Monday, June 27, 2011

The Hadrian Memorandum

The Hadrian Memorandum by Allan Folsom

I've been reading Allan Folsom's books ever since his first one, The Day After Tomorrow, which I thought was fantastic. Unfortunately, in my opinion, he's never been able to achieve the same level of creativity and excitement since that first one. His other books so far have all been worth reading, but compared to that first one, they've always left me disappointed. After finishing The Hadrian Memorandum I think I've decided I'm done buying his books.

The book is a sequel to The Machiavelli Covenant and follows ex-LAPD Detective and current landscape architect Nicholas Marten, who is conveniently a close associate of the President of the United States. The President has a special assignment for the landscape architect that no one else at his disposal is qualified to undertake - travel to the West African nation of Equatorial Guinea and determine whether rebel fighters there are being armed by a U.S. oil exploration firm. I know what you're thinking, with a plot that good, why no Pulitzer?

Because of an undiagnosed disorder which causes me to believe that a book will eventually get better if I keep going, I finished it. But it was like running on a treadmill. A lot of work was involved, but when I was done, I hadn't gone anywhere.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Tragedy of Arthur

The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips

Arthur Phillips has written a singularly unique book. It's a fictional memoir, in which he incorporates factual events from his life and literary career and then spins them into a fantastic story about a previously unknown play by Shakespeare.

Arthur, the author of four previous novels (all highly recommended), is the son of a man who spent many of Arthur's formative years in prison, convicted on multiple occasions of committing acts of fraud such as forging state lottery tickets. That same man, a huge fan of Shakespeare, tried from the time Arthur was very young to instill that same love for the Bard into his son.

After Arthur becomes a successful and critically acclaimed author, his father, now dying of cancer and wanting to make amends for his errant ways, entrusts to him what he claims to be a previously unknown play written by Shakespeare and wants him to see that it's published for the rest of the world to enjoy.

It's truly a brilliantly conceived story. What (if any of it) is true? Is it entirely the product of Arthur Phillips's mind? It's questions like these that I was continually asking myself and that kept me entertained throughout. The way Phillips seamlessly incorporates biographical information about both himself and Shakespeare gives the novel the feel of a true memoir. He even includes the entire play at the end of the book. The play alone is proof enough of how great an author he is. And with the story surrounding the play included in the book, it's a must read.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, June 16, 2011

One of Our Thursdays is Missing

One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde has returned to his fantastic series featuring Thursday Next, the Jurisfiction agent tasked with keeping order and continuity in the BookWorld. At the beginning of this one, war is brewing between genres. A border dispute has erupted between Racy Novel and Women's Fiction and since Thursday has evidently retired to Realworld, the Council of Genres turns to the written version of Thursday to settle the dispute and bring peace back to the world of fiction.

Fforde is a British author who I have been recommending to people for years. To date, no one that I've spoken to about his books has read one of them though. I've been a complete failure. I think the problem occurs when I try to describe one of his books, especially the Next books. I know I must sound like an idiot whose head doesn't contain a coherent thought. But it's not me, I swear. His books just don't lend well to summary. Instead they're the type of books that you just buckle up and enjoy the ride.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Iliad

The Iliad by Homer

When my sister asked me what I was reading and I told her it was The Iliad, her response was "Why?" The only answer I could give her I borrowed from Mallory when asked why he'd want to climb Everest - "Because it's there." The Iliad falls into that group of books I wanted to read before I died. Done.

Obviously it's not a casual read. For me, with the exception of Achilles, Odysseus, and Agamemnon, it was a little bit problematic keeping track of the different characters. I had to go back and refresh my memory whether they were Trojans or Greeks far too many times. But that might just indicate a deficiency with the reader.

It takes place during the Trojan War, but if you read it expecting to find the story of the Trojan Horse like I did, you'll be disappointed. (Serves me right for thinking I was learning something from watching a Brad Pitt movie.) Historically that event took place in between The Iliad and The Odyssey and Homer never wrote about it. It's in Virgil's The Aeneid. Who knew?

