This is a book that I wish I had read it in a class, with a passionate teacher and a group of classmates that would share their reactions and opinions with me. So many ideas bounced in my head as I listened to an excellent rendition of the book by Peter Francis James and I immediately wanted to re-read it and to jut down the numerous memorable quotes since, alas, many still applicable when it comes to race relations in the United States. Shouldn’t this be required reading in ALL high school English classes across America?
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by Alison Bechdel
I savored every page, every sentence, every word of this graphic-narrative memoir. Still didn’t pay enough attention to the details of each panel and will hopefully go back to the book one day to closely examine all the illustrations as well. The tenderness and unflinching truth=telling of Bechdel’s own painful life events touch me deeply. A sense of vicarious catharsis presented itself every time I opened the book in the past few days. I want to “study” this literary masterpiece in an English class so badly — to engrave every overt and covert meaning onto my mind!
by Iain M. Banks
This second volume of The Culture series by Iain Banks kept me entranced throughout its sprawling telling of a brand new “universe” in my reading world.
Banks created a Utopian future where ownerships of objects, places, or people (as in, exclusive relationships) are no longer the norm and where sexual identities and preferences are all treated equal: in fact gender changes and and having partners in both genders are considered common place. In such a “Culture,” how do people entertain themselves and what matters and what matters not? Fun questions to ponder and explore. However, most of the story was set in the off world of Asad which bears similarities to our own human world — or perhaps the more barbaric ages of our world. Asad’s social structure is highly organized around rules and punishments — and there are some very cruel ways that criminals are dealt with (also what constitutes a “crime” can be quite shocking.)
I enjoyed reading the many theories of how the games are constructed and played and the author kept me guessing as to what the outcome would be. Thanks to my role playing game friend Brian who introduced me to this book! I’m onward to the first book of the series: Considering Phlebas.
by Neil Gaiman
This is typical Gaiman: disturbing and unsettling little scenes, interesting observations of human natures, everything floating in between waking and dreaming. My favorite are the longer tales, “The Truth Is A Cave in the Black Mountains,” “The Sleeper and the Spindle,” and “The Black Dog.” The first two are folk/fairy tale reimagined, while the last one is an American Gods’ short with Shadow’s adventures continuing. Another small dosage to hold us over for the sequel to American Gods? Calendar of Tales with its many weird crowd sourced tales is also highly enjoyable. Oh, I can’t wait to actually WATCH a special episode (of the 11th doctor and Amy Pond) made based on “Nothing O’Clock.”
I never watched the entire Fight Club movie — only bits and pieces. Now I have to find time to watch the movie in its entirety to see how they managed to adapt this superb novel into its very successful screen counterpart. Granted, I probably do not wish to see all the gruesome and gross scenes literally translated for film, although those are the scenes that definitely appealed to my reading self. Whether it’s intended by the author or conjured up by my own protective mechanism, the over-the-top crazy schemes and bloody messes always seem to take on a humorous tone — sometimes light and oftentimes really dark, but always laugh-out-loud hilarious. I can see re-reading it in a few years just to trace the narrator’s slow unraveling and downfall and see all the telltale signs of the final reveal along the path. Can’t help but giving it a five star, highly recommended rating!
Although so much of the book seems like Common Sense to me, it’s always great to be reminded of our own biases and strategies that can alleviate tension and reduce misunderstanding and thus foster a positive learning environment for our students. I felt my time worth spent on this volume.
by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples
Every bit as entertaining and thrilling as the first volume. This one contains chapter 7 to chapter 12 — with beautifully rendered bloody and sexually explicit scenes. What I reacted most strongly and favorably to are the cast of characters. I hesitate to call them endearing (except for perhaps Marko and the Lying Cat) since many of them are so severely flawed and I probably will not want to deal with them in real life, but they definitely have sharply defined forms and the plot moves plausibly in accordance with their individual personalities.
