On Ann Brashare’s My Name Is Memory

I read a novel because of Hawkman.

As some may know, I love Hawkman. I think I love Hawkman more as a concept than as a character — there’s something indescribably awesome about a character who straps mechanical wings to his back, flies around, and beats the crap out of evildoers with his giant spiky mace — but there are periods of Hawkman history I adore unreservedly, like the Tim Truman/John Ostrander Hawkworld era.

A few months ago, word went out that Warner Brothers wanted to make a Hawkman film. And this caused much discussion on bulletin boards, because when you’re talking about Hawkman, the first thing you have to ask is this — Which Hawkman? The 1930s Egyptologist? The alien Thanagarian policeman? The immortal reincarnated soul? There are so many different — and not at all compatible — takes on Hawkman that you have to ask.

Obviously, I’m a fan of the Silver Age Thanagarian Hawkman, though I do appreciate the Golden Age Egyptologist, especially when drawn by the late Mike Parobeck. The immortal soul, resurrected through time to be with and love his soul mate Shiera, well… that one’s a little different. It’s not really a version of Hawkman so much as a retcon of Hawkman, a way of reconciling all the different versions of Hawkman so that there can be a single coherent history from the 1930s to today of this unique character.

In the course of one of the discussions online, probably at TrekBBS, someone posted how the immortal love story of Carter and Shiera Hall, beginning in ancient Egypt and stretching into the present, was the most compelling thing about Hawkman and the movie clearly needed to focus on that. Then someone mentioned that there was novel with almost exactly that premise that had been optioned for a movie, a story about two lovers who met in ancient days who were kept apart by the machinations of fate and another immortal soul, one who sought to wreak havoc upon them across the centuries. I don’t recall that the name of the book was ever mentioned, but then on Friday at Borders, during their Going-out-of-Business sale, I chanced across an entire shelf of the book (or what I presume was the book), and I bought it, at 40 percent off.

My Name Is MemoryIt was Ann Brashares’ My Name Is Memory.

Brashares is probably best known as the writer of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants young adult novels, but as I’ve never read the books or seen the movies (and there’s doubtless little surprise from my readers on either point) I was wholly unfamiliar with her work. My Name Is Memory is a novel for adults, and the pullquotes from reviews cite the influences of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Twilight on the book.

In 2004, a high school senior named Lucy meets a transfer student at her school in central Virginia named Daniel. He’s an odd, quiet boy, and a graduation party they have a fateful encounter. She’d had a crush on him since the moment she first saw him. He haunted her every thought. Now, face to face with him, he tells her that her name is Sophia and he’s known and loved her for over a thousand years, a thousand years that he remembers but she does not. Both intrigued and frightened, she gives in to her feelings and they kiss, but then she pulls away, and this leads the two to part suddenly on difficult terms — Lucy going to the University of Virgnia, Daniel apparently to a suicide in the Appomattox River. But Daniel isn’t actually dead, Lucy comes to understand what actually happened between them, and circumstances, to say nothing of Daniel’s immoral and immortal brother Joaquim, may bring them back together — or drive them apart forever.

My Name Is Memory is a complicated book, but not a complex book. In terms of narrative, it is straightforward and linear. One narrative strand follows Lucy from 2004 to 2009 as she moves from high school to college to grad school. Running parallel, we have chapters from Daniel’s point of view, as he leads a succession of lives from sixth century Turkey to early 21st-century Virginia, sometimes meeting Lucy/Sophia, sometimes not, and sometimes facing off with his brother from his first life, Joaquim, a sadistic and brutal man who is reborn again and again. Midway through the book, for two chapters, there’s a third narrative thread, which tells some of Daniel’s story from the perspective of Lucy/Sophia as she was at that time, which explore part of Lucy’s journey from incredulousness to acceptance of the fact of her immortal soul. The two narrative threads, Lucy’s and Daniel’s, finally merge in the present late in the book (page 237, to be exact), and then we stay firmly in the present. It is also at that point that the book’s plot kicks in.

The three segments of the book are very different.

