Identity, Castle, Wrinkle, Giver, The End.

I have been reading a lot more during the past month.  This experience hasn’t been entirely quality reading stuffs – more like I have found myself with a little more time than I knew what to do with so I read what was handy – but there’s been a few good experiences in the process.  Typically I write reviews for books one at a time but, owing to procrastination, I have waited to the point of no-return and therefore must review all books in one large lumpy posting.  So settle in.

1.  The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

…  The netman shoved the brush forward, downward, the bristles scraping the patient’s chest and stomach, penetrating the cloth of his shirt.  Whether it was the contact with the scars that covered his previous wounds or the frustration and anger resulting from three days of harassment, the man would never know.  He only knew he had to respond.  And his response was as alarming to him as anything he could imagine.
He gripped the handle with his right hand, jamming it back into the netman’s stomach, pulling it forward at the instant of impact; simultaneously, he shot his left foot high off the deck, ramming it into the man’s throat.
“Tao!”  The guttural whisper came from his lips involuntarily; he did not know what it meant.
Before he could understand, he had pivoted, his right foot now surging forward like a battering ram, crashing into the netman’s left kidney…
-Borne Identity pg 33

If you’ve seen the movie, you’re at least somewhat familiar with the story.  A man is pulled out of the sea with no memory of who he is or where he comes from.  The similarities pretty much end there.

The story is set in the mid-seventies.  Jason Bourne follows clue after clue to discover his identity.  In the process he teams up with and falls in love with a Canadian banker girl.  He also discovers evidence that indicates he was some sort of assassin at every turn.  And soon he discovers that he wasn’t just some assassin – he was one of the most feared men in all of the world.  Jason feels terrified with this past and with the past that begins to encroach on his future.  People start to die.

The story is far superior to the movie in most respects.  There were far more twists and turns, the characters were more believable, and the story was very gripping.  The best difference was that Bourne’s history was far more twisted than being a simple government agent.

The downsides may have been the foul language and the rather extreme levels of killing.  But I suppose that some people see this as a plus.

2. The End by Lemony Snickett

…The Baudelairs shared another uneasy glance.  The children had recently learned another mysterious fact about their parents and their shadowy past – a rumor concerning their parents and a box of poison darts.  Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, like all children, had always wanted to believe the best about their parents, but as time went on they were less and less sure.  What the siblings needed was a compass, but not the sort of compass Violet had mentioned.  The eldest Baudelaire was talking about a navigational compass, which is a device that allows a person to tell you the proper direction to travel in the ocean.  But the Baudelaires needed a moral compass, which is something inside a person, in the brain or perhaps in the heart, that tells you the proper thing to do in a given situation.  A navigational compass, as any good inventor knows, is made from a small piece of magnetized metal and a simple pivot, but the ingredients in a moral compass are not as clear.  Some believe that everyone is born with a moral compass already inside them, like an appendix, or a fear of worms.  Others believe that a moral compass develops over time, as a person learns about the world and reading books.  In any case, a moral compass appears to be a delicate device, and as people grow older and venture out into the world, it often becomes more and more difficult to figure out which direction one’s moral compass is pointing, so it is harder and harder to figure out the proper thing to do.  When the Baudelaires first encountered Count Olaf, their moral compasses never would have told them to get rid of this terrible man, whether by pushing him out of his mysterious tower room or running him over with his long, black automobile.  But now, standing on the Carmelita, the Baudelaire orphans were not sure what they should do with this villain who was leaning so far over the boat that one small push would have sent him to his watery grave.
-The End pg 17
The End is the last book in the 13 book series “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”  I’ve been enjoying this series ever since Mr. and Mrs. Richards told me about the section that describes the moral of the story.  It’s nice to have a writer in the Childrens / Young Adult fiction arena that hasn’t and isn’t trying to copy the Harry Potter series. 

For this alone I would have bought the entire series, so great is my annoyance towards all imitators.  (and perhaps my good old American mistrust of anything blindingly successful which isn’t mine.)

His writing has stayed delightful throughout the whole series.  The End does not disappoint.  I will not tell you how this series of unfortunate events ends, but I will tell you that there is more than one death, and at least a colony of poisoned castaways.  I can’t really recomend this book, however, without recommending the whole series.  You can borrow it from me if you want.

3.  The Giver by Lois Lowry

…”Let me try one more thing.  Look over there, to the bookcase.  Do you see the very top row of books, the one behind the table, on the top shelf?”
Jonas sought them with his eyes.  He stared at them, and they changed.  But the change was fleeting.  It slipped away the next instant.
“It happened,” Jonas said.  “It happened to the books, but it went away again.”
“I’m right, then,” The Giver said.  “You’re beginning to see the color red.”

The Giver is a story that pretty much all of my friends had read in high-school.  I had never heard of it till my mission.  It’s one of those that fits in the vein of “Harrison Bergeron.”  It’s a vision of the future where people live in an ideal society with no pain and no desire, etc.  There’s one man whose job it is to keep all the memories – the Keeper.  As he ages, a replacement is chosen, and the Keeper becomes the Giver.

This is the story of Jonas, the Receiver, learning to see his society from the eyes of the past and experience beyond his understanding.    It’s a good story and pretty well done for this kind of book.  Obviously if you haven’t read it, you should.  Why?  Because apparently every school system aside from my own endorses it to some degree.

4.  Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

“I only want to catch you,” Michael explained.  “I won’t hurt you.”
“No! No!”  the star crackled desperately.  “That’s wrong!  I’m supposed to die!”
“But I could save you if you’d let me catch you,” Michael told it gently.
“No!” cried the star.  “I’d rather die!”  It dieved away from Michael’s fingers.  Michael plunged for it, but it was too quick for him.  It swooped for the nearest marsh pool, and the black water leaped into a blaze of whiteness just for an instant.  Then there was a small, dying sizzle.  When Sophie hobbled over, Michael was standing watching the last light fade out of a little round lump under the dark water.

My interest in this book was from watching the movie of the same name by Hayao Miazaki.  I remember being very excited for the movie (I brought a copy from Taiwan, only to discover that the movie had been released here the day before I got back. Curses!) but somewhat let-down by it after the amazing Spirited Away.   But it was still pretty good so I figured I had better read the book.

I should have known that Miazaki would have weirdified it.  On the plus side, he also took out a lot of things I didn’t like about the book.  The downside is he left out a lot of parts I did.

FYI:  The whole bird thing and the war, that’s pure Miazaki.

The book was fun and engaging, but ultimately forgettable.  The best aspect of the book was it’s originality.  It’s rare to see original thought in a fantasy book.  I wonder if Jones’ books are all a clever and creative.

I would say that if you’ve seen the movie, you should also take a few hours to read this book.  Otherwise, don’t bother.

5.  A Wrinkle in Time and The Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle

“You might call IT the Boss.”  Then Charles Wallace giggled, a giggle that was the most sinister sound Meg had ever heard.  “IT sometimes calls ITself the Happiest Sadist.”
Meg spoke coldly, to cover her fear.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“That’s s-a-d-i-s-t, not s-a-d-d-e-s-t, you know,” said Charles Wallace, and giggled again.  “Lots of people don’t pronounce it correctly.”

I looked it up.  Sadist does not sound like saddest.

I remember really enjoying these books as a kid.  Now I really did the opposite.  I have all 4 books of the series in one hardback, but I stopped after 2.25.

What I liked:  I liked the originality, the in-characterness of the characters, the tension it created.

What I didn’t like:  The abruptness, the use of the same phrases over and over again, (That’s just her way of whistling in the dark.) the increasingly religious tone of the books as they progressed, the never-ending, non-growth of character.  I was also bothered by the idea that the government somehow taught a man how to teleport himself across the universe, but then says “Well, now we’ve done it.  Let’s not do it again.” and apparently never asks him to do his trick again in future stories.  But, since this is a story for young people, she probably rightly didn’t focus on the activities of the father.

I feel bad ripping on what I used to think was one of the best books ever.  But it really is a book only for kids, not for me.

Maybe that’s the upside of the enlightened world of children’s literature we live in now – that even adults can enjoy it.

I think that if you’ve actually read this post to the bitter end you should post a list of some of your favorite books – reccomendations for others.  Go for it.

-Greg

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5 Responses to “Identity, Castle, Wrinkle, Giver, The End.”

  1. Cornelius Says:

    I read two genres: Fantasy and Sci-Fi. Fantasy first. Read The Hobbit, then Lord of the Rings, then Harry Potter. All of them. As far as Sci-Fi goes, I really only read Star Wars and then only some of them. There’s a lot of lame books that pretend to the greatness that goes along with the universe, but then 61% of the movies are lame so that shouldn’t be a surprise. Read Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, The Last Command, The Courtship of Princess Leia, and if you have time, The Truce at Bakura. I wish my list of books was as hard-hitting and powerful as my list of movies, but I’m afraid that since my parents got a computer back in ’89 I’ve only read on trips or when badgered by roomates. Also, Terry Pratchet writes some really good stuff. I recommend Good Omens and Small Gods, but really you should ask Greg for advice about Pratchet.

  2. Ben Says:

    I read the Bourne trilogy a while back. That’s good stuff. What I always liked about Jason Bourne is that he isn’t superman. He doesn’t come out of life-and-death fights miraculously unscathed. I just picked up a new Bourne book by a different author. I’ll have to let you know how it turns out.

    I also bought a book I’d heard about called “The Historian.” It is purported to be the coolest new vampire book, something akin to “Interview with a Vampire.”

    One book that I must recommend is “Catch-22.” This book coined that phrase. It’s a satire of the military during WWII. To give you an example:

    “There was a much lower death rate inside the hospital than outside the hospital, and a much healthier death rate. Few people died unnecessarily. People knew a lot more about dying in side the hospital, and made a much neater, more orderly job out of it. They couldn’t dominate Death inside the hospital, but they certainly made her behave. They had taught her manners. They couldn’t keep Death out, but while she was in she had to act like a lady. People gave up the ghost with delicacy and taste inside the hospital. There was none of that crude, ugly ostentations about dying that was so common outside the hospital… ”

    This book is humorous, but it is also important. That’s more than I can say for some…

    I have to say (get ready for it) that I think (he’s going to say it) Pratchet isn’t any good (glass shatters). Of course, his books have wit to spare, but I get so frustrated that his stories won’t end. It seems so pointless. I can get ten years worth of wit from a sit-com. (Another inflamatory remark) Pratchet is just milking Adams’ bequeathed cash-cow. It took four and a half books for me to tire of Adams (God rest him), but only one and a half to tire of Pratchet.

  3. Cornelius Says:

    I’m sure you would agree, Ben, that it is good to live in a country where you are allowed to have your own opinion. Even if it is wrong. (Ha ha)

  4. Ben Says:

    Yah. It is good to be able to have my own opinion. Our forefathers fought to allow our possession of diverse freedoms like freedom of expression. But I also reserve the right to challenge the opinions of others, such as: “Everybody in the Army is a Knucklehead. I should know, I was in charge of a swiftboat platoon.” by John Kerry (paraphrased).

    So Greg. What of it? Why do you like Pratchet? Do you get tired of him?

  5. ac bookie Says:

    I’m reading the Borne Identity now for the first time and hate to put it down. It’s probably the best book that I’ve read in a while.


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