Saturday, July 25, 2009

Three Books I Read Recently, Part I

The best comparison I can come up with for Agents of Light and Darkness by Simon R. Green is that it feels like a quick and dirty version of one of the Dresden files by Jim Butcher. This book turned out to be a great one to read while basking in the sun. (And wondering why boys of all ages must throw themselves into the pool at the angle most likely to splash water on my books. I was ready for them this time. Ha ha ha.)


I finally tackled Brandon Sanderson's Elantris, and I don't regret it (though I am a little irritated at my lack of self-control because this was supposed to be a book I could only read while exercising, and that structure didn't last past the first day). It made me think of the novella "Borders of Infinity" by Lois McMaster Bujold. I think the main similarity was the idea of an outsider breaking into a closed community and determinedly forcing hope on them, forcing them to live again, to live up to their potentials, to not give up and in. As I got closer to the ending, I wasn't sure how Sanderson was going to pull off a satisfactory ending that didn't turn at least one of the characters into a false-construct-representing-something-bigger (which isn't a problem in itself, but is a problem when the three main characters have been set up so humanly along the way). Suffice it to say that he pulls it off. And how. This book really is a beautiful standalone gem by a smart, witty, and well-read author.


I needed something light, funny, and fast to read, so I turned to Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time by Lisa Yee, a book I've been wanting to read since it came out back in 2005. Stanford was a nobody through most of elementary school until he discovered his talent at basketball; now all his friends play basketball, and the thing he's looking forward to most for the summer is a pricey basketball camp sponsored by his favorite NBA player. Unfortunately, he flunks sixth-grade English, and he has to go to summer school instead of camp. He's pretty sure his life is over.

On the dedication page for this book, the author said, "At age 11, my daughter, Kate, was convinced that all boys were stupid and smelly and had no redeeming qualities. I wrote this book to show her the other side of the story." There are some hilarious gross-out guy moments, but the things that made me laugh most were usually the ones Stanford referred to in passing, such as when I think he compared the unsettled feelings he has for the girl he's crushing on to the sick feeling he got when he and a friend of his ate a bunch of frozen fish sticks and then drank a lot of hot chocolate to see if the fish sticks would cook in their stomachs. There are a lot of dumb and funny moments like that, and they're essential to balance out the heavier elements.

Along with tragicomic plot strains like Stanford trying to hide the fact that he's being tutored by a geeky prodigy whose new best friend Emily just might be the first great love of Stanford's life, Stanford has to deal with a lot of family trouble. His grandmother's increasing senility results in her being moved to an assisted-living facility called Vacation Village. His mother is lonely, even after her mother-in-law moves out and she can return full-time to the job she loves. His dad is up for a promotion at work which is demanding more of his time, energy, and attention, so all he seems to have to spare for Stanford is anger and disappointment about his grades.

Stanford might be able to find some comfort in his friends except that he's busy lying to them so they don't find out that he flunked and has to go to summer school. Plus, they're thirteen-year-old boys. His friends, for the record, are a total hoot.

Of course, with that set-up, you pretty much know what's going to happen, but you don't really care when the story is told in such an entertaining way. Nothing really feels forced, so I guess the reason the story seems a bit like a comic fantasy to me is because real life is definitely not supplying me with the same kinds of happy endings Stanford gets, but I'm not holding it against him. Things were going pretty well for me, all things considered, when I was 13. We should enjoy it while we can, right, Stanford? (Even the basketball games on donkey-back.)

My favorite line in the book takes place more than halfway through when Stanford is reading a book voluntarily for the first time (The Outsiders by Hinton, given to him by a librarian). "This book is exactly like my life, except that I am not in a gang and I don't get in a lot of fights and my parents aren't dead." Right on, Sanford. That's reading in a nutshell.

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