Dust Tracks on a Road (Book Review)

Happy Monday!

Dust Tracks on a Road is an autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston.  I remembered reading a bit of “Their Eyes were Watching God”, also the Crash Course Lit episode is excellent, the first 3.5 minutes of which give a pretty neat summary of her life plus some extra tidbits, in fact let’s justs have a look shall we?

 

I decided to pick this book up in a reading project I’m starting where I plan to fill out my knowledge by reading books considered an “American Classics”(1) (with a focus on the 20th century lit) and the follow the reading list provided from Crash Course Lit(2).  


Overall Dust Tracks on a Road, from here out referred to as Dust Tracks, left me withmixed feelings.  That being said and without giving spoilers, I can say I recommend the book based on its historical and literary significance but unless you’re seeking it out for it’s historical or literary significance, I wouldn’t give it high priority.  

Footnotes:

  1. This burgeoning list has begun with this list, thanks to wikipedia:
    Books referred to as a “Great American Novel”[edit]

At one time, the following works have been considered to be a Great American Novel:

19th century

20th century

21st century

Plus these United States National Epics:

 

  1. Crash Course Lit list (what is listed here are the ones that I have not yet read AND are not already listed above; this is not an exhaustive list of the books covered in all three seasons of CC lit):

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Sula by Toni Morrison

(**SPOILERS BELOW**)
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The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster (book review)

Happy Monday!

ANNOUNCEMENT: Don’t forget to check in tomorrow for Brad Evan’s introductory post to his Tuesday column.

After reading Davacallaro’s Cyberpunk and Cyberculture I was in the mood for something post-modern.  What I found was The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster whichny trilogy  is a set of three mystery stories, the volume I have has all three stories in one book: City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room.  

 

City of Glass: The protagonist, an author William Wilson, gets repeated phone calls from a wrong number that insists to speak with the detective Paul Auster.  Eventually Wilson, who already writes under a pen name of Daniel Quinn, finally accepts the identity of Private Eye Paul Auster and takes a very strange and challenging case.  

Ghosts: Blue is a Private Eye who was trained Brown, then hired by White to spy on Black.  Blue takes the case because he needs the work but the seemingly easy job becomes much larger than anticipated.  

The Locked Room: The protagonist, the nameless Narrator, is a writer who can’t write fiction but when he gets a letter from his childhood best friend’s wife about Fanshawe’s death, Fanshawe was the Narrator’s childhood friend, and instructions to judge whether the late writer’s works were worth posthumous publishing he agrees to a task that is much bigger than the sum of its parts.

 

Conclusion: It’s a fair warning to say that it’s best to go into this book blind as it has potential to be an extremely memorable detective fiction experience as the mysteries are as likely to surprise the reader as they do the protagonists.  Besides, what’s  the fun of reading detective fiction if you already know the mysteries?

 

**SPOILERS BELOW**

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cyberpunk and cyberculture by Dani Cavallaro (book review)

Happy Monday!

 

I was at the library a few weeks ago and I found this book and was sold from the colourful cover and funky title “cyberpunk and cyberculture”(picture of book).  As per the back cover, “Dani Cavallaro is a researcher at the University of Westminster and a freelance writer specalising in contemporary Literature, aesthetics and critical theory.”  


cyberpunk and cyberculture is a literary analysis on science fiction and the first six cyberpunk and culturebooks of William Gibson including, Neromancer (1984), Count Zero (1986), Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988), The Difference Engine (1990), Virtual Light (1993), and Idoru (1996).  

 

Synopsis:

Davallaro explores the motifs of SF lit and the subgenre cyberpunk in a variety of different respects rooting the genres in mythology, explores how the cyberbody is presented in the works and how it relates to contemporary issues pertaining to the body, gender and sexuality.  Most interesting and surprising to me is the convincing arguments Davallaro makes linking the genres SF lit and cyberpunk to the gothic, modifying my understanding of the gothic from a genre in itself to more of a meta-tag genre that can be used to better understand the place of SF lit in cannon.  

 

Conclusion:

FULL DISCLOSURE: I haven’t read any William Gibson.  Sorry, please don’t shoot me! Neromancer has been on my list for almost 10 years and I didn’t realise this book was about those works when I got it and now it’s been moved up near the top of my “to read list”.

