#298 In which our hero discusses what he's been reading in the past year (2010 edition, part 2)
Duma Key by Stephen King (audio book)
Ah, good ole’ reliable Stephen King. I keep going back to his audio books because they are comfortable for me. Rarely any big surprises and, oddly enough, rarely any real horror anymore, either. But I enjoy his style and I can always count on him to provide a couple fucked-up moments, usually involving A.) an elderly person cursing like a sailor, B.) an African-American person talking in a dialect that never existed outside of Al Jolson movies, or C.) Both. King didn’t let me down this time either.
As to the story, it was typical King: an ancient evil is awakened and the hero suffers greatly before it is put back to rest. The end.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (audio book)
When this book came out I remember reading some favorable reviews, and being interested in the concept (man involuntarily time travels). I picked it up at the bookstore once and read the first few pages, then put it down. For some reason that I can’t remember now, the beginning didn’t grab me.
But, as I’ve said many times before, my interest level for audio books sets the bar much lower. So when I saw it on the shelf at the library, I gave it a go.
This is very much a chick book. It’s a love story first and foremost, and I’m sure there have been many a geek who picked it up for the science fiction angle and walked away disgusted with all the longing looks and heartfelt absences that make up the heart of the story.
But I loved it.
Not to get all gushy about it, but I’m deeply in love with my wife, so the idea of being suddenly ripped away from a loved one and the hole it leaves in your life is something that I can appreciate. I found myself tearing up in a couple places. That’s the romantic side of me.
As for the geek side, I loved that the author didn’t even fuss with the endlessly discussed paradoxes of time travel. In her novel, when you bump into yourself in the past you don’t cancel each other out or cause a rift in the time stream or whatever… you just have a conversation. And sometimes you even give your past self the head’s up about winning lottery numbers.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (audio book)
Outside of the “Illustrated Classic” version, I’ve never read any Sherlock Holmes before. This is a collection of short stories, and I enjoyed them very much. Doyle is a great writer (obviously, right? But what I mean is that some of the classic writers don’t do it for me, I get bogged down in with their stilted style; but Sherlock Holmes reads well to a modern ear, in my opinion) and I may seek out some of his novel-length works to see how well he develops characters.
Because there’s practically no character development in these short stories. They very much remind me of the “2-Minute Mysteries” I read as a kid. Most follow a very rigid pattern: a mystery is reported, clues are observed, Holmes makes connections that the average man might miss (to the wonderment of Dr. Watson), then he delivers the solution in a monologue, generally with many of the players present.
This isn’t to belittle the writing which, as I said, is very good. And I was surprised with the conclusions of many of the stories because they didn’t follow the pattern above. In some they go to track down the felon and he’s already flown the coop, or he’s died at sea, or something similar. This added an element of realism that I appreciated.
What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson (audio book)
Ugh. I saw the movie adaptation of this book when it came out years ago. I remember it being visually stunning and emotionally powerful. And since I've recently read Matheson's I Am Legend and some of his short stories, I figured I'd give this a go.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but this novel was overwrought, overwritten and mostly pretty boring. If I was actually reading it, and not just passively listening to it in my car, I think I would have abandoned it midway through.
The book is clearly a love letter from Matheson to his wife; and I have no doubt that on that level, it is amazingly successful. I'm sure it taps into emotions that can scarcely be expressed on paper. For Matheson and his wife, that is. For me—the awkward third wheel in the equation—it was tough to maintain a level of caring. I cared so little for this book or its characters that, honestly, I can't be bothered to keep writing a review of it.
The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker
The last physical book I read in 2010. This is a non-fiction book written by a security specialist that provides a lot of practical information on how to predict and recognize violent situations, and how to avoid them and/or prepare yourself for them when they happen.
This was given to me by a friend to help me with some mental roadblocks I've had in the martial art I practice. I don't know how successful it has been in that area… somewhat, I suppose. But as a general textbook and predicting violence, it was very interesting and informative. The major message I walked away with is this: trust your instincts. If you feel nervous or threatened, listen to what your mind is telling you. Even if it isn't readily apparent, you may have picked up on some cues in the environment without consciously recognizing them. Don't automatically dismiss the fear you feel.
I'd recommend this book to just about anyone as a means to be smarter about your safety in the world. And, this is a book that I will definitely make my daughters read when they're older.
And that's it for 2010! I hope to read a few more physical books in the coming year, and get a new CD player for my car so I can get back on the audio book horse.