For some reason the past few years I've gotten out of the habit of reading prose novels. No idea why. I used to be a fairly voracious reader, going through a couple of novels a week. If I had to lay out a theory, it's that my internet reading has gone up a lot in the past few years, so by the time I'm finished online, I'm normally done with trying to read and want to do something else. People do a lot of things online - videos, games, Facebook or whatnot. I'm normally reading the news or different magazine articles.
But in the last few weeks, I've got two books down and I'm well into a third. So what am I reading?
The first one was Transition by Iain M. Banks. I've been a fan of Banks work for years. A friend of mine ran a book store downtown St. John's. She never had the biggest selection of books, but she always had an awesome selection and had the uncanny ability to know just the kind of book you were in the mood for. I miss her store. But she was the one who introduced me to Banks.
Banks writes two kinds of books. Under the name Iain Banks he write contemporary fiction, albeit weird contemporary fiction from time to time. Under the name Iain M. Banks he writes science fiction. I haven't liked every book he's written, but some of his novels, such as The Crow Road, Espedair Street and The Player of Games remain some of my favourite books.
Transition is odd in that it's contemporary science fiction. It's set in the present, but it's decidedly sci-fi. It's also not an easy read. At all. Banks is assuming you're going to stick with him longer than I think a younger author might try to pull off.
The first thing you read is that the narrator is unreliable. All right. Then you quickly learn that there are multiple narrators, all of whom could be unreliable. Then you discover that the story is not being told sequentially. It's nothing for the story to bounce back and forth over a 20 year period at random.
So, multiple, unreliable narrators telling a story non-sequentially. Got it.
Oh, did I mention the multiple earths? Oh yes. The title refers to the ability of some of the characters to "transition" from one earth to an earth in another dimension that is either a little, or quite a bit different than other earths. They accomplish this by possessing a person in the other dimension.
Complicated enough? Oh, one last thing...there's a secret organization involved in a massive conspiracy to alter events on these planets. By the time you look at all of that, plus the social commentary Banks is making involving he use of torture, religion and financial markets, and there's quite a bit to absorb.
Does he pull it off? I'm not sure if he does. I enjoy the world building and the ideas involved. But it can be confusing, difficult to follow and most of the characters do little for me. Plus, the ending is very weak. I guess the thing I like the most is that I've had the idea of a sci-fi time travel novel for awhile. It was interesting to see the structure of how Banks used his "transitioning" and the rules he set up.
But once you get past the technical, I'm not sure there was much heart there to get interested in. Pity, really. I always look forward to a good Banks novel. This one is just a bit of a miss.
The next book is Nick Hornby's Juliet, Naked. This is back to more familiar ground for Hornby. His last novel, Slam, dealt with teen pregnancy. This one is about an obsessive music fan's fascination with an obscure 80s rock star and his long suffering girlfriend, who finally has enough. Oh, and the long forgotten rock star has been having a few issues himself.
Hornby isn't breaking new ground here. If you liked High Fidelity, then this is your cup of tea. Still, just because it's familiar, doesn't mean it's bad. Hornby has a lovely turn of phrase. You're not reading him to be surprised by where the story is taking you, you're reading for the quality of the writing. And Hornby's writing is always filled with bits of writing that makes me smile and wish I had thought of writing some like that.
So yeah, it's a good little book. Nothing revolutionary. Although one day Hornby is going to write a novel about an obsessive comic book fan and the quietly despairing wife who had to deal with him and I'm likely to kill myself after reading it. Or magically find myself divorced.
The third novel is The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hagan. I'm only about 80 pages in, but so far, so good. It has a Salem's Lot meets The Hot Zone feel so far, which works for me. Sadly, it's part one of three, so I'm not going to know how it ends until 2011. Something I suspect is going to frustrate me to no end.
Finally, I can't resist mentioning one graphic novel, although it is one based on a classic work of literature. Marvel Comics hired Eric Shanower and Skottie Young to do an adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and it is absolute stellar. If you have kids then you owe it to them and yourself to find a copy of this book.
Yes, Shanower does a pretty good job of adapting Baum's original story. And lord knows he's done enough stuff on Oz over the years. But the thing that ultimately sells it for me is Young's beautiful art. I think he might be my new favourite comic book artist. His designs for the characters are fantastic and just the way he illustrates the story is remarkable. There are several pages in here where I would kill to own the original artwork.
No kidding, this is something worth owning. It's not super heroes, just a classic story illustrated beautifully. Go buy it.
1. Synchronicity - The Police*
2. My lucky day - Bruce Springsteen
3. Vince the lovable stoner - The Fratellis
4. Family man - Hall & Oates
5. Bodysnatchers - Radiohead