The Amulet of Samarkand: Book One of the Bartimaeus Series (Spoiler-Free Review)

I don’t have any recollection of people discussing this series in the early 2000s. I only have vague memories of Bartimaeus’s face leering at me from atop a bookshelf at our school library in middle-school. I chose to read it only because I discovered it among my fiancé’s books from his childhood home. It left enough of an impression on him that he had decided to keep it (along with the other two books in the trilogy) all these years so I thought I would give it a go.

I have to say, I’m glad I did.

In spite of the fact that I’m obviously not in the age demographic this is targeted towards, I enjoyed this just as much as a child would. In fact, I think I enjoy it more as an adult than I would have as a kid. Much like Harry Potter, it doesn’t talk down to its audience, and I believe this is both to the book’s credit and its detriment.

The plot itself isn’t difficult to follow by any means, but some of the vocabulary used in this book might have gone over my head as a child and caused me to lose interest. Hell, I actually had to look up a few words up in the dictionary, especially the architectural terms, because I, a 26 year-old woman, didn’t know what a “cornice” was.

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Considering how much is going on in this story, the book handles world-building in an impressively clever way. Rather than doing massive exposition dumps, bits of information are sprinkled here and there, playing in the background of the bigger plot. It makes sense for this to be the case as Nathaniel, a 12 year-old boy, isn’t going to care about adult things that don’t directly effect him, and yet we, the readers, can ascertain what is really going on in the world these characters live in.

Speaking of characters, unfortunately, I found most them to be quite dull and one-note, especially those of the female persuasion. I’m not going to cry “sexist” because I don’t think this was done intentionally, but it’s worth noting. Mrs. Underwood in particular is criminally underdeveloped considering she has such a huge impact on Nathan’s life. I wouldn’t expect for her character to have an arc or elaborate backstory, but she seemed to have no personality outside of being a good person.

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That isn’t to say that all the characters were uninteresting, however.

I thought Nathaniel was a unique protagonist for a children’s book considering his moral code is significantly underdeveloped. While not a “bad person” per say, Nathaniel clearly has an ego and covets renown from his peers. He also falls prey to a lot of the same classist prejudices and narrow-minded beliefs many magicians hold. Prejudices he is not cured of by the story’s end.

It’s clear Stroud is playing the long-game when it comes to Nathaniel’s moral awakening and that suits me just fine. I always find it annoying when characters just intrinsically rebel against what they have been taught all their lives simply so the writer can portray them as being “special” right from the off. It’s much more realistic and cathartic for characters to change organically by having their beliefs questioned throughout the narrative.

As for Bartimaeus….I love him. I suppose the whole “sassy other-worldly creature” trope is old at this point, but dammit if I didn’t find him endlessly entertaining. His interactions with others of his kind are some of my favorite moments as you get a clear understanding of how “demon” culture works. I thought the bullet-points were a bit excessive in places, but on the other hand it gives the curious reader more insight all without bogging down the plot with unnecessary details.

I hope in the books that follow we will be able to dive even deeper into Bartimaeus’s past. I know that might slow down the plot a bit, but I found all the nuggets about his previous summonings and experiences to be interesting and I would love to hear more about it.

All in all, I enjoyed all the world-building, twists and turns, and spirit of this novel.

It leaves you with enough questions to keep you longing for Book 2, all without feeling like the entire things was just a set up for the sequel.

If you are looking for a fun, engaging read to ward off your quarantine blues, I highly recommend it.

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Why Canon Matters

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT FOR DOCTOR WHO SERIES 12 FINALE EPISODE. 

I know I said I was done with Who but I promise this isn’t just another reason to rag on the series 12 finale and why The Timeless Children is undoubtedly the most insulting episode to anyone that cares about Doctor Who and its history.

The more I thought about this episode and all its foibles, the more I realized I had to say on the subject of canon and continuity as a whole. I’ve seen many different shows and movies fall pray to the desertion of both the holy “Cs” and they have suffered in quality as a result. This is particularly common in TV shows within the fantasy and science fiction genre.

