Chet Reads & Writes*

Yep, definitely not an asp.

In between book selections for my book partnership I picked up Lamb by Christopher Moore. It’s a novel that my dear wife has been urging me to read for the better part of 2011; now I’ve finished the book after finally taking up her recommendation and couldn’t be happier with that decision. I want to get a few fun facts about this book out of the way before I dive into my feelings on it. Lamb is the fictitious comedy of Jesus of Nazareth through the eyes of his best friend Biff, keyword fictitious. It contains more sex and swearing than most people will think a book about the life of Jesus should have, again fictitious. Jesus learns kung-fu.

The entire book is told from Biff’s perspective, and he begins his story by explaining Jesus’ name isn’t actually Jesus Christ. From there on Jesus is referred to by either Joshua or simply Josh. It’s humanizing and makes the character more approachable. Biff met Josh when they were six years old. Josh knows he’s the son of God, because Mary is apparently the earliest and proudest soccer mom of all time. When we meet little Josh he has a lizard in his mouth, it’s a nice meeting filled with smashed zombie lizards. As readers we are welcomed into this world where Josh is just a normal little boy with the same curiosities as all little boys.

There are a few more misadventures in the early part of Josh and Biff’s friendship that include dealing with bullies and murder, meeting Mary Magdalene (Maggie), taming a Cobra (asp?). I’m not sure why Josh had such an affinity for reptiles. Also, Biff invented sarcasm.

Here’s a quick interchange between the two that will help highlight the difference between the two boys:

Josh: Have you committed the sin of Onan?
Biff: No, but I’m looking forward to it.”

As Josh and Biff grow older and begin training for their stations in life as masons. Yes, Joseph was a carpenter, but he allowed Josh to train under Biff’s father as a stone worker. Josh struggles with the fact that he doesn’t feel like he knows how to be the Messiah of his people. This is the battle that leads him to leave home to find the three magi who were present at his birth. Biff came along, naturally.

Each of the three Magi teach Joshua and Biff, but mostly Josh, a new aspect of life and enlightenment. There is a blending of the eastern religions into Joshua’s identity as the messiah. This blending is recognizable in the non-fictitious parts of Josh’s life as we know it. The again Moore took pieces of each religion that show up in nearly every form of human spirituality. Notably the Golden Rule.

There are, of course, more misadventures. These however are both humorous and mournful. We witness the death of a mighty peaceful being, as well as a complete destruction of innocence. There are battles with demons and challenges for vengeful and violent Hindu gods. There is a point where a demon has been unleashed in the caves Josh and Biff have called home for a few years. Josh is able to calm the demon down with a touch. Before banishing the demon from Earth, Josh offers to allow him a moment of truly free will. It was a poor judgement call on Josh’s part.

While Josh is seeking Nirvana in India, Biff pays a lovely woman to teach him through every page of the Kama Sutra. He uses Josh’s new found skills to make enough money to do so, without having to beg in the streets.

Eventually Josh and Biff are called back to their homelands. The story then switches from totally fictional, to only sorta, sometimes fictional yet coincidentally related to events as described in the Bible. For the most part we know how those events go, as well as how Josh’s story as a human ends.

Lamb does go on through the crucifixion, but I’m stopping here. By time the books reaches this point Moore has done a great job of switching from full-on comedy to complete reverence and respect of the subject at hand. Never while reading the “Lamb” or “Passion” sections of the book did I feel like cheap shots were taken toward any religion as a whole. There are comedic scenes, including one where Josh regrows a little girl’s arm, and thusly teaches her a very important symbol involving one finger to share with the Pharisees. Overall, however the respect is there, and I think that really solidifies this book as more than just a mere parody.

Go find this book today, and read it if you haven’t. You won’t regret it. Also, don’t worry about being offended by it, or worrying about it raising any deep religious stirrings within you. As Christopher Moore writes in the end of the book, and I’m paraphrasing because I don’t have the book with me, if this story shakes your religion, you should probably do some more praying.

The Earth is Ablaze with a Destruction Not Even Man Has Imagined

Today is the birth of a new category on this blog:

Graphic Novels

You bet your britches that was Comic Sans! If ever there is an appropriate place to use that much maligned font face it is when one is discussing comic books and the like.

Let’s begin with the sad fact that before I read this graphic novel I had never once seriously read anything that belongs to that particular genre of publishing.

