"Conquering Russia is a steppe by steppe process."
ASSORTED BOOKS READ AND HAVING SOMETHING SAID ABOUT THEM
by Richard Karsmakers
Although time has been shorter than ever and what was left of it
seemed to drain away like a bathtub unplugged, I have found bits
of time here and there that sortof automatically allocated
themselves to reading ambitions. What with my parents having
taken rather longer than usual to supply me with most of Stephen
King's back catalogue, this issue won't see any of his books read
and commented upon. Maybe that's all for the best, for ST NEWS is
not a Stephen King Adoration Magazine (SKAM), no matter how much
he actually deserves such an effort.
More Stephen King books will no doubt be found mentioned in the
next issue of ST NEWS, don't you worry (as if you did!). This
time there's stuff by Eco, Morrison, Pratchett, Heller, Salinger
"I have three heavy degrees in literature and I read Salinger
for breakfast. I also have very big boobies that got me this
Playboy deal photo shoot deal."
Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
"Well, that's a bit of a 'catch-22' situation."
This line was the thing that started off in me the desire to
read this undoubted classic by Joseph Heller. Some would go as
far as to say that it was the best book written after World War
II when it got published, but I myself would not go as far. It is
a classic in every sense, though, especially because it makes you
think about the world - and war in this case - in such a
Centering around the main protagonist, Yossarian, "Catch 22"
related the story of the craziness of war. Not in a cliché
pacifist kind of way, but in a much crazier way that I can't
possibly describe here in short. If I could I would be earning a
lot of money and have my own swimming pool in the back yard. I'd
be at the other end of a bookshop queue waiting for a book to get
Forgive me if I am pretentious a bit, but I really think every
sentient being has to have read "Catch 22". It's a bit like
"Macbeth" and a lot of other Shakespeare, really, and some more
gruesome bits like "Pride and Prejudice". Serious books are just
so full of references to classics, and "Catch 22" even made it
into daily language.
I know I am a lousy literary critic. What?! I am even a mediocre
plain old book reviewer as far as they go. But fact is that
"Catch 22" is really cool, really full of laughs and very capably
written. As a matter of fact, the maddening thought arose in my
mind that I suddenly noticed where Douglas Adams and Terry
Pratchett may have gleaned their style from. Unmistakably, Joseph
Heller wields absurd humour like only few can.
Enter a world where strangers try to kill you, where you have to
fly if you're not insane but you would have to be insane to fly.
Enter the whirlwind world of real "Catch 22". I think it is
definitely the funniest classic book of real literature I've ever
read. Knee-slappingly so, as a matter of fact, with amazing
dialogues and witty characters to boot.
Men at Arms - Terry Pratchett
A story revolving around the City Watch this time, and a very
funny one. Whereas some people might disagree, I think Terry
Pratchett is getting ever funnier and more literary, too. "Men At
Arms" is the story of a Theft, Murders, and a Pretender To The
Throne. The difficult thing, as usual, is writing about it
without automatically using some of the Terry jokes or spoiling
the fairly intricate plot. Unlike "Soul Music" (see below) the
plot is really important and baffling. It's almost like Agatha
Christie was thrown into the primordial soup that made Pratchett
in this case. Not much I want to say about it, other than that I
think it's essential reading fodder.
Soul Music - Terry Pratchett
It is said that Terry Pratchett is accused of literature, though
the only text that ever said this was the "about the author" bit
in some Discworld novels that I strongly suspect Terry wrote
When reading "Soul Music" it is easy to imagine how people could
turn into the misguided individuals who think he does. As a
matter of fact, it effectively misguided me too. It even made me
wonder whether perhaps it was all just a devious ploy to bring
to light the fact that Pratchett indeed does write literature.
It's just that nobody noticed until he told us he was wrongly
accused of it.
The Discworld has a great many characters. There are the witches
(which I personally don't like too much), there's Rincewind
(which I'd rather see a bit more of), the luggage (which is
really funny and ought to get a few cameo appearances in every
book just for the hell of it), the City Guard (which shimmered
brilliantly in "Men at Arms"), the wizards (which are sortof OK)
and Death. And Death, I know, is my favourite. It is not for
naught that I have standing within reach a statuette of Death
once given to me by those kindly Extravagent English that, like
autumn leaves, have had their fifteen minutes and afterwards
vanished into oblivion.
The bush has just about no more leaves on it.
Death has a prime role in "Soul Music". And so does Cut-Me-Own-
Throat Dibbler, another favourite of mine. And we also see the
hapless offspring of Mort, getting to replace Death again and not
making too much of a good job of it.
