Category: Books 2014 (page 4 of 6)

2014 Book #30: The Giver

giverI had two distinct reactions to finishing The Giver: 1) How have I not read this book before? and 2) DAMN, that’s depressing. I had no idea what I was in for with this one even though almost everyone I know has read it. I took one of those stupid Facebook quizzes a month or two ago about how many Newberry books I’d read, and the result was very, very low. I’m not sure what I was reading when I was a kid, but it sure wasn’t this stuff. I’m pretty sure my first dystopia was 1984, and I was 14 or 15 when I read that one.

Again: DAMN. It’s about a kid named Jonas who lives in a very strict society that values Sameness. For generations, no one has experienced real pain or fear because most emotions have been dulled, and every requirement for human life has been planned and provided. Babies are born to Birthmothers and given to families with approved applications a year later. They go to school, make friends, and live what Jonas thinks are normal lives. Every year, in lieu of birthdays, children are given new responsibilities, up to age 12, when they are told by a group of Elders what they will do with the rest of their lives. Some become doctors, some lawyers, some laborers, etc. Except at Jonas’s twelve-year-old ceremony, the announcer skips over him until the end and names him the new Receiver of Memories, telling him that it’s an honor and will be difficult because he will have to experience pain. He must learn everything about the past from the previous Receiver, who Jonas calls the Giver. Jonas learns about war and famine and loneliness while the rest of his society has no idea that any of those things ever existed. They go on with their lives, have their careers, are assigned families of their own, grow old, and are “released,” which is another matter and is a mystery to Jonas. Then, of course, Things Happen.

Ohhhh, do they happen. The Giver is a short book, and I finished it in a couple of hours. I couldn’t stop reading it. So much for my current lack of attention span. It’s so good. (See? I don’t hate all kids’ books!) It’s also bleak, at least as much so as The Road or 1984. I’m sad I didn’t read this when I was a kid because it might have opened my eyes a bit to what was around me. When I was Jonas’s age, I was fairly sheltered in Minden. I was a good kid, and I had everything I needed and most things I wanted. Or, then again, maybe I wouldn’t have appreciated what this book is really saying.

Anyway, read it. If you have kids, I’d say, ten and up, have them read it. It’s amazing. It even made me cry, which is pretty rare. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I’ll definitely be looking into more Lois Lowry.

As for the Puppy Update, it’s only been a day, and she’s still growing and still crazy. I’ve been taking her with me everywhere that I can so she gets used to people. We went to the Starbucks on Airline in Bossier, and she met a little boy from Georgia who agreed that she is the Cutest Thing.

And here she is being ridiculous with a stick:

2014 Book #29: Stranger Things Happen

strangerthingshappenReading Things is so hard right now. Every time I sit down with a book, I hear a whine or feel needle-sharp puppy teeth playfully tugging on my jeans or, sometimes, on my skin. I’m having a hard time keeping interest throughout a whole novel because they’re taking me so long to read. I have a short attention span. Which is why I figured that now was a good time to read a collection of short stories, specificaly Kelly Link‘s Stranger Things Happen, to which I’ve been looking forward since I read Pretty Monsters last year. That, and I couldn’t find a cheap digital copy of Stranger Things Happen, and my library doesn’t have it – but my new friend Oyster does! So I jumped at the chance.

The stories in Stranger Things Happen are generally similar to those in Pretty Monsters, though, on the whole, they’re not quite as good. My one criticism of the stories in the latter collection was that they end so abruptly, and that’s not the case in Stranger Things Happen, but I think Kelly Link is better at cutting off stories in interesting places than really ending them.

I think my favorite story in this collection is the last one, “The Girl Detective,” about an inquisitive, mysterious girl, told from the perspective of an inquisitive, mysterious boy. The girl eats people’s dreams and solves mysteries by exploring those dreams. Her mother disappeared when she was little, and she’s trying to find her. The girl detective follows dreams in search of her mother. It’s really an interesting story. “Survivor’s Ball, or, The Donner Party” is another of my favorites. It’s about two young people who meet in a bar in New Zealand while they’re each traveling the world in the opposite direction. They rent a car and take a dangerous wintry road to a hotel in the middle of nowhere, and they meet some very interesting travelers. This one might be the creepiest. “The Specialist’s Hat,” which I like, appears in both collections, which, I guess, can be explained by there being two different publishers. It seems a little cheaty to me. “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” is about a man who has just died and is at a hotel, forgetting his former life. He tries repeatedly to remember his wife’s name and a lot of events in his life, but he can’t. He’s tied to the hotel and the island, writing letters that he hopes will make it to his wife. I liked “Water off a Black Dog’s Back” least of all. It’s a creative retelling of Leda and the Swan, and the best thing I can say about it is that it’s an interesting twist. There’s also a Cinderella retelling called “Shoe and Marriage” that is just passable. All of the other stories are generally good.

