Tag Archives: hero’s journey

Goodreads Good Reads — or Not

Goodreads has published its 2012 Choice Awards Winners and the news is not good.


I read the winners with mild astonishment, only because I thought Goodreads was a community of semi-voracious, sophisticated readers and the choices on this list that I am familiar with are…banal, at best. Since most of my reads during booklolly’s year-long challenge were from the library, I didn’t get to all the most current fiction but I did read a fair few of the books that made the list. Oy.

Airport paperback time. Forget language that opens your mind and lifts your spirit. Forget original plots. Forget real heroes and a pronounced aversion to wallowing in the detritus of unimaginative lives. Forget actual adventure with inherent, not manufactured, challenge. Forget books that don’t read like a PR person edited them to create artificial cliffhangers and clumsily spun conclusions. Hell-oh, trendy over literate.

I was delighted with one choice–Mary Oliver’s latest poetry collection, A Thousand Mornings. Haven’t reviewed it and I know the snobbiest, most erudite poets consider Oliver too accessible but she does numinous very very well.  So good for her.

Here’s the Goodreads list with links to the ones I read and blogged:

Winners of the Goodreads Choice Awards

Best Fiction: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling — reading this at present. Forcing myself to finish. Unappealing in every possible way. JKR is a brand now and I guess she can write whatever she likes but I probably won’t slog through any more of her stuff.  IMHO, the first few HP books were delightful fantasy that turned preachy and far less convincing as the series progressed.

Best Mystery & Thriller: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl — waaay too predictable, pop psychology, and sour, unsatisfactory ending.

Best Historical Fiction: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Best Fantasy: The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King, Jae Lee illustrator

Best Paranormal FantasyShadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Deborah Harkness — A Discovery of Witches was such a missed opportunity that I decided not to bother with sequels in this “Twilit” series.

Best Science Fiction: The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter

Best Romance: Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James

Fifty Shades of Grey — 50 Shades of Tired Twilight Fan Fiction. Didn’t earn its page length and the sex wasn’t too hot, either. Not a fan of glorifying abusive relationships. Christian Grey = day laborer and you ain’t got no story.

Best Horror: The Twelve  by Justin Cronin

Best Memoir & Autobiography: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Wild: From Lost to Found…should have stayed lost. Might have been more interesting. Nothing happens but the editors re-engineered to be repetitive, non-delivering cliff hangers. Pretty insulted and astonished that people think this is some kind of epic, life-changing adventure. Not.

Best History & Biography: Elizabeth the Queen: the Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith

Best Nonfiction: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Best Food & Cookbooks: The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Forntier by Ree Drummond

Best Humor: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir  by Jenny Lawson

Best Graphic Novel & Comics: The Walking Dead, Vol 16: A Larger World by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, illustrator

Best Poetry: A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver  Mary Oliver is just great. Really.

A few of these Goodreads winners are already in TV or film production. I feel like we live in Bradbury’s F. 451 world. What a grumpy curmudgeon!


Here’s hoping the ones I haven’t read are knock-outs.

The Farseekers – Isobelle Carmody

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In the second of Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn Chronicles, The Farseekers, Elspeth leaves Obernewtyn on a quest to find a mysterious new Talent, a Misfit so powerful that the hidden community will not survive without it. The stakes are sharply higher in this book, as the ragged band of people with extraordinary mind abilities battles the Herders and guardsmen of a repressive regime, a settlement gathered around a patriarchal figure, Henry Druid, that contains secret Misfits of its own, the violent storms and unpredicatble weather that is the result of the Great White that nearly destroyed the planet, and the treachery of a renegade Misfit with a murderous grudge against Obernewtyn and its inhabitants.

