Monday, March 21, 2011

A Spot of Reading

I'm quite a slow reader at the best of times, and for a while I was so busy letting myself get distracted with video games that I wasn't doing much reading at all. Lately I've been trying to do a bit more reading, with mixed results, so here are some thoughts on the books I've been reading, and some of the books still on my reading schedule...

Re-Reading The Lord of the Rings and Dune

If you would have asked my high school self to name his two favorite SF novels, he would probably have named these two. The only problem was, I hadn't read them since high school, and that's now starting to get to be a while ago, so I felt it was high time to revisit them.

I enjoyed these two re-reads, for the most part, though at times I had to remind myself that I enjoyed these books. I thought of The Lord of the Rings as "a long walk through some gloomy countryside."

In both cases, it was nice to revisit these settings again, and to remind myself of what the original books contained. Especially in the case of The Lord of the Rings, I had started to picture the film version as definitive, and I knew that I had to take action before I forgot Tom Bombadil.

 As for Dune, I remember being even more impressed with Dune when I first read it than I had been with The Lord of the Rings. It's held up well, though I was surprised to find on re-reading the novel that most of the story takes place before Paul and Jessica meet the Fremen, because nearly all of the novel that I remembered took place in the Fremen sietch and in the final battle against the Harkonnens and Sardaukar. I was also rather perplexed by the character of Count Fenring, who I couldn't remember at all from the first time I had read the books.

That said, Thufir Hawat was still my favorite character, and I still loved reading about interstellar politics and all the weird secret societies that Frank Herbert came up with with. Some things never change.

The next two books I read were Leviathan and Behemoth. You can read my thoughts on those on Supervillainous.

After that, I read Feet of Clay, because I can only go so long without reading a Discworld novel.

One of the proudest things I can say is that my wife got me into Discworld. I love the writing, the setting, the characters, the plot, the humor... just about everything. Some of the novels I've read were only so-so (Eric comes to mind as one that could have been skipped), but for the most part, the novels have ranged from good to amazing.

If there's interest from you readers, I'll start working on a longer Discworld post (or series of posts). But in the meantime, I'll constrain myself to commenting on Feet of Clay. It's the third Discworld novel featuring the Watch, which is my favorite set of Discworld stories. I was a big fan of Guards! Guards! and I liked Men at Arms even better, so my expectations were high for Feet of Clay. The book didn't disappoint.

Terry Pratchett has a gift for creating quirky characters, hilarious situations, and genuinely engaging plots. Feet of Clay also includes some deep consideration of what it means to be a person, seen through the lens of a fantasy world where a "person" might be undead, a monster, or even baked from clay.

Finally, I read Momo over the past weekend. This book was a gift from my brother. Both of us were big fans of The Neverending Story when we were younger, and recently my brother tried this other book by the same author, Michael Ende. He must have liked it, because he sent me a copy, too.

The plot is rather simple. It concerns a homeless orphan, Momo, who has a gift of listening to people. She lives alone in an abandoned amphitheater, but she is visited by her friends. The children play especially well when she's around, even without her saying anything to help them make up games. She has two good friends, Guido Guide and Beppo Roadsweeper. Guido is a young man who loves making up stories to tell gullible tourists in exchange for tips, while Beppo is an older gentleman who sweeps roads slowly and thoughtfully. He takes a long time to answer questions because he is convinced the dishonesty, even accidental dishonesty, is the cause of all of the world's problems.

Things get bad when some men in gray come to town. The men are gray all over, with gray suits, gray bowler hats, gray briefcases, and even gray skin and gray voices. They constantly smoke their gray cigars, and everyone around them gets slowly colder and colder. What do the gray people want? Time, as it turns out. They tell people about all the time they're losing to things like sleep, eating, and taking their time at their work. Any time spent with friends and family is time wasted. In fact, according to the men in gray, just about all time spent is time wasted. The gray men have a plan: if people start saving time, the gray men will bank it for them, and the people can have it back at a later point in their lives. People who believe the gray men start rushing about everywhere, doing everything to save time, hoping to get it back as the gray men had promised.

The novel functions best as an allegory for people who rush around trying to cram as much as they can into their days. It's interesting that the novel was published in 1973, because it sounds like a spot-on criticism of modern society. Though a lot of the novel is a bit lackluster, the description of characters who have found themselves caught in the grip of the men in gray is genuinely chilling.

Momo finds herself the only person in her town who hasn't been caught in the schemes of the men in gray, but luckily she has some strange allies to help her. One of these is Cassiopeia, who is a tortoise who can see exactly half an hour into the future and who communicates via messages that spell themselves out on her shell. She goes on a fantastical journey, including such Ende staples as food that gets better with every bite and a magical place where time passes differently than in the real world.

While I hope that everyone reads The Neverending Story at some point in their lives, I have a harder time recommending Momo. Mostly I hope that people pay attention to its message, which is to enjoy the things you do. And though I hesitate to quote Bertrand Russell, he really said it best when he said, "The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time."


Elizabeth E. Grey said...

man, i have got to reread LotR. i read them when i was... 8? or so. maybe 9. but yeah. need a reread. :) and dune i never finished.

Doomfinger said...

It's an interesting coincidence that I recently reread LotR (and read the Silmarillion for the first time--what an awesome book! The passage in which Aulë raises his hammer to smite the dwarfs is particularly moving.) and Dune. I intended to read all of the sequels to Dune, but they just aren't as interesting as the first book.

Baron von Chop said...

I seriously want to read at least the main Frank Herbert-written Dune stories, but right now there are so many other books on my list that I honestly can't even guess when I'll get to them.

Glad you dug the Silmarillion. Maybe some day I'll get to that, too, though I have a feeling it'll be even later.