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Rachel Hyland Posts

READING THE TBR, DAY 71: Star Trek: Voyager: Homecoming (2003) by Christie Golden

Okay, so this book did something pretty clever. The standard Mean and Suspicious Starfleet Admiral cliche got turned on its head a bit here, and I liked it, and the reveal of just who was behind the Borgifying plot and the reasons for the conspirators’ involvement came early enough to be a bit of a twist, and yet also with enough grounding from the rest of the story to actually make sense.

When we left off in Book 1 of this post-series tale, the crew of Voyager was desperate to get their friends Seven of Nine, Icheb and the Doctor out of custody. The reason they are there eventually makes sense — they could have helped foil the plot, they had to be gotten out of the way — and their rescue is effected in a nice heistly way that is pretty fun and old school Trek adventure, as is the admittance of Data, on loan from the Enterprise, to their inner circle. (Hi, Data!)

The book moves along at a pretty fast clip  — except for yet more Boring Klingon Ritual Stuff with B’Elanna, WHY DO YOU DO THIS, no one is interested in the Boring Klingon Ritual Stuff, especially when it has absolutely nothing to do with anything that is happening anywhere else — and it ends up being pretty satisfying, when it wraps up the story in a neat bow. An epilogue-style last chapter gives us what everyone gets up to following their single-handed saving of Earth from Borg infiltration (Tom and B’Elanna move to Boring Klingon Ritual Planet! The Doctor and Seven work at a think tank! Janeway and T’uvok — much absent from the action of the books, by the way, for no discernible reason — run a class together at the Academy! Icheb is dating one of the students who attacked him, because Icheb is an idiot! Chakotay gets given captaincy of a Starfleet ship, because sure, okay!) and there we have it. Closure.

I can’t say I loved these two books unreservedly. The crew of Voyager deserved better than Starfleet’s general disinterest and/or suspicion of them, and I don’t think it entirely tracks that they would be treated so shabbily because of the aftermath of war, no matter how devastating that war might have been. B’Elanna’s stupid side mission was stupid, and throwing in the hologram uprising (and the scenes of immersive punishment meted out to random humans, who are forced to act like holographic slaves — it’s all very “The Gamesters of Triskelion” from TOS) just added way too much to a mix that was already overflowing with capital-P Plot. But I read the books quickly, and compulsively, and desperately wanted to know what was going on, what was happening, and what everyone did next, and was pleasantly surprised more than once when I at last found out, so on the whole, they have to be considered successful additions to their universe.

They really were better than the final episodes of the series, anyway. Not that that is too difficult. The end of Voyager was one of the most disappointing series finales ever. Close to two decades on, I’m still bitter.

At least these books, for all their flaws, take away some of the sting.


TBR DAY 71: Star Trek: Voyager: Homecoming (Homecoming #2) by Christie Golden 
GENRE: Science Fiction, Star Trek: Voyager, Media Tie-in
TIME ON THE TBR: ~2 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: A second-hand shop.
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 70: Star Trek: Voyager: Homecoming (2003) by Christie Golden

There was a time when I had read every single Star Trek novel ever published. I would await each new release eagerly, delving into these fanfic stories of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine and Voyager and even The Original Series. There are literally hundreds of those titles, and as more and more of them were released, and as the assorted 90s Star Treks came to an end, my interests swerved and I fell behind on them. I’ll probably never catch up. 

But when I happened upon two Voyager books last year, set after the return of that far-flung ship to the Alpha Quadrant at the end of the series’ sevenths season, I could hardly resist their allure. I had not even known they existed (that is how far out of the loop I had fallen, Star Trek media tie-in-wise; they came out in 2003!), but obviously I was intrigued. 

Today, at last, my intrigue won out, and I jumped right in. And immediately began to cry. Happy tears, obviously. Because the first few chapters deal with everyone home after their seven years lost in space, and from Tom Paris’s reunion with his stern admiral father to everyone joyously greeting Reginald Barclay, the eccentric former TNG engineer who helped get them return, it is just lovely. 

