January, 2005

Jan 05

Process Story

A while back, when The West Wing was fantastic, instead of merely good television, they ran an episode titled “Process Stories” that was about how sometimes the news isn’t about the content, but about the process that’s happening.

Well, this post isn’t about my content as usual as much as it is about the process of blogging. I initially started blogging just to keep track of what I thought about when I read the books that I read, when I visited the places I visited.

I’m finding now, though, that the process of blogging is changing the way that I read some. As I read lately, I find myself thinking through how I’m going to talk about what I’m reading, what I think about it — it’s helping me to become more critical about what I read, and I think that’s a (mostly) good thing.

Jan 05

The Power that Preserves, by Stephen R. Donaldson

This is my last Stephen R. Donaldson post, at least for a while. The Power that Preserves is the third and final book of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever — a fantasy series comparable in scope to The Lord of the Rings.

I’m glad that I re-read these books — there was a lot that I had forgotten, and really a lot in them to recommend. Reading all 3 of them right in a row, in the space of a week or two, though, might not have been the best idea. By the time I got to this third book, I flew through it pretty quickly just to get to the end. Perhaps as a result, I ended up thinking that this was the weakest of the three, but still reasonable & satisfying.

I’m ready to read some other things for a while — I’ve got a couple of novels that I’ve been excited to read; feeling like I want to get back to some non-fiction as well.

I am planning to read at least one more epic fantasy series this year, though — just need to decide which. (In addition to re-reading the Harry Potter books from the start.) Thinking about The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Shanara books by Terry Brooks, or maybe even the Neil Jordan books. We’ll see.

Jan 05

The Illearth War, by Stephen R. Donaldson

The 2nd installment in Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, the only real fantasy trilogy that I’ve ever read that approaches the scope of Tolkein. Actually, that’s not quite right — the Terry Brook’s Shanara books are similar in scope as well, and while I really enjoyed them, they always seemed to me to be directly derivative of The Lord of the Rings.

Covenant I always thought was basically the same — I read it around the same time as a kid. As I re-read the trilogy, though, I’m revising my view. Like Tolkein with LOTR, Donaldson wrote the trilogy all at once — in what was essentially a mega-novel (Tolkein never thought of LOTR as a trilogy, really) — Tolkein in 1954; Donaldson in 1977. But while Tolkein’s work is really a piece of a much much larger mythology, Donaldson’s is more self-contained. I think, also, that the Covenant series is somewhat more adult, exploring character much more — in particular, the role of belief (and unbelief), sickness, and permanency. In plot they’re similar, in attitude they’re different. Easy to understand why those differences wouldn’t be apparent to me as a kid.

I’ve got the third installment, The Power that Preserves to read next — then I’ll decide if it’s worth it to read the 2nd trilogy. Maybe so, but I’d like to read some other things first. I will say that it’s great getting the chance to read these books in just a few sittings — it’s nice to have that continuity.

Next on tap, three new books from some of my very favorite authors: Coupland, Murakami, and Diamond. I’m a little overwhelmed that they all came out with books this month. 🙂

Jan 05

Hard News, by Seth Mnookin

Nikhyl gave me this book for Christmas — the full title is Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media. It’s a book that I didn’t expect to like, but really did. Nominally tells the story of Jayson Blair and the 36+ articles that he plagerized or fabricated over a period of months in his role at The Times, but really tells a bit about the long and influential history of the paper and the people around it. The book also gives quite a lot of good insight into how newspapers, especially those that write history like the NYT, view their responsibilities to their readership, and how some of those are dealt with on a day-to-day basis.

I have to say that I’ve only started to appreciate The New York Times over the last couple of years — for most of my life, it’s always seemed to me to be very specific, very insular, and just very disonnected from me and my life. Not to mention that their sports coverage is lousy, and shows a very odd obsession with George Steinbrenner. I think that I’m beginning to understand a little bit better, and this book helped a lot, how papers like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal all really inform and shape the public debate. Which means that when things go wrong, like Jayson Blair, things are very bad.

Anyway, it’s an interesting book to read — gets somewhat into the details of the people and processes, so drags a little bit in places, but the basic story and history is worth knowing. (Thanks Nikhyl!)

Jan 05

Bloodsucking Fiends, a Love Story, by Christopher Moore

A lot of fun, like Moore’s other books. As you’d imagine, this one’s a wacky novel about vampires. Only 2 of them, but still. Lately I’ve been working through all of his books because they’re fun & light — and very clever. Only 3 of them left, so I’ll probably read those in the next couple of months. Worth reading.