Every book I read over break, though unique in content, is adequately summed up with a cliché, so here goes:
Watchmen: The medium is the message.
This is (I’ll admit it) the first graphic novel I’ve read. I’m fully convinced now that the medium of presentation is hugely important to the content communicated. (Not that I wasn’t before, theoretically, but now I see it practically).
The story Watchmen tells wouldn’t work as a text novel. It would be impossible. The saturation of images, the choppy text — almost entirely dialogue — and juxtaposition of two story threads with snippets of newspaper articles from this alternate reality would be difficult to achieve without the visual clues.
Interspersed quotes like Juvenal’s “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” (Who watches the watchmen?) complete the alternate world.
There are authors who accomplish this with text — Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman come to mind — but the visuals add a heightened level of intensity. An interesting read just for the questions it raises about media and communication.
The Glass Castle: Truth is stranger than fiction.
This is an incredible memoir by Jeanette Walls, a woman who grew up with an alcoholic father and a (not quite literally) crazy mother.
She traveled across the country with her parents and siblings, and this book recounts her adventures — fun and tragic — while trying to survive in a household way below poverty line, and potentially escape from the cycle herself. Another quick read; this took me maybe four hours.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The book is nothing like the movie.
Seriously. The book/movie relationship reminds me of Children of Men — both the book and the movie are thought provoking and well-done, but beyond the fact that the main character has the same name in both media, the stories are almost entirely different.
At least the producers of Blade Runner changed the name and admitted it was “inspired by” the book. If you’ve seen the movie, the fact that Rick Deckard is married in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep should be enough to convince you of the differences.
The book is an entertaining and quick read (it took me about three hours, the last leg of a bus ride from Orlando to Wheaton).
It’s full of philosophical thoughts like this:
The old man said, ‘you will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life.
You have to be with other people … in order to live at all. … You can’t go back, he thought. You can’t go from people to nonpeople.
Besides the philosophy, though, there are robotic animals, life on Mars, androids that are indistinguishable from humans, bounty hunters, and Mozart. Enough to make it a page-turner for anyone into science fiction …
Denise Levertov: Selected Poems
Everyone should read a complete book of a poet’s works at some point.
Pick someone you like, but even some poets I’m ambivalent towards I’ve come to love (or at least appreciate) through a long reading session through his or her works. A long series of poems gives the reader a better idea of how the poet works and what he or she is trying to say through each poem. Read one or two and you may miss the idea completely.