Saturday, June 30, 2012

What I'm Reading

  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King - It's been quite a while since I read a Stephen King book, but I enjoyed this one so much, I soon picked up another one, reviewed below. Most Americans will recognise the date of the title as that of the assassination of JFK. Al Templeton, small-town Maine diner owner, looks back on that event as a turning point in our history--a turn for the worse. If only he could correct that mistake. Fate has given him a way to do it, he eventually realizes, in the form of some kind of time tunnel in the pantry of his cafe, a time tunnel back to September 9, 1958: hang around for five years, then stop Lee Harvey Oswald. Unfortunately, fate has also given Al lung cancer, so he has to convince a burnt-out local teacher named Jake Epping to make the trip in his stead. This is one of the best time-travel stories I've ever read, and one that asks (and answers) a lot of the Big Questions--be careful, you might not like the answers.
  • Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson - Well-researched, eminently-readable account of perhaps our most significant Founding Father, from cradle to grave. Franklin was a complex man: most of his life an abstemious man of simple tastes, towards his fifties he became fond of fine food and drink; he had little education, but became one of the foremost scientists of the age, with key discoveries in physics and meteorology, from fluids to the Jet Stream to electricity; he eschewed the task of preparing the DOI on grounds he was no writer, yet his tracts and editorials galvanized the young republicans as much as Paine's works; fiercely defended and fondly beloved by many, he seems not to have been much of a family man; apron-wearing shopkeeper who dined with kings and queens. Not just for the history buff.
  • Blood Canticle by Anne Rice - For many years, I read every Vampire novel as it came out, up through about Memnoch the Devil, in which Lestat attempts to turn to the Good--well, in this book, he's not good or bad, he's just so in love with everybody, from Mona, the petulant slut he's inexplicably turned, to her mother Rowan and Rowan's husband Michael, it makes me want to puke. And while Mona is over the scene, Lestat seems to think it's important that everybody keep sitting down all the time and talking about whta happened before and is largely explicated in the Mayfair Witches books anyway. This is reputed to be the last novel of both the Vampire and Witches series. Sadly, it's one book too late.
  • Under the Dome by Stephen King - WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW!

    I liked this novel okay for the 1000 or so of its 1072 pages; yes, there are some predictable plot elements, some drab characters, but as a reader I really like 'Barbie', Iraq vet turned drifter as the main good guy, and I really hated Big Jim Rennie as the main baddie. The story takes place in Chester's Mill, Maine--and I mean entirely within Chester's Mill, as a giant, invisible, impregnable, inexplicable dome has just come down that perfectly conforms to the town's borders. While the US government tries ineffectually to breach the dome, those on the inside become more and more panicy. Frankly, their panic is spurred by subtle actions of Rennie, who as Town Selectman, sees an opportunity to take over the town lock, stock and barrel. He has used the town's money to line his pockets rather than perform many needed infrastructure upgrades, which would help the town through this crisis. The story plays out as more or less a morality tale about the GW Bush administration, where Bush is dumb but likeable First Selectman Andy Sanders, Cheney is Rennie (even down to the bad ticker) and the Dome is 'turrists'. So, everyone that's good is flag-wavingly, heart-rendingly good, and everyone bad is gang-rapingly, meth-lab-runningly bad. No, the part of this book that pissed me off was (and here's why I have the SPOILER ALERT!) the eventual explanation for the Dome. You may remember a quiet, little sci-fi movie of 1985 titled Explorers, in which some kids are sent instructions (in their dreams) from aliens on how to build a spacecraft. They do it, go to the mothership--and find out the aliens are just kids. 'Nuff said.

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