But then it all goes a little off the rails. Part of that is simply that the book is set after DS9‘s crushing Dominion War (and, indeed, Voyager did come to an end two years after that conflict), and apparently that has taken up so much energy that the triumphant return of a long-missing ship is barely of note. Seven of Nine and newcomer Borg-escapee Icheb (I’d actually forgotten about Icheb, but yeah, I remember him now, one of four youngsters rescued from recent assimilation in a dead Borg cube and the only one left aboard at the end of the series) are objects of interest and/or fear, but the holographic Doctor and his incredible feats of sentience and medical brilliance, along with the rest of the crew — both Starfleet and rebel Maquis — are left feeling very unwelcome by one of Star Trek‘s very familiar Mean and Suspicious Admirals, this one called Montgomery.  

Familiar faces appear — Deanna Troi counsels little Naomi Wildman to meet the father she’s never seen; Captain Jean-Luc Picard welcomes back Captain Janeway — and author Christie Golden handily dispenses with the Chakotay-dates-Seven of Nine nonsense posited in the series’ final episodes, thanks for that, Christie Golden! Elsewhere, there is an unsettling thread of backstory sprinkled throughout, of a woman being abused by her step-father, and then damn it all, the Borg are back, this time under the guise of a drone-making virus that is infecting humans somehow, and not only are Seven and Icheb brutalized and imprisoned, but the Doctor finds himself held without charge as well, because of an ill-timed holographic revolution led by a messianic fanatic. Meanwhile, Harry Kim has a girlfriend (his once-and-future fiancee, Libby) who also works for Starfleet Intelligence and is ordered to investigate who is selling advanced technology to the bad guys of the Orion Syndicate, by getting close to Harry once more.

For some reason.   

Also, B’Elanna — whose daughter is only two weeks old — goes off on a Boring Klingon Ritual thing, something to do with her mother (who appeared to her in a dream in one of Voyager‘s Boring Klingon Ritual Episodes; every latter series of Star Trek has  share of these), but that is all highly skippable and no one cares.

So, there’s a lot going on. The first book of this Homecoming saga (happily, there are only two of them) ends on something of a cliffhanger, with the senior staff of Voyager determined to break their ex-Borg and current-Doctor out of jail, and also get to the bottom of this Borg virus and who is trying to set them up and what the hell is up with Admiral Montgomery and also, seriously? Starfleet has both a Borg problem and a hologram program and a) they leave it all in the hands of one highly suspect Admiral and b) they don’t consult the biggest experts they have on either of those subjects, because the highly suspect Admiral doesn’t want to, and no one… like… questions that at all? 

I really hope the next installment takes the time to explain what the hell that’s all about. Because as it stands, this is a pretty frustrating return home for the U. S. S. Voyager. And if I wanted to be frustrated by Voyager‘s return, I could just have stuck with my dim, mostly-repressed memories of the two-part time-travelly finale that got them there in the first place.


TBR DAY 70: Star Trek: Voyager: Homecoming (Homecoming #1) by Christie Golden 
GENRE: Science Fiction, Star Trek: Voyager, Media Tie-in
TIME ON THE TBR: ~2 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: A second-hand shop.
KEEP: Sure. For the sake of my completism, if nothing else.

READING THE TBR, DAY 69: Rogue & Gambit: Ring of Fire (2018) by Kelly Thompson

Rogue and Gambit have a tempestuous romantic history in X-Men comics (and assorted titles) and this limited 5-issue run gives them some much-needed clarity when they are assigned a mission on a tropical island in an attempt to figure out what is happening to dozens of mutant minds gone missing.

To that end, they are sent into a therapy retreat as a troubled couple, and of course the therapy retreat is dodgy as anything, and of course the fake feeling of fuzzy lighthearted happiness they soon feel is a result of the dodgy therapy, and it’s all very silly and melodramatic and it is just wonderful and one of my favourite comic events ever.

It is just so romantic! But also there is fighting! There is angst! But there are also explosions! There is soul-deep connection! And also fun comic-y Easter Egg-y callbacks! And through it all, there is Gambit’s smooth Cajun charm and Rogue’s feisty Southern independence, and by Xavier, they are just the best.

