Thursday, November 30, 2006

Book Report

Before I begin, a couple of more spam email subjects:
"re: size your meat!" Uh, should that be "resize your meat"? And if it should be, does it really mean what I wish to god it didn't mean?
"But that language hasn't always served the comm". No, I guess it hasn't. Or whatever.

I like coming up with my own back-cover blurbs for books I dislike. I read some Patricia Cornwell because my mom had some and I was over at her house and borrowed them. I found the main character, medical examiner Kay Scarpetta, repulsive. She is touchy and vain and alcoholic and takes stupid risks and has bad taste in men. I guess all the allegedly great Italian food she fictionally cooks is supposed to make me like her, but I don't. In fact, after reading a few (I like to give an author a fair shot, generally) I told my mom that the series had "The least likeable protaganist since Mein Kampf." (Just so you know, I don't generally lightly toss around Hitler references, except in jest. I am not one of those people who refers to others with the slightest tendency to be nasty as "Nazis." One time, on instant messaging, my boyfriend called me a "grammar Nazi." And I said, "Oh, yeah. Because I have burned six million Jews in my grammar oven." Please.)

When I actively dislike books that other people (a LOT of other people) seem to think are great, I feel like an outcast. I think I used to feel superior in that I preferred to read Middlemarch by George Eliot instead of Craptastic Crapula by Stephen King. Oh, hell, I still feel superior about that. But, lately, I have read two series for "young adults" that were well-reviewed and popular, and have found them to be right down there with Craptastic Crapula in terms of their plots, their writing, their characterization, their, well, just about everything. And I don't feel superior; rather, I am mystified as to why other people like these things. It makes me feel like a freak who belongs to a species other than human.

So, the two series are the (yet-to-be-finished) trilogy by Christopher Paolini (if you haven't seen some "young adult" carrying one of his two books around you either a) don't know any young adults, b) live underwater, or c) are blind, and are thus experiencing this blarg via some sort of your-computer-reads-aloud-to-you technology) and the His Dark Materials trilogy of Philip Pullman.

The first series is written by some home-schooled kid from Montana, and is the most ridiculous amalgamation of The Lord of the Rings, Ursula LeGuin's Wizard of Earthsea trilogy+one, and Anne McCaffrey's perennially-worsening Dragonrider series. Ridiculous because both extant books combine the worst of Tolkien's epic verbosity (Hey! Numbskulls! This is in EPIC! An EPIC, I TELL YOU!) and McCaffrey's poor continuity, and at the same time lack Tolkien's erudition, McCaffrey's inventiveness (in the first books; the later ones appear to be contributions to the Craptastic Crapula series at which so many authors have tried their hand), and LeGuin's character development, moral center, and general awesomeness.

"But, he's just a kid!" you might say. Yes, he's just a kid, and he therefore DESERVES AN EDITOR WHO WILL TELL HIM THAT THE NEXT TIME A "SINGLE TEAR" TRICKLES DOWN SOMEONE'S CHEEK HE OR SHE (THE EDITOR) WILL SET FIRE TO THE TYPESCRIPT. I am not joking; in the second book a single tear trickled down someone's cheek at least six times. I lost count after that. The editor should also get a bullhorn, stand behind our friend Christopher as he works, and shout through it "STEP AWAY FROM THE THESAURUS" at regular intervals. Either Knopf Books sucks, or their editors all died in some kind of plague (maybe hantavirus?). So, they should either be ashamed of themselves, or I should send them a sympathy card and a wreath (how would such a card go? "Dear Knopf, I am sorry to hear about the massive hantavirus-induced editor die-off at your company. It is sad for the families, and for all of your readers who believe that when people cry, they generally cry more than one tear. If it's only worth one tear, then it's not worth crying over; similarly, if a person is so strong as to only let one tear fall, surely that person has the willpower to make NO TEARS FALL AT ALL. Respectfully, A Friend). I fear for the next book. And I wonder how much the upcoming movie version of the first book will make strong and right-thinking men and women want to shed single tears.

Pullman's series is less egregious, in that he actually seems to know both the denotations and connotations of the words he uses, and in that his plot is more nearly original. However, his two main characters are annoying; much as I might have wanted to like them, I was thwarted by the fact that they were conniving, murderous, wise beyond their years (in the worst made-for-TV-movie style), and motivated by mysterious forces. Not mysterious forces in the world of the book, which they are also motivated by, but by ACTUALLY mysterious forces. Like, I have no idea why the hell these kids do more than half of the things they do.

Also, the book is totally anti-Christian. You would think that, since I'm an atheist, I would be all over that like a cheap suit or a bad toupee. But I prefer my anti-Christian literature to have more reason, and less pre-teen sex. Oh, yes, you heard me. The main characters, who are twelve at the end of the trilogy, are referred to as "lovers." And, evidently, their "love" SAVES THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE. Now THAT is hot. My love can't even save a used stick of gum. Maybe I'm just jealous. Or, maybe, I think that if you are going to have three books that are all about, in the end, killing God, you should have something more believable than the idea that pre-teen sex saves the universe. Hell, maybe pre-teen sex regularly saves the universe, and I just don't know it, because I'm ignorant like that.