I feel a little guilty giving The Iliad fewer stars than I give most books written by authors like Steve Berry, James Rollins, and Jeffery Deaver, but that's the way it goes. It's an indication of how much I enjoyed reading it and not its historic or cultural significance.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Friday, June 10, 2011

Skinny Legs and All

Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins

It'd been quite a while since I had read one of Robbins's books. And after finishing Skinny Legs and All I remembered why I space them out like I do - his books take a long time to fully digest. I'll begin by saying his books are not for everyone. To the unaccustomed, his books might come across as wacky or off the wall. But like the dance of the seven veils depicted on this one's cover, his writing consists of many different layers.

To describe the plot would take far too long and more than likely would fall far short of doing it justice. So instead I'll say that Skinny Legs and All is about the Middle East, and the Apocalypse, and an artist, and an Airstream motor home converted into a giant turkey, and Isaac's & Ishmael's - a restaurant co-owned by an Arab and a Jew, and a Baptist minister bent on bringing about the Second Coming, and a can of beans, and a spoon, and a sock, and a conch shell, and a painted stick, and a dancer, who may be able to answer all of life's questions without ever opening her mouth.

It's obvious that Robbins is a believer in a lot of things, and that formalized religion is not one of them. His books seem deeply influence by Eastern philosophies and mysticism. And I loved it. He's not a very prolific writer, he takes in inordinate amount of time between books. But as you read his books you'll see that the time he takes is justified. It's obvious that he thinks long and hard about every sentence he writes. His writing is simultaneously beautiful and absurd which demonstrates a tremendous amount of talent. He's almost 80 years old which at his rate of writing means there may only be one or two more books to come. But I'm sure they'll be brilliant.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

i-Pads & Kindles & Nooks, Oh My

Since it's taking me awhile to finish the books I'm currently reading, I thought I'd answer a question I get asked a lot by people who know how much I like to read - What do you think about E-readers?

I'll start off by saying that I have nothing against them. I'm not one of those doomsayers who worries that they'll eventually replace printed books and will become the only medium of publishing eventually. I think that books will always be printed, albeit I would guess that they'll be printed in fewer numbers as time goes by. And I'm all for that - save the trees and all. As far as I'm concerned, E-readers have the potential to bring about some very positive changes in the publishing industry. For starters, the costs associated with printing books currently leads publishers to take very few risks when deciding which authors get published. With the popularity of E-readers growing, publishers should be able to either significantly reduce those costs or eliminate them almost entirely. I think this will result in many more authors getting their books published and available for us to purchase. The more to choose from, the better, as far as I'm concerned.

Another positive impact I think they'll have is an increase in the number of publishers out there. I think E-readers are going to force the large publishing agencies that want to survive to adapt, and I think that will mean becoming smaller and more versatile. I think there's going to be an opportunity for many smaller-type publishing agencies to begin and survive in this new environment and the increased number of agencies will give writers more options to go with and more freedom with what they choose to write. Many authors are already starting to self-publish some of their books in electronic form only, eliminating the publishers entirely.

So why don't I plan to own one anytime soon? Reason number one is that I'm a collector, to the point of obsession. I buy books not just to read them, but to own them. I buy signed first editions whenever possible and that's not something that the Kindle can replace. Although I have been to book signings before where people have brought their Kindle and had the author sign them. I have no idea what, if anything, is going on in their head. It'd be like me having Steve Carell sign my television set. Eventually I'm going to get a new TV and will throw the old one out. I think the same thing that has happened in the music industry is happening now with books. It went from vinyl, to 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, and now digital downloads. But as things have evolved in that industry, look what's happened with vinyl records, they're highly sought after and can be quite valuable. I'm hoping the same thing will happen with the written word. The medium will continue to advance, but the good old fashioned book that you can touch and smell, will always have its place.

There's also another reason I prefer printed books. I have children, and I want them to be readers as well. Recent studies have shown how much children benefit intellectually from living in a home that contains books. I recently read a news article written by Teri Harman who writes at The article is here and makes some really excellent points regarding books and children.

So what's your opinion of E-readers?