Lucy’s sections of the book are strangely superficial. There is occasionally warmth to them, at times her inner emotional life is sharply drawn, but the descriptions of the world in which she lives is surface. Her family, for instance, never comes into focus, and her friend Marnie, who is probably the third most present character in the book, is little more than a cypher, an honest cypher but a cypher nonetheless. Even the boy she loses her virginity to exists solely for the five pages in which it happens; he is never mentioned before then, he exists to do the deed, and then save for a late mention he’s gone from the book entirely (though I have a theory about that, which I will come back to). The only reason some of the places in her story had any weight for me was that I had either experienced them personally (like Tysons Corner) or seen pictures (like the UVA campus). Lucy’s story inhabits a fuzzy, out-of-focus world.

Daniel’s sections are better written and have greater depth, even though they must sketch out an entire life in a remote century and distant country in a matter of ten pages or less. If Lucy’s chapters are basically comtemporary fiction, Daniel’s chapters are historical fiction, beginning in North Africa in the sixth century, then moving to Constantinople, Venice, and even World War I as the centuries pass and Daniel’s unique soul, which can remember all of his lives, is reborn again and again. Daniel’s chapters hint at larger stories that exist outside the book in a way that Lucy’s do not, even as she tries to piece together the story of the strange boy was who kissed her and who she was in a different life.

The final section of the book — the final hundred pages — are, in my estimation, the weakest chapters of the book, as My Name Is Memory, which had been a strange, odd, and even compelling character piece, turns into a mundane kidnapping/revenge drama. While it’s not unexpected (it grows out of events that happen in the novel’s first twenty-five pages), it also does nothing unexpected. In a way, it feels that Brashares didn’t know how to finish the book she began, while in other ways it feels like suddenly reading an entirely different book. Compared to the story of Lucy’s search for the truth about Daniel and Daniel’s long life across the centuries, the final third of the book is less interesting and less vivid. Characters are reduced, the action becomes sketchy, and the story at that point is told almost entirely in dialogue. I should also note that My Name Is Memory doesn’t end; it simply stops with many unanswered questions. (Supposedly, My Name Is Memory is the first book in a trilogy.)

For a book that spans a millennium and a half, the cast of My Name Is Memory is ridiculously small — Daniel, Lucy, Joaquim, Ben (a friend of Daniel’s with similar powers to recall his past lives), Marnie, Alexander (Marnie’s brother, and Lucy’s lover), and that’s it. I hesitate to list Alexander, as he appears on five pages and plays no role in the story save to take Lucy’s virginity, except that I mentioned that I was going to come back to him and so I shall.

As I mentioned, My Name Is Memory leaves a number of unanswered questions. The major one, for me, was this — who led Joaquim to Lucy? It was mentioned in Daniel’s chapters that while he had kept tabs on Lucy while she was at UVA, he was careful not to interact with her or make any move that even suggested that he knew her, lest he lead Joaquim to her, setting in motion the same revenge story that had played out across the centuries. Someone did lead Joaquim to her, though, and, unfortunately, we don’t have many suspects. Joaquim would not have found Lucy/Sophia on his own; his powers are explained, and one thing he cannot do that Daniel can is to recognize a reincarnated soul in its new body. Marnie can be ruled out for two reasons; first, she was Lucy’s mother in their previous lives, and second, she actually knew Daniel. Ben can also be ruled out; he had no idea who Lucy was in this current life or where she could be. Of the characters in this book, that leaves only Alexander as a possible suspect. It’s Roger Ebert’s “Law of Economy of Characters” — no one else would or could have led Joaquim to Lucy, so it had to be Alexander that did. The question then becomes, How did Alexander fall into Joaquim’s orbit, and was his relationship with Lucy ever genuine or was it simply so that Joaquim could keep tabs on her location? (Alexander gets a late mention in the book, where Lucy’s narration indicates that they’re fuckbuddies.) I hate to belabor Alexander’s existence on the page, but it is so baffling that I can’t help but ponder it.

I was also interested in the mechanics of Daniel’s financial system that spanned the centuries. It’s mentioned, and he actually uses it in the book, but I was intrigued by the fact that he would realize that he had a memory that spanned lifetimes, so he could create boltholes and money/supply caches that would and could survive the centuries. How did he come up with that insight? Were there other immortal souls with Memory that had done the same thing? Of course, that leads to the idea — what if the power brokers of the world aren’t just well-connected through their family and business connections, what if they also have memories and identities that span the centuries? It’s an obvious question, and one I considered more than once.

