I ASSUME THAT MOST OF YOU READ THIS BLOG WHILE SITTING DOWN; IF THIS IS UNTRUE OF YOUR CURRENT STATE, I BEG YOU TO REMEDY THAT BEFORE READING ANY MORE OF THIS POST.
Everybody sitting down? Good. Here we go.
(Good heavens! This is more painful than I expected! Confessions generally are, though....)
I read a book--a fictional book--a fantasy novel! And I read it--all the way through! Wretched, wretched, escapist literature--and I enjoyed it! Oh woe is me! What have I done? I was such a nice fellow; how could this happen?
Well, I believe the worst is behind us now. I will now proceed to tell you about this book and my experience with it:
I must admit, I found myself honestly suffering through this story at times. You must understand, I am not the sort of man who feels a moral obligation to finish things I start (especially books--especially fantasy novels), but I felt I had to make it through this one. It was a pride issue, really: you see, there are a handful of fictional books (perhaps as many as three or four) that I'd kinda like to read, but they've all either been recommended to me by Confuzzled or Thmazing, and I can't have either one of them feeling the right to gloat over having persuaded me to indulge myself with lies, so I figured I go with a book that neither one of them have recommended to me (to my recollection), a book that (with any luck) neither of them have read.
Ha! Take that, my literary tormentors!
The book is Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson, and (this is the part where my pride really takes a beating:) I think I'd actually recommend it fairly unilaterally. But you must remember, this recommendation comes from a guy who doesn't like fiction.
I just finished reading Alcatraz today. As I was reading it on the couch in my living room, one of my roommates walked in and asked what I was reading.
"Stupid, wretched, escapist fiction, I'm afraid," I said: "Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians."
"Do you like it?" he asked.
"Well," I said, "the plot is fairly uninteresting, and I don't really like any of the characters...."
He laughed. "But the font is nice?"
"Oh yes," I said, laughing also. "The font is very nice."
But I lied. I don't like the font. I mean, it was mostly a pretty standard font with unobtrusive serif, but the author chose to put hand-written notes in a sloppy, san-serif font that was supposed to look like handwriting, and I think that's dumb.
So that's pretty much my recommendation: I didn't really like the characters much, though they were occasionally entertaining, and I didn't really enjoy the plot, though it was occasionally interesting, and I didn't even like the fonts all that much. But I did enjoy the book as a whole.
Now you may find yourself wondering what's left to enjoy in a novel once you take away its plot, characters, and font(s); if that is the case, you and I are not very much alike because I say that, once you take away a story's plot and characters, you have only the most essential part left: the voice.
My friend Schlange is in the off-and-on conceptual stages of writing his first novel. I, being a red-pen nut, thoroughly enjoy attacking his comma usage when he sends me partial drafts. The last time he thus employed my services was about a month ago. Here is an excerpt from the email I sent him (I think it will help you to understand my recommendation for Alcatraz):
I am officially an English Language major. Basically, I'm getting my BA in grammar and punctuation. These things are kind of a big deal to me. I tell you this, not because I think you don't know, but because it will be necessary for you to bear in mind as you read the following that I am a BIG fan of good grammar etc.
One of the reasons that I love to read what you write so much is that you have a very distinct voice when you're telling a story, and it's a good one. Remember that one night when I printed off a couple of your blog posts and proceeded to tell you why the one about pastries was better than the one about speaking good? It's because of that happy, I'm-telling-a-story-I'm-
With that said, all I really have left to say regarding Alcatraz is, though the plot is fairly conventional and the characters are occasionally a bit too quirky to be truly lovable, the story telling is A-grade fantastic! The novel is in 1st person, and at the beginning of almost every chapter, Alcatraz stops telling the story and goes off on random tangents. I, being the sort of person who would rather read a well-written essay than any book-length fiction, enjoyed these so thoroughly that, rather than seeming to get in the way of the story, I felt the story detracted from the tangents! I mentioned above that I occasionally found myself suffering through the story at times, but that was only because I wished Al would stop telling me his stupid story and go back to the good stuff.
But even when he was telling the story, his descriptions were always really entertaining. Also, if you ever do read this book, be sure to pay attention to the way he spells pterodactyl--I thought it was an especially subtle and clever running joke.
So that's pretty much my review, but I'm not done yet. This'll make for a kinda lengthy blog post, so if you're tired, you can stop reading now, but I'd like to include some little excerpts from the book just so you can get a feel for the voice that I'm so enamored of. (Just a sidenote, I found myself laughing out loud at times despite my telling myself over and over, "Hey, kid, it really isn't that funny!" So if you don't find these funny, that's probably because they aren't.) The first of these excerpts is directed at anyone who has ever recommended a book to me; the rest are just fun little excerpts that caught my attention.
