Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I'm Talking about Keep You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters

In which people saunter, seethe, and swagger way too much… 

I read this book in a day; which felt great as I've had problems reading anything--let alone to completion--in a a long time.  I finished the book, which means I liked it; I spent most of the day wishing I liked it more.  

It's the story of a girl, Holland, coming out.  And out and out and out and out…  (No seriously, she comes out on every page to the point where I started wishing she'd do something else.)  It hasn't aged terrible well; nor does it feel super dated.  I have an older sister who is gay, out and proud so a lot of the conflict felt luke warm to me, but I'm trying to keep personal experience out of my mind.  I really wish this book started on page seventy-nine instead of page one.  But yeah… I finished it; I liked it.  

Peters' must have had a sketch pad on which she jotted down the fifty most tense, nerve wracking plot scenarios she could come up with; this entire list she came up with was awesome.  Then she pared the list down and managed to cram as much as she could into the book by dialing back on all that made each scenario awesome to begin with.  

'Should have started on page seventy-nine," aside, I don't know how this book didn't have more momentum and power.  A teenager coming to terms with sexual identity while in a healthy and positive sexual relationship with the opposite sex, and being the most popular, image-conscious kid in the school.  It reminded me of Michael Chabon's short story Son of the Wolfman that I felt fell flat even though it was working with such strong material.  

I erased about twenty paragraphs in writing this next phrase: I never bought into Holland being gay.  At the snap of a finger, she sees a girl.  Learns this girl is gay.  That's all it takes. Now, Holland is gay.  Her character wasn't that shallow, but it wasn't much more substantial either…   All the problems--inherent to the story's framework--that could have been exploited but weren't: Seth, Holly's boyfriend, their eventual fallout and all the other subsequent boys she has to fight off; her family stepsister, stepfather; the student body president bit did nothing for the story even though she can identity a hate crime and bullying when she sees it; why use any of that material?  

At the end of the day Holly didn't strike me as a three dimensional character, thus made for a very week protagonist.  


There is a great story in here somewhere (starting on page seventy-nine) but I didn't feel it was ever uncovered.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Month in Review

I can't skip this post for June since I actually, ya know…, read some stuff.  Not a lot but some and considering my recent reading dry spell we'll take 'some' over nothing.

I read Torn Away at the start of the month and finished it so quickly that if feels like a year since I read it!  I also loved the book--which I kinda knew I would before I started reading.  With only a month  since I finished, I can already say that it hasn't stuck with me the way Perfect Escape has.  And while I think it would be foolish to say Jennifer Brown has already written her best book, I would tell anyone who wanted to get into Brown to do so, but save Perfect Escape for last or last--ish.

Today, I finished The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon.  If you've read my blog before, you know I love Chabon.  So how did his first novel go over with me?  To quote the much more literarily expressive than I Marion Deeds, I finished reading and said, "Huh?"

I got both the book and what he was trying to express or communicate, but if I read the book and didn't know it was Chabon I never would have ever guessed that he wrote it.  It's good, and not because it's dated but I'm sure it was even better when it first came out twenty years ago.  There were a few beautiful passages and descriptions that are shades of who he would later become, but none of the characters felt grounded.  I didn't mind all the characters being a caricature of themselves (or at least that's how they came off to me) or super pretentious and knowing I'd never hang out with these people in real life, but what killed me is they weren't real.  None of them felt like flesh and blood beings.  They were great vessels for ideas and living embodiment of concepts and ideals but that was all.

I love Michael Chabon and I'll read anything he writes (no, seriously; I will.) but all I'll say about this book is, "A writer and change/develop/grow a lot in twenty years."

I'm still about halfway through Better Living Through Plastic Explosives it's great but not really what I'm feeling right now.  I may read the remaining stories at a later point in time to appreciate them more than my current stupor will allow.

Since I'm blogging again, I wish the google sidebar thing where I post my 'most recent commentaries' links worked like it used to… Oh well.  Also, I've been giving a lot of though to re-reading stuff.  I've been doing so, as so many of the new-to-me-books I've picked up as of late have been misses that I'm thinking, 'Why not revisit the good stuff?'

I think I'll make a list, not merely of books I liked but ones that I really feel would benefit from a second (or third) visit and then after doing so I'll see if the idea of reading what's on the list still seems appealing or if I need to keep forging ahead.

Nonetheless, I'm reading again which feels good.  Scouring my shelves for more quick and dirty; fast and easy stuff for right now i.e. not Garcia-Marquez, Krauss, or Fowles which is the kinda stuff I own that is staring at me.  I think it's helped me that I'm not setting reading goals a month in advance like I usually do.  When I'm on a roll, doing so is a motivator and helps me read even more, but when I'm not, the opposite is also true.

