S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst – A Book Review

This is a book unlike anything else I have ever read.

There are two stories within this work.

One is surrealistic and focuses upon a freedom fighter known only as “S.”  He has amnesia, travels upon a mysterious ship full of anomalous sailors, and, through a series of events, battles an evil capitalist while yearning for a woman he does not know, but loves nonetheless.

The other story takes place within the margins of the first, and it is the written exchange in the form of annotations between a university student and an exiled graduate student.  The core of their dialogue occurs through written notes and centers upon the author of the above story, but, as fate would have it, their own lives seem in danger as a result of their investigation and this brings them together.  In order to understand their story, you must realize that they have different handwriting, identify their particular style, and comprehend that different colors of ink represent different time periods in their lives.  Because they apparently read and reread the book several times, you may see a note from them that was actually written near the end of their story.  Yes, it takes some getting used to.

The beautiful thing about this book, besides the notes in the margins, is that there are several artifacts within that correlate to the researchers’ conversations and research.  My favorite, for examples, is a map one of them drew upon a napkin.  There are also postcards, photographs, handwritten notes, even copies of newspaper articles.  In fact, the book itself is made to look like an old library book, complete with water stains and a checkout history.

The only negative thing I have to say is that I didn’t completely understand the stories of the book, which seems to necessitate another read on my part.  I chose to read each page and the margin notes all at once, and perhaps this was a misstep.  My reread will actually result in a third read, because I plan to read the story all the way through, and then go back and read the notes in the margins separately.  This should help distinguish the two tales from each other.  I jumped from one to the other on a page-by-page basis, and I believe this may have weakened my understanding of both.

That being said, S. is an important book because it challenges our notion of what constitutes a book.  In this digital age, print books must do more than they ever have before, and S. certainly seems to utilize a winning strategy.  By including multimedia artifacts that pertain to the book, the story becomes extremely interactive for the reader, making it all the more real.  Of course, the artifacts must seem genuine, which S. accomplishes, but I have to wonder if the average publisher could take on such an expensive venture.

In the end, I greatly enjoyed S., but I think I’ll enjoy it even more upon subsequent rereads.  There’s nothing wrong with revisiting a book, there’s no shame in needing to get closer to a book in order to fully understand it. There’s certainly nothing adverse about art demanding a little more, especially when it gives a little more.

 

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – A Book Review

Though aimed primarily at young adults, I can attest as a grizzled thirty-seven year old that I adored every single thing about it.

I don’t want to summarize the book for you, plenty of others have already done so, but I can tell you that though this story may not be new in terms of tone or theme, it is absolutely a page-turner.  Rowell delivers two wonderfully developed characters that will, by book’s end, occupy a space in your head and become a part of your existence.  Eleanor and Park will make you angry, they will make you laugh, they will make you giddy with delight, and they will destroy your heart, and you will love them for all of it.  In other words, they are very much like real people.

Beyond the well-rounded characters, Rowell successfully captured the essence of high school love.  She understands the rapture, the awkwardness, the rush, the torment—she understands it all and displays her understanding through Eleanor and Park.  Whether or not you experienced high school love, I know you will find something of yourself in both Eleanor and Park.

Furthermore, I believe by alternating points of view between Eleanor and Park, Rowell found a way to hasten the pace of the story, thus creating tension.  The emotional honesty, the characterization, and the writing execution is truly what makes this book shine.

And there is quite a bit of emotional honesty.  In fact, parts of this book read very autobiographical.  Frankly, I don’t care if Rowell based any of the book on her own life.  I hope not, of course, because Eleanor goes through a lot of very painful things, but I’d be a fool to think children don’t suffer through the things Eleanor does.  If Rowell used her own life as the basis for Eleanor’s, then I say more power to her.  If it all came from her own imagination, then I say her empathy is nearly superhuman and it will serve her well with future books—books I’m certain to read.

Though initially a quirky love story not unlike several other young adult novels, Eleanor & Park rocketed past them and entered a space all its own.  Funny, provoking, enlightening, and heart-breaking, Eleanor and Park invite you into their lives, and you will be both overjoyed and saddened to have visited.

No matter what your age or reading inclinations, I urge you to give this book a chance.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker – A Book Review

I discovered this book through a positive review within the pages of Entertainment Weekly, and, I must admit, the premise really captured my imagination.  I’ve long found golems and genies fascinating, and the idea of making each a main character in a book set against late nineteenth century New York City, well, that’s a concept I can certainly support.  I found myself truly excited to read this book.

Wecker did not disappoint.  Not only is her idea a good one, but she is also a fine writer.  In fact, while I detest the confines of “genre,” some may find her style far more literary than expected.  She really strives to write beautiful sentences.  Furthermore, the vastness of her fertile imagination continually impressed me throughout the novel.  She does not restrict herself to New York City alone, her story also visits locales hundreds, even thousands, of years into the past throughout Europe and the Middle East.  Moreover, while I know nothing about the different communities within New York City from over one hundred years ago, she seems accurate with both her description and characterization.  It’s rather obvious she did her homework.

