I've mostly abandoned my public domain strategy for the moment. I think that I've now read many of the most obvious public domain classics, and the ones that remain are either daunting in their length (War and Peace, for example) or likely to be pretty awful (Warlord of Mars comes to mind). Way back in July, I downloaded Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey and I'm still struggling through it, reading a little each night, but always right on the verge of abandoning it. Every now and then there's a tiny hint of why it might have been popular in its era, like an exciting chase on horseback, but mostly the writing is just excruciating. He keeps hitting the same points over and over again, and the characters regularly launch into long speeches that would make Ayn Rand glance at her watch. And, while Tarzan is the most racist book I've read to date, Purple Sage is by far the most bigoted. Mormons are the villains here, save for a single good one, the leading lady Jane. Her faith has made her brave and charitable, but every other Mormon in the book are cowardly greedy schemers who steal Jane's horses so she'll have to get married. Also, none of them can hit the broad side of a barn, where as every "gentile" in the book can plug a sparrow at three hundred yards blindfolded and shooting from horseback. I'm determined to see the book through to it's bitter end, hoping that, like Tarzan, it might surprise me on the last page and somehow redeem itself.
Luckily, before bogging down in Sage, I raced through two awesome books, Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five. Slaughterhouse Five was definitely the better of the two, daring in scope and beautifully honest in its absurdity. Cat's Cradle was funnier, but it's broad humorous strokes took away some of the plausibility for me. There were times when characters did things not because it was the realistic thing for them to do, but because it was the funny thing for them to do. Still a brilliant book.
In audio, I've listened to Of Mice and Men, another wonderful book, though not as interesting as Grapes of Wrath. I suppose that's the danger of writing one of the greatest books of all time; everything else is, by definition, not as great. But, on the subject of great books, I finally listened to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. Holy cow! This book was stunning it was so good. The style and voice were impressive, the story had real heart, and the characters kept showing one more layer of depth just as you thought you knew all there was to know about them. The only downside to the book was it's blatant misogyny. While the male characters are allowed to be characters, every woman in the book is one dimensional. The "good" women are prostitutes, giving their bodies to any man who wants them, thus making men stronger and healthier. The "bad" women in the book are the wives and mothers who exist solely to castrate the men with their words. The book's villain, the Big Nurse, is given no motivation for her cruelty other than speculation that, since she never married, she's never been forced to submit to a man sexually. She has desexualized herself and now exists to unman the men. The protagonist's final "triumph" over her is little more than attempted rape, as he rips open her uniform to reveal her breasts.
Despite the book's flaws, I still think it's going to assume a place among my pantheon of favorite books. The good points of the novel outweigh the bad. I emerged from the book with a renewed purpose as a writer to always, always fight against the "Combine."
Currently I'm listening to On the Road; I'll write more about it when I'm done, but I'm hitting a point where the plotless nature of the book is starting to wear on me. The style is wonderful, but it would be nice if there were even a tiny hint of direction.
On a side note, I did deviate from my classics only rule for the year recently with two books. First, I listened to Alethea Kontis's novel Enchanted as an audio book. It's really the best audio performance I've yet encountered. The book itself is also really good, though I suspect I may be the wrong gender and age to really fall in love with the story. The majority of the plot is built around a series of royal balls, and there's a whole lot of words devoted to describing the dresses worn by every woman in the book, and there are a lot of them. Fortunately, the book is funny, so there are plenty of rewards for putting up with all the talk about dresses.
Finally, I listened to Mary Roach's new book Gulp. I'd read Bonk and Stiff and found them excellent. Gulp didn't disappoint; it was exactly the sort of non-fiction book that has dominated my reading choices for the last decade, full of quirky, interesting facts, put together in such a way that it makes you feel as if every aspect of humanity can be understood simply by studying what we put into our bodies, and what comes out. I'll definitely be looking for more books like this once I'm through my year of classics.
Welcome to my worlds!
I'm James Maxey, author of fantasy and science fiction. My novels include the science fantasy Bitterwood Saga (4 books) the Dragon Apocalypse Saga (4 books), numerous superhero novels including Nobody Gets the Girl and the Lawless series, the steampunk Oz sequel Bad Wizard, and my short story collections, There is No Wheel and Jagged Gate. This website is focused exclusively on writing. At my second blog, Jawbone of an Ass, I ramble through any random topic that springs to mind, occasionally touching on religion and politics and other subjects polite people are sensible enough not to discuss in public. If you'd like to get monthly updates on new releases, as well as preview chapters and free short stories, join my newsletter!