I really like Kelly Link. I read somewhere around the interwebs that she’s just signed a deal for a new collection of stories to be released in 2015, followed by a novel she hasn’t finished yet. I’ll be interested to read that novel, as this shorter form seems to work so well for her. I hope it’s like my favorite (and the longest) story in Pretty Monsters, “The Wizards of Perfil,” though I bet it’ll be more ghosty and less straight fantasy.

And now for Puppy Update Time, as my life revolves around said puppy for the time being.

She learned to fetch!

And she’s trying to make friends with the cats, but they don’t want to play:

She reeeeeally likes to play in long grass.

And she’s getting so big! Here’s a progression of photos marking every week since we got her:

Meanwhile, Palmer is in Nebraska and Iowa, dealing with Tornado Season.

And I am entirely exhausted. I also think I smell poop. See you next time.

2014 Book #28: The Financial Lives of the Poets

financiallivesI’m glad it has been long enough since I’ve read Jess Walter’s most recent book, Beautiful Ruins, that I’d forgotten what I said in my review because I probably wouldn’t have read The Financial Lives of the Poets solely based on The Type of Author Jess Walter Appears to Be. Though don’t get me wrong: The Financial Lives of the Poets really isn’t any better than Beautiful Ruins: they’re both just okay novels. Certainly nothing to be excited about. And I have exactly the same thing to say about this one that I did about Beautiful Ruins: It’s not my kind of book.

The Financial Lives of the Poets is about Matthew Prior, who is getting close to 40 and finds himself in financial and marriage trouble. He was a business writer for a (slowly failing) newspaper who came up with the brilliant idea to start a website serving business news in poetic form. Yeah. Smart. Of course, it failed miserably. Meanwhile, his wife is obsessed with money and keeping money and goes on an ebay binge, spending tons of it and stacking up her purchases in the garage to sell later as collectibles. Between Matt’s stupid business plan and his wife’s, they’re about to lose their house, and their kids are about to have to move from their private school to a public school he calls Alcatraz. And the wife is beginning an affair with an old high school crush. Things are going pretty badly for Matt when he goes to 7/11 to pick up milk and meets a couple of young pot dealers, smokes it for the first time in several years, and decides he wants to buy a huge quantity (2 pounds!) to sell to his friends. There seems to be a silver lining when everything goes all to hell again, and Things Continue to Happen.

I didn’t realize this was a pot book (akin to pot movies like Darjeeling Limited) until I was well into it. I would have stopped if it wasn’t, at least, pretty funny. Pot movies and TV shows have been overdone, and I’m pretty sure they were already overdone in 2009 when this book was published. So I didn’t like the premise, but the right kind of funny can make up for a lot. The Financial Lives of the Poets is, after all, pretty well-written, except in an MFA sort of formulaic way, which is generally Not My Thing. The end is also tied up too neatly like that of Beautiful Ruins, and I was turned off by that. It’s a sort of things-suck-now-but-they’ll-eventually-get-better feel-good type of book. I don’t like those.

Which isn’t to say that I didn’t like The Financial Lives of the Poets. I rather enjoyed it, though I’ll probably forget all about it within the next few weeks – but this time, I’m hoping that I remember why I don’t like Jess Walter’s style and will avoid her books in the future. Or maybe I won’t. We’ll see.

And now, for the most interesting part: Puppy Update! If you’ve been following along on Facebook, there might even be one or two photos you haven’t seen!

Zelda is growing! We’ve only had her for two weeks, and look at this huge difference:

It’s amazing! Except she’s gone from sweet little sleeping infant puppy to insane Bitey McBiterson. Her cuteness totally makes up for it, though.

Look at that mushroom on her butt!