 

However, that being said, if you have an interest in Gibson’s books or an interest in lit crit I cannot recommend it enough. As a reader it has given me an additional lens not only to dissect my favourite genre but also a framework to approach troubling questions that are becoming increasingly hard to not consider in our changing society.   

 

**SPOILERS BELOW**

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The Fault in Our Stars By John Green (spoiler free review)

Happy Tuesday!

Announcements

I apologize for the late post, I had a midterm paper due yesterday and I was sweating all weekend and yesterday morning finishing it. Also, lectures started again yesterday after spring holiday and uggh it’s a mess over here. I’m ready for summer.

There are some changes coming down the tubes, I’m not quite at liberty to talk about them yet but it’s all good news.  However I am EXCITED to announce that I have a new writer coming on board to write poetry, short stories, and more on Tuesdays.

If you want to submit pieces of poetry, short fiction, fan art, or if you’re a band who wants to do a press release for your new music video or album, or a young author looking for a new reader, or whatever feel free to get in touch with me. Here’s a link to my contact page.

I’ll tell you more when I have more details worked out.

End announcements

Spoiler Free Summary and Review:

The Fault in Our Stars is a book by the wonderful John Green, well known for the YouTube series Crash Course (Crash Course Literature being one of my favourtes, tied with Crash Course Philosophy with his equally wonderful brother Hank Green).  If you’re as late to the party as I am on this one, published in 2012 and movie adaptation released in 2014, you are in luck, my friend, because this is probably the best romance story you’ve missed. (1)  The Fault in Our Stars.jpg

The Fault in Our Stars is a Shakespearean style love story, as the title implies. “The fault in our stars” is a quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, between Hazel Grace, a 16 year old girl with cancer that has spread to her lungs, and Augustus, a boy she meets in a support group,

After some awkward teenage conversation, Hazel and Augustus exchange favourite books to read. They bond over the cliff hanger end to Hazel’s beloved book The Price of Dawn.  Augustus gets in touch with the author of Hazel’s favourite book and puts the two in touch (for those taking notes, this is an EXCELLENT move; get me a personal meeting with Mark Z. Danielewski and I think that might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.)

The story goes on develop the arc of young love, but what sets it apart from other teenage love is that going into this story we have a game of Russian Roulette being played with Chekhov’s Revolver. The three main characters, Hazel, Augustus, and their mutual-friend Isaac, have advanced stages of cancer. The whole time I was, sometimes literally, in tears with anticipation of seeing who was going to die, and wishing the whole time that somehow no one would and that they could all go into remission and live long, wonderful lives together.  However, as per the rules of great fiction: characters have to get hurt.  In this case for me, the pain was worth the pay off.

 

Footnotes:

  1. If you’re into that kind of thing, romance stories that is.  See me? I may have a cold black heart but I’m a sappy sod for a good love story.  Speaking of I’m a HUGE pumping-blood-bleeding-heart for a good real life love story,  so if you have a good story about how you met your lovely partner or former partner and want to share, send me a message.

 

**SPOILERS BELOW**

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The Things They Carried (book review **SPOILER FREE**)

Featured

Happy Monday!

I’m trying to read more shorter length books, 200-300 pages, because the last several months, almost a year now, I keep getting invested in these epic 1000+ page books which are generally rewarding do take me so very long not only to read but to digest (I’m looking at you Infinite Jest). In a means towards that end, I restarted and finished a book I started for a class in October, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.

things

Spoiler Free Summary and Review:

The Things They Carried (TTTC) is a war novel but it’s not about war.  TTTC is a piece of non-fiction where the author blatantly tells you “In many cases a true war story cannot be believed. If you believe it, be skeptical…In other cases you can’t even tell a true war story.  Sometimes it’s just beyond telling.” (70) The Things They Carried is less about a war or about the validity of the stories inside the covers but at it’s heart it’s a story about the things these men carried with them before, during, and after the war.  The literal things they each carried, from the stockings of a sweetheart to a fully illustrated New testament bible or simply a big bag of dope, to the memories and guilt and ultimately stories they tell themselves and anyone who will listen.