I’m also curious where the story will go. If it’s a trilogy I can make a decent guess. Since the first book ends with the lovers unified but separated, the second book would likely turn on a shocking betrayal (probably the revelation of Alexander’s perfidy) and the the lovers torn apart (probably the death of Daniel in his current body). The third book would end with Daniel, now using Joaquim’s powers to move from body to body, finally defeating his brother once and for all (perhaps even destroying his soul, if such a thing is possible, and taking his current body), and the lovers ready to face the future together. I think there would also be some reconciliation between Daniel and some of the people that he knew, like Molly, his mother in his previous life, who is mentioned in My Name Is Memory but who doesn’t actually appear.

I kept thinking about how this would translate to film, and I think much of it would probably work quite well, but it would need a serious rethink of the third act. My Name Is Memory does not end on an entirely satisfying note.

I sound overly critical of the book, but in reality I’m nothing more than mildly critical. My Name Is Memory has an interesting premise, it develops it in some interesting directions, it can be evocatively written, and the book leaves you with a lot of thoughts (as you can see). But it’s not a perfect book by any means; it’s surprisingly shallow at times, the final third awkwardly meshes with the rest of the book, and the story is ultimately unfinished. My Name Is Memory was an enjoyable, occasionally moving novel, even if it had nothing to do with Hawkman, and if unusual or historical romances interest you, it’s probably the kind of book you’d enjoy.

On Kicking Out of Books

I have a rule. Some may think it a silly rule, but it’s my rule.

If I’m not hooked by a book by page fifty, I abandon the book. I move on.

Maybe, if it’s a really long book, I may stretch it out to page 100. Maybe, if it’s a book that comes highly recommended, I’ll give it more of a chance.

Many books have suffered this fate.

Dracula suffered this fate, though it lost me much further in the first time I read it, about the time that the plot shifted to Whitby.

A Game of Thrones suffered this fate, and it really was about page fifty where I said, “What the hell is this?” and put it down for two years.

Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander was exactly like this, though I think it was page 75 where I kicked out because that was where the first chapter ended.

In all of these cases, I’ve gone back and restarted the books. And I’ve finished them.

Not every book I kick out of is so lucky.

In the mid-90s, many a Star Wars and Star Trek novel suffered the “page fifty” rule. Especially Star Wars. I’ve never felt a compelling need to go back and revisit the unfinished books.

Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe novels have curiously suffered from the page fifty rule. Some of the novels in the series I’ve never finished, partly because I already know the story by and large thanks to the Sean Bean movies, and so I don’t feel that I’m actually missing anything by skipping to the next book in the series.

Some of Hemingway’s work I’ve never finished. (Across the River and Into the Trees, I’m looking at you.)

Why the “page fifty” rule?

It’s pretty basic — there’s a lot of books out there, there’s a lot of books out there I want to read or should read, and if the book doesn’t have a hold on me by a reasonable point, chances are it will never have a hold on me.

The prime example of this for me is P.D. James’ The Children of Men.

I struggled with the book. I bought the DVD (which, curiously, I have yet to watch), I picked up the book for very cheap, and for a week Children of Men was my commute reading.

It was well-written. It was poetic. The world it created was even interesting.

And I never, ever cared.

When I reached the end of the first half, I put the book down and I never looked back.

I admit, I do wonder what it is about British society that lends itself to authoritarian/fascistic republican dystopias like Children of Men and V for Vendetta, but I’ll ill-equipped to even hazard a guess.

I never felt compelled by the book.

And, really, that’s the reason for the “page fifty” rule. If you’re not hooked, it’s not going to get better.

It’s just not.

