Sunday, July 5, 2009

"Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH" by Robert C. O'Brien + A failed attempt at Cortázar

Time spent reading:
6/29: 12:50pm-1:00pm; 1:40pm-2:00pm
6/30: 8:15am-8:40am; 10:00am-11:45am

Total time: 2hrs 40min

233 pages

Aladdin Books

Published in 1971

Lindi, my wife, picked up this book from a used book store a while back, which made me think, "Oh no. It's that book!" See, when I was younger, I had a terrible fear of the Rats from The Secret of NIMH; the movie was dark, scary, and had giant, yellow-eyed rats in it! Do you wonder why I was put off by the film as a six year old? What I remembered from the movie was the evil cat, the magical amulet, a back-stabbing rat, and the scary elder rat named Nicodemus; sadly, most of those things were not in the book. Yes there is a back-stabbing rat, an evil cat, and a rat named Nicodemus, but there's no magic involved! The rats are simply intelligent! I find that alone to be far more exciting than the movie itself.

Occasionally, when I haphazardly choose a book I am going to read, I stray away from the "winners". Typically, I could care less whether it was on Oprah's Book List. (Hello? Anna Karenina? I bet Tolstoy hated that...) Nor will I pick up books that everyone is reading. (I am sorry James Patterson.) So when a Newberry Award Winner from NIMH fell into my hands, I thought about it for a bit, then opted to dive in. How pleasantly surprised I was. It is not often that I find myself almost literally racing to finish the book so I can find out what happens! Yes yes yes, I saw the movie as a child, and I know Mrs. Frisby and her family find shelter, but the book led up to the culminating moment with a bit more intensity than the movie. There were no sing-song playing children; they were all subdued characters as opposed to frolicking, singing mice voiced by Wil Wheaton of Star Trek: TNG fame.

The enduring tale slowly builds mystery over the course of the entire book, not just 50 pages like many modern writers try to do. It also demonstrates the differing hierarchy of the animal world, and how they interact. Mice are on a different intelli-social stratus as rats, while crows bring completely different, but exceptionally useful, traits to the table, and owls are on an entirely different level. And what happens? They ALL work together for the benefit of their own society. Why don't we do this now? Ugh!

Some side notes of distinguishing interest about the film and the book:
-Mrs. Frisby's name had to be changed to Brisby due to the makes of Frisbee, Wham-O, getting all upset. Lame.
-NIMH is an actual place. It's the National Institute of Mental Health.
-In the book, the Rats were attempting to attain a self-autonomous farming society. They wanted to change the perspective towards rats.
-Hints of Charles Darwin appear in the book, stating that at one point rats were higher on the evolutionary scale.

For a book that I loved so much, I really don't have much more to say about it. Awkward. Regardless, while the movie The Secret of NIMH is a longtime classic, which I still love, put away the movie and go read the book. Like always, the book just tends to be better.

Blow Up & other stories by Julio Cortázar

Time spent reading:
7/1: 9:15am-9:55am
7/4 9:30am-10:10am

Total time: 1hr 20min

277 pages

Pantheon Modern Writers Books

Published in 1963; translated in 1985

I'm not one to put a book down partway through and give up. But I did on this one. I tell you this now so that by the end you don't get all upset at me. It's like people who went and saw Titanic and cried at the end because it was sad. Duh! The ship sank; obviously this wasn't going to be a happy ending. Regardless, I tried real hard to focus on these stories; I thought I could get through them all since they were simply stories, but Cortázar is a unique guy with a unique writing style.

I love Cortázar. The first time I read anything by him was in college, and it was in Spanish. Even better! He is quirky and exceptionally unique; he was an incredible writer, prolific and mind-twisting. He was one of the instigators of Magical Realism. I'm not going to go through some diatribe about it, so just look it up in Wikipedia; you will find names like Cortázar and Márquez. Cortázar uses Magical Realism almost like a crutch; almost every story has some bizarre everyday twist to it that most people hardly even notice.

