Monday, February 15, 2010

Gentlemen of the Road

Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of AdventureTitle: Gentlemen of the Road
Author: Michael Chabon
Pages: 196
Published: 2007 in serial form in The New York Times
2008 in book form by Del Rey (Ballantine) Books
Read For: Monday Night Book Club
Chosen By: Suzanne, February 2010
My Rating: 2 stars (below average, sorry)

I don't like disliking books. As silly as that may sound, I say it because I want to make the point that I am typically an optimistic person, and like to find the good things about everyone and everything, I like to broaden my horizons and I try to be open minded. One of the reasons I really enjoy my book club is because it forces me to branch out and read things that I would not otherwise choose. Every once in a while, however, I need to be honest and admit that I am simply not a fan.

Gentlemen of the Road is my first experience with Michael Chabon's writing, and I have to say that I enjoyed reading the Afterword far more than I did the novel itself. Because of that, I'm going to guess that this was not the best novel with which to begin reading his works, especially considering that another of his novels won a Pulitzer Prize, an honor much easier to imagine after reading the Afterword. Unfortunately, my dislike of how the novel was written may prevent me from reading anything else of his for quite a while.

The premise of the story is interesting, as was the actual story itself, when it could be found. An old fashioned adventure tale taking place in the 10th century, the story centered around two men trying to earn a living, one gig at a time, and inadvertently get caught up in the fight for a kingdom. The style of writing, however, did not match the style of the story and resulted in something that felt amateurish. The style of writing itself was disjointed, the dialogue having a very different feel from the narrative. Ideally, it would have been Charles Dickens (complex sentences and descriptions) meets Alexander Dumas (swashbuckling adventure) but poor execution resulted in that remaining the ideal, not the reality. The first chapter, especially, seemed stilted and uninviting, and felt very strongly of thesaurus overuse. At only 196 pages it didn't take too long to read, for which I'm grateful. Have you read it? Leave me a comment, I'd love to be proven wrong.

An excerpt from page 6:
The Frankish scarecrow slipped out from under his impaled hat and unfolded himself one limb at a time, running his fingers along the parting in his yellow hair. He looked from the African to the hat and back. His cloak, trousers, hose and boots were all black, in sharp contrast with the pallor of his soft hands and the glints of golden whisker on his chin and cheeks, and if he was not a priest, the he must, thought the mahout, for whom a knowledge of men was a necessary corollary to an understanding of elephants, be a physician or an exegete of moldering texts. The Frank folded his arms over his bony chest and stood taking the African's measure along the rule of his bony nose. He wore an arch smile and held his head at an angle meant to signify a weary half-amusement like that which plagued a philosophical man when he contemplated this vain human show.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

For the Record: January 2010

I can't believe it's already a new year of reading! My goal this year is to make a major dent in the books on my bookshelf that still need to be read. I got to cross 2 of those off my list this month. Not enough! I tend to choose books by my mood, so it's definitely a challenge for me to read books that have been staring at me for years.

1. (3.5) The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Sixties, Jonathan Leaf. We just moved into a mid-century modern house in remarkably original condition, so I was inspired to know more about the '60s. This went quick, was definitely biased, (it had the obligation to contradict all the assumptions about the 1960s,) but very interesting all the same.

The Help2. (4) The Help, Kathryn Stockett. I have to admit that I was surprised by how much I liked this book...I thought that with all the hype about it, I'd be let down. But I wasn't! I enjoyed the characters, and being plopped down in a different time and place.

3. (3) The Piano Teacher, Janice Y. K. Lee. This book was just average for me. Average writing style--pretty easy to read. The subject/storyline had real potential to be captivating and different, but fell a little flat for me. It took place in Hong Kong in WWII. There was a character with my name, which is unusual, so that was kind of fun.

4. (2.5) The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom. This was one of those books that has been on my shelf forever. I don't know where I got it, but I didn't really like it...I'm glad I got it done with though. It felt contrived, and I really don't like emotional manipulation or too much romance/feely stuff, so that may be part of the reason.

The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook5. (3) Developing a Supernatural Lifestyle, Kris Vallotton. I'd started to read this a while back and then set it down, so it didn't take me real long to finish it. I don't often read Christian "self-help" type books, because there seems to be so little actual substance. This book really wasn't any different for me. There were some good things he said, but they weren't substantiated/developed quite enough for me. And he really needed a better editor (if he had one at all) really REALLY badly. There were quite often sentences that were repeated--word for word--one directly after another. You might be able to do that while preaching (for emphasis or some such) but it does not work in a book.

6. (4) The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook, Joyce Lankester Brisely. What a sweet storybook! Nice stories from a simpler time, and well written too. We all loved it, thank you Sonlight!

Rabbit Hill (Puffin Modern Classics)7. (3.5) Rabbit Hill, Robert Lawson. I'm on a little Newbery Medal kick, and so picked up this book. It had delightful drawings and anthropomorphism, a really sweet story. If you like to imagine that all those wild animals out there have personalities and relationships, then you'll probably enjoy this book. It's quick to read, exciting and heartwarming, simple yet thoughtful.

8. (3.5) Criss Cross, Lynne Rae Perkins. Another Newbery book: fun, funny, interesting mix of writing styles in the different chapters...a bit surprised it's a Newbery book though. It didn't have much of a storyline, more of a peek into the humor and wonderings of young teens.
When the Elephants Dance
9. (4) Abel's Island, William Steig. Yet another Newbery book. This one really captured me. The drawings added to a wonderfully told heartwarming story.

10. (3.5) When the Elephants Dance, Tess Uriza Holthe. I liked parts of this book, disliked other parts. It took place in the Philippines during WWII and contained many "the-moral-of-my-life-story" tales. Those tales I liked, but the story that was supposed to tie the whole thing together was tedious and unengaging.