2014 Book #27: The Torrents of Spring

torrentsWhat a bizarre little novella! I was expecting a run-of-the-mill (short) Hemingway novel, and I got…birds living in shirts? The Torrents of Spring is so un-Hemingway-like that I stopped several times and just stared at the pages, thinking, What am I reading, exactly? Hemingway, young then, is making fun of the literary establishment in a parody of a rather forgotten novel by Sherwood Anderson called Dark Laughter, which I haven’t read. I spend a good chunk of The Torrents of Spring wondering if I was missing out on some grand inside joke, but by the end, I’m pretty sure it’s just a weird, funny book. Definitely not your run-of-the-mill Hemingway.

It’s about Scripps O’Neill and Yogi Johnson, two young men in rural Minnesota. Scripps is a writer, and Yogi is a World War I veteran, and they work together in a pump factory. Before Scripps gets that job, he lives in a small town and his first wife leaves him, so he wanders into a bean diner (?) in another small town, falls in love with an “elderly” waitress, gets a job at said pump factory, marries the waitress, and kind-of settles down for a while. Oh, and on his way down the railroad tracks, he picks up a bird and keeps it, taking it with him to the diner every day. Yep. Yogi has worked at the pump factory for a longer period of time and is distressed at how mundane his life has become, how he just can’t “want a woman.” He meets some Native Americans, ends up in some trouble, and escapes to the same bean diner at the same time Scripps is there with his elderly wife. For the most part, these men’s stories are parallel, but the diner is an important location, and things…kind of?… happen there, then everyone goes on with their lives…kind of.

Bizarre is definitely the best way to describe this one. At the beginning, I was confused, and I didn’t really like it, but it grew on me, and, in the end, I’m a fan. It’s so interesting to see Hemingway at his earliest, even though The Sun Also Rises (a much better novel) was published in the same year. I won’t recommend The Torrents of Spring to a Hemingway newbie, but if you’re a fan, pick this one up for a huge change of pace. It’s really well written, though strange, and it’s worth the hour or two it’ll take you to read it.

In addition: PUPPY!


2014 Book #26: The Penelopiad – and PUPPY!!! and Oyster

PenelopiadI’ve been In the Middle of David Copperfield for a couple of weeks now, so I decided to take a break and read The Penelopiad, which I’ve been meaning to reread for a couple of years now. At some point, I owned a copy, but I guess it made it into a discard pile because I disliked it so much. I gave it two stars on Goodreads, back in the day, and I thought that was rather charitable. Why did I want to reread it, then, you ask? Because I love Margaret Atwood and The Odyssey, and I really thought I should like The Penelopiad. And I did like it a little better this time around. It’s just not Atwood’s best book.

You probably know the story of The Odyssey (or have easy access to a summary on Wikipedia), so I won’t rehash it. The Penelopiad is Penelope’s side of the story. She’s the one who marries Odysseus, then waits around faithfully while he’s off fighting in the Trojan War, then slooooooowly making his way home. If you haven’t read the whole Odyssey, you should probably do that now because it’s fantastic and totally worth it.

Which all means that The Penelopiad is the feminist end of The Odyssey. Margaret Atwood loves these kinds of things. I generally like these kinds of things. It’s just that she’s done better. A lot of this book is really good! It’s just there’s a lot of dumb, too, and it was frustrating. Atwood chose to tell the story from what might be Penelope’s contemporary perspective: she’s been in Hades since she died and has chosen not to have another life, though she’s watched others and has heard news of the living. And that’s all fine, except (spoiler alert? are there spoilers here?) at the end, there’s a really dumb modern-day courtroom scene in which Penelope’s maids, whom Odysseus killed along with the Suitors, prosecute Odysseus, then vow to haunt him for the rest of eternity. The scene itself was silly, I thought, and since it was kind of big and near the end, it tarnished my newly more positive view of the whole thing. That said, I liked it more than I did the first time around. It’s not terrible, but it’s certainly nowhere near Atwood’s best.

I happened to run across The Penelopiad on a relatively new book subscription service called Oyster (That’s an invite link! We both win if you click on it and subscribe!). I’d tried the free month just before I got my iPad Mini and didn’t want to pay the $10/month subscription fee for a few reasons: 1) the full-size iPad is too heavy and awkward to use for reading, 2) Oyster is only available for iPad and iPhone and can’t be read in a browser, and 3) at that point, their book selection was a bit on the skimpy side. Two of the three have been solved: I got an iPad Mini, which is perfect for reading, and Oyster has expanded substantially. What put me over the subscription moneys edge, you ask? They just got Simon & Schuster! Which includes Hemingway, DeLillo, Fitzgerald, and lots of other authors I enjoy. Oyster now has enough of a selection for me to willingly shell out the $10. I’m really excited about it.

