Friday, February 26, 2016

Books That I Think Are "Bad"

All of the books that I would rate as "bad" will be collected here in this post. As I come across more "bad" books the list will be updated. Enjoy.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

And it's not because of the author's politics themselves but rather how they are presented in the book. The fact is this story is boring. It is too caught up trying to prove that the author's way of thinking is correct that she forgets to tell a story. There is a reason this book is not adaptable to a film, or at least a film worth watching. That reason is there is no real story to follow in the book, no characters are created that anyone would want to read about, so even if you were to add in action and spectacle the whole thing still falls flat. There are hints to an interesting story lying around: with mysterious copper mines that produce no copper, the American government scheming to take complete control of the economy using thing like mandatory amounts of books published by a publisher based on how many were published in the 'standard year' that the takeover happens, a international Icelandic pirate who raids relief ships from America to the People's States of Europe. All of these things are mentioned and discussed briefly but never elaborated upon. Now to be fare I did not finish this book. Out of 1188 pages I made it to about 790 before I finally gave up on the book. I have since read the plot synopsis as to what happens from where I stopped and I did not miss much. In those remaining 398 pages John Galt, the avatar for Rand's philosophy, gives a 70 plus page speech on just what he (Rand) believes. A very similar ending can be found in the Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

I'm sure there are a few, or many, of you out there who like this book. I do not and I recommend you do not waste any time reading it.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

It's really not fair of me to put this on the list since I've never been able to read more than two chapters. But come one book. Come on Conrad. I have tried on four separate occasions, each a year or so apart, to read this book and I cannot. Nothing hooks me. Not the promise of the plot, not the characters, nor even the language itself. It is all so boring. I hate to use that word because a boring book can be rewarding to finish, and maybe I will finish this book some day. Until that day comes this is where Heart of Darkness remains.


Here is my sword collection. It's nice to vent sometimes.

A Brief Explanation of My Book Review Scores

For book reviews on this blog I will be using the scoring spectrum as follows: 
Very Good 
Now to most of you that may look a lot like a five point system. Actually, it’s more akin to a four point system. Let me explain. 

Imagine a three story office building. Okay now imagine that building also has a basement. The basement represents ‘bad’ books. The basement is not a place where people work but is more like a storage space, a place where you would put things that you might as well have thrown out since no one will ever come down to retrieve what was stored there. Moving upward to the first floor we find the ‘okay’ books. There is nothing wrong with the first floor, its nice, a waiting room or lobby of sorts. It has some nice decorations and certainly has a purpose but it’s mostly empty and serves only a limited purpose. On up to the second floor we get the real work, the multiple use and purpose, the richness of the work that comes out of the building. The second floor represents the ‘good’ books. Most books I review may fall under the overall score of ‘good’ and though according to mathematical definitions that would make these books average for me the score is a reflection of quality. These books are good, above average. Better than okay. Now for the score of ‘very good’ we start to see the four point system. Very good books are represented by a balcony/rest area midway between the second and third floor. This is an area that allows people to relax and see the world around the building in a better way than through a window. This is a place only open to those that are already on the second floor but restricted to those who excel in the work done there. To put more simply if ‘good’ is a 3 on the four point scale then ‘very good’ is a 3.5. And finally we get to the third floor, the ‘great’ books. This floor is as large as the others but is only occupied by a scarce few. These are the folks who set the standard for what work should be. The quality that books should try to reach. These few do have access to the balcony between floors but choose rather to ascend to the roof where they might see the entire world instead of a balcony only facing one way.

This is the building.
Now that was a long explanation for what could be summed up simply as: bad=1, okay=2, good=3, very good=3.5, and great=4. For those of you who see things better if there is a number attached to it then please use those numbers to help you understand my overall score of a book. For me, I’m a words person, so I like to use words to describe the quality of a story hints the long metaphor versus a short number scale. My goal for this way of showing the quality of a story was to have a spectrum that has more positive nomenclature than negative. I think most books are worth reading even if they end up with a score of ‘okay’. There will be less books with a score of ‘bad’ for me than those that have a score of ‘great’. This might make me seem too optimistic or maybe too easy on books that you might give a less favorable score. I’m okay with that. We are all going to have strong opinions about what is good and great, and what is bad or worse and I am no exception. We all have swords.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Books I Think You Should Read, part 3

The final countdown has reached zero (part 3) and as the kids are saying these days: its an oldie but a goodie.

