Books Bought: Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susana Clarke.
Books Read: Guns of the South, The Double (by Jose Saramago. PBOS (Put Back on Shelf))
Well, I moved away from magazines back into real prose for June. I wanted something genre-ish and easy to read for the beginning of summer, which led me to pick up Guns at the local indie bookshop for $2.00. It was okay, but I expected better from a book I had heard so much about and an author who is the leader of a sub-genre (alternative history). The basic premise is some guys show up at The Army of Northern Virginia circa 1863 and give them all AK-47's. With this firepower, the Confederacy wins at The Wilderness, captures Washington DC, and wins the Civil War.
There were three ways Guns could have been very cool. It could have been a neat mystery (who were these guys who gave the Confederacy machine guns? what do they really want?), an interesting character study (the complexities of the southerners way of thinking in regards to their cause, slavery, etc) and/or a big sprawling historical epic, where we get to play out the Civil War with the advantage to the south. We get elements of all three, but none of those really succeed. The mystery element lingered too long and wasn't ever really resolved. The main characters (Robert E. Lee and a Sgt. from NC) go through predictable changes (hey! maybe owning people isn't such a good basis for a nation. And it may even be Wrong!). Finally, all we see of the actual war is The Wilderness and the capture of DC. Thus, Guns was entertaining but not really good. I'm not rushing out to buy any more Turtledove.
After Guns I started The Double, but put it back on the shelf after about 15 pages. It's an interesting premise (a lonely, lost teacher sees himself (well, the self of five years ago) in a movie), but Saramago's style gave me a bit of a headache. The narrator adresses the reader directly, goes off on asides, and makes references to things the reader isn't aware of. It reminded me of talking to a socially challenged person at a gaming group -- they spend a lot of time talking about people you have never really met and ramble on about stuff you are not really interested in. You can't be interested in them, even if you want to, because she has never really bothered to give you any context. I am not claiming the guy who won the Nobel Prize for literature is a socially challenged gamer. I am sure he chose his voice deliberately and for good reason. I just don't want to listen to him right now.
I picked up The Historian and Johnathan Strange at Borders on Thursday. Both were in the outside bargain racks, so I got them for a total of $12.00. I've started The Historian and like it so far.