There is the commonly used defense within the Who fandom that postulates that Doctor Who canon has always been messed up and, therefore, doesn’t matter. After all, it’s a show where “anything can happen” so it stands to reason any changes made (no matter how contradictory to the themes and history of the show) are to be accepted.

Firstly, I reject the premise that “anything can happen” in a story regardless of how mercurial in nature the narrative may be.

When you create a fictional world it is imperative to create continuity (or “rules” if you prefer) so the viewer knows what can and cannot happen in this world.

Harry Potter cannot use an AK-47 to mow-down Death Eaters, Walter White cannot use telepathy to melt Gus Fring’s head, and Joe from You can’t use vampire mind-control powers to win Beck’s affections.

Why? Because these things would interfere with each stories’ internal logic.

This isn’t to say there can’t be twists along the way that may call into question previous notions about a character’s past or motivations, but these twists should complement rather than contradict the world in which they are taking place.

If you just haphazardly throw in an unplanned twist that messes with logic of that respective universe, you usually end up with one of these guys.

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Let’s use Who as an example.

If the Time Lords gained regeneration energy from The Doctor as a child, how did River Song obtain regenerative abilities? Presumably, if the Time Lords weren’t given regeneration energy from exposure to the Eye of Harmony this shouldn’t be possible and River Song should be entirely human.

If Ruth is supposed to be The Doctor before Hartnell, why is her TARDIS a police telephone box when its chameleon circuit had not been broken yet?

Why didn’t Clara see any of the female Doctor’s when she jumped into The Doctor’s time-stream?

Why did the Time Lords need to give The Doctor more regenerations when he literally has an infinite amount of them?

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The answer is simple: Because the change in the canon wasn’t supposed to happen.

Imagine someone gives you a jigsaw puzzle as a gift. You pour all the pieces onto the table and work for hours to recreate the picture you see on the box. However, it quickly becomes apparent the picture isn’t forming the way it is supposed to. In fact, many of the pieces appear to be from a different jigsaw puzzle altogether. When you confront your friend on why this is, they explain to you that this is how it’s supposed to look and, if you don’t see it, you’re an idiot. And so you give it another try, forcing the pieces together, bending them and contorting them so they will fit within the whole. You take a step back only to realize no matter how much you try to bend the pieces, they do not–will never–form a coherent picture.

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This is what it is like when canon is tampered with arbitrarily. Anything you change in the past will invariably have a ripple effect, causing everything that happened prior to the “amazing revelation” to no longer make sense.

This drastically hampers the audience’s capacity to suspend disbelief which negatively impacts their ability to be engaged in what they are watching.

I don’t know about you, but if I am forced to do mental gymnastics in order to justify creatively bankrupt decisions in my media, I tend to just give up.

If “anything can happen,” then why does anything matter? If a character dies they can just be brought back to life through some improbable means. If a “rule” prevents a character from obtaining their goal, it can be retconned with or without explanation.

There’s no reason for the audience to internalize any new information because it will only be discarded at the writers’ convenience.

This robs the story of tension, mystery, heart and everything else that makes a good story worth telling.

I’m perfectly fine with subverting an audiences expectations, but just because something is shocking that doesn’t mean it’s good.

Thanks for reading!

My Thoughts on “Sonic the Hedgehog” (2020) Spoiler-Free

I would like to preface this review by saying I have absolutely no emotional ties with Sonic the Hedgehog in any capacity.

I did not watch the cartoon, I did not buy the video games, and as I child I had no interest in doing so.

The only reason I chose to see it was because it was an excuse to squeeze out some more girl-time with a group of friends of mine who had fond memories of the guy.

That being said…..I thought this movie was awesome.

No, really.

It was good.

I’m just as surprised as you are.

It didn’t exactly break new ground, but this was a well-written and fun movie.

What made the movie so great in particular was how well the titular character was handled. It would have been so easy to make him just another annoying, migraine-inducing yapper that spouts out cultural references at every given opportunity. Instead, they brought a real vulnerability to the character that I had not anticipated. He’s a lonely guy that finds solace in observing people around him. When it finally dawns on him just how alone he is in the universe, it’s genuinely heart-breaking.

