I’ve never read, in the new novel The Long Earth, based on an old abandoned concept of Pratchett’s. Huh!

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Booking Through Thursday: Repeats

What’s the first book that you ever read more than once? (I’m assuming there’s at least one.)

What book have you read the most times? And–how many?

I don’t know which was first and I don’t recall how many times, but the two books I’ve reread the most are Good Omens and Wicked. Nowadays, I don’t reread; there’s just so many new and wonderful things that I have to keep moving, like a shark, so I keep rereading limited to audiobooks.

But in high school, I used to reread those books all the time. There was a time when I would reread Wicked every three months, like clockwork. I discovered it in debate, actually—a friend of mine was reading it, I read half of it in our local Books-a-Million, and then bought it, which makes it one of the few good things that came out of my debate experience.

Booking Through Thursday: Interactive?

With the advent (and growing popularity) of eBooks, I’m seeing more and more articles about how much “better” they can be, because they have the option to be interactive … videos, music, glossaries … all sorts of little extra goodies to help “enhance” your reading experience, rather like listening to the Director’s commentary on a DVD of your favorite movie.

How do you feel about that possibility? Does it excite you in a cutting-edge kind of way? Or does it chill you to the bone because that’s not what reading is ABOUT?

To be totally honest, I don’t think listening to a commentary track enhances a film. When you say enhance, I think about things like improving video quality and the like, which improves the overall experience of watching that story unfold—commentaries are a behind-the-scenes thing. You’d never watch a film for the first time with the director’s commentary track on!

In any case, I like extras. I really enjoy the bonus material in the 2006 edition of Good Omens, which consisted of a foreword, pieces written by each author on the other author, and discussion of the creation of the book. I love stuff like that, and as long as it doesn’t get into the main text (although I would certainly accept something equivalent to a Director’s Cut!), I’m completely fine with it.

In fact, Laura Miller recently wrote about this very subject for Salon, focusing on the use of digital books for poetry—towards the end, she imagines a version of “The Canterbury Tales” where the audio track is in Middle English but the text on the page is a modern English translation. I think that’s well worth exploring.

Reading by Ear: Good Omens

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
read by Martin Jarvis

Good Omens is one of the first adult novels I bought for myself as a wee lass that I discovered through a recommendation of sorts. It was a favorite book of Sandra Fuhr, a web comic artist whom I still follow. My mother required me to read Silas Marner before I could read the much-anticipated novel; accordingly, I remember nothing about Silas Marner to this day. Good Omens, on the other hand, has become one of my favorite books, lovingly read, reread, and purchased for friends’ birthdays. Casting around for something for Reading by Ear, I saw the audiobook for Good Omens at my library and knew it was time to revisit this old favorite.

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Giveaway: Monstrous Regiment

War has come to Discworld … again.

And, to no one’s great surprise, the conflict centers around the small, arrogantly fundamentalist duchy of Borogravia, which has long prided itself on its unrelenting aggressiveness. A year ago, Polly Perks’s brother marched off to battle, and Polly’s willing to resort to drastic measures to find him. So she cuts off her hair, dons masculine garb, and — aided by a well-placed pair of socks — sets out to join this man’s army. Since a nation in such dire need of cannon fodder can’t afford to be too picky, Polly is eagerly welcomed into the fighting fold—along with a vampire, a troll, an Igor, a religious fanatic, and two uncommonly close “friends.” It would appear that Polly “Ozzer” Perks isn’t the only grunt with a secret. But duty calls, the battlefield beckons. And now is the time for all good … er … “men” to come to the aid of their country.

via Amazon

Monstrous Regiment was the first Terry Pratchett book I wanted to read—I accidentally read Moving Pictures first, but I eventually got there. I’m giving away a slightly used copy of it to one reader.

Here are the rules:

  • Comment to enter–don’t forget to include an e-mail address I can reach you at!
  • US residents only, sorry!
  • Winners will need to respond within two days or another winner will be chosen.

This giveaway will end on March 25.

Good luck!

Booking Through Thursday: Encouragement

How can you encourage a non-reading child to read? What about a teen-ager? Would you require books to be read in the hopes that they would enjoy them once they got into them, or offer incentives, or just suggest interesting books? If you do offer incentives and suggestions and that doesn’t work, would you then require a certain amount of reading? At what point do you just accept that your child is a non-reader?

I don’t think there’s really such a thing as a non-reader. Whenever I encounter someone who doesn’t like to read, it’s because they have had classics shoved down their throat during school, or because these classics aren’t accessibly written (understandable, given their age). They have to disassociate reading from that, and learn that there are good, interesting, and amazing books out there.

Requiring them to read is a terrible, terrible idea–it just reminds them of school and whatever classic made them hate reading. My mother once required me to read Silas Marner before I could dig into Good Omens. To this day, I remember nothing about Silas Marner, but Good Omens is one of my favorite books. Suggestions and books as gifts are much, much better. A suggestion can lead to a conversation to help the child find a book they’ll like, and everybody likes gifts. If a child hates reading, requiring it will only make them hate it more.

I do have to say, I don’t have much experience with non-readers. Even friends who aren’t as voracious as I am have their favorite books, and I’ve always found myself in spaces dominated by women who read. My mother and I even have books in mind for my brother’s future children. There is little to no chance that a child in my family will hate reading.

Booking Through Thursday: Posterity

Do you think any current author is of the same caliber as Dickens, Austen, Bronte, or any of the classic authors? If so, who, and why do you think so? If not, why not? What books from this era might be read 100 years from now?

I think posterity will be quite different in a century from now. With the ease and accessibility of books and, yes, even eBooks, nearly everything published is going to survive the years. Fan culture, instead of English teachers and literary critics, will dictate what texts survive the most visibly. A book is no longer a last manuscript languishing in an antique shop–it’s widespread and, importantly, can be digitized. If the data is destroyed, the copies of the book remain, and vice versa. I’m sure there are plenty published contemporaries of Austen and Dickens who have faded into oblivion. I don’t think that’s going to happen for books published now and in the future.

I’m not quite sure if I can make an assessment concerning what will survive the best, but I’ll give it a shot.

I hope Neil Gaiman’s works will be well read, especially American Gods, Anansi Boys, and Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett. Since The Wizard of Oz is still such a cultural touchstone (China Glaze, a nail polish company, just rereleased a nail polish collection based on it), I think that Gregory Maguire’s Wicked will survive along with it, especially if the musical remains popular. As I’ve said, fan culture will dictate what lives the most visibly, and in that case, Harry Potter will be read often. As well it should–every kid needs a good, long fantasy series.