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Book Review: To a Mountain in Tibet by Colin Thubron (Audiobook narrated by Steven Crossley)

Building in front of a mountain.Summary:
After the death of his mother, who also was his last living family member, Colin set out on a journey to the mountain of Kailas in Tibet.  The mountain is holy to both Hindus and Buddhists and is closely associated with the process of dying and crossing over.  Through his eyes we see the people of Tibet and his emotional journey.

Review:
I am not sure if words can describe what an epic miss this book was for me.  The combination of British western eyes othering Tibetans, an entire chapter dedicated to his father’s big game hunting, a surprising lack of emotional processing of death, and the *shudders* British accented narrator imitating Indian and Tibetan accents…..oh god.  It was painful.

I see nothing wrong with a Western person traveling and appreciating something revered in another culture.  If it is done right, it can be a beautiful thing. A lesson in how we are all different and yet the same.  Yet through Colin’s eyes I felt as if I was very uncomfortably inhabiting the shoes of a colonizing douchebag.  Perhaps part of it was the narration style of Crossley, but it felt as if Colin was judging and caricaturing all of the Tibetans and Indians he met.  There was so little empathy from someone supposedly on this journey to deal with death of loved ones.  You’d expect more from him.  I could accept this perspective more if either Colin learned over the course of the trip or this was an older memoir, but neither is true!  This is a recent memoir, and Colin is the exact same self-centered prick he was when he went in.

Similarly, Colin when he is not othering the Tibetans and Indians is either reminiscing joyfully on his father’s exploits as a big game hunter and basically colonizing douche in India or giving us a history lesson in Hinduism and Buddhism.  Ok?  But he’s not an expert in these religions and also that was not the point of the book?  A few explanations here and there, sure, but if I wanted to learn about Buddhism or Hinduism, I sure wouldn’t be getting it from a travel memoir from an old British dude.  I’m just saying.

Overall, this is an incredibly odd book.  It is a book out of time that feels as if it should have been written by an understandably backward gentleman traveler in the early 1900s, not by a modern man.  I honestly cannot recommend it to anyone.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Book Review: Wizard and Glass By Stephen King (Series, #4)

January 19, 2010 11 comments

Summary:
Roland and his ka-tet escape Blaine the Train, but they accidentally wind up off the path of the beam and in yet another alternate version of Jake, Eddie, and Susannah’s world.  They start following an interstate, heading for a palace and hoping therein lies the solution for returning to the path of the beam.  One night while traveling, Roland finally tells them what has been haunting him all this time with the story of the summer he was 14 years old and his first love.

Review:
As with The Waste Lands, this book reads like multiple books in one.  I was expecting that, since The Waste Lands ended abruptly without solving the problem of Blaine the Train.  This book takes care of that storyline, then jumps into a flashback that lasts almost the entire book then jumps back to the present and attempts to solve a big problem.  It’s a lot for one book to handle, and it would have worked better if Lud and Blaine the Train were one book taking place after The Waste Lands but before Wizard and Glass.  If after doing this, King had shortened the flashback, The Wizard and Glass would be an excellent book.  Of course, he didn’t do it that way.

Now that I am this far into the series, I’m seeing that King, whether intentionally or not, is writing different bits of the series as different genres.  This could be why it holds wide appeal–if someone doesn’t like the genre the story is currently being told in, it will change soon enough.  The first book is mainly a travelogue.  The second a horror story.  The third is a mix of scifi with the time paradox and horror again with Lud and Blaine the Train.  Here, we get partly fantasy with the current issues for Roland’s ka-tet, but mostly a medieval romance–the story of Roland and Susan.

That medieval romance starts out well.  King sets up three dialects–High Speech, In-World Speech, and Mejis accent–very well.  All three are easy to differentiate, and yet are easy to read.  Roland’s world is a wonderful mix of the knights of Arthur and the fabeled American west.  It’s fun to read, but only when something’s really happening.  That’s the problem with the flashback.  It feels too long, because very little happens in large portions of it.  Roland, Cuthbert, and Alain must spend most of their summer in Mejis waiting, and instead of telling the reader “wow, they waited a long time,” King makes the reader wait too, and it’s fucking boring and annoying.  I seriously wanted to give up, and right when I was about to, the action started again.  Finally.  The action makes excellent use of this mix of fantastical and wild west, but it really takes too long to come about.

As far as the characters go, I know I’m supposed to feel for Susan, but I honestly found her annoying and dull, which is problematic since she’s Roland’s first love.  Also, after all this time of Roland stating how Eddie is almost as funny as Cuthbert, I was expecting Cuthbert to be, y’know, funny.  He’s not.  He acts like that boy in school who used to pull your braids and think it was funny.  He’s just juvenile, not witty.  On the other hand, the character of the witch Rhea is excellently done.  She’s simultaneously disgusting and intriguing, and she’s one of the few who manages to out-wit Roland, partly because he underestimates her since she is an old, disgusting woman.  If only Cuthbert and Alain had been so vividly drawn instead of wandering shells of people for Roland to talk at.

The book is a necessary read if you plan on finishing the series.  It gives important insight into why Roland is the man he is today, not to mention explains how the ka-tet escapes Blain the Train and gets back on the path of the beam.  I think this is the almost inevitable dull book in an overall good series.  Just take my advice and skim over the dull part of Mejis until the action picks up again.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Borrowed

Previous Books in Series:
The Gunslinger, review
The Drawing of the Three, review
The Waste Lands, review

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