Not that anyone really cares what’s on my bookshelf, but I do. I always keep wishing I’d kept a reading journal starting back when I was a kid, because, mercy, I’ve read a lot of fiction. And a bit of non-fiction. But the fiction? A tsunami of ink has flowed over my gray cerebral folds and left odd bits of flotsam behind. Sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, international and political intrigue, mysteries, police procedurals, courtroom dramas, and adventure stories have left my head full of strange ideas and weird connections that has my family puzzled at times. Not that I remember the plot lines all that well. Fiction, for me, is a relaxing bubble-bath for the brain—not that I’m a bubble-bath-enjoying sort. But, if I were … well, you’d find me there with a soapy book.
Jennifer and I have tried to catalog just the books I own (forget about the books I read—the library has saved me thousands of dollars!), but it’s too hard to keep up. That’s not brag: I’m a bibliophile. I naively collect more books than I can possibly read. We can’t even finish the project we started four years ago.
:: sigh ::
I asked my public library if they’d print out a list of the books I’d checked out from them. No dice. Or so they say. I’m sure, though, John Ashcroft or his successor have a tidy little list on file somewhere, under my name and a grainy photograph with sticky notes about rodents and my suspicious literary patterns. Or fundamental lack thereof.
If I could only get my hands on that list, I could stop buying the paperbacks I read in hardcover and don’t really need to buy again because they weren’t all that memorable to begin with.
:: Here, Jennifer sighs ::
So, here’s a few of the books I remember reading in the last month or so, with brief comments (because, sadly, I really don’t have time to write more).
Just tonight, I finished an old goodie, David Morrell’s Fraternity of the Stone. I remembered this as a thematic companion to his other classic Brotherhood of the Rose, and I loved both books when I read them years ago.
Brotherhood ofthe Rose, by the way, clued me in to a trivial bit of information about the rose I enjoy: the rose has long been used as a symbol for utmost secrecy. It has been suspended above parliament, to indicate that all the proceedings conducted “under the rose” (sub rosa) were to be held in the strictest confidence. Its history goes back even further, to Roman mythology.
My wife and I used this symbol in our wedding: when we knelt at the prayer bench to pray after our vows—we implied that the deepest part of our own shared intimacy would be witnessed by God alone.
I’ll have to re-read that one.
Fraternity of the Stone, meanwhile, got picked up at the library for 25–cents, and it was as good a read the second time as the first. Morrell is one of the best at writing action/thriller/intrigue stories.
This plot line revolved around a boy who witnessed his parents’ terroristic-style killing, who grew up seeking vengeance, becoming an adept and fearsome terrorist-hunter—until the day he realizes he has become what he hated, has a religious epiphany, and joins the Carthusian order of monks to save his soul. The surface conflict revolves around an attack on the monastery and his life, and his subsequent return to the killing field for answers.
The deeper conflict, however, is between the protagonist and his own soul-searing efforts to excise the cancer of murder that eats at his conscience. The novel is an intriguing blend of action and thoughtfulness that only the best writers can handle without seeming heavy-handed. Morrell does wonderfully. And despite its age, it holds up very well, especially in light of current concerns over terrorism and assassinations. Nonfiction: If you ever want to read a great book on the writing process and the writer’s mind, you should check out Morrell’s book on writing: Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing: A Novelist Looks at His Craft.
Prior to Morrell’s book, I finished Black: A Novel, by Christopher Whitcomb, a true-life 15–year veteran of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, who earlier wrote a memoir titled Cold Zero: Inside the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, about his career as an HRT operator, carefully edited by the feebies, I am sure. I had mixed expectations about this book: professionals who truly write what they know don’t always make a successful transition to the fiction realm. Whitcomb did a passable job.
It wasn’t a bad read, but the “jaw-dropping surprise ending” left a lot to be desired. Sure, the anti-terrorism, technology-will-save-us-or-damn-us, adrenaline-pumping vertical-coffin entries where all there, but Whitcomb never rises to the level of thoughtfulness of Morrell, the commentary of Crichton, the savvy of LeCarre, or the wry humor of Childs. But, for a first novel, it was an excellent start. I just wish the ending had been more level-headed.
I felt cheated.
Prior to Whitcomb, I read Joel C. Rosenberg’s latest offering, The Ezekiel Option. This is the third in a stellar series including The Last Days, and The Last Jihad. Couple interesting things about Rosenberg and these books: Rosenberg is a Christian who was raised Jewish, he has worked as a senior advisor for for the White House and for Benjamin Netanyahu, and currently writes political analysis (see his website, especially his weblog). See the interview conducted by his current publishing house: Tyndale House Publishers.
