Sunday, December 8, 2013

Trying to reach 52 books

Try as I might, it doesn't look like I'll make it to 52 books this year.   I will continue from where I left off:

35. Foundation - Isaac Asimov (282 Pages) B- (September 1-13)
This was a book club selection.  Foundation is the first book in a series that Isaac Asimov wrote for decades.  The concept is incredible and I loved the first half of this book.  In the future there is an empire and a super smart "psycho-historian" has used his knowledge of human psychology to predict the end of this empire.  He uses his status to get a bunch of scientists and peers to be transferred off the capital planet to the far reaches of the universe in order to position themselves to survive the downfall of this empire.  The next chapter takes place a few hundred years later and the downfall has happened and this group of intellectuals are on the outskirts, but as was predicted a war is brewing, but since this small community contains the smartest people in the galaxy they are able to use their smarts to show how valuable they are to all of the warring parties.
From here the book lost me. Asimov uses a series of improbably "coincidences" that show this group of scientists predict almost to the day when conflicts would arise that would put their community at risk and he always had a way for them to thrive because of the threat.  All in all, the book had great promise, but it did not leave me open to reading the next chapter in the series since this one book became redundant quickly that I couldn't imagine he had much else to say.  But with all of these faults, this book did lead itself to one of the better book club discussions of the year.

36.  The Shining -  Stephen King (658 Pages) B (September 14- September 25)
This was a very heavy Stephen King year for me.  But with the sequel to The Shining coming out at the end of September, I wanted to re-read the original horror classic.   There's not much to write about here.  Most people know the movie and the book is very similar (no matter how much King feels they are different).   This was the first time I had this book since 1995 so it was almost like reading it for the first time. It was a very fast read for such a long book.  I found the King telegraphed a lot of what was to come too early in the book.  Maybe the audience of 1977 needed more padding to the shocking events that eventually took place in Jack's possession/downfall, but it felt like he was warning the reader for 400 pages that something bad was going to happen and then there were 250 pages of some bad stuff, but even that was kind of tame by today's standards.  (Read Joe Hill's NOS4A2 if you want to read some truly disturbing parent/child destruction).
The final page had a very poignant paragraph about grief that I look hope to remember whenever I am in a situation where I am grieving for someone and I will recommend it to anyone.  It could help put things into perspective.

37. Doctor Sleep - Stephen King (531 Pages) B (September 26-October 9)
This is a difficult book to review.  It picks up right where the original ended and we follow Danny Torrence through childhood into adulthood in the first 50 pages where he makes many of the same mistakes as his father and succumbs to alcoholism as well until we witness his "rock-bottom moment".  From there he attempts to pick up the pieces of his life and moves to a small town in Vermont where he joins AA, gets a day job and then the book becomes its own.
The book is very well written including the trials and tribulations one goes through as an alcoholic and going through the 12 steps.   As always, King excels at writing children and the character of Abra is one of the best he's ever written.  Her relationship with her parents as well as Danny is just perfect and I loved almost everything about her (except for the forced reveal about her heritage).
I almost wish this wasn't a sequel to a popular classic because a) King doesn't need the money and b) the parts that he tried to "sequelize" feel forced.  Most especially with the location of the climactic finale as well as a cheesy reveal near the end.   And my biggest criticism lies in the villain(s) in this book.  A story really is only as good as its villains and these villains are simply not very scary or threatening.  Maybe I expect better from the self-proclaimed "Master Storyteller", but the True Knot felt like they could be defeated by almost anyone and that shouldn't be the case.
This book still gets a positive recommendation for the simple fact that while reading it I was so into the book one day that I actually missed 2 subway stops on my way home and had to backtrack from near the end of the F Line.  If a book can draw you in to the point that you don't only miss your stop by another one after that, I must have enjoyed it.

38. What the Family Needed - Steven Amsterdam (272 Pages) D+ (October 10-October 15)

I really didn't enjoy this book.  The premise was following a particular family throughout their entire life.  One member of the family apparently had the ability to grant each member of the family a super power for a period of time.  It begins with him as a 5 year old and he asks his cousin if she would rather be able to fly or be invisible.  She responds invisible and then wakes up with the ability to become so if she wants to.  This leads to her sneaking away and catching her father as a drunk and in an affair.  The next chapter skips ahead until they are all older and her brother has the ability to fly.  He can't get a job and thinks about revealing this power for financial gain.  The chapter ends with him showing his wife.  He jumps out the window to her horror and it ends so you are unsure if he fell to his death or actually can fly.
This was the problem I had with the book.  I'm pretty sure all of the "powers" these family members had were actually metaphors for how they were able to deal with their situations around them and not actual "super powers", but it was such a lazy premise and wasn't written in a satisfying way that I wanted to just stop reading the book.  In the end I finished it, but could never really get into the voice of the characters.

39.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith (493 Pages) A- (October 16- October 29)
A book like this is why I joined a book club in the first place.   This is a Classic American Novel that I would never have read in another situation.  I had no idea what it was about but just didn't care.  This was assigned by my friend Ed and I just fell in love with it from page one.  The struggles of this low-income family in the early 20th century Brooklyn was beautiful, endearing and touching.  Frances Nolan is a wonderful narrator who painted her corner of Brooklyn perfectly.  I can now understand what it must have been like living in New York City in that time period.  Doing anything for some money to make ends meet just so your family has the possibility of bettering themselves is something that rings true today.  I simply loved everything about this book.  My only criticism is it was a little long and could have been edited down a bit.  But on the other end, I was sad when it ended.   Such a sweet story, with great characters that will be with me forever. My mother also told me the movie is great so I look forward to watching that some day.

