Monday 19 October 2009

Pre-Cannonball warm-up: Nation

Rating: 5 stars

Terry Pratchett is probably most famous for writing the now 37-long book series The Discworld, which includes such gems as Small Gods, Men at Arms, Hogfather and Nightwatch. He has also co-authored the wonderful Good Omens with Neil Gaiman.

Nation is not set in the Discworld. It is set in a world not that dissimilar to our own. In the Great Southern Pelagic Oceans, on a tiny island of the Mothering Sunday Islands - so tiny, in fact, that it doesn't appear on any naval chart - lies the Nation. Mau is on his way home from the Boys' Island, and when he returns to the Nation there will be a great ceremony and a big feast, and the sharp thing with the knife where you didn't scream - and then he will be a man.

Paddling home in his selfmade canoe, Mau is caught up in an enormous wave. When he makes it back to the Nation, he is the only one left. Now he is neither man nor boy (perhaps a demon ate his soul), the Grandfathers are constantly shouting in his head, and the only other living person on the island is a strange trouserman ghost-girl.

Ermintrude is a young lady, completely unaware that on the other side of the world, a terrible plague has killed the King and one hundred and thirty-seven other people, and her father is now king. She was on her way to meet her father, the governor of Port Meria (himself completely unaware that he know happens to be King), when the ship she was on was caught in the tidal wave which destroyed the Nation. She, and a terribly foul-mouthed parrot, are the only survivors on the Sweet Judy.

Mau is puzzled by the mysterious trouserman ghost girl. Ermintrude, who much prefers to be called Daphne, was brought up well, but has no idea what the etiquette for receiving a loincloth-clad savage to afternoon tea is, especially when the only chaperone she has is the dead Captain Roberts. Neither speaks the other's language, and there is great confusion.

Nation may well be one of the best books Pratchett has ever written, and it is likely to be one of his last ones, as he has now been tragically stricken with Alzheimer's. It's a novel about identity, about belonging, about questioning the Gods and about surviving. It's not as laugh-out-loud funny as some of his earlier novels, but explores difficult and important themes in an excellent young adult novel, that readers of pretty much any age should be able to enjoy.

Saturday 17 October 2009

The Cannonball Read

Last year, Pajiba, a website I read nearly daily, started a challenge among their readers. It was called The Cannonball Read, and the point was that all the participants were to read 100 books in a year. The books had to be at least 150 pages long, and the participants were also supposed to write a little about each book on their blog/website, so others could share in their experiences.

I did not actually join, but thought about it, and did, like in 2007, set myself the goal that I would try to read at least 52 new (by new I mean books that I have never read before, not new as in just published) books in a year. In 2007 I managed to hit that goal exactly. Last year, in 2008, I read a total of 140 new books, I reread 17 books, and in addition, I read 6 comic trade paperbacks. Since 2007, I have written down all the books or comics collections that I read.

This year, in 2009, as well as writing down the books and what date I finished them, I am also dividing my reading into months, and I write down the page numbers of the books. So far in 2009, I have read 99 books, and I'm currently reading book 100. I have reread 18 books, and I have also read the entirety of 100 Bullets, which spans 13 trade paperbacks, and more than 2200 pages in itself. I'm not sure why I've decided to myself that comics trades don't count. The rereads don't count as I strive to experience new books, but I will obviously add the page count of all the books and comics trades together at the end of the year in morbid curiosity of how much I actually do read.

This year, starting on the 1st of November - Pajiba are doing another Cannonball Read. This year, participants only have to finish 52 books in a year. I know I can do that part. My goal of reading 52 books this year was reached in the middle of May - I've now read nearly twice that. The challenge for me will be that they want people to blog about each and every book, posting a little review, of at least three paragraphs. I'm not good at sticking with a blog, and I prefer rating things with stars out of 5 rather than actually formulate my thoughts carefully in writing about the things I read or watch. Apparently, reviews of participants might be published on the Pajiba website. I don't know how I'd feel about that. I wouldn't mind my friends reading what I wrote, but complete strangers...

Still, because I read a lot, and because I think the challenge sounds fun, I will try to do this. Hence I have started this blog, where I will mostly write about books, but if I get round to it (extremely unlikely) may post about other things as well. I'm sure I will be able to read the 52 books demanded, and more, as my most favourite pasttime, and the thing that keeps me sane, is reading. We shall have to see about the reviews. I did notice they didn't specify that the reviews had to be very good. Wish me luck.