Why I’m Disappointed By Neil Gaiman’s “Trigger Warning”

Perhaps I’m just whingeing over semantics here, but I had to get this off my chest.

When I purchased the audiobook for Neil Gaiman’s book on short stories I was very excited. Not only am I a fan of Gaiman’s writing, I am also a big fan of his narration. His dulcet tones and faint English accent make him a perfect narrator.

I was preparing myself for another boring day of organizing charts upstairs at the dermatology clinic where I worked and I needed something to listen to in order to keep the monotony from reducing my brain to yogurt.

So I placed the charts on a table, plugged in my earbuds, and I began to listen.

Gaiman gave a perfect introduction into this collection, explaining how he’d come to discover the term “trigger warning.” He conceded that, while trigger warnings may be well intentioned, sometimes we need to read things that make us uncomfortable, that force us to ponder imponderable things, see the world in darker hues.

He warned us readers (or listeners in this case) that what we were about to read would likely disturb us.

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I listened for several hours, nearly finishing the book in it’s entirety during a single shift. It was interesting, imaginative, captivating, visceral, everything a book should be. However, there is one thing that it was not: triggering.

I loved the stories, loved the narration, but I kept listening with a growing sense of expectation. Is this the story that’s going to trigger me? Is this the story that’s going to challenge my preconceptions about life and put me on a 2001: A Space Odyssey styled journey to self-discovery?

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The answer to that would be a nope.

Again, I loved the stories, in fact I consider this the best short-story collection I’ve ever read.

But with a title like Trigger Warning you expect something a little more…triggering. That’s not to say they weren’t disturbing. There are stories with murder, revenge, cannibalism, monsters, stalking, etc. They’re horrifying and dark with lovely twists and turns, but nothing I wasn’t expecting from something written by Gaiman.

And they were not what I was advertised.

Now, it’s not Gaiman’s responsibility to make sure that I, specifically, have all of my desires met. He is perfectly entitled to write what he wants and I believe he he does an excellent job of it.

However, let me explain why I was a bit disappointed.

There has, I think, been a shortage of books and stories in recent years that truly push the envelope. Books and stories that challenge ideas and behaviors that we see routinely in our day-to-day lives.

In our new easily-offended world there are any number of taboo subjects that deserve to be explored, but it would seem as if  no one has the nerve to tackle them in a literary capacity in a long while, lest someone get their grandma panties in a wad.

I was hoping that Gaiman, in his uniquely stylized way, would touch upon such subjects or, at least, ignore the restraints that these perpetually offended people insist writers use. Nonetheless, there wasn’t much in his book that would truly “trigger” someone, provided that person doesn’t live in a perpetual state of duress.

I just wanted something a little more challenging. I wanted Gaiman to approach the likes of Lovecraft or King and throw down the gauntlet, saying, “No, gentlemen, this is scary.”

I’ve read a handful of the Sandman comics, I know what he’s capable of.

I only wish he’d gone balls-to-the-walls the way he did with that series.

Or Coraline.

Now that would have been truly triggering.

Book Review: “My Salinger Year” by Joanna Rakoff

WARNING: CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS FOR THE AFOREMENTIONED MEMOIR. 

A synopsis taken from the writer’s website:

At 23, after leaving graduate school to pursue her dreams of becoming a poet, Joanna Rakoff moves to New York City and takes a job as assistant to the storied literary agent of J. D. Salinger. She spends her days in the plush, wood-paneled agency, where Dictaphones and typewriters still prevail and old-time agents doze at their desks in the late afternoon, and at night she goes home to the tiny, threadbare Williamsburg apartment she shares with her socialist boyfriend. Precariously balanced between glamour and poverty, surrounded by titanic personalities, and struggling to trust her own artistic talent, Joanna is tasked with responding to Salinger’s voluminous fan mail. But as she reads the deeply candid letters from his fans, she finds herself abandoning the agency’s form letter and writing her own responses. Over the course of the year, she finds her own voice by acting as Salinger’s, on her own dangerous and wonderful terms.

Pros:

The writing style. While the premise intrigued me, what drew me in was the author’s voice. From the first page, Rakoff grabbed my attention and held it tight for the duration of the novel. I’m not much of a non-fiction reader so I was entranced by the novel-like style in which it was written in.

