Saturday, November 19, 2011

Reading update: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I enjoy reading. I always have. As a kid I'd curl up under my favorite tree with a good Nancy Drew book. As a teen in high school I'd hide The Iliad inside my algebra book. As an adult I became entranced with a good legal thriller (Scott Turow), the newest adventure of global trotters like Jon Krakauer, or a science book by Stephen Jay Gould or Isaac Asimov.

My reading tastes as a high schooler and young adult were firmly in the classics aisle. I have read most of them (except Dickens, can't stand him). Yeats, Hardy, Twain, DeFoe....been there. I read Cervantes in Spanish and the Gallic Wars in Latin. However I was also a literary snob. Having such a reading resume under my belt I was feeling a bit superior.

Later on I got saved. I grew older and my reading tastes changed. Formerly I would never have picked up a John Grisham, believing it was beneath me to descend to gasp, popular fiction. LOL, I'm such an idiot.

But as I grew older I exhausted legal beagles Jonathan Harr and Scott Turow, so picked up a Grisham and I loved it. Quite rapidly I blew through all of Grisham's legal thrillers, and also his fiction, A Painted House. Eagerly I awaited this latest installment, The Litigators. I had thought Grisham was retired but I was delighted to discover a new book on the way.

The Litigators is excellent. At page 8 I stopped to reflect on what I had been reading and also reflect on how the author does what he does. By page 8 I noticed that the three main characters were firmly set in their respective settings in my mind. They were vivid, fleshed out, and distinct. The city and the offices in which they worked are also vivid and set. How does an author do this so firmly and in such economy of words?  A good one. I read the book in two days and hated it to come to an end.  I recommend The Litigators.

That was the good. Now for the bad. I wrestle so often with my desire to read versus and awful trash that is today's literary market. Secular books have so much in them that disqualify them from being remotely appropriate, never mind Godly that I often have to toss them aside after only a few pages. It is one reason I like Grisham, they're clean books.

So I turn to Christian books. Almost exclusively they are romantic or sentimental stories of wives or sisters and quilts and brownies and giggling. UGH. I am not sentimental and I am not romantic and I like a high tech adventure or a science mystery. There are only a few of those. So a day comes when I'm desperate and I pick one of these up. Invariably they have flowers on the front, or maybe a needle and thread. And a sunset, with softened color tones and gauzy type. Sigh.

I have only read one good one. It was called "One More Sunrise" ironically enough, and written by Tracie Peterson and Michael Landon. (The famous Michael Landon's son). All the rest that I have read are bad, bad, bad. A few I've been able to get through holding my nose. "Doesn't She Look Lovely" by Angela Hunt is one of those. The issue with all of these books is that they are written badly, with cliches that literally make me wince, and clunky sentence construction you can spot a mile off. Foreshadowing that is like a hammer instead of a whisper. Worst, sap all the way through. Christian women's fiction is in a terrible state. Please, Michael Landon, write another one!

The ugly has to be the book I read this week by Susan Casey called "The Devil's Teeth" and it is about sharks. No, the devil's teeth are not the sharks' teeth, but the location at which they appear each season at the Farallon Islands just a few miles off San Francisco. Yes, the Islands really DO look like devil's teeth, and those teeth have claimed many a ship.

Casey is an excellent writer, and I enjoyed her book on large waves called imaginatively, "The Wave." Although most of the book is a recounting of  Casey's globetrotting with hunky surfers from wave location to wave location, she did take a few pages out to attend a scientific conference on the formation of large, rogue waves and present some information about that.

The Devil's Teeth is her first book, and she styled it in the way of Jon Krakauer, of Into Thin Air, the expedition to Everest that went so awry. Adventure writing sprinkled with a heavy dose of history and some science is right up my alley, and that is exactly what Casey delivers. So why is the book in the ugly category? Because of how she acted and what she did.

Two-thirds of the way through the book I realized that her accumulated ethical breaches, whining, carelessness, and self-absorption had set me over the edge. She had wormed her way onto the island though it was forbidden, she rented a sailboat and anchored off the island but failed to take even the most rudimentary safety precautions, oh, like knowing what kind of boat it was, how the mooring set up, what to provision for her stay (she thought about it while she was at the store) whether there was refrigeration on the boat, and boat handling. When I was getting ready to live aboard my sailboat I took a week-long boat safety and handling live-aboard course and then another one  for one day about navigation.

She was going to put her life in the hands of a vessel moored off the most notoriously stormy and dangerous islands and took not one whit of precaution. It is like the tourists who show up to a Tundra expedition in flip flops.

Then she lost the boat. It slipped moorings and sailed off into the dark and stormy night. She behaved in such a way that it got one of the scientists on the island fired, and it wrecked the career of another. She got the project shut down. Worst of all, this was described in a careless sentence or two at the end of the book, with not a whit of regret. Just, 'so sorry, boys, see ya on the flip side.' Ugh. Or should I say, ugly.

This week I am reading Caleb's Crossing, a novelized story about the first Native American to graduate from Harvard, in 1665, and whatever else I can get my hands on. Happy reading, bifocal people!

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