I spent the Songkran vacation upcountry (well, it's looks like "downcountry" on a map, but it's distinctly UPCountry). The house is only about 20 years old, and so has power (usually) a telephone (sometimes). and a television which manages to deliver Thai soap-operas 24/7. There's even an instant-on water heater in the shower (when there's enough water pressure to turn it on). The last couple of times I've tried to connect to the web from there, though, I've spent way too much time tinkering with connections and setup to make the effort again. This time, I decided to just go Cold Turkey. I packed a briefcase, the backpack I usually haul all my laptops bits around in, and, for good measure, the conference bag picked up at Learning 2.0 - with BOOKS, and every day I treated myself to a couple new volumes.
First of all, I decided to catch up with some of my favorite novelists, and also to try on a couple of new ones. I started with Joe Hill's first novel (Heart-Shaped Box) and found out that indeed, the nuts don't fall far from the tree (and no offence to either King or Hill. I own every novel King's written and a lot of his short fiction. I think he's vastly under-rated as a novelist because of his selection of the macabre as his vehicle). Hill's prose is so much like his Dad's (Stephen King, if you didn't make the connection) that my reaction was a bit like it was on reading a Richard Bachman many years ago. ("Hey, this guy writes just like Stephen King!).
My appetite for the bizarre truly whetted, I went on to read the first two volumes of the Marvel version of King's "Dark Tower" opus ( the Gunslinger Born and The Long Road Home). Now there is a reading/viewing/imagining experience! I think I'm hooked on graphic novels.
Just to vary things a bit without really giving up on the theme, I read "Vampire Academy" by Richelle Mead. It's a YA, and as such, I couldn't fully relate, but it's good enough to recommend to my HS readers looking for a followup to Stephenie Meyer. Still, perhaps I should have reversed the order of the reads. After Hill and King, Mead was a bit of a letdown. I've still got a new Neil Gaiman in hand, though (Gaiman and Reaves' "Interworld"), and a day left in the break. I've saved the final chapter of "Heart-Shaped Box" but maybe I'll still get to another really thought-provoking read.
I did, of course, offer myself a bit of that along the way. To counter the spare plot and predictable dialog of the YA, I turned to one of my favorite writers of recent years. I missed his work when he first hit big, but since "The Road" (written, coincidentally, at pretty much exactly the same time I was doing the first draft of my own "road-novel" - this one) I've been a McCarthy fan, and the real joy in missing him in the '90's is going back to catch his earlier work.
This vacation, it was time to read "Cities of the Plain", the final book of McCarthy's Border Trilogy. As usual, McCarthy absolutely transports me to the lean, mean and sometimes desolate world of his 20th-century America, and in "Cities" I found a world that I could relate to on a truly personal level. I grew up in a small Canadian version of John Grady Cole's New Mexico ranch. I spent the first seventeen years of my life trying to escape the farm, and yet, oddly, I find myself in the new millenium, harkening back more and more to that world. Being globally connected is great, but McCarthy connects his characters to the world in an earthy way that resonates with me in ways that silicon sentences and digital data just can't replicate.
Heading into this break, I figured I also would have some time on my hands (like during the 13 1/2 hour drive down) when I wouldn't be able to read, but I could listen, so I downloaded several new titles to my phone (I don't have an iphone, so need to list on my O2). I recently listened to "One Second After" and decided I wanted something along that line, so I had 12 hours of "Apocalypse 2012" (Lawrence E. Joseph, 2009) to chew over.
But to provide a bit of timeless food for thought, I also tried out one of our new MP3 CD audiobooks. This gave me another 9 hours of "Zen and Now" a recently published followup to the classic "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". For anyone who has ever read and mulled over Robert Pirsig's reflections on "Quality", "Zen and Now" is a great followup. Mark Richardson offers up his own road-trip along with unique insights into Pirsig's philosophy, and details of the Pirsig's personal journey that, as a rider myself (and with several motorcycling incidents detailed in my own book), I found absolutlely rivetting. A "must-read" (or listen. Actually, this is one of those titles that I find huge pleasure in going back to again and again to listen while the miles spool by). Don't miss it!
Of course (and not, in any way comparing myself to any of the above), do yourself another favor, and try out a new and yet unknown author and order your copy of "Mai Shangri-La" (Amazon). Do me a favor, and write an Amazon review if you find the book has any redeeming qualities. I'd love to write the final instalment of the Mai Shangri-la story, but unless the first book reaches and audience, I'll probably never get to it.