Saturday, June 25, 2011

CBR-III: Book #37: A Walk in the Woods

For those of you who are friends of mine on Facebook you’ve seen the pictures I post when I go hiking. For those of you who only read the blog you might notice a couple of posts where I talk about hiking…I even have one completely dedicated to it. When my Army buddy Chris had leave from his post at Fort Stewart he called me up to do some drinking. During the course of that drinking with him and his sister we got into the conversation of hiking. His sister apparently does a lot of hiking and I mentioned a desire to hike the AT. She immediately began to barrage me with a list of everything that I would need, how much said gear would cost, and how I would logistically go about it. During the course of the bombardment she mentioned a book she really liked by a guy named Bill Bryson called A Walk in the Woods. It was his attempt at hiking the AT with a buddy of his. I’ve never heard of Bryson before but he is a non-fiction writer that has, apparently, written several well liked travel logs. I…for one…thought travel logs were all but extinct. He’s also known for his humor. Which is well used in A Walk in the Woods.

I’ve always heard that hiking the AT is fucking hard. You have to manage around 15 miles a day, it extends from Maine to Georgia, and you have within a certain time window to actually complete it (before the trail is shut down due to weather). Bryson manages to describe the details of the trail without overwhelming you. He mentions murders that have happened on the trail, of attacks by wild animals, and yet his attitude is basically…fuck it. He tells you these things, and then basically says he didn’t really give a shit. I think that’s the attitude that most people on the trail would need to have. Yes, you have the possibility of blah, blah, blah, but you basically just need to ignore it. It’s all about will power.

The book begins with him getting ready, then the addition of an old friend, Katz, who is going to go on the trail with him. While Bryson is in relative shape, Katz is the exact opposite. Remember the story I told you about Tim when he went hiking with me? Bryson almost gives the exact same description in his book. I would honestly say I also like the beginning of the book better. In the beginning it is more story, often humorous. In the end the book becomes more about a history lesson. This is due, mainly in part (and what seriously disappointed me in the book), to the fact that Bryson doesn‘t actually complete the entire trail. In fact, he doesn‘t even do half of it. There are times when him and Katz skip entire sections because they, “Don‘t feel like it.” By the middle of the book they just quit, and when they do go (way farther up the trail) to hike again…they quit again. Yet Bryson proudly declares that he still feels he “hiked the AT.”

An example of a humorous portion would be like this: “All the books tell you that if the grizzly comes to you, on no account should you run. This is the sort of advice you get from someone who is sitting at a keyboard when he gives it. Take it from me, if you are in an open space with no weapons and a grizzly comes for you, run. You may as well. If nothing else, it will give you something to do with the last seven seconds of your life.”

Interesting accounts like this: “There is one recorded instance of a woman smearing honey on her toddler’s fingers so that the bear would lick it off for the video camera. Failing to understand this, the bear ate the baby’s hand.”

Historical accounts like this: “To that end, biologists dumped several drums of a poison called rotenone into fifteen miles of creek. Within hours, tens of thousands of dead fish were floating on the surface like autumn leaves, Among the thirty-one species of Abrams Creek fish that were wiped out was one called the smoky mad tom, which scientists had never seen before. Thus, Park Service biologists managed the wonderfully unusual accomplishment of discovering and eradicating in the same instant a new species of fish.”

Or this: “Alden Patridge…On a typical trip he strode 110 miles over the mountains from Norwich to Williamstown, Massachusetts, trotted up Mount Greylock, and came back home the same way. The trip there and back took him just four days--and at this time, remember, when there were no maintained footpaths or helpful blazes.

He complains about the laziness of modern people…like this: “I know a man who drives 600 yards to get to work. I know a woman who gets in her car to go a quarter of a mile to a college gymnasium to walk on a treadmill, then complains passionately about the difficulty of finding a parking space.”

I can’t really tell you, therefore, if I truly liked the book or not. I mean…I liked it, but I was also intensely disappointed in it. Other than the fact that Bryson doesn’t even complete half the trail I was also looking for something less ecology based. Toward the end of the book, like I said, he goes on huge tirades about environmental issues and how humans are destroying everything. That’s not what I was looking for, especially considering the beginning of the book. I was looking for more of an internal perspective. I wanted to see if, after completing over 2,000 miles of trail, how it had changed him. I wanted to see how his view of nature changed. Sure, we get some looks at other hikers. He describes which shelters are awesome…and which ones suck. He talks about what it’s like to run into civilization again after being away from it for days. He even mentions how much a shower and an actual meal really matters. There are several times where his comments irked me though. I never really got the feeling that Bryson likes nature (considering all the times he ran for a hotel when given the chance). Some of his attitudes and perspectives were the exact opposite of the reasons I hike. He discussed how every tree started to look alike. How he didn’t like the solitude of being surrounded by nothing but trees, etc. That is the exact reason I hike. I like to be away from it all.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