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Read by Anthony Heald
Finally read (listened) to this classic and totally understood why its fame and popularity have held up for almost a century. The tragic love story is laid out so well, subtly at first, then with more and more clarity and force until the readers cannot but detest almost all of the players between the covers, and couldn’t help but pitying Gatsby. It is interesting to me how the “glamor” part of the book is so short and so hollow and yet that’s the imagery most associated with the title. And Nick Carraway definitely is not the naive youngster but an observant, empathetic, and gentle soul whose involvement in all the affairs is not due to his infatuation with wealth and power but due to his willingness to treat others with decency. Perhaps that IS a form of naiveté — but there is a nobility to it and you don’t want him to lose it.
I find it slightly unsettling how Fitzgerald strays from the confine of a first person view point many times to describe in details both factual and emotional events that Carraway (the first person narrator) could have never directly observed. I imagine this shifting of limited first person POV and an omniscient narrative passages is greatly discussed in classrooms around the country. I wonder if anyone writing novels today can get away with this inconsistency?
by Brian K. Vaughan; artwork by Fiona Staples
The first six installments (chapters) of a supposed Space Opera definitely grabbed my attention and my heart. The world is ingeniously built, with interesting and outlandish “races” — I adore the reddish ghost girl who has only top half her body…. not quite sure how I feel about the computer monitor headed royalties… I hope the story unfolds with a lot of creativity and depth. My strong and enamored reaction to this book came largely from Fiona Staples’ lush artwork. I don’t feel like calling her just “the illustrator” because I feel that she did more than mere illustrating what’s given to her — but expanded and enhanced this fictional world and its inhabitants with grace. I look forward to the next volume!
Ah.. this is really not meant for children — even though I know quite a few of my younger teens have read this (on their own, not by my recommendation.)
by by Stieg Larsson, Reg Keeland (Translator)
Audiobook narrated by Simon Vance
I have SO many issues with this book. The top three:
It has the longest, most boring exposition section of pretty much ALL the books I’ve ever read. The tedious laundry lists of the company and personal histories that do not propel the story and also do not really illuminate the personalities that much more made me want to just KILL the audio!
I find neither of the protagonists portrayed convincingly to fit the author’s high esteem of both: Mikael does not quite “show” how he is the most moral person as proclaimed by other characters and the narrator; and Salander seems to me more broken and angry than badass and vulnerable. I really don’t find her appealing. But, hey, I’m not a fanboy/fanman of this character.
I am not particularly squeamish or prim when it comes to book/story contents — as long as I feel that whatever details or events included in the book serve some literary, storytelling, or creative purposes. But for some reason, the portrayal of Salander (the female protagonist) really bothers me — her “toughness” and lethal personalities, mixed with her supreme helplessness and brokenness are all probably very realistic (I’m no psychoanalyst) and yet this mixture does not appeal to my sensibilities at all. The fact that so many young and middle-aged men highly recommended this book to me, and especially expressed their appreciation of Salander as a cool character made me actually uncomfortable and worried.
This, along with some other children’s and Young Adult books I read in 2013 featuring “tough girls” made me start pondering about the current trend of readers’ readiness and urge to applaud tough female characters in books. Because, it seems to me, that instead of patience, resilience, open-mindedness, what I consider true strengths in human spirit, many authors have been creating vengeful or single-minded “tough” female characters whose most prominent and “appealing” personality is rooted mostly in aggression: a traditionally (and physiologically?) masculine trait. What are we applauding then? Are we praising a female character because she is free to be “whomever” she wants to be, liberated from the traditional and “weak” traits associated with femininity – or are we just saying that she is to be lauded because she behaves more like a male specimen since masculinity is clearly superior?
I will be reading many many 2014 Young Adult books this coming year and how young women are portrayed in these books will be something I pay special attention to and report here.