40.  Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino (165 pages) C (October 30- November 1)
This is the second Calvino book I've read.  His books aren't stories so much as they are exercises in writing technique.  This has chapter after chapter describing fictional (?) cities all over the world.  It is interspersed with Marco Polo talking with Kublai Khan.  Are all of these cities places Marco Polo has visited and he is telling Khan about them?  Are these even real places or is Polo pulling a 1001 Nights to tell of the most amazing city day in and day out so Khan doesn't kill him?  How can these cities talk about modern inventions like electricity and light bulbs/televisions if Polo is describing them?  Are they all just one city that keeps getting described in different ways?
This is a little too artistic for me.  Although I appreciate books being well written, I prefer them to have an entertaining story that makes me think.  How will the character get out of this situation?  Books about relationships to people that I can relate to myself.
One funny story about this is when I checked it out from the library the guy behind the counter told me it's his "favorite book".  So if you ever want to talk to the hipster librarian dude on 23rd and 7th, just bring up this book and he may have more insightful things to say than yours truly.

41.  Falling Man - Don Delilo (265 Pages) (November 5- November 6)
I feel bad giving a "bad review" to a book about a difficult subject, but I was mostly bored by this.  It's obviously a personal story about the writer trying to deal with the 9/11 tragedy, but I could not get into this book too much.  It may be Delillo's writing just isn't for me since I attempted his tome "Underworld" earlier this year and stopped reading 150 pages in because I just didn't care and couldn't imagine reading 600 more pages of something like that.
I tried this one because I have interest in 9/11 due to being a New Yorker and actually being in Tower 1 when the first plane hit so these stories do interest me.  But the fallout that these people went through just didn't resonate with me.  I can understand how a traumatic situation can have personal repercussions, but this book just didn't do it for me.

42.  Drive  - James Sallis (176 Pages) (November 7-November 11)
I saw the movie with Ryan Gossling and enjoyed it then saw this book in the library. It is a pure noir novel with an unnamed narrator and him going through life as a driver for films while making money on the side as get away driver for criminals. The movie actually fleshed out some of the stories better than the book.  The novel kept everything very distant like the narrator himself.  It was very heavy-handed and didn't provide the reader with a flow to the story.  I barely understood what was going on and if I hadn't seen the movie I would've been completely confused.

43. John Dies at the End - David Wong (466 Pages) D+ (November 12- November 24)
This book has great reviews but I'm not really sure why.  It is a horror/comedy in the vein of Shaun of the Dead.  The story revolves around two loser friends that take a strange drug called Say Sauce. The drug basically gives them access to an alternate dimension and allows them to read minds and just know all sorts of things.  But that alternate dimension may be hell breaking into our world.   It is very long and confusing and written like the author has the worst case of ADD ever.
The imagination behind the story is great, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.  From my research after reading the book, it seems the author used to write for and I guess that makes sense.  The humor is there but it reads like a first book with little to no future for the author.   I could never fully get into the book and found myself feeling forced to finish it.

44. I Wear the Black Hat - Chuck Klosterman (200 Pages) B+ (November 25-November 27)
I was getting tired of Klosterman's style of essays about pop culture, but this one at least had a theme.  He wrote about villains in the world.  Everyone from OJ Simpson to Bernie Goetz.  He wrote about if Batman was real and how he would be perceived by the media and society.
I also feel like since we are similar in age, we have many of the same view points.  He had a chapter about how when he was younger he adamantly hated certain celebrities and rock bands, but now that he is older he just doesn't have the energy anymore to hate (a point of view that I've noticed about myself lately).  He writes how he used to actively HATE the band The Eagles.  But now that he's older, he realizes they are just a group of people that figured out how to make a living playing music.  As consumers, we really shouldn't hate or love any of these people, but we all put these celebrities in these categories of "we like them or hate them" without ever knowing them.
Klosterman writes intelligently about these media villains and he didn't use too many of his writing "tricks" that get on my nerves of talking about things that are "Important" or how they "Matter" too much.  He often falls back on these lazy categories without really ever explaining what makes someone like Andrew Dice Clay "Matter".  If you ever read one of his books, this previous paragraph will make more sense to someone that has never read a Klosterman book.  But in the end, this was a fun book about things that actually interest me no matter how much none of them actually "Matter".

45.  Floating City - Sudhir Venkatesh (278 Pages) B+ (November 30-December 5)
Our latest Book Club selection that I look forward to the discussion we will have soon.  This is a non-fiction book about a Columbia University sociology professor that is interested in the "underground economy" of New York City.  From 1997-2007 he befriended criminals (mostly drug dealers and prostitutes) to see how the community exists.  He found out there are many blurred lines between the upper class and lower class.
Because many of the characters in this book had regular "day jobs" while at night they were drug runners, prostitutes or pimps it made me look at everyone I passed in the city in a different light.  How many of the women dressed up in regular clothes going to work on the subway may have been paid for last night's "Date" they went on?  How many of the bartenders in I've gotten drinks from have a deal with the women in the corner booth to send over prospective clients?
Like with many of these "non-fiction" books, I have a hard time believing it all.  He claims everything he wrote was true, but I was literally living in the East Village while these stories were happening around me and I find it surprising that there was a huge latina prostitution ring trying to break into the young, rich, "white world".   It is definitely a book worth reading, but the question remains how specialized was his sample set of data?  If what Venkatesh says is true, then it seems at least one friend of mine has slept with a potential employer in order to get a job.  I find this hard to believe, but I guess anything is possible.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Catching up on all of my books

27.  The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman (181 Pages) - B- (July 4-July 9)
I love Neil Gaiman, but this newest book of his fell flat for me.  The book is more of a myth/fable than anything else and it reminded me a lot of his older novel, Coraline.
The biggest problem for me in this book is that I didn't quite understand the villain in the story.  I didn't quite know her motivation.
But as much as I didn't enjoy this, it is still writeen like a Neil Gaiman book, which means the prose is beautiful, and it has some great images and some of his recurring motifs like the ever-present mother/maiden/crone triad which is so present in Sandman
On top of all of that, the final chapter was a beautiful, touching close to this world where Gaiman reflects back.  I may not read this book again, but I will definitely re-read that final chapter.