GASP!

That’s right, all of my knowledge of any and all super heroes, mutants and villains are born from second-hand knowledge, cartoons, movies, and video games. I know some of my friends and family are on the verge of disowning me as they read this, but when it comes down to it I’m a pretty neat person and they like me enough to forgive me of this.

So which series did I decide to begin with? Was it one of the newest variations and/or incarnations of the comic book titans? (If I knew who all qualified as a titan I’d list them here. Since I do not you may now insert whichever character you would like to have that status.) Much to my much more graphic-novel-savvy friend’s disdain it was nothing so glorious. It was however awesome for me.

If you’ve read half of my blog you know I’m a tiny bit of a nut when it comes to the happenings of the Enderverse. Recently released was the Volume One collection of The Formic Wars: Burning Earth. If you have read Ender’s Game and always wanted to know more about the great war that led to the construction of Battle School, here is your chance.

I read through the entire volume in one sitting, on my lunch break. It’s not nearly as long as I wanted it to be, and ends at an inconvenient moment in the story line. I realize the importance of cliff hangers, but come on.

In these seven issues — yeah that’s right, only seven — we’re introduced to the asteroid mining crew which encountered the first Formic craft, as well as Mazer Rackham. Both sets of characters are appropriately bad ass.

I felt that this small volume really opens up the history of the Formic wars in a great way with appropriately smart, Orson Scott Card approved dialogue, and beautifully drawn art work.

It has left me wanting more, and I don’t know if I will be able to force myself to budget for each issue as it releases in 2012, plus I sort of like having them all hardbound. There are plenty of cheesy jokes and references to the future of the Enderverse as we know it. I found myself chuckling at most of them, but there are a few that deserve nothing more than an acknowledging eye roll.

If you’re interested go buy it from your local bookstore (Preferably not a big box store, but hey, it’s your money and your community.) I recommend it to anyone that has invested any amount of time into the stories and histories of the Enderverse.

The title of this post is very foreboding compared to the rest of the entry. Though I took a lighthearted path to telling y’all about this book, it is not a lighthearted story line. Within those few pages you will see all of the horrors of every man-made war of all time, and then some. This was never meant to be a war it was to be conquest and extermination of all life on Earth. It shows in these vividly colored pages.

Want a link? The Formic Wars: Burning Earth on Goodreads

I thought you would.

What’s the Catch?

Since my last book related update I’ve been reading. I recently read on someone’s Facebook status that we should all strive to read two books per month. I immediately thought to myself, “That’s my norm.” However through November I read more than two, and I didn’t spend any less time with a book than normal. I haven’t learned to read any more quickly. I just, apparently, have no idea what my norm is when I’m not reading books from Westeros.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Everyone that has a basic high school education is aware of this book’s existence. Furthermore, anyone who has been alive since Heller released it is familiar with what a Catch-22 is, whether or not they know what the Catch-22 is.

I met this book in high school. I started reading it, and returned it a few days later thinking it wasn’t very good. I was surprised since Mrs. Oakes had never never led me astray before. Now that I’m slightly older and perhaps wiser, I found that there was a lot to be enjoyed about this title. I have to thank my dear friend Ashton for this rediscovery. She had been attempting to read Catch-22 and was not enjoying it. One day while we were chatting on the phone she threw down the gauntlets and announced, “I’ll read it, if you read.” I know, it’s a very adult thing to have happened. Thus began my journey to Pianosa.

Whenever I pick up a book I always investigate the covers. Admire the artwork (Has any other novel’s artwork gone as unchanged as Catch-22’s?), and read the reviews on the back. The first line to be found on this edition follows a particularly optimistic train of thought: “One of the funniest books you will ever read…” I smiled and took that in stride.

In the beginning this truly is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. The reader is introduced to a lovely cast of characters on the Mediterranean Island of Pianosa. They are all members of the United States Army. It is the midst of World War II. Their lives are full of shenanigans. Especially the life of Yossarian. He is the protagonist of this novel. Many of the events in the books will connect back to him some how, and he’s responsible, directly or indirectly, for many of the events. He’s paranoid that everyone is trying to kill him, and has decided to live as long as possible or die trying.

As the book progresses the shenanigans become less and less lighthearted and more heartbreaking. Heller has designed the story to introduce the reader to the inconvenient, yet laughable, aspects of the military’s established set of rules that governs its officers and enlisted men. It is in the phase we learn the first catch.

