Every couple of years I re-read Breakfast of Champions, always thinking it couldn't be as good as I remember, each time being proven wrong. Invariably...moreEvery couple of years I re-read Breakfast of Champions, always thinking it couldn't be as good as I remember, each time being proven wrong. Invariably I discover it's actually better than I remember, my appreciation growing with age as I approach the work from a more experienced perspective. I've re-read this several times since a favorite uncle gifted this to me on Christmas when I was thirteen (I'm pushing thirty now), but each return is for a different reason, set in motion by a different thought or experience. There's always a moment that draws me back and makes me take Breakfast of Champions from its place of honor on my shelves, blow the dust off, and read it yet again.
There's a bar on College Ave in Indianapolis called the Red Key Tavern. Maybe you've heard of it even if you're not from the area: Kurt Vonnegut was at one time a regular there, notably writing and working on several of his novels while seated at the bar's tables. This past December, being already late for the family's Christmas Eve dinner and in no real hurry to get there, the aforementioned favorite uncle took me to the very same Red Key to have a beer and cigarette where one of my literary icons had once done his thing. (True story. Being from Indy has the occasional perk.) Perhaps it's silly, but as Vonnegut has been one of the greatest influences on my development as a fledgling writer, not to mention as a human being with the power of critical analysis, that was a memorable moment for me, and that moment triggered an itch to revisit the book that was my first introduction to Vonnegut's work.
That moment was also a strong catalyst for recommending this to a dear friend of mine. After doing so, I figured I better brush up on it before he and I get into any book-related discussions at the pub. And so it goes.
Vonnegut may not have thought so, it never earned his highest marks or total approval, but this is easily one of his best works. Personally it's my favorite, the first book of his I read but certainly not the last, containing some of his most cutting social commentary. The scribbled pictures are a laugh-out-loud bonus, memorable long after the exact words have faded away. Breakfast of Champions is full of the biting satire and dark humor he's known for, fusing together and using these pages to tackle much of the inanity of American culture.
At first the presentation seems jumbled to the point of chaos, seemingly unrelated cut scenes and informational asides following one after another, but as the story progresses, all those different threads gradually come together. Nothing is forgotten. All of it is important, if one can make the connections. Everything means something, as long as you're paying attention. You know how the story itself will end, Vonnegut tells you in the very beginning, so the focus isn't so much on that as it is on being aware. Just keep reading, the rewards are well worth it.
Others have complained about Vonnegut breaking the fourth wall in this book, first addressing the reader and referencing himself, later actually inserting himself into the plot. To me, however, this seemed a natural development in the course of the story, unusual but not out of place. There's an overarching theme about the Creator of the Universe, one of the many things that tie everything together, and in this context, as the book approaches its conclusion, who else could it possibly be? At the very least, Vonnegut uses the technique to interesting effect.
Besides, there's something comical, almost blasphemous, about the mental images when Vonnegut writes things like: "Trout had had a full day already, but it wasn't over yet. Now he saw his Creator leap completely over an automobile." The Creator of the Universe, controller of everything, vaulting over a car to escape a rabid dog? Go think about it for a minute, sort out all the contradictions there, and get back to me.
But to sum it all up: Breakfast of Champions is a brilliant, unflinching read that's searing in its portrayal of the world around us, and it's a classic that was written by a master. Basically, the whole thing is fucking brilliant. What more could you possibly want?(less)
Fangirl is the kind of book I love to read: a coming-of-age story that’s sweet and funny and heartbreaking by turns with relatable characters and a ha...moreFangirl is the kind of book I love to read: a coming-of-age story that’s sweet and funny and heartbreaking by turns with relatable characters and a happy but not overly sappy ending.
[cue happy sigh]
The plot is solid, well-woven, and engaging, but Fangirl is more about the characters themselves, like any good coming-of-age tale should be. Rowell presents a deftly handled cast, some of whom you adore and others you want to give a good smack, each one distinct with no superfluous characters that could’ve been cut without affecting the narrative.
My heart broke for Cath in the beginning: all of her anxiety, loneliness, and depression were too familiar, bringing back decade-old memories of my brief stint in college. Rowell absolutely nailed this part and I love her for it, dead on without being too much. Well done.
The dynamic between Cath and Wren is gut-wrenching. Cath set adrift when her sister breaks away, lost with no real idea of who she is as Cath, not just as part of the Cath&Wren unit. Wren could oh-so-easily be dismissed as the bitchy twin, except it’s so obvious she’s dealing with their shared pain (Mom walking out, Dad’s mental instability) in a way different from her sister. She too is a girl who’s finding her own self while simultaneously dealing with her heartache, she’s hurting and, as Cath noted in the book, she’s acting out while Cath internalizes. Watching their split and subsequent development as individuals is difficult, as a reader wants to scream at them both for being idiots while at the same time knowing this is a period they need to go through—-codependence isn’t healthy. Wren was right to refuse to room with her sister, and she was right to build her own circle of friends and expand her own interests. Too bad she acted like a brat about it most of the time. Fangirl isn’t just Cath’s coming-of-age story; it’s her sister’s too.