28.  Christine - Stephen King (503 Pages) - C+ (Jul 10-Jul 22)
I have been trying to read all of Stephen King's novels for years.  I knew it would eventually happen, and no I have done it (although I didn't finish The Tommyknockers, but that is a story for another day).  Christine was the last one on my list of King's book, and I think the reason why I slept on it was because I felt it was too long to tell this story.  After reading it, I agree with my assessment.  The book is good, and well written but it is obvious King was trying to change his voice with this one.  Besides not being set in his typical Maine small town, I don't feel like King knew what he wanted this book to be really.  Was it a ghost story?  Was it a story about the troubles of growing up as an outsider?  An allegory for addiction? (since King was dealing with his troubles pretty strongly around this time)
Obviously it is all of these, but because of this and the changing narrator, this book had some problems for me.  Much like Salem's Lot, the characters had a very soap opera feel to them.
I feel the book would have worked better if it didn't use the previous owner's ghost as much as just let the car have the evil soul.  The explanation and the imagery of Roland LeBay's rotting corpse in the car didn't read well to me.  
But my long endeavor is now over, so that means I can now look forward to re-reading my favorite Stephen King books and continue reading his new novels as they come out (Dr. Sleep comes out at the end of the month!!!)

29.  This is How You Lose Her - Junot Diaz (213 Pages) - D (July 24-July 31)
I loved Diaz's previous novel A Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which I read a few years ago and heard this book was a loose sequel focusing on some of the fringe characters from that book.  But I absolutely hated this book.  I hated the writing style how each chapter you did not know who the narrator was for a long time, or what time frame of their lives this was.
The structure is a character tells a story about a lover they had and how/why they broke up.  This is fine, but no one really ever learned anything from the relationships.  The execution felt flat, and it doesn't help that the main character, Yunior, is really not likable at all.  Diaz continued his trademark "spanglish" writing style and pop-culture references, but neither added much to the story this time.   I was highly disappointed in this book and it made me question why I enjoyed his previous novel so much.

30.  Countdown City: The Last Policeman Volume II - Ben H.Winters (320 Pages) - C- (Aug 4-Aug 14)
Another book club selection:  This time as the sequel to a new trilogy that is being released (which happens to be written by one of our member's family members).  This book continues the story of Henry who is a policeman in a near-future world where NASA knows an asteroid is due to hit earth in about 45 days.
As society continues to fall apart with people deciding to drink, drug and screw their way until the apocalypse, this one man seems to be one of the few people that cares about other people and doing the right thing.  So when an old friend asks him to find her husband who didn't come home one night, he decides to try to find this man which leads to bigger issues.
The premise of this story is much better than the execution.  The author seems to focus this story around his main character Henry, but the biggest issue is that Henry is not a likable, or interesting character.  Almost everyone else in the story is more interesting than him which is this book's greatest flaw.
The reader wants to know a lot more about what is happening to society and the bigger scale, but the author decides to keep everything focused on Henry and his minor problems.  I will continue to finish this trilogy, and he is setting up some really great questions.
In my opinion there is a great premise that he is not telling but he could in a future trilogy:  Assume everyone thinks the world is going to end in 6 months and people leave their spouses, drink, do drugs, stop paying their credit, use up all of our resources etc, and then the asteroid DOESN'T hit.  How does a world rebuild a society?  Society seems to have broken down so much in this world that it seems like it is unfixable, and things may be better off if the world really does come to an end.

31.  Inferno - Dan Brown (590 Pages) - B (Aug 15-Aug 23)
This is the latest book starring Robert Langdon from The Davinci Code and Angels and Demons.  In this book, Langdon uses his knowledge of Italian art and the writings of Dante to try and save the world from a mad man.
Dan Brown has a very hokey way of writing and all of his books do follow a structure, but damn if they aren't fun books.
What also impresses me is how the author is able to put in some really serious issues in his book and tell a fun story around it so you do not realize you have just digested a pretty strong "fact".
In DaVinci Code he famously put a new spin on the church and some of its basic teachings that had The Vatican very angry at him.    This book warns the reader about the very real problem that is threatening the human race of overpopulation and how we are consuming far too many resources than we have.
But he tells this story in such a fun caper that most people will think it is not as threatening as I feel it actually is.
Also, this novel did not have the typical "happy ending" that you would expect which surprised me and made me wonder how he's going to continue in this series.

32.  The Abstinence Teacher - Tom Perrotta (260 Pages) - B (Aug 24-Aug 29)
About a month ago, my neighbors were having an estate sale and I saw this book.  I have read most of Perrotta's other novels and couldn't pass up the $1 price tag this novel had.  I just finished it and I feel very similar to this book as I have to Perrotta's other novels:  It was quite good, but a little heavy handed at times.
This novel tells the story of a small town health teacher that is very liberal in her teachings, trying to preach safe sex who is forced to install a new policy of abstinence due to a strong Christian minority who has gotten the school board to change their itinerary.
The story also follows a born again soccer coach who she battles with our main character because he wants to have prayer after games which she is against.
I love Perrotta's writing style, and he is able to suck you into these characters problems and fears and hopes better than many.  And although I (obviously) agree with Perrotta's opinion on this subject, I felt it was heavily forced down the reader's throat which turned me off.    But this is a very good book and I think it strongly shows both sides of the argument.
Much like another book by Tom Perrotta that I recently read, The Leftovers, this book has a weak ending, but does leave the reader hoping for more with these characters which I guess is a good thing, as frustrating as it might be.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Haven't Posted in MONTHS...

I apologize to my constant reader since I have not had the time to write in the past few months.  But just because I haven't been writing, does not mean I haven't been reading.  So without much further ado, I will try to recap my reading, and I will try and keep it short because there were a lot.

21.  Oracle Night - Paul Auster (256 Pages) - B- (May 22-May 28)
Another book club selection by our newest member.  I have read a few Paul Auster books in the past and they are all good, but for some reason they are not memorable.  I think it has something to do with having that dream-like quality that Murakami books have, but with less substance behind them.
This novel is a writer's novel.  By that, I mean it is about writers and about the process of writing.  It makes sense that Paul Auster is known for his short stories and novellas, because this book almost feels like a bunch of short stories put together into one cohesive novel. Because of that, it is sometimes disjointed and goes from one scene to the next with some of the stories not having a true ending, but that is all incorporated decently into the story.   The book in the end is about happiness with oneself and your relationship.