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. (p. 46, ch. 5)

Eventually the reader is forced to see a much darker aspect of the military and life in World War II. The incidents that occur are no longer happy-go-lucky, but are full of death and demise. Many people we’ve been introduced to and learned to care about die or mysteriously disappear. The worse offender commit heinous crimes, but see nothing wrong with them. A particularly difficult to read part of the book teaches us the horror like side of Catch-22.

Catch-22 states that agents enforcing Catch-22 need not prove that Catch-22 actually contains whatever provision the accused violator is accused of violating.

or

Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing.

Naturally this is where the laughter is harder to come by. The reader is forced to see all of the ugliness in the world, and that there are real people who have to deal with it everyday.

My reading partner disliked portions of this book because they can be read as largely anti-woman. There are whores, there are misogynistic jokes, there are times when the women truly are treated like objects whose sole purpose for existence is to be groped and fooled around with. I felt like as much as I don’t respect these actions, they are true to the time. However I also feel it’s worth mentioning.

As I think about the book more I believe it’s possible to draw that aspects of this book are where the creators of M.A.S.H. found their basis. Both are funny on the surface, and no one seems to remember either of them for a particular poignancy regarding absurd bureaucratic endeavors in the military. Just sayin’

I don’t believe I’ll pick this book up again. At least not for a little while. I’ve learned why it’s respected as one of the best books of the 20th Century, but I’ve also learned why Catch-22 is the only book by Heller anyone ever cares about. Read it, it’s worth knowing the story and learning the lessons.

Where did November go?

I’ve fallen into a pattern. It is the result of having a mostly-full-time job where I spend approximately seven hours of the day staring at one or the other of the two computer monitors sitting on my desk. I sit, I stare, I type some things. Ultimately meaningless, consumerist things that will not matter to the people who take part in these things in a year or so. Frankly they won’t mean much to me at that time either. Each thing is just another thing upon the pile of things I have built from nouns and verbs, with the occasional superlative adjective. Some days this practice, no matter how enjoyable it is at the time, is incredibly draining. That is what set this pattern.

I arrive at home. I shuffle around said home, picking things up, cooking, doing homey things. Eventually I settle on the couch. The television appears to be on. Sometimes I watch it and am entertained, sometimes I hardly hear it. The latter is a nasty habit which should be broken. My laptop is warming my legs. Here I stare at the third such device of the day for X amount of hours until I decide I should sleep and/or attempt to read whatever book I’ve selected for the time being. No matter my ambitions, intentions, nor optimism my time dissolves and fades away. So it goes.

Then it’s December.

I have blogs I want to write, and books I want to read. Stories and ideas pile up in the catacombs of my brain and want to be freed. It’s time to break this pattern, before December decides to disappear as well.

A Storm of Swords

You want to know what to expect from A Storm of Swords? DEATH! I think this may be the bloodiest book in the entire published A Song of Ice and Fire series. On top of all that death expect bizarre alliances to show their malformed and malignant faces. Despite the immense wave of woe that will wash over you while reading this book, you will still want to know what comes next. This book left me feeling distraught, confused and alone, but I, probably, still went out and found A Feast for Crows the very next day.

I’ve been working on this post on and, mostly, off since last week. I’ve been struggling with it because I am always weary of letting out too much information for people who have not, and would like to read this series. As of this title I feel that I’ve reached a particular point of no return. Wherein if I even begin discussing events past a certain setting in this book, then one of the most well developed story points in this series will be ruined for you. The end.

As much as I have tried I just haven’t found a way around this yet. I suspect this has a lot to do with my still burgeoning skills as a book reviewer, rather than just some guy that occasionally talks about something he read somewhere. With that said I think I’m going to end my series on A Song of Ice and Fire until I have written respectful posts that convey the emotions of the books and their characters, as well as my feelings on them without causing a catastrophic melt down of spoiled reading time. I will not be the one to ruin Westeros for you.

If you’re interested in whose POV this portion of the epic is told from here’s a handy list.

  • Jaime
  • Jon
  • Catelyn
  • Tyrion
  • Sansa
  • Arya
  • Bran
  • Samwell
  • Davos
  • Daenerys

If for some bizarre reason you don’t know who any of these characters are you can check out the Wikipedia article on A Storm of Swords.