Wednesday, April 8, 2015

What I'm Reading: Roundup

Here are a couple things I've been reading lately:

First Book of Samuel  This was part of my Lenten reading this year. It's been a few years since I've caught up again with Samuel, Saul, Jonathan, and David, and upon rereading this remains one of my favorite Bible books. (I've discussed it before, here.)

I had forgotten that David doesn't even appear until halfway through--the book is really about the obedient prophet Samuel, who comes across as the most respected man in Israel, even to the point that the people go to him when they decide they want a king. Of course he warns them off, but they insist, and the Lord leads him to Saul. But when Saul is disobedient, the Lord ends his reign and chooses the boy who will grow to lead the nation: David. I get chills in the great scene when Samuel visits Jesse, knowing that one of his sons will be the one the Lord picks, yet surprised to find it is the youngest, a boy ruddy and beautiful.

There are plenty of other great scenes too, and lots of action, and emotion, and even humor. Never mind its religious aspects, this book truly is a prime example of world literature.

The Guns of Avalon The second novel in the Amber series by Roger Zelazny. (I discussed the first book, Nine Princes in Amber, here.) This book continues the tale of Prince Corwin, one of the heirs of the fractious ruling family of the kingdom of Amber. I made a mistake of reading a review of this book--now that other review dominates my thinking, making it harder to form my own view. So, I may as well recycle one of that review's opinions--the critic pointed out that Amber is high fantasy, but that Zelazny totally discarded the previous rulebook about how to approach fantasy, giving the Amber books a freshness rarely found in fantasy novels. I think that opinion is about right.

As a writer, I'm also struck by how loose the plotting is, and I'm sure Zelazny just started writing with only a vague idea where the story was going. I'm not a writer who likes to plan things out ahead of time, so I can recognize when others are doing it. At its best, this approach leads to surprise and unpredictability, as the writer goes where his characters want to, letting the story develop as it will. At its worst, the approach leads to a lot of loose ends and meandering plot threads. Well, Zelazny is a master and The Guns of Avalon is completely unpredictable, yet comes together perfectly in the final pages. (It's been long enough since I've read these--twenty years of more--that I can't remember the twists anymore.) I'm definitely looking forward to the third book in the series.

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