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Jim Carrey was….Jim Carrey. While I don’t know much about the lore of Sonic The Hedgehog (yes, there is lore), it seems to me that casting anyone else in the role of Dr. Robotnik would have been a misstep. Jim Carrey was more like a cartoon character than the actual cartoon character and never did it feel out of place. I wonder if the director actually gave Jim Carey any direction in these scenes, or if they just plonked him down in a room with a camera and space mech and said “go for it.” Either way, the end result was a masterpiece of cheese.

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That being said, I was caught off-guard by how well the jokes landed in this film It’s a kid’s movie so I was expecting low-brow humor, but this movie was funny for everyone. One gag in particular had me laughing so hard I went into a coughing fit.

What worked in this movie’s favor was it was self-aware without being ashamed of itself. It knew it was a movie about a blue hedgehog so it didn’t take itself too seriously, nevertheless, it never insulted the audience. It didn’t feel like it was another cash-grab from an idea-starved industry. It was a true love-letter to the fans of the franchise and it seems to be profiting from

I’m pleased to hear it had the best opening to any video game movie in history. I personally think I liked Detective Pikachu a bit more (come on, Pikachu is voiced by Deadpool), but this was still an incredibly fun movie.

If you are a fan of sonic, you will love it.

And even if you are like me and have no pre-established connection with the character, I’m still confidant you will enjoy it anyway.

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Thanks for reading!

Why I Converted From a Pantser into a Plotter

I think most people in the writing blogosphere know what a pantser and plotter are by now, but just in case you don’t, here’s a quick definition:

A “pantser” is someone who writes based on their intuition, or “flying by the seat of their pants.”

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Actual footage of me as a pantser

A “plotter,” however, well….plots.

That isn’t to say pantsers don’t have a picture in their head of where the story is going, they just trust more in their innate ability to navigate the story.

I used to be one such person.

It was fun.

You discover this brave new world with characters and settings, world-building and plot. Every action is unpredictable, every environment as new to you as the characters. It’s basically like the universe is telling the story to you and it’s up to you to transcribe it for others to read.

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The winds pick up and the story accelerates faster and faster until you look at the clock and discover it’s nearly 11 p.m.

You reluctantly carry yourself to bed, head buzzing impatiently for the new day to begin so you can start the whole process over.

The next day comes and you sit before your desk, ready to feel the metaphorical winds in your hair yet again, but then…..

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You get stuck.

You have no idea how your MC is going to vanquish their enemy. The momentum of the story is lost. Worse than that, you know the beginning and tiny fraction of the climax but absolutely nothing in between.

You wrack your brain for a solution, but nothing comes. You doubt the validity of your own talents. Eventually, you either convince yourself the story was never worth telling in the first place, or you form the delusion you’re just “taking a break” from this story until something comes to you.

Your computer becomes a graveyard of incomplete projects.

This was my story.

It wasn’t as though I’d never tried to be a plotter. It just seemed to me as though I wasn’t cut out for it. The muse didn’t like restrictions, you know?

I didn’t need Siri to tell me to turn left at the stop sign. My heart would lead the way!

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…….Except it didn’t.

Or it only lead me to a certain point and then ditched me.

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My muse after I hit a plothole

I spent so many nights marinating on my affliction. I was a failed pantser and a failed plotter. So what was I to do?

After a long while, I found myself once again bitten by the writing bug. Yet again, I tried playing it by ear only to fall flat on my face for what felt like the 550th consecutive time.

And so I decided I would give plotting one more try……

Holy shit was that a good idea. 

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Turns out I was doing the whole thing wrong.

Rather than slowly building up to a story, planning out the characters and their arcs, I tried boiling my entire story down to a couple of sentences jotted on notebook paper. Mostly because–while I acknowledged the benefits of plotting– I simply didn’t want to do it. I was aching with anticipation to get started. I wanted to craft sentences not make a map.

Maps are boring.

Writing is fun.

What I didn’t realize is it didn’t have to be that way.

Instead of relegating my entire novel to 500 word essay, I made an outline for each. I broke them down based on what I wanted to achieve, what I wanted the characters to think and feel, and how it impacted the plot.

