Reading for February, 2007

Choke (2001) by Chuck Palahniuk. Chuck is something of a cult phenomenon, so I figured I should sample his work. For all the perverse goings-on in this book — sex addiction, drug users, mutated chickens — the central storyline is surprisingly sentimental: a narrator trying to cope with the loss of his mother. Take away the style and you have a middling novel by Douglas Coupland. Could it be that the primary features of Gen X literature are going to be nothing more than drawn out emotions and nostalgia? Let’s hope not.
That was the only complete novel I read this month. I have two books still in progress: Henderson the Rain King (1959) by Saul Bellow, and Saturday (2005) by Ian McEwan.
I have also been perusing The Jester by James Patterson and Andrew Gross (Patterson writes the outlines, the ghost writer fleshes out the chapters) which was a NYT bestseller in 2003. I wanted to know what it was like to read something from the Patterson francise, and it is pretty much Goosebumps for the business traveller — about a ninth grade reading level, with no chapters longer than 4 pages. This one is supposed to be an historic adventure set during the Crusades, but the narrative voice is unflinchingly modern:

Beside the tree, I saw my staff. It must have toppled there in my fall. I reached for it, though it wasn’t much of a weapon.
I stared at the angry, snorting boar. “Come at me, offal. Come at me! Finish what you started.”

A national bestseller.
Also during the past month, I started to read the first book of Robin Hobb’s new trilogy, Shaman’s Crossing. After 200 pages it is, alas, not interesting enough to finish. A pre-industrial world where artillery weapons are being perfected, a socially rigid culture attempting to expand its empire, an oppressed and dying native population with mysterious magic… the narrative of a teenage son who heads off to a military academy founded by his father, a former officer turned into a nobleman. And in 200 pages there are only faint whiffs that something interesting is going to happen. Skimming ahead, the boy clashes with the older nobility, life is hard, plague strikes, and the future is no longer certain.
Nine books ago Hobb (Megan Lindholm) made a name for herself with Assassin’s Apprentice. Now she is simply cranking out the words to keep the publishers happy.

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