How about I just list why I love Cortázar? I made a list earlier with the NIMH entry; might as well follow suit:

1) Magical Realism. The man writes a story about vomiting rabbits, and how there is a loose tiger in the house! Marvelous.
2) Cortázar takes the mundanity of everyday life and changes it oh so well.
3) Multiple narrators are a constant. Cortázar flows between 3rd person to 1st and constantly makes himself part of the story as an outside writer or as Cortázar himself.
4) The deliberate details placed in the stories are amazing. In this collection of short stories, Cortázar takes small hints of a gigantic past and phrases them in a sentence or two.
5) He is never constant; who cares about the past tense vs. present tense? Most writers would look at this with disdain, but not Cortázar! He galavants through it with high speed.

So why could I not finish the book? There were three things: 1) I think I expected too much. 2) This was a moderately poor collection of works. 3) I cannot stand translated literature. There were several short stories that I believed were excellent examples of Cortázar's work, and others not so much. And obviously I'm a snob. Not just a music or everything else snob, but also a translation snob. Some of the phrases are now outdated, while others seem to be direct translations from the text. As you should know, a direct translation hardly ever works. Don't believe me? Go copy some random Spanish text and go to and see if it works. Hardly. Numerous times you need to translate the feel of the text rather than the wordage. I had read a couple of these before in Spanish, so when I reached a story like The Night Face Up, I automatically think La Noche Boca Arriba, and then hear the story in Spanish instead of English. While the English translation is good, it will never fully capture the amazingness of the Spanish. I will step down from my soapbox.

Here are the shining moments of the book (in list form!):
House Taken Over - A brother and sister couple discover there is more to their inherited house than themselves.
Continuity of Parks - This is so short, I dare not summarize. Google it.
Letter to a Young Lady in Paris - Doesn't everyone vomit rabbits occasionally?
Bestiary - Which room is the tiger in today?
The Night Face Up - Don't ride motorcycles; you might get sacrificed.

Happy reading!

Monday, June 29, 2009

"Good Book" by David Plotz

Time spent reading: Many random hours during camp and the subsequent days.

Total time: Easily 5+ hours

322 pages

Harper Collins Books

Published in 2009

I know this might seem a fairly "duh" statement, but David Plotz is a writer; he writes for Slate magazine and columns for a number of other publications. Whenever I saw this I knew that he would have a unique writing style (a la AJ Jacobs), and could make anything sound good, even the Hebrew Bible. And that's what he set out to do. Plotz begins with "I have always been a proud Jew, but never a very observant one." Good Book is an exceptionally funny AND informational story of one man's journey to recover his past and read the Hebrew Bible (Hebrew Bible is the Old Testament in a slightly different order), or as he puts it " The bizarre, hilarious, disturbing, marvelous, and inspiring things I learned when I ready every single word of the bible."

All I have to say is, "wow".

Having never read the Bible, Plotz reads and annotates every passage, even, and especially, the ones most people tend to ignore. While Plotz has grown up in a Jewish family, which still practices the basic aspects of Judaism, he was never truly schooled in the Torah or the entire Hebrew scriptures. So he decided to begin a couple of years ago, and now we have a book to read. Plotz mentions several times that he is no bible scholar, which gives some level of untainted credibility to the words he writes; he does not set off to revolutionize current opinions and analyses on the ancient texts, but rather give a near outsiders commentary.

With that being said, Good Book can be read in a number of ways:

1) Read a book or chapter in the bible, and then read Plotz's commentary. His chapters are mostly divided by books with smaller subdivisions of chapters (i.e. Chapter 5 is Deuteronomy, and the first section is "Chapter 1").

2) Read the book straight through without digging into the scripture. (This is how I read it and never had problems understanding.)

3) Randomly pick up the book when you want a differing perspective on the traditional story. (Which I will do having read the book now.)

