So the title of this post probably made you think it was about something serious. Um, no. I’m not in a serious mood right now. I’m in a “write about my secret guilty pleasure (henceforth no longer secret)” mood. Ahem.
I sometimes get asked the question: “So, how many years were you in college, exactly?” To which I respond glibly: “mumble mumble.” “I’m sorry, what was that?” “Er, I said ‘fourteen.'” “Fourteen?!!” Yes. You heard right. I am utterly insane. It was either school or the mental institution.
While I was doing my fourteen years of time, I was made to read all manner of books. I read books which discussed chiaroscuro and Caravaggio and Ionic columns. I read books designed to explain French conditionals and Greek declensions and Hebrew roots. I read books elucidating hamartiology and gnosticism and amillennialism. I read books about linguistics (with titles like ‘Ergativity’ and ‘The Syntax-Semantics Interface’) that made my eyes cross. I read scholarly articles coming out my ears. And then I wrote a book full of jargon that only about three people in the world can understand. And finally I got kind of tired of books that featured words like antipassive and antinomianism and antidisestablishmentarianism. (Okay, so I don’t know if I ever actually read any books with that word in it.)
When the last word was written and my professors’ John Hancocks were safely on the dissertation paperwork, I packed my scholarly tomes in cardboard boxes galore and lugged the forty or fifty library books littering my living room back to the library. I moved halfway across the country and promptly got a library card.
I can’t be certain, but I think the first thing I checked out was “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” It was November, and I blew through the rest of the series by Christmas. A host of other fun books followed, none of whose authors even toyed with the idea of using the word ontological.
So now you know my guilty little secret. I am a children’s fiction addict.
Although I don’t limit myself to one genre, I especially like fantasy fiction. So I was very excited to run across an author that, in my opinion, is one of the cleverest, cleanest, and all-around most enjoyable to read that I’ve found in years. This guy makes me actually tempted to write him fan mail, which is saying something.
The author I’m talking about is Rick Riordan. (Some of you have heard me rave.) His first children’s series is called Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and includes five books, each better than the last. The basic premise is that the Greek gods (you know, Ares, Zeus, Aphrodite) are still populating the world with demi-god hero children. The gods themselves turn out to be rather deadbeat parents, but their kids are full of vim and vigor, taking on monsters and quests with admirable pluck.
Having finished his first five, Riordan apparently thought the Roman gods deserved a fair shake. I’ve just completed The Lost Hero, the first in a new series of books that introduces fresh characters and brings in old ones as well, some the children of Greek gods, others children of Roman gods. Basic plot summary: Jason, Piper, and Leo team up to rescue the goddess Hera/Juno, who’s been kidnapped by a mysterious sleep-walking woman. The catch? They have only a few days to find her—oh, and simultaneously rescue Piper’s (human) father, who’s being held captive by giants.
What’s so great about Riordan’s books? A lot of things. For one, his characters are just super likable. Second, the plots are tightly woven sequences of events that characterize good writing at its finest. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is left hanging. Every subplot moves the story along toward the resolution of the overarching question. On top of this, the books are educational. (Groan.) No, no—wait! In a fun way. I promise. Riordan, a former history teacher, retells the Greek and Roman myths in a manner sometimes frankly hilarious. Take the following passage, in which Jason and his friends encounter the legendary King Midas.
“So,” Jason said. “All this gold—”
The king’s eyes lit up. “Are you here for gold, my boy? Please, take a brochure!”
Jason looked at the brochures on the coffee table. The title said GOLD: Invest for Eternity. “Um, you sell gold?”
“No, no,” the king said. “I make it. In uncertain times like these, gold is the wisest investment, don’t you think? Governments fall. The dead rise. Giants attack Olympus. But gold retains its value!”
Leo frowned. “I’ve seen that commercial.”
Of course, most of us have heard of Midas. But since reading The Lost Hero, I can now tell you the Aeolus and Boreas were gods of the winds, Medea was the wife of Jason until he dumped her for someone else, and that when I order a venti latte at Starbucks, a particularly astute barista might think of storm spirits instead. For someone who likes trivia as much as I do, it’s a particularly satisfying combination.
Right now, I’m waiting with anticipation for the second book in the series (Son of Neptune) to come out. I’ve already got my hold in at the local library.