Monday, September 3, 2007

Review of "The Story of B"

Maybe if I had read The Story of B to its conclusion before writing a four-part rant (I, II, III, and IV), the rant would have been more coherent. But as a writer with some sense of self-worth, I stand behind my rant.

Anyhow, Daniel Quinn's The Story of B feels a lot different at first than the books directly involving the telepathic gorilla sage Ishmael (the books Ishmael and My Ishmael). Without giving too much away - as there are a couple of decent plot-twists along the way - the story involves a priest named Jared, of a fictional Jesuit-like order, whose task is to find out if the lecturer called B is the Antichrist. Conspiracy-like behavior ensues, but probably not to the degree of a Dan Brown novel, but who am I to say that, as I have never read a Dan Brown novel. I've seen The Da Vinci Code movie, though.

So scratch my ignorantly smug Dan Brown novel references. :-)

B, being one of Ishmael's former students, pretty much reiterates a lot of Ishmael's syllabus in the section called "The Teachings of B," at the back of the book. While you're reading the story, there are asterisks and footnotes that lead you to the appendix. They're integrated quite well, as you'll read a blurb from Jared's journal (the section called "The Story of B" at the front of the book) detailing the story events, and after Jared sits down to hear one of B's lectures, there will be an asterisk that refers to "The Teachings of B," which are fictional transcripts of the lectures.

Sometimes, though, flipping back and forth between the two sections of the novel gets a bit tedious. And if the teachings of Ishmael are fresh in your mind (preview 1, review 1, and review 2), the Leaver and Taker lectures get a bit redundant. The conversational flow that occurs in the Ishmael and delightful occurs in My Ishmael, is stunted in many parts of The Story of B.

That might be all for the best, on the other hand, if you have the foreknowledge that "The Teachings of B" appendix can be redundant. If you're well-versed in Ishmael-ology, by all means, the flow of the book gets better if you skip the appendix. You can always go back to that later.

Once you get past the flipping back-and-forth momentum killer, you'll see the similarities among all three "An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit" books. As Jared gets closer to B, there will be Ishmael-esque Socratic dialogues - or at the very least, one-on-one tutorial time between the priest and the teacher. That's why I stated earlier that the book feels different than the other two books at first.

Storywise, you can probably make a movie from the parts. It might not have a creepy, offensively albino monk, but the religious deconstruction that permeates throughout the novel is potentially controversial. Without giving too much away, there is some antagonizing/romantic chemistry between the priest and B's right-hand woman. You'll have to read how far that goes in the book, but the love interest storyline could definitely be amped up by an unscrupulous Hollywood bigwig producer, much to the chagrin of the fans of the book. Wow, how many film adaptations of books have done that?

All in all, for the above reasons, The Story of B was actually a more difficult read than the two books directly involving our friendly neighborhood telepathic gorilla. I suggest the obvious of reading Ishmael first, as a primer or litmus test, then either going on to The Story of B (technically the second book and a possible primer for the last book) or My Ishmael (chronologically concurrent with the first book but builds upon the ideology of both books).

On a slightly related note, there's a misprint in my copy of The Story of B, as there are two divisions entitled "Part Two." Basically, in "The Story of B" section, it goes: Part One, Part Two, Part Two, and Epilogue. Fortunately, the second "Part Two" reads like a "Part Three."

A commenter suggested to read Daniel Quinn's Beyond Civilization, which I think is a collection of essays further developing Quinn's neo-tribal, animist philosophy (or ideology or even theology). I'd like to thank Howard of for the suggestion, and one day, I hope to pick up that book. But for all intents and purposes, for the time being, I'm moving on the the next author. Any suggestions?

Postscript: I personally have a suggestion for you, the reader, as well as for myself. Speaking of interesting characters named Jared, there's a scholar and author named Jared Diamond. A couple of years ago, he appeared in a documentary based on his book Guns, Germs, and Steel. I watched the documentary, which covered similar ground to the "An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit" trilogy. My suggestion to the both of us is to check out the actual book Guns, Germs and Steel. (On a hilarious note, call me crazy but Jared Diamond's voice sounds like a Bostonian Ray Romano. Again, call me crazy...)

Post-postscript: I still highly recommend Pearl Jam's Yield. The band apparently passed the first Ishmael book around during the writing and recording process of the album. Plus, it's my favorite Pearl Jam album.

Post-post-postscript: The film Instinct was apparently "inspired" by Ishmael. I'll have to check that movie out eventually. I personally think that the two books Ishmael and My Ishmael combined and adapted can make a good movie, but there I go - being the unscrupulous movie producer mentioned earlier.

1 comment:

  1. Hey again. Just thought you might be curious to know that Quinn addresses the film idea several times in his Q and A section. For example here and here.

    By the way, if you're looking for next books to read, you might enjoy a peek through my Amazon store since it seems we are likeminded thinkers. And if you see anything missing from my lists that you think I might like, I'd love a recommendation. I just picked up Small is Beautiful by Schumacher, which I'd never read yet, but have heard mentioned often.



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