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rambling remarks on three random books.

October 13, 2013

It often happens that at any given time, I find not one but several books that interest me. Sometimes I stay interested in the books, sometimes not.

Here are the most recent ones I’ve attempted to read:

Over Sea, Under Stone.

Let’s start with “Over Sea, Under Stone,” published in 1965 by Susan Cooper. This is book one of “The Dark is Rising Sequence.” There are five books in this series. The books are modern fantasy stories, steeped in English and Welsh legends, and were written for children. I don’t think there was a target group called “Young Adult” readers back in the ’60’s. These days, “The Dark is Rising” books can be found in the YA section of libraries and book stores.

Kids (and adults) who read these books probably also have read “The Chronicles of Narnia,” (C.S. Lewis)  “The Lord of the Rings,” (J.R.R. Tolkien) The “Wrinkle in Time” series (Madeleine L’Engle) The Earthsea books (Ursala K. Le Guin),  and the fantasy stories about a character named Taran, by Lloyd Alexander.

I’ve read all of the Narnia books (several times.. I really like those), LOTR, “The Hobbit,” and “The Silmarillion” by Tolkien (that last one is far too complicated and difficult for most kids, and even most adults), the first three L’Engle books in the “Wrinkle in Time” series, (and I plan on reading the others), the first two Earthsea books (liked the first one, didn’t like the second, didn’t read the 3rd, are there more?), and read all the Taran stories(back when I was a kid.. I can’t remember how many there are.

The main reason I started reading “Over Sea, Under Stone” is because the fourth book in the series caught my attention when I was young. The fourth book is called “The Grey King.” It won the Newbury Medal (the highest American honor for children’s books, as far as I know). When I was 7 or 8, one of my babysitters brought over a copy of “The Grey King.” He did not read it to my brother or me, he had brought it along to read after we had gone to bed. I think he told us the book was too scary, and we weren’t yet old enough for it.  He let me look through it though. There were a few illustrations in the edition he had, if I remember right. Pictures of strange men in robes. One man had odd markings on his face.

The book looked scary. The hardcover edition has a very striking cover.. a closeup illustration of a ghostly-looking German Shepherd, lightning bolts, a shadowy human figure.. yeah, it looks scary. A few years later, I read a little bit of it. I don’t know why, but I didn’t get into that book when I was a kid. However, the memory of it has stayed with me.

A few weeks back, I decided that if I were to really appreciate “The Grey King,” I should first read the books that preceded it. So, I checked out “Over Sea, Under Stone.”

Sad to say, the writing, so far (I’ve read into chapter 4), is often not good.

The story starts out interestingly enough. The book is set in England. A family shows up in Cornwall for vacation. (I’m interested in Cornwall.. one of the most beautiful and famous regions in the UK). There, the family is met by an old man who is a mysterious friend of theirs. He seems powerful, and slightly magical. He comes and goes.. he’s a bit like Gandalf in some ways.

The kids in the family, who are the main characters, encounter a strange yacht in the harbor, and later meet some subtly disturbing people who sail the yacht. That part is interesting.

What is not interesting.. the kids explore the huge old house they are staying in, find passageways and a huge attic. This reminds me of “The Magician’s Nephew,” one of the Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis. The plot of that book is otherwise quite different though.

One of the kids finds a treasure map.. we are now entering into even less original territory. I am becoming less pleased.

Also, Cooper uses adverbs excessively. I am not a Stephen King fan, but I did like parts of King’s nonfiction book called “On Writing.” In that book, King very strongly instructs novice fiction writers to avoid the use of adverbs. King said to stop  at “said,”.. for example.. ” ‘Stop the press!’ he said.” Not ” ‘Stop the press!’ he said emphatically.” That’s my example, not King’s.. just wrote it out to give you an idea of what King meant.

Cooper clearly felt a compulsive need to put an adverb behind the word “said” just about every time she typed it. This has been driving me absolutely crazy.

Granted, the book is written for kids, but still..

