I know my sister is anxiously awaiting my report on Stephen King's "Dark Tower VII" and, unfortunately, it's going to be a while. Yes, it seems the series that I started reading when I was 13 years old (stuck in in-school suspension mind you) and have waited my whole adult life to be completed is being left ignored on my nightstand while I turn my attention elsewhere. You see, I read -- and loved -- the first three books in the series back when I was a teenager. Finally, years later, King added a fourth book to the saga. I went back and read the first three again and read -- and really enjoyed -- the fourth. Then King was nearly killed by a van. I forgave the lapse and waited patiently. Eventually news of the series' having been completed surfaced and my interest was piqued. My aforementioned sister bought me books 5 and 6 and I rapidly started over and read them all cover to cover, from "The Gunslinger" all the way through the final pages of "Susanah's Song".
And therein lies the problem. "Susanah's Song" sucked. And the suckdom has carried over into the seventh and final chapter in this otherwise magnificent story that is truly unlike anything else I've ever read. You see, what happened is that King allowed the story to begin centering far too much around an unlikable character and a situation that wasn't nearly as interesting as I imagine he thinks it is. And to top it all off, "Susanah's Song" concluded with one of the biggest gimmicks in fiction. I'm not going to give it away, but you could see it coming a country mile away. To be honest, I felt it coming since the fourth book.
My sister, under my urging, started reading the series while I was somewhere in the midst of book 5 and rapidly caught up -- she's a voracious reader with a commute and she was mesmerized by King's incredible tale. She finished "Susanah's Song" shortly after I did and unfortunately agreed with me about it. She didn't mince words. Instead, she simply emailed me "Finished DT6. It f'ing sucked!"
Months went by before I finally bought the final version. Here it is, the final book in a series that I had waited most of my life to finish reading, a series I have convinced many people to read, and I couldn't care less about discovering how it ends. I actually read several other books in that hiatus, several really good books actually ("Freddie and Fredericka" in particular), and then, faced with a lengthy business trip and lots of time on a plane, I bought the final volume. It's been well over a month since I bought it and the bookmark is still stuck on page 96.
So what am I reading instead? I'm actually reading a history book. No, not the glossy 30-pound kind you used to carry around in high school, but a book titled "Land of Giants" by David Lavender. It's essentially a comprehensive history of the Pacific Northwest and I'm not only learning a lot about this place I now call home, but the book is very well written, well researched, and the author does a great job exposing some of the underlying motives behind the exploration of the region.
You see, it's unavoidable to learn the history behind your state when you're growing up in NJ. History was made there. Right from the Revolutionary War and the formation of the 13 Colonies to Washington's Crossing of the Delaware River and, eventually, the Civil War. But, unfortunately, history class always seemed to wrap up in June right about the time we were looking into the Lousiana Purchase. Oh, sure, Lewis and Clark would always get the obligatory lip service, but I don't know squat about how the Pacific Northwest came to be part of the US. Or who the early explorers were or where the landmarks out here got there name. Case in point -- did you know the Columbia River was actually named "Columbia's River" after Captain Gray's ship, the Columbia? The biggest river in the northwest and nobody could find it for years because of the dangerous shoals near its mouth.
So, the way I see it (feel free to put this on a coffee cup Starbucks), is if I'm going to live the rest of my life out here in Washington, then I better learn a bit about its roots and how it came to be the place I'm proud to call home. Lavender's book is a really interesting read and I definitely recommend it to any of the other proud transplants who moved here. I got my hardcover copy at Half-Price Books (in Bellevue for those nearby) for about $6.99. Money well spent. And, sad to say, it sure beats reading Dark Tower VII.
*Speaking of history, I wanted to give a shout-out to my book on deck. I was driving home from mountain biking one day and heard an interview on NPR with a couple of writer/editors who put out a collection of stories called "A Fictional History of the United States with huge chunks missing" and pulled off the highway and immediately went to Barnes & Noble and had them order me a copy. The book came in recently and a glance at the table of contents has me smiling mischievously at what lies in store. Topics range from "The Chinese Discovery of America" to "The Lindbergh Baby" to "The Harlem Globetrotters" to "Birth of Pharmacology" to "The Lewinsky Affair" and it's all written as fiction and based on the excerpts I heard on the radio is both funny and insightful. I think King's book just fell in the batting order.