The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick

The Man in the High CastleConfession time: I watched the first two episodes of the Amazon version of this book back when it first came out, and then a few months back I thought I would start it up again, since I’d be reading the book for book club. Ten minutes into the episode, I realized I had pulled up episode three of the second season instead of the first. Ten minutes of watching, just slightly baffled, not sure why the show seemed so off.

As you may guess, that’s kind of how I feel about this book. Part of this is because the book and the show are not the same at all, except for the very basic premise, and part of it is because the book does such weird things with that premise that I could barely keep up with what was going on.

The basic premise: that the Axis powers won World War II, and Germany and Japan have divided up the United States, east and west, respectively.

In the book, we stay on the Japanese side of the States, where lots of things are going on. There’s a guy who sells pre-war American merchandise to wealthy Japanese collectors, and who wants very badly to sell nice things to one couple, and also maybe sleep with the wife? Then there’s another dude who works in a factory that makes counterfeit collectible merchandise, and he leverages his knowledge of that illicit fact to start a business creating fancy post-war American jewelry, which is not in any sort of demand but he hopes it could be. Then there’s yet another dude who is some sort of German spy type fellow who wants to make a deal with some high-powered Japanese, but when his Japanese contact is held up he has to decide between making some potential waves or losing the deal entirely.

Also, meanwhile, in a DMZ area between the two halves of the States, there’s a chick who gets involved with a dude who is a little obsessed with this book that everyone else in this book is also obsessed with, in which that author posits what would have happened in a world where the Allied powers won the war, which is not what actually happened in our world but is not a terrible approximation of what could have happened, I guess? And so they go to meet the author, but weird things happen, and weirder things happen when the woman arrives, and this whole plotline is so strange, I can’t even.

This book, the one I read, is far more interesting academically than entertainingly. I like what Dick does with the ideas of class and race and what it’s like to live as a second-class citizen in what used to be your own dang country. I also like how he uses the I Ching to talk about ideas of destiny versus free will. There’s a lot of thinky thoughts to have while reading this book. But as a story, as something with a beginning and middle and an end and a plot and characters and all that? Eh. It’s all right. It kind of makes me want to go watch the show, which takes a much more story-focused tack from that basic premise, but then I remember those ten minutes and I’m like, eh.

Recommendation: Eh. Unless it’s for book club, in which case there’s a lot of good stuff to talk about and it gets a solid “Yeah.”

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A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle (11 September — 12 September)

A Wrinkle in Time was one of my favorite books as a kid, probably because it has a cool girl protagonist and also a super-smart five-year-old, both of which I wanted to be/have been. 🙂 I re-read it once in undergrad and I remember liking it, but I don’t remember it going by so fast! I think I was also reading lots of the A Series of Unfortunate Events books at the time, so it probably didn’t feel so rushed.

Anyway! Like you don’t know (and if you don’t, you should fix this immediately!), this book is about a girl called Meg Murry who has the hard life of any teenager, plus a little bit: she hates school, she’s constantly picked on and getting in fights, and her dad has disappeared amongst rumors that he’s left his wife for another woman. Fun! Meg doesn’t believe that last one, so when her super-smart little brother, Charles Wallace, introduces her to some crazy old ladies who say they can help get Mr. Murry back, she’s game. But, of course, this adventure requires some space-folding and other-planet-visiting and moral-learning.

Reading it now, I can see some problems with the book: namely, everything seems to happen in the span of a day and there’s no time to digest what’s happening before something else happens. And the moral-learning part is more than a little heavy-handed. But I think it’s perfect younger young adult reading and the images of the book (especially the sameness of everything on Camazotz) have stuck with me since childhood, so that’s a point in L’Engle’s favor.

Rating: 8/10
(Summer Lovin’ Challenge, My Year of Reading Dangerously)

See also:
Library Queue
Rhinoa’s Ramblings

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson (8 September — 10 September)

What a delightfully creepy book! The book is narrated by our protagonist, Mary Katherine Blackwood, who opens the book with the statement that everyone in her family but herself and her sister Constance is dead. That’s no fun. Mary Katherine also remarks on some library books sitting on a shelf: “I wondered whether I would have chosen differently if I had known that these were the last books, the ones which would stand forever on our kitchen shelf.” What?? What has happened? Mary Katherine will tell you.

The story jumps back five months to explain just how those ended up being the last books, and also why the Blackwoods are nearly all dead, and there’s some good story in between those two stories and it’s all just wonderful. I don’t want to say anything else lest I spoil this short, entertaining book!

Suffice it to say that even when I had the story figured out, or thought I did, Jackson managed to keep me on my toes, and everything in the story just has this strange, creepy vibe to it that makes you wonder just what is really going on in this house. I’m going to have to find some more Shirley Jackson stories, stat!

Rating: 9/10
(RIP Challenge)

See also:
BooksPlease
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?
things mean a lot
books i done read
A Striped Armchair

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.