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Something Like a Review – Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

January 19, 2014 Leave a comment

It’s no surprise that when this book came out, I snapped it up at my local brick and mortar (albeit big chain) book store. I wanted it. Had to have it, but I was skeptical. I felt content that Danny Torrence got his deserved “happily ever after” when the smoke cleared and the therapy was concluded and perhaps after his hefty share of mood-altering drugs. I mean, it would be only fair after you lived through that kind of hell in the snowy Colorado mountains, right?

I bought it even though I was trepidatious, and I didn’t really have any concrete expectations of the book, which is probably a good thing. I’d read little bits and pieces of information about it, and it was enough that I thought I’d be able to engross myself in it while on vacation.

I’m glad I didn’t have any expectations; they probably would not have been met.

Doctor Sleep was not a bad book. It had some really interesting angles and elements, but it just didn’t…work for me as a sequel to the life of Danny Torrence. Even with his past, I feel like this could easily have been another character with the same “shining” he had and the story would not have suffered from the change.  The only thing I can think that might have changed my perception of the book was how long ago I read The Shining. While it wasn’t that far back that I don’t remember it, it’s far gone enough that I don’t vividly remember most scenes. Don’t get me wrong, the book left enough scars on my brain that they won’t ever be gone and I get chills thinking about spending a week in the Stanley Hotel (more about that later), but you readers will understand. I know, I remember, but they are the slightly sunbleached memories of paper decorations left too long in a window.

The True Knot’s pursuit of and acquisition of steam was great, and I liked precocious little Abra as much as I liked Danny when he was little. Danny seemed real, and genuinely a kid of a traumatic childhood, but in a sense, it felt like he was living the epilogue to his father’s life. The sins of the father, so to speak. His challenges were great, his guilt and his demons his own, but it just felt like something was missing from this book, though I don’t think *what* is something that can be defined. It was a pretty quick read for me, partly because the story is King’s typical ramp from the mundane into a crescendoing race for your life, and partly because I was invested in knowing what happened to Danny and how it all worked out in the end. I liked the book, but I didn’t love it and for a devout King fan-girl like me, that’s saying something.

Medium: Dead-tree version from brick-and-mortar store. 

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 3 stars

Potential re-read: Maybe. When I have time, I may re-read The Shining and then go right into this one to see if it changes my perception of the book.

Dead-tree worthy?: As a collector of Stephen King books, yes. As a reader, this is a hefty volume to house when one is not in love with it. It’s hard to say. “Maybe” is the best, most clear answer I can give. YMMV.

Life is Too Short to Read Bad Fiction

January 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Life is too short, and I think I’m finally beginning to understand the value of my time.

That’s not to say that I’m any better at spending it productively.

I’ve spent many nights mindlessly gaming on my device of choice with reruns of Adult Swim in the background. It helps my brain unwind. Even last night, I spent way too long messing with sudoku puzzles (pencil/paper versions, thank you very much) because I felt that unplugging was more beneficial than (enter mundane chore, task or responsibility here). That’s only partially procrastination-related bullshit. I do feel better actually having down time, but I get caught up in the inertia of being down and I have to better structure my time.

One of the things I’ve been crowing about for some time is my discovery of audiobooks as a way to increase how much I’m able to read in a given year. It’s been a fantastic tool, I am happier for being able to delve into a story and make use of otherwise “lost” time. It’s not uncommon for me to listen while I drive, do the grocery shopping, file my Magic cards, or while doing any other mundane little task that doesn’t require 100% of my brain power. I am also slightly more likely to branch out and read something outside my normal preferences since it’s not devoting any of my precious non-working/non-writing/non-schoolwork/non-sleeping time.  Since there’s a little more bravery and sense of adventure, there’s also a more opportunity to get a stinker.

Ok, that’s an exaggeration. It’s all perception and personal taste. For example, I don’t like the smell of Chanel No.5; in my opinion, it stinks, but many others disagree. As much as I’ve read, I’ve encountered books that were painful to read. In the past, I’ve spent eye-rolling hours trying to slog through terribly writing and/or poor characterization (**cough**Twilight**cough**), lame plots, annoying characters/POV and a multitude of other literary sins because I wanted to either see what the hub-bub was about, or with the hopes that the ends would justify the means, or out of sheer guilt for leaving it unfinished (Moby Dick. Seriously. It’s been years and I cannot get through the damned thing…). The ones that I struggle with most are the stories that have good writing, good characters, and in which somewhat interesting things happen – but I just don’t care about. It’s not that there’s anything really wrong, it’s just…not for me. Here upon the spire of guilt I’ve impaled myself in the past.

