Schrödinger’s Author: Is the Writer Dead or Not?

 

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For quite a while now I’ve wanted to write a post about Roland Barthes’ The Death of The Author theory, but I’ve been conflicted on where I stand on the subject.

While it is obvious that a writer’s experiences, biases, and other factors greatly shape a writer’s work, I also believe that it is essential to divorce a writer from their written material.

My reasoning for this is manifold.

For one, if you don’t exercise this practice, you are going to miss out on a lot of good writing. 

This isn’t always the case, of course. I believe talented authors can often be quite charming people. Nevertheless, like is the case with many professions, the ones that are truly phenomenal aren’t always the most humble.

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This goes double for authors of yesteryear who undoubtedly hold (by today’s standards) a whole host of problematic opinions. There are some who believe we should remove books from school curriculum or from the cultural sphere because the person who wrote them is a bigot.

It’s a nice thought that we can wave a magic wand and eradicate all harmful figures and their influence from our past, but in actual execution this isn’t a realistic feat.

If we rid ourselves of every invention, scientific formula, or book, etc because the person who created them suffered from some moral failing, we would all still be painting cave walls by campfire.

The simple truth is that sometimes bad people can create great works of art and sometimes its necessary to concentrate on the product and not necessarily the person who made it.

There is also the issue of gate-keeping that has become prevalent in today’s literary circles. It would seem that writers are being barred from writing about certain topics and creating characters of different races, sexes, or religions simply because the writer isn’t a member of these groups. Or, if they are a member of these groups, they aren’t x enough to be talking about said groups.

While I’m all for encouraging writers of different backgrounds writing about their own experiences being a part of a traditionally marginalized group, I don’t believe shaming people for writing about people and cultures outside their own is going to lead to a positive outcome.

I’m also sure everyone is aware of the new trend amongst author’s to-erhm- “improve” their work by adding unsolicited tidbits that were not in their books in order to make them look more progressive.

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Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.

By killing the author, we don’t have to take these things into account because the author is dead.

However, there is another side of this coin. 

In 2017 Poet Sara Holbrook decided to take a standardized test for middle-schoolers and found herself unable to answer certain questions….about her own poetry.

Apparently one of the questions didn’t even have the correct answer as an option. The test asked why she, Holbrook, chose to write the poem in two stanzas. The reason, Holbrook explained, was because she is a performance poet.

The breaks in the poem were placed there so she could take a breath.

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So does The Death of the Author theory apply here? Is she allowed to call this interpretation of her work b.s?

If you ask me, she is.

She is pointing out the issue with implying authorial intent that doesn’t exist, something I have long argued against. Sometimes the curtains are blue because the author wants to convey sadness, but sometimes the curtains are blue because….they are blue.

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After reading this article, I was forced to confront my previous stance on whether or not a writer’s intention should factor in to the interpretation of their work.

I like the idea of readers being able to derive their own meanings from stories, but occasionally they get what the writer meant so fantastically wrong it seems as though the author has no alternative but to step in and say “no, that’s totally not what I meant, you  idiot.”

Where does that leave us?

I’ve given it quite a bit of thought and I propose a compromise: Authors may give context to their work, expanding on themes and metaphors that may or may not be self-evident within the text….

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if an event did not explicitly take place in the novel (or supplemental materials such as prequels and short-stories within this universe), the event is not cannon. The same can be said for character attributes or relationships.

Think of the work of fiction as a painting in a museum. The artist is allowed to commentate on what they were trying to achieve with the piece. They are not permitted, however, to remove the painting from the wall and begin painting over it, adding bits that were not there before. They can only address what is there and the meaning behind it.

If the author says the character was LGBTQ but gives no evidence to this in the books– Not cannon. 

If the author says the main characters all died in the end but left the book on a cliff-hanger—Not cannon.

If the author says the zombies in the book were meant to represent the impending threat of climate change–Cannon.

If the author says the main character’s killing of the villain was a symbolic representation of them killing a part of themselves–Cannon.

Overall, I still believe it is more important to look at the story itself than it is the author that wrote it, but I realize it’s a much more complicated subject than I previously anticipated when first writing this post.

That being said, I’m interested in hearing about what you guys think.

Thanks for reading! 

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.

 

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!

