New Reads

Wastelands – Stephen King

Wastelands is the third book of King’s Dark Tower series. It significantly expands on Roland’s Mid-world, moving out of the desert of Gunslinger and into a sort of post-apocalyptic feudal realm. The book feels more internally consistent than Drawing of the Three (with its strange time-shifting portals), even if the mystery of Roland’s past and world are revealed. This is a page turner – lots of great imagery: giant rampaging cyber-bears, a ruinous pseudo-New York ravaged by civil war, and a devious artificial intelligence. A fun read – I’m looking forward to book four.

Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

I’ve been to New Orleans once, before Katrina, for a raucous night in the French Quarter. But I still remember the musicians on the cobblestones by the lazy Mississippi, the grungy old shacks and crumbling factories. And the characters – gibbering from darkened entryways, promoting exotic shows or serving up pots of gumbo.

In Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole has captured a pitch-perfect New Orleans, full of those same colorful denizens. But most of all, he’s created the memorable Ignatius J. Reilly, probably without peer in literature, film, etc. The comparisons I’ve heard – Don Quixote, John Belushi, Thomas Aquinas. I’d throw in there Comic Book Guy (Simpsons), maybe the fat kid from Superbad.

Ignatius is a study in paradoxes – bloated and gluttonous, yet disdainful of society’s extravagance; a chronic masturbator piously decrying sensual pleasures (Hollywood starlets, prostitutes, etc); a man of grand ideas, erudition and eloquence living a life of lowly sloth.

Dunces is a very funny book. Ignatius’s costumed misadventures are always accompanied by bellyaches, belches, and a barrage of epic complaints. Yet there’s a touch of tragedy to the book, nestled as it is within the Southern Gothic tradition. All the characters fall victim to their quirk and flaws, save Ignatius, who miraculously manages to emerge, basically unchanged and unharmed, ready for another adventure. Ignatius is a catalyst to those who surround him, one who stands in stark (if absurd) defiance to the dunces that conspire to change him.

That’s as fitting a metaphor for New Orleans as any.

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