I was able to create cultures and histories as well as characters and plots.

I anticipated plot-holes before they happened.

I could re-work and experiment with story elements without having to completely start over from scratch because I hadn’t actually begun the writing stage yet.

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Most importantly, I saved myself weeks, months, maybe even years of turmoil trying to make all the puzzle pieces fit together.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s still hard work and I do get stuck occasionally. However, it takes a lot less time to re-write a plot-map than it does to completely restructure your story over again because you decided to go another direction.

If being a panster has been working for you and you’ve had no issue completing projects, God bless you, you beautiful freak of nature.

For the rest of you that have found yourself frustrated and directionless, I whole-heartedly recommend you give plotting a serous looking into.

It’s not nearly as boring or regimental as it sounds.

I’ve actually found it more enjoyable than flying by the seat of my pants because I actually have confidence that my story is going in the direction it needs to go.

If it worked for someone like me, I’m willing to bet it will work for many of you.

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Happy Writing!

 

 

Thoughts on “The Turn of the Key” by Ruth Ware

Amazon Summary: When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

***Author’s note: I think it’s fair to make it clear that this book is meant to be a modern retelling of The Turn of the Screw (a book which I have not read) and so I am basing this book entirely on its own merits.***

Rowan makes for a great protagonist, but in my mind Heathbrae House is the true star of the novel.

From the outside, Heathbrae is a dignified and eye-catching piece of real-estate with old Victorian aesthetic and flashy gadgetry.

The inside, however, reveals a much darker truth.

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As Rowan notes, the house’s transformation from a run down Victorian into a modern home replete with fancy technology is not a smooth one. Rather than blending together to form a charming country estate, the modern amenities and old architecture clash with one another in garish ways. The house itself suffers from an identity crisis which is perfectly in keeping with the story’s themes, especially relating to Rowan.

 Rowan has experience as a care-giver, however, it’s obvious she lacks a lot of the matronly appeal one in such a position is supposed to hold. She, herself, comes from a cold, loveless household and is desperately trying to find one of her own. She does her best to fit into the role but as the horrors increase, her facade begins to crumble. 

I found Rowan’s struggle heartbreakingly relatable. She’s found herself in a difficult position, where all her actions can and will be monitored in a strange and new environment. I think all of us have found ourselves in such a struggle, so it was easy to route for her as she goes through all these trials.

It doesn’t help that she’s constantly second-guessing both herself and those around her as strange events keep occurring.

In spite of the fact that I’m a total scaredy-cat, most books don’t have the power to truly scare me. This is especially true when they take place in modern times. The suspension of disbelief in the day of iPads and internet streaming is so weak it can take a great deal of co-ercing to get me to go along with the program.  However, The Turn of the Key literally made me afraid to turn the next page. I know, I know,  it’s a cliché, but the environment Ware created was so creepy and foreboding, I genuinely dreaded turning the page. What was a I going to discover? A corpse? A murder weapon? A ghost?

It legitimately kept me guessing as to what was going to happen, even though I knew for certain a child was going to die at the end.

Speaking of the end…..

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Perhaps it’s just me, but I was incredibly disappointed.

It didn’t seem to me that the twists worked very well as none of them were built up to.

The best kind of twists are the ones that make perfect sense upon second reading. All the clues are there but they are so innocuous you don’t notice them from the start. However, upon reflection it all makes perfect sense and you kick yourself for not recognizing the signs. In this case, however, I think Ware played her cards too close to her chest.

She gave away so little in the fear that her audience would figure out the ending that when the reveal happens it feels like she pulled it out of her arse.

For those that don’t want to the ending spoiled for them, don’t go any farther.

 

*********Spoilers ahead, reader beware***********

 

Okay, so I thought the twist that Rowan was actually Bill’s daughter was kind of….um…

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Even after rereading Rowan’s first encounter with Bill, it still didn’t make sense to me.

When Rowan is describing Bill’s appearance she says she can’t tell how old he is, but she speculates he could be forty.

Rowan is in her late twenties.

That would mean her father would have been 12 years-old upon her conception.