By the way, here’s a funny re-title from the site: betterbooktitles —
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by David Sedaris, read by the author
Finished listening to Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk… here are my thoughts: I was really smitten with this audio production and the stories at the beginning — Sedaris is definitely hugely talented and oh so so very clever. And the excellent reader/actors (David Sedaris, Dylan Baker, Elaine Stritch and Sian Phillips!) definitely enhance the listening experience. However, half way through, I realized that Sedaris’ life view is just too bleak and his humor too mean-spirited for me at this time of my life. I almost cringed at the thought of listening to the next grotesque and undoubtedly bleak tale… … but I went on and finished the book — and enjoyed The Grieving Owl (toward the very end of the book). Looking back, that might have been the only story that I could say that I truly enjoyed (about 95% of the tale… the ending wasn’t pretty and I didn’t much love it). I almost wish that I had not encountered some of the denizens in this story collection or witnessed that much ignorance, vanity, pride, and all kinds of unattractive human traits, even when the author’s intention is to belittle and make fun of these traits. Now, I cannot unread or un-know these stories. Shucks!
Vol. 1 (Day1) : The Name of the Wind and
Vol. 2 (Day 2): The Wise Man’s Fear
by Patrick Rothfuss
Altogether, these two volumes are more than 1,500 pages long and the audio book versions took about 61 hours to finish. I mostly enjoyed the listening experience: the first volume is definitely tighter and since everything is new and the world is un-encountered before, I had a little more patience in all the details that Rothfuss put into the tale: colors of people’s clothing, the types of foods, some basic societal rules, etc. And there are definitely a lot of thrilling moments and some good passages.
The Wise Man’s Fear, though, suffered from being too detailed at moments, too many similes thrown into the passages (that really could and should have been edited OUT of the tale,) and just too long. I am really annoyed by authors who decided to use a particular narrative “device” and could not keep to the simplest or fundamental rules of that device. Here, each volume is supposed to be tales told to the scribe within the duration of ONE SINGLE DAY (where people do go to sleep, where the current day contains events such as robbery, lunch, fighting, etc.) So, almost 1000 pages of words (no matter how FAST one might be able to speak or write down the words) simply don’t compute.
One learns in writing classes that in order to create convincing and lifelike characters, one must know all the background stories (what colors they like, who was their first crush, when was their first experiences of fear and when and why and how, etc.) of the major characters. But so much of these details should remain in the mind of the author. Once in a while, perhaps, something can be drawn out and fill in a missing piece of a character’s traits. But, the Wise Man’s Fear is full of such details breaking through the backstage door and cavorting on the main stage. It just didn’t work for me.
I also got quite bothered by Rothfuss’ insistence of describing every single emotion or experience with a comparison to something else. It is OK, Patrick R, to sometimes just say that you feel soothed by someone’s voice without having to compare the soothing feeling to a mother’s gentle touch to a child’s cheeks and the voice is just like a lover’s breathy whisper by your ears. Some figure of speech enhances a narrative, but overindulgence in such narrative tool becomes tedious eventually.
All that said, did I love a LOT of what went into the books? Absolutely. I loved the world building, the mystery, the tentative romantic relationships, the exploration of language, means of communication, and how world history can be shaped and reshaped. And I will definitely read (or listen to) the final installment when it is published next year. Still a series worth recommending.
by Allen Moore, Kevin O’Neill, Ben Dimagmaliw and Bill Oakley
The concept of bringing a lot of 19th century literary characters together to solve a mystery is definitely a fun one — although not unique, at least, not any more in an age of mash-up stories. I enjoyed spotting literary allusions and also learning more about characters or original stories that I was not familiar with. The art is superb. The section with all the Chinese dialog is actually fairly accurate. Kudos! I think I’ll go over all the panels more than once just to enjoy the artists’ talents. Another aspect that’s extraordinarily fun is how the whole thing is done in an 1898 serial publication style. All in all, worth my time!
by Neil Gaiman
This is typical Gaiman: the nightmarish landscapes and events are always presented with a reassuring glow of beauty that makes the scene and the story much less horrifying. Rather, it becomes purely entertaining. A bit of chill here and there and things mostly work out — except that there is always that trademark tinge of melancholy – like a lonely tinkling of a music box that plays a haunting and unfamiliar tune, slowly coming to a pause. The book reads like an expanded short story and I think it probably would have benefited from being a short story, rather than a novel (which even though meets the “novel” length requirement, reads more or less like a novella, with such a local setting and a tight plot time frame.)
