Book Reviews

Book Review: The Gunslinger

thegunslingerFor years I spent my summers working for a local theater company, Georgia Shakespeare (may it rest in peace). Aside from the gorgeous repertory productions they put on every year, meeting new people from all over the east coast, lovers of theater trying to make it in the field, was the best thing about the company. One of these folks, a boy with piercing blue eyes who liked to drink too much beer and play Pearl Jam on his acoustic guitar, gave me his copy of The Gunslinger the last night of the season.

I didn’t like westerns much at the time, and after leafing through a few pages, I put it down. But year after year, when I would cull my book collection this one always stayed on the shelves, never quite making it to the donation box.

Then, a few months ago, a famous author and two famous actors sent the internet into a flutter of excitement with three tweets.

gunslinger twitter
Credit: VF

I figured now was as good a time as any to pick up and start again. It was one of the first tolerable days of spring. The nip in the air from our short winter was gone, but it was still fairly cool, even in the sun. I grabbed a long sleeve t-shirt, a decaf coffee, and The Gunslinger, and sat down in a camp chair on our front porch. Eric came out with his phone, ready to read whatever Cracked article would tell him the most about science, when he asked me what I was reading. I told him it was a Stephen King fantasy, and that they were making a movie starring Stringer Bell and “Alright alright alright”. His interest was piqued, but he continued with his Cracked articles.

The next day, I found him on the front porch with my book in hand.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Reading.”

“But I’m reading that.”

“Okay. But I like it.”

“…Do you want to read it together?”

And so, together we read The Gunslinger, mostly on our front porch, mostly drinking a bourbon or a beer, me reading aloud playing with voices. We read about Roland Deschain, his dark history, the town of Tull, Alice. We read about the tragedies of Jake Chambers, the muties, the search for the Dark Tower. And we read about the Man in Black.

This story sucked me in from the start. I don’t know how I wasn’t compelled the first time around, but every time I put this book down I was sad to leave. The world of the Gunslinger is fascinating and familiar, and also completely foreign and inexplicable. Roland is a complicated and mysterious man, his mission simple and yet hard to pin down. His relationship with Jake Chambers – sweet, confused, wise, Jake –  is something that both softens him, and almost derails him from his path.

What is the Dark Tower? Why is Roland drawn to find it? The Gunslinger asks so many questions and gives very few answers. Obviously, we’ll be picking up the second book of the series. 5 Stars

Book Reviews

Review: & Sons

And SonsWhat a gorgeous novel. This was my first selection from the Book of the Month Club, selected by Josh Radnor. I was so incredibly pleased. The plot summary mentioned that the novel is book ended by deaths, and the reviews I read begged the reader not to let the morose subject deter them. I’m so glad I didn’t, because getting to know the Dyer family was a sad and wonderful journey.

The novel is told in first person by an unreliable and inconsequential narrator, and yet somehow the focus is able to shift between various players who don’t share a space with him. And while this could make for a frustrating, plot hole driven experience, Gilbert has masterfully created a character so pathetically drawn to this family that it only seems natural that he would know what each member is doing at any given moment.

This is not a novel with fast action and plot twists (though it has one or two). It is a beautiful study of a genius going mad, and how his talent and self-destructive nature impacts the people he loves the most – a somewhat familiar tale.

The prose are lovingly crafted by Gilbert, shifting subtly depending on the character in focus, and I wanted to devour every word. I lingered on paragraphs, awestruck by some of his turns of phrase.

This book is not without it’s faults though, and I can’t write about it in 2016 and not mention the stark lack of diversity – in race, gender, and privilege. With one brief exception, the “view point” characters are white, abundantly wealthy, and male. I loved reading about them, their motivations, and their struggles, but even while enjoying some of the most lovely parts of the novel, a nagging voice in the back of my head asked “Haven’t we read this before? Over and over and over?”

I still love this novel, unabashedly, and will recommend it time and again. Simultaneously, I will hold out a small bit of hope that talented writers like David Gilbert will use their pens to write pieces that are slightly more modern and inclusive. 4.5 Stars

Book Reviews · DNF

DNF: A History of God

I bought this book in 2007, half a year out of school, still trying to impress the boys reading Noam Chomsky and The Economist.

I’ve always found religion, history, and human nature fascinating and full of layers. At 22 years old, with more time on my hands than I knew what to do with, and fresh out of new episodes of Friday Night Lights, I wanted to read books that piqued my interest and enlightened me. Or at least I thought I did.

Non-fiction, even the most highly rated and captivating, has always bored me. I wish it didn’t. I know there is so much to learn from memoirs and academic essays. But the books I’ve found the hardest to push through (with a few exceptions) fall squarely into the non-fiction category.

