Monday, October 17, 2016

Review: On Writing

On Writing: A Memoir of the CraftOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pretty much the greatest book on writing you could ever possibly read. If you do read this book-and I highly encourage you to do so-then you never have to go to a single writing seminar in your entire life. I should know since I've been to several, and none of them match the direct simplicity of what makes for good writing as this book does. It doesn't hurt that Uncle Stevie is super humble and is like a friend throughout the entire lesson. This book has reinvigorated my love for writing. It helped me get at least a good 8000 words in my latest novel, which has stalled a bit ever since my wife and I had our first child. In every single way, if you write, then this is a must-read. Like you haven't read it already...I know I'm very late to the party.

View all my reviews

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Review: The Outsiders

The OutsidersThe Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, here's another book I probably should have read in school. The Outsiders is really well-written for an author who was only about 17 or so when they wrote it. I think I've been spoiled by all the tropes that this book helped to lay out as far as teen gangs and such. The plot was a little soft, but the characters were interesting and well-conceived. It's a tad bit dated (Even though I thought it was written in the 80s rather than the 60s), but it's an interesting and fast enough read to recommend. Not like you haven't already read it. I'm really catching up with some of these books.

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Review: The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. Just a staggering work of fiction. Margaret Atwood provides probably the second most harrowing and compelling picture of a dystopian future of all time. The first, of course, is Cormac McCarthy. But nobody is beating The Road. Nobody. What makes this story so unique is the feminist outlook, which shows just how terrible men are to womankind. The best science fiction talks about current issues, and this book, written in the 80s, seems more relevant than ever, what with the fight with Planned Parenthood and a woman's right to choose. The Handmaid's Tale is a futurists outlook on how things were back then, and it resonates loudly since so little has really changed. It's just a phenomenal story. I recommend reading Tess of the D'Urbervilles as a companion piece for a whole other look of female oppression. I'm sure you've already read it since I'm apparently the very last person on Earth who has, but if you haven't, do. Prepare to be amazed and sickened.

View all my reviews

Monday, August 8, 2016

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two (Harry Potter, #8)Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child should be called, Harry Potter and the Search for More Money. This is such a crummy cash-grab that I'm really surprised that J.K. Rowling would read the script and then say, "Yeah. That's cool. Let's make this canon." It's just so poorly written that I can't stand it. It's certainly the worst play I've ever read before in my entire life.

The characters are an annoyance rather than full of life like in the novels, and there is virtually no magic in this play whatsoever, whereas the books were nothing but magic. I don't even think seeing this performed would make it any better what with all of these corny lines, and its stupid plot. Harry Potter's son, Albus, and Draco Malfoy's son, Scorpius, go on an adventure together. But what really annoys me is that it centers on my favorite book in the series, and just makes a mockery of it with this story being so crummy. I cringed throughout most of the script and couldn't believe that it was so bad.

Also, and this is SUPER annoying, but one thing that I loved about all the Harry Potter books is that even though they had these really strange subheaders (i.e. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), you always found out later in the story why it was given that strange title. But even after finishing this book, I couldn't tell you who the "Cursed child" is in question. Why is that? I understand the idea of, "Hey, let's let the reader decide for themselves." But if a function of all the titles for The Harry Potter books was to reveal what this has to do with the wizarding world of Harry Potter, then why stray from that tradition? Honestly, this play makes me question why I fell in love with Harry Potter in the first place. A waste of time, paper, and the actors who fill out these roles. Don't read it.

View all my reviews

Friday, July 29, 2016

What Makes a Book "A Classic"? And Are Critics Wrong?

Just recently, I finished reading Under the Volcano, which the Modern Library calls the 11th best novel out of 100. But here's the thing. When I say "reading," I'm taking huge liberties with the word since I really just finished skimming the book. That's not to say that I didn't give it an earnest effort. I sat and really tried to pick apart the book and take my time for the first 100 pages. But after that, when I realized that not much was going on at all (on the surface) and that the plot could really be summed up in a single sentence--A drunkard drinks a lot, finds a dead body, and then, bad stuff happens--I kind of found myself skimming whole chapters and then looking up on wikipedia to make sure that I got all the key details from each chapter, which I had.

So, why is this a classic? Well, most would say that it's the prose itself that makes the book so noteworthy, or that it has all these crazy references to other classic books that makes it such an enjoyable read (It's like the Paul's Boutique of novels).

But whatever the reason, I just couldn't get into it. There are whole chapters that are just inner monologues that really felt like they were going nowhere, and it just wasn't an enjoyable book in any way. The same goes for Lolita, which is number 4 on their list.