22.  Downtown Owl - Chuck Klosterman (275 Pages) - C (May 29-June 5)
This is a difficult book to review.  I have read every book Chuck Klosterman has written now (although he has a new non-fiction book out that I have not read yet).  He is mostly known for his non-fiction work discussing pop-culture, or some sort of world issue comparing them to pop-culture.  He has written stories about the real meaning behind Saved By the Bell or which album tells the story of 9/11 the best (he feels it is Kid A even though Kid A came out a few weeks before September 11).
But that is the thing about this novel (and Klosterman's writing) that gets kind of annoying.  He is prone to seemingly-profound statements like "Life is rarely about what happened, it's mostly about what we think happened".  He seems to always write a sentence that will negate itself by the end of that sentence, and this is supposed to make his comments seem deep.  After 6 books, I think I'm getting tired of this type of writing and his insistence of what things are "important".
This book was a novel focusing mostly on 3 very different characters:  A high school football player, an teacher in his school and an old man that has lived in this same small town his entire life.  This follows them from Summer until Winter and their lives in this small town.  Klosterman has some great ideas, but I think his execution has become tired.  The only problem is, I often think like him too, so I keep coming back to reading his books even though I can recognize and see his writing patterns from a mile away.  I actually have started getting angry when he uses one of his over-used "opposite sentences" because I have started to notice how lazy that writing is.  I'll let you know since I'm sure I'll read his next book sometime.  Probably sooner rather than later.

23.  Bossypants - Tina Fey (267 Pages) - C (June 6- June 8)
This book did very little for me.  I know it got great reviews and I really love Tina Fey, but as a book I found it just boring.  I guess that was kind of the point.   Tina Fey has become popular and famous from playing the "every-woman".  This book solidifies just that:  She is a normal girl, who grew up in a normal family.  She just decided that she wanted to have a different career as a comedian.  She worked really hard at it and through a series of luck an being smart and funny, she succeeded.
I think this book was almost too sheepishly written.  Tina Fey's biggest career move was playing Sarah Palin which elevated her career from SNL cast member/actress for 30 Rock.  Instead of Tina really flaunting it, she writes how since she had dark hair too, and could put on glasses and a wig to look like Sarah Palin, she was lucky to be in a position to parody her.
Instead of giving herself credit as a writer of a clever, funny show like 30 Rock, she gives a lot of the credit to Alec Baldwin simply being in it because he was a star.    The book has very few laughs, but it does show that hard work and perseverance sometimes actually pays off.

24.  Joyland -  Stephen King (283 Pages) - A- (June 9-June 12)
Everyone knows I'm  a Stephen King fan.  This is true.  But I can be very fair in reviewing his writing, I think (as a few books later will show).  I think everything King has written is very good, but I grade them on a scale against each other.  Even a bad Stephen King book is fun to read, but I can recognize if they aren't so good sometimes.  This is why I can honestly say Joyland is a great book!
About 10 years ago, Stephen King retired.  Then he wrote a silly, pulpy novel about a dead body that washes ashore a small beach town called The Colorado Kid.  It wasn't his best, but it because a TV show called Haven.  His retirement has not stuck, and every now and again he writes another pulp novel.  Joyland was the second one published this year.
The story follows a high school kid that is working at a carnival during the summer.  It is more of a coming-of-age story like Stand By Me (aka The Body) and without giving anything away, it is really good. In my opinion, King really can write some of the best characters and Devin is a great every-man that has a touching story to tell.  
Like many of King's books, his ending isn't great but it is still a worth-while ride any reader would enjoy, even non-King fans.

25.  Salem's Lot - Stephen King (653 Pages) - B- (June 13-June 27)
I told you I can be objective when reviewing Stephen King.  This book is just not his best.  I read Salem's Lot years ago in college or high school.  Even back then, I didn't think it was very good.  But I wanted to re-read it because I read recently that Stephen King loves it.  Also, since I'm kind of in the middle of a re-read of the Dark Tower, and have just re-read book 4, this is where Salem's Lot kind of fits into that story.
On the second read, I realized what the problem with this book is.  The first half is actually really, really good.  Ben Mears comes home to the small town he grew up in to write a novel using inspiration from the scary, haunted house he remembers on the top of the hill.   How King establishes the characters is a little hokey, but still strong considering this is his second novel.  I loved how there were chapters told from the perspective of the town itself, as if Salem's Lot is a character in the story.
The problems arise when the vampires come more to the forefront and the ending of storming the house is a by-the-numbers horror/action story.  However, an amazing thing is happening.  As I'm writing this review on the last day of August and trying to make it seem hokey and silly and not that good (which is all true), I am having fond memories of this story that I read back in June.

26.  Decline and Fall - Evelyn Waugh - (200 Pages) - D (June 28-Jul 3)
This was a book club selection that I have absolutely nothing to say about it.  Not even anything good or bad.  Just nothing at all.  The book followed a weak character that went through his life very passively even going to prison for something he did not do.
The book is supposed to be a comedy, but it didn't do much for me.

(...To be Continued...)

Monday, May 27, 2013

I keep reading, but can't find time to write about it (Part 2)

16.  Special Topics in Calamity Physics - Marisha Pessl (514 Pages) - B+ - (April 15-25)
I always go to the library and keep renting all of these books, but then I realized there are many books that I own, but have never read.  In trying to read all of the books that I actually own I saw this book on my shelf.  I'm pretty sure Aubrey bought it one day, and after being sent this link by my friend AJ (who writes a better blog than this one) I saw Special Topics on this list and on my bookshelf and decided to read it.

The plot centers on a very smart high school student named Blue.  She has a habit of referencing novels by mentioning something and then saying the title of the book, the author and the year of its publication.  For example, this book had a similar feel to Secret History (Donna Tartt, 1992). Blue moves to a new town and befriends the cool clique who every Sunday meet up at their film history teacher's house and hang out.  During her Senior year, Blue deals with all of the typical High School shenanigans with prom, and jealousy, and the death of your favorite teacher and conniving parents.