My Thoughts on the Long Wait for “The Winds of Winter”

After the colossal wash-rag that was season 8, people are growing steadily less patient with George R.R. Martin and his slow output. 

The newest installment of  the series, The Winds of Winter, has been in the works for nearly a decade now and people are chomping at the bit for a return to normalcy. They want to go back to a time when characters’ motivations actually made sense, dialogue was well written, and events were building up to a well-deserved climax.

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Fans after season 8

It’s obvious a book series as intricate as Game of Thrones would take a significant amount of time to create. After all, it’s hard enough as a readers to keep track of all the plot threads Martin has woven over the years, I can only imagine how difficult it would be to be the one weaving the tapestry.

Many have pointed this out in defenses of Martin, claiming fans are just being entitled brats, crying for their toys. Some have even gone so far as to write songs about it, notably John Anealio’s George R. R. Martin is Not Your Bitch. 

I, myself,  have experienced multiple creative dry-spells that have prevented me from writing. I currently have an unfinished fanfiction that has been languishing in limbo since 2018. In spite of my efforts to update, as many positive reviews have been requesting me to do, I have found it difficult to write something that will satisfy the modest readership I have accumulated over the years.

Martin experiences this same sort of pressure on an infinitely higher scale. Game of Thrones is a global phenomenon now. Not only is his creation loved by millions, he himself has become a household name. He’s become so well-known people dress as him for Halloween!

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Most writers salivate over the idea of achieving such a level of notoriety, but it comes at a cost.

Can you even conceive how monumental a task it must be to complete a series that has such far-reaching acclaim?

Having said all this, you might think I’m a Martin apologist who believes he should take however long he wants to create the best book he can possibly make. Considering how disastrous the final season was, the last thing readers want is a rushed product.

………..

But 8 years is too damn long, my guy.

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I sympathize with his situation.

But come on.

8 years?

8 years?!?!

It took Tolstoy 6 years to write War and Peace, a book over 1,200 pages long, and he had 10 children.

I can see a book this crucial to the series taking 3, or 4, or even 5 years to finish.

But not over 8. 

Martin isn’t writing Thrones in between 12-hour shifts at the sheet metal factory. Writing is his full-time job. He has been in this profession since forever.

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Look, in all seriousness, the root of the issue is he knows Game of Thrones is his magnum opus.

If he cannot deliver on the pay-off he has been building up to since 1996, he will never create anything this monolithic or culturally relevant ever again.

That is a terrifying prospect for anyone to comprehend.

But Martin knows the score. He’s been in the writing bizz longer than some of us have been alive.

The defenders are right, George R. R. Martin is not our bitch.

He is a full-grown man with complete autonomy and we shouldn’t expect him to perform for our amusement like a puppet on a string.

Nevertheless, he owes us the books he promised.

We are not greedy for holding him to his end of the bargain. 

Writing is a scary profession, especially when people start noticing you. While there are more people to listen and be inspired by your work, there are also more people to please. Fandoms, while often times accepting, can also be merciless in their critiques. Trying to placate such a large crowd is daunting.

But you have to write anyway.

Some people won’t be pleased with the way Martin wraps up the series. Unfortunately, that’s art. Some will like it, others won’t.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to be finished.

Let’s face it, David Benioff and D.B Weiss set the bar pretty damn low.

Just about anything Martin writes has a 9/10 chance of being leaps and bounds better than that shlock of an ending the show cooked up.

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Sunshine Blogger Award #5

A special thanks to theorangutanlibrarian for nominating me for this award! I’m honored to be receiving it and I enjoyed making this post!

Here goes!

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to their blogging site.
  2. Answer the questions.
  3. Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.
  4. Notify the nominees about it by commenting on one of their blog posts.
  5. List the rules + display the sunshine blogger award logo on your site or on your post.

Where’s the best place you’ve ever been on holiday?

I’m not sure if this counts as a holiday since this was part of a study tour for college, but I would have to say the best place I have ever gone to was Ireland. There was so much natural and ancient beauty there it bewitched me from the moment we landed. My favorite place out of the trip had to be Tollymore Forest on our Game of Thrones tour where they shot a bit of the first episode. And they gave us cloaks!

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Do you have any favorite fictional (or non fictional) libraries?

