Monday, January 14, 2013

A Randy & Random View of the Planet

RANDOM ACTS OF TRAVEL: Featuring Trepidation, Hammocks and Spitting,  by Dean Johnston
Like the man says in his title, this book is random. It has no obvious pattern of organization and  no unifying style outside relentless wise-cracking as Johnston shares a compilation of observations gathered from his wanderings around the planet for twelve years. Instead, the book resembles a series of essays that might appear in, say, Mad Magazine or Playboy.

It is long on pages and short on  substantial/ sophisticated coverage of travel basics (like cities).  But, first and foremost, the book is  terrifically, almost fiendishly, funny. I often laughed out loud, though  I sometimes wished he'd drop the banter and write something that would make me want to pack my bag. There are moments when the descriptions really take you there (for better or worse)--on the Ilala ferry in Malawi, for instance.

The author falls into two questionable practices: one that an English professor of mine called the "imitative fallacy," where the writer  twists  the style to mimic what's going on in the material. The other is an annoying tendency to talk up his sleeve. The  "best and worst of___"  lists are some of the worst offenders in this regard. The material is riffy and arcane rather than entertaining and useful.

Bottom line, if you're put off by scatalogical, randy, punsterish, puckish, and sometimes tortuous prose, this isn't the book for you; there are lots of polite, densely detailed travel guides you'd prefer. But, if you're a fan of Dave Barry, and/or your idea of great travel is a knapsack and making do with rice krispies or kicking back in Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala (Ultimate Travel Experience #6) , you'll probably want to check out this book.  Johnston  writes he and his wife  travel in spite of the food, not for the food, and in this case, he's not kidding.  "Snickers, everywhere," he advises. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Review of New Fantasy Novel

REVIEW BY ANNE CARLISLE (also on Goodreads)

First  up, elements that I like in the book. The simplistic writing style works well for fable. The opening scene of the novel successfully creates a suspenseful premise-- a struggle over the transfer of power.  the theme of taking on custodial responsibility is also strong and layered in quickly, when a key character walks into a gruesome situation. 
I realize writing a book which  posits an original world requires nomenclature, but  I'm not sure that the made-up words here  always add value. The word "Luima," for example, is just close enough to "Lima" to be confusing. I find myself wanting to call  "Ilona"  a name I'm familiar with, "Iona."  But that may just be a personal reaction. 
Two deaths, including a queen killed by a prince, are big events to take in at the outset. Perhaps if they were combined with fuller characterization, the opening would seem less sketchy. Also, to my eye, the dialogue is sometimes stilted, and the prose is not as tightly edited as it could be. The word "startled" is used twice within a few sentences.  "Confidante" is written as "confidant" throughout. More than a few sentences  need whittling. Here's an example:  "The soldiers escorting them flanked the convoy of carriages on either side." "Flanked" means on either side, and we already know they are carriages. Finally, expressions such as "the dead of night" will be regarded by some readers as too cliche.
As the book progresses, it gets stronger and  better. It is a plot-driven fantasy and a good read for those who enjoy following the trials and tribulations, the codes of honor and conduct, that pertain to knights and royalty of a faraway realm.