I have discovered that I have a much lower tolerance for this kind of “pain” when it’s being piped into my brain through my ears. Instead of being able to soldier through, I have to stop. This is “reclaimed” time, and I refuse to lose it to something I can’t tolerate. One such audiobook from last year stands out (though I will not reveal which one it is simply out of courtesy). It’s not that the stories were poorly written, I just didn’t care. The stories were depressing and the tone of voice of the performer was a downer on top of that. I’m not (entirely) nihilistic and the whole ironic, disjointed dystopian style of story-telling irritated me. It reminded me of the overly pompous stories I used to workshop in college, where a bunch of idealistic, naive college freshmen would put out short pieces of High Literature giving Grand Insight into the Human Condition with pride and expectation of laurels from their peers. Most of the time, they just made my eyes bleed and made me question my own ability to tell a story. These were the kind of stories that would once have made me cringe with a sense of inadequacy, but now just piss me off by holding me hostage as I drive/grocery shop/file.

What I’ve learned since then is that taste matters in writing, not just skill. I can rail against the success of garbage, but the fact of the matter is it resonates with someone, even if they can’t tell quality from a hole in the ground. And maybe there is quality there I cannot appreciate, even if it only for picking it apart to figure out what was “broken” for me. I am not a book abandoner, but I think that there may be merit in doing it more often when a book is rankling my nerves, and maybe there really isn’t anything to feel guilty about, especially when there are so many more books I want to read. (You know you have a problem when your digital TBR pile won’t all fit on your iPod – and that’s only the digital pile.) There are many more that are more with my time (and sanity), and realizing this makes me feel a little better about it. Time will tell. Thankfully, this isn’t something that happens often, but I doubt I’ll hesitate so much in the future.

Something Like a Review – The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

January 13, 2014 Leave a comment
read by Jake Gyllenhaal

The Great Gatsby

I read this book many years ago. At the time, my intentions were ignoble at best. I was in high school, in the midst of college application chaos an trying to prove to the world that they wanted me, that they wanted to pull me out of the tiny little town I’d grown up in and pay for the pleasure of doing so. I think part of me was pretty frustrated and disenchanted with the whole process. While I didn’t know exactly what my parents could afford, I knew that they cringed with the names of colleges  and the names of their respective cities were mentioned. That disenchanted part seemed to think that I didn’t belong to that world, or somehow, wouldn’t make it. That I was trying to slog through The Fountainhead and come up with something profound to say about it only seemed to confirm this.

Of course, my friends were going through similar things, though perhaps without the exact same concerns, doubts and stresses. We didn’t talk money, and their aspirations seemed far more realistic and achievable than my own. When we talked about the various hoops of our respective applications, a friend of mine was reading The Great Gatsby, and seemed to have interesting and profound things to say about symbolism. What bothered me most about this was that she was a science major and I was the book nerd. I was supposed to have deep things to say and she was supposed to struggle with art. Needless to say, this did not contribute to my overall positive perception about my future. In a blaze of confidence, I picked up the book and burned through it. Too fast, perhaps since it left little impression on me except about fake people, mint juleps and confirming my desire to live an urbane, cosmopolitan lifestyle. It must have assuaged my concerns about my literary bankruptcy since I managed to get through The Fountainhead and compose an essay that Sarah Lawrence College deemed acceptable for admission.

When the movie came out, I made a mental note to retread the book, irked that I couldn’t remember much about it. Since Audible seems to be my savior when it comes to wanting to read something without wholly dedicating time to doing so, I found a copy narrated by Jake Gyllenhaal and plugged in.

The first thing that struck me was that the language Fitzgerald used, and I was very aware of his merits as a poet. Though it sometimes struck me as a little overblown, the language was something that felt distinctly out of time. It felt like the glamour and intricate delicacy of the 20’s and how the decorous often hid ugliness and brutality.