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On You Never Give Me Your Money

Over the past twenty-odd years I’ve read a lot of Beatles books. My studies have ranged from Mark Lewisohn’s books on their recordings to biographies of the band like Philip Norman’s Shout! and Bob Spitz’s The Beatles to analysis of the music in Mark Hertzgaard’s A Day in the Life and Ian MacDonald’s Revolution in the Head. I’ve read John Lennon’s books, I’ve read Lennon biographies from Goldman to Coleman to Norman, I’ve read McCartney’s official biography. I’ve even read novels and short stories such as Stephen Baxter’s “The Twelfth Album” and Mark Shipper’s “Paperback Writer.” Suffice it to say, I’ve filled much of my brain with Beatles knowledge, trivia, and ephemera.

Last week I found something new — Peter Doggett’s You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles After the Breakup, a biography of the Beatles that begins as the band breaks apart in 1969 and follows their lives and careers as ex-Beatles and how their moves individually related to the other three over the next four decades.

Naturally, this was of interest to me; whether creating a hypothetical 1970 Beatles album I called Hot As Sun or listening to the documentary The Beatles: One More Album on public radio, I’ve devoted some thought in the past to what happened with the band in 1969 and 1970.

The first half of Doggett’s book covers the story to the Concert for Bangla Desh in 1972; the latter half covers the next twenty-five years. The reason for the apparent imbalance in obvious — the band was dissolving and the four Beatles were forging their new paths in 1969 through 1972, while once the story reaches 1972 their paths diverge to greater degrees and their influence on one another lessens.

Some Beatles fans will be curious about how close the band came to reforming, and Doggett documents the near-misses from the summer of 1970 to the beginning of 1975 — and had Lennon not been killed, there might have been something in early 1981. What’s interesting in reading Doggett’s book is that the interest in reforming the Beatles over the years seems to come more from Lennon than from any of the others, with Harrison being the least interested. While Doggett avoids laying responsibility on any one person for the band’s dissolution, McCartney takes the blame for the permanence of the breakup.

It’s a fascinating book. The nature and purpose of all the lawsuits between the Beatles in the 1970s and 1980s had eluded me over the years, and Doggett explains arcane matters like royalty rates and Allen Klein’s involvement. Doggett has an engaging prose style, and the pages turn quickly. The book could be longer, but it is informative and it illuminates an era of Beatles history that has hitherto gone undocumented. You Never Give Me Your Money is a worthy addition to any Beatles fan’s library.

On a Books & Reading Meme

Because I can, a meme about books!

1) What author do you own the most books by?
Either Philip K. Dick or Larry Niven, with Ernest Hemingway close behind.

2) What book do you own the most copies of?
More than likely, it’s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Other contenders? The Lord of the Rings. Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar series. The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. The I Ching.

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
No.

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
When I was twelve, that would have been Arkady Darrell from Isaac Asimov’s Second Foundation, though I truly think I loved her more for Michael Whelan’s painting of her (red hair and legs) than for her actual character, which was quite bland.

I’m not sure that I have an answer to this question now.

5) What book have you read the most times in your life?
Among the possibilities… Asimov’s The Caves of Steel, David’s Imzadi, Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, Leiber’s Swords in the Mist, Niven & Pournelle’s Footfall, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
I have no idea, honestly. When I was ten? That was a quarter-century ago…

7) What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?
J.M.C. Blair’s The Lancelot Murders. More anon. (Yes, I read a Glenn Beck in the last year. And Blair’s novel somehow managed to be worse.)

8) What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?
Honestly, nothing’s standing out. (This isn’t a bad thing; I read a lot of words, I work with a lot of words, and words all kinda flow together.)

9) If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
Snoopy’s It Was a Dark and Stormy Night.

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for literature?
Michael Chabon. Or Jonathan Lethem.

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
Any of Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar books. Preferably directed by Guillermo del Toro. Barring that, a full-length animated film adapting Don Rosa’s The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck would be pretty fantastic.

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
Heinlein’s A Stranger in a Strange Land.

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
I dreamt of a literary sci-fi convention that was held in a Sam’s Club. (It’s a giant warehouse store. So imagine metal racks that reach to a warehouse ceiling, a dusty concrete floor, and people giving samples of pork and beans.)

14) What is the most lowbrow book you’ve read as an adult?
I have no idea. I have read some absolute junk over the years.

15) What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?
Difficult can be defined any number of ways. In the sense of challenging, I could point to some medieval texts. In the sense of frustrating, I could point to some tie-in fiction. Generally, though, if the book isn’t gripping me, isn’t working, I ditch between pages fifty and one hundred.

