Monday, November 14, 2011

Dead Tree Appreciation Post

When I was much younger, back in the days just after my parents generation had eradicated the last dinosaur and before we had civilisation and high speed internet, I used to read a lot. Like, even more than I used to watch TV. Well... maybe not that much, but reading came in a close second.

The first author whose name I learned to recognise was Roald Dahl. I don't remember what book I started on, but I have many fond memories of losing myself deep inside the worlds of his novels. I remember buying Charlie and the Chocolate Factory one Saturday morning while shopping with mum, coming home and going straight to my room. I pulled the covers off my bed, wrapped myself up on the floor and opened page one. I didn't leave the room until I finished it later that evening, forgoing dinner until I had learned all the secrets of the great factory. BFG is one of my favourites, Matilda is a beautiful story, with a wonderful movie adaptation, and George's Marvelous Medicine is still an all-time favourite, which I love to read every other year or so.

My first proper novel after Dahl was Jurassic Park, by the late, great Michael Crichton. My cousin lent it to me shortly after we saw the movie in theaters on release. Reading The Lost World followed swiftly afterwords. From there I tried my hand at John Grisham, but didn't last long, and a few others, before settling on Terry Pratchett. I started Pratchett with Mort before going back and reading the earlier stuff. I enjoyed what I read, but never got past book seven or eight, just losing interest and wandering away from reading in general for a while.

In college I read bits and pieces, but by then I was mostly into comics and graphic novels, starting what was to become a massive collection. Occasionally I would pick up a book or two on sale, fully intending to get back into reading novels that didn't have pictures of costumed heroes leaping about the place on every page. But I read far less than I didn't, never really finding a way to set aside enough time to get into the stories they were telling. I couldn't read in bed as I would inevitably fall asleep five minutes in, waking up to find my face stuck to the page. Reading by osmosis doesn't work.

I was infinitely jealous of Claires ability to read at lightning speed, while still taking everything in, or Jp's seemingly unending enthusiasm for the next book from a variety of authors. It honestly annoyed me that I couldn't seem to get myself to focus long enough to do something as simple as read a fucking book.

The Xbox 360 and high speed broadband at home was a big part of that. There was so many other things to do and see and read online that committing myself to a single novel, many of whom had teeny text just seemed beyond me.

So, upon arriving in Vancouver I swiftly realised two things: 1) I had no internet at home yet, and 2) despite bringing my Xbox, I had nothing to play it on, as the best I could manage was sharing it on Claires monitor, and she used that all the time. Grabbing this opportunity, I raced to the nearest bookstore in search of a good read.

Failing that, I picked up Frontier Earth, by Babylon 5 star Bruce Boxleitner, and actually rather enjoyed it. Nothing amazing, but a nice gentle book to get me back into the swing of things.

Once I started I knew I had to keep going without a break. My biggest worry was that I'd stall and go back to not reading again, so I picked up the first in the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, Storm Front. It immediately grabbed my attention, and I bought the next few books in the series before I had even finished the first.

As I got close to the end of Dresden Files, I was stuck. I didn't know where to go. Some of my friends in Vancouver had recommended a work by a first time author, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. It was huge and daunting to look at, but I jumped in feet first and couldn't drag myself back out. I needed to know what happened next at the end of every chapter, I couldn't put it down, reading it on the bus to work, on my lunch break, on the bus home, before, during and after dinner, every free moment I had. It was amazing!

After Jonathan Strange I felt I needed a break from magic, and started reading a series Claire and gotten hold of here in Vancouver. It's a series of six books set during the Italian Renaissance, following the adventures of a heroic mercenary, Sigismondo and his manservant, Benno. Written by a pair of authors under the pen name Elizabeth Eyre, the books are full of mystery and intrigue, with plots within plots and secret enemies within every palace. They are a fantastic read, and I'd urge anyone who is a fan of Assassins Creed, or Italy during the Renaissance to try them out. Funny, action packed, entertaining, but never complex or difficult to follow, I was sad to reach the final page of book six, knowing there was no more. And I don't understand why there isn't any more. Not to spoil anything, but at the end of Dirge for a Doge our two heroes are alive and well and continuing in their adventures. I can only guess that at the time they might not have sold well, and they've never been reprinted, so they are hard to find unless you order online. Pity, they really are fantastic.

My next adventure brought me back to Italy, in the year 1327. Umberto Eco's The Name Of The Rose is set in a monastery over the course of seven days as the two main protagonists attempt to uncover the truth behind a series of gruesome murders. It was an enjoyable read, and I did manage to finish it, but it was hard going. The novel is less interested in telling the story than in letting the tale become a frame upon which to mount a series of essays on the church and religion and learning and a number of other topics, as characters discuss at length these issues with one another. I did enjoy it, but there were times when I just wanted the net murder to occur and the adventure to push forward. That said, I do feel smarter for having finished it, and a little more knowledgeable about the history of the Roman Catholic church.

For a while I debated starting Foucault's Pendulum next, but decided against it right away. I needed something a little less cerebral than Eco, so of course I started a series by a physicist who has been involved with Cern and the European Space Agency. That was clever of me.

Thankfully, Alistair Reynolds is a riveting read. His writing style does favour large chunks of exposition and world-building, something he has been criticized for in reviews, but I enjoyed it. It felt at times like I was reading the completed text of a role-playing game and those parts were the GM bouncing in his chair, excitedly describing the newest cool thing his world has. Some of his players find it boring and amateurish, others accept those parts because the rest of the story is so enjoyable, and the last group, like myself, sit quietly in our seats, soaking the world into our imaginations, enriching the story. I've only read Revelation Space so far, and have started Chasm City, which I'm loving already.

Where to next? I'm not sure. There are too many choices, too many suggestions by friends whose opinions I trust. I'm delighted to be back into reading again, and I hope I never lapse again. The joy of reading is a gift I look forward to giving my children some day.

I think I'll start with Llama Llama Red Pajama, and onwards from there.

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