Hmmmm I suppose I would have to say the first library I ever went to. There’s nothing special about it in terms of aesthetic or book choices (apart from the modest aquarium), but it’s the first ever library I’ve ever gone to which helped foster my love of books so it will always hold a place in my heart.

What is your guiltiest pleasure read?

I suppose that would be Twilight. I haven’t read it in over ten years so I don’t know if I would still like it or not, but I still remember it fondly. I maintain to this day that it’s the most over-hated book in existence. I think I will write a post about this eventually.

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What’s your most unpopular bookish opinion?

I found The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern incredibly boring.

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I know! I know! Dozens of friends have told me they love it, but I…I just don’t get it.

I’ve attempted to read it twice and each time I’ve been disappointed. The premise is intriguing and I liked the atmosphere, but there was too little happening for too long. I made it slightly over halfway through the second time before I gave up.

I don’t begrudge others for liking it, though.

Do you have a bookish pet peeve?

I have a few, but a deal-breaker for me is unnatural dialogue. I can deal with slow pacing, Maguffins and the like but if the characters sound like AIs that can’t pass the Turing Test I’m out. This is the reason I stopped reading The Man in The High Castle. I loved the idea behind it and was interested in where the story was going, nevertheless, the characters sounded so unrealistic and stilted that I couldn’t go on.

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Dialogue is one of the most important tools a writer has in their arsenal to convey a character’s personality and if you screw that up you might as well pack your bags and go home.

What book character gets on your last nerve?

Zoe Redbird from The House of Night series. When I read the first book in high school, I thought she was a pretty cool chick. She was nerdy (allegedly, the only evidence we have for this is her Spock hoodie), she liked Enya, she had a kick-ass name.

But then she started doing shady shit and her character took a turn for the worst around book three.

In essence, she became a Mary-Sue of the highest order; the girl literally every guy wanted to be with. People give Twilight a hard time for being a love triangle when this chick was in a frigging love pentagram.

EVERYONE IN THE BOOKS WANTED TO RIDE HER.

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Not to mention, no matter how many horrible things she did, she was always portrayed as the victim. She cheated on her boyfriend with a teacher, and when said teacher turned out to be a villain (imagine my shock), her friends berated her ex-boyfriend for giving her a hard time… for cheating on him!

Silly boy!

Everything Zoe does is right.

Everyone loves Zoe.

She’s naturally gifted in literally everything.

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It’s a shame because, from what I remember, the rest of the series was enjoyable. I just couldn’t deal with the main character anymore.

If you could wear any item of clothing from a book-what would it be?

Jamie Fraser’s kilt. No more questions.

Who could you rather kiss/marry/kill when the choices are Lord Voldemort, Sauron, and Iago?

I would kill Voldemort because there’s no way I’m waking up to that every morning. I would kiss Iago because he actually has lips and I would marry Sauron because he is the OP villain all others aspire to be.

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Sexy.

Who’s the best bookish baddie you’ve read about lately?

Most books I read don’t necessarily have a mustache twirling villain, but I suppose it would be Drood from Dan Simmon’s Drood. He’s the mysterious character which Dicken’s wrote his unfinished novel about before his death. If you’re interested in reading it, here’s a link.

Would you rather be the villain in a story of the hero? Why?

Conventional wisdom says I should choose hero because they are the victors in most stories. However, I think it might be fun to be a bad guy. Being a good person is exhausting and it’s so much easier to be an asshole. Plus villains usually equate to more complex characterizations and I’m about me some complex characters.

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Do you have any exciting reading plans?

I’m excited to be reading Love and Ruin by Paula McLain. I love, love, love The Paris Wife and her writing style so I’m pumped about this one. I also plan to tuck into My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante in the near future.

My questions:

  1. What was the most transformative reading experience you have ever had?
  2. What is a book you wish someone would write?
  3. Where is somewhere you really want to go, but have only read about in a book?
  4. If you could have a book re-written, which book would it be?
  5. What is a book you dislike that everyone else loves?
  6. If you had the power to bring any mythical creature to life, which creature would it be?
  7. Where is your ideal reading spot?
  8. What is the most disappointing book you have ever read and why?
  9. What is your favorite genre of book and why?
  10. If you could make one book required reading, which book would it be and why?
  11. What is your favorite bookish ship? (noncanonical and crack-ships are acceptable answers)

I’m interested in seeing what you guys come up with!