16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you’ve seen?
I’ve only ever seen Macbeth live. I do have Titus on DVD, though, and I liked that.

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
I find my battles with Napoleon to be more challenging than my battles with Ivan the Terrible. The former at least makes the pretense of putting up a fight. The latter will inflict horrific casualties, but he eventually rolls over.

Oh, wait. This isn’t asking about Age of Empires III

I’ve read Tolstoi and I’ve read Sartre. I prefer Tolstoi. I’ve also ready Chekhov and Teilhard. I prefer Teilhard. So, it’s really a wash, isn’t it?

Tiebreaker! Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky. Russian composers have done more for me than French.

18) Roth or Updike?
Updike, but only because I’m slightly more familiar with Updike’s work.

19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?
Umm… neither? I don’t find Sedaris interesting, and Eggers’ work just… annoys me with its self-consciousness.

20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
Oh, I can’t choose!

Okay, Milton, for Paradise Lost, for making Lucifer a tragic hero, for the viewpoint that there is nothing noble or worthy about serving or worshipping the Judeo-Christian god. Yes, I realize that is not Milton’s intent — the man was a stauch Puritan and Parliamentarian during the English Civil War — but, truly, Milton was of the Devil’s Party. ;)

21) Austen or Eliot?
Pride & Prejudice versus The Waste Land? What kind of comparison is that? T.S. Eliot, definitely.

22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
I’ve read pathetically little Faulkner or Steinbeck.

23) What is your favourite novel?
The Hound of the Baskervilles

24) Play?
Richard III

25) Poem?
“Jabberwocky”

26) Essay?
Nothing suggests itself… :-/

27) Short story?
Lean Times in Lankhmar

28) Work of non-fiction?
Again, nothing suggests itself… :-/

29) Who is your favourite writer?
I’d be hard-pressed to choose, because I can be so moody when it comes to reading. There’s no writer at present that I’m absolutely obsessive about.

30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
I can’t decide between Joss Whedon, Mark Millar, and J. Michael Straczynski.

31) What is your desert island book?
The Complete Winnie-the-Pooh

32) And … what are you reading right now?
I’m in-between at the moment, having just abandoned P.D. James’ The Children of Men and just finished H. Paul Jeffers’ The Stalwart Companions. I have just bought Margaret Wander Bonanno’s Star Trek novel, Unspoken Truth, which I’m sure will be wonderful in spite of the underwhelmingly craptacular cover, but what I’m actually itching to read at the moment is Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series.

On Reading The Right Stuff

As mentioned a few days ago, I picked up Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff at Border’s going-out-of-business sale.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen Philip Kaufman’s film the past twenty-five years. Fifty times? I’d almost think that was too low.

One of the first CDs I bought? A recording of Holst’s “The Planets.” Why? Because it’s the music used in The Right Stuff.

A few weeks ago at work I had to write about a model of the Bell X-1. The plane that Chuck Yeager flew when he broke the sound barrier. Yes, my text riffed on things from The Right Stuff. “The high desert of California.” “The fastest man alive.” “There’s a demon that lives out there in the thin air.”

Suffice it to say, I love the movie. But I’ve never read the book.

I started reading it last night, and I took it with me on the train this morning.

And it’s surprising.

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting. Certainly nothing from the first chapter, which is about Pete Conrad, an astronaut who doesn’t even appear in the movie.

Yet, it’s still compulsively readable.

What I noticed?

It’s amazing how much of Wolfe’s text makes it on screen. There are sentences that I recognize as dialogue from the film. It’s not dialogue in the book. And yet, people in the film actually say Wolfe’s words. In some cases, it’s Jeff Goldblum and Harry Shearer saying the lines — like a bit about how the Navy doesn’t have pilots, the Navy has aviators. In some cases, it’s the astronauts or a pilot.

I haven’t encountered Gordo Cooper yet, though. Yes, I realize his first name is Gordon, but that’s how he’s called in the film — Gordo Cooper.

I’m enjoying The Right Stuff immensely. I can’t believe I’ve gone so long with this gap in my reading experience.