Anyway. Back to why I haven’t read David Copperfield. I’m not quite ready to add it to the Fail Pile, though I’m pretty sure that’s where it’s headed, because I’m really enjoying it. It’s just that now is not the time for a looooooong book because I’ve been busy!  Palmer finally broke down and got me a PUPPY (which he oh-so-secretly wanted just about as badly as I did)! SO here is the Puppy Reel! (Okay, this isn’t a Puppy Reel. It was supposed to be a Flickr Slideshow, but Flickr still exists in the dark ages and slideshows won’t work on mobile. So here’s a Puppy Gallery, thanks to Flickr Photostream, an awesome WordPress plugin! And a link to the Flickr Set containing All the Puppy Photos.)

[flickr_set id="72157644803655176"]

She’s the Cutest Thing Ever, though I’m pretty sure getting a puppy is like a sped-up version of parenthood. She has nicknames like Bitey McBiterson because she goes at most things teeth-first. She’s not quite eight weeks old, though, so I’m sure she’ll grow out of it.

The reason I had time to get 40-ish% into David Copperfield was that I had a break. Well, sort of: I went to a badly timed library conference in Columbia, South Carolina, on USC’s campus. I had a really nice time (and some great food!), but the whole time I was there, I was counting the minutes until I could come home to puppy, kittehs, and husband. Here’s a link to the photo set.

[flickr_set id="72157644723832136"]

It’s so good to be home.

2014 Book #25: Not a Drop to Drink

Not a Drop to Drink is an exception to my general rules in a couple of ways: It's YA that I really enjoy (like Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, which I also read recently) and I listened to a huge chunk of the audiobook while I was driving to Dallas and still liked it. I've discussed my audiobook issue before, but suffice it to say that if I listen to a book, odds are I won't like it. Anyway.

This book is dystopian, set after some sort of water shortage has forced most people to move into military-controlled cities with insene water prices. Some, though, still live out in the country, like Lynn, a sixteen-year-old girl who has lived in a house with a pond for her entire life. Her mother has taught her that all who approach are a danger, and her policy was to shoot on sight from a perch on their roof. The only neighbor with whom they associate, Stebbs, lives a short distance away, but they almost never communicate. Not too far in, Lynn's mother is killed by wolves. Lynn can get by on her own, but she comes to trust and appreciate Stebbs. They see smoke near a stream not far away and investigate to find a young girl, her pregnant mother, and her uncle. Lynn and Stebbs agree to help them, and Lynn essentially adopts the girl. There are threats everywhere, and Things Continue to Happen. A really interesting backstory is woven into the plot, but that's best discovered while you read, so I won't talk about that here.

I generally love dystopian novels – I've written about that before, too – so I'm not surprised that I enjoyed this one. It certainly doesn't qualify as disaster porn, as the only talk of disaster involves wars over oil and water in the past. I'd compare it to The Road, but it's nowhere as bleak. It's also the first book in a series, the second of which is due out later this year, I think. I'm really looking forward to it, though I'm not sure I'll like where it's going from here. I'm getting a Walking Dead-minus-the-zombies vibe that worries me. But we'll soon find out, as I'm really eager to read the next one.

I'm writing these posts out of order. I'm not sure why, but I've put off this one for a couple of weeks. I listened to most of it while I drove to Dallas and back, and here I am, now, in the Atlanta airport sans free wifi. But! I went to Dallas, and I must show some photos:

Obviously, we went to the zoo. The Dallas Zoo, this time, though I think we both agree that the Fort Worth Zoo is superior. Dallas's relatively new Africa exhibit is pretty stunning, though.

(Oh. And please excuse any terrible formatting issues. As I wrote the book part, I was in the Atlanta airport with no Wifi. Now, I'm in a hotel, but I only brought my iPad Mini, and the app I'm using, Blogsy, is temperamental at best.)