I’ve pretty much put this book down. I’m still curious about the series, but the lack of originality in the book thus far, and especially the astonishing use of pretty much every adverb in existence, has gotten on my nerves too much. I think I will return “Over Sea, Under Stone.” Maybe I will read it later. I still want to get to “The Grey King,” and read it in context.

For some reason, I get a strange, creepy feeling about these books. It comes from when I first encountered “The Grey King” when I was a child. Maybe I won’t read these books. I probably will though.. someday.

The “DMZ” graphic novel series.

The dominant publisher of graphic novels for adults is called Vertigo. Vertigo is a subsidiary of DC comics. Vertigo has published such classics as the Sandman series (written by Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite authors), “V for Vendetta,” by Alan Moore (DC published Moore’s “The Watchman” before the company started the Vertigo line), and the “Hellblazer” series, written by various authors.

“DMZ” is a popular Vertigo series. Pretty much wherever you’ll find graphic novels for mature readers, you’ll find these books. They were written by Brian Wood, and illustrated by Ricardo Burchielli.

Some of you might know that the initials “DMZ” stand for “De-Militarized Zone.” I’d have trouble explaining what this is, so I will let Wikipedia do that:

“A demilitarized zone, or DMZ, is an area in which treaties or agreements between nations, military powers or contending groups forbid military installations, activities or personnel. A DMZ often lies along an established frontier or boundary between two or more military powers or alliances. A DMZ may sometimes form a de facto international border—for example, the 38th parallel between North and South Korea.”

The DMZ in the graphic novels is not the one between the two Korea’s. In this series, the DMZ is Manhattan Island. The stories take place in the midst of a second civil war in America. Part of the country is controlled by the US government, and the other part is controlled by various groups in many states that are fighting against the govt. The DMZ is located in Manhattan because other parts of NYC are controlled by the govt., but, if I remember correctly, New Jersey is under the control of the rebels.

Manhattan has turned into a truly hellish place. Maybe you have seen the Kurt Russell cult classic film “Escape from New York,” in which NYC was turned into a maximum security prison. Manhattan, in the books, is much like it is in that film, only even worse. It’s a massive war zone. The government and the rebel forces are not the main groups fighting in the DMZ. The residents of Manhattan are fighting with each other. Street gangs, random crazies, sympathizers on both sides of the civil war, etc.

Thrust into this chaos is a journalist intern named Matty, a rather foul-mouthed young guy who gets stranded on the island, and ends up being the only reporter there. For awhile, he mostly just tries to survive, but eventually starts to file stories with members of the press, who he communicates with via satellite phone and computer. He always wears a black shirt or jacket with the word “press” painted in white large letters on either the front or back. Since he is the only journalist in the DMZ, he often, but not always, is left alone by the multitudes of very dangerous people on the island.

Not everyone in the DMZ is dangerous. For example, the first person he meets is a nurse. He meets many other people who are not violent, except when attacked. Many folks are just trying to survive. No one is allowed off the island except for those who are able to fly in and fly out, such as military personnel, and the journalists they bring in and out. Matty is the only one who ends up embedded. He got stuck because the chopper he was in got shot down in the beginning of the first book.

The DMZ is not entirely without military involvement by either government or rebel forces. Sometimes the various armies make short raids. These tend not to go well.

I’ve read all of the first book, and some of the second. The stories are quite interesting, and very though-provoking, considering the sad and ridiculous state of American govt. right now.

The books are very very intense. Foul language.. loads of it.. Matty isn’t exactly articulate, and is often living in a state of terror.

Violence? Tons.. these graphic novels are extremely gory. The gore is appropriate considering the subject manner.

I am a very sensitive person. I’ve read some rather gory graphic novel series in the past, but this one still gets to me.. perhaps because it is more realistic than some other titles I’ve read. People get blown to bits in war zones, and these books show in illustrations the myriad ways carnage can appear.

If I hadn’t gotten stuck watching the very gory TV show “Fringe” for one and a half seasons before I was able to get myself to stop watching it, I’d be better able to tolerate the gore in the DMZ series. But, I’ve had it with gore. I need a break, so I am going to postpone reading more of DMZ, at least for now. I will perhaps finish it eventually. There are 12 volumes.

