Epic tale


Stand in the place where you live

Now face north

Think about direction

Wonder why you haven’t before, “Stand” by R.E.M.

I have been intrigued by the apocalypse for quite some time.  In recent times, doomsday has been expected in 1999, 2000, 2012(And I feel fine!) the alleged Mayan apocalypse(Baktun to the future), and the various predictions about when the world is going to end (Embracing the end times).  As an avid reader and later as a teacher, I became a dystopian novels enthusiast. Despite being a longtime Stephen King fan, I had not read his post-apocalyptic epic,novel,  The Stand.  I chose it as an audiobook to follow the Game of Thrones Series. Because it is quite long, I knew I would be reading it as Lent began. I did find The Stand to be enjoyable as a counterpoint to Game of Thrones, as a post- apocalyptic novel, and even as a Lenten read.  

The Stand was a good follow-up to Game of Thrones. Like GoT, The Stand has an intriguing cast of characters.The Stand’s antagonist, Randall Flagg, is despicable yet I found myself engaged by his personality quirks.  Some GoT fans might say the same about Cersei Lannister. I also thought that there was a level of camp that I noticed in the Game of Throne books. Call me a weirdo but sometimes the scenes are hilarious.  I would cackle at the shade being thrown between characters. On a more serious note, The Stand included themes of betrayal, conspiracy,infighting and people preying on others’  insecurities. The behind-the-scenes political power plays that plague humanity are still in full effect post humanity. According to King, even when there very few people left on earth, they are still going to engage in the game of thrones.

I have read and done a lot of work as an English teacher with classic dystopian novels like Brave New World and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  The young adult fiction market has generated several popular dystopian novel series in the last decade including The Hunger Games, the Divergent series, the Uglies series, Delirium, and The Girl with All the Gifts. These are only the ones I have read; there are many more. It would seem young adults are being marketed a fascination with the end of the world. The Stand, however, predates this trend in fiction.  The Stand debuted in the late 70s before it was remixed in 1990 with the uncut full length version. The Stand differs from  other post-apocalyptic novels in that it is grounded in realism. The characters are real people in contemporary America.  The novel is not sci-fi in terms of how who the characters are before, during, and after the apocalypse. A lot of similar books are set in a distant future that is in many ways very removed from our current reality. King places his story, if not in this world, in a world that’s similar and therefore relatable. Rather than focus on terrifying the audience, the book puts more focus on the relationships that build between characters, their Interactions, and personal dynamics between the opposing sides. King is making a statement about society and  its values by imagining a world where there’s an opportunity to get away from where society is today and its failings. It’s not about a failed future society; it ponders whether or not we would pick up where we left off in the event of of an apocalyptic event. If I were still teaching Advanced Placement literature and still teaching a unit on dystopian novels, I might recommend the book as a contrast with other books or in tandem with the Bible. While there’s certainly some allusions to the Bible, it’s not at all like the Left Behind series which is definitely a faith-based apocalyptic read. (don’t get me started on that topic. That is another blog for another day.)  I did enjoy the social commentary present in The Stand.  

I started The Stand before Lent and finished it during the first week of Lent.  I had mixed feelings about continuing to read this book as I was going into a time that is personally important to me. Lent is a time of reflection and reconnection with spiritual discipline. I work on putting myself in a serene and focused state of mind. I wondered if reading about the end of the world and a demonic character made sense.  As we progressed into Lent, the scripture readings did tell about Christ battling evil. The Stand is a story about battling evil, both the evil with a capital E and also the evil of our own ways of thinking, our ambitions, our failings and flaws as people. I finished this book as I transitioned into a different time in the year and in my thinking.

There were parts of The Stand that I could have done without; there was gratuitous gore and sexual violence.  I sometimes question King’s language, specifically his use of the n-word, other slurs and profanity.  Overall it was an entertaining read, especially as an audiobook.

Reading frenzy

In the last month, I have read Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin, I am Legend by Richard Matheson, and The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle. I’m a sucker for strong female protagonists(Franklin gives us a detective/forensic pathologist from the Middle Ages while Kyle provides us a likable teen in the arid Southwest) and horror/supernatural themes(Matheson’s short stories are said to have inspired Stephen King.)And yes, true to my writerly nature, I’ll take a novel over nonfiction any day. Though my current read, Vanity of Duluoz, a semiautobiographical Beat memoir by Jack Kerouac is a nice mix.

