Good glavin, I’ve closed the gap with this month’s beautiful sunshine to thank for it. I’m going do this July update across two posts, because otherwise it would be really long. Here’s the first four books for July.
Book 23: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Recommended to me by my good friend when we saw it in HMV, one of those stupidly cheap paperbacks that always drew me in as opposed to the over-priced CDs and DVDs YEAH, I SAID IT. Anyway, I had the book for about a year and a half before deciding to give it a shot as part of my challenge. Something about the beautiful weather seemed to make a novel set in India more appealing in the moment, and the rich descriptive prose from the opening pages give a strong sense of the sights and smells that greet Rahel as she returns to her home town. This is one of those books which supposedly has a shocking event, although there are in fact several events which take place throughout the family’s history that are upsetting and dramatic in their own right; at the start there is reference to the death of a young girl, so as the events of the book unravel we are aware that this is coming. But there are so many other elements woven into this story, and Roy’s writing manages to create a vivid image of India in both the late 1960s and the early 1990s, the two settings which the book alternates between. The novel centres around the lives of Rahel and her twin brother Esta, and their lives before and after a series of events which throw their lives into disarray when they are separated for over twenty years. The caste system, religion, business, poverty, and sex are all explored in the past and present, and what many of the characters seem to want is to break traditions and become more than their circumstance dictates they should be – there’s a Rhodes scholar, an Untouchable who defies the social structures and talks with Touchables and is also a Marxist, and even the twins’ mother who divorced her violent husband. It would be wrong for me to mention what those various events in the book are, but needless to say that some of them are upsetting, especially when they’re happening to children; and the climactic events from the 1960s which – thanks to some meddling from a bitter relative – gather more speed than necessary, the outcome is brutal and tragic, and has a lasting effect on the twins who grow up to be complicated individuals in different ways.
I enjoyed reading the book, although I had to ask my mum a couple of times when Malayalam words were used mid-sentence without explanation, but this didn’t ruin the reading experience; in fact, I’d say to some extent it enhanced the feeling of ‘being there’, if that makes sense.
Book 24: Joyland by Stephen King
So, this is Stephen King’s second novel for Hard Case Crime, and it was more or less what I was expecting from him; I know, I know, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the cover for this really does give you a good idea of what the book is going to be like. It’s Stephen King quality yet it’s also pretty typical of the kind of pulp, airport fiction that libraries always seem to be selling for 20p. Well, they used to, anyway.
Joyland is a classic sort of murder mystery story, in which Devin Jones, a young college student still reeling from a recent break-up, takes a summer job at an amusement park in the early 1970s, where he meets a range of kooky characters including a self-proclaimed psychic who warns Devin of people he will meet in the near future, and tells him about the ghost of a murder girl who still appears to Joyland customers in the haunted house ride. It’s kind of a corny horror cliche, more akin to Scooby-Doo than Stephen King, and in comparison to King’s other supernatural outings this was kind of weak and predictable; Devin becomes obsessed with the possibility of seeing the ghost and is jealous when his skeptic friend sees it instead of him. Meanwhile, he strikes up a friendship with a terminally ill boy and his initially cold mother, and his reputation at Joyland grows – he saves a young customer’s life and becomes the go-to guy to ‘wear the fur’, i.e. parade around as the park’s mascot. Devin strives to solve the mystery of the murder while trying to figure out what he wants out of life, and while the ending was predictable (if you’ve read even just one Point Horror or Point Crime book, you’ll see the culprit right away) it wasn’t an unsatisfying read. In fact, it was an easy, guilty pleasure.
Book 25: Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin
Goodreads tells me that this book has been on my ‘reading shelf’ since February, which was when I started it. Oh my god. No, I’m not a super slow reader, I actually got about 60 pages into the book and found it to be heavy going, perhaps too heavy going for somebody at the start of a challenge to read 52 books in one year. But given that for most of July all I’ve done is sit in the sunshine and read, I decided to pick this one back up and power through – it’s not as if I wasn’t interested in the subject matter.
Fordlandia charts Henry Ford’s endeavour to establish a rubber plant in the Amazon. I’ll let that sink in for a minute. The book starts by setting up a fair representation of Ford; he was surely an enterprising man, equipped with great engineering skills and a desire to be successful; but Grandin does not shy away from Ford’s less admirable traits such as his tendency to be cruel toward his son Edsel, and his blatant anti-Semitism. When I first picked up the book, I was intrigued by the idea of this abandoned city in the Amazon, designed to appear and function just like an American suburb. The reason I struggled with the book at first is because after the initial chapters which describe Ford’s early life and ambitions, from his childhood on a Detroit farm to his life at the top of his game as a car manufacturer, revolutionising the mechanics of factory construction by honing the assembly-line process, the book spends what I feel was a little too long on the exploits of Ford’s representatives who were sent there to make connections and scout locations, and many of whom were untrustworthy and in some cases corrupt. This was why I put the book down in the first place; it wasn’t that this section of the book was boring, it was more that it didn’t seem to be going anywhere.