Though I won’t dwell in on the details of the story, since the plot is pretty well known (if probably distorted by Hollywood), a few things stood out to me in this revisit that seem worthy of comment beside the language. First, the character development that hinted at depth in intentionally shallow people. Their superficial behaviors masked the reality of emotion behind them, or the intentional ignorance of them. Instead of allowing the characters to be as shallow as they wanted to be, Fitzgerald gave them depth they denied  and sometimes worked to eliminate. Second, the eggshell fragility of beauty he used to encapsulate even tragedy. Listening, there was a sense that examining what happened too closely would fracture the beauty he created. It was like listening to the tragic photos of a disaster and finding them breathtaking and ethereal, but lacking horror. Lastly, there was a sense of relevance, even today. While not in the same context, and lacking some of the contemporary distractions, the same superficiality still persists in pop culture. Instead of watching from a table in the party, we watch Gatsby parties from the comfort of our couches. We plunge ourselves into celebrity-stalking, make people famous for being famous, idolize the vanities and declare ourselves entertained. Though this story is almost 100 years old, it retains a vibrancy that bridges the distance of time.

Medium: Audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 4 stars

Potential re-read: Yes. Even though there’s a veneer of superficiality about the story and the characters, to the ambitious (and/or philosophical) there is great potential to mine for meaning and depth. If nothing else, the story stands the test of time and can easily be related to the current state of the superficial in current American culture.

Dead-tree worthy?: I’m torn on this. To some, this is a no-questions-asked staple. To others, it can be moving in just about any format. I think this one should probably start out as a a library borrow and then translate into whatever suits the reader best. There will be some who won’t understand it, or won’t be able to see its value, and frankly, I’d rather see a copy sit on the shelf for someone who can appreciate it rather than be bought and discarded for no reason. Even though this story has been around longer than anyone I know, don’t get too excited about finding a public domain/Project Guttenburg copy online; due to copyright renewals, that won’t happen until at least 2021.

The 2014 Reading Non-Challenge

January 8, 2014 Leave a comment

Last year, I set a goal of reading a list of 30 books for my 2013 challenge. While I surpassed that number (I read something like 40 books – but I haven’t finished listing them to know for certain), I didn’t manage to get through my actual list. I think part of this is a.) I’m very easily distracted by shiny new books, b.) trying to fish through my TBR pile is a treacherous endeavor, and c.) as amazing and wonderful as Audible can be, I don’t always relish spending credits on an audiobook when I have the physical copy. Not to mention that I’m more likely to try something as an audiobook that I wouldn’t pick up as a physical book. Part of this latter bit is that I can listen to an audiobook ANYWHERE without requiring time spent devoted to the book. I can do dishes, clean the house, file Magic cards, fold laundry, drive or even grocery shop while listening to a book instead of sitting down with all of my attention and time focused on the pages before me. This is much easier to take, especially if I’m not sure if I’m going to love it or not. There have been books (like I am Malala) where the audiobook led to the purchase of the physical copy, and there are some books that as good as they were, I am glad I don’t have to find some way of liquidating the copy to free up shelf space for something more intellectually valuable for me.

Instead of saying that I’m going to read a specific list of books, as I have over the past few years, I am simply going to say that I will read 45 books in 2014. This is a slight stretch beyond where I was last year, but I think that it will be achievable. (Hell, by the time I’m done with all my reviewing, I may have read that many last year. Either way, keeping that pace while taking 9 credits of classes is an achievement, in my opinion.)

I will still keep track of the ones I want to read, because even though I didn’t read them, I still want to. Here’s last year’s amended list:

  1.     The Legend of Eli Monpress (omnibus) – Rachel Aaron
  2.     House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski (in progress)
  3.     Lovecraft Unbound – edited by Ellen Datlow
  4.     Darkness – edited by Ellen Datlow
  5.     The Ghost Pirates -William Hope Hodgson
  6.     The Kingdom of the Gods – N. K. Jemisin (the remainder)
  7.     Book of the Supernatural – edited by Stephen Jones
  8.     Salem’s Lot – Stephen King
  9.     Conjure Wife – Fritz Leiber
  10.     Dreams of Terror and Death – HP Lovecraft
  11.     V Wars – Jonathan Mayberry
  12.     The Summoner – Gail Z. Martin
  13.     Mad Kestrel – Misty Massey
  14.     Richard Matheson: Collected stories 1
  15.     Richard Matheson: Collected stories 2
  16.     Richard Matheson: Collected stories 3
  17.     Burn, Witch, Burn – A. Merritt
  18.     Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell (in progress)
  19.     Thanks, But This Isn’t for Us – Jessica Page Morrell (the remainder)
  20.     The Trouble with Eating Clouds – Edmund Schubert
  21.     To Walk the Night – William Sloane
  22.     The Dream World of HP Lovecraft – Donald Tyson
  23.     Necronomicon – Donald Tyson
  24.     Alhazred – Donald Tyson
  25.     The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There – Catherynne M. Valente
  26.     Darker Than You Think – Jack Williamson
  27.     The Dark Descent – edited by David Hartwell (the remainder)
  28.     Scattered, Smothered, and Chunked – John Hartness
  29.     Luka and the Fire of Life – Salman Rushdie
  30.     Boneshaker – Cherie Priest

