Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Slow Week at the Reviewing Stand

Agincourt: wikipedia image
One of the magazines for which I review -- the one that usually sends four or five books at a time -- is no doubt enjoying a long holiday. I hang a book bag on a knob in my room where I keep the "to do" work, and it has been empty since December 20th. "More books, please! I need the money."

The other magazine uses the Pony Express to deliver books one at a time. That means "media mail" to deliver books, and we're talking five days from Yes, I do it until it arrives. I think it's possible to drive across the USA in five days. And probably read a book at the same time, or at least if you don't send more than five text messages an hour.

I've been at odds with what to do. I dislike television. I watch movies in batches, but only when the mood strikes. I write. I presently have done 2.75 essays since the holiday, all which are not yet complete but rather undergoing revision, except for the .75 one which I lost track of somewhere in the middle.

And so I've been reading. For fun. First, Cormac McCarthy's The Road. I don't think it is as good as No Country for Old Men, which in turn comes in second to my preference for McCarthy's Border Trilogy. 

The Road is, well, good enough. No, it's better than that. It's the work of a master artist, but not the best work of a master artist. No doubt it is rife with symbolism I don't get. I did get the weather, the environment, the physical milieu through which the two protagonists must shuttle, which must have been the result of a nuclear war or a massive volcanic eruption. Well rendered, that, every sentence.

I also think McCarthy did a superb job with the "how it's gonna be" if civilization breaks down. Grab your AR-15 knock-offs. And be sure to keep fire-making flints in your pocket. A good knife will help too, although there seem to be few animals to kill, skin, and roast.

I read it because someone gave it to me, someone who knew I had raved about the Border Trilogy.

Next step: my first read for pleasure—I've reviewed books with the device—on the Kindle. I chose (primarily because it was a daily deal at $1.99) a pot-boiler of a historical novel -- Bernard Cornwell's Agincourt. Who can resist Henry V and the band of brothers and arrows skewering the French who are intent on killing every dirty Englishman in France?

And I'm always up for a Cornwell. Mr. Kindle tells me that I'm 60% done, and I'm enjoying every minute. If Cornwell isn't a literary writer, he is certainly a very good historical writer. And prolific. The guy must have a dozen research assistants. 

Henry V rendered through the lens of Cornwell comes across here as no Laurence Olivier or Kenneth Branagh (the two versions I've watched on film) but rather more boyish and far more entranced with his divine right to be king of France. There is much priest and prayer in the novel, as much in fact as there is rape, pillage, murder, brutality, feudal oppression, and limb-lopping battle, during which we are informed the favorite procedure for dispatching a helmeted man-at-arms or knight seems to be a sharp object through the helmet visor into the eye socket to mess about in the brain.

Religion, in fact, plays a big part in the novel, but the real grab-you-by-the-collar dynamic comes from the protagonist, Nick Hook, a lord's forester turned outlaw (he punched a priest who raped a heretic girl) who is thereafter seek refuge in an archer company where he finds protection under another lord. 

Rollicking good Errol Flynn scene-chewing fun, every page, frosted with tidbits of historical knowledge that will have you prepared for trivia contests.

And I like the Kindle, which I've used very little since it has been mostly in the possession of the two females in the house. It ain't like reading a "real" book, but it sure is convenient to see, buy, and read within a minute or two. Funnily enough, in lurking about various waiting rooms over the past few months, I've seen a number of Kindles, which I find somewhat surprising for reasons that I cannot explain. Sure, there are a lot of folks with their noses in smart phones, and a few youngsters with hand-held video games, but I've seen a half dozen people sit down to wait and pull a Kindle from a book bag.

I have a yen for salt spray. Any recommendations for a good sea-faring tale other than Patrick O'Brian? Eight to ten bucks seems a little over-the-top for an electronic book even though I know how hard the creative process, meaning every writer deserves every shekel possible.

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