Did I enjoy it? Definitely. Did it sweep me off of my feet? Not like some of his other work did in the past. However, since Gaiman proclaimed that this is as close to an “actual account” of his childhood as he could manage, the readers do get a glimpse of this creative writer’s mental landscape and the psyches that bring us illuminating stories.
I got a bit curious about the definition of novels, novella, etc. by length, and found this list on the Nebula award:
- Short Story: less than 7,500 words;
- Novelette: at least 7,500 words but less than 17,500 words;
- Novella: at least 17,500 words but less than 40,000 words
- Novel: 40,000 words or more.
- At the author’s request, a novella-length work published individually, rather than as a part of a collection, anthology, or other collective work, shall appear in the novel category.
On the same site, I also found an article about the definition of “a word”:
“So, years ago, publishers set up a standard definition: a word is six characters (including spaces).” — more detailed explanation and rationale for this can be found here:
by Frank Herbert
I was much more impressed with the book during the reading of the book than after having finished it — largely due to my expectations of having something transcendent, something heart-felt, something truly world shattering that the journey might have led to than what actually transpires at the end. I definitely liked the world building, the presentation of technology and training of various warrior/assassin types, and the drawing upon non-Euro-centric traditions in constructing the beliefs and social structures within the world of Dune. (And the Sand Worms… are such cool Desert Dragons!)
With such a rich and realized world, in the end, the book is just a fairly standard story of a hero that’s born with amazing abilities who cannot escape the paths set up for him and who walks all the way to the end as destined and even though losing a few precious things along the way, there seems to be little to no effect on his person. Much of the plot is propelled and explained away with mysticism and basic political maneuvering. At a certain point, I muttered, “Paul’s better not succeeded in accomplishing this as he has planned…” — but, as always, he did. He managed to achieve all that he set out to do, from outwitting enemies, to changing the ways of a tradition, to earning back trust easily from his old pals. Yes, he did lose a son in the whole process — but his reaction? They would be able to create more heirs and the heirs will inherit the world.
The volume ends as the two generations of concubines having a short exchange where Paul’s mother assures Chani (his true love but not the proper empress) that even though they would never have the title during their lifetime, they will be remembered in history as “Wives”!! Woop-dee-doo! What an achievement!
Granted, it was created in early 1960s and perhaps Herbert was not trying to question science or future worlds as harshly as we might these days — I still couldn’t help but putting a 2013 lens on it.
I know I will not be reading the sequels any time soon. I searched and read some book summaries of the two sequels — it seems that the question of lineage and political power play are even more centralized in the next two books. Definitely not too exciting for me!
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by Emma Donoghue
I definitely was expecting a slightly different book after hearing about it from many students who were enthralled by the book, describing it as a “psychological thriller” and very creepy. It turned out to be more about the process of socialization of a semi-feral child and the power of persisting maternal and familial love. The strength lies in the author’s deft encapsulation of the inner and exterior voices of a five-year-old (super intelligent) child. I do question the utter success of the escape and the short time it takes for both the boy and the mother to adjust / readjust to the Outside — with the understanding that this is not a psychology textbook but an author’s imagined world. I listened to the audio book version and the voice actors are simply superb!
by Neil Gaiman – read by Neil Gaiman
This is a short stories collection from 1998. As I love Fragile Things and especially love how Gaiman reads his own tales — he is quite a voice actor, changing his tones, inflections, accents — all dexterously and effortlessly and all quite fitting the characters, the advantage of having the author (who is a good storyteller) reading the stories.