On Not Finishing Books (and sometimes finishing them when I know I shouldn’t). Also: 2014 Book #24: The Shadow of the Wind and Fail Pile #3: Noggin

shadowofthewindI knew what I was getting into when I finally picked up The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, but Goodreads had it lingering on my recommendations page, and I was seeing it everywhere. Tumblr, mostly, which is usually bad news because quotes usually come from books I abhor like The Unbearable Lightness of Being or The Book Thief – you know, sappy and infinitely quotable. Meh. Also against The Shadow of the Wind? It’s a mystery. I don’t like mysteries. I see the word “inspector” anywhere in the first twenty pages, and I generally leave a book alone. I thought this one, though, might be a nice entry into the genre, but I was totally wrong.

(I’ll go ahead and issue a spoiler alert here, though it only applies to this specific book.)

I discovered a likely problem early, when I tweeted this only 68 pages in:

No, I thought, this book can’t be that predictable. It would be entirely ridiculous, and everyone would hate it for the way-too-obvious scam. But no! I discovered on page 420 that said book-burner was, indeed, Carax, and I almost threw the damned book across the room. Except I didn’t, and I kept reading because there were sixty pages left, and I figured that there was still time for something more interesting to happen.

I should have done the throwing and/or the burning because it just got worse from there.

Spoiler alert over. Anyway. The Shadow of the Wind is about a teenager who discovers a book by Julián Carax, then gets into terrible trouble trying to find out about the author. A mystery, and an especially dumb one, at that, because it’s entirely predictable. And I didn’t even go into how dumb and sappy the end is. It’s like the end of the Harry Potter series, when Rowling goes 30 years into the future and explains who married whom and how many kids they had, and the like. But worse. MEH.

I should have stopped reading at 420, when I was still enjoying it, at least a little bit. Finishing it was a terrific waste of time.

nogginAaaand speaking of wasting time, I’ll move onto a book I didn’t finishNoggin, by John Corey Whaley. This isn’t my first experience with Whaley: I read – and generally liked – Where Things Come Back. I picked up Noggin as soon as the library got a copy because several people I knew were reading it, and I figured this one would be as good or better than Where Things Come Back. But no!

My first issue is with the basic premise: It’s about Travis Coates, a kid who was dying of leukemia. Said kid agrees to join an experiment in which his head is separated from his body to be cryogenically frozen until it can be attached to a donor body sometime in the (probably distant) future when that technology becomes available. Except it only takes five years, and he comes home to all kinds of awkwardness and sadness because his best friend and his girlfriend are five years older and have moved on with their lives. More sap, this time geared for teenagers.

I gave up on Noggin about halfway through because it wasn’t getting any better, and I’m tired of wasting my time reading bad books. Here’s the paragraph that finally did me in:

They say the heart is just a muscle. They say it plays absolutely no role in our emotions and that its use as a symbol for love is based on archaic theories of it being the seat of the soul or something ridiculous like that. But as I quietly listened to every word she was saying to me, as each syllable shot a sharp arrow through the phone and into my ear, I swear I felt like my entire chest would collapse in on itself. I knew this feeling. They say a heart can’t really break because there’s nothing to be broken. But see, I once had to leave everyone I loved, and it felt this same way. Maybe Jeremy Pratt’s did too. Before he died, I mean. Maybe his heart was torn to shreds and maybe that’s why it hurt so bad now, like it hadn’t had enough time to heal before receiving its next blow.

Excuse me while I vomit a little.

After forcing my way through that paragraph and the next few pages, I used the lesson I’d just learned from Mr. Zafón and his The Shadow of the Wind (which, incidentally, ends with the title of the novel. Yep, it just gets worse) and put the book down before I’d wasted another minute of my life. It’s not even that I just don’t like Noggin (that’s the case with The Shadow of the Wind, really): Noggin isn’t even a decent book. It’s stupid and written to pull at your heart strings just like The Book Thief does (and like I imagine all of John Green‘s books to do, which is why I stay away from those). I didn’t even like books like this when I was a teenager because they’re dumb, and if I would have made it all the way to the end, I bet I would have found a nice, neat moral lesson. Yuck.

End of rant.

I really need to be better about giving up on a book when I know I won’t like it within the first fifty (or two or three hundred!) pages. If I’m reading for pleasure, shouldn’t I get some pleasure out of it rather than trudging through just to see it complete and returned to the shelf?

