Monday, September 16, 2013

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Title: Looking For Alaska
Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Children's Books
Original Publication Date: 2005
Pages: 231

Here's the second book borne out of having been lost in a labyrinth that is Tolstoy (it is true that YA are easy reads, with respect to Looking for Alaska though, that is an understatement).

John Green's first book that I have first read, which interestingly, did not leave any hint of novelty. The reason is conspicuous enough. The plot is conventional and prevalent (predictable too). Who hasn't read, or heard of, of teenagers who know everything, of people who believe they stand at the top of the world only to be confronted by something beyond comprehension? Relegating the plot, perhaps the characters echo of redemption. I am again to be disheartened. The characters were the embodiment of stereotypes. Miles (stereotypical nerd) who leaves for boarding school only to search for his "Great Perhaps". What is surprising however is that Miles forgets this Great Perhaps of his only to reemerge in the last parts. One can hardly argue that his stay was his Great Perhaps, as the stereotypical nerd, he gets pushed and nicknamed Pudge, (where's any hint of a Great Perhaps?) with no attempt ror what so ever of shaking off occurred, in the contrary, Miles subdued himself to it, he pays for Colonel's cigarettes, and is of course forever chided by Alaska. Colonel (stereotype of a cool friend who strives because of a definitive family background). Alaska as the stereotype of the hot and smart girl who I guess Green envisioned to be near perfect in light of his feminism (who doesn't ever go beyond the pseudo-feminist bickering), a roomful of books and precal tutorials. So everybody likes her, but hell, you can't have her because once you thought so she'll start spouting that she's oh so loyal, right after making out with her.

Miles lost any redemption towards his Great Escape, something the author conventionally concludes through their predicament of "looking for Alaska". And if to add insult to injury, they never really did find Alaska, emphatically that is, did they?

The appeal is easy to see. The character's are in a school, no less of a boarding school, and yet they have access to booze, sex, and smoke. They can carry out any prank with little injury. So I guess Green cast his characters in a mold embossed with intelligence, love for learning and books not only to offset, but to some extent justify, what his characters do. Who would, from the young (who want to experience such), the YA (who are experiencing such), and the young once (who have experienced such), not get caught up in such a subjectively pleasing read?

So yeah, we give in to the occasional emotional torrent to which the work's success must have been anchored. We give in to the dreaded  effects of bullying, to the alienation, to the incomparable feeling of first love or lust, whether it be real or not, and to lost love, to chasing ghosts. We give in  to the pursuit of redemption, of Looking for Alaska through pulling the best imaginable prank ever in Culvert history. After all there is something somewhere to which we can relate to what Green has written, however minuscule or insubstantial that is.

I guess, if I were a teenager, I would have given it a 4 or even a 5. I admit I liked Mile's devotion to last words (got me curious to a great extent I'll be picking up a book on this), but somehow, the prank they pulled off was seemingly anti-climatic. I expected something more. Or then again, I am totally in the wrong for every word in this review, after all, it is American culture Green is writing into.

In an attempt dictated by convenience and compelled by the material, I have somehow visualized this review.

not viewable, here's the <a href=""> link </a>
**i dread repeating words, which in this case is not only fitting but inevitable  in lieu of the indistinctness of the plot.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Some of the World's Best Bookends

Game of Thrones Direwolf bookends. A double delight!

Arthurian Knights bookends!

David McCullough's Typewriter Bookend

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Title: Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos #1)
Author: Dan Simmons
Publisher: Bantam Spectra 
Original Publication Date: 1989
Pages: 482

Whenever I come across an epic masterpiece a great difficulty in talking about it (in this sense, reviewing it) arises. Perhaps an empirical testament that Hyperion is nothing short of a masterpiece is that I have mulled over what I have to say over this work for an uncharacteristically numerous number of days (and still, ironically, I came up with technically nothing). I will struggle to mark my statement with brevity, lest I contradict myself and lose credence that Hyperion, is one that every sci-fi fan should read.

Every story has been told, one way or another, the gift of the author is in retelling that story and in such retelling, create a story of magnificence of his own. This is to say that Hyperion is a modern-sci-fi-setting retelling of the Canterbury tales. Six stories, woven into one epic masterpiece. This holds true to Hyperion, as one would later see. To say that Dan Simmons, in writing Hyperion, is gifted would be an understatement. He is a genius and his work a revelation. Once again, I am plunged to experience the unfathomable urge to read the book's sequel.

The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison

Title: The Worm Ouroboros
Author: Eric Rücker Eddison
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Original Publication Date: 1922
Pages: 446

To say that The Worm Ouroboros has bolstered my love for the classics, is to strain credulity, for I have devoted much time going through the 49 pages more than I would have wanted to.