I loved this so much. It is X-Men for romantics (really, all of X-Men is pretty romantic; really, almost all comics are pretty romantic) and it made me smile all the way through. Writer Kelly Thompson brought so much heart, and depth, and dimension to this story that I can’t wait to delve into her catalogue of other Marvel titles, especially her Captain Marvel issues and her book Mr. and Mrs. X — which also features Rogue and Gambit, but married! 

Who says comics aren’t for girls?


TBR DAY 69: Rogue & Gambit: Ring of Fire by Kelly Thompson, illustrated by Pere Pérez 
GENRE: Superhero, Comic, Marvel
TIME ON THE TBR: ~8 months. 
PURCHASED FROM: Big City Comics, Brunswick St.
KEEP: Yep!

READING THE TBR, DAY 68: Vacationland (2017) by John Hodgman

John Hodgman’s surreal humour has always appealed to me. I loved his work on The Daily Show, as Jon Stewart’s most offbeat correspondent pretending to knowledge he did not at all have, and I loved his fake almanacs of fake facts (his first, The Areas of My Expertise is a particular favourite) that likewise claim his preeminence in fields that are largely made up. He has a winning pomposity that marks him as a consummate satirist — America does have those, and Hodgman is among the nation’s leading exponents of this cleverest of humorous endeavours.

In Vacationland, subtitled “True Stories from Painful Beaches”, Hodgman turns his hand to memoir, and in a staccato, utterly immersive style he presents a series of vignettes from his privileged life, from his childhood New England prosperity to his years at Yale to his marriage to a “beautiful, challenging” wife to his appearances on TV (not only on The Daily Show, but as the PC to Justin Long’s Mac in those popular Apple commercials) that led to limited fame and fortune, and made his adult years as easy as his childhood ones. His self-awareness is palpable, and even his name dropping (his best friend is cult music phenom Jonathan Coulton; he once had dinner with Black Francis of the Pixies; a Scientology exponent movie star once laid hands on his wife, in a platonic and awesome way) is done with an underpinning of “Can you believe this craziness?” that makes it far less unbearable than it would be in less capable, self-deprecatory hands.

Hodgman dwells much on being an only child, which is clearly something that affected him greatly, and in his examination of what that status did to his psyche, I came to appreciate my younger brother more, troublesome as he so often was. (And is.) Hodgman is also a great rule follower, which resonates profoundly with me, because yes, rules are there for a reason, people! I love rules! If for that, if nothing else, I would have enjoyed the hell out of this book.

But Hodgman’s gentle humour throughout also adds to its vast appeal, his anecdotes skirting the line between kindly and kind of mean, but you know he’s just being honest, and honesty is always compelling, especially in a memoir. His occasional forays into poignant reminiscence, of his mother and his childhood and his children’s early years, are quite beautiful, and his appreciation of coastal Maine and rural Massachusetts make of the book an ersatz travel narrative, which only adds to its splendour.

In the end, it turns out that Hodgman’s truth is superior to his fiction, and that is very much saying something indeed.


TBR DAY 68: Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches by John Hodgman
GENRE: Memoir, Travel Narrative
TIME ON THE TBR: 1 year.  
KEEP: Yes!

READING THE TBR, DAY 67: The Lost World (1912) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I have long meant to read all the Sherlock Holmes novels. They are on my TBR, in a gorgeous hardback folio edition, and no doubt at some point this year I will begin with A Study in Scarlet and work my way through them all. But in the meantime, this other Doyle work of staggering genius came to my hand, and I have meant to read it for almost as long. There have been so many TV and film versions of this book made, and I have always wanted to watch them, but – unlike with Sherlock, which is nigh on impossible – this is a case where I was determined to read the source material first, especially since I have owned said source material since I was a teenager, and so have had to avoid all adaptations for a long time, even the one with a very young and handsome Eric McCormack from the early 90s in it.