2014 Book #23: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

missperegrineMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has been on my tbr list for a while now – for long enough that I put it in my Official 2014 TBR Pile Challenge. I’m not sure of how I heard about it in the first place, but the idea was intriguing. I don’t know why it sat on my list for so long.

Because this is the best YA book I’ve read in quite a while. It doesn’t (quite) follow the usual Harry Potter theme, which is refreshing, and it’s well-written and original, both rare in recent YA. I should note, here, that with obvious exceptions, I tend to stay away from YA because I don’t like most of it. It seems to follow The Usual Pattern, and I often can’t identify with the characters.

One reason why I really liked this novel is that it was not what I expected. It’s about a normal kid, Jacob, who has an interesting grandfather who shows him photos from his childhood of other, peculiar, children. One levitates, one holds a boulder in one hand, and one is invisible, for instance. (And the photos are included!) Jacob doesn’t quite believe his grandfather until he arrives at the latter’s house, only to follow him into the woods. His grandfather has just been killed by some kind of evil creature-man. After Jacob tells various adults what has happened, they tell him he’s crazy, and he sees a psychiatrist, etc. Except at his next birthday, his aunt gives him a book that his grandfather had left for him, and there’s a letter inside from a Miss Peregrine to his grandfather, whose last words had been cryptic, directing him to said book and said letter, along with other vague directions. Jacob tracks her down to an island in Wales, and he convinces his dad, an aspiring ornithologist, to take him there. Once on the island, Jacob discovers that what his grandfather said was true, and Things Happen.

That’s only the beginning of the book, and the book is only the beginning of a series – which I’ll be reading. The second one, Hollow City, is already out, and I have it checked out from Overdrive to read as soon as I finish my current book. I’m really excited about where this one is going – my best guess is that a concentration camp might be involved. (And this is an example of a good book that involves the Holocaust, unlike a certain other one.) I haven’t been this enthusiastic about a YA series in a long time, so we’ll see where it goes!

2014 Book #22: A Tale Dark and Grimm

taledarkandgrimmI’m really disappointed that I didn’t like A Tale Dark and Grimm. It’s a retelling of various Grimm’s Fairy Tales for kids with lots of the gore left in. I’ve read some brilliant kids’ books in the past few months, and I was expecting something similar. That’s not what I got. Adam Gidwitz‘s writing lacks the creativity I look for in children’s books. That said, if I was a kid, I’d probably like it, if only because all of the gore seems a little taboo after the fairy tales we’re used to. I guess I’m too old to enjoy this one, which happens disappointingly often with books like The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Perks of Being a Wallflower – and, really, with The MagiciansAt the same time, though, if I’m too old for A Tale Dark and Grimm, I shouldn’t have enjoyed The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making half as much as I did.

I read A Tale Dark and Grimm after I saw Adam Gidwitz speak at Artbreak this weekend. He’s a fantastic speaker, and he seems like a really nice guy. I so wanted to enjoy this book. My problem, I think, is it’s too much of Grimm and not enough of his own work.

Artbreak 2014

Here’s what happens. Hansel and Gretel are inserted into a slew of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which are strung together to make a reasonably sensible story. These aren’t your usual fairy tales: the murder and general gore is left in and presented almost like it’s a secret. As the story progresses, the author inserts himself with asides in bold print, saying things like “little kids should leave the room so they don’t get too scared” and making other super-preachy statements about the moral of the story and such. That was fun for the first few pages, but it got old very quickly. The end is tied up together too sweetly, even for a kids’ book, and what the reader should have learned is written blatantly on the page in one of Gidwitz’s asides. No critical thinking is involved, which annoys me, especially in kids’ books. There are also parts that just don’t make sense, he says, because fairy tales often don’t make sense, but he’s trying to make them into a coherent novel, so I wish he’d put a little work into that.

Which is basically my problem with A Tale Dark and Grimm. At the talk, Gidwitz answered a question about writer’s block by suggesting that kids steal their basic story from somewhere and adapt it to their own purposes, like Harry Potter and Star Wars follow the same basic pattern. Except that’s not what Gidwitz did: he just adapted someone else’s stories and did very little of the making-it-his-own part. There is, of course, a benefit to bringing Grimm’s Fairy Tales to a younger audience, but I set this in with those illustrated and abridged classics like Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island that used to sell for 50¢ in grocery stores when I was a kid. When I got older and read the real thing, I felt cheated, that I should have spent my time reading a real book, even if it was written for contemporary kids.