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To be 100% accurate, she guess-stimates his age from 40-60, but all the same. Why would she think he could possibly be 40?

Not to mention, there’s never any indication that there was more to the scene than what information we were presented with. If I went to all that trouble to find my biological father (stealing my roommate’s identity, uprooting myself from the country, and agreeing to live in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of strangers) I would be devastated to learn that he was a pervert.

Nonetheless, Rowan carries on as if it were nothing more than an inconvenience.

What makes this twist frustrating is I believe it could have been fixable if enough care was taken.

For instance, instead of saying “Sandra and Bill” in her narration, she could have said “Bill and Sandra.” A reader might question why she was putting Bill’s name before Sandra’s even though most of her interactions are through the matriarch of the family, but I doubt anyone would think enough about it to put two and two together.

As for the big reveal that it was actually Maddie pulling the strings all along…that’s fine…I guess…

Her motivation does makes sense and it’s easy to see how her father’s bad behavior could result in her acting out in a big way.

The problem with this revelation is I seriously doubt a child her age could pull off something that elaborate. This kid would have to be Hannibal Lector-level crazy. Think about it. She gaslighted Rowan, found out how to by-pass all the security (I know kids are good with tech but come on), snuck into a boarded up attic and a whole host of other things.

Let’s be reasonable here, this is all very, very unlikely.

The twist that Ellie accidentally killed Maddie was….okay, I guess.

It’s difficult to articulate why I was disappointed by this. Perhaps its my own personal hang-up with Scooby-Doo-isque endings where there’s always a guy in a mask behind everything instead of an actual ghost.

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I get it.

It’s the 21st century.

We are supposed to be beyond superstitious nonsense, but come on.

Can’t it ever be an actual ghost?

Ghosts are fun.

Throw me a bone, here.

Overall, if Ware had just re-written a couple of things, I think she would have a first rate book on her hands. As it stands, I can’t give this book anything higher than a 6/10.

I won’t say the twists ruined it for me, but they did take away a lot of enjoyment for me.

 

Books, Writing, and Other Goals for 2020

Now that we’ve shucked off our ugly Christmas sweaters and vacuumed up all the tinsel, it’s time to create unattainable goals for ourselves!

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We do this pretty much every single year, or– if you’re like me– you’ve pretended to not come up with resolutions so that you aren’t disappointed by your inevitable failure.

However, now that we’re only a few days away from the swinging 20s, I think this year is the best year to get our lives in order.

So what are my goals?

Well, let’s review my previous failures.

This year I wanted to read 100 books!

…….I read 12.

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I mentioned in a previous post that I went through a reading slump where nothing seemed all that intriguing. I’m not sure if it was systematic of where my mental health was at the time, or if it I just couldn’t find anything on offer. Regardless, I hope to read a lot more in 2020.

So instead of  going for something overly ambitious like 100, I think I will dial it down to 20 books. 20 books in 2020. Not a bad idea, right?

As for writing….this year I made a resolution to finish at least 1 draft of my novel!

…..I-er- I almost finished an outline…?

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Yeah, that was terrible.

I think the problem was I gave myself way too much time to complete it. Life is hectic, yes, but I didn’t need 12 months for a first draft. If I had cut that down to three months or less, I might have been persuaded to hustle more….Or at all, really.

Lesson learned. I will give myself time, but not too much.

I will attempt to write at least half an hour everyday and finish the first draft by March.

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As of 2020, I would also like to be more consistent about uploading to this blog. Realistically, I won’t be able to upload everyday like you blog warriors do. Nonetheless, I’m hoping to post at least once every two weeks.

In the past I’ve obsessed over writing the perfect posts when, in reality, it probably doesn’t matter that much. I should do my best, but sometimes you just have to push that Publish button.

Hope you guys did better this year than I did.

Happy Almost New Year!

 

 

Falling Back in Love with the Library

I have a confession to make.

While I consider myself to be a major reader, up until about three weeks ago, I had not frequented a library in almost 2 years.

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Before you judge,I had a good reason (or at least I thought). Life was getting hectic and I have no impulse control. I was checking out 3 to 4 books at a time, only to get through about a quarter of one of them.

