My two hour commute was a sort of blessing in disguise. An hour BART ride in each direction gave me plenty of time to read – time I would otherwise waste achievement hunting and playing terrible MMORPGs. In the past year I’ve read nearly 50 books. These are some them.
Insomnia by Stephen King
Billed as “the most Dark Towery” Stephen King novel without “Dark Tower” in the title, even by King himself, Insomnia is a meandering, uneven mess that encapsulates all of King’s weaknesses and none of his strengths. Plot and character development take a backseat in a story comprised mostly of false starts and saturated with King’s suffocating brand of egotistic self-referentialism. Essentially 750 pages of senior citizens debating the morality of abortion and 50 pages of full-blown Dark Tower madness (which is later retconed at series’ end), Insomnia will put you to sleep (LOLOLOL).
First Sentence: No one – least of all Dr. Litchfield – came right out and told Ralph Roberts that his wife was going to die, but there came a time when Ralph understood without needing to be told.
The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub
Imagine a dark, violent version of Harry Potter, and you have a pretty good idea of what The Talisman is all about. Young Jack Sawyer (the Lost producers LOVE Stephen King) discovers the Territories, a magical world parallel to our own, and sets out on a dangerous adventure to recover a magical talisman – the nexus of all worlds – and save his mother’s life and this alien landscape in the process. A solid adventure story with some genuinely terrifying sequences and moments of real heartbreak.
First Sentence: On September 15th, 1981, a boy named Jack Sawyer stood where the water and land come together, hands in the pockets of his jeans, looking out at the steady Atlantic.
Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub
The sequel to The Talisman finds Jack Sawyer in his mid-thirties, a retired (and supernaturally successful) police detective with no memory of his world-hopping past. He’s quickly pulled out of retirement when a local Wisconsin
geriatric starts murdering and eating children. “Other worlds than these,” servants of the Crimson King, and gunslingers abound, and the book stands as one of King’s best, despite an ending that blatantly sets up a sequel that will never actually exist.
First Sentence: Right here and now, as an old friend used to say, we are in the fluid present, where clear-sightedness never guarantees perfect vision.
Carrie by Stephen King
An epistolary novel framed by newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and after-the-fact testimony by the book’s characters, Stephen King’s second novel is shockingly excellent, and a sad reminder of the sort of writer King could have been before coming a one man book assembly line. Worth reading even if you’ve seen the movie a dozen times, and not just because it featured in Juliet’s book club on Lost.
First Sentence: It was reliably reported by several persons that a rain of stones fell from a clear blue sky on Carlin Street in the town of Chamberlain on August 17th.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
Here Lewis Carroll – actually respected mathematician Lutwidge Dodgson – successfully combines his three primary interests: Mathematics, games, and pedophilia.
First Sentence: Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Watership Down is mentioned by name in both The Stand and Lost, and as a slave to intertextuality, my reading it was inevitable (next up: Shardik). A very good book that teeters on the edge of greatness, Watership Down explores the ways in which groups deal with fear, but it’s major message – that anything worthwhile can only be born on the
back of hardship and suffering – is hugely undermined by its unrealistically uplifting ending. Still a great adventure story with some memorable characters despite all that.
First Sentence: The primroses were over.
Shardik by Richard Adams
Stephen King names one of the twelve Guardians of the Beams after this novel’s titular beargod; my reading it was predetermined. An epic fantasy story of war and redemption, Shardik thankfully avoids Chronicles of Narnia-levels of overblown Christian allegory despite featuring the second coming of the titular divine bear who is both just
a bear and the earthly manifestation of the power of God. The fact that Hollywood has not yet produced an overblown, CGI-saturated adaption is nothing short of a miracle.
First Sentence: Even in the dry heat of summer’s end, the great forest was never silent.