Lev Grossman's new book is out in August…

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Something Different

Can I talk about a movie?  I don't usually do that.  It's based on a book I read, so it should be okay to talk about.  Right?

For me, movies are usually always awesome: they go from zero-to-WIN in less than three seconds;  classic to gold; to platinum and then 'instant vintage' about ten minutes in, or in some cases before the opening credits are finished.  This is because I have no expectations when going to see a movie.

I'm weird and I know it--un-American in many many ways--but, all things considered, movies are not a medium of story telling that I enjoy.  So how is it I love most all of the movies I see?  Well, I only see about two or three a year so it doesn't take much to get me excited.  I don't sample enough to be critical; I don't have much grounds for comparison.  X-Men "Let's kill off all the old cast" was awesome.  Maleficent "The bad guy wusses out and becomes the good guy and what the hell was that rape scene doing in a Disney movie?" was awesome.  Divergent (book commentary here) was epochally bad.

Divergent was awful.

It was just like the book; verbatim, which is odd as I didn't particularly care for the book but neither was it as painful as watching that movie.  Same problems, same complete lack of direction or forward motion, same "what the hell is going on in this world and why is anyone putting up with it?" except the book takes about two hours to read; in my comfy chair, and libations to ease the occasional pain.  The movie takes three hours to watch and sometimes the person next to you sneezes…

Obviously I'm wrong right?  The movie made truck loads of movie, they are already filming the sequels (right here in Atlanta, Georgia), and I'm sure it's gonna help launch old girls career if The Fault in Our Stars doesn't manage to do so.  But still… it was bad…  I'm not a film critic; neither do I aspire to be one.  I don't care how much money it makes.  That movie was like pop music specifically catered towards 14-17 year olds that anyone, ANYONE, could 'sing' because the track can't fail; only in film form.  

Divergent was awful.

Damn…   

Did you see it?  Did you like it/love it?  Tell me why!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Where's the Story?

I find myself reading two books at once.  Usually when this happens it means I started one, it's doing little to not much for me, so I start another.  This is the first time I can recall reading two books at once where the above isn't the case.

I don't think I'll be leaving comments for Better Living Through Plastic Explosives by Zsuzsi Gartner as I've already found so many reviews online that state my feelings better than I could, but I may talk about it.  It's the kind of literary fiction that people who don't like the genre point to: not because it's 'not good' in some vague way (it's actually amazing) but because there aren't stories being told.  

I started The Mysteries of Pittsburg yesterday and it's flying by.  The ease in reading has nothing to do with the plaudits that come with being Michael Chabon as opposed to being anyone else Gartner, rather Chabon has a narrative going, a story.  After reading half of Gartner's collection, picking up Chabon is the first time I've ever condoned seeing 'A Novel' on the cover of a book.

I get it now.

I understand because I've now come to see that not all works of fiction are novels, or in Gartner's case not all short stories collections are narrative stories in the typical sense.  I don't want to turn this into an author vs. author and even if I did I'd be the first to point out Chabon's near inability to wrestle a story out of Jews With Swords as he fell further an further in love with his word play and himself page by page.  (And if I were Chabon I'd be totally in love with me too.)  All that said, I like stories.  Settings; characters; narrative; plot; tension; conflict; resolution.  Ideas are great and so is social commentary--Gartner has a lot to say and does it extremely well.

But with the points she's trying to make and concepts she wants the reader to think about, many of her stories feel like essays shoehorned into short stories.  (As if one of those two genres has substantial sales clout on the other… )  "Okay, this is good.  Now just add some characters names and try to craft some narrative direction."  I'll talk about it a bit more when I finish.  

But I like stories.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Making The Same Mistakes Again...

I put down a book two days ago.  Actually, I dropped it on accident and it landed on the floor, the book mark came out, and I haven't bothered to pick up the book since.  I don't know why this is so hard for me to admit to myself and then act upon, but I just can't read high fantasy like I used to when I was a kid.  I know this to be true, through and through, and yet I have to periodically reaffirm this assertion which has already been proven.  I want to but I can't.  I need to get my fix with cheap TV and "B" movies: they serve to hit me up with my dose of guilty pleasure, are just as painful, and are completed in a much much shorter time.

I do not think that my reading hiatus had anything to do with the book I was reading at the time that I went on break; it was merely coincidence that it happened to be fantasy.  I was loving every part of the story; I don't think there was anything bad with the book; but something about 500 pages of 700 and three more books to go to finish the story just overwhelmed me to the point of running away despite my good intentions and enjoyment.

I can't do fantasy of this kind, and I'm vowing to never attempt to do so again.

