Saturday, July 31, 2010

(Book #26) Stephen King - The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands

For the halfway mark (yes, I'm still a little behind - I blame vacation), I chose to pick up another Stephen King book, the next in line for me in the Dark Tower series, book number three, 'The Waste Lands'. I wasn't sure how long this was going to take me, as this one was shorter than a lot of other King novels, but longer than the first two in the series. In terms of the story, it picks up right where the last Dark Tower book left off and ends abruptly in a suspenseful moment. King, ever the storyteller, has established his core of characters by this point and after finally getting them all together as a cohesive unit really starts to let them begin their mysterious journey. While King is not hiding the fact that he is nodding to such other classic journey stories as 'Lord of the Rings', he references a myriad of other poems, songs and movies to keep the reader rooted to established tropes. While the first book of the series started with a heavy western (as is Wild West) tone, by this third book more sci-fi and fantastical elements have been introduced , overlapped and juxtaposed that the tale has really come into a tone of its own. Like any fantasy book, the reader has to suspend disbelief to account for the anything goes mentality and "deus ex machinas" that are inherent to the genre. In that respect the book was frustrating at times, but most of the characters are human enough to be experiencing the same sense of bewilderment as the reader, making it easy for us to go along for the ride. That being said, it's still an entertaining read that poses some interesting ideas and I'm curious as to where it's heading; however I'll be waiting until after this reading project to pick up the next in the series, due to its length.

Until next time…

Monday, July 12, 2010

(Book #25) Benjamin Hoff - The Tao of Pooh

As far as quick reads go, you can't get much quicker than Benjamin Hoff's 'The Tao of Pooh', unless you consider Lao-tsu's 'Tao Te Ching'. Having never read this, the idea of comparing Taoism to Pooh seemed whimsical and simple enough for me, but I only just now got to reading it. It works well as an introduction of this simple Eastern worldview through the lens of a Western children's story. Hoff succeeds in introducing the reader to the basic principles of the Tao as embodied by Winnie the Pooh, while also making stark comparisons with the other characters' and their respective traits and faults. Amongst the dialogue with the familiar animals, several Chinese folk tales and traditional stories are weaved appropriately with the pastiche. The idea behind all of this is that living in a care and trouble-free manner is not only a comfort, but is a complete Way of experiencing life. While I cannot agree with all of the Taoist principals that have been broken down in this book, it was still a refreshing read that left me a little contemplative of my own temperament and of unnecessary stuff in life.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

(Book #24) Gaston Bachelard - The Poetics of Space

Gaston Bachillard's 'The Poetics of Space' had been on my shelf for over 10 years, having barely been cracked open in that time. It was another perfect candidate for this reading project. Back in February, I thought it was suitable in length for one of my readings, coming in at just over 200 pages. The book turned out to be a rich stew of philosophy and theory of space itself, and continuous reading of it became difficult. At times the sentences seemed too verbose and complicated to understand, unless read multiple times. I would sometimes glaze over the words and be unable to get into the right mindset to read any of it. It was a slow process , but eventually I focused on the ideas within and finally was able to finish it.

The writing was not entirely difficult to grasp as there were a few engaging chapters that laid out a richer understanding of the notions of 'house' and 'home' and their unique attributes. Beyond this, Bachellard tied human phenomenon to ideas much larger and much smaller. Entire chapters were written on the literal and figurative concepts of nests and shells, while also relating them to the Universe at large. Amidst all of this theoretical meandering there is a smattering of poetry throughout, in which the poets themselves tried to lyrically interpret these spatial experiences and put them into words. Overall, this book was very compelling, but because the content was so heavy it was difficult to read under time constraints. It would have been a more engaging book for me if read outside of this 52 book reading project, but who knows how much longer it would have sat there unread.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

(Book #23) Tim O'Brien - The Things They Carried

Tim O'Brien's 'The Things They Carried', a book about the Vietnam War, was suggested to me as a good and quick read. While the book is actually a collection of short stories and vignettes that capture the feeling, texture and emotion of being a soldier in Vietnam, it does so through an overall arc. The stories all portray characters which were inspired by O'Brien's personal life and embodied the personas of his fellow soldiers. Through the book, the line between fact and fiction is often blurred, and what he shares is a compelling struggle to come to grips with these events, allowing the reader to better understand the experience of being a soldier.

The book, being published in 1990, was written almost a generation after the incidents which it portrays. In a time when movies such as Apocalypse Now and Platoon depict this war through characterizations, action and visuals, a book such as this seems vital in portraying emotion and the affects of war on the individual. The book covers a lot of emotional ground between a story about running away from the draft to another about an ex-soldier's deep seeded desire to talk about the war and many harrowing incidents in between. Some stretch the truth more than others, but all of them share an underlying awe and remorse for a time that has deeply affected so many.

Because 'The Things They Carried' was specifically about the Vietnam War, it is almost easy to read it and remain slightly detached from the incidents that have occurred a generation ago. It is important, however, 20 years after this book was released to be reminded of its relevance to modern day. With two wars going on right now, there are many in the military that will have their own stories to tell. That have experienced acts just as gruesome, but in the desert instead of the jungle. It is easy to utter the old mantra "War is Hell", but something else entirely to experience it. This book aimed to share the impressions of these experiences, and I feel it was successful at that, bringing character and life to something that so often is distant and removed.