My only complaint is that the story went on a little too long.  I feel that about fifty pages could have been cut out, but that’s simply my opinion and many would certainly disagree.  With that being said, the last eighty or so pages move at a vigorous pace and I honestly could not put it down.  I’m especially glad that while it threatened to become a love story, it never fully dove into those waters.  It honestly had a touch of everything – horror, action, romance, fantasy, even humor.  In the end, though, it came to us through a literary lens, which is one of the things I most appreciated.

Wecker executes an intricate, well-woven plot that, ultimately, fits together seamlessly.  She clearly put a great deal of thought into this book and it is a credit to her that her writing style lived up to the richness of the plot.

For those seeking pure horror or overt swords and sorcery, I would look elsewhere.  But for those seeking a very well written tale driven by its characters with exquisite detail and ample using of magical realism, The Golem and the Jinni is for you.

Upon Completion Of Reading Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman Series

In early December, I decided to reread Neil Gaiman’s entire The Sandman series.  It marked the first time I reread the series since my initial read of the collected editions nearly ten years ago.

There isn’t much for me to say that hasn’t already been said, so I’ll keep it brief.  The series, as a whole, is literature at its finest.  The problem with comic books, for the most part, is that they are serialized.  They expect to run perpetually, and they often change hands as new writers and artists come in.  Superman, for example, has been published monthly since 1938.  It is hard to do anything too substantial with a character expected to appear continuously.

The Sandman, however, does not suffer from such a dilemma, which is what makes the series so enjoyable.  Though it got off to a inconsistent start due to the fact that it tried to exist within the same universe as Superman, The Sandman soon broke away into a world largely its own (thanks to its own publishing imprint).  As a result, Gaiman was free to create worlds, mythologies, and, as a consequence, quality stories.  Best of all? Gaiman alone wrote the series, and Gaiman clearly worked to an endgame.

That’s right.  The Sandman has a clear beginning, middle, and end, and Gaiman executed each stage thoughtfully and with purpose.  Lord Dream, or Morpheus, is an eternal character that impossibly changes throughout the series, and, as a result, evolves into something completely unexpected.  The series is character driven—not plot driven.  Gaiman had something to say, to do, with his main character, and when it happened, the story ended.  Simple as that.

Literature.

The scope of this series will mesmerize you.  The characters will leap off the page and into your heart.  The intricate plots that seem unrelated only to finally connect near the end will captivate you.  The dialogue will give you chills.  Honestly, nothing quite compares to The Sandman, and nothing ever will.

Sometimes horrific, sometimes hilarious, always enlightening, The Sandman will always live on in your imagination once you’ve experienced it.  Whether you think you enjoy comic books or not, if you like a good story, I implore you to give this finite series a read.

Report from the Interior by Paul Auster – A Book Review

If you follow this website, you know I’m a Paul Auster fan and will read anything he publishes.  I love the man’s fiction just as much as his nonfiction, and I’ve learned more about the craft of writing through his personal tales than I thought possible.

Report from the Interior is about his coming of age through his very own eyes.  He recounts his thoughts and feelings on a great number of subjects from the time he was a little boy all the way into adulthood.  Somehow, he makes almost all of it riveting, even as he’s describing movies he watched that heavily influenced him.  I attribute the dynamism of rather mundane topics to his unparalleled mastery of the captivating sentence.  The man simply knows how to write in a way that cannot be ignored, no matter what the topic!

Report from the Interior serves almost as a history lesson, for Auster not only recollects the little personal things he experienced, but also the world’s happenings and his reactions to them.  I loved viewing these events through his eyes, with his voice serving as a guide.

And though I’m an unabashed fan of the man, I cannot suppress some criticism.  The book is divided into four parts.  It’s the third part that, frankly, I had difficulty reading.  It is largely comprised of notes he wrote to a loved one during his late teens and early twenties.  They are pretentious, arrogant, and self-obsessed.  And while I know all of us are those things at that age, it was very challenging to stomach.  I do, however, admire Auster that he was brave enough to put those letters out there, to display an aspect of himself that I didn’t find terribly flattering.  The man continually takes risks, even as an established master, and he has my unending readership as a result.

In the end, Auster continues to give himself to us, to peel away layers of his persona that contribute to the writing we so love.  The most amazing thing is, and this is yet another credit to the man’s skill, that the more he reveals to us, the greater of an enigma he becomes.

To the uninitiated, I’m not sure this book is a good place to start with Auster.  But for those who have read much of his work, it’s yet another volume that adds to the overarching epic that is, in my mind, one continuous story blending fiction with nonfiction, novel with memoir, poetry with correspondence.

