Saturday, August 29, 2009

A subjective love of books (or, What makes Anne tick?)

Finally finished NORTHERN LIGHTS (aka THE GOLDEN COMPASS) by Philip Pullman. Phil (my husband, not the writer!) says he's never seen me take so long to read a book. Not true! I'm sure there are exceptions!

But the truth of the matter is that I read pretty quickly. And I'm a merciless reader. When I don't like a book, I usually stop reading (what's that great quote from Ratatouille? "I don't like food, I love it. If I don't love it, I don't swallow"). And, to be honest, I don't much care for NORTHERN LIGHTS. But on re-reading Pullman for my course, I planned to approach the book with a less-critical mindset and to appreciate the good bits of it.

So here is my attempt to be positive. Pullman has some beautiful descriptions. In fact, I love his setting all together, and it's the thing that first attracted me to the book: warrior polar bears, the northern lights. I also intend to write out his entire plot because I was amazed at the mastery of weaving such a complete world and such a complicated story line together. And of course, the book is non-stop action, and could be quite a page turner.

Is that why this book is so loved? I would love to know what others think of it, how it affected you, and what other good, writerly things I can pull from it.

It also led me to thinking about why I love certain books and not others. I wonder if for all the page-turning of Pullman's book I do better with character-driven stories. But then, while I love CORALINE, I don't think the main character is the strongest part of that book. I did adore the setting of CORALINE... but then, I adored the setting of NORTHERN LIGHTS, too. And it's not message because, truth be told, Pullman annoyed me long before I reached even the midway point of NORTHERN LIGHTS. I know I'm not a stickler for poor writing when the story grabs me. I mean, I LOVE Theodore Dreiser. Maybe it has to do more with sympathy? Maybe a character has to really grab my heart...? I'm not sure. Must think more on this.

But please tell me what you think!


  1. I think what stands out to me about Pullman's series are the ideas he presents, and I agree with you that the setting is also very memorable. The writing isn't as strong as it could be, but I was able to forget about that once I got wrapped up in the story and in the ideas and questions that were brought up throughout the series. You're not alone in not loving the books, though. I just don't think they're for everyone, especially since it takes a while for the story to really start coming together. I do tend to love a good, action-packed plot (even though I enjoy slower, character-driven books too) so I'm able to overlook quite a bit if the story has pulled me in.

  2. I think this book is brilliant. The imaginative setting, complex ideas, and lovely characters (I adore Lyra) all come together in, not only a page-turner, but an amazingly thought provoking fantasy. So, I disagree with you on this one, Anne. For every reader his book, and for every book his reader.

  3. Thanks, Anna. I appreciate your comment, because I can see how the ideas and questions Pullman brings up could be really fascinating to uncover. You really hit on the nail on the head, though. For me, I just never got sucked into the story.

    Thanks for posting too, Cynthia, especially since I know this is a book you love. Do you mind if I ask what it is you like about Lyra?


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