Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Couple of Books

After the Fire by Paul Zimmer

I wasn't terribly interested in this book when I heard Paul Zimmer was coming to Mankato for a Good Thunder reading in 2002. It was my last year of undergrad and I was finally taking my required poetry workshop with Dick Terrill. Dick arranged for Zimmer to meet with our class before the reading and I couldn't have been less interested. A visit by a poet from Wisconsin who meant to read and discuss a book of essays he'd written about his retirement? No thanks.

But then Zimmer showed up to speak, and my opinion quickly changed. He was witty and engaging, humble and--strangest of all--interesting. He read some poems and took some questions. He seemed like a fun uncle.

Later, at the reading, I was impressed even more by his essays. I hadn't planned to buy his book, but I did anyway, and got him to sign it. Then I promptly forgot to read it. Grad school got in the way, as did the chaos of the last couple of years.

I'm glad I finally read it, though. Whether he's writing about his retirement in Wisconsin, vacations in France, his military service, or his observations of wildlife, he infuses his work with a clarity of recall, a sharp analysis, and a poetic (duh) expression of detail. Compelling stories.

Homeland by R.A. Salvatore

Another nail in the coffin of my connection to sword-and-sorcery fantasy. In my early adult years I ate up stories like this, with a protagonist I liked and just enough exotic setting to distract me from my own life.

Rereading this almost twenty years later I'm faced with a fairly interesting, if underdeveloped, protagonist, exposition infecting every element of the narration (including the dialogue), and the barest attempt at physical detail. This was one of Salvatore's early works, and I know TSR wasn't all that demanding of its authors in those days, but this is really shoddy.

I'm debating whether to commit any more time to its sequels. Or to fantasy in general. I'm leaning toward "not."


Jim said...

I won't go back to reading anything I read 20 years ago, specifically the Xanth novels by Piers Anthony. Back in the day I was captivated by them and similar works (David Eddings comes to mind) that I couldn't possibly enjoy them in my cynical years.

At least I don't have the literary background that you do. I'd stab myself if every word I read made me scream bloody murder.

Jason said...

Yeah, I think I'm pretty much done with this stuff. I'll probably grind through the end of the Wheel of Time, and I may revisit some others, but I think I'm ready to just toss most of my fantasy books. And my sci-fi, and my horror, and my spy novels.

I'll just eliminate all of my genre stuff so I can concentrate on literary work pertinent to my own writing: Nathanael West, Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers, George Saunders, Aimee Bender, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Kafka, Camus . . . I'm going to be busy.