The story here is a familiar one, but only because this book came out in 1912, and a lot of stories since have employed a similar theme. Edward Morton is a young and ambitious journalist in pre-war London, whose object of affection, rejoicing under the name of Gladys, tells him he is not intrepid enough for her to marry him. She wants an adventurer. She wants a trailblazer. So Morton asks his editor for a challenging assignment, and is sent to one Professor Challenger, who has recently returned from a trip to the Amazon and claims to have seen dinosaurs there, much to most of the scientific community’s outrage and disbelief.

Challenger is a egomaniac and a martinet, violent and cruel (and his long-suffering wife, one of only two women in the book, is illustrative of just how constrained was a woman’s lot at the time), but he is not a liar, and when a second expedition to the Amazon is mooted, with a party of sceptical scientists to go along with Challenger and Morton in order to debunk his so-called discoveries, they soon learn that every word he said was true. And more.

The Lost World described in the book is thrilling and momentous, and while there is – unfortunately, of course – some problematic racial profiling and some irksome nomenclature given to assorted natives of the region, not to mention a blatant colonialism that is just outright vicious, the story is filled with magic, and as a work of speculative fiction, it is both gripping and thought-provoking.

Anchoring it all is our first-person narrator, Morton, who sees all with a wide-eyed neophyte’s wonder, and the pompous but compelling Challenger, who is Sherlock without the urbanity and actual claim to genius, since his discoveries fall very much into his lap.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will forever be best-remembered for his detective creation, but with this book, he proves (to me, which I am sure will be very important to him) that he had much, much more than one string to his bow. There are several other Professor Challenger books, and I will be searching them out with much interest.

But I really should read all those Sherlock original stories on my shelves first. Right?



TBR DAY 67: The Lost World (Professor Challenger #1) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
GENRE: Fantasy, Science Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: 25 years!  
PURCHASED FROM: Collins Booksellers, Melbourne.
KEEP: Yep.

READING THE TBR, DAY 66: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005) by Jonathan Safran Foer

The book Eating Animals changed my life. Oh, I was already vegetarian – well, I call myself vegequarian: I eat seafood – and had been for twenty years, but its profound look at factory farming, and its examination of fishing practices, made me really examine my opinions and priorities and make some decisions, rather than just blithely go along in ignorance. When he tells us how fish die by slow suffocation, and then asks (I’m paraphrasing) “But does it matter?”, it made me really think about it and decide, no, actually, I’m cool with it. But similarly, I will never again buy caged eggs, and am now very mindful of the dairy I choose, even though organic and free-range costs are significantly higher. Foer’s investigative memoir has impacted me more than almost any other novel I have ever read, in that I think about it almost daily. Certainly, it has altered my behaviours more than any book I have ever read.

It is a masterpiece.

But Jonathan Safran Foer is first and foremost a novelist, and ever since Eating Animals I have meant to check out his fictional works. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is my first, and it won’t be the last – though I was disconcerted to realize, about three chapters into this book, that I had already seen its movie adaptation, some years ago, and then apparently forgot all about it. This is worrisome. Am I becoming senile? It is not like the title is undistinctive in any way. It is very distinctive! So how did I forget I had seen a movie of this name? And why did it take me so long to put it together that the book and movie were one and the same story?

For one, I think I saw the movie on TV, and may have missed the beginning, as often happens when you see a movie on TV. And two, because the book is told mostly from the perspective of our young protagonist, the slightly off-kilter nine-year-old Oskar, and in the movie I am pretty sure they make it clear he has Asperger’s, but in the book, it is just heavily implied.

Oskar lost his father on 9/11, and is dealing with some pretty major guilt over not having answered the phone on that fateful day. His dad seems to have been the greatest dad in the world (in the movie he is played by Tom Hanks, that’s how good of a dad he is), setting up scavenger hunts around New York for the puzzle-fixated Oskar, and after finding a mysterious key and a note with the name “A. Black” scratched on it, Oskar is certain this is his father’s last mission, and he sets out across the five boroughs to meet all the A. Blacks and figure out the key’s significance. Along the way, he comes to terms with his father’s loss, and he also discovers some disturbing family history – we also see inside the head of his Holocaust-survivor grandmother and her “renter”, a mysterious man who has moved in with her – and as Oskar touches the lives of assorted A. Blacks, he sets more to rights than his own tortured soul, and troubled relationship with his mother.