Most of this book is a journey through tainted lands, perilous settlements and the events of deadly prophecies. Elspeth discovers that the beasts, the animals of the Obernewtyn farm and the surrounding countryside and mountains, have minds and abilities as formidable as the humans. In a library buried by ruins and ash for centuries, she finds evidence that the Misfits are an evolution of humans that was underway before the Great White, and not a freak result of the destruction that occurred as a result of the cataclysmic detonations from poisonous weapons. She also finds out that Rushton, the heir of Obernewtyn and the leader of the community there, harbors felings for her that go far beyond collegiality and admiration.

But Elspeth is the Seeker, the one who is fated to find the old machines that caused the Great White and destroy them before they can be used again. She permits herself no thoughts of a personal life while that terrible fate controls her life. The journey to the coast is full of misadventure, heroic rescues, astonishing discoveries, treachery and painful death. Evil is often outwitted but inevitably exacts a high price in suffering. Some appealing characters don’t survive. Other characters are revealed as unexpected allies.

The Obernewtyn Chronicles are an accomplished mix of fantasy and science fiction–with Tolkienesque rhythms and themes, believable characters and enough surprises to keep things interesting.  As I am overwhelmed by too much Real Life right now, and finding hours each day for reading is a challenge, I’ll probably finish the four I have–I might not recommend reading all of them in a marathon but they are entertaining and go quickly. By the time I finish (and I am not hunting for the rest of the books in this series just yet), I’ll be able to knock out a futuristic fantasy of my own. The pattern isn’t hard to discern, a fact that might inspire me to space the books more if I had the time.

The Farseekers: The Obernewtyn Chronicles 2   Isobelle Carmody | Random House  1990

A Personal Matter – Kenzaburo Oë

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Kenzaburo Oë’s A Personal Matter, translated from the Japanese by John Nathan, is a deceptively simple read. The fluent prose conceals a complex dissection of what happens when a moment of trauma becomes a choice between courage and flight. Bird is a young Japanese man who teaches in a cram school (a job he has courtesy of his professor father-in-law) and dreams of traveling in Africa. His wife is in labor and Bird is killing time while he waits for his first child to be born. Every hour he calls his mother-in-law for news but the labor drags on.

Bird is a slight man, and slightly insubstantial, who hates his nickname and wishes he were braver and more significant than he is. The preoccupation with Africa masks a fear that the life he has is all the life allotted to him—that he can never measure up to some adventurous ideal and seize life, rather than allow it to happen to him. As he wanders the city, avoiding the bars and drinks that he once disappeared into for many months of oblivion, he is set upon and beat up by a bunch of thugs and is too weak to defend himself.

When the baby is born with a hideous deformity that may either kill it within days or condemn it to a vegetative existence, Bird takes another body blow. The infant is rushed to a hospital with neurosurgeons who wait to see if it will survive and gain enough strength to withstand complicated surgery. Bird, envisioning a lifetime shackled to a grotesque monster, hopes it will die. He turns to a college girlfriend, Himiko, whose husband has committed suicide and who spends her days contemplating the nature of existence and her nights roaming the city in search of satisfying sex.

Bird gets very drunk, loses his job, arranges with a doctor in the intensive care unit to feed the thriving baby sugar water to hasten its death, is sexually soothed by Himiko, conspires with his mother-in-law to hide the true nature of the baby’s deformity from his wife, and examines his own fearful heart. Oë shines a white-hot light on Bird’s dilemma and his anguished vacillation. The damaged son will consume his life—with care if it lives or with guilt if he allows it to die.

In the space of a few hundred pages, Bird avoids choices, makes choices and then reverses them, all the while groping for some truth about himself he can live with. His fantasies of Africa are his yearning for some existence larger than his small inconsequential self. He’s a mess but he doesn’t flinch from digging into the landfill of his own heart to get at who he is. And, under all the garbage, he confronts himself. Bird’s resolution is not predictable but is decisive. That clarity is a hallmark of Oë’s fiction—even in translation, his story is eloquent, particular to the characters he has breathed life into, and evocative of a universal hunger to understand what a single life can mean.

A Personal Matter   Kenzaburo Oë | Grove Press  1969