The Year of Reading Dangerously – A Retrospective

Atrix 12-28-2012 377

So, 2012 was the Year of Reading Dangerously and I read #theLIST with, at times, sheer dogged determination. The question remains, was it a noble quest that has improved me as a person, or is it just a completed check box?

First, I will list the memorable highlights from #theLIST:

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

What did this book do for me? It made me, for the first time in 30 years, turn off the movie Blade Runner. It made me think about what is life, exactly, and why do we cling to it. Everyone in that book is doomed to die, decaying into the kipple that will be the last remnants of human kind. Why distinguish whether it is an artificial life? All will perish. It’s just that simple.

Cat’s Cradle

It’s Vonnegut. He looks at the world in a different way. He is sad, weary, and resigned – but he is going out with the last bitter laugh.

Revolutionary Road

This is beautiful and terrible truth that we try to deny – the relationship between men and women when divorce and birth control were unavailable. These gaps led countless people into relationships that are mercilessly exposed in Jack and April Wheeler. Merciless. Everyone and everything is merciless and could, so very easily, be repeated. A cautionary tale that could be a mirror, if one were not careful.

The House of Mirth

There was nothing at all funny about Lily’s descent from the brink of social success to inevitable poverty and shame. But Wharton was a brilliant artist, dazzling us with glittering prose and leading us into ruin, one step at at time.

Now for the Also-Rans:

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Too much science, not enough fiction. A surgical removal of the fish lists would have vastly improved this read.

Atonement

Overwrought prose almost completely obscured a really interesting concept. If stubbornness had not kicked in, I would have missed it because I would have abandoned the book less than halfway through.

Overall, I read about half of #theLIST this year and will continue on that journey. I have taken on a new appreciation for science fiction, thanks to Androids and Fahrenheit 451. I have reminded myself that one can laugh at a disaster, even if the laugh is cynical and sad. I have gone on adventures and seen myself in some not so flattering lights.

Other notable reads this year:

The Hobbit

The Shining

The Things They Carried

The Casual Vacancy

As for next year, I get a new tag: #36in12. After improving my mind so much, I’m going to the romance genre. I owe myself a bit of mind candy. There may also be a #10thGradeEnglish, too, since I read whatever my daughter reads for her literature class. Antigone, anyone?

Quite A Fish Story – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

200000leagues

I really wanted my last entry for 2012 to be a rip-roaring adventure. I have virtuously wound my way through serious literature – I mean serious literature. I have, at times, been depressed, but I will get to that tomorrow. Today, I must take exception to the scurrilous trick played on me by Classics Illustrated Comics in 1972. Gracing the pages of the graphic novel was a rousing adventure under the sea, led by this man:

 

 

captain nemo

Captain Nemo.

Ah, no. Such was not the case. The creator of the science fiction novel, Jules Verne, concentrated entirely too much on the science and not nearly enough on the fiction.

I read this on a Kindle, so I have no real clue as to how long this book is. It reads like it’s about 500 pages. And parts of it can be traced back to my Classics Illustrated experience. The battle with the giant squids is not to be missed. I mean, really – the dude is out there, slashing off tentacles with an ax. Truly the stuff of adventure!

The adventure part of the book, including the exposition, rising, and falling action, can easily be relayed in 200 really solid pages. The other 300 pages, however, are an author fancying himself a taxonomist, listing every fish, eel, whale, seal, penguin, starfish, and all flora in long, long passages full of scientific terminology. Our hero, Professor Aronnax is a chronicler of the first order and his mission is to catalog all the species of flora and fauna he encounters in his 20,000 league adventure. Sears and Roebuck actually stole this idea for their early advertising, I am pretty sure. This catalog experience blew the promise of adventure out of the water, until I learned to recognize when Verne was about to start listing, at which point I started skipping.

I was also disappointed in the lack of characters. In effect, there were four characters:

Our good Professor, with whose every thought the reader becomes intimately acquainted;

Captain Nemo, about whom we learn little, if anything, other than he has a dastardly side that only reveals itself at 99% finished;

Conseil, the professor’s servant who serves only as an echo and refers to his employer as “Master” – ‘Nuf said;

And finally –

Ned Land, an energetic harpooner who happens to be dragged along for the ride.

500 pages. Fish. And four characters.

No wonder it took me a month to finish it! (I do claim a slight reprieve for having the ‘flu and the holiday season.)

I am not sorry I read it. It is an interesting side trip into the genre that ultimately yielded the disturbing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? But it does explain a lot about why they invented Classics Illustrated.

So, while I cannot love this book, nor will I be anxious to venture into Verne again, I must give it 6/10 hearts. If they had ruthless editors in Verne’s time, this would have been a much better story.