New York City. I loved how she describes New York in all it’s hipster-y splendor. She talked about the shops, the club scene, the restaurants, just the attitude of the city. Admittedly, I think New York tends to be over romanticized (particularly by those that live there), however, she was able to capture my awe and attention. It wasn’t an overblown love, but it was enough to show me why this city is considered so magical to some.

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It’s a story about growing up. I am around the same age Rakoff was when these events took place, so I found myself in her. She addresses many of the drawbacks of growing up such as paying the bills for the first time, growing apart from friends, watching other people make it big and become successful, and the doubt you experience in your own abilities. More than this, however, she accurately describes the loneliness of going through life, feeling as if nobody cares about you. It’s a relatable book, particularly if you’re in (or have recently graduated from) college.

Cons: 

The dust-jacket is misleading. While Rakoff’s job of responding to the Salinger’s fan letters is an important part of the memoir, the description makes it sound like it’s the crux of the story, or that she somehow mislead people into thinking she was Salinger when this is not the case. As I mentioned before, this story is more about growing up and figuring out what you want to do with your life than it is about Salinger or her acting as his mouthpiece.

Why Don?  Rakoff was never able to convincingly explain to the reader  why she stayed with Don, her roommate/boyfriend. From what I’m given to understand, she had a phenomenal boyfriend who went to California for school and….for some reason she didn’t go with him. She then decided to cheat on said boyfriend with Don, a egotist with little regard for Rakoff or her feelings, and even moved into a crappy apartment with him. My question is why? Why did she stay with him if she had a much better option? If Don had been the college boyfriend and she was just reluctant to let him go because of their history, I would be able to understand her thinking. However, that was not the case. I think it would have been important to discuss considering it probably reveals quite a bit about Rakoff as a person.

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Rushed ending. If I had to chose which part of this book was the worst, then I would easily say the ending. Up until this point, everything was well paced and shaping up nicely. However, there is no real emotional pay-off with her boyfriend Don. We don’t see or hear about the death throes of their relationship, the narrative just says she left him at some point for her much more desirable college boyfriend. There’s a jarring jump into the future where she learns about Salinger’s death and…nothing else about her life. We know she had kids and that she’s married to someone (she doesn’t tell us if this is the angelic college boyfriend of yore or not), but she doesn’t go into any detail about her life in the future. I wish we could have seen more since it would have been nice to know how her relationship with Salinger altered her adult life. Otherwise there’s not much point in including it other than to say “wow, sucks that Salinger is dead and stuff.”

Overall opinion: 

While I had a few problems with this book, my overall impression of it was a positive one. I was able to really connect with the writer and her experiences working at The Agency. It’s difficult to put down and I definitely think it was worth the read.

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“The Infinity Doctors” a Doctor Who Novel Review

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for the novel. It’s been out since the 90s, but I thought I should give you a heads up anyway. 

Pros:

Gallifrey. Firstly, I would like to say I love how in-depth the writer is when describing Gallifrey in this novel. You would think that it would bog down the plot, but if anything it enriches the reading experience. Precious little is revealed about Gallifrey in the show so being introduced to the culture in all its complexities was a thrill for me. In fact, I would go so far as to say that is the best thing about this book.

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The Sontarans and Rutans. I was surprised by how invested I was in the conflict between these two races. They were just a tiny subplot that was mostly abandoned after the second act, but the resolution to their conflict was hilarious. I honestly laughed out loud. I loved how Sontar and the Rutan leader interacted with each other and the way they finally made peace was the cherry on top.

The plot. The book was pretty heavy on techno babble and, admittedly I got a bit bored with all the sciency speak. However, the plot itself was pretty solid and it introduced a lot of interesting concepts like people who remember the future instead of the past.

The characters. I won’t say that I was heavily invested in these people, but I did find myself a great deal more interested in the original characters than I normally am in DW novels. Most of the time I just want to skip to the parts with The Doctor, but this time I was actually interested in hearing Larna’s perspective and what it was like being a recently initiated Time Lord. They also seemed more organic rather than stock characters as is custom in most of these EDAs. I even found myself liking the Chancellory Guards Peltroc and Raimor even though they didn’t play that big of a roll in the grand scheme of things.