In "Moving Pictures" (my favourite Discworld novel, especially
because of the manifold allusions) the Discworld had learned to
come to grips with film. In "Soul Music" they meet music with
rocks in. Meet Buddy Holly and his illustrious friends on a
cross-cultural, cross-racial adventure that, in the end, reveals
to be of such literary depth that, quite unusually, it sent a
clog right up my throat. Pratchett is probably the wittiest
writer ever to live, also because he's so darned copious with his
writings so we never have to wait long for something new, but he
can be mindboggingly (that is no typo) deep if he wants to. When
I read those last few pages a nagging thought persisted in my
mind: Has he just written that whole book to be able to get away
with the really deep ending, the message to mankind?
I think he just might.
But until that you're bound to be belly-up with laughter quite a
few times. I don't know where he gets all his ideas from, but
Pratchett is remarkable. A true talent.
But, then again, we all knew that already.
I have to note here that Roy Stead, the most prolific ST NEWS
author I know, didn't find "Soul Music" good at all. He found the
Blues Brothers jokes rehashed too much ("we're on a mission from
Glod"). I beg to differ. They aren't down-trodden yet. I think
one or two (different) Blues Brother jokes ought to be in every
(Well perhaps that would be a bit too much, but I guess you know
what I try to mean, er, as it were)
The Secret History - Donna Tartt
Occasionally I read a book just because I ought to. In this
particular case the feeling of oughtness was bestowed on me,
quite effortlessly, by a fellow student of English at Utrecht
University. I was over at his place and, after a simple and
copious but gratifying Chinese meal, we were drinking beers out
of bottles. Outside it was dusking already and we were about to
watch a video. We'd talked about music and that kind of thing.
Music, and books. He'd already lent me a few CDs that I ought to
check out, and he also told me about this book he had just read.
It was really good, he had said. I knew him fairly well. He
always spoke in understatements. Impulsively, I said something
that, I guess, is familiar for me in such a situation. Opening my
cotton bag, I said, wannahave.
I didn't start reading it until I'd finished the above Pratchett
stuff. Karin was back in the Netherlands again and time went by
like, well, like in a dream. Days flew by in a kind of bliss but
at the end of many of them I found myself thinking what I had
actually done apart from being with that light of my life. I read
the book in the hours I spent waiting for her to get back from
her summer job. I read it in the afternoons when it was too early
to start waiting and I had to do something with my time anyway.
Really, I ought to have been doing a lot of school work. Thesis,
even, that kind of thing. Except for the mild alcohol abuse and
exorbitant presence of beernuts that had marked that earlier
period, the feeling within me was very much like the last year I
spent "studying Biology". I felt pretty useless. Happy, sometimes
even blissed-out, but useless nonetheless. Days had a habit of
vanishing, disappearing behind me, fruitlessly, not used to their
The book is about a group of University students in Hampden,
Vermont, narrated from the perspective of Richard, the one to
come to an exclusive fraternity of students of Greek the last. I
originally started to read the book because it seemed to be
rather pretentious and involved a lot of Greek mythology, but as
the pages got turned it assumed a life of its own. And I got
sucked in the way a good book ought to. All the ingredients are
there, the ingredients a good book needs to have. Friendship,
foremost, I guess. Maybe this is the way my childhood gets back
at me, I don't know. I like the exclusive boy's club kind of
thing in books, maybe because I've never been part of such a
club. Maybe, when push comes to shove, it's really only a story
of friendship, no matter if high-classed critics on the cover
write stuff about metaphors and growing up and all that stuff.
And it's also, in a way, a story of love. Love for friends, and
also - oddly fitting - Platonic love. I waited 660 pages for this
Richard character to sleep with the classically beautiful Camilla
but, and I hate to spoil this for you, they never did.
Donna Tartt twists and twirls the plot, peeling away layer by
layer until you really don't know who's bad and who's good. Hell,
you don't even know what the definition of bad might be. People
get killed but both the victims and perpetrators seem oh so
sympathetic. And slowly but certainly the friendship dissolves.
Their academic carreer dissolves, very much in the way I had
experienced myself in that year of doing Biology. Eighty-eight -
eighty-nine. A year, I always say, that you should have had but
won't be proud of. Building character and that sort of thing.
But I am digressing.
"The Secret History" is really quite a beautiful book. Not
good, no, for that word won't do it justice, but beautiful.