A plain reason why 'classics,' or in a more encompassing sense, early works in literature experience a fallout, at its more merciful dispositions, has something to do with the language it has been couch with. The philosophies that give life to the plot, the mythologies in the origin of the story, the psychologies of the characters, be they stupidly consistent or brilliantly logical, are all contained in the language. Failure must not exists in the basic and most vital component of a book, lest it be fatal. Language, one might say, would be the shell of the book by which it is most peremptorily judged, just as how The Worm Ouroboros came out to be. (Perhaps this too contribute to the proliferation of YA novels, they are as simple and easy as they could possibly be - although this statement is in danger of suffering from generalization)

I look forward, knowing that a moment will come when i should once again pick this book up, not only giving justice to the words Tolkien have immortally left with it, but to knowing, at last, the merits it contain. Till then, unrated it will be left.

The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Title: The Fall of Hyperion
Author: Dan Simmons
Publisher: Bantam Spectra
Original Publication Date: 1990
Pages: 517

I had a hard time getting a copy of this book considering the fame it has enjoyed. Perhaps such effects has bolstered the value of this book.

At the outset I would like to emphasize that Fall of Hyperion is more likely a part of the first book just as Endymion and Rise of Endymion are one, in other words, the series is actually more in the content of two books divided and stretched over four, pursued for the contingency that readers may experience some difficulty wading over a thousand paged story. At this point I actually do not mind if it was, Dan Simmons is great, and I would gladly add him up to the likes of people who can write a thousand paged story.

I love writers who do not talk down to their readers, who present complex ideas and let their readers understand, and who create a world and lets us visualize it.

The book still fundamentally carries the same format. POVs of the pilgrims later to be merged for the concluding parts. Dan Simmons did this in a masterful manner.

I revel at how he has created and developed the characters. They have remained true all throughout.

Sometimes I however pause at Dan Simmons' bombardment, literal bombardment of high-fallutin technical words that is categorically his world building and descriptive environment. I guess this is a standard of science fiction works, but to an extent Simmons is beyond any standard science-fiction work, and that tells a lot. Further, I see the embers of the story delving in parts that have been left in philosophical debates and religious contentions. I am interested at how Simmons will later play this on out. The work still delivers a wallop of a punch on the emotional level, and this is testament to how good Dan Simmons is. Take for example the moment where General Morpugo was leading the ship with his son saying 'I love you, Son'. This military man, who was fashioned to be uptight at all bearings, shattered all conceptions, and delivered such effect that it must be one of my favorite moments in the second book.

The Final Odyssey by Arthur Clarke

Title: The Final Odyssey
Author: Sir Arthur Charles Clarke
Publisher: Del Ray
Original Publication Date: 1997
Pages: 272

It is noteworthy to consider how Arthur Clarke opened the third book, and what the ramifications to the entire series were. With wanting pragmatism, he wrote that:

"Just as 2010: Odyssey Two was not a direct sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, so this book is not a linear sequel to 2010. They must all be considered as variations on the same theme, involving many of the same characters and situations, but not necessarily happening in the same universe.

Developments since Stanley Kubrick suggested in 1964 (five years before men landed on the Moon!) that we should attempt 'the proverbial good science-fiction movie' make total consistency impossible, as the later stories incorporate discoveries and events that had not even taken place when the earlier books were written. 2010 was made possible by the brilliantly successful 1979 Voyager flybys of Jupiter, and I had not intended to return to that territory until the results of the even more ambitious Galileo Mission were in."

Deriving not only from what Clarke tried to project as a caveat but as well as from general systemic observations from the series, I find the pressing need to elaborate on the following points.

Clarke cautions his readers not to treat the apparently labeled series as well, a series of books characterized with continuity and relativity. This is clear when he phrased that 'it' was not a direct sequel and must be considered as variations of the same theme. For the reader however this is rather demanding if not theoretically impossible considering the method, characters and story arcs Clarke choose to write with. Putatively and substantially seen in this simple manner:

Book One: Dave Bowman mysteriously disappears while in transit on his mission

Book Two: Dave Bowman returns as a part of the Monoliths and another mission is launched in pursuit of ascertaining what had happened, Dr. Floyd Heywood becomes one of the major personas by this point

Book Three: Floyd Heywood returns in the scene of another space exploration

Book Four: Frank Poole re-emerges as what could be labeled as the single persona in the fourth book establishing a connection with the series.

For one who has read the series, the meager attempt to express the thought in the words above should suffice. After all the recurring references while reading the books there is hardly any need for me to elaborate on this.

Arguendo however, if we find the utter need to satisfy some inner justice and lend credence to Clarke's desire to treat the succeeding books not as sequels but stand-alones (and i believe this is what he meant when he said that they were "to be considered as variations of the same theme"), the books, with intrepid audacity, fall into a position that is not only demeriting but which I fear could unfortunately be an unprecedented fatal waterloo for the whole of Space Odyssey books. I qoute myself by saying that:

"The book did not feel a book at all while reading it (something i've started to feel in the first book already), but more something like of a novella, or a piece greater book that is the series. I'm starting to get the impression that the 4 books should have been published as one judging by what the content has encompassed so far"

Nothing has proven to be quite substantial in the series to merit a change in this perspective. In the contrary, I find that the deeper I was into it, the further my pretense was affirmed, conclusively in varying instances.

