March 2018 Reads

Two reading recommendations follow.

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Recommended by Calvin

Hyperion

What a book. I’ve continued to think about it, even though I finished it several weeks ago. Hyperion is a multi-award winning science fiction classic, which tells the tale of a group of people, who are on a kind of pilgrimage to a very dangerous place. Reflective of the Canterbury Tales, each traveller takes time to tell the story of what brings them to Hyperion. This won’t be the only English literary feature resonating through this incredible story, since, improbably, the poet John Keats also lives large within the book’s cover.

It is a story told of the far future of humanity, at a time replete with chaos and strife, with the likelihood of interstellar war looming. Against the larger backdrop, we get the stories of individuals whose experiences and history somehow link them to Hyperion, which itself is connected to the larger conflict.

Of the pilgrims, some are returning there, while others are journeying there for the first time. Each has suffered and is coming to the planet Hyperion, inhabited by the monstrous Shrike, in search of answers to imponderable questions at the centre of his or her life. Each tells tales of dire pasts, terrible griefs and losses that somehow connect to the profound mystery represented by the planet, its Time Tombs, and the Shrike. It is difficult for the reader to believe how the complexity can be resolved into any kind of meaning, and yet the story isn’t confusing – it fascinates. As each story is told, the reader begins to understand more about the universe these people inhabit, and to learn of the different worlds and the differing ethos’ that spin from the rich imagination of the author. We hear The Priest’s Tale; The Soldier’s Tale; The Poet’s Tale; The Scholar’s Tale; The Detective’s Tale; and The Consul’s Tale and at the end of their stories we certainly are not yet at the end of the mystery.

The creativity and scope of this book is breathtaking. It is no wonder it is considered a science fiction classic that continues to be read and re-read. I’m very glad that Calvin told me I had to read this. He was right.

Get your copy of Hyperion today.

 


The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Recommended by Liz

The Glass Castle

Jeannette Walls writes the story of her family in this award winning and bestselling title. With her three siblings, Lori, Brian and Maureen, and her parents, Rex and Rose Mary, the family criss-crossed parts of the US, from one dusty, impoverished mining town to another. Rex, who (occasionally) worked as a mining engineer and electrician has the charm and charisma to talk himself into most jobs, and then lose them from boredom, drunkenness, or a conviction that one of his inventions would ‘hit’. He was a restless man who didn’t want to be fenced in, and who could be a raging and abusive drunk who stole from his children. Rose Mary was an artist and self-described excitement addict who deeply resented having to manage the day to day details of being a mom, and really hated to have to work when Rex was incapable of doing so.

Together, this damaged pair were in many ways a terrific match as a couple, while being a terrible parental duo. They moved their children from one squalid rental place to another, many without heat or indoor plumbing, where food was especially chancy (stories of how the children went through garbage when they were at school in search of food were difficult to read), and chaos was a regular feature of their lives. Yet, somehow, learning and education also were there, and so was love. The children knew their parents loved them, and they came to see that love from their parents had limits, and that caretaking was not a natural concomitant of that relationship. And the children loved each other.

Walls tells her stories of family dysfunction without anger or criticism and she is matter-of-fact and balanced in her approach. For children, even the most unusual experiences are their norms, and so the recollections of family life she describes are told from this framework of normalcy. She never tries to imbue the book with a woe-is-me attitude, and she also takes great care to share the wonder of being the children of this unconventional set of parents. For all their damage as people, Rex and Rosy Mary are also intelligent and creative people, and they did somehow have children who were gifted with fierce intelligence, incredible sibling loyalty, great resilience, determination, and a strong work ethic. But at the same time, the ‘great adventure’ that the parents told their children they were on when they were very young inevitably became something different as they grew. The children couldn’t help but recognize the privation of their lives (no heat, no food, no plumbing, no decent clothing, and no parenting) against the cultural norms surrounding them. They began to want something more from their lives, and from their parents. Together, the children planned and executed escapes for one another, and these escapes have allowed each of them to achieve far beyond what may otherwise have been expected of children for whom privation was a singular aspect of their childhood.

Fascinating book.

Get your copy of The Glass Castle today.