When the book’s done, I suppose I’ll have to put the film in and compare. :)

On A Needed Holiday

On occasion, my mind is stunned into a stupor. Sometimes it doesn’t take much. Writing about Twilight: New Moon collector dolls sufficed this morning; a thousand brain cells cried out in terror and were silenced.

While in that slack-jawwed state, however, something occurred to me.

There’s no Philip K. Dick Reading Day.

There’s a Tolkien Reading Day, which falls on March 25th.

Joyce fans have Bloomsday on June 16th, for readings of Ulysses.

Shouldn’t there be a PKD Reading Day?

Perhaps stage it on December 16th, in honor of his birth? Call it “Martian Time-Slip” or “Time Out of Joint.” Or maybe not; I’m crap with names.

Someone, though, can make this idea work. Mass, public readings of VALIS or The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich.

P.K. Reading Day. Mark your calendars!

On Tristram Shandy and Book Buying

I’ve decided that I’m going to use Barnes & Noble’s website more often for my book-buying needs.

Our story begins two nights ago. I’d recently acquired Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story on DVD for less than five dollars. When it came out in 2006, I wanted to see it, despite never having read the book nor having any idea who Steve Coogan — who portrays himself, Tristram Shandy, and Tristram’s father Walter in the film — was. The idea of the film, though, appealed to me; it’s as much an adaptation of the novel, which is a strange discursive text by all accounts, as it is a movie about the filming of an adaptation of this unfilmable text. So, it’s a strange, metatextual film — it’s an adaptation, and it’s a documentary (well, mockumentary, really) about the adaptation. And the film is self-aware enough that it knows it’s a film; there’s a point where it tells you to watch the DVD extras, for instance.

I’m getting all Tristram Shandy-like here, going off on tangents.

So, the DVD! It’s been sitting atop my comics for at least two weeks now, and I finally put it in the DVD player. And it was absolutely hilarious. Maybe not Hot Fuzz level hilarious, but it’s right up there. (Note to self: rewatch Hot Fuzz.) It’s a smart, sophisticated humor. You really have to pay attention. And you have to be not-grossed-out by enormous, see-through wombs.

I can’t believe I just typed that. “Enormous, see-through wombs.”

Moving on.

The film, by the way has a cast that includes Gillian Anderson (and there’s a whole level of metatext to her final scene), Stephen Fry (who plays himself so well), Jeremy Northam (probably best-known right now as Sir Thomas More from The Tudors), and Kelly Macdonald (who is my first choice to play Izzy Sinclair if ever the character makes it from the comics to the screen).

After watching the film, I decided I wanted to read the novel by 18th-century author Laurence Sterne. I downloaded a text file of it from Project Gutenberg, but what I really wanted was something I could hold in my hands, that I could toss in my briefcase and read on the subway next week.

I tried Borders, not expecting them to have it. And, to no surprise at all, they didn’t.

I went to Barnes & Noble, certain that they would have The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Only they didn’t. At all. I looked hither, thither, and yon. Perhaps, I thought, it was shelved under “Shandy.” Perhaps, I thought, it was shelved in Biography. Maybe it was being used to level a table. Surely it was there! Alas, it was not.

So, my quest unfulfilled, I went to Barnes & Noble’s website. Normally, I do my online book purchasing through Amazon, but not this time. I placed an order this morning.

And it’s already shipped!

The B&N website said it would ship in 24 hours, but I didn’t actually believe it. Amazon says that all the time, and I end up waiting days and days for them to send me a note that the book has shipped. B&N? More like four hours between order and “Your item has shipped.”

So, early next week, I’ll have The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman to keep me in stitches. :h2g2:

Thanks, B&N! Screw you, Amazon.

On This Week’s Subway Reading

As long-time Allyn-ologists know, I have a Saturday routine. I get up, I drink coffee, I put on NPR so I can listen to Weekend Edition with Scott Simon. I love listening to Scott Simon. His voice has the most incredible cadence I have ever heard, and with every word he enunciates, you feel it in your bones.

Simon has written several books. One, Home and Away, was a memoir about growing up a sports fan in Chicago. Another is Pretty Birds, his first novel, about teenaged snipers during the Siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War fifteen years ago.