Sofi@ A Book. A Thought. Jennifer of OutofBabel.com dysfunctionalliteracy  TheInnerWorkings TheBookRaven  Anna @ My Bookish Dreams  By Hook or By Book Nut Free Nerd Bionic Book Nerd Jedi By Knight Adventures of a Bibliophile

BookTube: Lost in Adaptation

I’ve noticed a worrying trend on this blog where I tend to fixate more on things that annoy or disappoint me rather than things I actually enjoy.

Perhaps it’s because it’s easier to put a finger on what I dislike than it is to articulate what brings me happiness.

Perhaps I’m just a curmudgeonly old woman trapped in the body of a twenty-something.

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Whatever the reason, I decided to give you a reprieve from my endless whinging by talking about a topic I actually enjoy: Lost in Adaptation.

Lost in Adaptation is a bookish Youtube show hosted by Dominic Noble (or The Dom) in which he compares movies to the books they are based on.

I know there are other channels on Youtube similar in concept, nevertheless, I find Lost in Adaptation to be superior for many reasons.

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Each show is meticulously researched not only in regards to the books and movies he is comparing, but also in regards to the authors of the books and the production behind the movies, providing context whenever necessary. I’m a sucker for video essays and the wealth of information he supplies in each episode is fascinating. 

It’s not just a bunch of nonsensical ranting either, each episode is coherent and divided neatly into the categories “What they didn’t change” “What they changed” and “What they left out all together.”

Lost in Adaptation is ridiculously palatable. Even people who don’t enjoy reading can get something out of listening to how different forms of media can either coalesce to form the same message, or create a completely different entity.

The Dom isn’t married to any one genre, nor is he a stickler for what qualifies as a “book.” He has made episodes on a wide variety of genres ranging from drama, to science fiction, to YA and even a graphic novel or two like the Scott Pilgrim series.

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I also appreciate the fact that these aren’t just videos of a guy sitting on a couch and complaining about movies. He actually does his best to make each episode visually interesting even when the movie clips aren’t rolling. His use of a green screen (although a bit clunky in his first attempts) has evolved tremendously over the last several years and adds a lot to his reviewing style….

And he’s English!

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I enjoy all his work, however, my personal favorite has to be his “A Dom of Ice and Fire” series where he talks about Game of Thrones and how it relates to the books, all whilst dressed as a Stark.

If you’re interested in becoming a beautiful watcher here are a few more of his videos I personally recommend and have unashamedly watched multiple times:

The Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Bladerunner/ Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf  (yeah, that was a novel apparently. Who knew.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Dagon by H.P Lovecraft 

The Witches by Roald Dahl 

I’ve only listed a few here, but there are so many more and they are all so good.

What are you still doing here?

Go! 

Go, I say, and watch for yourselves!

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The Tragic Tale of My Reading Slump

The other day I went to Barnes and Noble and the unthinkable happened…

I didn’t buy a book.

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No, really.

I went to the bookstore and I didn’t purchase any books. Not even one that I thought looked cool but knew deep in my soul I would never read….a.k.a a quarter of the books currently in my possession.

I went home with nothing.

Nada.

Zilch.

Once or twice my attention was stolen by an intriguing premise but ultimately I would place them back on the shelf, forgotten.

I couldn’t figure it out.

I have been a reader my whole life. Why was I suddenly feeling so indifferent to literature. Why couldn’t I experience the same level of excitement that I normally feel while lurking around a bookstore? Why did I feel so apathetic about the whole enterprise?

I’ve given it some thought and I think I have come up with a semi-rational explanation for my sudden reading slump.

This will seem like a shallow and potentially absurd complaint but…it felt like every book I came across was trying too hard to change my life.

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When I read the dust jacket of all these lovingly crafted tales, most of them were imploring me to let them teach me about the human condition or understanding life and love and….I wasn’t interested.

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That was it. That was the problem.

I didn’t want to be molded into a better human being.

I didn’t want to have my world-view reshaped. I didn’t want to have all the ills of the world revealed to me or have some nihilistic hippies wax poetic about the futility of existence.

I wanted to have fun reading.

That’s not to say I never like a transformative reading experience or that books with poignant messages don’t have their place, but every so often I just want to read. 