CBR-III: Book #20-36

Uhhhhh. I’ve been debating for the last hour about how to actually write this. Much like when I did the Women’s Murder Club; I’m about to attack an entire series. Sixteen books…to be exact. I suppose I should start this, ideally, by saying that there will likely be plenty of spoilers. Not because I want to spoil anything for you, rather, it will kind of be hard not to. The series? James Patterson’s Alex Cross series. Along Came a Spider, Kiss the Girls, Jack & Jill, Cat & Mouse, Pop Goes the Weasel, Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue, Four Blind Mice, The Big Bad Wolf, London Bridges, (Mary, Mary), Cross, Double Cross, Cross Country, (I, Alex Cross), and Alex Cross's Trial. I was actually finishing I, Alex Cross at the bar last night and every time someone asked me what I was reading I would respond with, “The next to last book in the Alex Cross series.”
Naturally, they would give me a confused look. My next response was, “Have you ever seen Kiss the Girls with Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd? How about Along Came a Spider with Morgan Freeman.”
“Oh! Yeah!”
“Yeah. Freeman plays Alex Cross. Those films were based on the first two books in the series.”
I guess I can start by saying that, once again, Hollywood fucked up. They fucked up first by doing the films out of sequence. As listed above, Along Came a Spider should have been the first film. Also, while I love Morgan Freeman, he was entirely miscast as Cross. Did he have the wisdom/personality that Cross carries with him? Somewhat. Well, let me describe Alex Cross and maybe you’ll understand.

Dr. Alex Cross, the Dragon Slayer, homicide detective in Washington, D.C. He grew up poor. Raised by his grandmother, Nana Mama, from a young age. Nana Mama was a teacher, stands five feet tall, and has more authority in Cross’s life than anyone else. She’s the ruler of her house and she rules it with an iron fist (Alex still lives with her in the same house he grew up in). She’s also supposed to be an amazing cook and extremely cultured and knowledgeable. Coming up with him since childhood is his on again-off again partner, Detective John Sampson, the Man Mountain. Sampson himself stands 6’9” and weighs around 245lbs. Even he is afraid of Nana Mama. He has a habit of calling Cross, “Sugar.“ Cross himself is 6’3” and weighs around 200lbs. He is often described as looking like a young Muhammad Ali. Before becoming a cop he went to college and got his PH.D. in Psychology. He is, currently, the father of three children: Damon, Janelle, and Alex Jr. He has also been widowed and recently remarried. In the first books he would be in his late 30’s/early 40’s and by the last book he is in his mid-to-late 40’s. Hence why the 60 year old Morgan Freeman wasn’t a very good choice. In many ways the boxing trained, piano playing, Cross, relies on his power and athletic abilities. He also plays heavily on his charm. Even though he is supposed to appear relatively modest he is constantly being hit on by women…and hits on them back. The only thing I would say that has become considerably annoying with Cross is repetition.
In every book he “realizes” that he needs to be there more for his kids. In every book he “realizes” that his job is too dangerous. In every book he “realizes” that he doesn’t want to answer the phone. In every book he “realizes” that he is not giving his relationships enough attention. In every book he “realizes” that he doesn’t know if he wants to be a cop anymore. Get my point? The repetition is annoying. By the end of the third book I wanted to punch him in the face.
It’s not just in his mind though…Cross is repetitious elsewhere…particularly with the ladies.

Cross is a hopeless romantic. He wants to find love, desperately. His children want him to also. In fact, every single fucking woman he brings home they love and want him to marry. For real. Also, despite his romantic nature and general sense of “I suck” that he seems to portray, he constantly has a lady friend. Not only that, but every single one is either the most beautiful woman he has ever seen, or the smartest, or both. For a guy that would certainly consider himself to be a romantic loser…he sure has no problem getting the ladies. The dude never strikes out. Ever. If only those ladies knew that dating him would basically be a death wish. I feel the need to take you down the Cross lady tree. Let’s begin.
Ellie Randall/Cox: while you technically aren’t introduced to her until Cross Country I felt the need to throw her in here first. She dated Cross in his academic days. Oh yeah…she gets murdered.
Maria Simpson Cross: His wife. Mother of two of his children. Murdered.
Jezzie Flanigan: An FBI agent…who wasn’t what she seemed. They did some love making. Executed.
Christine Johnson: The principal at Damon and Janelle’s school. They get it on…he wants to propose to her…she gets kidnapped by a serial killer and disappears for around a year. During that disappearance she has Alex Jr. She comes back pretty fucked up.
Betsey Cavalierre: Worked with Cross. They get it on. Murdered.
Jamilla Hughes: A detective on the West Coast. They date for a little while and break up because they can’t do the long distance relationship. She’s a lucky one!
Kayla Coles: A doctor who treated patients door to door. He was technically still dating Jamilla when he started flirting with the good doctor. During their relationship she is almost murdered by a crackhead. In the aftermath she moves back home to North Carolina. Does he fight for her, try to stick it out? No. He’ll date a woman that lives across the country from him, but he won’t go after one that lives 4-5 hours away.
Bree: A fellow detective with the MPD. He’s actually married to her now.
Adanne Tansi: While technically still dating Bree, cross traveled to Africa in Cross Country. While he never had sex with her they did become quite intimate and even sleep in the same bed together a few times. She was tortured, murdered, and then raped.
The ladies sure know how to pick em. I pretty sure that if I was Cross I would never date…ever.
Don’t forget his nieces. Naomi Cross (kidnapped) and Caroline Cross (murdered).