Anyway, these books won a lot of prizes. And I read all three, because I like to finish what I start (no, I don't. I just didn't have anything else out from the library that I wanted to read instead. And the mysterious forces were sort of soothing, in a way), and I thought they were interesting in some ways, but overall heavy-handed. Like when you are re-reading along in the Narnia series, as a adult, and you can just about swallow the whole Aslan-as-Jesus stuff in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but you really, really don't want to read The Last Battle again, and not because Narnia gets destroyed, but because since Armageddon is already a metaphor, you don't see the point in having a kid's book make a metaphor of it. Heavy-handed.

Even though they go on and on about how bad it is to teach kids an anti-Christian message, and they call the books "blasphemy", I think that the Catholic Culture website actually has some good points to make about some of the problems with the books, not least of which "The first two volumes of the trilogy--despite their designation as young-adult fare--should also be considered strictly adult fiction, given their high quotient of torture and violence." I should like these books: they bash the Church, they elevate science, God dies, whatever. But the anti-Christian message is both crude and incomplete. There is still a whole bunch of spiritual mumbo-jumbo about the soul and the spirit. Also "dark matter" is the same thing as "angels" but is also (somehow) the same thing that causes consciousness, which allegedly distinguishes "people" (some of the conscious creatures in some of the worlds in Pullman's trilogy aren't human) from animals. I really don't see how spiritualism is somehow all that much better than organized religion. I mentioned I'm an atheist, right? I guess I'm what you would call a Complete and Total Atheist, not a New Age Believe in Oneness or Some Other Mystical Crap but Not in God Per Se Atheist. Therefore, for me, Pullman's replacement of God with some other spiritual stuff is scarcely helpful.

Okay, now I have slipped into a tirade (you may have thought that it happened earlier, but you were wrong. I know my tirades when I see them. The rest was just, like, opinions, man). So, I guess I'm done. I wished I could have liked these books. But they seemed so, so eager to get across a "message" that I really found them tiresome. Especially since I just re-read To Kill a Mockingbird, which actually does get across a message, but is subtle and well-written and just really really great.


Anonymous said...

Great review, makes me so not want to read the book and that can only be a good thing :-) I read some of mein Kampf, and it was... "interesting".

Ever thought that perhaps your boyfriend may greatly suffer to be confronted daily with his own inability to create coherent sentences? Give him the benefit of the doubt, I am sure he was trying to compliment you in his own crude, yet special way. :-)

Blaize said...

Nice try, boyfriend, um, I mean "anonymous."

vishnude said...

superior, dont take much, do it?
another species? " Well she looks human enough, but the way she talks, she needs to lose the thesaurus." note:whats the difference between a ridiculous vocabulary, and using a thesaurus? not much for those of us who suffer through the reading.
But in short I must applaud you, anything that discourages "young people" to read is ok in "my book".

out like a trouser trout,

vishnude said...

Oh and the boyfriend thing, I aint buying it. you posted that. Boyfriend Ha!

vishnude said...

one last thing, those Paulini do suck much, yes.

futuregirl said...

It seems that something in me dictates that I carry some form of entertainment around with me everywhere I go. Right now it's crocheting. At times in my life it's been books.

I absolutely aggree that Stephen King sucks ass. I have been tricked into reading several of his books by family and friends ("THIS one is great, I promise").

Your single tear rant had me rolling. Maybe you should write the little guy a letter. :)

Amen for subtly! Lack of subtly is one reason I can barely watch American movies. You see it most in remakes of foriegn movies ... the way they add in story lines to explain things, or voice overs just in case you didn't already "get it."

That said ... I might check out the Pullman books. Hot, world-saving, twelve-year-old sex? I just have one word: Rawr!

Blaize said...

Rawr, indeed. Too bad the pre-teen sex is really the ONLY part of the books that is telegraphic and, well, subtle.

futuregirl said...

I love that use of 'telegraphic.'

Oh, well, I guess I'll just have to stick to getting my kicks from the JC Penney catalog and Saturday morning commercials.

Ewww. I'm actually grossing myself out.

I've been thinking about this ... it seems whenever there is a book or movie that deals with non-conforming social issues (anti-Christian, non-heterosexual, non-monogomous, etc) that some sort of heinousness ensues.

The Pullman anti-Christian book has pre-teen sex. If there is a three-way in a movie, someone is going to die a big, violent death. And, heaven forbid, if someone cheats, all hell is going to break loose.

It's sad that Pullman addresses an issue that I would like to be more mainstream (Most people wouldn't agree that it's OK to be anti-Christian or anti-religion, as I am), but makes it seem even weirder and more fringe by adding in pre-teen sex. It's as if he actually wants to push people like us even further into the corners of society.

Just once, I'd like to see a movie where someone cheats and everything is OK ... fun group sex where everyone ends up smiling (and where the title doesn't involve cheesy puns) ... an Atheist that has a conscience, and is a good person - and it's not a surprise.

Green Kitchen said...

The one tear thing reminds me of how Anne Rice always uses the word preternatural. Is that how you spell that? Anyway, doesn't Futuregirl give good comment. Ewww, I just grossed myself out. Sorry, Alice. ;)

What's up with Vishnude? Am I really married to him?

Blaize said...

Oh, God. I hope not.