I’m woefully behind on sharing my most recent reads. As that has been my habit, I’m thinking about changing how I do my book summaries. I may go back to doing an individual post for each book. I’m getting ready to dive into the Harry Potter series, so doing the individual book posts may have to wait until 2017.
For now, a quick run through the four books I read in October, then I’ll go ahead and knock out my first, pre-Potter, book of November.
The Fireman – Joe Hill. I really enjoyed Hill’s last novel, NOS4A2, which was very much in the spirit of his father’s work, yet still distinct. This one got excellent early reviews as well. I think it was a step back for Hill, though. It felt much more in debt to his father’s canon, and thus was less successful. It was a decent read, but I was often distracted by elements that either felt too close to his dad’s work, or felt like pale imitations of something his dad has written. I also thought it was weird that the character referred to as The Fireman wasn’t really the main character of the book.
The Heavenly Table – Donald Ray Pollock. Man, was this good. I loved Pollock’s debut novel, The Devil All The Time, and could not wait to get to this one. It began with a similar general feel: Midwestern, dark, treading on uncomfortable territory. Then, maybe a quarter of the way into the book, Pollock throws a big twist in style at the reader: humor. This book is very, very funny. I just loved how he takes two pages to run off on little tangents sharing the back stories of secondary characters who stumble into the main story. And he has a wonderful way of creating main characters that are deeply flawed, yet demand our sympathies.
The Hike – Drew Magary. If The Fireman felt like a poor homage to Stephen King, this felt like a very good one. A businessman on a trip goes out for a hike from his rural hotel. He stumbles into a strange, parallel world filled with murderous dog-men, kindly old ladies, talking crabs, and giants, among other things. His only chance to get home to his family is to follow a path that leads ahead through meadows, oceans, and mountains. There’s a lot of classic King in here, but Magary does it all very well. And his conclusion is wonderful.
Cambodia Noir – Nick Seeley. A casual selection from the New Books shelf, this is a deeply dark story of an American journalist working in Cambodia, who gets sucked into the worst elements of the local political and drug rivalries while searching for a mysterious former coworker who disappeared suddenly. He runs afoul of pretty much every side in the local conflicts along the way, and does a shitload of drugs. Didn’t love it. Didn’t hate it.
Outposts – Simon Winchester. I forget how many of Winchester’s books I’ve read in the past. I know I read Krakatoa. I might have read another one or two over the years. But I stumbled across this somewhere over the summer and finally sent off to the good folks at Amazon for it. It details Winchester’s travels, in the early-to-mid 1980s, to the handful of remaining British colonies around the world. He visits Diego Garcia, Tristan da Cunha, Ascension Island, St. Helena, Hong Kong, Gibraltar, a handful of Caribbean islands, and most significantly, the Falkland Islands during and after the Falklands war of 1982. His mission during his travels is to discover why Britain keeps these few remaining outposts, and what the people who live on the islands gain from being governed from London.
Winchester is proudly British, but also feels pain for those on the islands who have been largely ignored by London and have limited rights of citizenship back on the home island.
What fascinated me about this book was the time in which he traveled and wrote it. In the mid–80s, we were on the verge of what I’ll call the modern age of communications. Satellites were just beginning to be used for regular communications. The smaller, more isolated islands still relied on shortwave radio and underwater cables for direct contact with the outside world. Supplies, newspapers, and mail were only delivered occasionally. GPS devices were not commonly available, either, so sailing to some of these remote islands could be rather difficult. The islands were still exceptionally disconnected from the larger, western world.
That all changed in the 1990s, though. Satellites mean you can live anywhere in the world, and still speak, clearly, to anyone, anywhere. The Internet means newspapers that once took weeks to arrive at these colonial outposts are now shared instantly. While there remains an immense physical gap between Tristan da Cunha, in the middle of the South Atlantic, and London, the technological/informational gap between them has been greatly reduced.
It’s just harder to get lost in the world than it used to be.
- Reminder: Hill is Stephen King’s son. ↩