Paperback Summer is here (and running a little late) and I’m already knee deep in it, so let’s get right down to it after the cut…
May was usually what I call a “finish-up month,” a span where I know I won’t be able to read much so I dedicate it to clearing out that peculiar back-log of books…the ones that you get most of the way through and then just put down for some reason or another. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as successful this time out as I would have liked, but I still racked a pretty substantial page count.
The Fall: The Strain Trilogy, Book II – Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan (William Morrow, 2010) 320pp. & read the back 170
Last month I called the first half of The Fall “off,” and I still stand by that. As a middle entry in a trilogy, the book is a natural bridge between the other entries and has certain obligations to uphold. It does so, but in a way that just feels kind of awkward. The first two hundred pages are dedicated to reintroducing us to our characters and rehashing the lore laid down in book one, and by the time the bridge plot actually gets rolling there’s not enough time left for it to build itself to the point that the climax and subsequent cliffhanger feel earned.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s still a lot to like about this series, (especially if you’re a fan of vampires that actually do things) and the cliffhanger where the Master’s plan comes to fruition…well, it’s a hell of a cataclysm. But through the whole book, there’s this weird, listless undertone. It almost feels as though the publisher wanted a trilogy, so these pieces that were supposed to cap the first book and open the second got pulled out and teased into their own half-baked thing. I’m sure that I’ll finish the trilogy in the near future, but this one was a bit of a slog at times.
11/22/63 – Stephen King (Scribner, 2011) 849pp.
So, I originally started 11/22/63 back when it was released last November, but it got put down pretty quickly. At the time, I passed it off as needing the extra time to work through a particularly troublesome National Novel Writing Month entry, but when I started her up again this month I realized that it was something else. I made the decision to restart King’s entry to the undoubtedly huge stack of Kennedy Assassination Themed Time-Travel Novels that American writers have published in the past forty years right from the beginning, and this time around I realized that in the first two-hundred pages I felt kind of lost.
This didn’t have anything to do with the book being bad, but there comes a point when protagonist Jake Epping travels to Derry, Maine to try and save the life of a doomed family as his first attempt at changing the future and the time-line just “happens” to line up with the childhood segments of IT. Now, IT is not a novel that I have ever read. In fact, outside of Dreamcatcher, I am not well acquainted with King’s nightmare Bangor-analogue. So, for as much as the first two hundred pages of 11/22/63 are about Epping coming to terms with living in the past, they are also a crash course in the language of a Derry novel and that city’s particular brand of misery. It was jarring enough to put me off of the book the first time I tried to read it, and while I did get through it this time…well, that section was still a bit of a chore. It just seems to stretch forever, and it made me feel an outsider in the text.
The rest of the book picks up significantly, covering a lot of ground that should be both familiar and welcome to regular King readers. Much like the author’s previous long novel, Under the Dome, 11/22/63 feels like it probably could have done with a good trim. None of it is bad, and most of it is quite good, but there are points were the journey becomes somewhat more repetitive than even a book that is literally about repeating the past should. For the most part, though, it handles itself quite nicely. The various plot points flow into one another cleanly, and you can tell that King researched the hell out of this bitch. He also does a nice job of presenting the time period well; entertaining the essential nostalgia that is inherent in a time travel novel without ever becoming too wrapped up in it. In his afterword, King makes special reference to the points where he has taken liberties and also those where he tried to present things as reliably as possible, and it’s quite admirable. There’s a ton of historical detail throughout, but we’re never bogged down in it. It’s a nice balance.
Total Books: 1.5
Total pages: 1,019
And that’s it. That’s all there is this month. I was hoping to finish up Keeney’s 15 Minutes as well, but that just didn’t happen with restarting the King from page one. The two could have made nice companion pieces, but we’ll get there some other time. June 20th marks the start of summer proper, so that means it’s time for me to break out the paperbacks in a little tradition that I like to call Paperback Summer. I’ll see you back here for Part One in thirty days.
Back in college I lived in the same apartment for several years. In that time, I also manufactured small props and occult items for use in several student films. You know, stuff like this:
When the time came to graduate and move out of the apartment, there was some overlap between those features of my life. Here’s a short list of the tings that I did in preparation of moving…
- There were little lips above the insides of the kitchen doors, and if you closed them hard enough small objects would dislodge from the lip and end up inside the drawer. One of the drawers stuck open and had to be slammed closed virtually every time, so in this one I hid an economy sized Hershey bar as a gift for the new tenant. All of the others? Those got bone totems and hex bags and little vodou fetishes.
