Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book of the Month Club: Two Popular Books and A Crazy Poet

I have more time on my hands lately than I've had in years. Especially if I let that pile of laundry just sit there. Staring at me. Accusingly. This has resulted in some good and bad things. One of the good things is my reading list is actually getting read. Which is awesome. So I've decided to post the occasional update about it, in the form of this book of the month club style review. My reading list has always been supremely nerdy. Which is no great surprise. It leans towards science fiction, fantasy, and poetry. Although I'm not averse to reading something else that crosses my admittedly narrow field of vision, it is almost always one of these books on my desk. So, the three nerdy books of the month, in no particular order.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins was a great gym read. It's fast paced and exciting, and I read most of it while on the treadmill at the gym. Which is weird- dystopian young adult science fiction isn't an obvious choice for a book reading while running. But it makes sense, in a way. The book is about a scary future in which different towns have been subjugated by a central Capital city, and are forced to send two tributes to compete in the titular games. The games are essentially a gladiatorial where everyone fights, and the last person to survive wins. Not an original premise, but a well-executed one. It was a fun read. Apparently they are making a film, which is a shame. The protagonist will be turned into a generically hot girl. The character in the book is refreshing, realistic, and three dimensional. She seems like a real girl, given the situation in which she finds herself. I'm starting the second book in the trilogy soon.

Speaking of second books in a series, I'm also reading The Magician King, the second in a series by Lev Grossman. It is easy to describe this as a Harry Potter for adults, which is fair enough, though it doesn't do the book justice. It's really more of a book about how these escapist fantasies like Narnia and Harry Potter are a response to the psychological trauma of our society. And despite some excessive drama, the books are fantastic. The story centers around graduates of a magical school (featured in the first book) who are living in a Narnia-esque kingdom. The main character is a typical "smart outcast" stereotype, but the author writes with an amazing self awareness. It's a meta concept that could have easily become silly, but he makes it work. In a way I'm shocked at how popular this series is, but it's nice to see.

And of course, any of my reading lists would not be complete without the obligatory poetry rant. I've actually been catching up on quite a bit of poetry this month, including some Susan Howe, Robert Duncan, Charles Reznikoff, and others. But sitting on my desk is a collection of poetry that is simultaneously amazing and responsible for horrors in poetry: The Poetical Works of John Keats. It's no secret that most poetry is terrible. There a few reasons for this. One of which is the idea that poetry is simply prose narratives told slightly askew. One is that love of words is all a poet needs. But a major problem has been the inability of current generations to bring the energy and passion for language that people like Keats took for granted and translate it into a modern verse. Some try and succeed, of course. But most fail, because they can't effectively use the tool of language. When Keats writes with the particular rhyme and meter of his age, he was using the poetic vernacular of Romantics, the words of his society. He was experimenting, but within a framework that made the poems work. Poets today are either experimenting for the sake of experimenting, or using prose as though it is poetry. Keats was doing neither, though no one bothers to read him to remember that.

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