Call of the Wild by Jack London

Synopsis (from Amazon) “The story opens at a ranch in the Santa Clara Valley of California when Buck is stolen from his home and sold into service as a sled dog in Alaska. He progressively reverts to a wild state in the harsh climate, where he is forced to fight to dominate other dogs. By the end, he sheds the veneer of civilization and relies on primordial instinct and learned experience to emerge as a leader in the wild.”

And so we end this series of recommendations on a book about a dog, from a dog’s perspective, if that dog was Jack London. This book is great.

Overall this book is the easiest to read and the most straightforward in style and plot among the books I've recommended in this series. There is no additional content necessary to understand this story and there are no mental acrobatics necessary to understand what the story is telling. The only hill that needs to be overcome is that the main character is a dog named Buck and the narration is, for the most part, from Buck’s perspective.  

Jack London’s construction of Buck’s perspective, though distinctly dog like, is also very human. You start to believe that these are the things that person might actually do. Buck labors with others to accomplish task of those in authority. He must adapt to extreme conditions and survive deadly climates. He fights against those that wish to oppress him. He find lasting and loyal friendship and is driven to do terrible things when that friend is attacked and killed. All of these things are distinctly human. The Golden Gate like bridge that Jack London had built between man and animal in Call of the Wild gives a greater understand of humanity, that comes so more easily from this type of writing, which leads to a greater empathy for people in general.

Because of this strong connecting to humanity while using a non-human perspective Call of the Wild also acts as a gateway book to those stories with odd perspectives found in fiction. Lets look at an example of this. If I were to tell you about this really cool book, great world building, well thought out and empathetic characters, an epic struggle against oppression while trying to build a new life you might say “that sounds cool, tell me more” to which I would respond “it’s called Watership Down and it’s all about rabbits” to which you might respond with “okay…” and walk away wondering why are we friends. This is only a slight exaggeration of every case in which I recommend Watership Down to people. A book about rabbits is a hard sell to a lot of people and yet if you can be swept away by the life of Buck then you will be more open to reading a book about rabbits.

This was one of the first books I ever read that made me want to read and so holds a special place in my heart. It may not actually be your cup of tea, whether you like it hot and Earl Grey or sweet and iced, yet I say give it a try. It’s easy to read, easy to understand, and will open you up to a whole world of stories you never even considered before. (Fun fact, you can download the ebook of Call of the Wild for kindle for free, so there's that.)


We've come to the end and what a wild ride it as been eh? Well not wild, but fun. Fun for me at least. I hope these recommendation help you who are reading to broaden your reading horizons, or if you have never sailed the waters of fiction before, then I hope they have given you the final push to come and get your sea legs. Be on the look out for more book reviews to come, new and old, along with some posts about creative writing in all its forms. You may not  always agree with what I have to say, especially if its about a book you hold dear, and that's great but I ask that you respond not with bladed edge but rather with kindness and grace and I will strive to do the same. We all have swords but let us all strive to live our lives in a way that we will never have to unsheathe them. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Books I Think You Should Read, part 2

Part 2! Part 2! Who could believe we would make it this far? I know I had my doubts. But since you're here I suppose you could take a look at my next book recommendation. 

If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino

Synopsis (from Amazon) “If on a Winter's Night a Traveler turns out to be not one novel but ten, each with a different plot, style, ambience, and author, and each interrupted at a moment of suspense. Together they form a labyrinth of literatures, known and unknown, alive and extinct, through which two readers, a male and a female, pursue both the story lines that intrigue them and one another.”

It took me three chapters and rereading the synopsis on the back of the book multiple times to figure out just what in the world Calvino was doing with this book. Every other chapter, labeled with numbers, is set from the perspective of You, the reader. The other chapters all have titles, because they are all the first chapter to ten different fictional books that You the reader are reading. And You the reader turns out to be a character within the novel that meets a girl in a book store reading the same fictional titles books you are reading and on and on and on. Also romance ensures (which I do have a soft spot for well done romance).

