I used to be a voracious reader on up through college, but it’s a talent and a delight that I’ve experienced far too little in recent years. Instead, I’ve spent most of my free time hunched over a computer, wrangling (X)HTML and CSS, pushing pixels around in Photoshop, blogging, and whatnot. Not that I’m complaining about that, as I love what I do. Still, there’s a part of me that’s a little sad due to all of the stacks of books lying around our house, books that I’ve started reading only to leave halfway through for whatever reason.
As such, getting through four novels over the course of a week or so felt incredibly refreshing. Some were books that I’ve been trying to finish for months, some were ones that I’d been meaning to pick up for awhile, and some were impulse purchases that turned out to be real surprises.
Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami
I have to be careful when reading one of Haruki Murakami’s novels. His themes of alienation, displacement, and loneliness are rendered in such a beguiling fashion, and with such piercing emotion at times, that I might just yield too much to them. And such is the case with Sputnik Sweetheart.
While not as involving as, say, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, there are passages within Sputnik Sweetheart that just really got to me, as the protagonist — a somewhat obtuse man known only as “K” — attempts to track down his best friend (and great unrequited love) who has disappeared in Greece while travelling with a woman that she is in love with.
Such a premise might lead you to think that Sputnik Sweetheart is some sort of romantic triangle novel, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Rather, it’s a rumination on the precious things (and people) that we lose (regardless of whether we could actually have had them or not), how they impact us long after they’ve gone, and how we seek to understand and reclaim them — even though we know we never can.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
I always find it more than a little amusing that Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was selected to be part of Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club. Many have criticized the Book Club as pandering to cheesy, sentimental titles — something that could not be said at all of The Road, which is bleaker than bleak, harrowing as hell.
There were several times that I had to put down the book, so disturbed was I by its complete and total vision of a ruined, post-apocalyptic wasteland, and the burnt and twisted dangers inhabiting it. And yet, there were also many passages of striking beauty, as McCarthy describes both the wasteland and what was there before the cataclysm, as well as the relationship that forms the core of the book, that of a father and son struggling to make it to the sea in hopes of finding some sort of haven.
As is usually the case, I found myself wondering how scenes from The Road would translate onto the silver screen, from the blasted vistas to the harrowing encounters to the violent confrontations that occur throughout the piece, as well as the central father/son drama. I’m also excited that John Hillcoat is directing — his previous film, The Proposition, was also a study of purity and violence — and that Viggo Mortensen might be starring (presumably as the father).
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Fantasy has always been one of my literary great loves, and yet it’s so difficult to find a good fantasy novel. Even the ones that I do enjoy are far too indebted to the likes of Tolkien and Lewis, such that there’s always a sense of “been there, done that” to them. A few years ago, I was very entranced by Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series, but since grew tired with its long, drawn out plots and tedious character developments. As a result, I despaired that I would ever find another great fantasy series that I could lose myself in.
It might be too early to tell, but I think I’ve found such a series in George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. If nothing else, I was completely absorbed by A Game of Thrones, the first book in the series (and yes, I am coming a little late to the party, I realize).
While there is some mention of magic and wizards and whatnot, the novel is much more “realistic” than that. Instead, the focus is more on the political machinations of a vast array of characters struggling to claim a throne in a divided land. Which might be boring if not for those characters, which are endlessly fascinating, each page seemingly revealing new layers in their personalities. The noblest characters are born with some tragic flaw, and even the most repulsive characters are more than mere villains.
Needless to say, I can’t wait to get into the next novel, and to see how the proposed HBO series turns out.
The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay
I’ve been a big fan of Guy Gavriel Kay’s stuff in the past, specifically Tigana. The Last Light of the Sun, however, fell a little flat for me. Like most of his works, Kay’s latest takes a very familiar historical setting — this time, drawing upon Welsh, Anglo-Saxon, and Viking histories — and tweaks it just a little bit, making it more fantastical, drawing out its more mythic elements.
However, The Last Light of the Sun just never quite achieved the same resonance that Tigana did. I think part of this reaction is because I read it right after finishing A Game of Thrones, which is just so rich and detailed, and so The Last Light of the Sun paled a little in comparison. However, the multiple storylines never came together for me, either, and Kay’s philosophical musings about fate and the way of the world, while beautifully rendered, became a little tedious after about the fifteenth time.
That being said, even a bad Kay book, like a bad Neil Gaiman book, is still better than most of what you’ll find out there. And towards the end, the book did begin to ring a little more deeply and truly for me. But I don’t know how often I’ll go back to it, whereas there are passages within Tigana that I still re-read, time and again, years after having first read the book.