A real page turner

The one thing about being unemployed is that it gives you more time to catch up with your reading... unless of course you're one of those mad bookaholics who can work a full day, get all their domestic chores done in the early evening and then happily read till near dawn. Doing it all, as it were.

Anyway, I'm writing simply about reading habits today because long, logical blog post are beyond me - seeing as for the past week I've been suffering from a paralysing head cold that has yet to improve despite 2 full days of bed rest. Blerg.

Here's what's been on my bedside table the past month or so.

The Sookie Stackhouse Chronicles, also known as the The Southern Vampire Mysteries or the True Blood series, is a (currently) 10-strong series of supernatural mystery romance novels by Arkansas native Charlaine Harris. Most people will probably be more familiar with True Blood, the adults-only HBO TV series based increasingly loosely on the books.

Like the TV show, the Sookie Chronicles centre on good-natured small town waitress Sookie Stackhouse, whose charm and telepathic abilities catch the attention of Louisiana's vampires, who - like vampires the world over - have just recently "come out of the coffin" and declared their existence to the world. Because of her unusual "gift," Sookie is increasingly embroiled in supernatural events, is pursued by literally fantastic lovers, and comes to realise that magical beings are all around her.

Now normally I avoid any series of novels longer than a trilogy. This is because I have a compulsion to finish what I start, which means I will keep reading even if the books grow increasingly crap as the series progresses. I stay away from a lot of traditional fantasy novels for this very reason - they just seem unending, and I have much better things to devote my time to.

I made an exception for the Sookie Chronicles, which are never a chore to read. I've seen Stephenie Meyer's Twilight books described as the "next" Harry Potter, but I honestly believe Harris's series is more deserving of the description. You see, in each of the Sookie books, the universe the characters inhabit becomes richer, without losing credibility. True Blood isn't just about vampires. There are also werewolves, shape shifters, witches, fairies and demons; just to name a few of the more prominent beings. And on the whole, all these creatures remain true to mythology and folklore. For example, if a werewolf bites you, you can become a man-wolf hybrid; and as powerful and seductive vampires are at night, they are painfully aware of their impotence during the day. Nobody sparkles! And for the record, like Potter author JK Rowling, Harris doesn't have a problem killing off popular characters.

Like the Twilight series, the Sookie Chronicles are written from the first-person perspective of the female heroine. Unlike Twilight lead Bella, however, twenty-something Sookie is remarkably well balanced emotionally, demonstrates a strong sense of humour and is very likable. Harris has a pleasant, "light," and frequently saucy, writing style befitting her main character, and as a result, all the Chronicles are enjoyable to read.

Some of the Chronicles are, of course, better than others. Although Harris demonstrates greater confidence describing dramatic action scenes in later books, in the earlier series entries Sookie often isn't present, or is unconscious, or distracted, and tends to hear about pivotal events from other characters. And this type of "after the fact" approach can be viewed as a storytelling cop-out.

Anyway, I'm currently halfway through book #8 in the Sookie Stackhouse Chronicles, entitled From Dead to Worse, and at this point it's joining my favourites list. Other standouts in the series meanwhile include:
  • Book #1: Dead Until Dark, in which Sookie meets her first love, brooding vampire Bill Compton;
  • Book #3: Club Dead, in which Sookie has to rescue Bill and contend with local werewolves, good and bad;
  • Book #4: Dead to the World, in which Sookie cares for hunky viking vampire Eric, whose bout of amnesia (as a result of witchcraft) has made him the perfect mate; and
  • Book #7: All Together Dead, in which Sookie attends a vampire summit while deadly power struggles and terrorist threats loom.
I'm definitely a fan of the Sookie Stackhouse Chronicles and I know several women who are as well. I'm curious though whether the books have any male fans out there? Guys, can you handle spending so much time immersed in a female psyche where clothing decisions are always described and there are so many gorgeous, if genuinely monstrous, men running around? Or are you happy to just get your horror, hotness and humour kicks from the TV show?

Why Men Love Bitches by Sherry Argov may sound like a pretty hardcore, feminist self-help book when you first read the title. In actual fact, as is stressed in the first few pages, the term "Bitch" is being used in a tongue-in-cheek, non-abrasive way. Bitches as Argov describes them are simply women who prioritise their wants and needs - as opposed to becoming self-sacrificing, needy "nice girls - the instant a guy comes around. Argov's bitches are self-confident, and ignore what others think to always put their happiness first. Not only is this attitude naturally healthier for the woman, but a happy, self-assured femme will also always be more appealing to a man than a doormat... because she isn't so disappointingly easy to win over.