The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams – A Book Review

Though I have enjoyed comic books pretty much since the age of three (I am currently 36), I have not bought a single-issue comic book since 2006.  I largely wait for the collections’ debut, and, because these collections often come out a few months after the end of a storyline, must work diligently to avoid spoilers.

I could not risk such a thing with The Sandman: Overture.  I adore everything about Neil Gaiman’s epic Sandman series, and when I heard he planned to revisit the mythos, I knew I had to be right there in the thick of things.  Furthermore, J.H. Williams is an artist in the truest since of the word, from Promethea to Batwoman, his work is both beautiful and frenetic.  Only Gaiman and Williams could bring me back to the single-issue format.

And I am glad they did.  Though I am out of practice with reading such a small installment of the story compared to the collections I typically read, I am no less contented with the first issue of The Sandman: Overture.

Gaiman says that Overture is meant to answer some questions about those first few issues of the original series, and, quite honestly, I cannot wait to see what tribulations Morpheus must endure before his eventual capture.

Overture is beautiful to behold.  Gaiman includes several of our favorite characters along with Dream, a mystery develops, surrealism abounds, and it concludes in such a manner that waiting for the next issue will be a maddening, exuberant plight.

I suspected that waiting for the collected edition of this series would be a mistake, and Gaiman and Williams proved me right.  They make the single-issue experience satisfying again.  I am thrilled to read it as it unfolds.

Nine Inches: Stories by Tom Perrotta – A Book Review

I’m ashamed to admit that this is my first Perrotta book.  A friend recommended it to me, and I took his advice mostly because I respect his opinion and I enjoy short stories. Well, I can honestly say that Perrotta instantly made me a fan for life with this collection.

Nine Inches is comprised of several short stories, none of which overtly link together.  Thematically, however, each are very similar in how things can go so, so wrong in the blink of an eye. 

Not that it’s a depressing book.  At times, in fact, it’s quite funny.  Perrotta simply doesn’t back off from those dark thoughts we all occasionally entertain.  His characters—sometimes deliberately, sometimes accidentally—act upon those dark thoughts, and Perrotta then throws their lives out of control.

It’s been a long time since I read an author who fundamentally understands people.  He knows us when we’re good, he knows us when we’re bad, and he captures those moments on the page exquisitely. 

His characters are not always likable, but they are real … they are you … they are me.  They are the versions of us after our lives unravel. 

I cannot wait to read Perrotta’s other works.

 

 

Love, Lies, and Pumpkin Pies – An October Romance

Though it originally appeared in the October, 2009, issue of News and Views for the Young At Heart, I’m excited to offer “Love, Lies, and Pumpkin Pies” once again through digital means.

In this short October love story, Ramona Stocks, a retired science teacher, and Matthew Campbell, a widower, find romance amidst a torrent of lies and pumpkin pies.

Click the link to download your copy!

Over My Dead Body – A Humorous Halloween Tale

I have a humorous Halloween tale available to download.  It’s entitled “Over My Dead Body” and originally appeared in the October, 2008 issue of News and Views for the Young at Heart.

In this short story, Preston, Jared, Reggie, and Dale thought they’d be the first to successfully pull a prank on their math teacher, Mr. Washington. But when Mr. Washington catches them in the act, he runs down his front porch, takes a terrible tumble upon his front walk, and doesn’t get up. The boys soon discover their Halloween prank won’t be unraveling as planned.

Read your copy by visiting this link:

 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – A Book Review

Though very well written, I am afraid The Ocean at the End of the Lane did not entice me the way other Gaiman books have in the past.  The plot involves a young boy who, after the death of his family’s tenant, meets a family of women at the end of a lane.  Before long, he discovers that these women are more than they seem, and when they suspect an evil entity has entered the world, the youngest, Lettie, seeks to contain the unwanted presence.  Unfortunately, the creature is more resourceful than the eleven-year-old Lettie suspected, and our narrator, the boy, suffers for her misstep.

Though I would rate this amongst Gaiman’s best in terms of prose, the story itself failed to deliver any real emotional impact.  The protagonists were likable, but I would not necessarily describe them as charismatic.  The villain of the story, while in human form, proved the most interesting, but that was all too brief a portion of the book.  While not in human form, she was difficult to process.

Gaiman wrote an entertaining tale, but I must wonder if the first-person narration hindered the overall story to a degree.  We only got our information from the narrator’s perspective, and because he did not truly understand what unfolded before his eyes, we received only a portion of the happenings.  Because of the fantasy aspect of this book, I believe a different perspective may have freed the more magical elements for the reader to enjoy.  After all, Gaiman is amid the best at making fantasy feel real.

I understand that Gaiman wanted to explore the disconnect between the child’s world and the adult’s, but the story should not suffer as a result.  In the end, we have far more questions than answers, and while that is not always a bad thing, in this case, it weakened the book.  The Ocean at the End of the Lane is, from a craft standpoint, a beautifully written story, but in terms of an engaging read, it lacked the charm of previous Gaiman works.