Generally set in the 1970’s the novel loosely follows Tim O’Brien and his company of fellow soldiers in a non-linear story line.  The stories that take place before and after the war are the minority leaving a strange and confusing amalgamation of funny and brutal stories about their experiences over there.  The non-linear story structure really works with the content of the story in that O’Brien “[Wants] you to feel what I felt. [O’Brien wants] you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.” (179) and in this way I believe his choice of a non-linear narrative structure has helped convey this feeling that when you’re reading TTTC you are entering a shadowy and crowded room full of ghosts chattering, all vying for your attention but only a few voices come out clearly.  Ghosts and memories have no use for time as we understand it.  TTTC is a short novel at 236 pages however if you liked it, like I did, there are at least three more books about his experiences in Vietnam (Northern Lights, If I Die in a Combat Zone, and Going After Cacciato).

**SPOILERS BELOW**

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Post Office by Charles Bukowski(book review)

Happy Monday!

Today I have a book review for you today by this guy named Charles Bukowski. Let me give you some background on this Dirty Old Man to give you an idea for what we’re getting into:

Image result for charles bukowski

This about sums it up.

Henry Charles Bukowski (born Heinrich Karl Bukowski; August 16, 1920 – March 9, 1994) was a German-born American poet, novelist, and short story writer.

His writing was influenced by the social, cultural, and economic ambience of his home city of Los Angeles.[4] His work addresses the ordinary lives of poor Americans, the act of writing, alcohol, relationships with women, and the drudgery of work. Bukowski wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories and six novels, eventually publishing over 60 books. The FBI kept a file on him as a result of his column, Notes of a Dirty Old Man, in the LA underground newspaper Open City.[5][6]

In 1986 Time called Bukowski a “laureate of American lowlife”.[7] Regarding Bukowski’s enduring popular appeal, Adam Kirsch of The New Yorker wrote, “the secret of Bukowski’s appeal. . . [is that] he combines the confessional poet’s promise of intimacy with the larger-than-life aplomb of a pulp-fiction hero.”[8]

-wikipedia, Charles Bukowski

Going into Post Office, I was pretty blind.  The extent I had heard was that he was an American Beat writer and the friend who gave me my copy of Post Office told me when I asked them “What’s this about? What’s Bukowski like?” They kinda looked off, chuckled, and said “Bukowski is a bastard.  You’ll like em.”  After reading Post Office, I get it.

Image result for post office bukowski

Imagine this copy except a couple of coffee spots at the bottom left.

Post Office falls square in this sub-genre called Dirty Realism and it wasn’t named because of this book but it could have been.

Spoiler Free Summary and Review:

The Narrative follows a guy named Henry Chinaski and his drunken meanderings between Post Offices in California with a brief stint in Texas, the overall narrative reminds me of the movie, “Barfly” which is “Based on the life of successful poet Charles Bukowski and his exploits in Hollywood during the 60s, 70s, and 80s.” (IMDB)

Overall I was a little offended, the story was strange, but I found that I was so amused I couldn’t quite stop until it was done reading.  I equate developing a taste for Bukowski like developing a taste for hot sauces: it’s never entirely pleasant but when you understand the burn an appreciation can be developed.

**SPOILERS BEYOND**

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The Passage by Justin Cronin (book review *SPOILERS*)

Happy Monday!

Spoiler Free Summary and Review:

This book should come with a warning: “Buckle up, this book will grab you by the FUCKING throat. Read at your peril.”

I read a lot(1) however it’s not often when I pick up a book that gives me problems, as in when I start reading the book I have such a strong compulsion to continue reading that I start stealing time from other things like sleeping or coursework(2).  That being said, I should say that this book is less of a page burner from page 1 but more of a shadow slowly stalking up on you until about page 241.  At the time, I didn’t realize it until about page 315 that I was screwed.

the passage

Cronin isn’t messing around with the “Something is coming.” subtitle.

At 963 pages, The Passage by Justin Cronin is a physically daunting book and it’s ambitious. The story takes place over the course of 97-1008 years depending on how you count, the setting spans most of the United States west of the Mississippi from New Orleans LA to Southern Oregon, and there are about 9 core characters.  This both works for and against the passage.

It can be exhausting keeping track of that many characters and the first and last part of the book has several separate story lines to keep straight.  Some of the characters and story lines I found more interesting and while nothing in the book is boring, some story lines felt jarringly interrupted by switching gears to other story lines.  However for the majority of the book when all the character arcs are plaited together it transforms into a tour de force of action, drama, intrigue, science fiction, fantasy, Gothic horror.  Highly recommended.

