Category Archives: Books

Watership Down

Okay, so I’ve been totally slacking with BQ. I’m not entirely sure why. I know why I’ve been taking my time with The Big Money – I need to concentrate a bit more to keep the characters apart, and I haven’t had enough focus lately. But I don’t know why my most recent BQ read took me so long. I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to reading it, and I don’t know why it took so long for me to get through.

Because I really enjoyed Richard Adams’s Watership Down. It’s been one of the books on my “to be read” list for years. Since sixth or seventh grade, if you can believe it, as one of my fellow bookworms just could not get her nose out of that book one year. But it kept getting pushed down the list by other books until now.

It’s not completely a bad thing that it took me so long, though. Because I suspect I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate it quite as much as a ten- or eleven-year-old reader. It’s not a “children’s book,” per se, and it’s just so involved – you’ve got the main plotline, the informative bits about rabbit behavior, the underlying mythology, and so on.

And a big plus? The characters are nowhere as anthropomorphized as, say, Brian Jacques’s Redwall mice. Okay, so the rabbits talk, but they don’t wear clothes and swing swords and have the most improbable feasts; they do actually share instincts and behaviors with their real-life counterparts. They’re fully realized despite – or rather, because – of these behaviors.

Two enthusiastic thumbs up from me.

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Recent reads

Brief thoughts on my more recently completed books:

The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle: I hadn’t read this one in a couple of years, but my opinion of it hasn’t changed very much in that time. On the surface it’s a lovely fairy tale about destiny and immortality and love. But there’s so much more to it than that. There’s a charming blend of anachronisms and traditional fairy tale settings, characters who are trying to discover themselves and truly understand their own depth, humorous references to the story’s own genre… the book is so much more than I can put into words, and I know I’m not doing it justice here. It’s just really beautifully done.

The Invisible Man, H.G. Wells: I don’t find the actual writing to be particularly remarkable, but the concepts are pretty well thought out; for example, Wells details the practical challenges of being invisible. I didn’t love it, but I’d say it’s worth reading, and it goes by fairly quickly (it’s very short, and the plot’s pretty straightforward).

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The lesser half of the Ender saga

“What is this crap, and who the hell cares?” I asked myself several times while reading Orson Scott Card’s Xenocide and Children of the Mind. I quite probably would have pitched the latter off of my balcony and into the neighboring apartment complex if I didn’t remember that it was a library book I had to return.

I have to talk about both of these books in the same entry, as Xenocide doesn’t really end and Children of the Mind absolutely cannot stand alone, as it starts right where the previous book left off. In fact, in the foreword for the last book, Card says something to the effect of being allowed to split Xenocide into two novels so that he could tell the story in more depth.

I adore Ender’s Game and enjoy Speaker of the Dead well enough. But unfortunately, Card’s inability to write a series ending that lives up to its beginning’s promise surfaces yet again. Somehow, I’m not surprised.

The later two books are overly didactic and “philosophizing,” though I put the latter in quotes because Card’s “philosophies” in these books are only half-developed. I don’t really care about any of the characters and their contrived conflicts, though Han Fei-tzu and Han Qing-jao have their interesting moments. And my god, don’t even get me started about the ridiculousness of the plot.

I’m not trying to say that Xenocide and Children of the Mind completely lack merit. The role of the descolada virus is still intriguing enough, and I was definitely fascinated by the bugger society and its relationship with the piggy and human societies. But that merit gets buried in the constant half-baked metaphysical and philosophical rambling.

I highly recommend that you do not, under any circumstances, bother with these books unless you’re a die-hard Ender Wiggin or Orson Scott Card fan. As I am neither, I am simply going to pretend that Xenocide and Children of the Mind don’t exist and move on with my life.

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Not yet good wives

One of the books I brought back from my parents’ house in April was my copy of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Not having read it since my freshman year of high school, I decided I’d read it again, but I wanted to do a bit of research first. Mainly because I’d always felt a bit of a disconnect between the book’s two parts, and I thought I’d be able to better understand and appreciate it this time around if I had more context. I don’t know why I never bothered to seek out such information before, given how many times I’d read the book and come across that disconnect. But I finally did, and I found out that there’s a very obvious reason for it all.

Many modern editions of Little Women compile both the novel of the same name, originally published in 1868, and its sequel, Good Wives, published the following year. My copy is one of these editions. The two parts are clearly marked, but there’s no indication that they were originally separate novels.

So now it all made sense. Which brought up an interesting question: what does the Little Women on the BBC’s top 100 list refer to? Does it refer to just the original novel? Or does it refer to the compiled edition of both Little Women and Good Wives?

I don’t really have a good answer to that question. The BBC list is kind of inconsistent when it comes to book vs. series nominations: the first four Harry Potter books each get an individual nomination, while His Dark Materials gets one entry for an entire series. So the way I’ve decided to go about it is, I’m going to assume that entries on the list refer to individual novels (e.g. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) unless the title clearly belongs to an entire series (e.g. The Lord of the Rings). Well, if you really want to be technical about it, I guess The Lord of the Rings is one novel in three volumes and not an actual trilogy, but I’ll save that discussion for another entry.

Anyway, this means that on my recent re-read, I decided to stop where the original Little Women volume ends, rather than continuing through Good Wives. And going about it that way definitely gave me a different perspective of the work. (For the better, even, as I don’t really like Good Wives anyway.)

Not that I needed much help gaining a new perspective. I’ve commented before that just a couple of years between re-reads makes a difference; just imagine how much difference ten years makes!

One big difference: I’m much more aware of the moralizing and Christian elements of this novel now. I’d noticed them before, of course – it’s kind of hard not to – but I don’t think I realized just how central they are. And I think I’d be even more aware of that theme if I’d read John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, which Little Women frequently mentions and probably even more frequently alludes to. It doesn’t really detract from my enjoyment of Little Women, but it does considerably change my perspective on it.

And I do still enjoy it. Admittedly it’s partly due to the nostalgic element – I’ve owned my copy since I was six or seven, and I read it quite a bit when I was younger. But putting that aside, it’s an easy and fairly light work, even with the didactic element. I like several of the characters, and the sisters’ dynamic strikes a familiar chord.

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Blind humanity

I finally finished Jose Saramago’s Blindness last week. I still haven’t quite put together all my thoughts about it, so this entry may be a bit scattered, but…

Sometimes I read for sheer entertainment value. Blindness isn’t a novel you can do that with, though. The writing style alone made me put in a lot more effort, a lot more careful attention. A vast majority of the sentences are at least half a page long, at least in the edition I read. And the dialogue isn’t separated by quotation marks or by line breaks, only by commas. I originally thought that the disorienting nature of the latter was a deliberate parallel to the blind characters’ disorientation, but I’ve read elsewhere that it’s part of the author’s general writing style. In either case, not easy to sort through at times.

There’s some very strong imagery in this novel, which, compounded with the writing style, made it even harder to read. For example, certain scenes during the main characters’ internment became so vivid in my mind, I couldn’t continue for a time – it’s that intense and overwhelming.

But strangely enough, even though these things and more really bothered me, I still found Blindness to be compelling. For all the breaks I needed to take from it, for all the difficulty I had with it… it’s still an incredible novel, and I’m very glad I persisted and completed it. Not all of the imagery is horrifying; there are also scenes of calm and hope and even joy, and these scenes are every bit as vivid. It’s also beautifully written, probably much more so than the translation can begin to convey.

I just might re-read it some day.

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