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Books - John C. Kirk

Jun. 11th, 2006

08:17 pm - Books

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I spend quite a bit of time commuting during the week, and I normally travel by train rather than motorbike because there's not much difference in time (unless it's late at night or a strange time of year) and this way I can use the time to read. I haven't exactly kept count, but I'd be surprised if there has been a week since I learnt to read when I haven't read a book cover to cover, so I find it quite hard to relate to people who don't read for pleasure (e.g. a former colleague who said that he finds it hard to concentrate for the duration of a long magazine article).

Anyway, I've been tending to use my travel time to work through my stack of computer books, since this gives me a motivation to actually get through them. The downside is that they tend to be quite heavy, e.g. Professional ASP.NET 2.0 has over 1200 pages and weighs about 1.6kg. Also, if I'm not in front of a computer then I can't try things out right away.

So, I've recently been reading novels while I travel instead. More specifically, I've been re-reading a bunch of Discworld novels. A couple of people have said that they gave up on the series when it got too repetitious, and I can sympathise with that (it's the same reason I gave up on Clive Cussler's novels), but it's not an opinion that I share. I've mainly been re-reading the Watch novels, so I've gone through Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Hogfather, Jingo, Carpe Jugulum, The Fifth Elephant, The Truth, Thief of time, Night Watch, and The Last Hero. Next up, Monstrous Regiment and then Thud!.

One thing that does impress me is how well they all fit together; in particular, there seems to be a bit more fore-planning going on. For instance, in Carpe Jugulum Verence refers to the Muntab question, namely the prospect of Borogravia going to war, but it's another five books (and five years) until we see the effects of this in Monstrous Regiment. Similarly, Feet of Clay has some foreshadowing about Angua's father (someone in Biers refers to a Baron who's unhappy with her), which is explored in more detail in The Fifth Elephant. I'd say that Guards! Guards! is probably the tricky one here, since you have Carrot referring to Minty as "she" (whereas he later has problems dealing with the existence of female dwarves), and the narrator referring to Detritus as "it". Still, I remember that when The Carpet People was re-released (and re-written), Pratchett made a comment about co-writing it with his younger self, and the way that his priorities had changed (e.g. not viewing war as a great goal).

There are some also some things that only show up on second readings. I'd say that Night Watch is now my favourite of the series (displacing Mort), but it took me a while to realise that the start of this book overlaps with the end of Thief of time - look closely at the description of the sunset, the clock chimes, and the lightning bolt. Then in The Truth, Sacharissa gets exposed to the dark eels from Uberwald and sees people in the cellar who are fighting in the rain; this ties in to the end of the book, when the building is on fire and liquid metal is dripping into the cellar.

I do like The Last Hero, and it was the first Discworld novel where I broke my "wait for the paperback" rule, since I figured that the eventual paperback would be the same height (i.e. no saving on shelf space), or that if it was shrunk then the artwork would suffer. That said, I was a bit miffed when they put extra pages into the paperback edition, since I felt as if I'd lost out by paying extra early on. Anyway, the artwork is very good, and some of the pictures of A'Tuin in space are very beautiful (to the extent that I might buy one as a poster once I've sorted out my decorating). One new thing I noticed today was the way that Kidby drew the Death of Rats - he has a long snout, but the teeth don't go all the way along. That sounds about right, but it's a detail that hadn't occurred to me before.

Looking ahead, I wonder whether there are any plans for a story that's focussed on medicine. There have been doctors in a few of the books, but only in a supporting role, so I'd be interested to read a novel about Ankh-Morpork's first hospital.

Last month there were a few people doing a Night Watch meme (e.g. pozorvlak and queen_kiwi, by posting pictures of lilac in their journals. I didn't, which is partly because I tend to avoid memes unless I think that I have something interesting to contribute, and partly because I wasn't there, so I think it would run against the point of the story. For a similar reason, I didn't watch the film Little Voice when it came out a few years ago - based on the trailer I saw, the premise seemed to be "She's an amazing singer, but she just wants to be left alone, and now her manager is shoving her into the spotlight." Given that, I felt that I'd be taking the wrong side if I went along to watch it. I realise that it's all fictional, so I wouldn't actually be hurting anybody's feelings, but that's just the way my mind works.

I also read Ben Elton's new paperback recently (The First Casualty). Unlike his other novels (or at least the few I've read), this isn't a comedy - there are a few amusing bits, but it's basically intended to give some serious insight into the life of a British soldier during World War I. To some extent, I wonder whether Elton is trying to make amends for Blackadder Goes Forth, by focussing on the grimmer aspects. Anyway, that does all lead to a bit of a contrived story, but it's ok, and there are a few things I didn't know about. That said, I'd recommend Charley's War as a better example of the same idea.

Comments:

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From:shuripentu
Date:June 11th, 2006 11:09 pm (UTC)
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I used to charge my way through books like a ravenous elephant. Then I got sick(er) and my brain broke, and I now - like your former colleague - find it difficult to concentrate on anything for any length of time. It's not just books: I have the same problem with games, movies, anything really.

I wouldn't have thought it'd be that hard to understand: if you can't concentrate on anything for more than, say, 10 minutes without taking a break and doing something else, then it's quite difficult to properly immerse yourself in a book, which makes the experience a lot less enjoyable, which means you're liable to do it less.
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From:johnckirk
Date:June 11th, 2006 11:14 pm (UTC)
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I see your point, but I think the causality was the other way around for him - because he'd never been interested in reading, he'd never increased his attention span. Barring illness, I'd say that reading is a bit like exercise, i.e. the more you do, the better you get at it. In my case, I started out with "Dick and Jane go to the beach", and worked up to full length novels from there.
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From:shuripentu
Date:June 12th, 2006 07:32 am (UTC)
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In that case, I suspect if he'd started practising earlier, then he might be an avid reader now, but since he's now an adult, it would be rather difficult to find fiction at the correct reading level and of a suitable length for him. Which means he's a bit stuck, unless he can find himself a collection of (very) short stories to start with.
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