In Rosenberg’s case, writing what you know starts looking eerily like prophecy. In his first book, he featured a hijacked plane used as a terrorist device … before 9/11. (Including a few other items presaging real events happening in the Near East.) It’s amazing stuff. And, get this, these are among the few books written by a Christian featuring truly Christian characters that is actually worth reading. Forget the Left Behind series.
Read these books. They’ll knock your socks off. I guarantee it. If not, send me your socks by mail and I’ll wear ‘em.
Prior to Rosenberg, I read an old Robert Ludlum standby, The Prometheus Deception, another post-cold-war intrigue novel that I am convinced had to be the plot genesis for the TV series: Alias. You have the brilliant polygot college student recruited to covertly fight for the good of the country. You have a deep black intelligence agency, The Directorate, that purports to be a very secret branch of the CIA—but which really isn’t. (Or … is it?) You have the agent who winds up working for the real CIA in order to uncover and destroy the fake agency. You have the double-dealing where you’re never sure who’s really CIA, who’s not, and—gosh—what the heck is our tax money paying for anyway? There are also strong echoes of Ludlum’s three Bourne novels (The Bourne Identity, Supremacy, and Ultimatum … uh … and Lustbader’s send up: The Bourne Legacy).
I was so impressed with Ludlum when I was a teenager. Now, I suppose, I’m jaded. I’ve given him four recent reads lately, and they all seem cut from a template. Boilerplate. I think he did them in his sleep. Save yourself the effort, and watch Alias, instead.
Let’s see … prior to Ludlum this month, there are a few other hazy books in my mind, but only two stand out. The first is Dean Koontz’ co-written second of a series of novels featuring a modern-day Prometheus: Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein, Book One: Prodigal Son; and Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein, Book Two: City of Night. Despite my utter distaste for the bulk of the “Horror” genre, Koontz (alongside Stephen King) is one of my all-time favorite novelists. He weaves such great themes together, is deeply thoughtful about theological and moral implications in his stories, and has a soft spot for dogs and children with handicaps. Plus, he’s so danged prolific he can keep me busy reading just his oeuvre alone.
I was nervous about picking these books up because anything that requires the author’s name in the title for marketing purposes probably exhausted his involvement right there. Both novels have different contributor bylines (book one: Kevin J. Anderson; book two: Ed Gorman), and I have no idea who the writers are. I’d like to know more about these books and their co-writers because the writing clearly has Koontz’ imprimatur all over it, and the stories don’t seem to suffer for another writer’s involvement.
If you like Koontz and weren’t sure if you’d like these books, don’t worry. Go fetch ‘em. You’ll like.
Finally, the other book that stands out in my foggy plot-saturated brain, is The Traveler, by the enigmatic John Twelve Hawks, about whom the book jacket says nothing except that he lives “off the Grid.” This is probably the best debut novel I’ve read in years. It’s a gritty blend of martial arts, contemporary fiction, science fiction, fantasy, metaphysics, intrigue, dystopianism, and technophobia all rolled into one. I really don’t have the time or space to give a decent review the book deserves, so I suggest you click over and read the Bookreporter review instead. As the reviewer says, you don’t have to be a sci-fi fan to get into this novel. It’s got a little something for everybody. It’s already been optioned for movie rights by Universal (not that this means anything, just that nobody else gets the movie made and earning the big bucks while studio execs get to bicker over the script and multiple successive and parallel rewrites), and is creating quite a buzz (or hype, depending on your point of view).
After you read this, you’ll never think about the panopticon the same again.
Now, it’s time for me to personally get off the Grid. G’night.
[tags]BlogRodent, fiction, non-fiction, david-morrell, fraternity-of-the-stone, brotherhood-of-the-rose, sub-rosa, carthusian, lessons-from-a-lifetime-of-writing, christopher-whitcomb, cold-zero, joel-c.-rosenberg, the-ezekiel-option, the-last-days, the-last-jihad, tyndale-house, left-behind, robert-ludlum, the-prometheus-deception, the-bourne-identity, the-bourne-supremacy, the-bourne-ultimatum, the-bourne-legacy, dean-koontz, prometheus, frankenstein, prodigal-son, city-of-night, stephen-king, the-traveler, john-twelve-hawks, off-the-grid[/tags]