Unfortunately, this book joins that list. I have picked it up and started from page 1 more times than I can count. In 2007, I thought perhaps I needed more patience, less distractions. I bookmarked page 17 and left it to sit. I picked it up, started over, let it sit. Picked it up, started over, let it sit.

Earlier this year, I picked it up again. Craving some exercise for my brain, begging to be enriched, I thought “Now is the time!”

And I finally, after 9 years, finished chapter 1. As a Jewish person, reading such a detached and historical depiction of the Hebrew tribes was difficult and eye-opening. But the style is still dry and any hint of story telling is still far too academic and impersonal for me.

In a work of non-fiction like this, the detachment is probably for the best. There is no judgement of religion, no qualitative assessments, no clear preference. But I’ve found that those sorts of author-biases are what drive me to continue. So this is obviously just a personal preference, but this book is not for me, and after almost a decade, I’m putting it down for good. 2 Stars

Reading List

Reading List: July 5, 2016

Heat & Light: A Novel, by Jennifer Haigh

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel, by Susanna Clarke

Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea, by Chelsea Handler

Dreams from My Father, by Barack Obama

First Love, Last Rites: Stories, by Ian McEwan

On Deck:

The Rowan Tree, by Robert W. Fuller

Mr. Kiss and Tell, by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

Waking Kate, by Sarah Addison Allen

The Beggar King, by Oliver Potzsch

Before the Fall, by Noah Fawley

Modern Lovers, by Emma Straub

The Veins of the Ocean, by Patricia Engel

Sleeping Giants, by Sylvain Nuevel

Missing, Presumed, by Susie Steiner

Lost Lake: A Novel, by Sarah Addison Allen

First Front: A Novel, by Sarah Addison Allen

Notes on Reading

Notes on Reading: Hello Again

It’s been a while. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

A few months ago, I stumbled onto a wonderful blog called Modern Mrs. Darcy. Anne is a reader – an avid reader. She posts reviews, recommendations, reading lists – and my personal favorite – literary flights. After a few weeks of following her blog, I realized we have very similar tastes in books, and began a list of her recommendations.

Then I picked up a book and started reading.

Summer is usually the easiest time to get lost in a book. Work slows down. Week long vacations loom. Porch sitting beckons.

For me, this year has been a glaring exception. Eric and I recently purchased our first house, and between the house-hunting, the closing process, and the packing – life has been cluttered, inconvenient, busy, loud and stressful. But I found that sitting in front of the TV with my fiance was just not a relaxing way to calm the noise. It only made it worse.

So I picked up A History of God. This is a book I purchased in 2007, and never made it past the first chapter. I love learning about history and religion, and have always wanted to be more educated. Raised in Judaism, Christianity and Islam have always fascinated me. Unfortunately, this book was far too dry, and while I did finally finish the first chapter, having unhappily powered through, I remain 5 paged into the second, and have decided to let it go. There are far too many unread stories left to spend my time reading something out of stubbornness or guilt.

So then I went to Barnes and Noble, a real life, brick and mortar bookstore, and bought The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty. Every few weeks, I’ll pick it up and read another story. I’m new to her as an author, but her writing is gorgeous and sad.

I decided what I really wanted and had been missing terribly, was a story you could get lost in. I’ve had Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell on my Kindle app for ages, reading a few pages at a time, but never delving into it. One night, I picked it up, and just barrelled through. I’m only just past Part 2, but it’s a lovely.

THEN I heard about Book of the Month, and got & Sons and Heat & Light in my first subscription. & Sons was a gorgeous novel, sad, funny, disturbing, and familiar. Review to come. I’m almost finished with Heat & Light, and I have some issues with it, but overall it’s another great, eye opening novel.

I’ve also read Garden Spells (another review to come), The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (a Modern Mrs. Darcy recommendation) and My Name is Lucy Barton (an Oglethorpe Book Club recommendation from my favorite professor).

I’ve started up on Audible again, and listened to The Thousand Dollar Tan Line (another MMD recommendation, but as a continuation of Veronica Mars, and narrated by Kristen Bell herself – it didn’t take much convincing). I’m also nearly finished with Chelsea Handler’s Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea.

Lastly, Eric and I read The Gunslinger together. I started on a lark, I was sitting on the front porch, reading the first few pages, when he came out to join me. He asked what I was reading, I told him and gave him a brief description. He was really interested in reading it as well, so I asked if he wanted me to read him a few pages. He said yes, and we ended up reading the whole book together. Sometimes on the front porch after work over an ice cold beer. Sometimes in the car on a trip down to Louisville or up to the beach. We didn’t read it every day, but it was just a very nice way to spend time together that didn’t involve getting lost in another 3 hours of loud comedies on TV. I’m sure this is something we’ll continue with the next installment.

