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A Commendation

In the past, I’ve detailed my disappointment with some widely-considered “classics”, which is why I sometimes approach similarly canonical books with apprehension. With a bad movie, at worst you can sit through it and it’s done in a few hours (although it may not seem so short). But with a book, it becomes a sort of masochistic ritual: returning each day to read more about characters you have no attachment to delivering dialogue that makes sense only in Bizzaro World.

The only book that really leaps to mind of fulfilling all of the above criteria is Dickens’ Great Expectations, which I was required to read in high school. I’m sure my mental conception of the book was strongly tainted by its being foisted upon me by cruel and uncaring English teachers, but it certainly holds a special spot in my memory for most unpleasant reading experience.

In many ways, the Lord of the Rings series is like this. Although it is a very deep and rich story in a very deep and rich world, actually reading every word of the books is a daunting task unhelped by Tolkien’s writing style.

This all made my recent finishing of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress rather surprisingly pleasant. As my father said, it is the most exciting novel about politics he’s ever read. There is a lot of minute detail that is skipped over because it is either boring or irrelevant; this omission is not even out of place given that the narrator and main character is, in the most positive sense, a hacker. It also covers some years, such that the story rarely stops moving — although Wikipedia informs me that quite a stretch of the book is taken up by one long discussion on one day. I wouldn’t have noticed on my own.

I suppose its a testament to Heinlein’s prolificacy that he was able to define such a rich world with a unique dialogue and rich history, and then leave it behind and move on to other books. Although other stories intersect this one tangentially, we never again meet the main characters of this story. I can’t see this as anything but good, given that the entire point of the book is that it is a revolution planned by otherwise normal people. Once everything was said and done, I’m sure the characters would be most content to just go home.

I’m having difficulty coming up with anything else to really say on the topic, which hasn’t been said better before, because this book is something of a high-profile classic. However, I think it will suffice to say that, if you don’t mind a bit of libertarian revolt against globalized socialism in your science fiction, you’ll agree it’s a book worth reading. You may also come to truly grok the word/phrase “TANSTAAFL.”

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Hazel
    May 12, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    You’re right about Tolkien’s writing style not being quite right for Lord of the Rings, since he does tend to be very narrative and descriptive rather than simply telling about the action taking place. However, I just finished The Silmarillion, which seemed to fit much better with his style than LOTR. My guess is that this is at least partly because it’s pretty much a collection of stories spanning millenia, and he simply couldn’t go into the ridiculous amount of detail that he did in LOTR. Just saying…

    But I digress. I’m glad you seem to have liked The Moon is a Harsh Mistress as much as I did. It really is a terrific piece of literature, though the same can be said for almost all of Heinlein’s works. However, the libertarian theme along with other things such as the way that it’s narrated to show further evolution of the English language makes it particularly great in my mind.

  2. patberry
    May 12, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    Hazel, were you by any chance named after the character in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress?

  3. bxojr
    May 12, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    You’ll probably find that your tastes in literature (as with anything) change over time; indeed, there would be something wrong with you if they didn’t.

    I had precisely the same experience with “Great Expectations” in high school, which is one reason why I avoided Dickens for the next twenty years; but when I finally gave it another try, I found I quite liked it. I’m not sure why; maybe I’ve learned more about those times and can better understand the obscure references, or maybe I’m just a more patient reader. None of this is meant to sound condescending (“oh, you’re too young to appreciate it!”) — rather, I agree with your point: literature is best appreciated by people who read it because they want to, and I didn’t enjoy Dickens until I decided I wanted to give him a try.

    I suppose my experience with Tolkien was similar. My first couple of times through LotR, I certainly found parts of it rather slow going; but now I wouldn’t want to lose a word. (But I also read all twelve volumes of “The History of Middle-earth,” so I admit that I am in no way normal.)

    I’ll freely admit, however, that every attempt I’ve made at appreciating Shakespeare has been a failure. Oh, well.

  4. Hazel
    May 12, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    How did you guess? Actually, I’m currently going through The Cat Who Walks Through Walls mostly because she’s a main character in there, albeit under a different name. Admittedly, my personality is probably much more similar to Ludmilla, but I just like Hazel a lot better.

    On the topic of Dickens, I’m actually not a huge fan. I had to read Great Expectations in school, and found it fairly tolerable at the time. However, last year when I was homeschooling, I tried David Copperfield and managed to get 20 chapters (about 1/3 of the way) in before getting completely bored and moving on to something else.

    Since you mention Shakespeare, though, I must say that I’ve enjoyed the majority of his works that I’ve read. I despised Julius Caesar, but Hamlet and Macbeth in particular were pretty great. I guess you can’t win them all, though.

  5. patberry
    May 13, 2008 at 12:16 am

    You’ll want to read The Rolling Stones, too. Hazel plays a major role in that one. (In fact, she refers to the events of that book in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, which takes place later in her life.)

  6. Hazel
    May 13, 2008 at 10:42 am

    Right, I had heard of that book and her part in it, but I haven’t been able to find it quite yet. It’s high up on my “to buy from Amazon” list, though.

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