Sunday, March 30, 2008

WIZARD AND GLASS by Stephen King

Wizard and Glass is the fourth novel in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. It picks up precisely where The Waste Lands left off – with the riddling contest with Blaine the mono. This resolution is not completely satisfying, as it borrows noticeably from The Hobbit, down to specific riddles. But it gets the job done. The character then visit King’s own The Stand, then The Wizard of Oz. All of this feels somewhat derivative, and the reader gets the feeling that King is just making it up as he goes (which he likes to do).

The bulk of the novel, however, does not focus on these things. Rather, Roland tells a 500+ page story about his youth, a fantasy, post-apocalyptic western story full of teenage sex and hormones. There’s some attempt at mystery that doesn’t quite work, as there’s just too much sitting around, although the action scenes, when they come, are well done. We get more Cuthbert and Alain, and that’s a good thing. This story is interesting when it gets going, but it’s often slow-paced, and drags at times.

Wizard and Glass does little to advance the overall storyline. Instead, it gives the reader the formative experience of Roland’s life. And this is just fine.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

THE WASTE LANDS by Stephen King

The Waste Lands is the third novel in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. It picks up several months after The Drawing of the Three, with Roland, Eddie and Susannah hiking through Stephen King’s imagination and a Richard Adams homage. Meanwhile, both Roland and Jake, who is back in New York, seem to be going crazy from the paradox Roland created in Drawing.

In the first three hundred pages of The Waste Lands, practically nothing happens. Jake rejoins Roland, and the reader is inundated with foreshadowing of the second half of the book, which seems to have little purpose and is boring. The second half of the book makes up for it, as the group navigates a post-apocalyptic city. Here, Roland tries to rescue Jake and the group tries to find and ride Blaine, the train previously foreshadowed ad nauseum. This latter half of the book is quite exciting, as King is at his best here. His characters are outstanding. And there’s a cliffhanger ending.

This is a very uneven book, but it certainly has its high points.

One complaint: A bear that “stood seventy feet high” would not have an eye socket “nearly the size of a baseball”. That eye is way disproportionately small.


Thursday, March 20, 2008


The Drawing of the Three is the second novel in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. It picks up right where The Gunslinger ended, and chronicles Roland’s efforts to “draw” three people from Earth, from various times in the twentieth century: a drug addict, a legless schizophrenic, and a serial killer. The reader is not told nor do any of the characters know why exactly any of this is taking place.

King is back to his usual style here: well-developed characters, a focus on minute details of personality, and his distinctive foul-mouthed dialogue, all of which make for engaging reading. The Drawing of the Three has plenty of action, including a couple of very well-done gun fights.

The Drawing of the Three is primarily setup for following volumes. There are some new characters, and we spend most of the book getting to know them, and we don’t get the background on Roland that The Gunslinger had (this is an observation, not a criticism). And in the end, Roland isn’t too far from where he started. Ultimately, this is an entertaining, necessary part of the series.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

THE GUNSLINGER by Stephen King

The Gunslinger, by Stephen King, is the first novel in the Dark Tower fantasy series. It was originally published in five sections in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from 1978 to 1981. King later revised The Gunslinger to remove contradictions with following books. This novel, a fantasy western, follows the gunslinger Roland in his quest of the man in black, with numerous flashbacks to Roland's past that give the reader information about his past, if not too much insight to his character (which comes primarily via his actions).

The Gunslinger is highly stylized. It is filled to the brim with imagery, almost to the point of distraction for the reader. This gives the book a slower, deliberate pace and makes it reminiscent of a Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood movie (which King acknowledges in his revised edition). All told, this is a fairly unique offering from the very versatile King, and is even stylistically unique among the books in this series. The original novel is more or less complete in itself; there is no cliffhanger ending.

The book is entertaining in and of itself, and works both as a stand-alone novel and as the introduction to the Dark Tower series.


Thursday, March 6, 2008

A CIVIL TONGUE by Edwin Newman

A Civil Tongue is an amusing book on language by former NBC News correspondent Edwin Newman, the sequel to his Strictly Speaking. Here, Newman deals with the ridiculous and irresponsible use of English. Newman is not against the evolution of English, nor is he a proponent of Standard English for its own sake. Rather, his gripe is with those who know better and still use it incorrectly.

Those who use unnecessarily big words to either hide the meaning of what they’re saying (politicians) or to make themselves sound important (educators) are some of Newman’s targets. He also goes after sportscasters, advertisers, and most anyone else speaking or writing with any kind of double-speak, redundancy, obfuscation, misuse of words, or fabrication of words. He makes some predictions about where English will go, and some of these have come to pass.

Newman is happy to acknowledge his own language mistakes, including the ones he made in Strictly Speaking. On the whole, Newman’s tone is good-natured rather than patronizing. This is clearly a subject that he cares about, but it is, to some degree, all in good fun.

Strictly Speaking is a humorous book. Newman makes puns and jokes about many of the anecdotes he tells. This is quite often amusing, but can become tiresome. Because of this and the structure of the book (almost 300 pages of anecdotes arranged thematically with little real continuity), it is best consumed in small doses. Those who love English and the self-appointed grammar police will enjoy it.


Here is a sample. Newman is discussing how people have begun using “convince” with the wrong prepositions (you convince someone TO do something):

From an article in the New York Times travel section by a senior editor of a large New York publishing house:
“Here is where we will make love,” Antonio said. “Now you will take off your suit.”
“Listen, Antonio, I told you no,” I insisted. “Do you really think I’m saying it just so I can let you convince me into saying yes? I’m not like that. I say what I mean and I mean no.”
He shrugged his shoulders. “It is time to eat now. Give me the plastic bag.”
From the resignation expressed by Antonio, driven though he was to eating a plastic bag in frustration, we may conclude that people may not only be convinced into doing something, they may also be convinced out of it.

Saturday, March 1, 2008


The Five Love Languages is marriage guru Gary Chapman's book on expressing love and commitment to a spouse. The goal here is to get readers to be able to "fill the emotional tanks" of their spouses, which does not always come naturally because people receive love in different ways.

Chapman begins with explaining his "love tank" idea (which is corny, but good), gives a diatribe against the "falling in love" condition, then outlines his five love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. He concludes with various remarks about love, particularly love as a choice. The book ends with little quizzes spouses can take to discover their own love languages.

The book on the whole feels oversimplified. Chapman does not point out here that the kind of love a person likes to receive is not always the kind of love that same person gives. In fact, he suggests the opposite. Chapman's dialogue with the couples he speaks with (as he reports it) is distractingly stilted and unnatural. Even though the book is less than 200 pages, it drags at times, as Chapman beats the horse on each point.

In The Five Love Languages, things are clearly oversimplified. Nevertheless there is some valuable material here. Specifically, there are two important points to take away: that people receive love in different ways, and that love is a choice and an action. From that perspective, almost anyone who is married can benefit from this book.