As for Cath’s own circle, the people who encourage (rather forcefully, in Reagan’s case) her personal growth. I adored the interaction between Reagan and Cath, mismatched roommates who develop a genuine affection for one another. Reagan might be prickly but she’s also exactly what Cath needed; the two girls are complementary in their contrasts.
And with Reagan came Levi. Oh, Levi, bless his heart—his high energy, million-watt smiling, ‘always nice because it doesn’t cost him a thing’, utterly sweet heart. Everyone should know someone like Levi, and Cath’s obliviousness to his ever-growing heart eyes just made me love him more for his persistence. Refreshing to encounter a love interest who isn’t a brooding bad boy, although even a millimeter further and he would’ve been too good. Can I have my own Levi to walk me home and wait outside my door like the most adorable Labrador puppy ever?
Nick. Nick gives me angry face. (view spoiler)[Nick is the bait and switch love interest, the one you first think is the obvious choice but who quickly becomes a shady character—-I loved how Levi was the first to figure it out. Some might argue that Nick’s decision to turn in the story as his own, the one she helped write together, is a gray area, but as someone who has experienced very similar situations, I instantly felt angry on Cath’s behalf. So when Nick finally got his comeuppance, I may have fist-pumped and when she told him to go fuck himself. (I might be paraphrasing a bit there.) Perhaps Rowell wrapped up that plotline a little too cleanly but damned if it wasn’t satisfying. (hide spoiler)]
Laura, a.k.a “Mom” ...the girls’ absentee mother. Throughout the first 3/4th of the book, I agreed with Wren: attempting to reconnect with their mother, even though she walked away when they were so young and never looked back until they were adults, isn’t such a bad thing. Worth a shot, at least. I thought Cath’s reaction to her sister’s choice was a bit out of line, right up until Laura proved “she doesn’t do the heavy stuff” (as even Wren recognized and said) by walking out again. I suspect Laura’s reaction was less about the “heavy stuff” and more that she didn’t want to own her own bullshit when Cath called her out.
Cath and Wren’s father was just sweet. Screwed up but sweet. I wanted to cuddle him throughout the story.
Of note: readers can definitely skip the parts where Cath reads long sections of her fan fiction story out loud to Levi, as you won’t miss anything necessary or even tangentially related to the book itself. These really should've just been alluded to, not given in all their pages' long 'glory'.
All in all, I really enjoyed this, and I understand the hype - Fangirl deserves most of it. I harbor a soft spot for fan fiction and fanfic writers, even though it’s been a while since I’ve read any and much, much, much longer since I’ve written any, but I remember the days of fun bordering on obsession, and I remember them fondly. Fangirl's plot is solid, the characters are likeable, motivations all seem realistic, and Rowell’s writing has that certain snarky something that I always appreciate.
A little bit fluffy, a little bit heartbreaking, and happy-sigh inducing, Fangirl is a feel good read. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
"In writing, punctuation plays the role of body language. It helps readers hear you the way you want to be heard." -Russell Baker
Aimed at creative wri...more"In writing, punctuation plays the role of body language. It helps readers hear you the way you want to be heard." -Russell Baker
Aimed at creative writers (although useful for non-fiction, technical, and business), A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation is an excellent resource, one I highly recommend aspiring writers add to their bookshelves. This is not a manual; this is a guide to considering punctuation before throwing it into work without forethought, using it just because instead of using it as part of an individual style.
Lukeman tackles each punctuation mark in turn, devoting a chapter to each. Sounds boring, I know, but again, this isn't a manual or a grammar school book. Lukeman expects his reader to be more advanced than that; he expects you to already know what each mark is and what it's technically used for. As the title implies, this is a guide to style. And if you're a writer who's investigating tips for developing your own style, then you're most likely advanced enough that you already know punctuation marks and their technical usage. (If you don't, for God's sake start by learning the basics!) You don't need an English teacher assuming you're some kind of idiot, you need a guiding hand beyond the schoolbook definitions that will push you in the direction of better overall writing.
A Dash of Style provides exactly that: guidance towards developing and bettering your writing with the thoughtful use of punctuation. Lukeman emphasizes context: allowing the context to determine which marks to use and where to use them, when one choice would work but another would work better within the text, and when context would render certain ones inappropriate. He also covers things like paragraphs and section and chapter breaks, not technically punctuation but just as crucial to the flow of text. Again, he places much of the focus on context and writing for impact.
A note on the entirety: this is not a boring book. Many excellent grammar and/or style guides can be dry, acting as excellent cures for insomnia, but this isn't one of those. Noah Lukeman keeps the pace quick and to the point, and his writing is engaging. The vibrant text also refreshes, as it never insults the reader's intelligence. God bless him.
A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation is an excellent read and a must-have addition for any writer's collection. And if you read this, I also highly recommend another of his books, The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. Now go! Read! And then write your little hearts out!(less)
The first time I read Casanova in Bolzano, I was so enraptured and affected by the writing. I remember standing in line at Borders (remember when Bord...moreThe first time I read Casanova in Bolzano, I was so enraptured and affected by the writing. I remember standing in line at Borders (remember when Borders still existed?), absorbed in reading even before I bought it. Something dreamy about the words caught my attention and held on tight.
Rereading seven years later, however, I didn't experience that same euphoria, didn't make that same connection. The book is still great but, as one risks when revisiting a favorite book, not as great as I remembered it. Somewhat disappointing and I was sad to knock a star off the rating.
But is Casanova in Bolzano still a beautiful book? Yes. Still worth reading and losing yourself in? Absolutely. Still on my favorites shelf? Yes.(less)
The first time I read Coming Into Clover, I distinctly remember the ending, specifically the way I bolted down the hall, shoved it in my mother's face...moreThe first time I read Coming Into Clover, I distinctly remember the ending, specifically the way I bolted down the hall, shoved it in my mother's face, and exclaimed, "Read this! It'll feel familiar!" Good times.
My family doesn't identify as Irish American (or anything, really), but I'll be damned if Dezell didn't present a spot on description of every family gathering I've ever rolled my eyes through. From the lightning quick biting wit to the "that's a feeling and we don't talk about feelings" attitude to the Sunday mornings at Mass to the love-hate relationship with alcohol, I spent the pages laughing with recognition or occasionally squirming as she hit a little too close to home on some of the more uncomfortable aspects of the culture. Dezell pulls no punches and doesn't shy away from some of the nastier habits of the culture (the blind eye regarding alcoholism, the racism that marks a cultural history and always seems to pop up in that one family member you wish would just go away, the unfortunate habit certain people have of wearing green checked pants, etc), but she also presents the impressive aspects of a culture you might not even have realized you had, ticking off the positives in a way that can make a reader proud. Dezell presents a wide range of sources and view points, and she does so with a quick, engaging style that makes me suspect she can also claim the charm and "gift of blather" that she expounds within her own pages.(less)
Being a fan of zombies and living in a small farming town with a notorious meth problem (we seem to be a big supplier between Indianapolis a...moreHoly shit.
Being a fan of zombies and living in a small farming town with a notorious meth problem (we seem to be a big supplier between Indianapolis and Chicago), I couldn't resist Fiend. I admit, I read this for the novelty aspect of it.
What did I get? A fine book full of zombies, meth-heads, dark humor, human interaction during social breakdown, and full-fledged literary merit. Well done, Stenson.
The entire novel moves at breakneck speed, appropriate both for the druggie POV and the doomsday zombie scenario. I love how Stenson didn't screw around with a long build-up to where the story really starts, he simply cut to the chase and BOOM! Zombie girls eats rottweiler! The story starts at a dead run and never really lets up, the lulls being just long enough to take a breath before they're off again. Brilliant pacing.
There were some hiccups in the latter half of the book, certain situations felt derivative, an unfortunate occurrence that is nigh on impossible to avoid, considering how popular the zombie genre has become. However, the cleverness of Stenson's setup and original premise of the meth-using main character kept this fresh even in those few moments where you might experience a bit of deja vu.
And that ending! A sucker punch to the gut, the kind that sticks in the back of your brain after you've finished reading, the kind that is perfect and awful and writers like to shy away from.
While I can't comment on all the Walking Dead meets Breaking Bad comparisons (I only watch Walking Dead religiously, have only seen a partial episode of Breaking Bad), I can say that this is an excellent read, highly recommended. Stenson has definite skill for characters and story-telling, can't wait to see more from him.
Fiend is a breath of fresh air in a genre that's been flooded with crap the last couple years. Well done!(less)
A collection of vignettes that gradually coalesce to form a complete narrative revolving around family, death, loyalty, and love. Short, sweet, and st...moreA collection of vignettes that gradually coalesce to form a complete narrative revolving around family, death, loyalty, and love. Short, sweet, and stunning, with beautiful, simple writing.(less)
The most spot-on description of depression I have ever read, refraining from overindulgent whining while simultaneously managing to avoid feeling clin...moreThe most spot-on description of depression I have ever read, refraining from overindulgent whining while simultaneously managing to avoid feeling clinical. Brilliantly done, honest and straight forward, Styron nails it. There is an elegance to the writing that adds a layer of heartbreak, allowing something so simple and sparse to have an intense affect on the reader. In less than 100 pages, Styron did what Wurtzel failed to do in 300+.(less)
"If you happen to pass by 84 Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me? I owe it so much." I'll admit it; I got teary-eyed. A slender little book that I susp...more"If you happen to pass by 84 Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me? I owe it so much." I'll admit it; I got teary-eyed. A slender little book that I suspect has taken up a long-term residency in my memory. Excellent.(less)
A difficult, devastating read that delivers a powerful punch to the gut, a blow that's only minimally softened by Philip K. Dick's...moreFreakin' brilliant.
A difficult, devastating read that delivers a powerful punch to the gut, a blow that's only minimally softened by Philip K. Dick's black humor. A Scanner Darkly is deftly written, an incredible portrait of a gradual degeneration into drug-induced destruction, and one of those unsettling books that stay with a reader long after the back cover is closed.