Cons:

Shot through the heart and you’re to blame. I will admit, there was one scene in particular that nearly made me stop reading the book. If you haven’t read the book, I would suggest you not continue with this post. Still here? Okay. Larna, a bright Time Lady and The Doctor’s favorite student, tries to stop The Doctor from entering the Station and The Doctor decides to retaliate by stabbing her in the heart.

No. Literally. He stabs her in the heart

He knows she’ll be able to have a surgery that will reverse any negative side effects that such an injury would create, but um…he stabbed her!!!!

This girl trusted him with her life. They were very close friends. And he stabbed her.

And then what happens? She moves the blade so it severs her spinal cord.

And she dies.

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I mean, sure, he asks Omega to bring her back to life later, but that’s beside the point. He stabbed an innocent person who got in his way. This leads me to another con.

No long-term effects. So my second biggest problem with this book is a bit ironic, especially if you’ve read the conclusion to this little piece. One of the largest issues with The Infinity Doctors is there are hardly any consequences.

What’s funny is the book openly admits that this is what happened:

“Nothing had changed, because nothing ever changed on Gallifrey except over geological timescales. Nothing was better, nothing was worse”  (pg 279-280)

There are no consequences for The Doctor having tried to play God and there are no consequences from him having murdered Larna. Yeah, the Doctor Who Wiki classifies it as suicide, but for all intents and purposes The Doctor killed her. There’s no confrontation, their relationship doesn’t suffer, she doesn’t remember it…it’s basically brushed under the rug.

Um…excuse me but…THIS IS A BIG DEAL!

He murdered one of his friends. And not because of some Save-The-Universe issue. He did it because he wanted to get with his dead wife whom he ditches after, like, two chapters.

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But no, no. Lance Parkin says it’s cool, guys. It’s cool. Just have a jelly baby and push the undo button.

The Doctor, himself, said that a universe without consequences is devoid of meaning and yet all of his actions go unchallenged. Maybe it’s addressed in the next book? I don’t know. All I know is that at the end of this one, Larna and The Doctor are totally cool with each other and The Doctor going all stabby-stab on her is never addressed again.

He doesn’t have an Oh-God-What-Have-I-Done moment, nor does he reflect on what such an action says about him as a person. It’s just kind of…forgotten.

Conclusion:

I did enjoy this novel even though the zero consequences thing kind of irks me. It did quite a bit considering how short of a book it was. However, I felt that everything moved along at a decent pace, not too long but not too short. I loved how fleshed out Gallifrey is in this novel considering how criminally underdeveloped Gallifrey is as a society in the TV show. I also found myself enjoying the side characters as well. I haven’t forgotten you Magistrate…even though everyone else seems to have done so.

Overall, I would give this book a B+ or an A-.

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My Thoughts on “The Haunting of Sunshine Girl”

WARNING: SLIGHT SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK.

Keep in mind I have not seen the Youtube web series that this book is based off of. My judgement is based purely on the novel itself.

Read synopsis here.

Buckle up, guys, this is going to be a long one.

My reading of The Haunting of Sunshine Girl was a bit of a rollercoaster ride. One minute I’m completely enthralled by the characters and storyline. The next, I’m bored by YA tropes and tired clichés.

Pros: 

The pacing. I, personally, think the pacing is the book’s greatest strength. The only part where it lags is when Nolan tries to convince Sunshine she is a luiseach. I, and I’m assuming most readers at this point, have seen this done a million times so it bogs down the momentum the story is building up. More on this later.

Sunshine and her mother. I like the uniquely intimate relationship Sunshine has with her mother. In most YA ,the parents are either brushed aside, or made out to be complete jerks so it’s nice to see a change of pace with this story. It also makes her mother’s possession all the more devastating.

The romance. THERE IS NO CONVOLUTED LOVE TRIANGLE!!

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I also appreciate that the writer (or writers) is taking their time with developing the relationship between Nolan and Sunshine rather than just shoving them together or forcing an unnecessary third-party into the mix. The main focus stays on the demon possessing her mother as it should.

Atmosphere. Atmosphere is one of the central components in a horror book and helps set the tone for what is to come. I was deeply engaged throughout the author’s descriptions of the house and found myself easily able to map out each room. More impressively, the writer was able to do this without slowing down the pacing.