At the same time, the bitch isn't abusive or a fickle player of games. She always shows gratitude for thoughtful acts, just as she always, simply and straightforwardly, makes her partner aware when he is being disrespectful towards her.

So, yeah, Why Men Love Bitches isn't particularly revolutionary in terms of its message (Clingy-ness and passivity chases guys away; independence and confidence is attractive). The book is however a thought-provoking, humorous read, and it's not like Argov sucked the text out of her thumb. Why Men Love Bitches is based on hundreds of frank interviews with men and women. Having been used in the past, I know I certainly could relate to quite a bit in the book.

So, now I open the floor to you. What have you read recently and/or what are you reading at the moment?


Tara said…
I could just not get into Harris' books. I fought my way through the first one but I just found it boring for some reason. Which is bothering me because like you I need to finish a series. (This is the reason why I should never have started the Glass House chronicles or the tween House of Night bollocks)

At the mo...busy switching between False Memory and The Fifth Elephant each night depending on my mood. Really should get some new material and stop rereading Koontz and Pratchett.
Al said…
If you happen to enjoy reading novels big enough to use for weight-training, try "Shogun" - it's practically a 5-book series in one hefty lump.

That said, I'm enjoying it immensely. And now I also want a samurai-style sword to play with.
Michael said…
Maybe I have a skew view because I read Hardy Boys AND Nancy Drew in my younger years; but I have never associated a female lead in a book as making the book primarily for a female audience - Silly me maybe?

I am a huge fan of the Sookie books - having finished all of them so far - while I wait for the next book to be finished I have started reading the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series (by Laurell K. Hamilton)

Also a female lead, with vampires, werewolves, ghouls, zombies and more... I have been filling my need for vampire stories for the moment :)

The rate I am going, I will run out of vampire stories by year end. No idea where too next...

PS: Love the new Blogger profile pic.
phr0ggi said…
I've yet to read the books. For now, I'm content to watch Anna Paquin roll around in various states of undress on my screen. ROWR.

Just finished Terry Pratchett's "GUARDS GUARDS" (it's one of the few I hadn't read yet) and raced through "Chart Throb" by Ben Elton (LUUURVE his stuff!).

And although I generally shy away from fantasy novels for the reasons you mentioned, I'm busy working my way through "The Secret Atlas" by Michael Stackpole (who apparently is rather prolific in the Star Wars universe. I dunno if this is a good or a bad thing) and so far it's quite enjoyable (despite the fact that no-one in the damned book has a "normal" name).
Monique said…
As phr0ggi said: I've yet to read the books. For now, I'm content to watch Anna Paquin roll around in various states of undress on my screen.

I really enjoy the TV series True Blood. It's the adult blood, violence and sex that makes it seem real. No sparkly century-old vampire who is infatuated with a teenage girl who can't make up her mind about anything.

I quite like fantasy books. Once I started on Jordaan's WoT series, I was hooked on that genre. At the moment, in between various comics/graphic novels (Soulfire, Magician's Apprentice, Death of Superman/Batman etc) I'm reading Robin Hobbs - an author who can make dragons and magic seem normal. And Hobbs only writes in trilogies ;)
MJenks said…
I'm reading Anansi Boys right now and finishing up some Xenophon (you know, light reading about ancient Greek military endeavors).

I just finished reading a book about hitchhiking across Australia. I've read two books about Australia now, both of which make me want to visit the country and stay away from it at the same time.

Are there any good travel books about South Africa? If not, whose arm do I need to twist for the funding needed for ME to drive around the country and then write about it in somewhat amusing fashion?
Pfangirl said…
Tara, I found that once I got past the first 2 books in the series, they became more interesting and enjoyable. I think that was because I was finally ahead of the TV show, so I no longer had any expectations, and everything became a surprise.

Al, thanks for the suggestion - even if I always tend to feel overwhelmed when faced with fat tomes :)

Michael, thank you:) For me, the issue was that Harris really immerses the reader in the mind of a young woman, complete with all of her womanly, sometimes superficial, concerns (the need to lose weight, what outfit is colour co-ordinated, etc). I was basically wondering if those kind of character preoccupations are tedious for male readers, or whether you're cool with it. Obviously there are many authors out there who write male and female characters in such a way that they are believable, accessible and identifiable for readers regardless of their gender.

phr0ggi and Monique, thanks for sharing your True Blood and fantasy-for-people-who-don't -always-like-fantasy suggestions.

MJenks, I'm sure there must be some of those comedic travel memoirs relating to South Africa, although I unfortunately don't know of any famous enough that I know them off the top of my head. Still, this list may be of some help: http://www.kalahari.net/books/957.aspx And, hey, if you do score the funding, I'm more than happy to act as the cynical local sidekick guide;)

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