But once it got going, it was incredibly interesting, particularly because throughout the book I kept thinking “Well, things will be fine when Ford actually goes there himself, seeing as he has the magic touch”, but like the residents (past and present) I was disappointed to find that he wasn’t coming. Isn’t that incredible? He spent an impossible amount of money, cleared acres of rainforest, destroyed the homes of a handful of natives and countless creatures, employed hundreds of workers and moved them with their families into Fordlandia, all to create his vision of a perfect American suburb transplanted into the Amazon. And he never once set foot there. I have to admire Ford’s ambition and his logic that higher wages would increase productivity and sales, but some of his developments confused and sort of annoyed me; enforcing American ways of life on the Brazilians he employed, like front gardens on every house that had to be kept in pristine condition, and lunches that were initially provided by the factory but then later taken out of the workers’ wages, at times it was clear that many of the decisions were made without concern for the staff. This book – when I finally managed to get back into it – was incredibly interesting, and if you’re interested in history or American history in particular, I’d definitely recommend this.
Book 26: Mission Earth #4: An Alien Affair by L. Ron Hubbard
After having a great time with Fordlandia, I decided to ruin this streak of beautiful weather and great literature by reading an actual novel by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology and all-round total weirdo. My brother bought this for me from Australia several years ago as a jokey gift because of my interest in Scientology (not as a participant, might I add), and I’d never had the urge to read it until a few weeks ago, when I thought “Hey, I’ll play a little joke on myself and put myself in a really bad mood by reading this book with a stupid title written by a stupid man”.
Oh my god, you guys – it’s, like, so bad. Imagine I wrote all my reviews and posts that way, sneaking ‘like’ into every other sentence for no reason. It would be a lazy thing to do, and that’s exactly how I’d describe Hubbard’s writing – lazy, shoddy, boring. It’s a confusing plot, partly because this is book number 4 in a ‘dekalogy’ (Hubbard’s term coined to mean ‘series of ten’), but even if I was masochistic enough to find the other 9 books in the series and read them, I imagine I’d still be left angry and offended by how terrible the writing is. Oh, and I did attempt to read the plot summary on Wikipedia but even that was so boring I ended up playing Tetris. The plot, from what I can recall (I have, as people often do after a traumatic experience, blocked out most of what I read for the sake of my sanity), is centred around an alien, Soltan Gris, who is on Earth to track down and kill some guy named Heller for whatever damn reason, I don’t even care to be honest. The start of the book involves Heller taking part in a circuit car race in New York (I think) where his car is kitted out with something that could be constituted as cheating, and basically everyone wants to kill Heller but they never manage it. Also Gris keeps losing money, he owes loads in credit card debts that his girlfriend has built up through her penchant for shiny things. What is supposed to be a fast-paced adrenaline-fuelled car-chase is astonishingly boring and repetitive, and it seems that Hubbard must have known this because during this part and any other ‘exciting’ moments he attempts to make it seem like there’s something going on by punctuating every! Sentence! Or! Clause! With! An! Exclamation! Mark! There’s a subplot involving population control, in which some kind of corporation is trying to turn people into homosexuals, and turn heterosexuals into pariahs. The puns and names in this book are cringe-inducingly transparent and unfunny, such as Delbert John Rockecenter (a play on John Davison Rockefeller), investigative journalist Bob Hoodward (for Woodward); and there’s also many references to how useless and destructive psychology and psychiatry are, thrown in for good measure – I suppose Hubbard couldn’t help himself, considering that this entire book is a self-indulgent mess from start to finish. Oh and I’d say that my favourite part is near to the end, when Gris manages to go home and get fixed up by doctors after being brutally savaged by two lesbians intent on turning him into a homosexual. The doctors fix him up and sort him out with a super-size dick, which is immediately put to good use with the young nurse who JUST CAN’T HELP HERSELF.
Honestly, the book was so bad that it went beyond funny and into downright frustrating. Urgh. My lack of respect for any of Hubbard’s fans or followers has reached new levels.
I’ll have the second one up on August 1st. See you then…