I picked this up almost three years ago. I started the book, and crawled to a halt. I had other things on my mind at the time, to be honest. I always said, though, that I would come back to it, and when casting about for a book to put in my bag, to read on the subway, it was Pretty Birds I picked up this morning.

I read the first three chapters. It was not impossible to hear those distinctive cadences of Simon behind the words; in my mind, I could hear him speaking to me directly, as though I wasn’t reading and was, instead, listening to a news report or a books-on-tape.

Many things happened in those first three chapters. Irena’s life as a sniper, chapter one. Six months earlier and the outbreak of ethnic hostilities, chapters two and three.

The three chapters were slow reading, and I remembered why the book struggled to hold my attention two and a half years ago. Scott Simon may be a brilliant narrator on the radio, but at times his sense of point-of-view, within the fictive work, falters, and the narrative wanders down odd tangents. Yet, the clear, distinctive voice remained, and the scope of the human tragedy about to unfold in the ancient city of Sarajevo is quickly becoming clear, if somewhat reluctantly, to the characters.

I’m looking forward to finishing the book. Perhaps in the next few days, perhaps in a week or two. In some ways, I want to savor the voice of the book, to drag it out as long as possible. In other ways, I want to blunt the inevitable emotional reaction the book is sure to produce, as the toll the characters take as their lives collapse under the siege of the Bosnian Serbs becomes more pronounced and more harrowing.

I don’t know how far into the siege of Sarajevo Simon carries the novel. Perhaps his characters find a way to escape the city. Perhaps they don’t. What I do know is that, on the train, I’ll uncover the answers. And sympathize with the plight of the Bosnia’s Muslim population as they suffer one of the great tragedies of the last half-century.

On Really Freaky Memes

Stolen shamelessly from Steve Roby

If I were a book, filed under the Dewey Decimal System, where would I be?

Allyn Gibson’s Dewey Decimal Section:
652 Processes of written communication
Allyn Gibson = 12254792954 = 122+547+929+54 = 1652

Class:
600 Technology

Contains:
Health, agriculture, management, public relations, buildings.

What it says about you:
You are creative and inspired to make the world a better place. You can work hard on something when it catches your interest. Your friends have unique interests in common with you.

Find your Dewey Decimal Section at Spacefem.com

This is actually freaky, considering that my job — and really, everything I do — entails “written communication” in one form or another.

I realize it’s just a random thing, based on numbers and stuff, but still.

Freaky. :)

On Subway Reading

An observation.

I tend to notice what people read on the subway and light rail. It’s curiosity, pure and simple, and I try to be subtle about it.

Often as not, it’s the newspaper. Either the Baltimore Sun, occasionally something from out of town like the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post, but more often than not, it’s one of the free papers in Baltimore, either b or the Examiner.

My first week riding the rails, the woman who sat next to me one morning, inbound to Baltimore, pulled a Laurie R. King novel out of her purse. I mentioned it as I made move to gather my own shoulder bag together when about two stops before I was due to disembark, and we had an amiable conversation. It was one of her San Francisco private investigator novels, none of which I’ve read. I’ve read her Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novels, which I generally detest for getting the Sage of Baker Street so terribly, terribly wrong. (King’s characterization owes more to Basil Rathbone than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. However, I think The Moor is quite good.)

One day I noticed someone reading a Raymond Benson James Bond novel — Doubleshot. I was, frankly, surprised — I hadn’t realized the books sold all that well. I mean, I have them, but then again, I’m me, and that’s to be expected.

Today, this very morning, I saw someone reading a Robert Zubrin book, The Case for Mars.

I read that book, about ten years ago.

Part technical study, part political call to action, The Case for Mars is the kind of book that everyone concerned about America’s future in space — and there’s reason to be concerned — should read.

That someone else in this world was reading The Case for Mars… well, that surprised me.

As for myself, I’m still reading that terrible mystery. It’s surely a sign of its awesomeness that I must force myself to read the book, having nothing else to occupy my time on the subway and light rail.

And that’s only because I’d taken my notepads out of my backpack and couldn’t write.

Such is life on the rails. :)