Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Under the Dome by Stephen King

I've been a fan of King for many years. I've read dozens of his books over the years, my favorites being The Gunslinger Series, The Stand, and of course It.

The story of Under the Dome is pretty simple; Chester's Mill, a small town in Maine, is suddenly and inexplicably encased in an invisible, unbreakable, impermeable dome. As the small town adjusts to its new isolated existence, things quickly begin to unravel for the citizens of Chester's Mill. And within a week, things unravel completely.

I loved the characters in this book, they are incredibly distinct and memorable. This book has a LARGE cast of characters, and King manages to make them each feel real. There is also a very sharp line between the good characters and the bad characters. Typically I would find this polarization to be a little off-putting. I like moral ambiguity in books, and characters that are hard to figure out. But the distinct good/bad characters in Under the Dome are a delight to read about. The good guys are likable and brave, and they do the right thing even when it's the hard choice, and the bad guys are just downright evil, and in this book, it just works.

The town itself is arguably the lead character in this book, and this works very well as a storytelling technique, you really feel for the little town, when something bad happens to the town, as a reader, you really empathize with the town. This was also a very appealing part of the book.

The only issue I take with this book is the payoff at the end. The lead-up to the final section of the book is exquisite, but the actual end left me feeling a little let down. I don't know what I expected, and I feel that expectations are often a curse to have when reading a book. But the ending of this book was not King's best work.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book. It's a really fun read, and it moves at a breakneck speed, right from the very beginning. Even though I wasn't crazy about the end, I really connected with the characters, and I felt real sorrow and loss when the book ended. As my aunt said to me: I'll really miss my friends from Chester's Mill.

NOTE: I purchased the Audiobook version of this book for a road-trip I took to Kentucky, and I have to gush about the Narrator; Raul Esparza rivals Neil Gaiman as my top audiobook narrators. He manages to do many distinct voices (both male and female), without coming off too cheesy. This is a hard thing to do, and he does a great job with it. I don't listen to Audiobooks all that often, but I know how critical a good narrator is, and this particular book doesn't disappoint.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas L. Friedman

I don't read a ton of non-fiction. I like the creative license one can take within the fictionalized genre and prefer fiction based on facts usually. That being said, there are certain real things that interest me too much to allow any fiction to invade; the state of our planet/way of life is one of them.

My knowledge of the environment and external factors that affect is pretty limited. I know what the Average Joe knows - pollution is bad, recycling is good, and our way of life is slowly strangling the planet. So, I picked up Friedman's book to get a better perspective on our situation and who's doing what to help the planet out. I expected a lot of science and some finger-pointing with a simple solution to fixing everything...that's just not how it works.

Friedman breaks down the global environmental issues into key parts ranging from energy consumption to our dependence on oil. He explains why each part has its own set of problems and then talks strategy for lessen the problem. He doesn't solve our environmental troubles, he strategizes on ways to improve upon them. I found this approach very refreshing. Educate me on an issue and then open up a discussion on making it better, that's how you're going to get me interested in what's going on. Don't feed me an absolute solution because there probably isn't one.

Also discussed in depth is the role the U.S. can play in addressing these environmental problems, especially our dependence on "dirty" energy. The U.S. has an opportunity to shoot out in front of other countries as a provider of "clean" energy thus reestablishing ourselves as an innovator and leader in global development. Friedman's call to action in the book was strong and well-written, but most of it it was logical. Just like his proposed strategies for altering our energy dependence, nothing is too radical or too hypothetical. What the man says makes sense. Not only that, it's stuff anybody can understand and support. Friedman doesn't ask us to abandon our cars right now and build a wind turbine in our backyard, but he does ask us to speak up and demand our government pass incentives and provide funding to enable research and development of cleaner energy and more efficient processes.

While there were times I found my mind wandering as I read, overall, this book held just the right combination of passion and intelligence to be extremely engaging. I couldn't help talking about what I was learning with everyone. This book made me understand that I can play a role in saving the world and I finished the book with hope for changes to come.