- Taped to the inside of the breaker box, there was a grimoire. Not a big one, mind you, just a couple of dozen little pages on the nature and creation of homunculi. Lavishly illustrated and heavily aged, the text was written in a made up language based on old alchemical symbols with passages in Hebrew, Arabic, and a lengthy excerpt from the Egyptian Book of the Dead presented in the original hieroglyphics.
- There was a bag of Japanese fish snacks that someone had bought on a joke…just these disgusting little flavorless, scentless, freeze-dried whole anchovies. Nobody much liked to eat them, so when the time to move came they were crammed into the air conditioning vents, the dryer lint-trap, and down into every little crack, crevice, and hidey-hole that could be found.
- Last thing out was to take a batch of fresh stage blood out from the fridge and dump it in the toilet tank. Don’t know if it would have the desired effect (to fill the bowl with fake blood when it was flushed) but there would be something to find someday either way.
You’re welcome, person who moved in after me.
Had a great lunch with some NaNoWriMo people today, and on the way home I drove past this lovely, grand looking Catholic church that was hosting what may be the best Christmas nativity scene ever made. It was one of those painted wooden stand-up jobs, but someone had put some real care and effort into the painting and making sure that the figures looked really active and dynamic. It was very nicely done.
The only problem is that it looked like all of the characters were having a gigantic, screaming Christmas Dinner argument.
Shit looked like the climax of the paternity reveal specials that day-time talk shows do. One Wise Man all pointing angrily down at the Baby Jesus while he screamed across the manger at his buddies. Mary stuck off in one corner, down on her knees with an expression of shock on her face. Brilliant.
I kind of want to go back and put a life-size cardboard cut out of Maury in the middle of it.
Every year, literally dozens of psychology experiments and surveys are designed and carried out by undergraduate Psychology majors. And just as surely as these tests are designed, there are plenty of students who will volunteer to participate in them…either because the girl with the clipboard standing in the middle of the quad is cute, or because they are failing Psych 101 and need some extra credit points. But whether you are filling out a form in the middle of the cafeteria or typing in endless answers on an ancient computer in a forgotten corner of campus, these tests almost always consist of five to one hundred questions about basic morality and they are always boring. So, because I was talking to an old Psych major last night about this crap, I decided to write my own survey.
Here are some excerpts.
Question 1: Let’s just get this out of the way right now. Are you going to answer these questions honestly? Because a lot of people don’t. I mean, a lot of people. And they really shouldn’t, because this is part of our grade, okay? We worked really hard on these questions and if our results come back all screwed up again, Professor Halloran is probably going to fail us and we’ll never get to go to the Rat Lab. So are you? Based on how big of a douche you feel like being this afternoon, please answer “Yes” or “No” below.
Question 10: Hey man, you’re taking Psych 101, right? Dude, how cool was Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment? So awesome. We’re circulating a petition to get the department to let us stage a recreation next semester, so please answer “Yes,” “No,” or “Indifferent” below based on your support for this idea. Okay, back to the test.
Question 17: You are walking in the Mojave Desert and you find five dollars. A nearby jack-rabbit watches you pick up the money, and--though he does not say anything--you suspect that it might be his. In fifty words or less, please describe how you deal with this moral conundrum.
Question 25: This test has been going on for quite a while now. Depending on how quickly you are answering the questions, we predict that you have been alone in this room for anywhere between fifteen minutes to an hour. In that time, the temperature has not changed, the lights have not flickered, and there has been no high-pitched buzzing designed to trigger your rage centers. On a scale of one to five, how disappointed are you by the absence of each of these classic movie psychology test elements?
Question 34: A psychology student administering a survey has just asked you a deeply personal question about that time when you were five and your mother yelled at you and left you crying in the middle of the frozen food aisle at the grocery store. She does not give any indication as to how she knows about this incident. On a scale of Cyan to Crimson (where Cyan equals “Placid,” Crimson equals “Wrathful,” and the entire intervening color spectrum equates to the corresponding range of emotions) how does this invasion of childhood trauma and your innermost shameful moments make you feel?
Question 55: Now that the test is nearly complete, please think back to Question One. On a scale of one to eight, where One equals “Extremely Truthful” and Eight equals “Highly Duplicitous” please evaluate your adherence to your earlier answer. If you do not remember what Question One was, or cannot recall your answer, please enter “Do Not Know” to restart this test.
Question 79: When you signed up for this experiment you expected the test to be administered by a real person, didn’t you? Maybe they had one of those sweet Voight-Kampff machines from Blade Runner? Please roll the provided six sided die and input your answer where 1-3 equal “Yes” and 4-6 equal “No.” If your answer does not correspond with your die roll, you are permitted to reroll once. If your answer still does not correspond upon rerolling, please contact a member of the testing staff so that they may administer an Opinion Shift and bring your thinking more in line with that of your die.