Aug 27, 2011

The Vikings, by Robert Ferguson

The most important part of Ferguson's book on the history of the Vikings is this caution to his readers: we really don't know very much. Our knowledge of the Vikings and their culture is severely limited; they left very few primary sources, and most of what we do know comes to us from, at best, a hundred years after the events happened, and narrated by Christians for whom historiography was more of an art than a science. There is much we can infer about these people, but it mostly consists of best guesses. In this book, Ferguson does his best to present to the reader the best of the best guesses, while also including differing theories and opinions so as to present a complete picture of possibilities.

The book is well written, though the first hundred pages goes much quicker than the last two. It could just be personal preference, but once Ferguson gets past the discussion on the religion and culture of the Vikings and gets into rote history, the narrative becomes rather dull. There are moments of wry humor, and Ferguson is, for the most part, an engaging writer, but facts presented as merely facts can only hold my interest for so long. The first section on religion and mythology, as well as the history of Viking archeology, was more to my taste. That being said, this is a solid, readable and approachable history of a fascinating people about whom we know too little, and I would recommend it to a lay reader looking to learn more on the subject.

Aug 7, 2011

A Dirty Job, by Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. If you are looking for serious, morose fiction, this is definitely not it. Moore's writing is lighthearted but seriously dark at the same time, hilarious and, at times, vulgar. He's like Chuck Palahniuk with a sense of humor and a lot less gore. His writing never ceases to make me laugh out loud, and that is a rare thing in fiction.

This particular novel is about a Beta Male who becomes a Death Merchant, helping to pass the souls of the dead onto their next possessor, the person who will bring that soul to the next level. He becomes death on the day his beloved wife days, the day of his daughter's birth. The book takes about a hundred pages to really get going, but once he starts, the roll doesn't stop. Christopher Moore is an author that I intend to collect and keep.

Aug 4, 2011

Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts

There are only so many epiphanies one man can have before one begins to wonder why none of them have stuck...Such is the case with Roberts' main character, the first person narrator named Lin. Shantaram is based on Roberts' own experience as a heroin addict, escaped convict, and mafia don in Bombay. This is remarkable and and of itself, and the story is simply too fascinating to put down.

This is a first novel, though Roberts spent many years, most of them in prison finishing his sentence, to complete it, and yet it still reads like a first novel. The writing is good, quite good, but it's a little over the top, a little too extravagantly descriptive. The people and culture within the novel make it worth the read, but the eponymous protagonist becomes a tad annoying after a while. Every single chapter - out of 933 pages - ends with major soul searching and another lesson learned by Lin...who never seems to actually get the lesson through his thick skull and has to have the same epiphany again, over and over. It gets old.

What pulls the book up by its bootstraps is the love Roberts clearly has for India and her people. One hopes that we will all someday find that place that so exquisitely feels like home as Roberts describes his Bombay. Shantaram is worth the read for that sake alone, but I doubt I'd be interested in anything Roberts writes in the future.