Oskar is adorable, both wise and foolish, erudite but also emotionally ill-equipped. There is much of the book that feels outlandish, until the very end when you discover the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring that makes his peregrinations around New York possible, and the backdrop of a post-9/11 New York can be oppressive and maddening, especially when the tragedy of the Holocaust is used as a further incitement to tears.

But it is a brilliant book, a deeply personal but also universal book, the kind of book that stays with you for days and makes you re-examine your own relationships and feelings and beliefs. (The movie, it turns out, does not have the same effect. Tom Hanks notwithstanding.)

So, once again, Jonathan Safran Foer has changed my life. Not as thoroughly as he did with Eating Animals, perhaps, but in a deeper, more ephemeral way.


TBR DAY 66: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
GENRE: Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years.  
KEEP: Sure.

READING THE TBR, DAY 65: Uglies (2005) by Scott Westerfeld

I’ve owned this book for five years. I actually started reading it as soon as I bought it, but stopped after the first paragraph, because the opening line to the book is “The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.” Seriously, that is a sentence that a grown man wrote. The rest of the paragraph goes onto explain what the cat would have to eat in order to make that metaphor work, and ew ew ew. I remember I just did not want to know anything else.

But still, I kept the book on my TBR, figuring at some point I could get past my visceral disgust with this opening, and give it a proper go. Scott Westerfeld had built up enough credit with me that I felt this book deserved a second chance. He wrote some excellent YA Steampunk in his Leviathan series, and a fun take on the YA vampire field in his Peeps series, so I was still eager to check out this beginning to his YA Dystopia series—especially since he wrote it back in 2005, when YA Dystopia had yet to become quite so formulaic and Hunger Games-ian.

And to its credit, Uglies is far from The Hunger Games (which came out three years later, anyway). But to not its credit, it’s really… not very good.

We kick off with a daring midnight raid, in which ugly Tally goes to visit her newly pretty best friend Peris. Why is Peris so “pretty”? Because he is three months older than her, and at sixteen received the mandatory plastic surgery that makes all citizens conform to certain perfect standards of beauty. We also learn that this surgery also messes with their minds, making everyone vapid and conformist, dedicated to lives of pleasure – and still, even knowing this, even despite being the kind of rule-breaker who would illegally enter New Pretty Town to get a glimpse of the old friend who now despises her – Tally wants the surgery.

Tally is annoying as hell.

Her new friend Shay starts out as a welcome antidote to Tally’s utter crappiness, but then when she escapes the confines of their city in order to track down the Smokies – rebels who have refused to be made pretty – she endangers them all by a) having told Tally all about them, so that Tally is sent in as a double-agent to track them down (yeah, we hate Tally) and b) falling so giggly hard for ugly rebel David – whom, get this, Tally also digs on pretty thoroughly – that she puts everyone at risk, purely due to her jealousy.


Look, I think I get what Westerfeld was going for here. Beauty standards are increasingly impossible to live up to, and teens are indeed getting plastic surgery to correct their perceived flaws, and it does sometimes seem like people give up their autonomy and their intelligence in pursuit of physical perfection. But that message is delivered here in such a truly bizarre way, especially with the constant repetition of the words “ugly” and “pretty” as definers of people’s worth, it’s hard to see the pointed allegory underneath all the surface attacks aimed at people of our modern times (we’re called “Rusties”, and we ruined everything), and at teenage girls like Tally in particular.

I’m assuming Tally is being attacked as an example of Typical Teenage Girl, here. Otherwise, she is one weird choice as our valiant defender of humanity. (Full disclosure: I am a rule follower, and her break outs and her pranks and her tricks of the first few chapters, before she goes full Manchurian Candidate, made me uncomfortable. This may be colouring my perception of her somewhat – but she’s also a total traitor and wilfully ignorant moron, so I feel I am justified in my thorough dislike of her.)

