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Book 22

  1. Meredith, Martin — The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence (736 pages)
  2. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o — Wizard of the Crow (766 pages)
  3. Coetzee, J.M. — Life & Times of Michael K (182 pages)
  4. Saint-Exupery, Antoine de — The Little Prince (101 pages)
  5. Brunner, John — Stand on Zanzibar (661 pages)
  6. Dahl, Roald — Fantastic Mr Fox (79 pages)
  7. Walker, Barbara — TEENY-TINY and the Witch-Woman (29 pages)
  8. Shakespeare, William — A Midsummer Night's Dream (23 pages)
  9. Powers, Richard — The Time of Our Singing (631 pages)
  10. McEwan, Ian — In Between the Sheets (134 pages)
  11. Ishiguro, Kazuo — A Pale View of Hills (182 pages)
  12. Niven, Larry — Ringworld (284 pages)
  13. Anderson, Poul — Tau Zero (184 pages)
  14. Eisenberg, Bryan & Jeffrey, with Lisa T. Davis — Call to Action: Secret Formulas to Improve Online Results (273 pages)
  15. Andrews, Stephen E. and Nick Rennison — 100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels (205 pages)
  16. Andrews, Stephen E. and Nick Rennison — 100 Must-Read Fantasy Novels (197 pages)
  17. Niles, Steve and Ben Templesmith — 30 Days of Night (103 pages)
  18. Terkel, Studs — And They All Sang: Great Musicians Talk about Their Music (321 pages)
  19. Andrews, Stephen E. and Duncan Bowis — 100 Must-Read Books for Men (200 pages)
  20. Dahl, Roald — The Witches (202 pages)
  21. Millar, Mark and J.G. Jones and Paul Mounts — Wanted (192 pages)
  22. Hoban, Russell — Riddley Walker (240 pages)

Page count: 5822.

I had to wait a few days after I finished reading Riddley Walker before I could post about it. It wasn't lack of time: I finished Riddley Walker on Thursday night and, as you can tell from the sudden explosion in posts, I've had some free time this weekend for the first time in ages. No, I had to let the novel percolate a bit.

But more importantly, I had to seek the guidance of external sources. I realized when I reached the final chapter of Riddley Walker that I had completely missed the boat in a few critical ways.

You see, I very much enjoyed reading Riddley Walker. I got caught up in the language, the word play, the mysticism, the seeming simplicity. But I also got very much caught up in the plot, as clues and events fell into place, and was convinced it was leading me to a certain someplace. So as I read the final few pages, I found myself saying, "Wait a minute! This is it? All of that led to this??? It just doesn't follow! What about [a list of things that might constitute plot spoilers if I were to mention them]." I was angry. But I wasn't angry at Riddley Walker and I wasn't angry at Russell Hoban, because I realized that, as universally as this book is lauded, I must have missed something.

And going back through a number of critical essays I found online, it has become crystal clear that what I missed was right there beneath my nose. I allowed myself to chase a couple of red herrings because I got too caught up in the plot elements and gave elevated importance to certain things that should not have been given greater importance than other things.

Part of the problem was that my reading was fragmented. I started Riddley Walker a couple months back. I read bits and pieces of other things while I was reading it. I often read it on the Tube, where attempting to read anything other than non-fiction or plot-driven fiction is a mistake. I read too fast and didn't pay enough attention to words and the ideas they captured.

Riddley Walker is nothing if not about words and ideas. This should be evident from the very first sentence. The language is different. Riddley Walker takes place at least 2300 years after a nuclear holocaust has destroyed civilization. Yet, perhaps as an indication of how profoundly the apocalypse has arrested human development, the language's evolution is not as extreme as one would expect in 2300-plus years. The language is not simply a clever device, it is a central element in the story. Riddley Walker would simply not be possible without what people have termed Riddleyspeak. The Inland (no doubt a corruption of England, as the story takes place in Kent, in and about Cambry (Canterbury)) culture's central myth, the Eusa story, is derived from a misreading of a surviving document found, written in our modern English, describing a fifteenth-century wall painting, The Legend of Saint Eustace. But Hoban has devised this culture's language in such a way that everything seems to have a double meaning. One of the running themes throughout the novel is about the duality of everything. I got too focused on the pseudo-scientific and religious/mythical aspects of this, though, expecting some big climactic ending where perhaps new scientific discoveries or mystical revelations led to some sort of renaissance, but in being so focused I missed a very important thread.

Needless to say, I need to re-read Riddley Walker. After completion I can't shake the feeling that this is a very important book and that I need to understand it better. And to do so I need to give it my complete and devoted attention and allow myself to become completely immersed in it.

Because I am aware that I so completely missed the boat, I cannot say anything meaningful about Riddley Walker. Anything I might say I probably got from another source or figured out only after consulting other sources. Thus, I'm going to do something I don't think I've ever done in one of these reviews: I'm going to post a link to a critical review of Riddley Walker. David Cowart's The Terror of History is by far the most insightful and comprehensive essay I've read on Riddley Walker and well worth the time it takes to read.

I don't wish to convey the sense that Riddley Walker is difficult and inaccessible. For the most part, I felt it was fairly easy to wrap my inner ear around Riddleyspeak, and I allowed the 12-year-old narrator's seeming naivetë lull me into a sense of simplicity, but because of the ease and simplicity I missed a lot of the complexity that swirls around just below the surface.

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