Then there came the hassle of remembering to take the damn things back days after their due-dates, scolding myself for  not being a more proactive reader, only to rinse and repeat forever and ever until the end of time.

Eventually, I stopped going altogether.

I would buy my books from now on, I decided. Why would I subject myself to all these steps when I could just cut out the middle man? This way I could keep a book as long as I wanted, treat it in any condition I chose, and discard it at my leisure (or leave it to languish on my bookshelf until I die).

I had some good memories of the library. I recognized its importance not only to readers, but the welfare of their respective communities at large.

But I was over it.

I had Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Half-Price Books, and any number of privately owned bookstores all with books that I could have all to myself.

It wasn’t until the Christmas season encroached that I considered frequenting the old haunts. My desire for reading had not been hampered, but my pocketbook–after buying present upon present for immediate family, in-laws, friends, this Dirty Santa and that Dirty Santa–was crying.

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Actual footage of my wallet after Christmas shopping

And so I went.

I had forgotten what it was like to step into a library.

From the get-go there are just rows upon rows of titles calling out for your attention. Old books, new books, classics, commercial fiction, biographies and histories. There are endless possibilities.

And the best part is you get to enjoy them for free.

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While this sounds like a small consolation, it really adds up. Not only are you able to indulge in your habit, you are free to explore other genres. When you are expected to pay for something it is easy to become miserly. You aren’t sure if you’ll like something and so you tend to stick to what you know. How many of us have gone to restaurants only to order the same meal every time for fear of not liking the newer option?

However, if there is no penalty for branching out, you are more likely to give something new a chance. Even if it isn’t something you would normally chose.

This allows you to discover even more writers and stories and broaden your perspective on whatever subject you choose.

To me this is one of the greatest gifts a library gives: A chance to explore.

As of this writing, I have about four books checked out and I hope to read every one of them.

Happy Holidays!

Unpopular Opinion: The Current State of Poetry

While poetry isn’t my favorite medium, it will always hold a special place in my heart. Edgar Allen Poe’s Alone speaks to me in ways few other works ever have. The Battle Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe gets my heart pounding with its haunting lyricism and captivating imagery.

Poetry in itself is a small miracle, able to impart a whole cornucopia of emotion in such a small amount of time.

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That being said, my appreciation of poetry has waned over the past few years and I think it may have something to do with how much it has changed.

It’s not like I didn’t expected poetry to evolve.

The world is becoming a different place and, as such, the arts are destined to change with it lest they become irrelevant.

It was destined to leave the loving arms of William Carlos Williams and Emily Dickinson to make its own way in the world.

But post-modern poetry is like a child from a super-protective household that became hooked on cocaine in college and drop out to live in a Los Angeles slum.

Some of the more recent poems I’ve seen published in books and lit mags don’t even seem like they should count as poetry. This may sound harsh, but hear me out.

I willl come–

across poems

written

like this for

no particular reason

that breaks off at

random

like

this

They are so distracting visually it’s impossible not to imagine William Shatner narrating them.

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I realize “free-verse poetry” is a thing, but shouldn’t there be some logical structure? If not, aren’t the words just floating around aimlessly?

Often times there will be no rhyme scheme or word-pictures to make them pop either so my mind instantaneously purges them as soon as I’m done reading.

I literally cannot remember these poems five minutes after I’ve read them. 

When the poet does attempt to create a word-picture, the metaphors tend to be so muddled and confusing I honestly have no idea what they are talking about.

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Is that meant to be part of the fun? Just figuring out what the poem is supposed to be about? The titles are no help either. A poem that details a burning forest could be called “Tapioca Pudding.” 

Is that in reference to the fire reducing everything to sludge? Is that the color of wood after it has burned? 

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I’ve taken many an English class, studied the creative arts year after year, yet I’m no closer to determining if these poems are deep or dumb.

Do I just not “get” it?

Oh God, am I a boomer?

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*Sigh*

Then….. there’s slam poetry.

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Slam Poetry has been around since the 80s, but it has risen to prominence over the last decade, especially in academic circles  and….I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps all the political and social issues of the day have inspired creatives to take to the stage to express their angst in a more public forum.