Plotz's chapters are brilliant mixtures of worldwide thought, synopses, personal commentary, and anecdotes. (We discover that all three of his children are named after great biblical personages, which also leads to some heartwarming tales of a father priding himself over his childrens' namesakes.) But Plotz doesn't succumb like a typical bible reader. He fights his way through the books, investigation claims, traveling to Israel, and questioning G-d more and more as he goes. Does the questioning make Plotz feel as if he's going against G-d? Not at all. In fact he writes, "as I read the book, I realized the Bible's greatest heroes are not those who are most faithful, but those who are most contentious and doubtful" citing Moses, Job, Abraham, and Gideon. This is not a story of one man trying to find his faith in the unseen, but rather reading the flawed writings of men over the course of generations, and how those have affected the world today.

It would be exceptionally difficult to write an all-out review on this since we know the subject and why it was written, so I will quote a few marvelous things said. While many chapters have multiple pages or entries and elaborate thought by Plotz, some are simple reminders of what the stories are. So with that being said, here are some of my favorite entries (for various reasons you will note):

Genesis Chapter 34
"Dinah. Enough said."

Leviticus Chapter 18
"Hey-all you folks who say Leviticus is boring? You're nuts. It's riveting!"

Deuteronomy Chapter 26
"This is a very boring chapter."

I love how Plotz doesn't hide his boredom while attempting this feat.

Isaiah Chapter 56
"God promises eternal glory to 'the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths.' Eunuchs? Where do the eunuchs come from?"

Jeremiah Chapters 18-20
"Come on Jeremiah! You must be kidding! You show up at the capital city, tell people they're going to be disemboweled corpses in couple of years and that there's nothing they can do to prevent it. And then you're surprised that they don't like you?"

While most of these seem funny, there is a wave of incredibly deep and thoughtful ideas:
Ezekiel Chapter 16
"It's the first story to correctly understand that the psychological relationship between God and His people is not parent and child, but spouses."

"Jonah really is the perfect Bible story. God is demanding yet merciful, wise yet tricky... The hero is deeply flawed, mostly learns his lesson, and behaves with both the grace and selfishness that are in all of us. There is no unnecessary violence. And it's extremely funny."

Psalm 53
"OK, these are getting kind of dull. Reading one psalm is a joy, reading two is a pleasure, reading three is a chore, and reading a dozen or more at once is like sitting next to a desperate insurance salesman on a transatlantic flight."

Overall, the book is fantastic. It is almost like a Cliffs Notes of the Bible, but with extra commentary from a Jewish perspective. I loved it. Equal moments of heartbreak, joy, laughter, cynicism, and introspection played their ways through the text. Some people will understand the book, and others might be outraged. But if you're tired of scholarly viewpoints for the Good Book, look to this Good Book for a different perspective.

Happy reading.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

"The Tales of Beedle the Bard" by JK Rowling + my weeklong recommendations

So, I will be out of town until next weekend, so this entry will have the latest book I have read and some suggestions of books I happened to read just before I started this blog. Being out of town does not mean I will not read; it will just be a bit sparser.

Hope you all have a great week.

Time spent reading:
6/16: 8:02am-8:11am; 10:00am-10:53am

Total time: 1hr 2min

107 pages

Children's High Level Group Books

Published in 2008

When Beedle the Bard came out last year, everyone was beyond excited, "Oh my goodness! Another Harry Potter book! One written by Rowling! Oh wow..." I can still remember the day when I trekked into Borders at 10am to fight off the large crowds to purchase the book. No one was there. The books displayed directly in front of the door upon entering, I grabbed one, turned, and paid; I didn't even look around the store. The poor cashier behind the counter, who had obviously been practicing this one line, said, "Tonight at 7 there will be a reading from The Tales of Beedle the Bard if you would like to attend." So funny. It was story time. And I, being a 26 year old "professional" teacher, was invited. I stifled a giggle, thanked him, and left.

