Geiger's Culture Counter: Butterfly in the sky

Facebook reminded me last week that I started Robert Jordan’s “Knife of Dreams” a year ago without completing it. That's not exactly a good pace for a 782-page book.

I’m usually a voracious reader. It kind of goes with the territory of being a professional writer and former English major. Yet in college I fell off of leisure reading due to the amount of pages and articles assigned to me by professors. I’d make the most of it in between semesters, but it was never enough.

Additionally, college is when I started Robert Jordan’s 14-part “The Wheel of Time” series—which “Knife of Dreams” is entry number 11—at the behest of my friends. They claimed it is was better than George R. R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” so I wanted to see for myself if that was the case. Unfortunately the dated, archetypal fantasy that blends Tolkien with Arthurian legend has immense pacing problems and repetitive descriptions. I’d read a different, standalone work for a mental break in between Jordan’s books yet that carrot on a stick has obviously barely helped.

I don't want to give up on the saga. There’s a faint glimmer of an engaging climax and roughly halfway through I bought the rest of the series as motivation. I have only ever quit two books: Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” and Neal Stephenson’s “Cryptonomicon.” The former was abandoned because the story is practically common knowledge and I couldn’t slog through chapters that were handbooks on types of knots and the classification of whales. I ditched the latter by encountering equally frustrating interruptions of pages of mathematical formulas. It’s a shame since I found Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” to be a fast cyberpunk adventure of virtual worlds but I guess that was an aberration rather than the norm.

I managed to collect such a backlog that I’ve begun to write books down on a list to make sure I didn’t accidentally purchase a title I own but haven’t read yet. Oh, Neil Gaiman’s “The View from the Cheap Seats” is on sale? Let’s get it! Oh, wait, that’s it already on the end table taunting me.

To remedy the situation I gave myself a reading challenge as part of my New Year’s resolutions. Using the review website Goodreads, I let it be known that I intend to open and close 20 books in 2018. I reached that number by counting those already-purchased books like the Hugo-winning “The Three-Body Problem,” David Mitchell’s “The Bone Clocks” and Dan Brown’s “Origin,” the continuation of Robert Langdon’s exploits, along with the rest of the “The Wheel of Time.” It also includes graphic novels and comics such as the problematic “Fables,” the started-fun-but-eventually-sizzled “Chew” and the always spectacular “Saga.” With two of those runs finished I’ll soon be starting Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s modern fantasy “The Wicked + The Divine,” Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips Hollywood noir “The Fade Out.” 

My father has already read the majority of my ebook library to entertain himself on airplanes. Every now and then he asks me about them to discuss the plot and I still have made no progress. I’m getting a serious case of zeitgeist FOMO not just from him but also the award-winning “The Handmaid’s Tale” show, the soon-to-be-released “Annihilation” movie and the upcoming Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams “Lovecraft Country” HBO adaptation.

A recent mental addition is the new desire to read at least one work by Ursula K. Le Guin. The prolific author passed away at age 88 on Jan. 22 and while I knew she influenced my favorite writers I still haven’t read a book by her. In my current quest to see every Studio Ghibli film I watched the “Tales from Earthsea” movie without knowing the novels. However, since she was disappointed with the adaptation I should honor her by studying her actual words. I’m leaning towards either “The Left Hand of Darkness,” which explores sexual identity, or “The Dispossessed” because it tackles the political subject of an anarchist utopia.

Using Goodreads helps not only to keep track but also because it's public. All of my friends can see my progress, pressuring me to stay on my game. I’m currently two ahead of schedule but I don’t want to slip up. Likewise, writing this column helps by putting it out there for everyone, forcing myself to finish or get hounded by you dear readers.

I want to try to complete “Knife of Dreams” before I leave for my backcountry hut trip this weekend. Being isolated in the woods without modern fixtures is a great time to read, but I should focus that energy into a new novel. That way I don’t scan the same sentence a million times while being “distracted” by conversation or cards games.

Only 363 pages to go.