Regardless of how much passion or earnestness is put into the construction of these pieces….can we admit that it’s super corny 99.9% of the time?

It’s not necessarily the poems themselves. It’s a combination of the half-baked stanzas with overly-dramatic readings that would give an acting coach a hernia.

I can’t think of a single one I’ve witnessed that didn’t make me want to chloroform myself mid-performance.

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How all slam poems sound to me

I understand how important your subject matter is, but saying something dramatically does not make it deep. If I recited I’m a Little Teapot while doing interpretive dance, it’s not going to give the song a new meaning. It’s still about a teapot being short and being tipped over to pour liquid in a cup for someone to drink.

…Now I want someone to write a slam remix of I’m a Little Teapot. It would have made that awkward Ashley Judd poetry reading way more interesting.

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I. Am. A. Naaaaasty little teapot.”

For those of you that write and enjoy post-modern poetry, I’m genuinely happy for you.

I am pleased that you can derive meaning from something and be inspired to create as a result of it.

But I think I will continue to appreciate your passion from far, far away.

“Knives Out” Film Review

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Knives Out. If you have not seen this movie but hope to do so, do not continue reading. 

I’ve been on a murder-mystery kick for the last several days, so I was interested in giving Knives Out a try. The trailer gave off some serious Agatha Christie/Clue vibes and so I was instantly hooked by the premise.

In spite of my excitement, I was preparing myself for disappointment. There have been many trailers over the years that have gotten me pumped up over the years, only to disappoint me when I actually went out of my way to see them in theaters.

I’m happy to say this was not the case in this instance.

Not only did the film deliver, it exceeded my expectations.

While the premise intrigued me, I went in expecting the characters to be one-dimensional. Even murder-mystery staples like Christie can be guilty of creating characters severely underdeveloped for the sake of plot progression. However, I was quickly proven incorrect on that score as well.

While not likable, the family members are all quite believable each in their own respect. They are all greedy and self-absorbed but not to a cartoonish degree. Even when their avarice is on display it’s usually done in a subtle way.

I was especially impressed by Marta Cabrera, the heroine of the movie. Considering she is supposed to be the moral center of this film and surrounded by such awful people, they could have easily made her cloying or Disney Princess-y, but they managed to make her an exceedingly good person in a realistic manner.

Even Detective Blanc, for all his hamminess, was enjoyable and a nice change from Daniel Craig’s normal catalogue of characters. It’s great to see a movie where Craig has more than one facial expression. Turns out he has some comedy chops as well as he constantly had the theatre laughing with his languid analogies such as the donut hole. 

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His Southern-Georgian accent was…pretty terrible but it grew on me the longer I heard it. And the way he chewed the scenery like a cow chews cud brought me endless joy.

While we’re on the subject of characters, I have to say, the scene where the family members are fighting over politics is probably the most realistic depiction of a political argument in a familial setting that I’ve ever seen put to film. I was also struck by how balanced it was, portraying all members as being lunatics rather than one side being completely right or wrong. It added a layer to realism to the movie that I wasn’t expecting. While the events transpiring around them were unreal, the characters themselves were very authentic and thus made it easier for the audience to suspend disbelief.

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As for the plot, I admire it on many different levels. On one level, it clearly wanted to exude Agatha Christie vibes (as previously stated) but it quickly became its own entity. In fact, I suspect the old English murder-mystery tone was created as a way of subverting our expectations of what was to come. It certainly did mine. While I thought the idea of the grandfather’s “murder” being the result of a tragic accident rather than malicious intent was genius, the movie hadn’t even reached the halfway mark yet. If the murder had been solved, then what the hell was the rest of the movie going to be about? As it happens, the movie was in much more capable hands than I suspected.

Through the course of the story, we learn that what happened that night wasn’t nearly so cut and dry as we thought. While we knew what occurred superficially, we didn’t realize we should be looking for a why. We didn’t think to ask why Marta had mixed up the drugs. We just assumed it was an honest mistake. Happens all the time. As a result, the movie was able to play with our lack of curiosity and create an even bigger, more jaw-dropping story.