I suppose I’m getting in my reading before I devote lots of time to reading Dr. Seuss and other children’s books aloud.

Mystery solved with sweet simplicity

The Good Husband of Zebra Drive
By Alexander McCall Smith
Book review

I have to admit I’m not a mystery fan. Not since Nancy Drew. But I’ve enjoyed the Tuesday Next series and just finished a recent installment in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. Set in modern day Botswana, the female leads solve non-violent cases while dealing with relationships and their own personal issues. Funny, charming, and touching.

Goodbye to a favorite place

Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved books. She loved them the way that lonely man(played by Burgess Meredith)in the old Twilight Zone episode loved them, with zeal and single-mindedness. Not surprisingly, she found herself feeling right at home in libraries and bookstores. The girl grew up into a woman who taught young people to love reading. She loved to buy books and share them with her charges. But a teacher’s salary is never adequate for such magnanimity so she would frequent used bookstores. One afternoon, a fellow teacher mentioned a local book warehouse. She was there as soon as possible, aghast at the size of it. It was a humongous, glorious thing, all dusty orange crates and drafty rooms, piles and piles of books and more books. As the years went on, she did not visit as often as she would like it, but it had a place in her heart.

Imagine my chagrin last week when Blues and I discovered that Gray Wolf Books has closed. Permanently. I did a Google Search and the store’s website hadn’t been updated since 2003(yikes!) According to Yelp reviewers, the store was already closed in September of 2007. I am sad to learn this amazing place will only be a memory. It was a great place to get cheap book and wander for hours. Like Cody’s of Berkeley, this wonderful bookstore will live on in my heart.

Regret can be outgrown

In the Country of Men
By Hisham Matar
Fiction, 2006

Matar’s novel makes 1979 Libya a real and frightening place, before The Guide, aka Qaddafi, becomes a cartoonish international villain during the 80s. Suleiman must grapple with a depressed mother and her unwanted marriage just as his father’s activism leads to further tragedy. A poignant read.

Another parable from the South American sage

Paolo Coehlo is best known for his simple prose and philosophical musings. He is refreshingly optimistic, a thinker who still believes in humanity, goodness, and hope. His books are welcome bursts of positivity which may explain his international acclaim and devoted fan base. Forget The Secret. Any Coehlo novel provides lots of life lessons. The devil and miss prym is no exception.
The novel follows a farming village in Europe and a visitor bearing gold bars. He challenges the townsfolk to commit an unjust crime in exchange for the gold. What follows is a fast paced tale of struggle and redemption.

Another foray into Austen’s world

The true Darcy spirit
By Elizabeth aston
Book review

Aston’s third installment following the Darcy family of Pride and Prejudice fame expands to include cousin Cassandra. Like the other protagonists, she is independent, headstrong, and plagued by the usual single gal woes: bad boys, gossippy relatives, and a society that expects women to play meek. Cassandra is disowned after refusing to marry her lover but soon turns to painting to start anew. More romance, wit, and suspense, like a telenovela with British accents.

Escape to sunny Italy: Book review

The Adventures and Exploits of Miss Alethea Darcy by Elizabeth Aston

The second of Austen enthusiast Aston’s series, this book follows the youngest Darcy daughter, Alethea, as she escapes an awful husband by dressing in drag and running off to Venice with her loyal maid. She crosses paths with brooding bachelor Titus Manningtree, who is in hot pursuit of his father’s long-lost Titian painting. The novel is another delightful romp through fancy opera houses, elegant sitting rooms, and beautiful Mediterranean scenery as well as the romantic struggles of the protagonists.

Book Review: Mr. Darcy’s Daughters

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a husband.”

Elizabeth Aston’s sequel to Jane Austen classic Pride and Prejudice was a fun escape. P&P is beloved by most strong single women and old-fashioned romantics. A recent Keira Knightley movie update was box office gold and the BBC miniseries that launched Colin Firth to fame sells well on DVD. Aston is now on her fourth installment and with good reason. This world of opinionated proto-feminists, dashing bachelors, gossip, and scandal continues to be fascinating, especially since modern writer Aston does a great job mirroring Austen’s distinctive irony and plot twist.