I want to retreat into a fictional world for a couple of hours and have it not mean anything. 

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I want to laugh and cheer and get excited purely for the sake of it and not because it “starts a conversation” or “it’s bringing awareness to something” but because it brings me joy. Maybe I will forget about it later on in life since it gave me no permanent message to cling to, but it will have brightened my day, or week, or even month.

Is that so wrong?

Am I a pleb for having a desire to escape from the intellectual questions of our time in favor of placing a metaphorical ice-pack upon my throbbing nerves?

If it is, maybe I don’t want to be right.

Hell, I didn’t become a reader because I was interested in changing the world. I did it because it allowed me access to worlds I would otherwise have no entrance to, meet people I normally couldn’t.

Not every reading experience has to be meaningful.

Sometimes all I need is a vacation from reality.

If any of you have recommendations for a good read I am all ears.

 

 

Spoiler-Free Thoughts on The Books I’ve Read In 2019 (So Far)

I made a promise to myself that I would try to read more books in 2019  since I didn’t feel as though I read that much in 2018.  Fortunately (and surprisingly) I’ve managed to keep this vow even with my turbulent schedule and lack of desire to be productive.

So here are some thoughts on the books I have managed to read thus far.

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The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz 

Summary: After working with bestselling crime writer Alan Conway for years, editor Susan Ryeland is intimately familiar with his detective, Atticus Pünd, who solves mysteries in sleepy English villages. His traditional formula has proved hugely successful, so successful that Susan must continue to put up with his troubling behavior if she wants to keep her job. Conway’s latest tale involves a murder at Pye Hall, with dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects. But the more Susan reads, the more she’s convinced that there is another story hidden in the pages of the manuscript: one of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition, and murder.

As someone who grew up on PBS British detective shows, I absolutely loved this book.

I was reluctant to read it initially because I knew it was a story within a story, nevertheless, I found both tales –the one written by Conway and by Susan–both equally captivating and I was just as eager as Susan to discover the conclusion to Pünd’s story.

It’s easy to see Horowitz has worked on many on-screen productions as the pacing is quick and engaging, leaving little room for superfluous details or fluff, but still dedicates enough time to developing characters and setting the scene.

Apart from the plot itself, what makes the story interesting is how it inwardly reflects on the genre of mystery as a whole. It asks why people are so drawn to the subject and provides interesting theories all without being overly sentimental.

It’s a quintessential love letter to Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton and many other mystery writers, all while keeping its own unique identity.

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The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn

Summary: Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare. What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems. 

I’m a fan of Hitchcock films and a self-proclaimed junkie for unreliable narrators so this book was a match made in Heaven for me. Apart from being a page-turning mystery, it’s also a well-crafted character piece.

Anna is more than just an unreliable narrator. She’s a completely sympathetic person that is as much the victim of her circumstances as she is the cause of them. She’s a three-dimensional character forced into a situation beyond her control and the unravelling of her past is as tragic as it is interesting.

When I learned the author of this book was a man, I was genuinely surprised. I know from first-hand experience how difficult it can be writing for the opposite gender, but Finn does so with such skill and sincerity you completely forget the author is not a woman.

I wasn’t 100% thrilled with how it ends as it comes off as a bit too cartoonish, in my opinion. Nevertheless, if you’re a fan of Hitchcock-like stories you will enjoy this one.

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The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah 

Summary: For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival. Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam War a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: He will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Kristin did an excellent job of showing the brutal beauty of the Alaskan landscape as well as the complexity of human nature. At times I thought it was a little too bleak, rife with almost Jodi-Picolt-levels of drama where one implausibly awful thing is followed by another implausibly awful thing, but the constant conflict was genuinely gripping and kept me going in spite of it all.

This is just a personal hang-up that I have with the novel so take it for what you will, but I found Leni’s love interest to be a bit unconvincing as a character. It was difficult to believe that a boy that grew up in such a harsh, unforgiving climate and had so much of his life devoted to survival would give a crap about poetry. Nor does it seem that plausible that he would have that much devotion to a girl he met when he was a little kid. That could be my own cynicism talking, but I did grow up in a very small town and absolutely none of the males I encountered were anything like this.