There are several sequels to this series, and I won’t be reading them. Not only do the further adventures of the hateful Tally and the wasted Shay and the preachy David not appeal in the slightest, but the overall world is also so confusing – the cities are carbon neutral and everyone is happy and there is no crime or poverty and no one has to work if they don’t want to – that you almost have to wonder if Westerfeld is actually pro-cosmetic surgery and mind-altering passivism. At the very least, he comes across as anti-socialized medicine.

And pro-cat vomit, for some reason. And that is just something I can never forgive.


TBR DAY 65: Uglies (Uglies #1) by Scott Westerfeld
GENRE: YA Dystopia
TIME ON THE TBR: 5 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Grub Street Bookshop, Brunswick St.
KEEP: Nope.

READING THE TBR, DAY 64: Wild Mountain Thyme (1978) by Rosamunde Pilcher

I ended up with a stack of Rosamunde Pilcher books when my mother did a bookcase cleanout. I’ve long meant to read something by her – she’s almost as ubiquitous on second-hand bookshelves as L E. Modesitt, Jr. – and her covers promised some chick-lit charm the likes of Mary Stewart and Maeve Binchy, so she was definitely on my radar. I assumed I’d at least not hate her books.

But, no. This book I HATED. I hated it so much, I could barely believe what I was reading. How was this is a book that had been published? How was this a book people bought, and read, and then allowed others to do the same? How could my own mother have inflicted this misery upon me? Does she secretly hate me? Was this revenge for my teenage years?

Wild Mountain Thyme is, I am not kidding, one of the very worst books I have ever read in my entire life. And Rosamunde Pilcher is now on my DO NOT READ EVER list. Even if her other books aren’t this dire – they can’t be, right? She’s published dozens of them, surely they can’t all be this dreadful? – the sight of her name on a cover will forever give me PTSD flashbacks to this utter excrescence. I honestly don’t understand how every copy of this book ever published hasn’t spontaneously combusted, such is my hatred of it, such is the power of my loathing.

The book begins with Oliver, Jerk Oliver, The Worst Man in the World Oliver. Oliver is an aspiring writer, whose girlfriend got pregnant and they got married – because her parents paid him for it – and who then thoughtlessly abandoned his new wife and unborn child, because he was bored. His son now two-years-old, and his wife dead in a plane crash, he abducts the child from his grandparents and takes him to his ill-treated ex-girlfriend, and Victoria, Idiot Victoria, The Weakest Woman in the World Victoria gives up her entire life in order to care for the kid (who, by the way, no one seems to be upset was JUST ABDUCTED).

It’s just… horrid. Victoria spends most of the book in thrall to the hateful Oliver, and his rival, John, is controlling and dismissive in a whole other way, but is set up to be our romantic hero, because anyone would seem like a hero when compared with fucking Oliver. This is a book filled with terrible people, and also boring people, and dear me, why the HELL did I finish it? I wish I’d stopped after Chapter 1. Page 1.

Please don’t read this book. As a personal favour to me. Don’t let my travails be in vain. If I can save one person from this disaster, it will be… well, no, not worth it. But at least not such a waste of my time.

Save yourself.


TBR DAY 64: Wild Mountain Thyme by Rosamunde Pilcher
GENRE: Women’s Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: My mother. Grr.

READING THE TBR, DAY 63: Another Fine Mess (2018) by Tim Moore

Tim Moore is one of my very favourite travel authors. His books are outlandish and enchanting, as he voyages near and far in the quirkiest of manners, whether riding the route of the Tour de France on a vintage bicycle or walking the Camino with a donkey or… just wandering around his hometown of London, trying to figure out why the UK version Monopoly streets were chosen. He has a wry wit, a genial manner and a keen observation, all essential in his chosen literary field. I have my favourites among his titles, of course, but there is not a single one I have not enjoyed immensely.

Another Fine Mess continues this fine tradition.

