Thursday, July 25, 2013

Holiday Reading

Reading while on Holiday is one of the best things ever - but you have to make a decision as to which direction you are going to go: easy, beach reads or, now that you have the time, more complex works? 
During my recent vacation I decided to try and do a couple of both. 
Firstly, in praise of classic Clive Cussler - the man, regardless of his later works wrote 12 good to great books.  The writing is deep, the ideas are somewhat complex and he genuinely tackles social and global issues.  They are action packed and somewhat unbelievable but they are very well done and he writes in such a way as to make the stories logical.  The books become better and better when you consider the writers Cussler is unfairly lumped in with: Matthew Reilly, James Rollins, and of course, David Golemon.  Cussler is a good writer (for 12 books or so) but the others ignore all the things that made the Dirk Pitt series so great: the writing and the social conscious.  Compare two plots: Cussler's Treasure and Golemon's Ancients.  In Cussler's story there is an international conspiracy of criminals; in Golemon's the same.  In Cussler's there is a treasure Golemon's not so much.  The writing and plot is where Cussler excels - not even taking into account his characters, who, although somewhat stereotypical are at least interesting.  Golemon's book was pure nonsense about the evil legacy of Julius Caesar.  Not only that but Cussler genuinely tried to do different things stylistically, consider the following:
Raise the Titanic - A thrilling novel that is only a Dirk Pitt adventure on the surface and moreover a deep and resonant story of the Cold War. 
Vixen 03 - Features a lengthy section about Apartheid South Africa, in addition to being one of the most sensual of the Dirk Pitt novels. 
Night Probe - Has two different protagonists, and our hero, Pitt, loses the girl at the end (Spoiler Alert!) not to mention the fact that this is a spy novel in which there is no clear person to root for. 
This is simply a smattering of the ways in which Cussler is infinitely better than the generation of thriller writers who came afterwards (as a final point: Cussler also wrote a way better novel simply on Atlantis than Golemon did.  Atlantis Found is a much superior novel in every way, including the worldwide conspiracy actually making sense.)
In my opinion there is only one writer Cussler can accurately be put in the same category as, and that is Michael Crichton.  Obviously the two wrote very different books but their ability to put forward a driving plot while also informing and engaging the reader.  No one of this generation has been able to do so. 
I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that later Cussler (post Atlantis Found) has done exactly the opposite of his earlier works and essentially trashed his previous reputation.  The new editions of his books have all gotten new covers / descriptions that cheapen them and the relative complexities within.  These days he simply provides outlines and cashes cheques for novels which are beneath his earlier works and are mostly written by other people.  A sad end to a legend, but at least us true fans have a twelve book stretch to revisit time and again. 

The other side of holiday reading took on a much more complex form this year:

Close to Shore by Michael Capuzzo - A rollicking tale of shark attacks in New Jersey in 1916, this book is virtually impossible to put down.  It tells the story of a rogue shark that killed multiple people during the summer of 1916 and transformed American understanding of the dangers of sharks.  Before these attacks sharks were completely misunderstood, afterwards they were even more so.  A great picture of a different time, this book is well worth a read.

Difficult Men by Brett Martin - The second book I have read about the "Golden Age of Television", this takes a very different approach than Alan Sepinwall's The Revolution was Televised because while Sepinwall focuses on the plots of the shows such as The Sopranos and The Wire, Martin choses to focus on how the shows got made and how they changed the world of television.  It is a brilliant book, a complex one that examines the importance of television and the rise of the antihero.  Well worth while and a perfect companion to the equally good Sepinwall book.