So I guess that’s a fair summary of what I’ve been up to. I’ve had a lot of thoughts on reading and writing lately, and I really just want to start writing some of it down. I won’t make any proclamations about the structure of this blog, but there are new reviews to come, and I may reach back through the last 2 years and write about a few more books that have stuck with me. Who knows?

What I do know is that I love the feeling I get when I’m in a season of reading. Embarrassingly, I’ll go months without picking up a book, but once I do and the floodgates open, I feel more possibilities. I feel happier and more content. That’s the beauty of literature, I suppose.

Book Reviews

Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) – April 2013

is everyone hanging out without me Firstly, I’ve learned that I really need to write my reviews much closer to the time that I finish the book. And this is especially true with audio books. It’s much more difficult to go back and refresh my memory for the details.

That being said, I really enjoyed this audio book. I love that Mindy Kaling narrates, because she is inherently funny and, much like with Tina Fey’s Bossypants, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) feels like an extended intimate stand-up routine. Kaling weaves a story of growing up in Boston, dating, working, managing a career, and being single (all while being a “woman of color,” natch). I love hearing completely relatable personal stories and hilarious anecdotes from women I admire.

I have two complaint with the audio book format for this particular book. The first is that Mindy Kaling uses a ton of lists, and hearing them over and over feels very repetitive and not terrible funny. I don’t think I would have this problem if I were just reading the text, and I can’t really explain why. I think it has something to do with the nature of intimate story-telling and listening to the writer narrate, that makes that specific writing trick underwhelming when heard (and not when read).

Also jarring was her use of two male voices, so that some vignettes were more like scenes in an audio play, rather than a simple story being told. I think this only bothered me because it was unusual, but it didn’t take away any enjoyment.

So. The book was good. Legitimately enjoyable. But not great. It hasn’t really stuck with me in the way that some of the other books I’ve read this year have.

I really wish I’d written this sooner. 3.5 Stars

Book Reviews · DNF · Random Thoughts

Random Thoughts III and My First DNF: Beautiful Creatures

Become a Better Writer by Learning to Become a Skilled Reader First

I came across this surprisingly poignant article on reading and writing. The first section, “Skip Sections”, struck a cord with me. The images of the eye-tracking study are particularly familiar, as I am regularly guilty of reading only bolded and bulleted information in long blog/web entries.

Then came the “Quit Altogether” section. I’ll get to that in a moment.

The remainder of the article, which I did actually read in detail, was very smart with helpful tips and inspiring quotes. I’m sure I’ll go back and read it again (see: Nabokov, Vladimir), and perhaps take notes (see: Parrish, Shane). I love the idea of reading material outside of one’s comfort zone, which is partially what this little project of mine is all about. Sure I have some favorites authors in here, but memoirs and essays? Historically, those have not been my bag, baby.

Anyway, I definitely recommend the article, so have at it.

DNF: Beautiful Creatures

I can’t remember the first time I saw the trailer for Beautiful Creatures, but I do remember that I was very excited. Southern Gothic? Check. Supernatural? Check. Decent Acting Talent? Check.

Because the movie was based on a YA novel, and because YA novels are notoriously “easy” reads, I decided to check out the book first. I downloaded a sample chapter onto my Kindle and, within 3 pages, decided not to finish it in that medium.

I thought perhaps listening to it would be better, the reader potentially giving it more depth with his performance. I purchased it through Audible, and listened to about 45 minutes (one commute to work) before deciding that, no, the narrator added nothing.

So I caved and rented the movie the other day, thinking perhaps it would give me more insight, and I could go back to the audiobook afterward. But unfortunately, the plot and dialogue were just too convoluted and stunted, respectively, to warrant any more time. It’s unfortunate, really.

So. I quit altogether. “Reading is meant to be a fun activity. Your brain doesn’t want to slog through something it finds boring.” Or offensive. There’s too much good stuff out there that I haven’t read yet to spend anymore time on something so dreadfully, depressingly boring.

Firstly, I know that I am not Shakespeare, or Faulkner, or Gaiman. I write this little blog for fun, to improve my skills, and if I raise a decent amount of money, I’m happy. So, please know that I am fully self-aware when I give this next criticism.

The writing is bad. Like SO bad. Like O.M.G. bad. The Stereotypes. And Tropes. Are bad.*

The dialogue, the names, everything just smacks of my first attempts at writing short stories in high school. Any southerner, teenager, or black person who reads it should be offended. You have to hide your NYT so your town doesn’t judge you? Everyone still calls the Civil War the War of Northern Aggression or the War Between the States? A mammy magical negro? REALLY?

No thank you. So for the first time in a long time, I Did Not Finish. I highly recommend skipping all iterations of this trashy attempt at cashing in on the Twilight craze.

*Game of Thrones Season 3 Spoilers