If you hadn't noticed yet If on a winter’s night a traveler belongs to the genre labeled metafiction and this was my first rodeo into said genre. I absolutely fell in love with it. Metafiction is a wonderful genre that wants you to read the book while realize you’re reading a book. Why is that important, you might ask, or more importantly: why is that cool? Here’s why it is cool. If you are reading a book that is on some level aware that it is a book or rather makes you aware that it’s a book then you become involved in the story. Literally. You are now a part of this story because the story recognizes you as a reader and also itself as a story. The story transcends your own imagination, becoming tangible, a part of your life beyond what you see in your mind. The interaction of the author and the reader becomes something more than storyteller but rather a real life tour guide through some already lived adventure. With the author addressing the reader the story seems to resemble a person's journal or someone recording history instead of some author making everything up. Though you must in some ways use your imagination when you read history, the accounts seem real and hold more meaning since real people lived through those events. Metafiction brings that same feeling to a reader while still maintaining that its all just a story. I know that may not makes sense for you if you haven't had the opportunity to read metafiction. The feeling of disconnect alone, of almost believing a tale that continues to claim it's not true while using techniques that make it seem like a historical account, though overwhelming will bring a new appreciation not only to stories themselves but to how people tell true stories. 

If on a winter’s night a traveler is not the first book to employ metafiction in this way or even to use metafictional writing in the most interesting and engaging way (see House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski) but I believe it is a seminal work within the genre. The story itself is engrossing and the metafictional structure and writing only add to the enjoyment instead of distract, which you run the risk of doing when you write metafiction. If you want to try out this genre this is the book I recommend. Be warned though, this is a challenging book to read. It can at many times seem slow (boring) but I believe it's worth while to finish even if it feels more like work at times than play.I know it is difficult to do, to read a difficult or even a seemly boring book. And yet if you're going to commit time to read a story wouldn't you want to spend that time reading something that's going to be great? This book is great. The effort is worth the adventure. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Books I Think You Should Read, part 1

For my first post I would like to answer that very popular question that I rarely get asked: What books would you recommend I read above all others? It’s a short list of long parts so I've broken it down into three. I think these reading recommendations will serve as a good introduction to my way of reviewing fiction and also a glimpse into what exactly I like in fiction or what kind of fiction remains with me emotionally and intellectually. Well, without further ado, here is the first of three (though they are in no particular order).

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

Synopsis (from Amazon) “In the aftermath of his terrible war, Ender Wiggin disappeared, and a powerful voice arose: The Speaker for the Dead, who told the true story of the Bugger War. Now, long years later, a second alien race has been discovered, but again the aliens' ways are strange and frightening...again, humans die. And it is only the Speaker for the Dead, who is also Ender Wiggin the Xenocide, who has the courage to confront the mystery...and the truth.”

This is an odd one to start with because it comes with caveat. Since Speaker for the Dead is a sequel to Ender’s Game it would be helpful to go ahead and read Ender’s Game first before you dive into Speaker. A side note here: Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead are the two books that helped me formulate my definition of what makes a good book versus what makes a great book. (For those of you just dying to know that definition is: a good book is one that you cannot put down but must consume and consume as if your life depended on it; a great book is one that fills you with so many questions, emotions, and understanding that you must put it down and rest for fear you will be overwhelmed and die.)

Alright, so back to Speaker for the Dead. This book is very different from its predecessor in that there is little space action, or action at all, going on. The book is made up of people talking about who they are, how they relate to the aliens in question, and how should they react to their alien neighbor's odd and violent customs. The growth of Ender Wiggin from child prodigy to full adult, who is still a genius, but not as special or rather special in his infamy shows a great depth of character. The reflection of humanity within Ender is much clearer than most would like to see when looking at a fictional mirror. Sci-fi is supposed to take us to the stars and the future, to places and to things we can only imagine but also believe we can attain. Sci-fi is hopeful in its outlook and melodramatic in its forecast. And yet science fiction has always been like a corrective lens to our lives, a magnifying glass to the dim and sometimes distant problems of the world. Speaker for the Dead does not come up lacking but shines brightly into the fog of our world and its problems and prejudices. Couched within the mystery and violence that these new aliens follow, we the readers begin to see what it means to know someone who is different and to connect with someone whose culture has no context within our own. We begin to see all people as just they should be seen, as people.

If you’re not ready to take a long look at yourself and your own prejudices, because despite what we would all like to believe we all have them, then I would save this book to read for last from this list. Any book that makes you look at yourself and see the flaws within you, lets you see them as flaws, and then shows you that they must be changed is a powerful and worthwhile work of fiction. I wish I could say I could not put this book down but I cannot. I had to put it down, multiple times. It was great.