Where an amateur attempts at divining somewhat passable insights.
I may not have been born autistic, but I was born short of my hearing, so reading about Christopher's living with his autism, his parents's struggling to raise him, and his coming to terms with a world that didn't understand him gave me that tingling sense of having spotted two same black cats pass by seconds apart (only there wasn't a cool gunfight afterwards). A lot of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time bordered on the eerie to read: arguments at home, incidents at school, outbursts in public, and awkwardness with strangers, which were common in my early years when I was being a perennial headache and pain in the ass, bringing home live spiders, dressing up as Batman and Power Rangers villains after bedtime, and staying out late to play marbles (which I later paid for dearly with mosquito bites). But most of that was par for the course for every other kid. In Christopher's case, however, things aren't nearly so rosy. I don't push people off swings when I want my turn. I don't discriminate against food based on what color it is. I don't explode in a flurry of punches and screams after being touched even slightly. Facial expressions don't baffle me. The number and color of cars I pass on my way to school don't determine whether I will have Good Days, Super Good Days, or Black Days. My first instinct after stumbling upon a neighbor's dead dog isn't to stick around and look fishy. I'm not in the habit of being someone's potential heart attack by hiding inside cupboards and shelves. It wouldn't have taken much for Mark Haddon to trip over his good intentions and end up with an offensive, mediocre, or offensively mediocre book.
It's too long¹, or you've already seen the movie, or clowns don't scare you, or your first Stephen King book soured you on the rest, or honestly, it’s just too friggin' long, so can we just re-watch the movie instead and put this all behind us? In the depressing event that the possible excuses just presented are actually ones some people unironically use to justify not reading It, I would advise them to kindly tell such unpleasant thoughts to begone with their falsehoods, never to return, the better to enjoy this book uninhibitedly. I couldn’t hesitate less when I say It is the best Stephen King book ever to have passed these eyes and imagination. "But hang on," you say, "ain't you only ever read one other King book?” True enough, thanks to Dean Koontz, It is only my second King book. If going through King’s entire oeuvre is required for going around and saying those kinds of things, then I’m about as qualified to pass such a judgment as hamsters are on matters of international politics. But let’s pretend we’re reasonable people and move on. Even if, assuming its legions of supporters still stand by their original words of praise, The Stand snatches that title when I finally muster the prerequisite patience and cojones to tackle and finish it, It would still be a frightening, funny, and fun experience, one not to be forgotten quickly, for better or worse.
A great idea for a drinking game if you fancy dying, let alone alcohol poisoning. See first to your worldly affairs, however, to be polite.
My heart can't stop racing. Matters aren't helped when the sub-chapters insist on ending themselves in mid-sentence, their action temporarily postponed and its continuation tantalizingly close by. These kinds of shenanigans would be justification enough for me to angrily set fire to my Kindle, and idiotically robbing myself in the process of my future peace of mind, if I were not also delighted at the arrival of a sub-chapter picking up where another left off, again in mid-sentence. At least King ties such sections together, so there's no great and disorienting sense of loss, certainly not like with George R.R. Martin's books whose chapters often have nothing to do with the last pages of their predecessors, many of which end on show-stopping cliffhangers. I can't really complain here.
As a long-time lurker and recently active Goodreads member, not really having any stakes in the matter, I watch the chaos unfolding and escalating there with some wide-eyed, popcorn-munching enjoyment tinged with sadness even I'm surprised at. The 'rents are fighting, and it's not a pretty sight. It's sad because of how, had Goodreads had thicker skin, stupidly unnecessary this whole hot mess of affairs, once so easily side-stepped, has been.
There was going to be the greatest of battles. Favorite characters would struggle and triumph, despised ones fight and fall. Entire worlds would then retire to happy endings. Readers, with contentment, would gently close the books, or put down their e-readers, and go be heavily in thought under shower heads. Then fealties to Philip Pullman would, by the skeptical and the undecided, be unequivocally and cheerfully declared. How he rose up to his challenge, putting together a crazily ambitious trilogy of exciting adventures and even bolder themes, with The Golden Compass as its surefooted first step, pointed to nothing less than an explosive and satisfying conclusion, a comeuppance long overdue. Maybe my fancies got ahead of myself. But how could they not? The Golden Compass left me impressed and restless for more; The Subtle Knife didn't disappoint, either, and still held my undivided attention.
The Subtle Knife, the second book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, picks up nowhere at all The Golden Compass left off at. Giddy with anticipation to get lost in yet stranger worlds, and with imagination run wild with fast and vague snapshots of the imperious Lord Asriel who is conspicuously absent here in all but name, possessing such balls of steel that their clanging echoes across immense, immense, immense (two can play that game) distances, fearlessly taking on the heavens, we wide-eyed readers start flipping past the cover and table of contents to escape from our boring world into, to some surprise, much the same world. Actually, it's exactly the same one.
Long story short: saw the movie first. I was underwhelmed. Tried reading the book. I was bored. The book became a paperweight. The end.
There’s good sense in taking five-star and one-star book reviews with a grain of salt. For many, it is easier to fall back on exaggeration, of which I’ve often been guilty. What challenges me constantly is not letting my feelings get ahead of myself, and this book is not helping matters. More to the point, I loved it. Candide, the little book that could (and most definitely did if it caused so many highers-up to clutch at their pearls in offended pride), goes for just under a hundred pages, but reads like it has half that amount. Voltaire, from the first word, hits the ground rocketing, wasting no time after introducing all the important characters in throwing the titular one headfirst into one unlucky situation after another, each crazier than the last. Candide the character, subscribing to Pangloss’s school of thought (modeled after Leibniz’s) that “all is best” and as intended, takes optimism to hilariously absurd extremes.
