Monday, April 23, 2007

Audiobook Recommendations

Ickie and I are plotting our journey northeast. We'll be spending six days on the road, driving an average of nine hours per day. We'll be accompanied by a grouchy feline. I'll probably get photo sensitive in the Arizona desert sun, and Ickie will certainly fall into a comatose stupor every day around 2pm. We'll probably be pretty sick of junk food and cheap hotels by the end of the week.

In anticipation, we've devised a scheme of filling our car full of audiobooks to stave off boredom and irritation. We want stories that capture our attention (spy novels?) without being too cerebral. We want some LONG ones so that we will have plenty to keep our ears busy. We hope for decent narrators. Will you please post your recommendations of audio books in the comments section? And if you own a spare copy you'd be willing to lend us during the month of June, even better!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Everything Must Go

“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”

The first line of Feed by M.T. Anderson perfectly conveys the attitude and ignorance of the protagonist, but it also hints at the book’s futuristic setting, when teens can just hang out on the moon and be bored. Feed is a dystopian nightmare, where the majority of Americans are wired internally at birth and receive the “feed” nonstop. They are monitored by corporations, receive advertisements, tune into idiotic shows, chat each other, go to SchoolTM, and malfunction purposefully to induce a drug-like trip.

Like he did in The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Anderson deftly shapes the voice of his first-person narrator. In this case, Titus appears to be Octavian’s polar opposite. He has an ordinary suburban family, plenty of money, a disgraceful education, and the dialect of a moron. He is often superficial, petty, and selfish and on occasion cruel. In other words, he’s a typical adolescent. However, like Octavian, Titus is the victim of his world and essentially a slave to his feed. His life changes when he meets the intelligent and articulate Violet, a teen who has been homeschooled by her poor, old-fashioned professor father.

Feed is heavy with Anderson’s aversion to capitalism, neo-colonialism, and environmental destruction. The scene where the young couple goes out to the treeless country to wander around a filet mignon farm and frolic in the meat maze is truly disgusting. I’m skeptical of this hellscape stemming from anti-capitalist dogma, but overall I felt that Anderson’s primary message (thinking for yourself is more important than heedless consumption) is a valuable lesson to young readers. Besides, it’s such a well-crafted world and story that I easily absorbed it.

This book is marketed to young adults, but there’s a lot of language and some mild sexual references. It’s far cleaner than the language I heard daily when I was in high school, so I don’t see any reason why a teen shouldn’t read it.

My question to you readers is this: Can you think of a story set in the future that isn't a dystopian nightmare? All Ickie could think of was Star Trek, although I side with Douglas Adams in doubting a spaceship could make a proper cup of tea, and that amounts to a dystopian nightmare for some of us.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Wolpertings, Vrahoks, and Cuddlebunnies

Monday night I completed Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures by Walter Moers. It’s a German novel translated into English. I don’t know how they managed it with all the fanciful words Moers uses, for it doesn’t feel like a translation at all. Ickie claims there’s a British sense of humor, whereas I sense more of the German penchant for fairy tale weirdness.

Either way, Rumo is an impelling read. The storyline is elaborate with large sections of exposition and enriching backstory. The protagonist is Rumo, a wolperting (a fierce warrior dog with horns who walks upright). He is assisted by his worldly mentor Smyke (a shark grub) and his talking sword with two conflicting (and hilarious) personalities. The creatures in the book are unlike any I’ve seen before; whereas most fantasy stories borrow monsters from traditional tales, Moers invents so many that are utterly original, not to mention frightening and bloodthirsty. In addition, the book is filled with fantastic drawings and maps.

There’s not room here to summarize the plot, and it would be impossible to do so without spoilers. The gore and violence classify it as an adult book, but it’s also full of dry humor and camaraderie. There are themes of bravery and self sacrifice, but you spend little time considering the moral implications because the action never lags. Rumo is a long book (700 pages), so voracious readers like me don’t have to worry that the experience will end too soon. Just be sure you’re in the mood for the bizarre!

While we were in San Francisco last week, I purchased a discounted hardback copy of Rumo (quite a find!) and another book by Moers, A Wild Ride Through the Night. In A Wild Ride, Moers bases his story on a collection of images by Gustave Dore, known for his illustrations of The Divine Comedy and other works. Moers has written another story set in the same land as Rumo and called The City of Dreaming Books. I'm definitely looking into that one!

Monday, April 9, 2007

Know Thyself

Jackamo ran across the following quote the other day, and it beautifully sums up how we define our true selves.

“If you would tell me the heart of a man, tell me not what he reads but what he rereads.” —Francois Mauriac (1885-1970), acclaimed Roman Catholic author and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

Now we share just a few of our oft-read favorites:

What does Jackamo reread?

The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis
The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien
Watership Down, Adams
Alice in Wonderland, Carroll
Pride and Prejudice, Austen
The Harry Potter books, Rowling

What does Watoosa reread?

The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis
The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien
The Wind in the Willows, Graham
Wuthering Heights, Bronte
To Kill A Mockingbird, Lee
Wives and Daughters, Gaskell

Share your adored tattered titles with us in the comments section!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Just Some Glittery Bits

Last week I read Stardust by Neil Gaiman. Susanna Clarke referenced it in one of her short stories in the incomparable story collection The Ladies of Grace Adieu. Stardust is a fairy adventure story with a barely-noticeable sense of humor. The plot moved quickly making it a fast, easy read. I found the characters somewhat flat and the ending a bit weak, but if you're looking for a lighthearted fairy tale that isn't too gruesome, you might enjoy this. (Note that this book contains some adult themes and language, so I wouldn't recommend it to children.) In Stardust I also recognized many elements shared with Clarke's Ladies, Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle, and Garth Nix's Abhorsen Trilogy (all better books than Stardust).

There's a movie adaptation due out later this year starring Claire Danes and Michelle Pfeiffer. Here's the site with the trailer if you're interested. I'm not usually pleased when Americans are cast in British roles, but on occasion an actor pulls it off. I can think of far more Brits who are successful with American accents (Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara? Sure, she was too pretty to be true to the book, but she was an irresistibly fiery Southern diva). Robert De Niro is also cast and doesn't appear to even be attempting a British accent, but on the upside you'll see Ricky Gervais (of BBC's "The Office"), Peter O'Toole, and Rupert Everett and hear Ian McKellan as narrator. The book might work even better as a movie if these fellows add more humor to the story.