This Week, I Read… (2017 #10)

35 - Symphony

#35 – Symphony, by Charles Grant

DNF @ page 100. I had high hopes from the X-Files comparison on the cover–that show was my jam back in the day–but the first hundred pages of this novel were weird and disjointed, pretentiously high-concept but without any meat to back it up. I was put off by the huge cast of cardboard small-town archetype characters; and the mysterious woman in the white car who popped up to collect lost souls for a page or two at the beginning of each section of the book (in one hundred pages, I read two parts and started the third, they seemed awfully short) wasn’t intriguing enough to keep me hooked, though that was clearly her purpose. It just didn’t work on me.

Sadly, the most interesting thing about this book is the cover, which is gorgeous.

Symphony cover detail 1Symphony cover detail 2

I intend to cut out the horses and put them in my art journal. I mean, you already know I deface books to make the journals in the first place, so why not scavenge cover art too?

36 - Lab Girl

#36 – Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren

Once upon a time, I thought I was going to be a scientist. This book eloquently tells the story of why that didn’t work out for me, by telling the story of someone it did work out for, and everything she did to get there.

I do miss the lab some days, but I was never particularly good at lab work. I did better tramping through the mud and counting wildflowers in each quadrant of a string grid on the forest floor–but that’s another story.

Hope Jahren’s memoir is poignant in every sense of the word. Each chapter of her own life is prefaced by a short segment on science, detailing how trees sprout, grow, and survive harsh winters, and the thrust of each segment matches the story she tells of her own experiences. It could have been a hackneyed framing device, but I found it perfectly suited to what she had to say.

And she has a lot. She touches on the constant stress of finding funding, the ole-boy sexism of the scientific community (which reached a fever pitch at her pregnancy,) mental illness, deep friendship, and love and family. All through the lens of science, which is the central principle of her life.

I find all science fascinating, and long after I’ve left school I’m still reading scientific papers online and watching the various Crash Course series and let me just tell you how much I love Planet Earth and Blue Planet and any other nature documentaries I can get my hands on. But I wasn’t actually very good at science. Yeah, I passed my classes, but I never seemed to find the big questions to ask, or even the little ones. Every time I thought of something I wanted to know, turns out someone else had gotten there first. I never had the type of mind to push the boundaries of knowledge outward.

For a long time, I felt like that was a failing. After all, I thought I was going to be a scientist, and I’m not. But after reading this, and seeing what I “missed,” it’s not the life I was suited for, not at all. Science continues to fascinate me and it always will, but reading this book helped me finally accept that my interest in it would never have sustained me as a career, and that I’m happier reading about other people being scientists, especially when they write about it so damn well.

37 - The Gunslinger

#37 – The Gunslinger, by Stephen King

This is a reread, first read in 2015. The first time through, this story was like being doped on some hallucinogenic and dropped into a world that might or might not be a post-apocalyptic version of our known, without a map or any idea where I was going.

The second time, it made more sense, but not by much. It’s still trippy and dream-like. It’s still not clear if this world is ours or not, even though some things (religion and some music) point to it being a future version of ours, while others (Jake, mostly) point to it definitively not being ours. (Don’t spoil it for me, I’ve got six books to work through the confusion.)

As much as I enjoy it, though, I can’t give it that fifth star. It feels woefully incomplete and underdeveloped. When I mentioned on Tumblr in January that one of my goals this year was to read the complete Dark Tower series, several people actually advised me to either start with book 2 and go back to read The Gunslinger as a prequel, or to skip it entirely. (They didn’t know I’d already read it once, but I see their point.) Compared to much of what I’ve read of King’s other work, whether it was later or not (The Shining came before it, for example,) this seems positively sophomoric in style, adverb-heavy, full of pointless word repetition, and with a meandering plot that doesn’t feel polished. The flashbacks/backstory are some of my favorite parts, developing Roland himself into an interesting figure–but if those are the standouts, that makes this book little more than a character study, and his motivations for the pursuit of the “man in black” are unclear at best. (I thought I had a handle on who the man was and why Roland was after him, only to discover when they finally meet that I was dead wrong. I honestly don’t think I missed a clue about his identity, because Roland apparently thought he was someone else, too–the same person I did. Which was a let down.)

So I’m still interested in continuing the series, a) because I’ve heard it gets much better, and b) because I already have the rest of it, all acquired secondhand on the cheap over the last year and a half. Here’s hoping The Drawing of the Three pays of my patience.

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