Jun 212015

The Suffering of Young WertherA short novel that with allowances for changes in dress and economics feels like it could have been written yesterday. I read it for the first time last summer and taught it to a small group of students in a very general 17th-19th century literature course in the Fall.

Two hundred and forty years old, and my students loved it. Pretty impressive.

Jun 202015

Grave PerilWhen I was a kid, I loved book series, and one of my favourite book memories is reading Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain over the course of a week in grade school. I’d stumbled upon The Book of Three, the first volume, in the library one Monday and that night read it through, spellbound by the pig-keeper’s adventures. Tuesday I checked out the Black Cauldron and read it to the end. By Friday, I’d read all the series, one book per day, finishing with The High King. The intensity of the experience left me sad but euphoric and I’ve never forgotten it.

The Dresden Files is nothing like Prydain other than being a series. It’s weightless and very much grounded in the myth-in-modern-world genre so popular on contemporary television (cf. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, True Blood, Supernatural, etc.), but that’s fine. Grave Peril is the third in the series and I didn’t love it, but things seem to be settling into a rhythm and the spirit-in-a-skull sidekick makes me laugh in his short scenes. This time around Harry is chasing ghosts and realizes nearly too late that they are just a ploy and that someone’s actually trying to kill him.


I’ve just realized that I didn’t log the first two books in the series (Storm Front and Fool Moon). That I didn’t feel like announcing I’d read them speaks volumes.

Jun 192015

duneDune was one of the most important books I read in my early teens. I reread it, studied the appendices, worked hard to piece together the world and make sense of everything that was going on with the guild, the spice companies, the Landsraad and the rest.

I looked up to Paul Atreides and wanted to be, as much as I could manage, like him. I wanted to understand how to think carefully and to observe details in order to see past the surface of things like he and the Bene Gesserit and the Mentats did. I also wanted to be as unshakeably calm as they were. (It’s worth dreaming right?)

When I read the novel again this past winter for the first time in years, all of it’s old strengths were still there, but it’s a very different book to me now than what I remember. Paul is so much younger than he seemed when I was reading his story the first time, and the adult characters are so much more present and more interesting than I remembered them. These adults are confronted with and trapped within difficult circumstances they didn’t choose and to which, unlike Paul, they have no time to adapt. They fight, aim to survive, and try to win with what resources they have, but their options are so limited. It is their limited circumstances that establish the political and economic foundations of the novel.

Structurally, I was surprised to realize that nearly half of the book occurs prior to Paul’s flight into the desert. I remembered the later episodes—and especially the final battle when the Shield Wall is breached—as being much longer.


Jun 182015

wwzAn archive novel organized without persistent characters. It’s an assemblage of moments that compound into an account of an event that is detailed yet intriguingly distant. A really brilliant piece of work that’s nothing like it’s adaptation.

My question: are the zombies necessary to make it work or could the same thing be done with ordinary events?