12.15.2006

Eragon, by Christopher Paolini

I finally got around to reading this one, and I mostly read it because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. This book and its sequel have been almost constantly on hold at my local public library since they were published.

As I read Paolini's Eragon, I was surprised at how well he wrote. His dialogue is very Tolkienesque and often stilted, but his plotting is very impressive. His worldbuilding is outstanding. The world of Eragon is incredibly detailed and learning more about Eragon's world was part of what pulled me in.

That said, this book is very, very derivative. I can see a lot of Tolkien. I can even see some of the old epic literature that I read in my English Literature and Classical Literature classes. Some of the passages in Eragon sounded almost identical to passages that I read of Beowulf and The Iliad. (Check out that Wikipedia link to Beowulf to see a reproduction of the first page of a very old version of the poem. Cool!) Plus, it has a ton of fantasy tropes in it. There's the journeying about from place to place, the wise elder who won't tell you more than is absolutely necessary, the Evil Empire, the untrained boy how is destined to bring down said empire, elves, dwarves, dragons, orcs (basically), etc., etc.

In spite of all that, though, I got hooked and read the book in two days. Tcha.

12.12.2006

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, by Italo Calvino, Part I

I've been reading this book for about a week now. (I kept getting interrupted by other books like Hannibal Rising and Eragon.) But I am enjoying If on a Winter's Night a Traveler; it's one of the more unusually constructed books I've read. I've never before read a book that employs so much of the second person perspective. It's a little disorienting at first, but it's a very enjoyable way of getting sucked into a book.

The plot, such as it is, is very complex. But if I had to say what this book is about, it would say that it's about reading. It's about the experience of reading and it's about why people read. What is very interesting to me is the way that Calvino shows the differences between reading for fun and reading as an academic exercise. Having done both, I found it interesting to see it from this books perspective. The person who reads for fun, in IOAWNAT, just wants to be sucked into a story. They want to be entertained. They want to be transported. Academics, as shown in this novel, tear the story apart. They want to see how it works. Calvino also pokes fun at how some academics try to put things into the novel that the author probably didn't intend. (This is kind of what I liked about studying literature as a major. You could get away with a lot as long as you could create a sufficiently strong argument to support it.)

More about IOAWNAT later. Just for fun, here is the Book-a-Minute condensed version of IOAWNAT.

Hannibal Rising, by Thomas Harris

Man, was I looking forward to Hannibal Rising. I really enjoyed both Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. I'm not sure what it is about this monster, but he fascinates me.

After I finished this book, I find myself agreeing more and more with what Janet Maslin wrote about the book in her December 8th review. Hannibal Lecter, I think, is a better character when he is an enigma. I think part of what draws people to him is the fact that he that he just doesn't fit the mold of any baddie we've ever seen in a book. He is an absolutely ruthless killer--and yet, Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal were written in such a way that you could see why he did what he did. Plus, because we didn't know about his past, we couldn't reduce him to a pathology. (Maslin mentions this idea, and I think Hannibal himself brought it up in one of the earlier books. I need to go reread them.) We couldn't see him as an abused child. He was just an extremely erudite monster.

If you're interested in a plot synopsis, here's an excellent one from the Guardian's Digested Read. Funny and informative. :)

The Prestige, by Christopher Priest

I think that the reason I didn't like this book as much as I liked the movie was because the movie was pretty different than the original book. The film of The Prestige really emphasizes the action and the suspense of The Prestige the book. I actually really liked the movie--it was dark, it was imaginative, original, and a lot of fun to watch. But the action in the book just didn't pop as much, even though the magic tricks described there were more spectacular. It's not that I went into this book expecting to find a more in-depth version of the movie, but I wished the book had at least lived up to what's written on the back cover.

What I did like about the book, though, was the way that Priest chose to tell the story. It's told from, by my last count, five different people (two of whom are pretending to be the same person). Since this book is really about perception, it was a masterful touch.

I find that perception is a fascinating concept--probably because I got my literature degree a couple of decades into the Postmodernist era. But it's interesting to realize that reality, which seems so concrete, is really a product of our perception of events. In The Prestige, a character named Alfred Bordon returns again and again to the idea that most of the magic he does is really just a matter of altering the audience's perception of what he's doing. And the rivalry between Borden and the illusionist Angier is a product of how they each percieve the other's actions. If the characters had taken more time to try and see things from the other's viewpoint, the rivalry wouldn't have been as disastrous. But then, there probably wouldn't have been a plot either.

In the end though, I think I actually prefer the movie. It was a much leaner telling of the story. The book, I felt, got bogged down because it was trying to do too many things at once.