It kicks off his latest oddball journey very abruptly, with contemplation of Donald Trump’s election victory and a map of the US that showed the deep red of Republican votership edged in Democrat blue. Moore wondered who these people were, and what the fabled American Dream had to do with their peculiar choice of Conman in Chief. In typical Moore fashion, he goes from “I’m going to cross the red bits of America to find out” to “I’m going to cross the red bits of America in a 1920s Model T Ford to find out”, and that is just so par for his left-of-field course that the decision barely warrants a paragraph in the planning stages.

It is a decision that will take up chapters upon chapters of the rest of the book, however, as his Model T – dubbed Mike – breaks down at regular intervals and is constantly in need of attention from a vast network of Trump-voting red state old car guys who are so incredibly kind to Tim throughout his journey that he finds it difficult to reconcile their hospitality and can-do spirit with the lying leader they still support. He does note that perhaps his journey would not be quite so full of downhome generosity were his skin colour different, and he does tell tales of the casual racism he encounters that hurt the heart and soul. But for the most part, he finds the people of Trumpland to be everything that is good and decent, which makes their willingness to follow a man who is manifestly not those things even more confusing to him.

Along the way, Moore goes in-depth into the legacy of Henry Ford, examining the car magnate’s history of pacifism and industrial largesse and belief in socialized medicine and then turning any potential hero-worship on its head by exposing Ford’s rampant anti-Semitism (Hitler gave him a medal) and pernicious social engineering agenda. He looks at America’s car culture, at the suburban sprawl and the ghettoization of inner-cities like Detroit and Atlanta, and the generalized decay of the “fly-over states,” where vast tracts of land lie fallow and the sumptuous beauty of the landscape is overhung by the shadow of opioid addiction and steady economic decline.

It is a startlingly real image of America today, giving some insights into how it got to its present position – bearing in mind, Trump’s presidency was barely a year old when this was written – and how it lost its place as an innovator and leader on the world stage. But it is also a detailed catalogue of all the many things that can go wrong when driving a 93-year-old car across an entire continent, and the kindness of strangers that gets you from sea to shining sea. (As long as you’re a middle-aged white male, of course.)

Through it all, Moore is at his amusing, thought-provoking, self-deprecatory best, and if the book doesn’t necessarily answer its over-riding question – how can good people follow such a bad man? – it does offer up some theories, and more than anything, puts a human face on those “deplorables” who were just doing the best they knew in a world they no longer understand.

And many of whom know how to fix stuff when it breaks, giving us hope that America can indeed, someday, be made great again.


TBR DAY 63: Another Fine Mess: Across Trumpland in a Model T Ford by Tim Moore
GENRE: Travel Narrative, Americana, Politics, Humour
TIME ON THE TBR: 4 months.  
KEEP: Absolutely!

READING THE TBR, DAY 62: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars (2013) by Ian Doescher

I am the kind of person who attracts gifts of a profoundly geeky nature, and this one came to me at Christmas four years back, when it was the geek gift du jour. I thought it brilliant and hilarious and amazing – and I hadn’t even read it yet. Indeed, I wasn’t even sure I needed to read it; it is one of those books that simply owning feels enough.

But today I was overcome with the need to assay its pages, and oh my, it is so much better than I could have ever imagined. Every aspect of it is perfect, from the Shakespearean dialogue put into mouths from Jedi to Sith – “True it is/That these are not the droids for which thou search’st.” – to the stage directions, to R2D2’s beepy inner-monologue given to us in soliloquy, to the song of mourning for Alderaan, to rhyming couplets, this retelling of A New Hope is simply incredible, a true triumph of satire, coupled with a true, very real love of the twin source material that gives this book its surreal juxtapositional genius.

Often in a gimmick book like this, the conceit will soon pall, and what is at first a pure delight becomes just more of the same, rendering it no less clever, but certainly less enjoyable the more you read on. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars avoids this ignoble fate, being engaging and adorable all the way to the Death Star-destroying end – I was laughing at sly, clever references all the way to the promise of The Empire Striketh Back, evidence that the book is amusing throughout, even after the initial thrill of its originality is gone.   

Exeunt review.


TBR DAY 62: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher
GENRE: Humour, Science Fiction, Satire
TIME ON THE TBR: 4 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Christmas gift
KEEP: Forsooth!