I will say this in the novel’s favor, I genuinely didn’t know where it was going and yet I  trusted the writer to lead it to it’s rightful destination. Some suspicions I had early on were confirmed, but Hannah threw many unexpected curveballs that made it damn near impossible for me to put the book down.

I won’t say what happens as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone that wants to read it, but it’s worth all the emotional torture the reader has to go through to reach the end. 

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The City of Z by David Grann

Summary: A grand mystery reaching back centuries. A sensational disappearance that made headlines around the world. A quest for truth that leads to death, madness or disappearance for those who seek to solve it. The Lost City of Z is a blockbuster adventure narrative about what lies beneath the impenetrable jungle canopy of the Amazon.

After stumbling upon a hidden trove of diaries, New Yorker writer David Grann set out to solve “the greatest exploration mystery of the 20th century”: What happened to the British explorer Percy Fawcett & his quest for the Lost City of Z?

I’m typically not a fan of nonfiction, but I made an exception for this book since the subject was intriguing to me.

I picked up this book to learn about the City of Z, but I stayed for the man that tried to uncover its mysteries. Fawcett was a character straight out of myth, both seemingly impervious to hostile-climes and disease as well as endlessly tenacious in his willingness to see a journey through to its end. He was instrumental in increasing our understanding of the Amazon, sacrificing almost everything he had to find Z, even when many scoffed at the notion that such a place ever existed.

I admire Grann’s ability to weave such an interesting narrative all while unloading boatloads of information on the reader without making them feel as though they are trapped at a boring lecture.

The intimate details, journal entries, the attention to socio-political climates at this time really made this story come to life.

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His Bloody Project  by Graeme Macrae Burnet

Summary: A brutal triple murder in a remote Scottish farming community in 1869 leads to the arrest of seventeen-year-old Roderick Macrae. There is no question that Macrae committed this terrible act. What would lead such a shy and intelligent boy down this bloody path? And will he hang for his crime?

This book is a novel disguised as a true-crime book, written by a supposed descendent of the murderer in question. It’s part “memoir” told from Roderick Macrae and part compilation of “historical documents” that describe the events leading up to and after the murders.

Roderick is an interesting character in that he’s surprisingly intelligent in spite of his limited education as well as a seemingly perplexing narrator. The story begins with him explaining his backstory, life and misfortunes and then slowly delves into the crime itself. From the tale Roderick weaves it would seem he was merely a victim of his circumstance, however, the reader will notice several inconsistencies with Roderick’s version of events and the accounts that are later brought to light at his trial. This forces readers to re-evaluate all they thought they knew.

Is Roderick a good person that was driven to murder by his hopeless situation as a tenant farmer? Is he criminally insane? You’ll have to decide for yourself.

There was a lot of research that went into the making of this book. The rural landscape and lifestyle of the average 19th century Scottish Highlander was very vividly depicted. I also appreciated the incorporation of the prevalent sociological theories that existed around that time period. Criminology was in its infancy in the 1800s and it was interesting to see how the school of thought in regards to criminals has evolved over the years.

If you’re a historical fiction lover like I am, you’ll really like this.

Adventures in Writerland: The Ugly Truth About Success in Publishing

Warning: The following contains butt-hurt and the overuse of commas. Viewer discretion is advised. 

I’m not afraid of putting my nose to the grindstone in the name of telling a good story.

I can close my door, cancel plans, wake up early, stay up late, suffer blood-letting editing session after blood-letting editing session.

I can be the Rocky Balboa of writing.

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Yet throughout this Herculean process, I’m taunted relentlessly by the possibility that all of this self-sacrifice could be in vain.

The cold reality is there are people that have been trying to publish for years and have nothing to show for it.

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When I was young and naive, I thought these people simply weren’t talented enough for their work to be in print.

They didn’t try hard enough or refused to take constructive criticism.

They were the faux-intellectuals like the ones in my creative writing classes; self-professed literary geniuses who thought they were deep because they dead-ass copied F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing-style (poorly) and gave overlong descriptions about birds singing. Their inability to find an agent was a result of their own hubris and not indicative that the world of publishing is a heartless mistress.

However, I’ve learned a hard lesson watching people with actual talent trying to make it into the writing industry: Success in publishing isn’t necessarily predicated on skill.