FROM PAGE 49-50:
I'd like to take this opportunity to commend you for reading this book. [...] [M]y experience has been that people generally don't recommend this kind of book at all. It is far too interesting. Perhaps you have had other kinds of books recommended to you. Perhaps, even, you have been given books by friends, parents, or teachers, then told that these books are the type you "have to read." Those books are invariably described as "important"--which, in my experience, pretty much means that they're boring. (Words like meaningful and thoughtful are other good clues.)
If there is a boy in these kinds of books, he will not go on an adventure to fight against Librarians, paper monsters, and one-eyed Dark Oculators. In fact, the lad will not go on an adventure or fight against anything at all. Instead, his dog will die. Or, in some cases, his mother will die. If it's a really meaningful book, both his dog and his mother will die. (Apparently, most writers have something against dogs and mothers.)
Neither my mother nor my dog dies in this book. I'm rather tired of those types of stories. In my opinion, such fantastical, unrealistic books--books in which boys live on mountains, families work on farms, or anyone has anything to do with the Great Depression--have a tendency to rot the brain. To combat such silliness, I've written the volume you now hold--a solid, true account. Hopefully, it will help anchor you in reality.
So, when people try to give you some book with a shiny round award on the cover, be kind and gracious, but tell them that you don't read "fantasy," because you prefer stories that are real. Then come back here and continue your research on the cult of evil Librarians who secretly rule the world."
FROM PAGE 68:
Remember, despite the fact that this book is being sold as a "fantasy" novel, you must take all of this things it says extremely seriously, as they are quite important, are in no way silly, and always make sense.
FROM PAGE 143-4:
You may think those above paragraphs are some kind of foreshadowing. You're right. Of course, those thoughts weren't foreshadowing when they occurred to me. I couldn't know that they'd be important.
I tend to have a lot of ridiculous thoughts. I'm having some right now. Most of these certainly aren't important. And so, I usually only mention the ones that matter. For instance, I could have told you that many of the lanterns in the library looked like types of fruits and vegetables. But that has no real relevance to the plot, so I left it out. Likewise, I could have included the scene where I notices the roots of Bastille's hair and wondered why she dyed it silver, rather than letting it grow its natural red. But since that part isn't relevant to the -
Oh. Wait. Actually, that is relevant. Never mind.
FROM PAGE 183:
People can do great things. However, there are something they just can't do. I, for instance, have not been able to transform myself into a Popsicle, despite years of effort. I could, however, make myself insane, if I wished. (Though if I achieved the second, I might be able to make myself think I'd achieved the first....)
Anyway, if there's a lesson to be learned, it's this: Great success often depends upon being able to distinguish between the impossible and the improbable. Or, in easier terms, distinguishing between Popsicles and insanity.
FROM PAGE 250-1:
Now, I would like to take this opportunity to point out that I didn't take the opportunity to point out anything at the beginning of this chapter. Never fear; my editorial comments were simply delayed for a few moments.
You see, that last chapter ended with a terribly unfair hook. By now, it is probably very late at night, and you have stayed up to read this book when you should have got to sleep. If this is the case, then I commend you for falling into my trap. It is a writer's greatest pleasure to hear that someone was kept up until the unholy hours of the morning reading one of his books. It foes back to authors being terrible people who delight in the suffering of others. Plus, we get a kickback from the caffeine industry.
Regardless, because of how exciting things were, I didn't feel comfortable interjecting my normal comments at the beginning of this chapter. So, I shall put them here instead. Prepare yourself.
Blah, blah, sacrifice, alters, daggers, sharks. Blah, blah, something pretentious. Blah, blah, rutabaga. Blah, blah, something that makes no sense whatsoever.
Now back to the story.
There are also a goodly number of allusions in this book, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Most were very brief, so I'm not sure I caught them all, but I did catch one to To Kill a Mockingbird, on to "The Raven," one to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, one to Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail, and one to something like but not necessarily The Count of Monte Cristo.
So there you have it. As a parting shot, I've got to tell you that the thing that really sold me on this book was (of all things!) the teaser on the inside flap:
A HERO WITH AN INCREDIBLE TALENT... FOR BREAKING THINGS.
A LIFE-OR-DEATH MISSION... TO RESCUE A BAG OF SAND.
A FEARSOME THREAT FROM THE POWERFUL SECRET NETWORK THAT RULES THE WORLD... THE EVIL LIBRARIANS.