Saturday, January 3, 2009

Quite awhile ago I bought a book called Lost in Austen. It's a "choose your own adventure" type of book, but limited to the six Jane Austen novels. It's all silliness really, but fun silliness. You start out as Elizabeth Bennett. Every now and then you must make a choice, which will jump you to another novel, or will correctly put you down the path of the correct novel.
Today, I read the first chapter and made my first choice. As you know, Elizabeth first meets Mr. Darcy at an assembly, where due to the lack of agreeable partners Elizabeth is forced to sit down for two dances. While seated, she overhears a conversation in which Bingley is trying to get Darcy to ask Elizabeth to dance. Mr. Darcy tells Bingley that Elizabeth "is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me." Eventually, Jane is staying at Bingley's house while she recovers from a cold brought on by riding her horse in the rain - at her mother's insistence. Elizabeth goes to visit her, and that is where I must make my first choice. I choose the path to the left.

As I was walking I came upon a band of gypsies who attacked me, stole my money and left me disfigured for life. Now I'll never attract a husband. I failed my mission already. Jeez. Now I'll have to start all over. The book actually mocked me. Stay tuned. I'll start over next time, and take the path to the right.

In the meantime, I'll tell you about a couple of books I read over Christmas Break (and one I read a really long time ago - before I started Bleakhouse which I've been reading for more than a month).

The first book I read over break was the sequel to Ender's Game - Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. I still haven't decided for sure, but I think I like this one better than the first book. While Ender's Game was all about the training and shaping of a young man's mind, Speaker for the Dead is more about humanity and healing. Ender is now 3000 years old - through the miracle of travel at the speed of light. His job is as a Speaker - at someone's death he goes to tell the true story of that person's life - everything about him. He includes all the positive aspects, but does not leave out the pain, his faults and those of the people surrounding him.

Ender goes to a new planet where a new species has been discovered and is being studied to tell the story of three different people - two of whom were the main scientists, and one of whom was the husband of the planet's biologist. Their lives are all interconnected, as is their pain. It is a fast-paced novel, with a great plot. But it's also intellectually and philosophically stimulating. What should the scientists be doing? How can we understand another species of intelligent life? Why do people punish themselves for so long? What does guilt do to a persn? A family? A community?

This is the first series of science fiction novels I've read, so I shouldn't make a sweeping generalization about the genre, but I'm going to anyway: While the subject matter is often implausible (time travel, aliens, interplanetary relations, etc.), the truths about life, love, relationships and humanity are spoken more clearly than in a lot of general fiction novels. Sometimes the best way to make a point is to tell it from an entirely different perspective. I'm going to try another series at Adam's suggestion.

I also read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It may be a little below my reading level, but I enjoyed it. Whenever I read something like this, I always imagine reading it to my future daughter. It's a cute story of a spoiled little girl who moves to England from India to live with her uncle after her parents die.

Her uncle has a great big mansion, but he has no interest in seeing his little neice. She quickly begins to explore the house and grounds, where she discovers the secret garden that her late Aunt loved so many years ago. She also discovers another great secret inside a bedroom deep inside one of the many corridors of the house.

She quickly makes friends, loses her selfishness, and heals herself, her uncle and the mood of the entire household. It's a nice, uplifting story to read on a long, rainy afternoon when you can't be outside in your own secret garden - whatever and wherever it may be. Mine's the beach.

Finally, I read Too Late to Say Goodbye by Ann Rule long before the school break, but I never wrote anything about it here. Reading Ann Rule is comforting. You know there will be a happy ending - all of her novels end with the conviction of the bad guy. On the other hand, it's also sad, because it always involves the death of at least one person.

This particular novel tells the story of an arrogant young dentist who is suspected of shooting his wife in the head right before Christmas. The scene is staged to make it look like a suicide, but he did a poor job - the police quicky ascertain that if she had shot herself, the gun would not have fallen to where it was found. Not too long into the investigation, it is discovered that long ago, his girlfriend in Dental School had committed suicide in almost the same manor.

Neither woman was thought to be capable of suicide, and though it is an uphill battle to prove, the dentist is brought to trial for both murders. My favorite thing about every Ann Rule novel is the trial portion - even long before I ever conceived of going to law school. I liked reading about how prosecutors took a story and its elements and used them to convict a bad guy (or girl). I like to read about how the cases are presented and I like the thrill of reading the word guilty. I was denied that joy in this book, though, because once the final piece of evidence came in, the dentist pleaded guilty and the trials were over. But it was still satisfying.

I would recommend all of the above - all are light, entertaining reading, perfect for a vacation or a lazy afternoon.

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