I had a little more free time than usual in December so I managed to actually hit what had been my average, though I hadn’t got close most months in 2013. Really, 2013 was a disappointing year as far as quantity of books read goes, but I did read some really good books, so I guess it balances out.
Clive Cussler & Justin Scott
I’ve generally enjoyed this duo’s Isaac Bell adventures. They aren’t groundbreaking, but they are generally well-plotted and entertaining. The time period, in turn of the 20th century America and a decade or so thereafter, is of great interest to me. The series also tends to focus on cutting edge technology of the time, with this one being focused on a biplane race. Issac Bell, the protagonist, is a little too good to be believed, but no more than many adventure protagonists.
As the title suggests, this book focuses on a race. A cross country airplane race. While Bell and the Van Dorn Detectives are there to investigate a specific threat to the race, there are a handful of other mysteries ongoing at the same time. One of the racers, Josephine Frost, is being hounded by her crazed and vengeful husband, so the race’s sponsor hires the Van Dorns to protect her and the race. The husband, Henry, is a mobster that Bell had an encounter with early in his career. There are some parts of this entry I really liked. Since his fiancé Marian is photographing the race, there is more time for her’s and Issac’s relationship than usual, which allows the reader to see more of somewhat off the job Isaac. There are times when I wish the book was more focused on the race rather than the manhunt since the racers and their stories are more interesting and believable than the villain. That apparent villain, the husband, is almost superhuman. He shrugs off bullets, beats everyone to their destination and survives what should be fatal accidents. But there isn’t much to him other than the fact that he is angry over his wife’s apparent betrayal. Josephine and her lover/mechanic are more interesting, but the whole plot comes off as less than inspired outside of the actual race itself. Then there is the fact that Bell teaches himself not only how to fly, but how to fly as well as the racers in all of twenty minutes. This wasn’t my favorite entry in the series, but it is a fine addition. I’ll likely pick up the remaining Isaac Bell books before the end of the year.
Catcher in the Rye
I subbed for an English teacher and pulled this off the shelf to read while the kids read. I never encountered it in school, but reading it now, and quite quickly, is seems juvenile. Not necessarily in a bad way, though. Holden is a teenager and he acts like it. He is the perfect expression of teenage angst and rebellion. There is a strong note of self-loathing in him. He hates “phonies” and calls himself the biggest liar. He is one of the “phonies” he hates. He is troubled and desperate and confused. Like many teens. Of course, my reading may be facile, I didn’t have much time with the book, reading it in about 5 hours while supervising jr. high students. I probably need to give it a more careful read.
The Legend of Luke
Of the Redwall books I’ve read, somewhere between five and ten, this is one that strays the furthest from Jacques’ usual formula for assembling these books. The usual story, the part actually starring Luke, only takes up about a third of the book. The rest is kind of an amorphous trek for Martin and some of his friends. The problem is that there is no pressure on Martin’s group, no stakes. They don’t have an adversary and nothing stopping them from going home and trying the trek another time. Luke’s story is more in line with the average Redwall story and while free of surprises still has a solid structure. Luke does have a real goal and trial. It makes for easily the weakest Redwall I’ve encountered. There is just no tension for large parts of the book, the biggest draw seemingly the lure of returning characters Martin and Gonf. I have derided some Redwall for sticking too closely to the formula, but The Legend of Luke shows the dangers of straying too far from it. This one is just kind of dull.
The Time Machine
This is a classic for good reason. The unnamed time traveler goes to the far future, where humanity has evolved into two separate and equally inhuman races. The Eloi are the frail placid surface dweller and the Morlocks, who live underground and appear and act monstrously. This is a rather pessimistic take on the future of mankind; Wells basically supposes that we have no future. That is softened by just how far into the future the events of this story take place. As far a cautionary tales go, it is certainly better than many, such as the bafflingly highly regarded movie Idiocracy. This is a parable designed to strike fear in the low class, not wanting to become monsters, and the upper class, not wanting to become useless. The end result of the imbalance is not good for anybody.
Mysteries of Pittsburgh
I have loved everything else by Chabon I’ve read, but this left me cold. Actually, I pretty much hated this novel. The writing is mostly as good as Yiddish Policemen’s Union or The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Klay. There are frequently sentences that make me a little sick to my stomach at just how good they are. They make me embarrassed by my attempts at writing. In that way, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is just as good as previously read Chabon. What killed my enjoyment is the story. This is the story of a handful of self-centered douche nozzles and their interactions near the end of college. They are not likeable, they are not relatable. They are insufferable. It hurts more because I wanted so badly to like them, to like this book. Maybe it’s just that the experiences of the people in this book are so human, yet so unfamiliar to me. I’ve never encountered people like the ones in The Mysteries of Pittsburgh yet they seem real. They are alien and strange and completely self-absorbed. The central character, Art is at the very least bi-curious, but he seems not usure ofhis sexuality but of himself completely. He seems drawn to the strongest personality in the room. When he is with the other Art, his gay friend sometimes lover, he is entranced with Art. When he meets Phlox, her needy, loud persona grabs him. His vacillation between them seems to be based on which is the least familiar at the time. Maybe I missed something. I hope I did because I want to like this. But I didn’t like the characters so I didn’t care about the things they did, no matter how well written their adventures were.