June 4th and I’m 1/2 done, so still on target. The books, the reviews:
A Book Chosen For You By Your Spouse/Partner/Sibling/Child/BFF
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North. This book is tremendous, and impressive, and intricate. The writing style is primarily in the first person and addressed to the second person, which feels like a strange place to start and is not my favourite writing technique. That said, this is the best example of first-person narration / second-person address I’ve ever read. Claire North does lovely things with this structure.
Harry August is born in 1919, and dies in 1989. Then he’s born again, in 1919. He’s reborn to the same family, at the same time, in the same way, and remembers exactly his entire first life. This is an endless cycle for Harry – the book follows Harry through his lives, erratically switching from fourth life to eleventh to third. Chronology means little when a man lives perpetually.
I’d class this as a very good book if it simply followed Harry as he struggled through all his different lives, going to war and studying and travelling. I’d class it a great book for its dealings with Harry in mental asylums, wondering if he’s insane and being tortured for information for ‘the greater good.’ But this book needed a real antagonist and a looming threat, and Harry August delivers exactly that. The threat – and I’ll tell you because the blurb gives it away – is that the world is ending. Of course it is ending at some unknown point in the future as it always has, but suddenly the the end of the world is getting closer. Harry is not the only person with this ability, and the world is ending because someone is getting ambitious.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough, from its writing style to its character setups, and most importantly to the level of careful deliberation that has gone into mapping out fifteen entire lifetimes for one man, the people he interacts with again and again, and a mysterious shadow organisation called The Cronus Club. The writer names Harry August and his kind ‘ouroborans,’ and true to the idea of the book, the ending informs the beginning. The highest praise I can really give is this: it is the only time I have ever begun to re-read a book almost the same minute I finished it.
A Book You’ve Already Read At Least Once
Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett. If you haven’t read Guards! Guards! you should do so. You should read all the Discworld books, and starting with this one is not a bad idea. The Night Watch is one of the greatest and most entertaining ensemble casts in the Discworld series, and this one properly introduces Vimes, Nobby, Colon and Carrot as the guards who police Ankh-Morpork. They usually do so quietly – without causing a fuss – and mainly just let people go about their business. No need to go looking for trouble after all. The arrival of the very literal Carrot, who has read all the rules and guidelines and assumes all should be followed, prompts a change in tone for the Night Watch. There are also dragons, magic and an orangutan who is very protective of his library. I read it years ago, and it just gets better upon re-reading.
A Book That Intimidates You
S or Ship of Theseus, by J.J. Abrams & Doug Dorst. You might love it, or you might end up with a migraine. But it’s certainly unique. Please see a random page from this book.
So, this book tells the story of Jen and Eric, who meet on paper when she picks up his book in the library. They both tumble into a world of jointly researching an author named VM Straka (the writer of the book within the book) who, it’s speculated, was writing under a pseudonym and whose real identity was never revealed. Surprisingly, this simple/innocent sounding field of research is strewn with threats and espionage so Jen and Eric have to work together in secret – in the margins of this book. Way to go to Doug Dorst and J.J.Abrams for writing essentially 2 books and melding them into one. I’ll admit though, I skimmed the plain text and devoured the colour-coded conversation instead. The code is as follows: you have to read the black/blue notes first, all the way to the end of the book. Then go back and read the green/orange, all the way to the end of the book. Then go back and read the purple/red, all the way to the end. Finally, read all the black/black notes. Those are the final ones.
It’s difficult to only read the relevant colours, but if you read them in the wrong order, you’ll end up ahead of yourself. Also, the book is full of newspaper clippings and postcards and notes and letters, which should only be read at certain points in the story. But good luck figuring that out – it’s really a roulette game of, open it, start reading, and if it doesn’t make sense beside the last thing you read on that particular page, put it back and try again with the next colour.
It’s a lovely book in terms of both content and form, and I do think it was worth the effort to finish it. Not many books engender such a sense of accomplishment on the last page.
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Book Challenge courtesy of: http://modernmrsdarcy.com/2016-reading-challenge/