Fri 26 Jan 07

It’s been habit-altering not to have home Internet for the past few months. Kind of a good thing I guess. I’ve been reading a lot more, spending more time at the library finding new authors to love.

Oh, and through that reading more process, I’ve reinvigorated my hate of the fluff that ends up on New York Times bestseller lists. Are Americans really that illiterate? There was a time when I enjoyed a good Stephen King or Tom Clancy book (high-school, early college), but then one day I remember getting about half-way through a King book and just being annoyed by the story. I don’t mind rampaging aliens or crazy mysterious diseases, but give me believable character responses to these catastrophes. I don’t remember the book, but I remember thinking, “No one would do that in that situation.” Done. No more King.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I picked up Wild Fire by Nelson DeMille, thinking, hey, this must be number one on the charts some good reason. It says it’s a thriller. I could use a good page turner. I had vague memories of whipping through Clancy’s Rainbow Six in college, and I know that connection doesn’t seem quite right, but it clicked something in me that said, well, that number one thriller was good to me then so this must be good too.

I will let this Amazon review tell the story:

Have you ever had to sit through a meeting that you thought would never end? A meeting where staying awake seemed to be a Herculean task? In Wild Fire the bad guys have a meeting near the beginning of the novel. You, the reader, have to sit there and listen to them discuss their plans that go on until page 127. First they can’t decide the day of the week for their big event. That takes some pages. Then they can’t decide what cities to stage it in. More long discussions ensue.

When we finally stagger out of that marathon session we join John Corey and his long suffering wife. She’s his FBI boss, and he works for the anti terrorism task force. His response to everything she says (and to what anyone else in the novel says) is a smartass wisecrack. How does she put up with it? Well the two of them talk a lot, and drive around a lot tracking down the Bad People. Well they can’t do that 24/7 so they get drunk at night in their hotel. The plot moves along (slowly) until our chatty couple finally meets up with the Chief Bad Person. This happens about 50 pages before the ending of the book, and if you want to save time you can just stop reading the book and go to sleep. Those last 50 pages contain writing that is pure clich├ęd formula. You know just how everything is going to turn out. It is really totally by the numbers stuff. There are no plot twists and turns, no surprises, just hack writing. Oh yes, when Mr. DeMille runs out of clever dialog he just has his characters say “F*&^% You” to each other. There’s a lot of that actually.

This review is spot on. I know after a couple hundred pages I should have cut my losses, but I figured something good has to happen right? Nothing good happens. I complained loudly and repeatedly to anyone who would listen. Which in this case was just my wife, who sanely and patiently asked each time, “Then why do you keep reading?” It’s the principle.

No more big name bestsellers.

Anyway, thankfully, over the past week my faith in literature has been happily restored by the amply amusing writing of J. Maarten Troost. I’m am a gigantic fan of the humorous travelogue genre in general, but these were extra enjoyable (possible due in part to the rebound effect for DeMille’s garbage).

Not a ton happens in the two Troost books that I just read, but the observational and self-deprecating humor had me laughing out loud and clutching my chest at times. Sex Lives of Cannibals is excellent. Getting Stoned with Savages is slightly less rip-roaring, but still a page turner.

Oh, and our home Internet should be back on this Wednesday.