With that being said, the book sat pleasantly on a shelf since last December, awaiting a reading. I opted numerous times to pick it up and give it a quick once through; I had flipped through it a few times and noticed the format was slightly different and decided not to read it as of yet. (I'll explain the differing format in a bit.) When I finally waited for any remnant of interior hype to leave me, I acted. Even better? I was highly surprised.

Rowling did a wonderful job in this short compilation of wizarding fairy tales. While some people might feel gipped due to the surprisingly short number of stories (only 5 in all), Rowling adds in her own twists and textures to truly enrich the reading. So here goes the format of Beedle the Bard's tales:

1) The introduction is written by Rowling, but not your high-class, exceptionally famous, richest person in England Rowling, but a Rowling who has spoken with Hermione Granger and Albus Dumbledore on, seemingly, more than one occasion. The introduction explains just who Beedle the Bard is, or was considering he was alive in the 15th century, and just why and how his tales differ from the Grimms' or Disney films of our time.

Before continuing, I would like to interject that if you have not read any of the Harry Potter books and are simply waiting for the next movie to come out, you might not want to read these until all of the movies have been released. This is meant as an addendum to the Harry Potter library, not a fun, quick read by some unknowing individual. There are numerous terms that a non-Potter reader will have trouble understanding, or even saying. So you might even want to continue cautiously through the rest of this post. Though, as you should know, I'm not going to tell any endings or important surprises!

2) The Bard's tales have been translated by the one and only, supergenius of the time Hermione Granger. And these have even been translated from the Ancient Runes, not just a crappy English version. It's like how people keep re-translating the bible based on older English versions of it. If you REALLY want to translate it, you need to learn Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. Jump on it! When Seamus Heaney translated Beowulf (Oh what a marvelous work he did too!), the man did not take the poorly-done version by random person in the early 20th century to base his own translation. He learned Anglo-Saxon, studied it in depth, and then decided to translate! So this shows a unique perspective by Rowling that Hermione didn't just reword the old tales, but actually took them from their original sources.

3) Found at the end of each translated tale is a commentary from the most well-known headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore. Occasionally, like most modern scholars absolutely LOVE to do, the commentary is longer than the text itself. Dumbledore rewords parts of the fairy tales, adds meaning to certain words, analyzes why the Bard used specific wizards, gives historical background, and as always makes the reader laugh by his constant wit. I found myself quite often tearing through the tales to get to the commentary.

4) Maybe this is the literary nerd in me, but I highly applaud Rowling's use of multiple narrators, voices, and authors. First there is the author Rowling, then the introduction (I'm part of the magical world still) Rowling, the original untranslated text, the Granger text, and Dumbledore's commentary. Each one has its own distinct language, style, and diction. I hate using these terms freely, but Rowling truly is a master of the craft. The introduction writer Rowling even has to dissect some of Dumbledore's commentaries since Dumbledore,
"appears to have been writing for a Wizarding audience, so I have occasionally inserted an explanation of a term or fact that might need clarification for Muggle readers."
I love it! This is the translation nerd in me jumping for joy.

All in all, I found this small book to be such a quick, sweet escape from typical fantasy and even the Potter series. I would definitely suggest read the books first, otherwise you might be in for a pleasant, or rather unpleasant, surprise by the way of some principle characters.

Happy reading.

Recent books I have read that exceeded my expectations:
-The Pagan series (all 4 of them) by Catherine Junks. This is a series about Pagan Kidrouk, a poor lad who happened to live in Jerusalem during the Crusades. Very funny. Very Monty Python-esque. Those of you who know me know I don't give the Python blessing often.

-Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud. Eventually I will get around to reading his Bartimaeus Trilogy, but I settled for this standalone novel, which is a story of how tradition, fantastical tales, and determination can change even the darkest of children.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Smith of Wootton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham" by J.R.R. Tolkien

First and foremost, this particular edition by Ballantine Books published both tales in one compendium; therefore I will separate them out, but still put them in one post!

