Saturday, January 29, 2011

Robert Jordan - From the Two Rivers

This bookslut seldom ventures into the realm of genre fiction, but she made an exception for a friend.  For years, this particular friend has been pushing The Wheel of Time series on me like a drug dealer pushes crack.  When I found From the Two Rivers on the dollar table at a local used bookstore, I had to buy it.

Fans of the series probably do not recognize this title.  The reason for this is simple; I purchased the illustrated part one of The Eye of the World.  Marketing strategy for young adults resulted in the novels being split into parts.  Don't despair; I have purchased the second part of book one to ensure I give Jordan an honest chance.

Initially, I didn't care for the book.  I didn't hate it; I was quite indifferent.  (Which is a horrible thing for a reader.  To have a book that results in NOTHING from you is quite horrible.)  But I stuck with it, and I must admit to being pleased I did.  Jordan needed a better editor and at times I found his writing to be a bit too formulaic, but the meat of the story is worth the effort.

The story is tailored to young adults - as evidenced by both the characters and the writing style.  Perhaps I'd have been more quickly captivated as a child, but the 28 year old in me had a very difficult time relating to and/or caring for the characters.  I found Egwene a whiny, self-important little brat.  While I like the character of Mat and his boyish pranks, it just didn't mesh the way I think Jordan had hoped it would.  (I'm sure many people think it meshed just fine.)  Rand reminded me of Harry Potter.  (Yes, I know Rand existed long before sweet 'Arry, but in my reading chronology, Potter was first.)  There are a lot of similarities in Rand and Harry and it would be interesting to see if those comparisons continue.  I'd bet money on Rowling having read Jordan's series.  (No, I'm not saying she copied him in any way, but reading is what develops writers and some things you read are bound to stick.)  Perrin isn't all that developed in part one of the first book.  But what Jordan has done with him is make a character I want to know more about.  There's a lot of foreshadowing with Perrin and Jordan makes it clear he isn't just filler.  I'm eager to know how Perrin fits in - he is my favorite.  Nynaeve, the Wisdom, was artfully developed and as the book progressed, I found myself liking her more and more.  There's a nervous condition in her due to her age and power, and I like where that is going.  Moiraine is a fantastic character and I was drawn to her (and Lan) more than the children.  Again, I think it's due to the age at which I'm first reading this.

The Gleeman is also a huge favorite of mine.  I've always been drawn to the trickster/story-teller characters and they abound in the books I tend to favor.  The man clearly knows more than he lets on and I want to know what secrets he hides beneath his colorful cloak.

The use of the animals is fantastic.  The horses, the wolves, the ravens...  I think Robert shined the most in his brief discussions of them.  My favorite part of this section was when Perrin and Egwene meet Elyas and his wolves.  There's beautiful writing here, especially when Elyas is explaining the relationship between wolves and humans and how memory works.

"Wolves remember things differently from the way people do...  Every wolf remembers the history of all the wolves, or at least the shape of it.  Like I said, it can't be put into words very well.  They remember running down prey side-by-side with men, but it was so long ago that it's more like a shadow of a shadow than a memory."

There is some quite lovely writing (and a bunch of stuff that should have been cut).  I will read the second half of the first novel, that I can promise - I cannot promise, however, that I will complete the series.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Mishna Wolff - I'm Down

This review has been a long time coming.  Law school gets in the way of fun things.  My apologies.  Of all the books of 2010 (which weren't nearly as many as I would have liked), I'd recommend I'm Down the most.  Well, I'm Down and God of the Animals

Mishna Wolff's childhood memoir is brilliant.  If you've ever felt like you didn't belong and were the black white sheep of your family, this memoir is for you.  Wolff is white, but she grew up in a poor black neighborhood with her father - a man who really believed he was black.

"I am white.  My parents, both white.  My sister had the same mother and father as me - all of us completely white.  White Americans of European ancestry.  White, white, white, white, white, white, white, white.  I think it's important to make this clear, because when I describe my childhood to people: the years of moving from one black Baptist church to the next, the all-black basketball teams, the hours having my hair painfully braided into cornrows, of their response is, 'So... who in your family was black?'  No one.  All white."

And so her memoir opens.  She then describes her father as "strutt[ing] around with a short perm, a Cosby-esqe sweater, gold chains, and a Kangol - telling jokes like Redd Foxx, and giving advice like Jesse Jackson.  He walked like a black man, he talked like a black man, and he played sports like a black man.  You couldn't tell my father he was white.  Believe me, I tried.  It wasn't an identity crisis; it's who he was."

Her childhood story will make you laugh out loud.  Seriously.  You will lol all over yourself - if you don't, you don't know what it's like to grow up with a family you don't understand and have difficulty relating to.  And that's what the memoir really is about - family.  It would be easy to sell it as a take on race, but it isn't.  It's a novel about a father and daughter and how they relate with each other and the bonds that hold them together and the moments that threaten to rip them apart.

But it is America and race always has been and unfortunately, at least for my lifetime, always will be an issue.  (People have difficulty with those that are "different" - black, white, rich, poor.)  And while the racial issues are quite poignant and very important in understanding some of the racial dynamics that still exist in the states, the memoir is not weighted with it.  For me, it's not a black/white story.  And that is what makes Wolff an amazing writer - that and her killer instinct when it comes to all things funny.

White... Black... Purple... Red...  I don't care what "color" you are - this book is one we all can relate to.  Her story is one that, while quite unique, has echoes of all our childhoods.  Pick it up.  Enjoy.  It's not all rainbows and unicorns - some moments are downright heartbreaking - but no one's childhood is all rainbows and unicorns.  If yours was, pull that horseshoe out of your ass let me have some of your luck.