I’ve been reading a bit. Not as much as I’d like, sure, but definitely no small amount. Some of the things I read recently blew my mind, some others not so much, but c’est la vie. What a wonderful life I live, that I get to read my to my heart’s content. I’m still reading a few books, but having just finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I felt I couldn’t wait any longer and jot down my thoughts so that you, dear friend, might read them. So, without further fluff or embellished warbling I present to you, dear reader, my thoughts on these four books.
It comes as no secret to many of you that I have something of a passion for The Decemberists, accompanied by a voracious thirst for any gleanings from the delightful mind of Mr. Colin Meloy. Naturally, when I’d heard that the frontman of one of my favorite musical groups was working on a fantasy trilogy, I reacted…strongly.
Now, Colin Meloy has something of a reputation for being a man with a (some say overly) potent vocabulary. I’ve not heard many lyricists use anywhere near the impressive amount of SAT/GRE vocabulary words that Mr. Meloy is capable of employing. Wonderfully, it isn’t simply to prove he knows the words. He uses them to enrich the storytelling in his lyrics. (Many of the songs have a bardic quality to them, often tragic tales of unrequited or forbidden love, though sometimes they might be about royalty or hating Los Angeles.)
The book is not a record, however, so let’s stop talking about the music, yes?
Wildwood is a young-adult fantasy tale following a darling young hipster from Portand (Prue) and her tag-along sidekick (Curtis.) Prue helplessly witnesses the kidnapping of her baby brother Mac by a murder of crows who fly him directly into (le gasp) the impassable wilderness. Shrouded in mystery and warnings to never enter, the impassable wilderness is conveniently located across a rickety bridge and Prue, deciding to hide the kidnapping from her parents, sets off into the wilderness followed by Curtis only to find…
There is an unknown society already existing therein. They are at war.
Prue and Curtis stumble into a completely foreign and fascinating world that is colorfully and imaginatively displayed, with characters like the evil Dowager Governess and the kindly prince of the Avians (a giant talking owl, yes.) Wildwood is exciting the whole way through, and a quick read, to boot. It is well-written, but surprising in that it doesn’t feel as polished as I’d expect from Colin Meloy, who regularly stuns me with his ability to develop character or story in three-to-five minutes. Then again, he was quoted as saying he found writing song lyrics easier than the novel. As a first offering, though, Wildwood is wonderful and certainly worth a read, or at the very least a half-committed perusal. I couldn’t put it down, finishing its nearly 600 pages in under a week. 4/5
A Clash of Kings
The second book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Clash of Kings is, for lack of a better term, difficult. Many of us were pulled in by the violent rip-tide that was the HBO series A Game of Thrones, a television adaptation of the first book in the series. Now, this show is mind-bogglingly fantastic, and as an added bonus it remains very loyal to the book upon which it is based. My response to seeing the show was to go out and immediately purchase the books (which I scored for $4 on Amazon, new!) and try to cram them down my throat with as much haste and m’lording as I could manage.
It turns out that while the content of the show was very loyal to the book, A Game of Thrones moved a little slowly for my taste. That being said, there was intrigue, fantasy, drama, violence and anything else a fantasy lover would enjoy, so I decided to keep reading. Well, truth be told, knowing there would be a second season inspired me to read on, too.
A Clash of Kings, being the book in which various Kings do some well-armored clashing, had me ready, all aquiver with delight for further fantastical shenanigans, but I must admit I was disappointed. I had a hard time getting through the book joyously for two main reasons. They are:
- Everybody sucks
- Everything is hyper-sexualized
I shall attempt to expand on these points further. The first point–that being that everybody sucks–implies just that. All of the characters are complicated, and while it is great to see that a writer isn’t relinquishing his creations to the realm of black and white, morally gray isn’t necessarily a great read. It was made difficult for me, as a reader, to get behind any of the characters which ultimately resulted in my frustrated in having to read about them at all. The closest I came was with Arya. With her I had hardly any trouble feeling supportive at all.
Sexual imagery and sexualization in literature is by no means taboo so far as I’m concerned, and I think it can be used strategically to challenge a reader and elicit a specific response. When it is misused, however, I get the sensation of an easily grabbed low-rent way of putting shock-value into art. G.R.R. Martin seems to have supersaturated his text with unnecessary scenes and imagery that more often than not disconnected me further from the characters, scenery, story and series.
After chugging along and finishing the second book, I wasn’t sure I could go on with the series, but I decided to push on. I haven’t started the third yet, but I don’t have high expectations for it. Many have read it and said it’s fantastic, but I simply think I’ve read much better stuff. 2.5/5
Physics and Philosophy
I don’t think it’s fair for me to review a book by Werner Heisenberg. I mean, the guy came up with uncertainty. His nickname is The Father of Quantum Mechanics. Mine is “bonbonelan” though I’m sometimes known simply as pip. They hardly compare.
That being said, I read his book. If you like science, this one is for you. The material can be a little dense at times, but it is a fascinating study. Heisenberg is brilliant and exceptionally well versed in the history of Greek philosophy, which he connects neatly to the development of Quantum Mechanics. He is almost bashful about being considered monumental in discovering an entirely new set of behaviors of matter in reality. At times he seems to say: “well most of the work had been done…I just put it all together.”
This book is enriching and fascinating, but not a casual read. I enjoyed it tremendously and don’t doubt I’ll read it again to refresh my memory. ?/5
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Since getting a motorcycle, I’ve heard people ask me if I’d read this book. Now that I have read it, I can’t help but wonder if they asked because only they knew the title. If they’d known the book itself, no doubt they’d have recommended it to me regardless of my ridership. While in Israel, the topic once again came up with an old friend who had read it in Hebrew, and I decided on the spot to buy the book on my iPad.
Later that night, I purchased the book and read the introduction which made, of course, absolutely no sense. I decided to keep reading what I had been (Physics and Philosophy, Steve Jobs and Dune,) and pick up Zen later. I think that was a wise decision. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance turned out to be a pretty heavy book. It deals with philosophy and science, but it ultimately deals with insanity–a subject I find endlessly fascinating. As a person who enjoys writing, I find writers who take upon themselves the challenge of insanity (from personal experience or entirely fictional) to be quite brave. One must lose themselves somewhat, I believe, to express insanity. What is tremendous about Zen and unusual about it is that the insanity isn’t portrayed as necessarily demonic and the narrator’s relationship to insanity is very complex.
The book follows an unnamed narrator on a cross-country motorcycle ride with his son and some friends, while the narrator expresses his desire to explain the philosophy and ultimate demise of “Phaedrus,” his alternate personality. The book alternates between description of the trip and relationships between the narrator and his companions and a monologue (called by the narrator a series of “Chautauquas”) telling the story of Phaedrus. Initially it isn’t clear who Phaedrus is and what his relationship is to the narrator, but that relationship becomes clear relatively early on.
It is never directly stated, but the narrator’s experience with electroshock therapy damaged him immensely, and while it isn’t addressed until very late in the book, I assumed that his son hadn’t taken notice and was simply alienating himself from his father.
The book delves deeply into philosophical territory, the merit of scientific inquiry, the nature of rhetoric and more, and I’d rather not spoil the experience of it unfolding for you.
What I will say is this: this has got to be, without a doubt, one of the best books I’ve ever read. Please read it. 5/5