Time spent reading:
6/12: 6:00pm-6:20pm
6/15: 10:30am-10:52am

Total time: 42 minutes

54 pages

Ballantine Books

Published in 1969

Oh the incredible prolificness of J.R.R. Tolkien. The man spent just a few years on The Hobbit and well over 30 more on The Lord of the Rings; most people who are avid readers know this, but the man also wrote many, many, many more legends, lays, tales, some revolving around Middle Earth, and others involving Britain in general. Smith of Wootton Major is one of those fairy tales of England stories.

The tale starts off as any fairy tale would,
There was a village once, not very long ago for those with long memories, nor very far away for those with long legs.

Tolkien's Smith begins with a quaint fairy tale quality, and maintains that relationship between the reader and the principal characters in the story throughout all 50+ pages. Much like each fairy tale, there are only a handful of characters, each one with some major, overarching trait: mysterious, trusting, hopeful, cruel, etc... Sadly, this tale feels more thrown together than anything, but considering this was towards the end of his writing career, post-LOTR, I can see why he would not want to spend the time and effort into delicately crafting a story as intricately woven as the Middle Earth saga.

Regardless, it is cute, full of elaborate parties, fantastic cakes, people from the land of Faerie, an even-star, an a few wonderful principle characters. Throughout reading, I could see how this tale could have possibly spawned a series of books telling the future quests of the even-star and the land of Faerie, but why go into all of that? Tolkien wrote it short and left it short for a reason. Truly, there is not much allegory like some people like to read into many fantasy works. You must take this book for what it is: the story of a quiet, fumbling child who grows into a lively adult through the land of Faerie. It's a story of great hopes, aspirations, loves and responsibility, a story everyone should read.

Time spent reading:
6/15: 11:02am-11:55am

Total time: 53 minutes

91 pages

Ballantine Books

Published in 1949

The first time I read Farmer Giles of Ham was at the Borders midnight release party of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I vaguely remember sitting on a stool with this book, eagerly awaiting the fourth installment of wizard mania; I remember it was an odd tale, one of a talking dog and a farmer who fell into a predicament with a dragon. Little did I know how good the story truly is.

Tolkien's studies lead him to various languages, Latin, Greek, and Anglo-Saxon; he was a linguist after all, but these languages further sent him to the specific stories told in those languages, whether it was the epic story of Beowulf or the lays of old Nordics. More than anything, Tolkien wanted to discover a true creation story of England. America had one. Even France has one! But the British? No story has ever been found. He wanted to feel that England's own creation story was as grand as others; this also was the progeny of LOTR.

We know that Farmer Giles of Ham comes to us as one possible creation of England. How? The foreword tells us! This is not some preface by some well-known modern author; it is by Tolkien himself. Farmer Giles is written as if Tolkien discovered the original text in Latin, and here it is translated for all of us to see. Tolkien writes, retells, and analyzes the tale as it is told. There are numerous instances of Tolkien switching from Latin to "the vulgar" so that we may follow along.

Farmer Giles begins as an accidental hero, a lazy sluggard who manages to shoo a giant away for a few years, and, who later discovers himself surrounded by fame and glory, grows reluctant to be heroic anymore, especially when a dragon appears on the doorsteps of Little Kingdom Ham. I found this to be quite humorous and satirical, as it seems to be the exact opposite of Beowulf. There, a proud hero emerges, one who vanquishes great monsters, dragons, and inevitably gives his life to protect others. Farmer Giles does none of these; in fact, he cowers for quite a while, making excuses as he goes, but somehow manages to come out the victor towards the end, no help from a seemingly enchanted sword...

Farmer Giles of Ham was a pleasure to reread; this time I paid more attention. It merely quenches my thirst for more things Tolkien. Watch out blogosphere, more fantasy is coming up. I'm sure of it!