The Book Thief, in a possible oversimplification, amounts to Holocaust fiction narrated by Death. We follow him as he, in between doing his job, watches the activities of a young book-lover (little wonder now why it's so well-loved) called Liesel Meminger and her foster family whose home shelters a Jewish man in its basement from the Nazis. If that didn’t already sell me on the book, the gushing glee many of its readers have, along with their myriad animations and exclamation marks, heaped on to author Markus Zusak for gracing them with said book has certainly aroused my curiosity and bumped it up a few spots ahead in my reading priorities. My skepticism had me doubting their stamps of approval. My hindsight, after I devoured the book in three days, demands I now add my own.
The short of it: Gone Girl is a good book. The long of it: Gone Girl is a really, really good book, filled with the thrills and twists its genre promises, and with an enjoyably fluid and casual writing style thrown in for good measure. Words like "unputdownable," "gripping," "riveting," "page-turner," and other such variants feel like appropriate insertions here, and they would all be valid: I burned through the book in two days, occasionally punctuated by muttered holy-shit's and what-the-fuck's. If humans didn’t need to sleep, such a time-waster that it is, it would’ve taken shorter to finish.
For too long a time have I been stuck in a reader's funk, happy to read about reading, yet loath to actually read more than a few pages at a time. Ads, tweets, and teal-deer summaries, I hate to say, may have made mincemeat of my attention span. My desire to read everything, if I entertain it even a bit, only ends up being that which, with overwhelming hopelessness, paradoxically quashes my motivation. It's incomprehensible and pathetic, and I'm not proud of it, either.
Scrolling through my past reads, almost all of them fiction, it struck me how much my reading could benefit from more variety. The first non-fiction book I bought, as far back as I can remember, had to do with futurism, and I never did finish it. Scandalous! What non-fiction I've dabbled in since then has tended to be predictable and safe: Bill Bryson books monopolize the part of my bookshelf that I, perhaps too idealistically, reserve for non-fiction. My non-fiction inexperience notwithstanding, Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything has been comfortably holding onto its Most Amazing Non-Fiction Book I Ever Did Lay Eyes Upon title without any real danger of losing it. That is, until I read King Leopold's Ghost.
Out of John Green's more popular books from Looking for Alaska to Paper Towns, I figured An Abundance of Katherines was as ideal a starting point as any, less because it is among Green's least-reviewed works than because its blurb hit enough right notes for me to need no further convincing. A child prodigy just finished high school, more a fading star than a promising genius-to-be, consumed and spat out nineteen times over by the many-faced love named Katherine, now attempting to make sense of what his life has all meant, in the hopes of also divining what it holds in store for him? I was at a point in my life where, in my early-ish twenties and almost a year out of school, I felt not a little lost, so no surprise, then, that I was sold after reading about, roughly, what to expect, which is to say, other than the general plot, nothing much at all. More familiar with sci-fi and fantasy books, and occasionally with those from this or that genre, I started An Abundance of Katherines almost gingerly, trusting in the reviewers who liked it that I would come out on the other end sharing the same sentiment.
Not only genuinely scary, but well-written, a rare combination for what started off as, essentially, creepypasta. Here, there won't be obvious and over-the-top monsters of the supernatural sort, only ones that we face daily and don't know about. More often had it been my imagination than anything explicitly described in Penpal that threatened to deplete my closet of undergarments. The non-chronological aspect of it, rather than the opposite that in the hands of a lesser writer could've easily been the case, added a lot to its readability, as I found it impossible, once I started, to stop reading before finding out how it all tied together in the end, and tie together Penpal for the most part did. A few plot holes popped up here and there, granted, but none of them were significant enough, as most of them could be explained away by implications, to truly undermine what had been for me a thoroughly and consistently chilling experience, the impact of which, attesting to the strength of both the story and writing, has lingered on long afterwards. With some polishing-up, Penpal would be perfect, but even as it is, it's still very much worth checking out. Dathan Auerbach, a.k.a. 1000vultures, is definitely one author on whom to keep both eyes firmly fixed.
While not one to often dabble in young-adult books, I figured Angelfall to be worth the risk after reading it was one of the best the genre had to offer of late. Case in point: every Goodreads review of it on the first page alone. Naturally, my curiosity couldn't have me leave this stone unturned. Bracing myself for supreme disappointment, I found instead something not only bearable, but intriguing often enough to sustain my interest to the last page, notwithstanding the slight lull in productivity around the middle where I threw my hands up at more wandering about than some people stereotype The Lord of the Rings for. The premise, that of how angels are anything but and at war with us, sounded pretty cool, and the execution, while not the best, resembled The Hunger Games' more than Twilight's, which was all to the good. The writing wasn't the most impressive, but given the context, forgivable. There were bits I took issue with, ranging from Raffe's personality transplant at what happened to Penryn (the build-up to that moment didn't justify the severity of his reaction, I felt) to the ending (or lack thereof), the latter presumably a lead-in to the sequel. Had there been a better sense of closure, even if this is a book series, rather than an abrupt ending with more loose ends than seemed necessary, perhaps I might've looked on Angelfall more kindly. That said, I am looking forward a little to the next book.