The killers.
I think I mentioned when I reviewed the Women’s Murder Club that I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to face serial killers…all the fucking time. I also didn’t see how it was realistic. Oh, sure, I understand that Alex Cross is the Dragon Slayer. He’s the dude that fucks up serious criminals. He always gets his man. But…he’s a fucking cop. Sure, for like a three book stretch there (from The Big Bad Wolf to Cross) he’s no longer a detective but works for the FBI. I also understand that he “helps” the FBI in some cases when he is a detective (and that little stint as a psychologist when he still worked for the FBI and MPD as a consultant). No dude goes after what appears to be every fucking serial killer. From East Coast to West Coast and everything in the middle.

He’s a detective, Patterson. Why don’t you, I don’t know, have him solve multiple, individual, murders in his city? You know, instead of spending a whole entire book where he tracks down another serial killer (in some cases, fair enough, you’ve had him go after numerous serial killers in the same book…at the same time.). I mean, a quick search on the internet just pulled up that almost 200 people are murdered a year in D.C. I’ll get off my soapbox though.

There are three notorious killers in the Alex Cross series; The Mastermind (Kyle Craig), Weasel (Geoffrey Shafer), and Gary Soneji. These are the only killers to have a multiple book arch. The longest running would be The Mastermind…what with Kyle Craig actually making his appearance in the second book of the series and currently still going. Two of them, The Mastermind and Gary Soneji, even escape prison to come after Cross again (although it takes The Mastermind 5 books to do so).

Some other little things of note that I found interesting?

In the book Cross Country the villain goes by the name of Tiger. Tiger is listed as being 6’6” and 250lbs. In other words he’s almost the same size as Sampson…in fact, he’s just 3 inches shorter. Yet, even with them being in the same vicinity of each other, Patterson neglects to give us a brawl. Damn’t. I was waiting the entire novel for that fight to happen. Way to disappoint.

"The great jazzman Hilton Fenton came over to our table and told us a funny story about the actor Morgan Freeman." -Cross
"Or maybe some choice line of Morgan Freeman's from The Bucket List." -I, Alex Cross

If he mentions Morgan Freeman more than that I didn’t realize it. I tried to take a note every time his name was mentioned, but I read some of these books, while drinking, to the point that I got double vision.

"Tom Clancy had mentioned the bar in Patriot Games, but in the novel he said there was a picture of George Patton on the wall, which upset the bar's regulars, especially since Clancy had made a career out of being in the know. The Command Post was a Marine's bar, not Army." -The Big Bad Wolf (which is after Four Blind Mice).

Was that a burn? It feels like a burn to me. That you would pick out a singular offence like this and call it out in your book. Not to mention it wasn’t some huge error…it was a picture hanging on the wall in a bar. Now, the reason why I made a note of Four Blind Mice to go along with that quote is this. In Four Blind Mice Cross is on the trail of a group of killers. The killers like to hang out in a cabin in the woods, where they have nice games (where people can’t be heard screaming), and where they go hunting. That place was Kennesaw Mountain in Kennesaw, GA. I live about twenty minutes away from Kennesaw Mountain. It’s a State Park…which means there is no hunting. It is surrounded by roads…think of it like an island. Surrounding the park are sub-divisions and smaller roads that are lined with houses. In other words…there are no rural areas of Kennesaw Mountain where someone can hunt and no one can hear you scream. Kennesaw itself is a college town. So, Patterson, before you go insulting someone about a little error about a picture in a bar…maybe you should make sure that on of your major plot settings is…I don’t know…actually feasible.

I waited to discuss Alex Cross’s Trial until the end because it is kind of a stand alone book. It’s supposed to be written for you to believe that Cross himself is writing it. The story follows Ben Corbett (6‘4“ height always seems to play a role in the Cross series), an often times pro-bono lawyer who specializes with trials regarding racism. He is tasked by President Roosevelt to go to Mississippi (Ben’s hometown) to see if an overwhelming number of hangings were occurring (as he'd been hearing). There he is told to find Abraham Cross (Cross's 6'7" great-uncle) to aid him in his task. I think I liked this story the best because of the time period; otherwise it’s like every other Cross story. All the women want Ben but he’s got a wife and two kids back home that he really loves. Basically replace Cross with Ben…they’re pretty much identical. Except Ben is white.

So that’s the Alex Cross series in a nutshell. If you actually finished this entire review…I salute you. The books aren’t bad, honestly. I could read one in about 4 hours. I have no doubt that they would make for an excellent vacation/airplane read.