There are just as many “bad” writers that receive attention as there are “good” ones.

50 Shades of Grey is the most sold book in history and it is literally a Twilight fanfic that was written on a Blackberry.

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Yep.

Most people know it is total garbage and have mocked it relentlessly since it first burst into popularity. But that doesn’t change the fact that E.L. James currently has more money than both you or I will make in our entire lives courtesy of this skid-mark of a novel.

So I guess she’s the one that got the last laugh.

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In a sense, this should be encouraging.

Surely that means if something as terrible as 50 Shades can find a major publisher willing to back it, your book can too.

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Then, I remember the detective novel JK Rowling wrote under the name Robert Gailbraith made paltry returns even though it was quite good, at least in my opinion. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think it became a best-seller until it was revealed who the true author was.

So what is a writer to do?

Sadly, I know the answer.

Basically, you just have to let go and accept that your magnum opus may not be that magnum to some people. That, in spite of your best efforts, it will likely disappear into the ether along with countless other works of fiction.

You may never become a millionaire and, realistically, you’ll be lucky to make a living at all…..

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Buuuuuuuut, who wants to admit that? I would much rather live in my fantasy world where I am a revered authoress who will appear onto the literary scene like an angel from on-high and spread enlightenment upon the masses.

Idealistic image of someone reading my stories:

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More realistic image of someone reading my stories:


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I suppose one can never know what lies in store for their career. They can only cling to the hope that through hard work and dedication, they will rise above the pits of mediocrity and learn to soar amongst the eagles.

In all seriousness, it boils down to whether or not you believe you have a story worth telling. If you do, then you have to tell it regardless if you will receive high-praise for it or not.

Because, at the end of the day, it’s not about money. It’s about creating and sharing your passions with the world.

Or something like that, I don’t know.

Thank you for reading!

Why I Won’t Watch”Bird Box” On Netflix

WARNING: MILD SPOILERS FOR “BIRD BOX” AHEAD. 

So….it looks like Netflix has adapted Josh Malerman’s Bird Box into a movie…..

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And as you can see, I’m not excited about it.

It’s not that I think all book-to-movie adaptations are bad, in fact some of them are quite good (ex: Holes, Stand By Me, Carrie, Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter, etc).

It’s just that some books are not meant to be made into a visual medium for a variety of reasons.

“Bird Box” is one such book.

What makes “Bird Box” so effective as a horror novel is that Marlerman understands people fear the most what they don’t understand. We never see what these creatures look like, nor are we ever given a conclusive explanation as to what they are.

Theories are bounced around–they are us from another dimension, they are angels, etc–but the only way to find out what they are is to look at them.

And once you gaze upon them, you don’t live to tell the tale.

Throughout the novel, the protagonists must rely on their senses (sight excluded) to avoid falling prey to these terrifying beings.

We as readers are wearing metaphorical blindfolds of our own because we only “see” what the characters do. We hear a rustling of leaves, feel a drop in temperature. But we don’t know what’s coming and that makes the experience more visceral.

So whose bright idea was it to turn this story into a movie?

If you made it an audio-drama or podcast series, that would make sense but a movie? A form of entertainment predicated on sight?!

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I also have a feeling our monsters in question will fall prey to the movie industry’s vitriolic hatred of ambiguity.

Over the past decade or so the visual arts have developed this strange fetish with over-explaining everything. Hollywood’s releasing of prequel movie after prequel movie is evidence enough of this, answering questions we didn’t want answered. Sometimes the results are good (Rogue One) but most of the time they are not (Solo).

Not to mention, in today’s climate, I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to hammer in some “humans bad” message into the mix just for the hell of it.

Book explanation of Creatures: 

Well, they could be inter-dimensional beings that transcend our conventional understanding of the universe and our mortal brains simply can’t comprehend them, and thus fall back on a primordial instinct to self-terminate. Unfortunately, we will probably never know.

Move Explanation of Creatures (probably): 

They are creatures we created with global warming and heteronormativity and they are taking back the earth in an attempt to restore the balance we destroyed with our hubris. WHEN WILL BE LEARN?!?!

Regardless, I have zero interest in giving this flick a watch.

If the premise draws you in, I recommend reading the book instead. It’s a pretty quick read and will give you hours of enjoyment.

Unlike..this thing.

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