Footnotes:

  1. I average a book a week/300 pages.
  2. I lost 2 solid days reading 648 pages.

 

**SPOILERS BELOW**

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All the Pretty Horses (book review)

Happy Monday!

all-the-pretty-horses

I have been looking forward to this review for a while now.  My first taste of McCarthy was when I saw the deeply disturbing but fantastic 2009 movie The Road staring Viggo Mortensen previously known for playing Aragorn in Lord of the Rings and the star role in A History of Violence.  It would be years before I actually picked up my first two McCarthy books, two for one deal at a second hand book shop got The Road and All the Pretty Horses, and what excellent purchases they were.  Sadly I may have to re-buy my book collection since I’m in the process of beginning the naturalisation process so I can be a full UK citizen and I did not realise how steep the shipping and handling over seas is!  However I did bring some of my books, All the Pretty Horses being one of them.

Setting: 1949, San Angelo, Texas => Mexico

Three Sentence Summary:

  1. John Grady, our main character, has lost his grandfather and the novel opens with a viewing of the body and the news that the ranch he lives on will be sold.
  2. John and his friend Lacey decide to ride their horses south into Mexico in search of fun and work and pick up another companion, reluctantly, a young outlaw calling him self Jimmy Belivins.
  3. John and Lacey loose Belivins at some point and ride further south in to the Mexican landscape eventually finding work but the trouble Belivins got into catches up to John and Lacey who are put into prison and narrowly survive long enough to be bailed out when Lacey decides to ride back to Texas and John tries to find the girl he fell in love with on the ranch but ultimately gets revenge on the corrupt officials who imprisoned him and his friends, reunites with Lacey, and then rides off into the sunset.

Review:

This story is a seriously sad one.  Some main themes include isolation, loneliness, being “the stranger in a strange land”, and loss.  John Cole Grady, over the course of the book looses his grandfather in the beginning which also means that his family is selling off the ranch something he was deeply attached to, later John Grady falls in love with a young woman living on the ranch, Alejandra, whom he will later be forced to never see again, after him and Lacey are arrested they reunite with Belivins only to witness him being walked off and executed off the record, by the end of the novel John Grady’s father dies along with the longtime family caregiver (his mother has been out of the picture for a long time), and it’s somewhat implied by the ending that the strain of the journey on the friendship between John Grady and Lacey ultimately breaks them up leaving John Grady with no more ties and no home to ride off alone into the sunset with his horse and Belivins bay horse.

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Book Review)

Happy Halloween!

ocean_at_the_end_of_the_lane_us_cover

For the record, Halloween is my favourite holiday and in celebration of the creepy-crawly holiday I’m reviewing a book about children, deities, and monsters: Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  (WARNING POSSIBLE SPOILERS)

Three Sentence Summary

  1. A man drives around in the rain in England going to a funeral but instead takes a detour to the farm house at the end of the lane from his childhood home and begins remembering back to his childhood about the residents of the farmhouse and the strange events revolving them.

  2. The main body of the narrative takes place in the narrator’s childhood memory about how a miner came to rent a room in his parents house and ends up committing suicide over money issues which allows a monster thing to come into the world and gift people with money in unpleasant ways, one of those unpleasant ways happens to the narrator when he wakes up with a coin lodged deep in his throat and tells his neighbors, three ladies of sliding scale ages, about this which then results in a hunt to banish the monster however by happenstance the monster is able to make a wormhole in the boy’s foot and the next day manifests as the boy’s new awful nanny.

  3. The monster turned nanny does a lot of weird and bad things to the family but mostly directs her malevolence towards they boy who is the only one who can sense that there’s something wrong with this woman-like-thing and tries to confine him to his room in order to keep him safe/alive because he serves as a doorway back to the other world if she needs it however ultimately the boy escapes and runs to the sanctuary of the farmhouse and the three ladies extract the worm hole from the boy and summon carrion bird-monsters who eat other monsters and…existence, apparently…and they want to eat they boy’s heart as well since it still contains some of the nanny-monster-thing still however the youngest of the three ladies sacrifices her self to save the boy and takes a long nap in the ocean at the end of the lane.

Thoughts and Analysis

This is my third Gaiman book.  The first one I read was Neverwhere, the second was American Gods, and now this one.  I have to say up front: I’m not in the Gaiman cult fan club.  I’ve generally enjoyed his books in the same way I enjoyed taking calculus: I enjoyed it but I wouldn’t do it again.