Some of the books I’m adding to my “To Read” shelf in Goodreads this year include some actual classics and others that are more modern classics. Many of these, I have already read, but want to revisit for various reasons. Some of them, I’ve never taken the time to read before.

  • Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury (re-read)
  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald (re-read)
  • Les Miserables – Victor Hugo
  • To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  • The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
  • Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass – Lewis Carroll
  • 1984 – George Orwell (re-read)
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
  • American Gods – Neil Gaiman
  • Vathek – William Beckford
  • Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson (re-read)
  • The Turn of the Screw – Henry James
  • The Terror – Dan Simmons
  • Books of Blood – Clive Barker
  • The King in Yellow – Robert Chambers
  • A Song of Ice and Fire (The Game of Thrones series) – George R. R. Martin

Let’s see how far we shall get. I’m already one book down for 2014, so yay me! Let’s hope I can keep up this kind of pace and hit 45 this year!

Beginning with Ending

January 5, 2014 Leave a comment

I made enough resolutions in my life to realize they’re all bullshit. I’ve probably even ranted on this blog about how it is too socially acceptable to fail at implementing resolutions to make them a credible way of committing to change, but I’m too lazy to go fishing for it. (Not to mention the fact that I’m downloading and streaming so many things at the moment, it would take FOREVER to open another browser to search.)

So this post isn’t about what I’m going to do better in 2014, nor is it about the nasty little habits I’m going to obliterate. I have my share of both, of course, but I don’t have any active plans in progress to change them at the moment. Instead of being a “new year, new me,” post, this is focused on how I started my year by ending.

One of the things I’ve learned about myself is that I am fantastic at getting a project going, or kicking off some major doing. I can even get to the middle of it, but the problem is that once I let the enormity of it really sink in, I get stuck. Think Artax in the Swamp of Sadness. Yeah. Sinking in the muck of “Holy shit, what have I gotten myself into?” So instead of starting a million new things (which I’ve proven over and over that I do perfectly well), I spent the first week of the new year FINISHING things. This is more of a challenge for me than dreaming up new things to do. I did some time cleaning and realizing that I have a half a billion craft projects started and none of them finished, a bunch of stories started and abandoned when I lost the gusto for the newness of the story, or realized that it was going far past the intended scope, or that the focus had shifted from the bright, shiny idea or a thousand other little flaws. Instead of making my traditional list to deal with all these tangled little ends, I sat down and finished some of those craft projects, which is a fantastic excuse for camping out on the couch and watching the LoTR marathon on Spike. I packed up some things I know I will not use, no matter how much I want to, and prepared them to go to Goodwill where someone else will hopefully make better use of them. I have spent time each day working on those wily little stories to wrangle them into some kind of submission so I can finish them, even if they amount to nothing other than skill-building. In some small way, I helped bring some of the chaos and distraction to a lower level by bringing things to a close instead of drowning in half-finished, incomplete things. It’s like washing away guilt and starting my 2014 with a sense of accomplishment, a little decluttering and spending time doing things I don’t normally take the time to indulge in. I hope this is a portent for the year to come.

Another thing that I will be finishing this month will be the epic list of book reviews that I was supposed to take time to write while I was on vacation in December. While that didn’t happen, I still have my notes for these books and I will finish them as I intended. The writers deserve as much, as do the stories. Look forward to those, just be patient, school starts before long and academic hibernation will probably take over before long.

I hope you all had a great new year and I hope you’ve had a positive start, however you choose to kick it off. How do you start your new year? Do you make resolutions and will you keep them past the first quarter of the year?

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