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Why do I read such long books?  Arguably something like Gone with the Wind is worth the 1,000 pages.  I would say each of the Harry Potters was enjoyable even when topping over 400 pages each.  

Ken Follett, not so much.  We know he can write a long book, certainly, this one caps at a little over 900 pages.  But can he write a good one?  Of that I’m not so sure.  Which is not to say that World Without End is a bad book (or perhaps I’m just trying to justify my continued dedication to it) but Mr. Follett seems to think that his own book is too long.  Clearly he doesn’t believe any reader will continue to pay attention.  He’s constantly reminding you of characters (remember him? He was back on page 200? He’s still a hunchback, in case you forgot) and events (oh yeah, just in case you forget pages 400-476, here’s what happened, they got married and had a baby and here’s how old it is now).   

As a reader of lots of books, and longish books usually, I find this incredibly annoying.  I AM paying attention, and if I’m not it’s YOUR fault, Mr. Follett, not mine.  I have the same complaints as I did about Pillars of the Earth – too much rape, too much sex and too many inane, repetitive details (do we have to hear about that damn cat again?  Unless he turns into a pivotal character, even I don’t want the feline interludes all the time).

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Cover ImageEveryone knows how I feel about Oprah books.  And while I’d love to give myself the luxury of scrambling up on the soapbox and tearing down the woman for her choice of reading, I will at this moment gracefully decline to do so. 

Do not, fair readers, fear that I have gone soft or that I have gained a holiday spirit during this festive time of year.  No, I will refrain from an all out attack per se, but only because I have a very specific beef with Ms. Winfrey. 

I first read Pillars of The Earth when I was about 14 or 15.  I kept that battered mass paperback copy through college, many moves and life upheavals.  I didn’t think about it until recently, when I heard that Mr. Follett wrote a sequel to it called World Without End  (which I quickly bought) and I thought perhaps it warranted a re-read, particularly considering the roughly 15 years since I had last read it.  I went in search of my dog eared mass paperback and alas I could not find it.  I think it was collateral damage from our last and greatest move.

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Details

I’ve written before about how I develop ( oftentimes extreme)  author crushes.  Chabon and Maguire are two of the my biggest.  They make me want to a be better writer (which is to say a good writer), they make me feel ashamed that I  have never created the kind of sentences they do, seemingly effortlessly.  I often stop and reread, particularly in Chabon’s case, a phrase that is a brain teaser, something you have to really sit and ponder before you really get it.

Suffice to say, I love these guys.  I adore them.  If I were a worshipful person, I might even deify them. 

Which is why these two books were such a fist-in-the-gut disappointment. 

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MBGIf I were to create my idea of the perfect fantasy love child of, well, fantasy literature, I would take the best of Neil Gaimen and Clive Barker and meld them into one.  I would stir gently the darker tones of Clive and fold them into the fluffy yet dense snarkiness and black humor of Neil.  I would take the intimidating strength of Neil’s solid characters and plant them into Clive’s firmly rooted geography.

The result would likely be very much like this book.

Perhaps because I’m an atheist I can love stories about angels and demons without any of the resulting fear or guilt.  It makes for great story telling that is endlessly entertaining, particularly if you aren’t worried about your immortal soul.

Though this book was described as bone chilling I found it mostly amusing and even in parts, affecting.  Mr. B. Gone is a low class demon with a certain amount of charm.  He directly threatens, cajoles and otherwise manipulates the reader, all in an attempt to get you to burn the book.  In between such tirades he tells the story of how he came to be stuck in the book itself.

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[Author’s note:  I’m taking off on a tangent today, so don’t be alarmed. The blog format will stay as usual, this is just a jaunt into a new direction. I’ve been sick for over a week, so you can blame the cold medicine if you wish.  I certainly am.  *I have not read this book*  But I want to really, really badly.  Unfortunately I will need to wait a) to get it from the library or b) until it comes out in affordable paperback to read it.  But that doesn’t meant I can’t start talking about it.  It’s a little thing we in the biz call buzz.]

I’ve only very recently become the kind of person who reads the NY Times Sunday Book Review.  Before this, I had always found my books in a very haphazard, but still pleasantly random kind of way.  Now I read reviews.  I try to follow what’s new and exciting.  Actually it’s taken some getting used to; it’s a little unsettling to be aware of books when they come out (or before) as opposed to picking up a stray paperback from a pile in a store.  Moreover it’s not healthy for my book buying habit – because, for me, to be aware of the new hardcovers is to buy them.

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We’ve talked about this before.  A poorly written book with a good story at its core can still be very interesting.  In fact in a lot of cases, it will be wildly popular and ridiculously lucrative.  A badly written book can still compel you to keep reading.  Even as you wince and groan at the language, you keep pursuing the ending.  You want to see the story unfold, so you stick with it.

Unfortunately.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been slogging through the over 600 pages of The Historian, lugging its hardcover heft to work and back (so much so the binding broke) and all I can think is that 1) Thankfully I read this book when I was commuting by train again and 2) I’m glad I only paid $6 for this book.

This book commits a crime greater than just being poorly written.  It’s a repetitive, drab, pedantic history lesson yes, but that could be forgiven (I loath little more than a character summarizing what another character has just said – apparently for the remedial reader’s benefit).  The problem is that between verbose and awful, awful prose (example – “It was too serious to not be taken seriously”) there are hidden gems like this one:

“. . .but it seemed to me now that a Catholic church was the right companion for all these horrors. . .I somehow doubted that the hospitable plain Protestant chapels that dotted the university could be much help; they didn’t look qualified to wrestle with the undead. ”

Sounds intriguing right?

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godMy life, like a lot of others, is not made up of epiphanies.  It’s the continual presence of small, evolving thoughts that make the biggest changes in my perspective, rather than the cataclysmic breaks from ideology.  I couldn’t tell you when I first learned about evolution, though my current interest and study is clearly the result of some early interest piqued and nurtured.  Nor could I pinpoint the moment I broke my covenant with God (an agreement made by others for me, before I was able to make it).  It was too gradual to know when I finally parted ways with the Catholic Church. 

I used to envy those with faith, thinking that by lacking it I was lacking something else far more important (turns out maybe I just don’t have the ‘god gene’).  But over the years I’ve become more comfortable letting that (Catholic) guilt go.  Ultimately I’ve realized that by being an unbeliever I haven’t missed out on anything and in many ways it’s kept me above (or below or around) the fray.  When the Church scandals came out I was able to feel the simple human emotions of revulsion and anger instead of loss and betrayal.

There is a stigma with admitting to atheism.  People react as if you just admitted you don’t like you grandmother (personal experience talking here).  There is an intense pressure to explain yourself, to say what you do believe in, as if people fear that a flood or burning bush or lightening may strike you down and they might get caught in the divine punishment cross fire.

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Jessica’s Reading

Jesse’s Reading

Jesse and Jessica are Both Reading

Devin’s Reading

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