Victoria Wilde. I can’t think of why, but Victoria was one of the most believable characters in the novel for me. You can sense with every scene she was in just how tired and aggrieved she was by what had happened to her and her family. I honestly wish there had been more about her.

Cons: 

Sunshine. At the beginning of the novel, I adored her. I loved the strange name she gave her taxidermied owl (Dr. Hoo), I loved her strange glass unicorn collection, I loved her relationship with her adopted mother, and thought her narrative voice was compelling.

Then, without warning, her character falls down the rabbit hole into Tropeland and she becomes less and less like a real teenage girl and more like a fanfic version. I know she’s supposed to be more into old things than the normal person, but it was really off-putting to hear a 21st century girl say “gollly” or “gosh” unironically.

Also, I’m sorry, but Sunshine is a stupid name.

There, I said it. They explain in the book why she was named this, but I’m sure there are plenty of female names that mean “sunshine” or “light-bringer” so actually naming her “Sunshine” makes it sound like her mother was a hippie. Which, if you’ve read the book, is very much not the case.

Nolan. I like Nolan, but I can’t help feeling he is criminally underdeveloped. I appreciate that he isn’t your traditional hot jock, or jaded loner, but I wish there was more to him. Most of what we learn about him revolves around his grandfather in some fashion. We don’t know what his home life is like, what his hobbies are, what his social status in relation to his peers is, nothing.

Also, I groaned a bit when Victoria reveals Nolan is destined to be Sunshine’s “protector” now so they’re forever bonded. Can’t people just be people who do things because of their own motivations and character rather than because of “destiny”?

Yer a wizard, Sunshine. Unquestionably, the most annoying part of the book is when Sunshine fervently denies being a luiseach, prompting a completely unnecessary argument between her and Nolan.

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The chapter “Why Are We Fighting?” was very aptly named as I couldn’t find a single justification for it. It’s not even an actual fight, Sunshine just hurls unwarranted abuse at Nolan and he deflects. Evidently, the answer to the chapter’s question is: Because the writer says we’re supposed to.

I can’t think of an explanation as to why she would dismiss Nolan’s claims either. Hell, they have proof that ghosts exist and are capable of manipulating the living’s environment and even possessing people. Taking all of that into consideration, why is the fact that she’s a psychic so hard for her to believe?

Honestly, the logical gaff isn’t what gets me with this scene. What bothers me is that I’ve seen this a million times before, and it’s not even done well in this case. The writer makes no attempt to disguise the fact that the only reason they are having this argument is so she can get Nolan out of the way for a chapter or so.

When they finally reconcile, Nolan all but blows the event off like it was never that big of a deal. I thought this was a wasted opportunity to give him some character development. I guess their fallout really did happen for no reason. Well, damn.

Final thoughts: 

Based on this lengthy diatribe, you probably think I hated this book. I didn’t. Actually I enjoyed it quite a bit. I just wish I would have liked it more. If I were to give this book a grade, I would say somewhere between B and B-.

I recommend this to anyone looking for something to read on a cold, rainy day.

Thoughts on “Bird By Bird” by Anne Lamott

Description here

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but it was recommended to me by a creative writing major at my university so I thought I’d give it a read.

I am so glad that I did.

This is, unquestionably, the best book I’ve ever read on writing.

And, yes, that includes Stephen King’s On Writing.

In retrospect, it’s so strange that it’s a mere 237 pages because every inch of it is jam-packed with wisdom and personality.

The latter brings me to one of my favorite aspects of this book: It does not read like a manual.

It’s like you’re talking to your cool aunt from across the kitchen table. In fact, I wish Anne Lamott was my aunt. She’s hilarious and passionate without coming across as hammy or pretentious. I can tell she genuinely cares about helping writers improve in their craft.

She has made several of the mistakes she lists in the book (and sometimes continues to make them), so she knows what she’s talking about. She understands rejection, jealousy, and wanting to be successful.

Her honestly can be a bit discouraging, but hope is a theme that resonates consistently throughout the book.

If I still haven’t convinced you to read this, here are reasons you should:

  1. It’s hilarious.
  2. It’s honest
  3. It’s short
  4. It’s personal.

If you want to write, read this book!