Although I would consider myself a poorer man for not having read
the other books I've devoured this year - Pratchett, Heller,
King, others - I think this debut by Donna Tartt might be the
most unexpected gem I've read for a while. I know that makes me
sound like a really literate man blowing his own whistle, but
what it boils down to is that this is supposed to be a tremendous
compliment to Ms Tartt, not to me. For what it's worth.
This is definitely the literary discovery of the year so far,
and maybe of the last few years (with the exception of the
tremendously impressive "The Stand" which, well, you can't
really call literature at all).
This small bit had the word ought in it rather a lot. I really
ought to get something done on school. I really do.
It's odd how, sometimes, especially when your senses are
amplified and tend to notice this kind of thing, it suddenly
starts to rain. Really pelting down sort of rain, with guttural
thunder rolling bumpingly in the background.
The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
Not much fun did I have when reading this book. It's about a
couple of days in the life of Holden Caulfield, a 16-year college
dropout and raw adolescent. Maybe this book is more fun to read
if you're 16 or very rebellious, but to me it just didn't do
much. I reckon it was very smart of Salinger to be able to write
it when he himself was clearly much older than Holden, but still
it's too repetitive and pessimistic. It's only about 200 pages so
you might want to check it out some day because, well, it is a
true classic. But if you want to known the truth, I didn't like
it very much. To use Caulfield's words: I didn't get a big bang
out of it. It didn't kill me, if you want to know the truth. Ha
The Bluest Eye - Toni Morrison
Very literary, this one, and the reason I actually got to read
it was that Karin, who had read it as part of a course she'd done
in Bristol, said it was a really good book.
"The Bluest Eye" is, basically, the story around a negro family
some time ago. The main protagonist is a girl who finds herself
dreaming of blue eyes. White people have blue eyes. She's ugly,
so she wants blue eyes so she can be as beautiful as the white
folk who look down upon her ugliness all the time.
"The Bluest Eye" is a catching description of the torn lives of
a black family. The stupid wish of a negro girl to have blue
eyes, the stupid whites thinking preconceived stuff about the
blacks. Although most of the literary depth probably went by me
unheeded, "The Bluest Eye" shows a unique perspective of the life
of an ethnic minority. It is a story of injustice, racism, but
also of passion. Despite its thinness (around 160 pages) it is
not an easy read. The thing I liked least about it was the
epilogue. It was a basic "well-I-meant-to-say-this-and-this" kind
of thing by the author, a bit arrogant actually, that would
probably never have been written had she never won the Nobel
Prize for literature a couple of years ago.
If you don't like literature too much - literature with a lot of
attention to hidden depth and form, that is - I think you'd
better let this go by.
Foucault's Pendulum - Umberto Eco
The feeling of oughtness stashed upon me with the Tartt book
also came to me when someone put in my hands "Foucault's
Pendulum". And it still hasn't vanished. I mean I've actually
finished the book (in only a bit more than a week, I might add)
but the feeling is still there. One doesn't read a book by one of
the most brilliant minds on the planet and simply get away with
Eco doesn't waste any time. After a few pages already he starts
taking you on a cross-continent and cross-time trip through the
world of history and mythology. If I could summarise in short
what he accomplishes I would be earning mindless amounts of
money, so the "cross-continent and cross-time" adjectives will
have to do. "Foucault's Pendulum" is a thinking man's thriller.
It's pretty weird, really, and if you ask me Eco might actually
display his awesome knowledge a bit too much here and there. But
once you've read this book you find the border between the real
and the unreal hazifying (I know that's not an English word, but
it describes aptly what I want to say) quickly. And before you
know it you're actually thinking: "Is there really a pan-
historic, pan-continental conspiracy? Is the earth really
hollow?" The plot follows a couple of book publishers who are
actually historians on the side. They seek to uncover a
fictitious conspiracy that takes on ever more real form. And at
the end there is no escaping. Needless to say, this being a non-
American and quite literaily uncommercial book, you shouldn't
expect a happy end.
Reading Eco nudges your intellect. It is a fantastically
dazzling patchwork of mythology, language, even computer science.
I think those of you who claim to possess a certain degree of
homeness among the greatest of the world's current readers should
definitely have checked out at least one of Eco's books. Either
that, or simply retract their claim.
More books will be read in due course. Inevitably, I don't think
I will be able to refrain from commenting on them in future
issues of ST NEWS.
There will definitely be some Stephen King things. My parents
have in the mean time bought most of his back catalogue, but
right now I am just too busy with University Graduation to be
able to read much besides that.
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.