The writing for this movie is some of the smartest I’ve seen. I think Joker beats it out as my favorite movie of the year, but the amount of care that was put into this script really shows. It wasn’t just a murder-mystery epic, it was also heartbreaking at times, and funny.

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You would think, granted to severity of the character’s circumstances, the humor would be jarring. On the contrary, it’s delicately woven in and genuinely had me and many others laughing out loud.

Then there is the ending.

The ending is pure genius because it encapsulates a forgotten principle in film-making: Show don’t tell.

After the climax, Marta is left debating whether or not she should help the Thrombey family financially. Since they were each ceremoniously cut from the grandfather’s will and she was given everything, she wonders if it is morally just to honor Harlan’s wishes, or if it would be better to have pity on them.

Her decision is never spoken out loud, but the movie clearly gives us an answer to her moral dilemma. While out on the lawn, in the wake of Ransom’s arrest, the family gaze up at Marta as she stands above them (metaphorically and literally) on the balcony, nursing one of Harlan’s mugs. She wordlessly takes a sip, her hand covering the bottom of the mug’s topography. However, we can clearly see two words engraved on the front above her hand: My house.

Brilliant.

If I had to nitpick, I might argue the movie is a bit too long, but honestly I don’t care. This was an amazingly written, fun, and exciting romp to the movies and I loved it.

10/10

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Thoughts on “The Most Dangerous Animal of All” by Gary Stewart with Susan Mustafa

“My father wrapped me tightly in the dirty blue blanket and laid me there on the floor, making sure the pacifier was in my mouth so I would not cry before he was able to make his escape. He turned away, leaving me alone on the stairwell, clad only in a white towel that served as my diaper. Decades later, I would realize that the day my father abandoned me was the luckiest day of my life”

After thirty-nine years of zero contact, Gary Stewart is reached by his biological mother, hoping to form a connection. Elated, Gary accepts her offer and learns as much about his parentage as he can. However, the more he learns about his father, the more complicated things become.

Not only was his father a criminal, wife-beater, and a statutory rapist, he might have possibly been one of the more notorious serial-killers in American history: the Zodiac Killer.

The Most Dangerous Animal of All” is unlike any true-crime book I’ve ever read.

In fact, to call it a true-crime book is being overly simplistic. It’s not just a book about a murderer and his victims, it’s also about survival and the power of hope in the face of insurmountable odds.

I enjoyed the book for the same reason a lot of people didn’t. I scrolled through several one-star reviews on GoodReads, complaining this wasn’t like most true-crime books and it read too much like a novel.

I, personally, liked this stylistic choice, even if it took away some of the authenticity. Of course, as many reviewers pointed out, there is no way Stewart could know about conversations that took place decades before his birth, nor is it likely he had perfect recall of discussions he himself had with other people. But when you are dealing with a book like this, it can be necessary to take some artistic license provided you are true to the character of those involved.

There’s also the complaint that we didn’t need all this background information of the author.This gripe is honestly confusing to me. If you read the dust jacket it’s easy to see this is a personal story and would involve a lot of information about Stewart. After all, this is about his father and some background information is required for context. Not to mention, his personal story is fascinating.

Now, of course, there is the question as to whether or not Earl Van Best, Gary Stewart’s father, actually was the Zodiac killer. From the evidence he compiled to make his case, I would be very, very surprised if he wasn’t.

I don’t want to give too much away as I encourage you to read this book on your own, but I will say that the evidence Stewart presents is compelling. Many might call it circumstantial, but if he isn’t the Zodiac Killer, there is a hell of a lot of coincidences that need to be accounted for.

If you plan on reading this book, I suggest you do so on a weekend because, frankly, you’re not going to be doing much else. It hooks you in from the very beginning and won’t let you go until the end. I read the whole thing in about two days time and I imagine more ambitious readers would be able to knock it out in one.

It’s honestly difficult to say anything bad about it.

Perhaps the dialogue was a bit too stilted.

The repeating of information we already knew towards the end was a bit tiresome, nevertheless, I have few gripes with this book. I recommend it to anyone, even if you aren’t a fan of most traditional true-crime stories.

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