Having first seen the movie, I read Nick Hornby’s About a Boy over the holidays and am glad I did. Here’s what stood out:
- Writing a book with one interesting character is hard enough. Here, Hornby somehow managed to write a book with several endearing characters, all of which kept me interested until the final period.
- Although I enjoyed the movie’s ending, the original book ending and additional character development is much better. I’m convinced Hornby could double as a behavioral psychologist—he understands and articulates human nature so well.
- The prose. For example, “The conversation in the arcade at least had the virtue of creating a mutuality between them: they had both confessed to something they wanted, and those somethings were, when all was said and done, not entirely dissimilar, even though the someones connected with the somethings evidently were.” And, “Ellie spent her whole time wanting life to be shit, and then making life shit by making life difficult for herself.” (i.e. getting in trouble for refusing to wear her school uniform, shouting at people, fighting just to fight.)
- The universal truth that all of us need back up, whether young or old, girl or boy. “Two or three isn’t enough,” says Marcus. “You need loads more backup in case someone decides to top themselves.”
Four stars out of five.
I’ve been working my way through some of history’s best-rated science fiction novels. And “no,” I don’t distinguish sci-fi from fantasy.
Overall, I find the technical language of books such as Hyperion, Shockwave Rider, and others with ridiculous covers—the kind Gentlemen Broncos makes fun of—too distracting to enjoy. Reading them feels like work. It’s almost as if the author wants me to decipher or decode the language before understanding it. It’s why I abandon many of these books, including The Hobbit. After all, I read to enjoy or educate myself—not learn a fictional language.
When they’re not using overly technical and distracting language, sci-fi novels often finish in confusing or unpoetic form, as is the case with Ender’s Game, an otherwise clever book. Now, I haven’t completely given up on the genre. I still have Dune, Starship Troopers, 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, and others on my list.
My faith in the genre skyrocketed today, however, after reading the first chapter of Planet of the Apes. It’s one of the best opening chapters I’ve read of any genre. It’s so captivating, I dare any imaginative mind over the age of 10 to read the first chapter and desist. It’s humanly impossible. Try it yourself if you don’t believe me, for free even.
That’s how you pull someone into a novel. Bravo, Pierre Boulle.
UPDATE: After finishing the book, I now regard Planet of the Apes as masterpiece literature—from beginning, middle, to the very ironic ending. Five stars out of five.
After a seven month hiatus (having only read 4-5 books last year), I caught the reading bug again. To stay the course, here are a dozen classics I’d like to read in 2009:
War and Peace
The Adventures of Huck Finn
In Search of Lost Time
The Stories of Anton Chekhov
The Catcher in the Rye
For Whom the Bell Tolls
I’m currently reading
Out of Africa and plan to re-read the following: Hamlet, The Great Gatsby, The Old Man and the Sea, and To Kill a Mockingbird (I remember liking them in high school). Off a recommendation from a well-read friend, I’m also excited to read Water for Elephants and The Kite Runner. And for cheap thrills, I’m going to read The Firm and The Rainmaker, two Grisham novels I missed.
Anything I should add?
Robinson Crusoe, The Count of Monte Cristo, Of Mice and Men, Measure for Measure, the complete Jane Austen collection, Man’s Search for Meaning.