Happy reading.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Time spent reading:
6/10: 8:15am-10:15am; 11:00am-11:35am

Total time: 2 hrs 35 min

317 pages

Quirk Books

I won't lie; I really wanted this book to be outstanding. The first time I heard about it was through an email from a co-worker; from there, I knew this would either be a marvel of contemporary literature or a total wash. Sadly for me, it was the latter. Most people know my fascination with the old classics (Anna Karenina, The Count of Monte Cristo, Dracula to name a few), and also my love of well-written horror novels, specifically zombie-related ones (World War Z, The Zombie Survival Guide, The Historian). As one could foretell, this should have "TRAVIS" stamped all over it. This was not the case.

The initial idea of PP&Z is a remarkable one. The land of 19th century England is overrun by the plague, not the Black Plague, but rather a plague that turns people into "unmentionables", which go on roving through the countryside searching for feasts of brains. As any worthwhile review should, I will begin with the faults. Grahame-Smith has stated that he has taken 85% of the original text and has merely included 15% of his own. What he fails to mention is that out of the 85%, only 60% is the original text. Oftentimes, the text has been reworded, restated, and paraphrased to such a point that the "original" text is left boring, often devoid of the initial meaning or flair of an Austen novel. Readers who adore Jane Austen read her because of her writing style, wit, and ability to break down social structures so that the typical high-flaunting norm doesn't remain in place. With PP&Z, readers get a watered-down Austen that is constantly surrounded by zombie-stricken England.

But not every scene is deserving of an inclusion of a plagued unmentionable. In these instances, Grahame-Smith forgoes the seemingly forced involvement of zombies and discusses the Bennet family's constant practice in martial arts, Shaolin practices, their studies of various types of hand to hand combat, and that they should be spending their day cleaning muskets and sharpening blades. While this seems quite humorous at first as Mr. Bennet states, "I would much prefer their minds be engaged in deadly arts than clouded with dreams of marriage and fortune" by the time I read "ninjas" or "Kyoto" for the umpteenth time, I grew weary of it. I never knew this should have been called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Ninjas and Anything Else to Further the Plot. It seems as if the massive plot holes in the text have been substituted by ninja fights and zombie eradication. This sounds like a good idea, but if you're trying to follow the story, (But who would really buy this book for the story?) good luck!

Don't get me wrong, Grahame-Smith does some amazing writing in the book. In the first few chapters alone, he very subtly inputs the zombie situation. There were numerous times I found myself laughing hysterically by the sheer absurdity of it all. While the bits between the zombie attacks have been so paired down that it severely mangles Austen's original text, the inclusion of zombie-related storyline at least halfway makes up for it. In this version, Elizabeth Bennet is not simply a strong-minded daughter of the poor Bennet Estate, she is also quite adept at martial arts, weaponry, and who knows what else. Instead of quietly being upset at Mr. Darcy during their first meeting at the Ball, she removes the ankle dagger and proffers to slice his throat. Fortunately for the remainder of the story, she is interrupted by a horde of zombies, of which her and her sisters quickly dispatch.

Some of the additions work quite well with the book; they do spice up the original. What better way to describe Charlotte Lucas' sudden want of marriage to Mr. Collins anything but a good Christian end?
'I don't have long Elizabeth. All I ask is that my final months be happy ones, and that I be permitted a husband who will see to my proper Christian beheading and burial.'

These instances work wonderfully, but the blandness of the rest of the text overshadows the pure genius involved. If you have never read Pride and Prejudice or you could not stand it when you tried to three summers ago, this could possibly be a great way to actually get into the work. It is sharp-witted, humorous, and very slyly done at times. But if you have read the original, and enjoy Austen, this might leave you with a sense of disdain, even if you are not a purist like myself.

