Lengthy post about books.

Under the thrall of a Nyquil-induced haze, I have spent much of the morning (and likely, the remainder of the day) reading. This is a favorite thing to do, under the influence or not, though my choices tend toward the comforting and familiar when I am sick and out of it.

Right now it’s that time after Christmas when I tend to have a pile of new tomes: things friends have suggested or traded or gifted. Everyone I know–or want to know, in most cases–reads and the holidays are a perfect time to curl up with a good novel. The recommendations come fast and fierce. I loaned out the Uglies series to S the other day, having finished it during break. She had fairly recently handed me the Southern Vampire series, which is its own kind of kooky delight. I love trading books. I need more bookshelves.

Both these recent reads are probably classified under fiction for young adults, but apparently I am always going to be young. It is, after all, where the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are shelved. And Harry Potter and Sandman and, often, most scifi and fantasy. In fact, at the moment, the young adult section might as well be renamed the novels about magic and adventures section, since the heavy influence of D&D and the aforementioned boy wizard have made that kind of topic intensely popular. It certainly works for me.

Uglies / Pretties / Specials by Scott Westerfeld
Three novels in a post-apocalyptic trilogy. Tally Youngblood is a young woman on the cusp of adulthood–the life-altering surgery all citizens of her city get at 16. It makes them pretty, but at what cost?

This is very much one story, broken into three chapters. In the first book, Tally discovers that perhaps becoming pretty isn’t everything she always dreamed of. She is forced to flee the city for the Smoke where new friends and new adventures lead her to a new life. Her accidental betrayal of the Smoke and its leader, David, flings her into the second book.

At its beginning, she becomes forcefully pretty–re-captured and altered by the Specials, installed in New Prettytown with lights and parties–everything she had ever dreamed of. This book was the payoff for me, the description of the utopian city at the heart of the concept. (Sadly, again, as with the Matrix movies, I found the conceptualization somehow not enough. I wanted something more. Being as this was a work of fiction for teenagers, I pretty much got over it.)

I delighted in the description of the Smoke in the first book–especially the bombed-out husk of an amusement park that serves as the appetizer–and found Prettytown equally charming. The two collide as Tally is able to miraculously recall her past “tricks.” Contact with the others is initiated, and she prepares to return to the Smoke. But, of course, this is a trilogy, so by the end of book 2 she has been recaptured by the city that made her pretty.

The third, titled Specials, begins with the transition of Tally to the uber-state: the urban fighting machine that makes up the third class of individuals in the city. She is again brainwashed… and again manages to resist and escape. Her betrayal opens up the world beyond the city. Not all the Rusties died. There is more in the world than just the city and the Smoke.

Overall, these three novels were a comfortable read. They slipped past in a day, one after the other. I think more than three might begin to feel formulaic–the beginning of Pretties and Specials seem quite similar.

Tally and her best friend Shay do delight me with their complex relationship. They both love and hate one another, and at times it can be hard to tell the difference. I guess that is how it is between friends and lovers… especially when they’re teenage girls.

Equus by Peter Shaffer
My interest in this was piqued by the full-naked pics of Daniel Radcliffe (who is currently starring in the production in London). Once I got over seeing Potter looking all buff and ready for action, I ordered the play. Controversial theater? Awesome. Avant garde? Fun. Weird artistic direction? Bring it.

Short but thought-provoking, Equus is broadly about religion, passion, and obsession. It’s not really about medicine, though the primary driver is a conversation between a psychiatrist and his deeply disturbed patient. The only treatment is the revelation of what happened on the night of Strang’s crime–the blinding of the horses.

And, really, that’s the whole substance of the play–finding out how (and perhaps why) Strang did this thing. His mother’s a religious nut; his father’s too tightly-wound. His own crazy fantasy assigned a horseman-God, and his dalliance in the stables under their watchful eyes proved too much. A tale of disentegration, and madness, and disillusion. It is the psychiatrist’s undoing as much as it was Strangs, or the horses. The doctor remarks that there is a breaking point, for everyone. For Strang, it was being caught. For the doctor, it was Strang. Being able to still pity such a monster means that, perhaps, he has lost his soul. A true neutral. Nothing left but a shell.

His obsession with children has lent him such dispassion that he can carve them to pieces, even the most brutal ones. Because they see in him themselves, and speak to that. I’m not sure who is scarier.

And Equus reminds me of a riddle I’ve seen a time or two, one that asks:

A man is attending the funeral of his mother when he spies a gorgeous young woman. He falls in love with her at first sight, but doesn’t get the chance to talk with her during the funeral service. Afterwards, he looks for her, but she has vanished. He is unable to figure out who she is, and noone seems to know her. He searches for her for some time, then an idea comes to him.

The question is, simply, what does the man do next?

There is no easy answer. In fact, there really isn’t an answer at all–unless you’re a psychopath. Supposedly, someone with psychopathic tendancies would see the immediate solution: To murder his sister. Thus, a second funeral and perhaps another encounter with the mystery beauty. Mystery solved.

That lack of empathy, though… is that what, when had, makes us human?

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