I'm going to read Inkdeath and finish that series at some point in time.  Not because I'm a completionist but for whatever reason that series has stuck with me.  So long as the narrative doesn't prove too stiff, I'll keep at the Earthsea series.  Other than that, I'll have to keep the fantasy novels I read to the contemporary kind: more Lev and Austin Grossman than Tad Williams; not because I feel one writer is better than another rather I just can't do the latter.

Fantasy short stories I can do because they usually have a more pointed and concentrated story to tell than the expansive stuff that makes me cringe.  

I'm reading again, and I even seem to be blogging again, but don't expect too much fantasy commentary.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Torn Away by Jennifer Brown

"At this point, I could believe almost anything.  People think a tornado drops down on a cow pasture or a trailer park and everything is fine.  They never think about things like infected cuts and broken legs and old ladies crushed by air conditioners in their bathtubs.  They never think about orphans."  Page 176-177    

Can't you feel the happy and positive energy exuding from the words above?  

Jersey Cameron, survives an F5 tornado in her small town of Nowhere, Missouri.  A great deal of other people in her town didn't; including her mother and sister.  As is the norm for Jennifer Brown books what would seem like the climax happens on the first page and where the narrative ends up from there is the unique ride that is reading to the end of one of her novels.

So much of Jersey's identify is communicated so quickly in this leisurely reading three-hundred page book that I was winded after five pages.  How's that so, you ask?  Because on page one we are told everything in her life gets knocked off the planet by an F5 tornado.  If getting five pages in was a rush, the rest of the book was exhausting. 

The tornado takes everything about her life and identity away; absolutely everything.  (And unless you've survived one of these horrible instances before, be prepared to be overwhelmed and humbled by how much 'everything' encompasses.)  After the tornado takes her mother and sister, her house and her town, she watches it take everyone else that had been important in her life away in it's wake.  There's no communication.  None.  There are missing people.  Her friends are gone; the boy next door is gone1; her step-father finds himself incapacitated to do the duties of his station and be her parent2.

So she goes to live with her biological father, who she has never met or seen in a picture and things start to get really bad.  Like, worse than a tornado bad…  It's a bit of a Cinderella story.  It's a bit of a coping with PTSD story.  And in the oddest way, being a Cinderella PTSD person makes Jersey, and vicariously the reader, appreciate what they had even more, and to a higher degree, what's left.  Even as a jaded, bitter "I know what's coming next" reader it's really, really hard to see any positive signs in Jersey's life, and yet as she has absolutely nothing, when she's willing to look it's not hard to find something positive because she's literally got nothing.  

She has to start over, and she has to make do, and do the best she can with what's she's got, because as she's constantly reminded; she doesn't have options.  

From having read two others, this absolutely felt like a book by Jennifer Brown and I love reading her novels and seeing her develop as a writer.  (There were about twenty pages at the end I didn't like, but that was it.)  In some ways Torn Away is a book that rehashes some of her old standby staples she always writes about, in other ways it's new and different.  One issue I missed that I'm so accustomed to getting from her is how her protagonist deal with relationships.  Jersey's story is easily Brown's most intimate of the novels I've read: everything is about, her her her her her.  And that's not a bad thing, only I was surprised.  

I'd always felt Brown's strongest quality lie in her interaction with characters: volatile Kendra and her mentally ill brother Grayson; guilt soaked Val vs herself, her family, her therapist and the world.  Jersey is alone.

This isn't a light-hearted, easy, or fun book to read, nor is it difficult or a chore in anyway.  It's sad and not in the 'this author is manipulating my emotions in a cheap way to get an effect' kinda way either.  Things get bad and then progressively worse.  I don't think Brown does 'happily ever after' endings.  More like 'We've been through some shit and there's still more ahead, but I think you got it from here…'  It was a very Sara Zarr like book.  (How awesome of a thing was that to say?)  

I've never once gotten the story I expected from the premises of a Jennifer Brown novel.  She is amazing.  I thoroughly enjoy her books.  I hope I never get what I expect from a Jennifer Brown novel.

1)  The kid next door was a particular source of anxiety for me and the reason why I finished reading so quickly.  He was such a huge symbolic character for Jersey and I couldn't stand the heartburn of worrying about him.  Read it; let me know if you felt the same way.


2)  Ronnie, was easily the most oddly sympathetic character I'd ever come across.  Bizarre in every way.  Even as he's kicking Jersey out of his life, and she is begging him to let her take care of him she forgives him.  It's a character like this that makes me say, "Wow… Brown looked into to how tornados effect people more than even she wanted too…"  Ronnie.  Wow.    

Friday, June 13, 2014

Big News!

Today, I read a book.

Well, I should say, "Today, I finished a book."  I book I started yesterday no less.  I wasn't expecting this announcement to shake up the world, but it's big new to me considering I hadn't read a book in months.

Even better news: the book was awesome and I've written up comments for your intent perusal.

Stay tuned.