Despite the great idea, awesome (and I'm not joking about this) in-book illustrations, reader's discussion guide questions, and constant flesh eating zombies, the novelty wore off fairly quick. Maybe my hopes were too high or maybe the book really did peter out towards the end...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"I Am Legend" by Richard Matheson

Time spent reading:
6/8: 9:45pm-10:05pm
6/9: 11:15am-1:40pm

Total time: 2 hrs 45 min

151 pages

Nelson Doubleday edition

This is not the first time I have read I Am Legend, though it is the first time I have read it since that atrocity of a movie came out in 2007. What most people hardly realize is that it was a book published in 1954, long before the Will Smith movie. We all know it to be a sad fact of modern society to take amazing pillars of science fiction literature and convert them to overblown action flicks (see: War of the Worlds, I, Robot, Journey to the Center of the Earth, etc...), but let us not spend more time on the downcast state of modern movie-making.

The protagonist, Robert Neville, is a hero in his own right. He is the hero we should all want to be, not the buffed up machismo of "I can kill anything with my bare hands", but rather the broken, constantly questioning, suffering, succeeding, and failing of a man trying to survive a bacterial pandemic that has (as far as we know) left him the last man on earth. Neville must literally battle his way through hordes of vampires, though he uses his intellect far more than his brawn. After all, he was a 36-year old blue collar worker with a wife and child when the outbreak began. He was not prepared for this, and this is where Matheson picks up the journey of this solitary remnant of mankind.

Matheson creates such a beautifully dynamic individual; one who has lost everything, struggles with the mundaneness of his constant preparatory work, and worries constantly about the past and how it affects him in the present. Being surrounded by vampires, one might be driven to insanity, and in some incredibly touching moments, Neville loses his grasp on reality, the reality that has been thrust upon him. But he is not without hope. His hope lies in surviving, and not necessarily hunting the undead. He has stocked frozen foods, maintains a generator, keeps a Willys station wagon in near-perfect upkeep, and works on soundproofing the house from the hordes that come out at night. Matheson's attention to detail near rivals Henry David Thoreau's Walden in the constant lists and everyday chores that Neville must keep.
Lathe at Sears
Check generator
Doweling (?)

Throughout the novella, Neville's insatiable thirst for knowledge drives him to research fields of study of which he had no previous knowledge, including biology, anatomy, bacteriology, and even delving into ancient myths and legends. A deviation from this latest film, Matheson's Neville was without military or scientific training; he was just a guy down at the plant trying to make a living. He had to research, obtain, and study how to use a microscope for days before he even attempted to study the biological structure of the vampiric blood cells. The great methodology and determination of Matheson's Neville far surpasses what most of us might try and do in a similar situation,
But then the morning came when, casually, as if it were only of minor import, he put his thirty-seventh slide of blood under the lens, turned on the spotlight, adjusted the draw tube and mirror, racked down and adjusted the diaphragm and condenser.

He had to continue. He had to improve to better himself and overcome what was waiting for him.

While Smith's Neville is a pompous ex-militant who lives on the edge, Matheson's finds solace in the simplest of things: drink, classical music, and even a surprising visit from a dog. It is this constant reinforcement of worldly systems that keeps Neville progressing. When a system is interrupted (i.e. the dog appearing), either the daily continuum sucks in this new element and welcomes it warmly, or the entire system is in upheaval.

By the end of the novella, Neville has conducted numerous tests against the typical mythology of vampires: crosses, stakes through the heart, garlic, and more. While Matheson had to twist the legends so they would fit his story of an airborn germ, he does so in such a way to make the reader question as to why Bram Stoker became so popular. My favorite explanation is why the cross does not always drive away vampires,
"Why should a Jew fear a cross?" he said. "Why should a vampire who had been a Jew fear it...But as far as the cross goes-well, neither a Jew, nor a Hindu nor a Mohammedan nor an atheist, for that matter, would fear the cross."

By the end, Matheson creates an exceptionally unique subcivilization in Neville's society. And he is the counter-culture.
Full circle.
A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever.
I am legend.