may 2014 books.

This is very, very late. I have excuses about leaving my flash drive with half of the text written on it at the office for a couple of weeks, but you're not interested in excuses. I'm not all that sure you're interested in the books either. Anyway, books.

Once on a Time
A.A. Milne
Did you know that A.A. Milne wrote novels? Me neither, until I found this one day.

This is a fairy story, in that it takes place in a far-off kingdom and there are dragons, princesses, and enchantments. In the introduction, Milne says he wrote it for adults, specifically for himself and his wife. He says that children prefer plot-heavy stories, while adults enjoy characters more. I have no idea if this is true. It seems my book club experiences would say otherwise.

In any case, the result is that the plot is mostly silliness. There is a war, but no actual fighting. A prince is turned into a bunny-sheep-lion-thing, but it's mostly just funny. A Countess embezzles tax money meant for an army that doesn't exist so that she can ride around on a horse and throw the money back to the people it came from. The war is ended when someone cuts off the king's moustache. At the end, there is a double wedding.

However, there is some character development. A princess grows into her role as ruler, and a king becomes a swineherd and is much happier. The book is rather morally ambiguous - there is a villain, and while part of her plans are thwarted, she mostly gets what she wants in the end. In fact, the narrator spends a lot of time defending her (he also spends a lot of time complaining about Roger Scurvilegs, who wrote the history books the narrator is pulling his story from). And the handsome prince, who is obnoxious and vain, goes home alone.

Anyway, it was fun.

The Martian Chronicles
Ray Bradbury
This is not exactly a novel, but more like a bunch of stories that are loosely connected. I guess you could call them "Chronicles." Some of the stories were originally published in sci-fi magazines. I guess Bradbury decided one day that he had enough put together to make a proper book.

The stories deal with astronauts arriving on Mars, meeting the natives, and then colonizing Mars between the years of 1999-2026. I guess I'll just give everything away and tell you that the human race basically mucks it up again by killing most of the natives and then ruining the land by trying to turn it into another planet Earth. But fear not! Meanwhile, on Earth, humans continue to be terrible and there is a massive nuclear war, destroying pretty much everything. Most of the colonists return to their home planet.

If you ever feel cynical about mankind, then you might enjoy this book!

I generally do not care as much for short stories compared with longer fiction. I never feel all that involved and then, whoops! it's over. While there were some chapters that I forgot already (looking through the Wikipedia summary and only vaguely recalling something I read within the past week), some of them keep popping up in my mind again. I think my favorite was the story about what happened to the second expedition. There were four expeditions to Mars, and the first three basically disappeared without a trace. During the second, the astronauts approach the Martians and declare themselves Earthlings, only to be ignored. They are put in an asylum filled with Martians who think they are from Earth. But see, Martians are telepathic, and so if one is insane, he can project his delusions into your mind so you can see them. So the Martians just think that they have one crazy Martian whose delusions are so powerful he can change his appearance and also manifest very complicated visions of three other astronauts and a rocket ship. Good, good stuff.

The Magic Pudding: Being the Adventures of Bunyip Bluegum and his friends Bill Barnacle and Sam Sawnoff
Norman Lindsay
You know, I buy a lot of books. And unless it is meant as a gift or perhaps a hardcover upgrade of a paperback favorite, then it goes into my to-read pile. My pile is not a pile at all, but a set of three shelves, alphabetized by author. When I finish a book, I go to my shelves and pick out a new one. Since there are so many, oftentimes I find a book that I have no recollection of acquiring. Sometimes I have no idea what struck me about the book enough to buy it. Other times, the book is instantly intriguing, and though I do not remember the moment specifically, I imagine that I was filled with wonder and excitement to find that not only does such a curious thing exist, it came to me in a shot of secondhand fate. I am able to imagine this moment so vividly, because I relive it right there, except this time it seems even more wonderful that this book not only exists, it has apparently been in my house for some time.

This book is a classic of Australian children's literature, but I enjoyed it, even though I am neither a child nor Australian. It is plot-driven, with very silly characters having very silly adventures, mostly focusing around their puddin', which is an anthropomorphic blob in a bowl that can be eaten and eaten and never run out. A sneaky wombat and possum keep trying to steal the magical puddin', and our heroes are forced to fight them to get it back.

It's really pretty funny and clever, in a completely nonsensical kind of way. There are lovely illustrations, and the story is frequently interrupted by songs and poems. When I was a kid and I read books with poems in them, I just skipped over them completely, like you would if you were reading a birthday card from a spinster aunt. Now that I am trying to develop my poetry bone, I made myself read the songs. In fact, I read them aloud, and I think that helped my enjoyment quite a bit, particularly since I do enjoy lyrical poetry when I hear it.

So, if Milne says that children prefer plot, rather than characters, this book fits that mold. Lindsay apparently wrote this book to settle an argument with a friend who said that children like stories about fairies. He said they liked stories about food and fighting much better.

A Fine Balance
Rohinton Mistry
Man, this was kind of a downer.

This book follows four people who were living miserable lives. They briefly come together, where they make a hodgepodge family for a while. And then circumstances break them up, and their lives suck once more.

The action takes place during Indira Gandhi's term as Prime Minister, specifically during the time known as the Emergency, when a state of emergency was declared across the country, and the PM basically ruled by decree. I know very little about the history of India, but this book does not paint a flattering portrait of the PM and her administration. Rampant corruption, forced sterilizations, demolition of the slums, and then carting off the newly homeless to a labor camp. So, yeah.

The title refers to the balances we all strive to strike in our lives. There were many examples, such as the one between hope and despair when your life is just truly awful. Since my life has never been truly awful, it was harder for me to relate to that (lucky me!). The one that struck me was in our dealings with other people - how to be kind and giving without being taken advantage of. Meanwhile, the other person is doing the same calculations from their own standpoint, and you don't know where they will decide their balance lies.

Overall, the book was okay. The character development was excellent, as each person was forced to reassess their ideas about others, specifically within the caste system. The first part of the book was spent introducing characters and then immediately reading their backstory, which made each one very sympathetic. So while you understand that this person is an antagonist in this other person's life, because you know both people's stories, you feel for both of them. You also feel sad that we just can't get along. And then you get really mad at the government, because they seem to be the antagonist in everyone's story. You want to go back to reading about fighting and food.

No comments: