This handy little ebook weighs in at only 6* pages, and is a quick, useful read for skeptics everywhere.
To be honest, it will probably prove more help...moreThis handy little ebook weighs in at only 6* pages, and is a quick, useful read for skeptics everywhere.
To be honest, it will probably prove more helpful to those acting in a professional capacity than, say, your ordinary armchair skeptic. It is very much geared toward journalists, bloggers, and others of that sort who are active in trying to debunk the myths pervasive in our society. In this case, the focus is on climate change--that is, fighting the misinformation spewed forth from the ignorant blowholes of climate deniers--but the underlying principles laid out here could undoubtedly be applied to other subjects as well, such as pseudoscience, religion, or even politics.
At any rate, that's why I didn't give it more than two stars; because it's very narrow, and it's simply not going to do much for those of us who aren't into writing articles, or blogging, or whatever. However, it is still worth taking a few minutes of your time to read, regardless. There are several enlightening points, such as this:
"When people hear misinformation, they build a mental model, with the myth providing an explanation. When the myth is debunked, a gap is left in their mental model. To deal with this dilemma, people prefer an incorrect model over and incomplete model. In the absence of a better explanation, they opt for the wrong explanation."
If nothing else, keeping these things in mind may help you the next time you find yourself in a "debate" with someone who thinks they have all the answers because of a book of Bronze Age fairytales, or because Fox News told them so.
*There are technically 9 pages, but I don't count the cover, copyright page, or references.(less)
Sword and sorcery and lesbians? Engaging starving orphan eyes--please, sir, I want some more!
No, really. I want more. W...moreSword and sorcery? Yes, please!
Sword and sorcery and lesbians? Engaging starving orphan eyes--please, sir, I want some more!
No, really. I want more. Where the hell is the sequel? I need to know if Carys and Arabella ever get it oooon. I mean, um, declare their deep and abiding love for one another. Yep, totally meant that. Heh.
Okay, let me get serious. Not that I'm not serious about the girl-lovin', of course, because...well. Have you met me?
Anyway, here's the deal: I can't pretend this book is perfect. If I'm honest--and I always am, whether you like it or not--it could use some work. You can definitely tell it's self-published, because it suffers throughout from a lot of simple typographical errors, missing words, confused syntax, that sort of thing, as well as a handful of formatting flubs that I feel confident would have been caught and corrected by any half-competent editor. And I say that in no way intending to belittle or disrespect the people mentioned in the acknowledgements section whom the author had proofread for him; I'm sure they did the job to the best of their ability, but the fact is that there is a difference, clearly, between what can be accomplished by an amateur compared to what can be accomplished by a professional.
As further evidence of this point, my biggest complaint about this book is not the basic typos, or the rest of the aforementioned, but rather that large portions of the narrative read like a summary. I will be the first to admit that Show, Don't Tell is NOT an ironclad rule of writing, as some would have us believe; it's more of a guideline, which some writers would do well to follow less strenuously. But I feel that having the guidance of professionals at a reputable publishing house would have helped Eaton to strike a happy medium, because what we have here is what should have been a 400+ page epic crammed into a mere 224 pages, the result of which is a book that feels more like an outline rather than a finished work.
And that pisses me off, quite frankly, because you know what? This book has a hell of a lot of potential. I didn't really get into it until about page 70 or so, but after that I started being pretty impressed with Robert Eaton as a writer. Despite the brevity of this book, he managed to lay the foundation for a really intriguing magical saga, with at least three concurrent storylines, and evoked some pretty badass imagery while he was at it. It would almost sneak up on me sometimes. I'd be like: reading, reading, reading--oh, hey, that's pretty cool!
And while we're on the subject of things sneaking up on me, can I just take a minute to discuss the subtle mindfuckery that goes on in this book? I don't want to give too much away and spoil the story, but let's just say that the person you think you're supposed to be rooting for ends up being, well, not. And someone you assume is only a bit player and basically disregard for at least a third of the story, if not closer to half, actually ends up being of central importance to the plot. The effect is that, by the end of the book, you're left going, "Hey, wait just a goddamn minute!" You totally don't see it coming. Or at least I didn't. I read a lot, and I'm used to seeing the same old tired tropes trotted out over and over and over again, so I thought I knew what was going to happen. I was wrong. And that, I think, is pretty fucking cool.
In the acknowledgements, Eaton states that he wrote this book as a hobby. Well, if this is what he turns out for a hobby, I would love to see what he could produce if he approached a book as a serious, concerted project. And what I would really enjoy seeing is if, at some point, he had the time and inclination to expand this book into the epic it deserves to be, with deeper explanations of the lore involved, the magic and how it works, and those bare bones sections fleshed out to tell a more comprehensive and elaborate story. But I realize, of course, that what I want to happen and what is actually going to happen have never exactly been similar, so I will content myself with a sequel. Please write a sequel? Pretty please?
Hero, as I said, is not perfect. But it is entertaining. For me, it was like reading a Baldur's Gate game. Which is awesome, of course, because I fucking love those games. (And I just found out via the magic of Wikipedia that there are actually Baldur's Gate/Forgotten Realms books as well, and now I'm peeing myself with glee, oh my god. But I won't say that reading this book is like reading those books, because clearly I have never read them and am therefore unqualified to make that assertion.) So if you're a fantasy fan, and especially if you're a fantasy fan who also likes the Baldur's Gate games--or probably any D&D-based game, really--then it might be relevant to your interests to give The Hero Always Wins a quick read. The open ending--which is not to say cliffhanger, per se--may prove a bit frustrating, but with any luck, we can look forward to seeing more (SEQUELSEQUELSEQUEL) from Eaton in the future.(less)
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is not your typical book on philosophy. It does not contain carefully constructed arguments establishing or support...moreThe Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is not your typical book on philosophy. It does not contain carefully constructed arguments establishing or supporting a particular school of thought, as you might expect, but rather the reflections of a man who was ruler of arguably the greatest empire in antiquity. These are thoughts on the qualities and virtues Marcus held in esteem, on his personal beliefs and his views on the world around him, sometimes religious, sometimes social, and his exhortations to himself to become a better person.
"Whatever anyone does or says, I must be a good man. It is as if an emerald, or gold or purple, were always saying: 'Whatever anyone does or says, I must be an emerald and keep my own colour'."
The original title of the Meditations was, in Greek*, something like: To Himself. Because, in actuality, these writings by Marcus Aurelius were never intended by him for public consumption, but were instead the ponderings and reminders and admonitions from Marcus to Marcus. A rather sophisticated diary, more or less. Therefore, there is a lot of repetition to be found here. Marcus knew his own shortcomings and was continually exhorting himself against anger, to be kind to others, to be content with the life Fate had given him to, and so on. But in between these constant reminders, and the rather tedious recitation of Marcus's** personal beliefs about life, death, and Providence, are a few gems worth digging to find.
"All things of the body stream away like a river, all things of the mind are dreams and delusion; life is warfare, and a visit in a strange land; the only lasting fame is oblivion."
Some of these reflections and philosophical tidbits resonated very strongly with me, as I'm sure they will with others, or at least spark a few deep thoughts and introspection. But I think perhaps the Meditations will be more compatible on the whole with people who share Marcus's particular brand of spirituality--not necessarily the paganism, of course, since monotheism is all the rage these days, but the general shape of his belief structure that has survived the ages. Personally, as an atheist, there was much in this book I simply could not get behind. For example, Marcus believed very strongly in Providence; the gods will provide. He believed they take an active interest in our lives, and that they have spun out the threads of our Fate and determined how they weave into the larger Whole. Those are nice thoughts, I suppose, but not ones I happen to share.
Nor do I share the belief that, because the gods have preordained the course of our lives, we should therefore be content with our lot, regardless, and not complain or wish it were otherwise. That particular philosophy is all well and good, of course, if you're at the top of the hierarchy, but I assure you that the view from below is not so good. When you're at the bottom, it's difficult to accept the men were born for each other mentality, to simply be happy with your shitty life, and not wish it were better or want to change it. Which is exactly why philosophies of this sort were invented in the first place, naturally; because if it's personally beneficial to you to perpetuate a desperately unequal class system, you don't want the lowly wretches beneath you thinking they could ever be anything besides proletarian drudges.
But perhaps I should stop there before this deteriorates into a disgruntled sociopolitical diatribe that has little to do with philosophy. My point is: I guess I'm just not much of a Stoic. I'm more of an Epicurus than an Epictetus, myself, and I think people who find their views aligned more with the latter will enjoy the Meditations more than I did.
That said, however, regardless of your personal beliefs, I feel this book is definitely worth a read for the historical context alone. I mean, how often do we really get insight into the private thoughts of a Roman emperor? (I mean, the really private thoughts, since he never meant anyone else to read these.) And not even one of the batshit Caesars, either, but one of the best loved, who earned the title of "philosopher king" in his lifetime. Surely his Meditations are worth a few hours of your time? If you're a fast reader, and if you skip or skim the notes, you can probably finish this in an afternoon, and perhaps you'll walk away with some food for thought.
*Yes, he wrote his meditations in Greek; I am not confusing my apples with my Romans.
**Marcus's. Ess-apostrophe-ess. Can we just discuss for a moment how concerned I am with the prevalence of Marcus' in the notes of my edition? I'm under the impression that Martin Hammond is from England, though I may be wrong, and maybe grammar is different in the UK, I don't know. But where I come from, since we are only discussing one Marcus, the possessive should be Marcus's. Only if there were two or more Marcuses would the possessive be Marcus'. Honestly. These academics need to learn how to use Google. Type "plural possessive" into search bar, get 1.5 million results in 0.11 seconds. NOT THAT DIFFICULT. (technologicallychallengedduck.png)(less)
It's books like The Shining that make me long for the early days of Stephen King's career. Although, can you really long for something that you weren'...moreIt's books like The Shining that make me long for the early days of Stephen King's career. Although, can you really long for something that you weren't even alive for? This book was published eight years before I was even born. But whatever. I still pine for the fjords glory days, back when King actually had something to say, and he used horror mainly as a vehicle for the underlying social commentary. Or human commentary, perhaps, since King has a way of using horror to strip away all of the social conditioning, all the ego, the posturing, of laying a person bare as an animal of base instinct and little else, and showing us the very worst about ourselves--but also, sometimes, the very best--and thus highlighting certain truths about the human condition.
Or I should say, he had a way of doing that. These days, it seems like King has gotten to point where he's writing just to write, and writing horror because it's what's expected of him. His recent works--in my admittedly limited experience, that is, I've by no means read them all--are mostly stories that go nowhere and say nothing, offering the reader cheap chills and thrills, but nothing to feel or to think too deeply about. And after having read such abortions as Duma Key (a steaming pile of shit) and Under the Dome (socially astute, perhaps, but seriously lacking in resolution and, well, a fucking point), getting back to roots and reading one of King's early novels is an almost painful reminder of the writer he can be.
Part of what makes The Shining so good is that, unlike most novels of this type, which offer a slow build meant to maximize suspense, this is instead a novel of constant terror. Even when the characters are going about their daily lives, more or less, there is an undercurrent of dread running just beneath the surface that really gets under your skin and is punctuated only by scenes of balls-out fear and panic.
And another thing that makes this book so good, what makes it truly scary, I think, is that you can never be entirely sure what's really going on. Is Danny actually having visions, or is he just a lonely little boy with an overactive imagination? Is the hotel haunted--or possessed, or whatever--or are these imaginings simply the result of fear and stress and isolation? Is the hotel really bad, an evil entity twisting Jack's mind, or is he simply going mad? The story is a constantly and subtly evolving thing you can't quite pin down until the very last chapters.
But even in the end, you have to wonder: is this really a story about an evil hotel, or is it a story about a man's descent into insanity? On the surface, it's both, of course, but personally I feel that, deeper than that, it's an analogy for a man being destroyed by his own inner-demons. After all, there is a reason the Overlook chooses Jack as its instrument. He's an asshole. Jack Torrance is a self-righteous, self-assured, over-educated, pompous, entitled prick, who holds to the belief that everything has been done to him, rather than accepting that he is in any way responsible for his own failures and misfortunes. He is a self-destructive alcoholic with a bad temper who nevertheless refuses to entirely shoulder the blame for the situation his family now faces. And when the hotel begins to prey on his alcoholism and irrational anger, and his behavior becomes erratic and even dangerous, he refuses to leave, or to at least send Wendy and Danny away, because ultimately he cares more about his goddamn self-image than about his wife and son.
In the end, Jack Torrance is the architect of his own destruction. And that is one of the best things about this book. From a literary standpoint, anyway. It's exactly what I mean when I say that Stephen King used to have something to say. Because in the real world, there are no haunted hotels--or evil hotels, whatever--despite what the History Channel might try to sell you when they're not busy covering Bigfoot or this fucking guy .There are no malevolent supernatural forces hell-bent on bringing you to ruin for whatever mysterious reason. In the real world, the only evil forces that exist are all too human, and we don't need to encounter any possessed real estate for our inner-demons to get the better of us. And that is exactly what King shows us with this book. By making Jack ultimately responsible for his own downfall, even in the face of an evil supernatural force, King is highlighting an essential human truth: there is darkness and evil all around us all the time, and inside of us all the time, but we are the only ones who can allow it to destroy us, and we are the only ones who can save ourselves from it.(less)
I really wish Goodreads allowed half-star ratings, because I just don't think four stars are adequate to indicate how much I truly enjoyed this book....moreI really wish Goodreads allowed half-star ratings, because I just don't think four stars are adequate to indicate how much I truly enjoyed this book. The King in the Window is a wonderful, imaginative work of children's literature, and I honestly can't believe it doesn't seem to be more popular. I had never even heard of it, myself; I only discovered it by accident while going through the books my aunt had set aside for charity. The title caught my eye first, of course, so I read the first page to see if it sounded like the sort of thing I'd be interested in and I thought, hey, this seems like it could be fun, I should read it before we give it away. And I'm so glad I did, too, because it turned out to be even better than I expected.
The story is about Oliver, an American boy stuck in Paris, who has few friends: Neige, the older girl with whom he is in love, but who is currently not speaking to him; Charlie, who is separated from him by an ocean; and the mysterious Zindaine, who is mentioned but never seen. Oliver attends a rigorous French école, where he does poorly because he doesn't understand his demanding coursework. He is ridiculed by his classmates and treated badly by his strict teachers. And he even feels isolated at home. He is infantilized by his mother, who spends so much time running away from her problems at home that she can't see Oliver is growing up. His father, on the other hand, seems to be standing still; a journalist who has become obsessed with the exclusive that could be the break he needs, he has withdrawn from his family and become a shadow haunting his office and staring into the computer for hours.
This is the lonely and depressing existence Oliver leads. Until the night of Epiphany, that is, when he suddenly becomes the King of Windows and Water through a series of accidents. Or so he thinks, at first. That's one of the things I enjoyed most about this book: the quality of Gopnik's foundation-building and the subtlety of his foreshadowing. Unlike most authors of children's novels, who tend to lay everything out in front of you and give you all the information you need as quickly as possible, holding only one or two things back, Gopnik instead plays his cards close to the vest, and every time you think you're starting to figure things out, he throws something else on the table and shakes things up again. Details that were mentioned earlier in the book, but that you didn't pay much attention to at the time, turn up again later on and end up being more important than ever. It's a method that makes for an ever-evolving and unpredictable story that keeps you guessing right up to the very end, and it is awesome. I love it when I can't put a book down because I can't wait to find out what happens next.
But this book is more than just a lot of fun; it's also educational. While kids are reading about Oliver saving the world from the Master of Mirrors, they can also learn a little about French culture, a little French history, a little of the language, and even a little bit about quantum theory. Along the way on his journey, Oliver visits the Louvre, Versailles, Sainte-Chapelle, and the Eiffel Tower. He meets Molière, Racine, and the Duc de Richelieu. He learns about quanta, about multiverse theory, and also about important distinctions in language: the difference between irony and sarcasm, simile and metaphor, and rhetoric. Important stuff for a kid to learn about, considering there are so many adults who don't even understand things like irony. (Hint: it's not like rain on your wedding day.)
I think the best thing about this book, however, is the message, which I think can be summed up by these two paragraphs:
...Seeing Charlie's face, newly lit with courage, Oliver knew at last what the golden lie was that Mrs. Pearson had promised to tell him about when he was ready. The golden lie was the greatest lie of all--it was the lie you told others about your own courage, in order to make them courageous. And what made it golden, Oliver saw, was that it was shiny, reflective. Your pretending to be brave when you weren't made other people braver than they really were--and their bravery bounced back on you, as Charlie's was doing now, and made you brave. The golden lie was the lie of courage when you didn't have it, which meant that you did, which made you brave.
He found his crown on the floor and, tattered and creased as the paper was by now, he put it on. He understood that to be a king at all it is necessary to act like a king even if you do not feel like a king, and that to be a good king you must first accept your crown, and wear it proudly, come what may. Courage is measured in what you do, not how you feel. Everyone is always afraid. The brave, he knew now, just lie about it better than the rest of us.
Now, some people may object, claiming that this encourages kids to lie. But I disagree, and frankly, I think to say that is to entirely miss the point. What this teaches is not that it's okay to lie, or that some lies are good, or whatever. After all, by the time a kid is old enough to read this book, they're old enough to have already learned that there is a difference between bad lies ("No, Mom, I didn't steal $20 from your purse") and acceptable lies ("No, Mom, that dress doesn't make you look fat"). Rather, what it teaches is this:
Courage isn't something you're born with. It's not something you gain magically, or that comes to you when you learn to stop being afraid. It's not something that some people have and other people don't. Anybody can be brave. Any old kid looking out his (or her!) window can be a king; you don't have to be extraordinary to change the world. All you need is to care about something enough to want to make a difference.
An important message, I think, and one that's far better than the messages kids are picking up from the television every day.
So I suppose it stands to question, if I feel so strongly about this book, why I don't just go ahead and give it five stars. And the thing is, as much as I enjoyed it, I definitely feel there were parts of the story that could have been explained better. There were certain concepts, particularly toward the end of the book, that were not necessarily hard to comprehend so much as they were hard to visualize. Now, I understand that Gopnik was probably trying to control the word count on what is already a rather lengthy children's novel (416 pages, as opposed to the 350 or less that is more common, in my experience). However, if I, as an adult, have trouble following or picturing certain aspects of a story, then imagine how the book's intended audience must feel.
Also, frankly, the very end was pretty sloppy. First of all, by the end of the story, Oliver has been running around Paris for, what, three days without checking in with his parents? His father may have known what he was up to, but since neither of them bothered informing Oliver's mother, why didn't she say anything about it? Am I the only one whose mother would have had several litters of kittens and at least one entire cow had I gone gallivanting around a major city--or any city--at the age of twelve without showing my face at home for three days? Especially after I'd already been caught lying to her about where I'd been and skipping school. My mother would not have given the barest fraction of a shit whether I'd been in the company of some famous, award-winning author, or even the President of the United States himself; if she had found out I'd cut school without her express permission, she would have shot fire out of her nostrils! No joke. And I find it a bit too unbelievable that Oliver's mother didn't have a similar reaction.
Furthermore, speaking of mothers, at the end of the book, Neige's mother is...well, I don't want to have to put a spoiler warning on this, so let's just say she's out of ambit. (Bonus points for Young Wizards reference, y/y?) And since Neige doesn't have a father, that means she's on her own until she can get her mother back, if she can get her mother back, and who knows how long that will take. Does anyone else see the problem with a thirteen-year-old girl being on her own for an indefinite period of time? Does France not have a social services department? Tsk-tsk, Mr. Gopnik, a silly and avoidable oversight.
It's for these reasons that I cannot, in good conscience, give this book a full five stars. However, I do not think that this should at all deter people from reading it.
The King in the Window is inspired and imaginative in a way that reminds me strongly of Neil Gaiman in his ability to create worlds within worlds and to make it believable. Despite being a children's novel, and though it is unequivocally a work of fantasy, The King... is a strikingly credible story about an ordinary boy who does something extraordinary. It's fun, and it's touching, and it's exciting, and it's funny, all in a way that I think should make it enjoyable for readers of all ages.(less)
Jesus, what a mess. Duma Key is the worst Stephen King book I've read since Lisey's Story. In fact, I'...moreExcuse me, Mr. King, but what the hell is this?
Jesus, what a mess. Duma Key is the worst Stephen King book I've read since Lisey's Story. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's even worse than Lisey's Story, because while that book was, frankly, retarded and had the absolute WORST plot resolution of any book EVER, it at least had the benefit of suspense. There was a clear and present danger throughout, there was a recognizable Bad Guy (along with a few other things that go bump in the night, as you would expect from Stephen King), and even more important than the fact that you had at least a vague notion of where all this was going was the fact that you could be almost entirely sure that it was going somewhere. In other words, it was what a thriller should be, at least in that respect. Duma Key, on the other hand, was...about a dude painting.
This Freemantle dude gets maimed in an industrial accident, moves to Florida, and paints a bunch of pictures. Oh, and he meets this guy who speaks Spanglish even though he's a white dude from, like, Omaha or somewhere, and also an old lady with Alzheimer's. Aaand...yeah, that's about all that happens for almost four hundred pages; Freemantle paints, and everyone is just amazed by how good he is. You only faintly have a sense that some weird shit is going on, and that mostly just because it's freakin' Stephen King, come on. Nothing scary or even particularly interesting happens until about two-thirds of the way through the book, when some fucking creepy undead kids finally show up to scare the bejeezus out of this asshole. Unfortunately, that still doesn't save the reader the horror of what comes next.
Edgar's Big Damn Art Show.
Maybe I just have no stomach for a bunch of over-educated, over-privileged, pontificating, pretentious fucks standing around jerking each other off over art--or anything, actually--but the whole thing was nigh on painful for me, particularly when Elizabeth showed up and everyone was lauding the Great Patron of the Arts, and then she started giving this horrible, stilted, over-the-top art critique. Ugh. I was actually, literally rolling my eyes by that point. I mean, it all struck me as the sort of thing you'd find in some horrendous dime-store novel, the author of which clearly wishes this would happen to him or her, and who has always dreamed of being the recipient of this brand of exaggerated praise and adoration. Gross. I expect better of you, Stephen.
After that, the real story finally gets underway and King starts elucidating his convoluted plot. Like he could have done TWO HUNDRED FUCKING PAGES AGO. Seriously. And I could have excused the amount of time and unnecessary word-count it took to get there, because I feel like King could have salvaged the book at that point, but instead he chose the single STUPIDEST method of exposition EVER. EVER. And that's what pisses me off more than anything else about this book, to be honest; Duma Key COULD have been good. Perhaps not great, but it could have been pretty damn interesting. A casual inspection of the copyright page reveals the band Shark Puppy as consisting of R. Tozier and W. Denbrough. As in Richie and Bill of the Losers Club. A clear nod, I should think, to the idea that Perse is of a similar nature to Pennywise, the Awful Monster of Awfulness from It. It is one of my very favorite King novels, though I feel there was room for more explanation about the origins and nature of Pennywise, so I was extremely disappointed by what I see as a missed opportunity here to get really meta and expatiate on an existing mythology.
So, in short, unless you're a hardcore Stephen King fan, I would steer clear of this one. The writing isn't up to King's usual quality, and considering that, in most of the book, nothing happens, and the rest of the book is blindingly stupid exposition, Duma Key isn't worth your time.(less)
Apparently, Queen Margot was originally published serially in several newspapers and magazines of the day, and I imagine that it was basically the 19t...moreApparently, Queen Margot was originally published serially in several newspapers and magazines of the day, and I imagine that it was basically the 19th century French equivalent of a soap opera. It certainly reads like one. But guess how many fucks I give? None! Not a single fuck.
Don't get me wrong--I'm really not the kind of girl who enjoys that sort of thing. Space operas, yes. Soap operas and generally similar things? Not so much. But come on, how can I not love this book? Courtly intrigues! Dastardly plots! Clandestine love affairs! Poisonings and assassinations and duels, oh my! Queen Margot is a fast-paced, high-spirited, romping adventure revolving around the 16th century French court.
Let's not kid ourselves, though. Obviously dear Alexandre took liberties with history and blurred the line between fact and fiction. But again, the number of fucks I give is holding steady at zero. After all, I didn't snatch this book off the shelf at the library because I thought it would be a comprehensive and historically accurate account of the life and times of Marguerite de Valois. If that was what I wanted, I'm sure there's no shortage of texts available to me. But no, I chose this book because it combines so many of my favorite things: history, batshit royals, intrigue, daring heroics, and swashbuckling adventure. (Oh, and a pretty epic bromance, but I didn't know that until later. Bonus!*) I figured it would keep me entertained during the long hours at the hideously boring and uneventful job I was working at the time, and I was not disappointed.
So, here's the thing: if you like historical fiction, you'll probably like this book. And if you like The Three Musketeers and other similar type stories, then you'll probably especially like this book. Just don't go into it expecting it to be anything other than what it is. Queen Margot is a fun, ridiculous, over-the-top adventure story that doesn't take itself too seriously, and if you can appreciate it as such, then you will, I hope, enjoy reading it as much as I did.
*Your mileage may vary. As another reviewer points out, there is a pretty squicktastic moment toward the end.(less)
I have a confession to make: I didn't enjoy On the Road quite as much as everyone else seemed to enjoy On the Road. I'm not sure whether it's because...moreI have a confession to make: I didn't enjoy On the Road quite as much as everyone else seemed to enjoy On the Road. I'm not sure whether it's because people had forever been telling me how oh-my-god-amazing it is, and thus I went into it with really high expectations--too high, in fact--or if it's because I'm just not a fan of Kerouac's style. Either way, I'm sure it makes me a terrible person, but there it is.
So it begs the question why I didn't simply pass on by when I spotted Book of Dreams on the shelf while raiding my local library. The thing is, I love the idea of other people's dreams. They fascinate me. Myself, I dream almost exclusively about people who never were and places that don't exist, or places to which I've never been (which amounts to about the same, in the end), whereas other people tend to dream about those around them, their loved ones, about the things going on in their lives. They dream about their hopes and their fears and their desires. To experience another person's dream is like having a window into their soul.
Book of Dreams does indeed offer the reader a window into the very private world inside the mind of Jack Kerouac. (Or not so private, perhaps, all things considered.) But that's about all the book can boast, unfortunately. One would expect someone's dreams to be written in stream-of-consciousness or similar style, naturally, but this goes right past SOC into a poorly punctuated, run-on, rambling mess that is extremely hard to follow. Reading it actually gave me headaches until I realized that the trick is to skim through the lines really quickly and just get the gist of the material. Focus on the shape of things, the feeling of it, not the finer details.
Because of this, however, I only really learned two things from this book:
1) Jack had a lot of dreams about failed or abortive trysts with women.
2) Jack had a lot of dreams about queers. (His word, not mine.)
Paging Dr. Freud...
So anyway. Unless you're a dedicated Kerouac fan, or really into dreams and dream interpretation--even more so than I am, that is--I would recommend leaving this one on the shelf. If you must, read On the Road instead; it's about basically the same exact stuff, except it makes more sense, is marginally less rambling, and is easier to follow.(less)
Under the Dome is one of those books I held off reading because of all the hype surrounding it. It wasn't just that I tend to avoid books that are rea...moreUnder the Dome is one of those books I held off reading because of all the hype surrounding it. It wasn't just that I tend to avoid books that are really popular for fear they won't live up to expectation, but also because reaction was initially pretty polarized. People either loved it, or they hated it; there didn't seem to be any in-between. And I just wasn't convinced that I wanted to dedicate the time and energy to reading a whopping 1,072-page Doorstopper if I might not even like it in the end. Life is too short, and there are too many other books to read before I die.
But of course, as time went on, everybody and their mother--literally--kept asking whether I'd read it yet. And then my sister read it. That pretty much clinched it. Because then she was all like, "You should totally read Under the Dome!" and, "So have you read Under the Dome yet?" and, "You still haven't read Under the Dome? What are you waiting for?! Do it! Doooooo iiiiiiit! You know you want to!" And finally I was like, "Okay, Jesus Christ, I'll read the fucking book!"
And I did.
So, okay, I'm glad I finally got around to reading this behemoth. It is a good book, though by no means is it one of King's best, in my humble opinion. He makes a bold statement about our current social and political climate, as he often tends to do, by taking these elements and studying them in microcosm. Because of this, Under the Dome had the potential to be a great book, except that it indeed suffers from all of the shortcomings pointed out by other reviewers.
For example, the bad guys in this book are real, real bad, and the good guys are real, real good. Too good. Now, naturally nobody expects people who are basically sociopaths to begin with--or at the very least, unrepentant assholes--to miraculously stop being horrible human beings just because some shit goes down. In fact, that's when they're at their worst. But the thing is: so are the good guys. No matter how good you are, no matter what standard you hold yourself to, the truth is that we're all just a bunch of fucking animals, and in times of disaster and panic and other general badness, that's when people do desperate things. Bad things. Things that keep you awake at night.
So here's a thought experiment for you. You're a good guy. You're trapped in an inexplicable, inescapable Dome-thing of unknown origin and duration. You're cut off from safety, help, and other normal recourse. Some half-crazed, self-righteous, tyrannical psychopath is turning your little corner of the world into his own private fiefdom, threatening not only your own life and safety, but that of everyone else in town who dares to defy him. Do you: A) live and let live, and go bumbling about trying to save the town while he thwarts you at every turn; or B) take that motherfucker out and go about your merry way?
Anyone who answered A moves to the back of the class.
At any rate, I'm not going to waste time and word count dissecting everything I found objectionable about this book. Not even the awkward, oh-dear-god-what-am-I-reading, junior-high-level sex. You know, the kind that makes you wonder how the hell Stephen King ever managed to produce three kids if that's his idea of sexytimes. And then you very quickly stop thinking about it, because ew. But I digress. I'm not going to wax critical about those things because so many other reviewers have done it already.
No, friends, I'm saving all my rage for the ending. If you can call it that. I only call it the end because that's where the pages run out, but--and correct me if I'm wrong, here--isn't the ending supposed to be where you tie up all the loose ends and bring the plot to some kind of reasonable resolution? Perhaps not an emotionally satisfying one, but at least something that readers can point to and go, "Ah, so that's how it all turned out." I guess Stephen King doesn't believe that to be a necessary element of storytelling, because Under the Dome has exactly none of that. He throws us a bone toward the end by way of some half-assed explanation about the origin and purpose of the Dome that basically implies there was no purpose. Charming. But as for the aftermath of the incident, and the ultimate fate of Chester's Mill and the survivors? Nothing. Zero. Zilch. We're left to wonder and to imagine it for ourselves. Well, excuse me if I didn't invest myself in this thousand-plus page monstrosity just to have to make shit up at the end. And I refuse to accept that this is a matter of authorial discretion rather than sheer laziness.
So, to conclude: if you're a Stephen King fan and you have the time to devote to this enormous tree-killer, then by all means, go ahead and read it. Come for the premise, stay for the study of the sociological ramifications of such an event and our complaisance toward current political structures. But if you're new to King's work, or just not a regular reader of same, I don't recommend taking this book on. If what you're looking for is a story involving the sociological impact of large-scale disaster, which also happens to include elements of horror and the supernatural, then The Stand would be a far better choice, in my opinion. It's slightly longer, and it's not perfect, but it has much better plot resolution and feels like a more complete story.(less)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is my absolute favorite book of all time.
While the story is set at the turn of the century (1902-1919) and contains many hist...moreA Tree Grows in Brooklyn is my absolute favorite book of all time.
While the story is set at the turn of the century (1902-1919) and contains many historical elements that may feel alien to the modern reader, the message that is subtly and intricately woven into the fabric of the story is one that I feel not only transcends the ages, but also one with which many of us can identify.
The protagonist, Francie, and her family represent the sort of wonderfully complex characters who come alive in the reader's mind as fully as if they were old friends. Detractors say that Francie fits the depressing Pauper archetype, who spends the vast majority of the book being beaten down by her unfortunate circumstances. For me, however, she unfolds into a delightful character who is easy to love; a heroine who strikes a delicate balance between sinner and saint, full of humor, wit, compassion, strength, imagination and a unique perspective on the world around her.
Altogether, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a fantastic book that is engrossing, evocative, poignant and inspiring.(less)
This book was cute. It wasn't cutesy, thank god, just cute. And it was much better than I honestly expected it to be. Maybe I'm a book snob--okay, no,...moreThis book was cute. It wasn't cutesy, thank god, just cute. And it was much better than I honestly expected it to be. Maybe I'm a book snob--okay, no, there's no maybe about that--but in my experience, this kind of book isn't exactly the best of style and subtance, which is why I typically avoid them. There are too many books, too little time, and I don't have nearly enough patience to waste what little time I have on reading books that are essentially empty and, in the end, impart nothing to the reader.
However, I found The Camelot Caper in the backseat of my aunt's car one day and started reading it, for lack of anything better to do at the time. (The back of one's aunt's car is not, after all, a very exciting place to be.) So then, of course, I had to keep reading to find out why this broad was being chased about England. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the author is actually a decent writer. Not amazing, by any means, but decent. She writes clearly and concisely; she's brief and subtle in the right places, while in others she paints very vivid images without being too verbose, too elaborate, or god forbid, purple.
I was a little disappointed with the ending. The premise just really fell apart, in my opinion, and I had a hard time believing that either side would simply let things go that easily. I feel like maybe Peters had an idea what she wanted to do with this book, but didn't put very much thought into it beforehand, then just tried to wrap up the loose ends as well as she could at the end. However, I enjoyed all the dry, sarcastic repartee so much, and the book is so full of little humorous bits and general snarkiness, that it more than made up for the plot holes. For me, at least. And while there was, in fact, an element of romance, it was very understated and did not gross me out at all. A-plus, Peters.
All in all, an enjoyable read for when you want something quick and light, maybe on a rainy day or when you're sick in bed.(less)
This was the hardest book for me to get through that I've ever read in my life thus far. Moby Dick is extremely dense--not stupid dense, of course, de...moreThis was the hardest book for me to get through that I've ever read in my life thus far. Moby Dick is extremely dense--not stupid dense, of course, dense like heavy. It's full of double meanings and hidden symbolism because, for a book we're not meant to view as "a hideous and intolerable allegory", it is in fact largely allegorical. And by largely, I mean the WHOLE EFFING THING is one big honkin' allegory, okay? Let's be honest. So the whole time I was slogging my way through this verbose tome of verbosity, I was constantly asking myself: what does this stand for? Does that represent something else? Is Melville being straightforward here, or am I missing the bigger picture?
This in and of itself was not the problem. Typically, I'm a fan of books wherein the larger story lies in the subtext. My problem with Moby Dick was that, frankly? I just don't care. At all. Hence, a good half to two-thirds of this book was so painfully boring to me that I was severely tempted to introduce my battered volume to the nearest trashcan. No joke.
To be fair, it started out well enough. I could appreciate and identify with Ishmael's misanthropy, with his discontent and his impulsiveness, the desperate need to get out and do something--something new and different and fucking wild--or end up self-destructing. I just wish this had stayed a story about Ishmael. Or, ya know, about Ishmael and Queequeg being gay for each other in a quaint Nantucket inn, because that is absolutely relevant to my interests. Unfortunately, the story quickly devolved into a lecture on cetology (is that even a real thing still?) and a tedious accounting of the specifics of whaling, at which point my interest waned drastically.
I suppose it should be interesting, on some level, because of the historical value. I'm not sure how many other places we can learn what life was like on a 19th century whaling voyage. But then again, I never wanted to learn what life was like on a 19th century whaling voyage because, you know, I don't care. And while sections of the book do give us a glimpse of the state of marine biology in 18whatever, unless you are a marine biologist or interested in that sort of thing, for whatever reason, the information is basically useless due to its being so outdated as to be almost entirely erroneous and laughable at best. The only parts I found even remotely interesting were those that demonstrated a tendency to anthropomorphize the whale enough to assign it a malicious nature, but not enough to believe it capable of any kind of sentience. It's a classic example of what we've seen so many times throughout history: it's always easier to kill something if you can demonize it, but not if you think of it as intelligent, or have to acknowledge its similarities to yourself. Typical human sociopathy at work.
Aside from these points, the book was filled with a lot of other crap I could've done without. Like the blatant racism present throughout the narrative, for example. Call it historically accurate, call it whatever you like, but just because I wouldn't expect them all to join hands and fucking sing Kumbaya doesn't mean I have to like the flagrant bigotry. And then, of course, there was all the horrible gross shit, like the entire section on how to kill a whale and strip its blubber off like peeling an orange. That shit is nasty. Although it pales in comparison to the part about the sharks eating their own entrails and is only slightly nastier than the part alluding to Ahab's totes inappropriate relationship with Pip.
"I do suck most wonderous philosophies from thee!"
That's just. Ew. No. Do not want. God knows I'm a fan of boylove, but even I have limits.
And while we're on that subject (the boylove, not my limits), let me just say that this book has more sperm in it than all the gay porn I've ever watched. Yeah, that much. Perhaps if it was the same variety these strapping young seafaring lads were playing about in, I would've enjoyed this book far more.
So, to summarize, Moby Dick is: a) long; b) boring; c) gross; d) really boring. And unless you've been living under a rock for the past 160 years, you already know what happens and what it's all supposed to mean. So unless you have to read it for school, or you have some deep and abiding love for 19th century seafaring stories, you freak, I would steer as clear from this book as I would from a crazy one-legged sea captain with a thirst for vengeance.(less)