Saturday, January 26, 2013

Positron Short Stories - Episodes 1-3 by Margaret Atwood

Episode 1: I'm Starved for You
Episode 2: Choke Collar
Episode 3: Erase Me

The three short stories begin a series in a world where an experimental town has its inhabitants switch off lifestyles month-to-month. Every other month they live normal, suburban lives. Then, the odd months are spent as prisoners in jail. Not everyone is a criminal but everyone is trapped for life in this "experimental" way of life. Everyone is given a specific role to fill both inside and outside the prison. Inhabitants share homes with their alternates - those people who live outside the prison while they're serving as inmates. It might sound a little confusing here, but you definitely get a sound picture of what life is like within the series.

The series starts off rather light with Atwood taking her time showing off her community by focusing on the lives of just one couple - Stan and Charmaine. We meet them in episode 1 and spend just one day with them, the day they're heading back into prison, where we ultimately learn how imperfect their marriage is.

Episode 2 exposes a little corruption in "paradise" as the routine flow of both Stan's and Charmaine's lives are interrupted by outside forces. We get a deeper picture of the twisted interior of the community and the dissidence that's arising. Of course, in true Atwood fashion, the naive become the pawns of the plotters.

Episode 3 tightens the puppet strings on Stan and Charmaine and both are forced onto separate paths potentially dangerous and devastating. It turns out they signed away the control over their own lives when they moved into town.

Within these three short stories a lot is exposed about the world within the town on Consilience and Positron Prison, yet we have no idea what's going on beyond the city walls. People signed up for this experiment because life on the outside had gotten rough, but did it remain that way? I'm hoping Atwood will let us find out. I also hope Stan and Charmaine figure out a way to rebel against the rebellion and take back their lives.

This series is only available online so it was my first foray into reading digitally. As a staunch supporter of the printed word, I'd resisted eBooks for so long until given a Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas. I really enjoyed the access to these books and the readability of my Kindle. I've already accumulated a small library of free eClassics to reread. So, if you have an eReader and are an Atwood fan, this series is for you. I'm looking forward to more.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

In true John Irving style, this book starts off as one thing, dives into some extreme tangents you don't expect, and ends on a completely unrelated note. I really enjoyed it.

Last Night in Twisted River is primarily about a father and son on the run. They've accidentally committed a crime, covered it up, and left their New Hampshire home to avoid the wrath of the drunken, violent police officer should he discover the truth of what happened. The story begins when the son, Daniel, is 12 and ends when he's in his 60's.

In the course of their time on the lamb, Daniel grows up, gets married, has a son of his own, and becomes a famous writer (using a pseudonym of course.) He also leads a pretty tough life - most of it spent with a broken heart. Daniel's Dad, Dominic, spends his time as fugitive loving, cooking, and fulfilling dreams although he's a bit broken as well. Keeping the characters rooted to where the whole things started is Ketchum, a rough logger and close friend whose complicated relationship with Daniel and Dominic never overshadows his unfailing desire to protect them both.

More than a "thriller" this is a book about people and how they deal with the horrible and stressful extremes of life. Can you really prepare for the worst? Can the inevitable be avoided? How do you find peace when the smoke clears? Irving offers up his answers to these questions through his complex characters and doesn't disappoint in the process.

A side note to the story I also found interesting was that Irving shares his own writing style with the reader through Daniel. The way Daniel forms his novels is actually identical to Irving. With a bit of a comedic twist at one point, Daniel considers a title for a book's first chapter that is the same as the title for the first chapter of Twisted River. I like that Irving shares such a personal process with his readers in this way.

I'm a decent-sized Irving fan, but I haven't read all of his work. A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of my favorites, but I didn't enjoy Twisted River on the same level even though it was an intelligent and interesting read which I'd recommend to anyone.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Reading Project for 2013

Before the holidays set in this past year I decided to make 2013 the year of the reread for me. Assuming I'll still be able to read two books per month, my plan is to read one new book and reread one old favorite throughout the year. This seemed like an easy challenge until Hanukkah and Christmas came and went. I'm not left with five new books to read and a Kindle Paperwhite where the amount of exclusive and free content to download is staggering. 

I'm going to try my hardest to read these twelve books (my favorites) in addition to all the new titles I now have access to:

  1. The Witching Hour by Anne Rice
  2. Lasher by Anne Rice
  3. Taltos by Anne Rice
  4. Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins
  5. Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins
  6. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  7. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  8. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
  9. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
  10. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
  11. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
  12. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I think this list is a good mix of new and classic. It definitely encompasses my favorites over time not including the lengthier series I've read and loved. Not entirely sure where to start, just looking at this reading list makes me happy.

Wish me luck in 2013!