All of that said, I think that Adam Gidwitz is fantastic as a speaker. He was a teacher, and it shows. He quickly memorized the names of every kid in attendance and addressed them directly and non-condescendingly. I really enjoyed listening to him and meeting him. Which was why I picked up the book in the first place and why I was so disappointed in it. I’m pretty sure this was his first published book, so maybe he got better (Suzanne Collins did!), though the future works he talked about seemed about the same: he’s contracted to write an adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back, which is very cool, and he’s working on adaptations of medieval myths kind of like his Grimm series. That also makes me wonder if he shares my inability to come up with a plot on my own (which is one reason I don’t write), but has found an ingenious way to get over writer’s block by rewriting what others have already done. And does that make it just a gimmick?

Also: I’ve embedded a slideshow of the few photos I took at Artbreak! It looked amazing.

Artbreak is what I remember of the Revel from my childhood, but it’s so much more interesting than the Revel! Maybe I was remembering Artbreak, and the Revel has, indeed, been mostly a collection of crappy, generic fleur-de-lis art since I was little. I don’t know how I missed Artbreak for the past several years. It makes me proud to live in Shreveport!

2014 Book #21: The Magicians

magiciansI’d seen The Magicians around the internet, marketed as a sort of Harry Potter for adults. It’s the first of yet another wizardy series, and despite my best judgment (and having read all of the Game of Thrones books available), I checked it out from the library.

Here’s what happens: Harry Potter goes to Hogwarts, graduates, and goes to Narnia with some friends.

Except Harry’s name is Quentin, Hogwarts is Brakebills, and Narnia is Fillory. I’m sure you can figure out the rest of the plot. Seriously. That is the plot of this novel. Ugh. Really, it was all fine until one of his friends showed up saying he found a way into Fillory, about three-quarters through the novel. It was just a rehash of Harry Potter, but with some sex and alcohol added, so you know they’re older. There almost nothing original in the whole thing – it was just mindlessly entertaining until the downright stupidity of the Fillory adventure.

It’s also full of crazy plot holes. Here’s one of many: Each Brakebills class is composed of twenty students. After their first semester, Quentin and Alice (eventually his girlfriend) are inexplicably selected to skip into the second half of their second year. Later, when they graduate, there are twenty students in their class. What happened to the other two? The Magicians is full of annoying little holes like that. Lev Grossman also finds weird ways of using the “show, don’t tell” formula – like Quentin randomly goes into some sort of sunroom where he’d been hanging out, only to find his friend Eliot giving a blowjob to some unnamed, sinister-sounding kid. I thought something bad must be going down at school, but no, Eliot is just gay. That’s it: Grossman just found a really awkward, uncomfortable way of showing that this kid likes dudes – which isn’t even a thing in the book. Eliot’s sexual preference has nothing to do with anything important. No idea.

I have a feeling that The Magicians has been edited: I bet it was thinly veiled fanfiction about Harry Potter finding Narnia, then some publisher saying, sure, we’ll publish it, just change some names so we don’t get sued. Isn’t that how Fifty Shades of Grey happened? Even if it didn’t start out as fanfiction, it’s entirely derivative. Of the whole novel, there’s only one part I thought was interesting: during their fourth year, the class disappears for a semester, and no one will say why. One night, Quentin is woken up by a professor, he and his class are taken to a balcony at the top of the tower, and told to disrobe, after which they are thrown off the building as they turn into geese. They fly all the way to Antarctica for a few months. That part is original (as far as I can tell) and interesting. The rest of the book is pure wizard formula. And all of the Fillory crap is just plain dumb.

I’m so disappointed in The Magicians. My expectations weren’t high, but they weren’t this low, either. It’s just a really bad book written to capitalize on the nostalgia of 20-somethings. It would be fine if this book stood out in any way, but the characters are flat, and all of the descriptions are firmly rooted in the collective memories of Narnia and Harry Potter readers. Maybe I’m just a little too old, and maybe I’m not a big enough fan of Narnia. The more I think about it, the less I like this book, and I already disliked it. Ugh. This is a series I probably won’t be finishing – though I think I said that about The Hunger Games, too.

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