One thing I really enjoy about Gaiman novels is how rich they are with mythology and mystery, frequently he blends a mix of gods and monsters borrowed from history and imagination and creates a backdrop that feels like a dark modern fairy tale.  However what I don’t enjoy about Gaiman’s style is everyone of his main character protagonists feel so flat and forgettable almost to the point where I feel like the narrator is more a vessel in which to deliver the story rather than pushing the plot along. However given how the book ends, it is heavily implied that the carrion birds ate most of the boy’s heart, the emotionless blithe that composes the boy grown up personality makes sense.  The guy’s missing a heart, of course he’s nonchalant, bland, and ultimately boring.  This emotionlessness in the narrator makes it really hard for me to care about the protagonist (I feel like that’s almost too strong of a word to describe the narrator, he’s not a good guy or a bad guy or lovable or hate-able he’s just a place holder) and the really sad things that happen to him.

 

Favourite Quotes

“As we age, we become our parents; live long enough and we see faces repeat in time.” p6

“I helped her put the flowers into the vases, and she asked my opinion on where to put the vases in the kitchen. We placed the vases where I suggested, and I felt wonderfully important.” p33

“My bed was pushed up hard against the wall just below the window. I loved to sleep with the windows open. Rainy nights were the best of all: I would open my windows and put my head on my pillow and close my eyes  and feel the wind on my face and listen to the trees sway and creak. There would be raindrops blown onto my face, too, if I was lucky, and I would imagine that I was in my boat on the ocean and it was swaying with the swell of the sea.” p60 (1)

“It was the kind of cloudy night where the clouds seem to gather up light from distant streetlights and houses below, and throw it back at the earth.” p79

“Oh, monsters are scared…That’s why they’re monsters.” p112

“If you have something specific and visible to fear, rather than something that could be anything, it is easier.” p138

“A story matters…to the extent that people in the story change…[but] I was the same person at the end of it that I was at the beginning.” p170 (2)

Overall score

The brevity of the story, under 200 pages including epilogue, and the mythology tidbits helps the score however ultimately the flat characters and plot driven story cancel out the bonus.  Since I didn’t mind reading the book but wouldn’t re-read it (I might end up donating it before leaving for England) nor do I feel comfortable recommending it to anyone who’s not already a Gaiman fan I can only give this book a middle of the road 3 out of 5.

Footnotes:

  1. In one of my old apartments I used to have this massive walk-in closet that had a window and I would sleep in the closet under the window and it was really wonderful when it was raining because the rain would blow in but because of the blinds and the bug screen the rain drops wouldn’t ever be more than mist.  I miss that room sometimes, the closet.  I named that room “tallow” after reading The Slow Regard of Silent Things.
  2. I think this is one of the axiomatic reasons I generally have no desire to re-read Gaiman books: his characters don’t change. Like at all.  They’re just listless people at the beginning where some pretty awful things happen to and they experience some otherworldly struggles however they them selves are the same exact people at the end as the beginning which makes me feel like there wasn’t a reason to tell the story in the first place.

 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide Series Review

Happy Monday!

hitchhikers guide to the galaxy book cover2

Here we are at the end of the review series and also the end of reviews of series via individual books. It takes too much time and I honestly don’t read many series, mostly just trilogies if that.

The first thing to address is I personally view this series complete in the first four books.  The Zaphod story and Mostly harmless I only read because they’re in the omnibus.  This being said I will not touch “…and another thing.” for free.  It’s a Zaphod, Trillian, Random, story involving the immortal from Life, the Universe and Everything who made it’s own purpose for eternal existence to insult everything in existence.

Overall the series seems to have a solid foundation established by the first two books and the third floundered however I’m not entirely sure how much the process is different but I can give slack since it was the first in the series that wasn’t first a radio special.

I wish Adams didn’t introduce Trillian’s character. Like at all.  He portrays him self as a writer with no understanding of female character at best or a male supremist at worst.  Really really blundered that one up.  Over and Over again.

A classic in the genre and good for a laugh.  It’s pretty cheap at 20$ (new) for the omnibus and worth checking out.

I’m sure you’re about as happy as I am to be finished with this series and beginning something else.  Tune in next week for my  Halloween special Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”.