It is pretty obvious that this was Marisha Pessl's virgin novel because of the writing style.  It comes across as extremely obnoxious, but after you get used to it, I really found myself to enjoy the writing and felt that it fit with the story she wrote.  Lastly, the final chapter was one of the most fun ways to end the book, and it was something that has never been done in any other novel I've ever read. She gives a multiple choice quiz about the entire story and it made me think back about the entire novel.

17.  Alex Cross, Run - James Patterson (407 Pages) - C - (April 26-April 29)
I have an addiction to these novels.  I have written about it before, but it is the truth.  I continue to read about the adventures of Alex Cross and I barely enjoy it.  The stories hardly progress and they are always pretty much the same.  This time, there are two stories going on at once.  Two killers that are working together (as the flip-side of the same coin), and another murderer that is out to get Alex Cross himself for personal reasons.
Alex has to juggle family, the two killers and trying to adopt a foster daughter all at the same time.    There is absolutely nothing more to write about this.  The Alex Cross books are fun, but you know what you're getting when you read them.

18.  The Leftovers - Tom Perrotta (355 Pages) - B- (April 30-May 6)
I read an article that the creator of Lost (Damon Littleoff) was trying to get this novel to become a new HBO television series.  Since I am a fan of HBO and Damon Littleoff, I decided to read this book before it 19came on the air so I knew the premise and to decide if it would be worthwhile.  I have also read a few of Tom Perrotta's novels and mostly enjoy his work, so I found this in the library and knocked it out.

The premise of the story is on a random day in October, approximately 2% of the population of the planet simply disappears at the same time.  They literally are there one moment and then they are gone.  The people have absolutely no connection.  Some are religious, some are not, the Pope does disappear, but many Cardinals and other religious leaders do not.  This novel centers on a small town and mostly about one family and how this phenomenon affects them.  How can students continue going to school if they could disappear tomorrow?  Will relationships continue to last?   These are some of the questions that come up.

The premise for this story was quite good, but I'm not sure about the execution.  Although this book seems to have more questions than answers, this is not a bad thing necessarily.  The book is written well and he really shows many different reactions to the situation through few characters, but the best part is how if all of these stories can come from one family and one small town, you can start to extrapolate that and realize exponentially how many stories there could be from this premise.

19. The Rules of Attraction - Brett Easton Ellis (283 Pages) - B (May 7-8)
A book about college-life that I had read when I was in college.  Since then, I have seen the movie that was made around 2002 more times that I can count, but was curious if I could still relate to this in my mid 30s, and to see if I still liked it.
The answer is: Yes.
Ellis paints the picture of a bunch of young kids that all do not know who they are or what they want out of life and out of each other.  Basically, he writes teenagers perfectly.

This book is not for the faint.  This is chock full of drugs, rape, bad decisions, lies and lies about the lies.   The staccato writing style keeps the reader feeling like they are 5 steps behind the characters, when really the characters are 10 steps behind themselves.
It is an amazing story about the excess of the 80s, that I can only imagine is pertinent today and should be required reading as tales of caution for parents of kids going to college, and read as a how-to-guide/cautionary tale for anyone about to go to college.

20. NOS4A2 - Joe Hill (692 Pages) - A- (May 9-21)
The Son of the Master of Horror is picking up where his father continues to go.  Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King and I have been looking forward to his new novel for quite some time.  This book was released on April 30th and I started reading it as soon as it was delivered to me from Amazon.

This is a large, fun, scary novel that I enjoyed from beginning to end.  The only reason I was skeptical of the book during the first 50 pages or so was from the title, i expected a typical vampire novel, and this book is not that at all.  Instead this is almost another Stephen King novel about parallel dimensions and being able to create worlds within yourself and able to draw people into those worlds.

Joe Hill is a young author who has yet to leave me unfulfilled in the three novels, Graphic Novel and his book of short stories.    This novel follows Vic McQueen through her entire life.  From 8 year old dreamer to 40 year old mother and substance abuser.  She is one of the more fleshed out characters I have read in some time and someone I am going to miss now that the book is over.

Anyone looking for a good, fun, scary summertime read needs to read this book.  It is often intense and difficult to put down, much like any great book.   With this, book, two new Stephen King novels, and an Neil Gaiman novel ready for release, there will be a lot more reading that I hope to accomplish this year.

I keep reading, but can't find time to write about it (Part 1)

11.  Veronica Decides to Die - Paulo Coelho (210 Pages) - B- (March 14-18)
Obviously anyone that knows me knows I enjoy to read.  Since I only read on the subway on my way to work, my co-workers are always quick with a suggestion on things that I should read.  If a co-worker gives me a book, I make it a point to read it as quickly as possible.  Being someone that often loans out my books to others , I know what it's like when someone may want it back after loaning it out.  I feel if someone feels the need to give me a book and I accept it, it is my duty to read it, give it back and give that person an assessment of the book.  In this case, my co-worker Val gave me Paulo Coelho's book about living in a psychiatric ward and the story of of the fictitious Veronika.

Veronika tries to kill herself by taking too many pills.  She fails, but the pills have taken their toll on her heart and now the doctors expect her to die within 2 weeks.  How does she feel about life now knowing that there is a definite expiration date?    That is the story of this book.  Paulo Coelho's most famous book is The Alchemist which was a book club suggestion a few years ago.  I feel similar to this book as I did with that.  The ideas that are presented in the book are great (I can understand why someone may read this book and find it "deep"), however I find the writing to be formulaic and obvious.  This may have a great deal to do with the fact hat the book was originally written in Portuguese and some of the nuance may have been lost in translation, but it doesn't change my opinion.    However, anyone having a crisis of faith and feeling depressed, I could recommend this book.  As long as that person is not an English teacher.

12.  American Pastoral - Philip Roth (~432 Pages) - C - (March 19-April 3)
The latest book club pick by my friend Ed.  In trying to not spend my entire paycheck on books, someone gave me a PDF of this book and I was able to read it on my iPad.  The biggest problem is this PDF as a lot of typos, spacing issues and no chapter breaks.  This made reading quite a chore and definitely contributed greatly to my lack of enjoyment.

