Just my Opinion: Ulysses

How do you review something like Ulysses?

Even in this strictly informal, random-thoughts format, it’s a daunting task. I’ve started writing this post several times, only to delete my work because it failed to convey my meaning.

Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way first. Ulysses is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an enjoyable read. Don’t bring it to the beach hoping for an easy, relaxing afternoon: this is the kind of book that’s better read in a commented form (something which I should have done in retrospect.)

It’s pretty tough to describe how dense Ulysses can get. At times, simply following the plot through Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness writing is nearly impossible. So forget about catching all the the cultural and political references or understanding all the literary allusions and philosophical digressions.

In fact, despite being a voracious reader and a writer, I’d say I’m at the very lowest level of reading ability necessary to begin to understand the work. I certainly would have benefited from a few undergrad classes in English Literature (or maybe a Ph. D.)

But… I think I get it. Sorta. Maybe. By that, I mean I can appreciate some of what Joyce wanted to do. I see some of the stylistic choices, I perceive how they influence how we read and perceive the text.

Certainly, it’s the book I’m most glad to have chosen for this year. I’m sure I’m a better writer for having read it.

Next up – some very, very light reading.

Just my Opinion: Homeland

So, I ended up reading Homeland, by R.A. Salvatore, instead of the Belisarius books. I’m not going to write a formal book review (heh – I’m not setting myself up to reviewing Ulysses, thank you very much), but I wanted to put a few of my thoughts down anyway.

First, a bit of background. Homeland is, chronologically, the first Drizzt Do’Urden novel, though not the first published. That matters because Drizzt is probably the most overexposed D&D character (perhaps only challenged by Raistlin from Dragonlance), and certainly inspired the most carbon-copies and barely disguised clones at gaming tables around the world. And that certainly colored my perception of the book.

In fairness, I can’t blame the author for creating such a popular character. I’m actually impressed in how well Salvatore read the late 80s, early 90s geek zeitgeist. The “loner misunderstood hero” stereotype was certainly something that connected with readers, and it’s certainly a lesson I’ll keep in mind when planning my future books.

Now… while I don’t hold Drizzt’s popularity against the book, and can certainly admit I would have found him really cool back in high school in the nineties, I can’t help but mention how irritating I found the character as a first-time, mid-thirties reader. It’s the not-quite-whiny, yet somehow holier-than-thou perception that really get me.

By contrast, the secondary characters look much better. Despite needing the drow elves to be mostly capital-E Evil (to comply with existing D&D rules and lore), Salvatore managed to write a genuinely diverse cast. Malice isn’t Vierna isn’t Maya isn’t SiNaFay.

Speaking of D&D rules and lore – the other big flaw of the book in my view is again not the author’s fault, or at least not entirely. Being stuck using the cookie-cutter magical abilities of low-level D&D wizards and the uninspired Underdark bestiary hurts the book a lot. Menzoberranzan should have felt alien, the Underdark wilds even more so, but instead we get rolled-on-a-chart monsters and generic fighters and wizards.

Final thoughts: I’m no longer the target market for this book/series… and that’s fine. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad book (although as far as I’m concerned, the D&Disms alone probably drop the book into the “meh, read it if you need something to pass the time” category.) I’m not going to read another Drizzt book for sure, but I certainly might take a look at some of Salvatore’s other works.


2017 Reading List

As mentionned in my resolution post, I want to read ten books this year. I figure I might as well mention which books I’ve selected and why.

1-James Joyce, Ulysses. Because if you’re going to read one book by a specific author, might as well go with his most seminal work.

2-Marcel Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu. Same reason, only in French.

3-Undecided, Some Random Romance Novel. Because I’ve never read any romance novels, and I want to use this opportunity to broaden my horizons. I’ll need further research to decide which title I’ll actually read.

4-Ian Manook, Yeruldelgger. Mostly because I received it in a Christmas gift exchange, but I wanted some French books in this list, and I wanted to read at least one detective novel. Let’s kill an entire flock of birds with one stone, shall we?

5-Eric Flint, David Drake, The Tide of Victory. Because I read the first four books of the Belisarius series back when they were part of the Baen Free Library, and because someone can lend me books five and six.

6-Eric Flint, David Drake, The Dance of Time. Because obviously.

7-David Weber, At the Sign of Triumph. Because it’s one of the series I’m currently reading assiduously.

8-Richard Adams, Watership Down. Because I never read it and it’s been on my list of “you should read it someday” since basically forever.

9-R.A. Salvatore, Homeland. Because I’ve read more gaming fiction than I’ll ever admit to in polite company, yet I’ve never read the single one series that’s apparently any good.

10-Ian Bainks, Consider Phlebas. Because a streamer I follow keeps recommending the Culture series of books, and I want to see if it’s really worth reading or not.

First up are probably the two Belisarius books, then I’ll dive into Joyce I think. After that it’s up to chance.