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The Week in Books X

July 13, 2007

I’m back on schedule…this week.

It’s a short one this week, so I will tell you a little story. It’s the story of a young reader, the kind of girl who hides novels behind her text books so that it looks like she’s getting schoolwork done when really, she’s desperate to see what will happen next to [Elizabeth, Jessica, Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon, Dicey…eventually Kate Blackwell, Lestat…]. One day, that little reader, age 12, was in English class. It was the first year that there were two classes–Reading and English. Oh, no clue what the difference was, but there were two different classes with two different teachers. English was the one with the weird guy with the Volkswagon Rabbit, which was not something the little suburban children had ever heard of before.

Every week there would be a list of vocabulary words, as kids get. One day there was a very, very big word on the board that made everyone go o.O. The teacher said, “I’ll give any student who knows this word my car.”

The little reader raised her hand and said, “Doesn’t it mean ‘sleepwalker’?”

He tossed her the keys.

See, at the time I was reading Dean Koontz’s Strangers. The story begins with Dom, a recent somnambulist. Big words are awesome when you’re twelve. I think I even had the book on my desk when he was writing it up there on the board.

So there’s a fond little place in my heart for Strangers. I decided to reread it this week, having found it somewhere at some point either for free or for a quarter. Unfortunately, while it is a huge horror/mystery/sci-fi novel, a veritable omnibus, it’s not really something that works well the second or third time. As with Garp, I was trying to pull back into my memory for the twists and turns. And as for the big reveal? Well, I’d never forgotten that.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is a great book. I’m just saying that as a reread, it doesn’t quite work. It relies too much on the reader’s sympathy of the characters’ ignorance. HOWEVER, I did find another way to read it–as a feminist.

I was completely blown away by the strength of character in Koontz’s women. There were no TSTL heroines in Strangers, despite the book being over twenty years old now. Even when one woman wishes for a man in her life, she is not wishing for a MAN, but rather a PARTNER with whom to share her experiences. The main female character is a doctor, a highly intelligent, warm woman who is frustrated by what has been happening to her, who is always seeking–in sometimes radical but never stupid or foolish ways–to find answers. At one point, she steps behind a male character because she is in danger. She does this not because she’s some weak woman, but because of the three characters in the situation, she is the most disadvantage, as the one character has training that will help and the other…well, that’d be a bit of a spoiler and this book is such a great (and SCARY) mystery that I would never do that to you. Still, I would’ve done the same thing she did. It was the right thing to do.

Bless Dean Koontz for this book, with its fantastic women that hold up after all this time. I mean, really, give this man a medal. When was the last time Stephen King wrote a woman this well?


I also read the entire archive of Penny and Aggie, which can be found here. This is a serial, not a regular jokey webcomic, and I admit it took me a little while to stop looking for the punchline. Once I did, I highly enjoyed Penny and Aggie, the story of two high school rivals and their friends. If you like teen drama, this one is for you.

Penny and Aggie was probably the reason I wasn’t crazy about Mary Jane: Homecoming. After Penny and Aggie, the second Mary Jane seemed to lack something–heart, I guess. The male characters seemed to be more strongly written than the female ones, despite Mary Jane being the lead (the writer is male), but they all seemed to be going through the motions of a Highly Dramatic Plot. Eh. It was a quick read, good for kids but doesn’t have that second level where adults can enjoy them too.

And that was my week.

Next time: The most popular Sherlock Holmes story and…I dunno. Maybe some Elizabeth Lowell. Some of my reading time is being used to read Anne of Green Gables aloud with my daughter.

Oh, and the new Harry Potter movie was VERY good. But I say this as someone who refuses to reread the books after they come out because I don’t want to nitpick.

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