While I made a real effort to finish Under the Volcano, I honestly couldn't get even remotely close to finishing Lolita, which was just too boring for words. (I'm not too big on the Kubrick movie, either, so maybe I just don't dig the story). But that's what makes the list so weird. You have books like those, which are undoubtedly the stick your nose in the air kind of titles, and then you have genuinely interesting, plot-driven books like Slaughterhouse-Five, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, and Brave New World (Which is actually quite high at number five). So what's going on here?

One might say, well, duh, books are beloved for different reasons, and I get that. But how do you have such artsy-fartsy books like Under the Volcano and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and then have a book like Slaughterhouse-Five, which has a subplot involving a man's beliefs in a planet called Tralfamadore? More importantly, do the critics really know or have a say in what can even be considered one of the "best books" in modern literature?

And what's really interesting to note is that if you look at what everyday readers consider the best modern novels, they have a whole bunch of wacky L. Ron Hubbard books, as well as that nut, Ayn Rand, and her objectivism. Atlas Shrugged, it should be noted, isn't even ON the top 100 list of the modern library. Neither is anything by sci-fi writers, even though many would consider Foundation by Asimov a classic. Or does genre writing not count at all when considering the "best" modern books?

That's why I believe that it isn't really much to put stock in either the critics or what general readers would consider great literature. Personally, my favorite book is A Confederacy of Dunces. I don't think it's great because of the writing, which I actually thought was kind of so-so. It's because I honestly couldn't stop laughing at certain moments, and I just really loved the characters. Especially Ignatius, who is my favorite character that I've ever read (Oscar Wao is a close second). I like it because I think really fat, obnoxious people are funny, and I can understand if others don't enjoy a story that could follow such a ridiculous human being, but then again, I'm not calling it the "best" book, which I think is too grandiose a word when considering what a book sets out to be in the first place. But then again, people like to point out how intelligent they are, so books like Ulysses, or movies like Citizen Kane, act as the sort of cornerstone for pedantic people. I don't know. Either way, don't read Under the Volcano if you're looking for an enjoyable book. It may be considered one of the best modern novels, but man is it boring. But that's just one ardent reader's opinion.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Book Introductions: Do they need to spoil the plot to get their points across?

I'm reading Under the Volcano right now (And not liking it so far) and have had a great portion of the book spoiled. Do you want to know why? It's not because somebody told me about the book and recklessly told me key plot points. It's because I read the introduction, which in itself revealed major plot points to discuss overarching themes and to make comparisons to other work. But why? This is not the first time this has happened to me. In fact, it happens all the time. Whenever a scholarly dissertation is made on a famous story, one thing that usually happens is that the scholar will say, this happens because of this, and this represents, yada, yada, yada, but why is this put at the beginning of the book? I could understand if you've already read the book. But if you haven't, you're basically getting an unasked for Cliffnotes version of the story that you were actually excited to read. Why the hell would they do this?!

I mean, if this content was put in the afterword, then that would make a lot more sense. I mean, NOW you could tell me why this character did this or that since I just finished the book. But by putting all that information in the introduction, it totally destroys any reason to even read the book, other than to understand what the introduction is connecting to the overall content. But that seems so backwards! Why do that?

And I already know what you're saying. You're saying, hey, numbnuts, if you know this is a problem, then why do you read the introduction in the first place? Well, first off, don't call me numbnuts, and secondly, not all introductions are like this. I feel that there are many instances that in order to even understand the book, especially if it's old and has details that wouldn't be understood by a modern audience, then the introduction is necessary. The book It Can't Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis comes to mind.

In that book, Lewis referenced several political and media figures of that time that I would have no idea about if I didn't read the introduction. Did the writer of that piece spoil some of the key details of the story? Yeah, he did. But I feel that the book would have been incomprehensible, at least from an historical viewpoint, without that insight. So for those kinds of introductions, I don't get TOO upset. But when your introduction mostly reveals plot points of MULTIPLE books to compare it to the book you haven't even read yet (as does the intro for Under the Volcano), well, then you've pissed me off on multiple fronts! Don't do that!

But what are your thoughts on the issue? Do you skip introductions altogether, go back to them once you've finished the book, or read them before the content like I do? I'd like to hear your thoughts, fellow readers. Please leave them in the comments below.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender-The Search

Avatar: The Last Airbender - The SearchAvatar: The Last Airbender - The Search by Gene Luen Yang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I seriously love, love, love these graphic novels of Avatar: the Last Airbender (I'll have to check if they have any for the Legend of Korra, which I actually prefer to Avatar). These stories fill in so much and actually seem necessary to fully understand the characters of TLA, which is what all follow-up stories should do. I think of it like DLC, in book form. This story concerns Zuko's mother, which was always a great mystery on the show. All those answers are revealed here in a very satisfying way. My only complaint is that it's so short. I read the entire thing in the span of my daughter's nap time (and I spent $40 on it!). If you're a fan of Avatar, you must read this book!

View all my reviews