However, even with a clean copy, I'm not sure how much I would have enjoyed this book.  It is obvious that Philip Roth is able to write, but like many authors in their later years, he would benefit from a good editor.  There was a lot of repetition of ideas, plot points and scenes replayed again and again.  Also, the story was kind of all over the place.

It starts with an old man going back to his High School Reunion and remembering the coolest guy/best athlete in his home town before WWII.   The story eventually changes narrators to that athlete, named The Swede in the late 60s.  The book follows his life and after his daughter blows up the local general store in protest of the Vietnam War.   The Swede's life spirals out of control from this and it takes its toll on his family.

In comparison to Jonathan Frazen's Freedom, these stories are quite similar, but this shows how writing style, and editing can make a reader feel very different about very similar novels.

13.  Slowness - Milan Kundera (155 Pages) - C- - (April 4-5)
A forgettable novel, by a great author.   Kundera literally takes a chapter in the book to break narration and to write as himself about how it would be funny to write a novel where the entire book is 100% nonsense.  I think that was him telling the reader to just go along for the ride.    All of the narrations are quite sexual in nature (it is Kundera after all), and I did laugh out lout at two scenes in the book, but for the most part I barely remember reading this just two months later.

This was another short book that I saw in the library and decided to read because of this challenge I have given myself.  I'm glad I read it since it only took 2 days, but otherwise anyone reading this can skip this book and read Unbearable Lightness of Being instead.

14.  Coyote Blue - Christopher Moore (303 Pages) - C - (April 6-11)
I have read a number of Christopher Moore's books and the last one I read (Sacre Bleu) was quite good.  So when I was over my friend Bridget's upstate house and saw another of his books just sitting in her mostly-empty house, I just started to read it during a quiet weekend upstate.
There is nothing good or bad about this book.  It is just another of his style of quirky books this time mostly about Native American culture.  In this book a young man had left the reservation some time ago, and now a Native American spirit-god has come to find him to help him find happiness.
Christopher Moore is a fun writer who has a similar vibe to Tom Robbins.  His books are always fun, and this one does not disappoint in the fun department, it just wasn't his best and in the end was quite forgettable.

15.  Femme - Bill Pronzini (175 Pages) -D+ - (April 12-14)
Once again, my way of cheating with the 52 books in 52 weeks challenge.  I saw a short book in the library and rented it.  This book looked like a typical detective noir book, and it didn't disappoint, but it didn't add anything.
This is a straight up detective story whose twist isn't much of a twist.  It's written in the old Sam Spade - style of short sentences and even shorter plot.  The dame is evil.  Or is she?
Not much to write about here.  It was a quick, fun read, but the third forgettable novel in a row.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

I'm on a roll this year

2013 is shaping up to be a heavy reading year.  Not only have I been reading a ton of comic books and prose novels, but my list of books is growing quickly with 4 novels waiting in the wings for me which i hope to complete before month-end.
This post will update my progress along with a brief recap, rating and an aside as to how it came to pass that I read that book  The numbering system starts at 5 because that is the fifth book I have read this year on my goal to 52 (which seems possible, but unlikely)

5.  This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life - David Foster Wallace (137 Pages) - B
This is simply a publication of a graduation speech the author David Foster Wallace gave in 2005 at Kenyan College (which I have no idea where that is).  To be honest, I picked this book up as a cheat in my 52 books contest.  It was a speech with a few sentences on each page.  Having only read some Wallace articles in the past and enjoying them, but never reading a novel I wanted to try some more of his work out.   This was one of those speeches that tells you to enjoy life and stop and smell the roses a times.  Don't get stressed out by the guy that cut you off on the highway, because you don't know their situation.  Maybe that guy's wife is at the surgery and he's trying his hardest to get there.  It's a great way of looking at the world and worth a read.  Anyone can read the speech here.
Something interesting happened later:  I had the book on my desk at work and a coworker came over and looked it over.  She asked what it was and I gave a brief synopsis, then she asked if she could read it.  Obviously, I obliged and she took it.  Five minutes later she frantically ran over to me to inquire about something that was stamped on the title page of the book. Someone had stamped in red ink "THE AUTHOR OF THIS BOOK COMMITTED SUICIDE".  I don't know if the library did that or a patron, and although it is true I'm curious as to why it was there.  This bothered my coworker very much, since the theme of the speech is to not get carried away by life and to be compassionate.  It's obviously a "Do as I say, not as I do" book since Wallace couldn't handle it. It's pretty obvious that this must have been something that the author had a problem with in his entire life which he eventually succumbed to
My question to my loyal reader is: Does the an author's ideas or his actions matter more?  

6. Marvel Comics: The Untold Story - Sean Howe (432 Pages) - B+
Newsflash:  I like comic books.  There are two type of people in the world DC people and Marvel people, and I've been a Marvel Zombie since I was 10 years old.  This heavily researched, in depth book tells the true accounts of the stories behind the story-tellers.  All of the drug use, backstabbing, power plays and disputes in who created what, and ownership rights.  Ownership of property is the largest issue in this book and going back to Ayn Rand's theory that if you create it, you should fully own it vs. what the US government says of contracts how one can create a character (like Spider-Man), but not own that character because you signed a contract that says anything you write belongs to Marvel Comics as an institution.  It's a question I go back and forth on myself because I like to think if I was to create something that resonated with millions of people, then I would reap the benefits for my ideas and my hard work.  But because I work for a popular company, the only reason anyone ever heard my ideas was because they published my book that had a built-in audience who were able to find my idea because they published hundreds of thousands of copies of my idea without me putting up any money.  It's a very difficult concept and I'm not sure there is a 100% correct answer.  It really is a collaboration, and until we get a fair compensation policy for all, it will always be a problem.  In every industry.