I did not love all the tales — not even most of them. Of the 31 tales and verses, I think I only really enjoyed about a dozen or so. Something felt lacking — quite a few seem to be character sketches or exercises in painting imageries and building atmosphere, for something bigger and more complete — but not deep or polished themselves. I often enjoy Gaiman’s somewhat dark or even brutal (and honest, perhaps?) depictions of sexual acts in his writing for adults. But, I found myself slightly appalled by certain gratuitous passages, shaking my head, gently whispering in my mind, “Neil, you did not have to resort to this — the story itself is strong and intriguing enough…” — but, of course, many of these stories were meant to be slightly pornographic (light erotica) — I just didn’t quite prepare myself for so many of them being this way. Now I’ve listened to it once, I’ll be able to go back and pick out the tales that I want to listen to over and over again (like quite a few of those in Fragile Things) and also figure out why some of the stories did not work for me the first time. (They might grow on me upon repeat listening.)
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by Lev Grossman
I have several different layers of reactions to this book.
Started reading it when it was first published and didn’t quite manage to get too far. I was sufficiently intrigued by the premise and the tone (smart and snarky and somehow languish as well — there’s a definite “drawl” in the sentence delivery here) to pick it up again and finish it this time around. And gosh, how much I HATED parts of the book!!!
Good things first: Grossman definitely knows his fantasy tropes and knows how to subvert some of the conventions. Magic isn’t easy. Magical lands can really hurt/kill you. Being a magician might not be as glamorous as one think. And he definitely delivered some cool inventive magic powers in the book. I love the transformation from human to geese, the various elemental and physical magic spells and powers, and the time/space travel scenarios, among many other minor and interesting magic tricks.
But.. but… but…. Quentin is SUCH A BORE. Such an angsty whiny little man that I simply couldn’t muster any compassion for him and his predicaments. The constant search for happiness and the disappointments, the high school and college romantic affairs that turn out to be just petty relationship drivels. And Alice as a super-magician was just a convenient device so she could save the day and sacrifice herself so that Quentin can somehow have a revelation (a bit too little too late) at the end of the tale.
Grossman managed to create a really unattractive fantasy book that makes me want to cry… in making sure that the readers realize that magic and the fantasy world is Real and is Hard and is Dangerous, he also made sure that much of the charm of a great fantasy novel is destroyed by his words.
Upon discussing this book with my teen readers, though, I realized that perhaps it’s just me being a middle aged reader who is tired and sick of anything dealing with relationship conflicts. These high school readers sense and fantasize about all those college romances as something to ponder and to look forward to and to experience in their near future. So, those quarrels, sex partnering, betrayals, loyalties, etc. add to the attraction of the book, not diminish it. I heard that the sequel is better.. should I continue??
by Grant Moorison, art by Dave McKean
To some readers, namely my 12-year-old students, this book is a total disappointment. It has the brand name Batman on the title. It IS a sort of origin story — of the Arkham Asylum which houses many infamous villains, including the Joker, of the franchise; and it does have segments with Batman in them. But, they feel somehow cheated because there is almost no treatment of the fight scenes during the Hide and Seek game on the Asylum Ground. A couple of pages, with McKean’s signature dream-like artwork hastily showing Batman dispensing of all the Asylum inmates, are all they got out of these fight scenes. And as super hero comics readers, they were not satisfied.
I felt differently. As a McKean art adorer, I enjoyed all the panels, both the really detailed close-ups and the dream-line distanced treatments. And I am totally ok with not “watching” longer sequences of the fights. I enjoyed the psychoanalytically inspired (albeit superficially so) back story of Doctor Arkham more than my students. However, I won’t say that this is one to highly recommend to either Graphic Novel enthusiasts or novices.
V for Vendetta
by Alan Moore
art by David Lloyd
I really appreciated the intricate storytelling and some of the truly dark moments in this complete collection of the V stories. It’s great to finally know what this classic graphic novel is about and to have read something by the famed Alan Moore. At the same time, I’m not sure that I bought all the philosophical and political views underpinning the characters and the plot line: it seems to run too straight and too narrow down one singular line and everything worked out all according to V’s plans. That said, it is a rewarding read that demands quite a bit of focus and now I have to ponder hard about the ending: is it a brilliant treatment or does it too abrupt and unresolved? I’d love to hear others’ opinions on the series’ ending…