The DMZ stories were originally a comic series, and lasted for 72 issues. Each graphic novel volume contains many issues. It is standard practice to put together many comic issues into graphic novel format, many issues per volume, after a series has been completed.

“DMZ” seems to be rather well done. If you think the story might intrigue you, and you don’t mind all the language and gore, then this is a title worth checking out at your local library.

No Man Knows My History.

This is the title of a biography of the founder of the Mormon religion, Joseph Smith. The title comes from Smith’s quote, “You don’t know me; you never knew my heart. No man knows my history. I cannot tell it; I shall never undertake it. I don’t blame anyone for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I could not have believed it myself.”

The book is by historian Fawn M. Brodie, who also wrote about Thomas Jefferson, Richard Nixon, and other historical figures. Brodie published this book in 1945, and heavily revised and re-published it in 1970.  This.. is a controversial book.

Here is what Latter-day Saint (Mormon) historian from Brigham Young University , Marvin S. Hill had to say about the book:

“For more than a quarter century Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows My History has been recognized by most professional American historians as the standard work on the life of Joseph Smith and perhaps the most important single work on early Mormonism. At the same time the work has had tremendous influence upon informed Mormon thinking, as shown by the fact that whole issues of B.Y.U. Studies and Dialogue have been devoted to considering questions on the life of the Mormon prophet raised by Brodie. There is evidence that her book has had strong negative impact on popular Mormon thought as well, since to this day in certain circles in Utah to acknowledge that one has “read Fawn Brodie” is to create doubts as to one’s loyalty to the Church.[9]”

(thanks again to Wikipedia.. I donate a bit of money to that website sometimes, since I’m on it so much).

My mom read this book earlier this year. She said it was amazing, even shocking. I decided I wanted to try something different, and read a wild story that is actually true, so I checked out this book.

The other reason I started reading this one is that I live in a state that is heavily populated by Mormons. I live in Idaho. Some folks out here have told me that there are more Mormons per capita living in Idaho than in Utah. I don’t know if that is true, but there are Mormon churches on practically every block, or so it seems.

For the record, I should state that I am not a Mormon. I’ve only read a little about Mormonism, and watched a couple documentaries. I do not believe the teachings of the Mormons are true, and I don’t think Mormons are Christians.  But, I don’t think Catholics (like my mom and aunt) and Protestants (like my brother and his family) have a leg to stand on when bashing Mormonism. I don’t think the stories of Christianity, regardless of its form, are true either.

I think Christians who bash Mormons sound like idiots. I tell my relatives something like this, but I’m much less harsh when I do this.  I like to get along with my relatives, and so I simply say that I don’t think their religions are any more true than Mormonism is, and therefore they shouldn’t bash other faiths. Since I am not religious at all, I can write negatively about any faith I want.

As far as religions go, Mormonism is not the worst on the planet. It can be pretty bad.. especially for women, but it is not the worst. Radical Islam is certainly much worse than Mormonism as it is practiced by most of the faithful.

“No Man Knows My History” is a book I will likely find quite interesting. I’ve already read the first chapter.

The book is a bit of a challenge though. I’ve got a rather good vocabulary, but Brodie uses lots of words I need to look up. Here is my list of unfamiliar words from the introduction and the first chapter: “parsimonious,” “impecunious” (I’ve never even seen that word before!), “Antinomianism,” (??), “pleurisy,” “alarmus,” and “decoction.”

Sometimes I think that scholars, to seem more scholarly, haul out massive Thesaurus books, and dig for the most obscure words they can find. I read a lot, and I have never come across some of these words.. and these are just from the beginning of the book. I’ve got a dictionary built into my computer, another one on my ipod, and there’s the internet. I have some research to do.

My plan right now is to return the Cooper book and the graphic novels to the library, (although I still feel somewhat that I should stick with the Cooper book.. I will get it again later, probably) and concentrate on Brodie’s biography of Joseph Smith. Apart from the words I’ll need to look up, I can tell already that Brodie’s writing is rather good.

That’s tonight’s rambling remarks on three random books.

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