6a.  Fables - Cubs in Toyland 
I will continue reading Fables until it goes ends its run.  The characters are always wonderfully written and I care about them all.  The last few books, however feel like the story is treading water a little.  It seems to have become just another comic book where the characters get into situations, fight back and prevail.  What keeps Fables apart is that there are often casualties since the cast of characters is so large, losing one or even 10 characters is not a problem.
This story was more of a horror tale than anything else, like a classic Borthers Grimm story.  It was an enjoyable read, but in the end it was forgettable.

6b. The Unwritten: Volumes 1-4
I had read The Unwritten volumes 1 and 2 when they came out about 2 years ago and enjoyed it.  While I was feeding my friend Jason's cat while he was away, I noticed that Jason had volumes 1-4.  I leafed through volume 1 and realized I barely remembered it and didn't remember volume 2 at all.  I stole all 4 of his books and read them in a few days.  What a fantastic, imaginative story this is turning out to be.  Tommy Taylor (think Harry Potter) was a beloved children's book.  The author of the books had a son, named Thomas Taylor, and he makes a living going around as "The Real Tommy" but as a 20 something young man, he hates this life.  
What the book eventually reveals is that the characters in all popular novels are real.  Or at least have their own world where you can go.  Tommy begins his adventure through stories that leads to him meeting Captain Ahab from Moby Dick, Frankenstein's monster and a slew of other characters.   Tommy is pursued throughout popular fiction because his father may have hidden some secrets of the universe in him that an occult group is trying to protect or get for themselves.  
Since it is an ongoing series, I am not sure where they are going yet, but this is becoming a great book about the nature of stories and what they mean.  Also, people have to be more well-read than me in order to catch all of the literary references in any given issue.  This is one of those comic books that you give to an English
teacher if they are against comic books, and to ask them if this is not literature itself.

7. The Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut (326 Pages) - B+
The more Vonnegut I read, the more I like him.  The best thing about Kurt Vonnegut is that while you are reading one of his books, you are aware that you are reading a Vonnegut book because no one else writes like him.  The imagination, humor, and big ideas that he had were uncontested.  The structure of his books are almost like a joke.  He sets up the characters normally, starts throwing some strange situations at them, and he ends his books perfectly with a punchline that makes you laugh, and makes you think.
This novel (his second written in 1959) was chosen by the previously mentioned Jason as our latest book club endeavor.  The concepts in the book are small-scale: It only tells the story of why human civilization exists and was orchestrated by external forces.  (Oh yeah, for religious nuts and people that think humanity is the point of the universe, you won't be happy with this reasoning)
There is nothing I can write here that will make any difference to anyone. If you want to read a book that is funny and odd and imaginative read this book or any of his others.  If not, go read James Patterson.

8. Merry Christmas, Alex Cross - James Patterson (323 Pages) - C-
"My name is Mitch, and I have a reading problem".  That's the only defense I have for continuing to read the Alex Cross books by James Patterson.  While reading them, I recognize the terrible writing.  I can see the twists coming from a mile away.  I know Alex Cross is going to catch the bad guy and go home to his ever-growing family, but when I see it on the library rack I also know I'm going to knock out a 300 page book in 2 days and there is something about that that makes me happy.
I will continue to read the awful adventures of Alex Cross until they stop being published.  And since the newest one was just published again, I know there will be another Alex Cross book on this list before the year's over.
Oh yeah: In this one, Alex Cross solves TWO cases, not just one.  That's why it's different.

9.  In The Miso Soup - Ryu Murakami (180 Pages) - C
Whenever I go to the library I always pass by to see if there are any books by Haruki Murakami whose writing I love.  A few years ago, I picked up Pierced by Ryu Murakami.  It was basically Japanese torture-porn, but as a horror fan, I enjoyed it.  I picked up this one too (as a short novel, it helps padding my 52 books as well) and it was more of the same.
This story is really not very good and I'm not sure the point the author is trying to make.  The violence comes out of nowhere and although he tries to explain why the characters behave like they do, I never felt he succeeded.  Murakami wanted to write a book about violence and about the Japanese sex industry in the mid 90s, so he combined those two things.  He brought in a crazy American for the violence (probably saying something about violence in America) and having an innocent travel agent to the brothels of Tokyo act as the pie-eyed innocent.  It never fully worked for me.   But we need to have bad books in the world to truly appreciate the good ones.

10. The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern (387 Pages) - A
While reading this book the only word that continued to pop into my head was "Beautiful".  This book was just that.  The writing, the mystery, the love of the story is just dripping off the page.  A few people (all women) have told me to read this book, and I pretty much dismissed them.  Not knowing anything about it, I figured it was a "chick-book", and maybe I'd get around to it.  Thankfully the library had it one day and on a whim I picked it up.
I cannot even describe what it is that I loved so much about it.  In the end, it just comes down to the writing style.  This book was written in such a way that I couldn't help but continue reading.  Who are all these characters? How do they come together? What is the mysterious contest about?  All of that is great, but in the end it is the way the tale is told that is the true main character.  The only other book that gave off an aura like this book while being read is Neil Gaiman's Sandman.
There is nothing I want to write about this book out of fear that someone could stumble upon this blog and have any of it ruined.  Just go in and know that I was hooked by page 10 when a character finds out he has an 4 year old daughter and he gains custody after the mother died.  He looks at this little 4 year old and says to her "You're going to be interesting" and I was hooked.  It set the tone of the entire novel, and  it never was a disappointment.

10a - For the sake of completion: I have also read a bunch of other comic books this year, but not much to write about on these: The New Avengers: Book 1; Essential X-Men Volume 10, Anya's Ghost, Thor/IronMan - God Complex, Thor - Vissionaries Walter Simonson Volume 1

Sunday, February 24, 2013

It's Oscar Night

As I sit here watching the newest Oscars, I figure now is as good a time as any to update this blog not with my continue collection of books that I have been reading, but instead of my first love: The Movies.

I don't really post much about movies much these days, mostly because I have been less into them then in the past, but there was a time when that was all I cared about.  Confession: I always hoped to work in the movies, but the lack of talent, determination and guts pretty much put a stop into that.  But I applied to Miramax and Lions Gate out of school and didn't get the gig.  Although it's never too late, the chances seem less and less likely as I get older.

