Thursday, January 5, 2006

A Little Light Reading

Truth be told, we do occasionally put down our keyboards and enjoy one of those most ancient of all guilty pleasures: a good book. As we plow through our libraries, we filter out the chafe and bring you the very best titles to curl up with.

So grab a good book, turn on some good music, and enjoy the best form of entertainment available. fb

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
Michael Chabon
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One of the best books we've read in years – Michael Chabon (Wonderboys, McSweeny's) provides us with a refreshing break from the pseudo-screenplays lining up on the best-seller shelves. Set during the golden age of comic books, this thoroughly enjoyable epic follows a pair of Jewish cousins (Sam, a struggling New York storyteller, and Joseph, a Czech refugee / artist) and their comic book creations. Chabon's brilliant prose delightfully illustrates both the cousin's comic book creations and their turbulent mid-century lives. From the smuggling of Joseph out of Nazi occupied Europe with the Golem of Prague to Sam's frantic campaign to make his comic book dreams a reality with the Escapist, the novel's narrative is as well illuminated as the comics the protagonists create. In a most unusual turn of publishing fate, no less, the novel has since spawned a series of comic books based on the character's creations.

The Keys of Egypt
Lesley Adkins, Roy Adkins
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The Adkins' biography of Jean-Fran├žois Champollion, the 18th century french linguist who cracked the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic language, reads at times like a novel, at times like a proper history. The biography ranges from Champollion's personal obsession with Egyptian language to the encompassing multi-national race to translation, Napoleonic wars, revolutionary regimes, and academic intrigues. In one of the more curious twists of the hieroglyphic quest, this biography follows Champollion as he begins his ancient studies in an effort to prove biblical chronology and, by the success of decipherment, reveals the history of a civilization predating Judeo/Christian history. The climax of the biography is a narrative of Champollion's cathartic trip to Egypt where he became the first man, of any nationality or faith, to read the record of the ancient Egyptians in thousands of years. The Adkins' work is an interesting biography of the man who fundamentally created the discipline of Egyptology and the modern understanding of hieroglyphs.

Land O'Goshen
Charles McNair
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Charles McNair delivers an energetic first novel that walks the fine line between classic southern literature, science fiction allegory, and classic horror monster fantasy. This Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel is set in a vaguely futuristic Alabama rent by theocratic civil war. McNair's lively prose beautifully describes the exploits of 14-year-old orphan Buddy and his primeval cohort, the costume Sack, as they terrorize the countryside and the town of Goshen in their aggregate alter-ego "Wild Thang." Buddy's world is sometimes hopelessly cruel and bleak but a hopeful streak persists and Buddy's adolescent relationship with another young castaway, Cissy, evolves. In his wonderful use of voice and dialect to illustrate Buddy's shattered world, we were oft reminded of Faulkner and Twain; in his use of real-world and believable settings with a subtle, futuristic bent, we were oft reminded of Bradbury.

Gregory Maguire
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Gregory Maguire delivers a colorful and fun telling of the life and times of L. Frank Baum's classic Ozian, the Wicked Witch of the West. Born with green skin and huge teeth, like a dragon, the free-spirited Elphaba grows up to be an anti-totalitarian agitator, an animal-rights activist, a nun, a nurse, and, ultimately, the headstrong Wicked Witch of the West in the land of Oz. Maguire's Oz is something of a perversion of Baum's classic world (at least as depicted in Richard Thorpe's 1939 film). The corrupt and cruel Wizard, an import by hot air balloon from our world, is an autocrat bent on genocide against the talking animals. Meanwhile, the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, and an unknown species called a "Dorothy" make only brief sorties into a story otherwise dominated by the green-skinned witch – a character much more complicated and interesting that suspected from our film-familiarity. A great book for satire, an even livelier fantasy.

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