But I must say in the past month, I have been on quite a streak of watching a ton of movies.  Some good, many bad.   This is going to be a quick checklist and update of all movies I've seen in no real order since I don't have a list like I do my books.

Turner Classic Movies have been playing the Oscar movies as they do every year and I have been DVRing them as they catch my interest.  I woke up this morning and watched the 1980 movie The Stunt Man.  I have always heard this was a great satire and a quirky, fun movie.  After watching it, I think it doesn't hold up.  It seems to be a satire/commentary on the Vietnam War as well as Hollywood, but either the jokes were lost on me or they simply were lost in time.  I found it terribly acted and more boring than anything else.   I was shocked that Barbara Hershey used to be cute though.  That was a pleasant surprise.

Last night I threw on the movie Looper.  The premise is actually much better than the movie turned out to be.  Joseph Gordon Levitt plays a younger Bruce Willis that is assigned to kill himself and other criminals from the future.  Everything seemed like it was going to be really cool, but the movie took a left turn at Alburquerque and changed directions.
Where it went was still a fun movie, it just seemed like a different movie than the one that was marketed and that I signed up for.  

Another classic movie that I had never seen before this weekend.  Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was a great movie, made even better by the behind the scenes trivia about how Spencer Tracy dies just 17 days after filming this movie and how Katharine Hepburn never watched this.
Honestly, I understand the history that comes with this movie and 100% admit that Sidney Poitier killed it in this role.  He was powerful and amazing and although he never showed any humor, the integrity his character has is inspiring.  Even though I don't think it's in my nature to ever be that serious and "manly" about anything, it was an amazing performance.

I watched Singin' In The Rain last week during a movie marathon with Aubrey.  It was my first time watching this ever.  I was shocked at how much fun and how many of the songs I had already known.  It was definitely a fun movie to watch and much funnier than I expected it to be.
On top of that, I have an awful habit of going to the TRIVIA section of IMDB after every movie that I watch.  This one had some of the best trivia about how much the cast and crew hated Gene Kelly.  Feel free to read them all here.

Also, who knew how cute Princess Leia's mother was?

I will probably always be a sucker for good High School movies and The Perks f Being A Wallflower is one of the better ones I've seen in some time.  It perfectly captures the alienation that everyone feels as a teenager and the solace that we all turn to in our friends and into music.  No outcast ever looks like the actors in this movie, but you have to take that bit with a slight grain of salt, (after all it is still a Hollywood movie) but the content is 100% accurate.
There was a slight twist in the movie that, having never read the book, completely surprised me but was impressed by how a first-time director perfectly made the tonal shift and looking back at the film, even gave hints of the twist throughout the first three-quarters.
And the soundtrack was virtually perfect.

This movie may have hit a little too close to home considering what I've been up to the past oh... 8 years or so.  But this was mostly a cute movie with some likable actors.
Although the movie did go on a little too long, I guess it kind of makes sense in a movie called The Five Year Engagement, and the point is these two characters found every excuse possible to prolong or just not get married that there was bound to be some treading of water.

Is there anything better than going into a movie that you have no expectations of that turns out to be a damn good time?  21 Jump Street is a remake of a terrible TV show that I watched virtually every episode of.  I watched it because people told me it was fun, and I was shocked that everyone that said so was right.  I am shocked that I find Jonah Hill to be funny and he seems to make great career choices.  Between this movie and The Sitterwhich is on HBO everyday, I have to say I am becoming a fan of the guy.  Not to mention his insanely funny cameo in Django Unchained which may be the funniest scene of any movie of the year.

Another movie that may not be on anyone's radar, but is worth the 85 minutes of your time.  I found Safety Not Guaranteed to be a clever, fun movie.  I don't want to give anything away in this mini-review.  But this is currently available on Netflix Streaming and will say anyone that likes Aubrey Plaza on Parks and Recreations and quirky sci-fi comedies like Bubba Ho-Tep will probably enjoy this.  I found myself smiling throughout.

My parents saw Beasts of the Southern Wild about a year ago and couldn't stop talking about it.  Not only were they impressed with the little actress, but they were impressed by the young director as well who is from a town close to where I grew up.  He hosted a Q&A with my parents after the screening and they came away as fans to the point that my dad even made a bet on the young 9 year old actress in Vegas for her to win the Oscar at 500-1.  So I'm rooting for her tonight.

I watched the movie a few weeks ago and enjoyed it, but probably not as much as them.  I mostly loved the music and am rooting for the score of Beasts to take home Oscar gold today since that is what jumped out the most to me.

Maybe I'm a harsher critic on movies that seem to get glowing reviews from everyone, but I didn't love Argo.   Don't get me wrong, it was a well made, well acted movie about an interesting true story that I had no knowledge of before watching it.  But my biggest problem was how convenient all the close-calls the all of the hostages and Fed agents/Hollywood actors.  After the fourth time I started getting annoyed and found it played out.
My favorite part of the entire movie was the first two seconds where they showed the old Warner Brothers logo to make the movie feel more 70s:.  It made me feel like a kid going to the movies for a split second.

Probably the best movie I saw this year, I actually saw back near the end of 2012.   I've loved Tarantino since the first time I saw Reservoir Dogs when I was 15 years old.  Although this isn't his best, Django Unchained is quintessential Tarantino, showing his love for dialogue, his respect for the history of cinema, and his over-all joy that he is able to pump into his movies, no matter how difficult the topic he is presenting may be.
Tarantino gets a ton of honors and awards for his scripts, but I've been mostly impressed by his directing in his last few movies.  No one builds tension better in their movies then Tarantino.  I will never forget an old quote of his when he was talking about what he considers a great movie.  It's simple: When you're watching the movie you forget that you are living, you forget you're breathing.  You are just in the movie.
I often notice that I forget everything the first time I am watching a Tarantino movie.  Some of his scenes are so intense that nothing else matters.  Also, I'm hopeful that Christoph Waltz continues to show up in everything Tarantino does since he steals every scene he's in.