I too find it rather irritating, as short as the books already were, that Clarke included a chapter or three from the previous books, lifting them by the whole, which presumably he wanted to function as ardent nostalgic chapters reminding the reader of events that have passed. I find them nothing but repetitive vestiges that can choke the living hell out of the reader (to be fair that was an exaggeration). It was redundant, draggy, convenient and a poor excuse for an imagined attack of writer's block (and this is what I've honestly felt).

To be critical however, Space odyssey is still a page-turner as it is (whether of excitement with the next chapter or with boredom with the lifted ones). Arthur Clarke writes in a gripping manner that catches you until the last of the pages. I give credit to his imagination contained in the writing. For me they were fresh, novel and exciting. The mystery of the monoliths can keep the reader enthralled as far as the story goes, the very idea of the monoliths was exciting in itself. The biggest letdown of this series/variations on the same theme however lies in the revelation that it failed to deliver (sole reason why the fourth book was rated two stars). After all that excitement, I opened the Pandora's box only to see, nothing.

A Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi

Title: A Book of Five Rings: A Classic Guide to Strategy
Author: Miyamoto Musashi (宮本 武蔵)
Publisher: Gramercy (1988)
Original Publication Date: circa 1645
Pages: 96

Superb. Somehow when he speaks of the way, Star Wars' Jedi's way come into mind. However, I have yet to find a work that does not to pale in comparison with Sun Tzu's Art of War. A book of five rings talks about the way of the long sword (primary samurai sword), everything affecting it, and how, a successful master strategist could apply the "individual aspect to those of a battle of a ten to thousand warring individuals." I however miserably fail at this endeavor. I simply cannot visualize the acclaimed application of the contents to a full-scale battle (perhaps a veracious sign that I have not been born with the makings of a strategist). The book is rather concise in form and owing to the brevity and nature of the topic by which Musashi wrote, he could't have done any better. As in Musashi's words one must either "study this well" or "research diligently" to rationalize substantial parts of the work.

What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell

Title: What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures

Publisher: Little Brown & Company
Original Publication Date: 2009
Pages: 688

Have you ever read a book because you were impressed with the writer? Loved the writer? And want to read his other works? This is one book which falls into that category for me, and again, such experience betrays.

I got bored with this book. Malcolm Gladwell is a great writer, that much is a fact, however, in comparison to his other books, 'what the dog saw...' did not fare well. For one, his writing always presented a grand theory or idea which captivates the reader through well researched pieces of information and undeniably entertaining facts, while this book is the exact opposite being a compilation of articles he previously wrote, yes there were highs and lows with the book but the lows easily outnumbered the good articles and i just suddenly realized i was skipping some pages, telling myself 'don't wanna read that' 'boring' and so on and so forth and i was nothing but thankful to finish it, at last. This boredom i talk of is attributable to the fact that his claims and ideas in his other books were convincing for as long as he kept a well versed and thoroughly backed argument, and this is what the article lacked, precisely due to the reason that they were only articles. Some were too complex and abstract that an article for a piece did not give it justice.

Turn of the Cards by Victor Milan

Let me start off by saying that the wild card series has a way of endearing itself to its readers considering the volume and extent to which the series has grown. Of course, the finesse of workmanship that goes with the series captivates one in further picking up the next book in the series, and that is how, I find myself writing a review for the series in this twelfth book.

The continuity by which the series' has been riddled with can be said to be one its strength and yet it too is the source of a waterloo for the series. What happens when a reader gets enthralled with a series is that we find a connection with the characters, we developed an inkling to these characters' stories and we expect a closure if not a continuation on the foundations we have been fed. We look, or rather we crave for further developments for personalities and characters we have inevitably labelled 'favorite/s' or more pretentiously identified with 'me'... or is ambitiously seen as what 'I' 'you' or 'me' would like to be. We have made it personal for this is the only process whereby one appreciates the written work. And this is precisely the reason why Turn of the Wild Cards garnered a three-star rating, or something lower if not for the Capt. Trips.

Mistral inhere for example is a misnomer. From the conclusion of the superbly done arc that was the jumper-rox-arc, she just suddenly appears pursuing Capt. Trips. Where a concise and substantial caveat could have sufficed, nothing was offered. How the hell did she get back to her body? And what of his father, Cyclone, feared dead in the previous arc. And it begs to be emphasize that in the succeeding books in the series, much of the discontinuity escalates into full blown disjointed story arc presentations, presumably (and i do hope i do stand to be corrected) due to the transfer of the right to create and publish the succeeding books to several publishing companies like TOR and IBooks.

For a person who wants to find the same continuity I am looking for, there's something to look forward to in the seventeenth book of the series Death Draws Five.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Somehow a very predictable plot. When I say this what I mean is that Norwegian Wood is discernably portraying Japanese culture, impeccably. I'm struggling to grasp the novel theme inside this work that makes Murakami so celebrated, and distinct as claimed – a struggle in vain (Perhaps there is none, and my inherent failure to connect with Murukami's elegiac writing is barred by my preferences. One thing that have always remained in earnest interest is that misery does love company and perhaps a reason why melacholic writings proliferate under this arrangement. A depressed book for a depressed world). Even Murakami is baffled at the popularity of this work. Until then I'm inclined to agree that Murukami is really not worth a Nobel after all.

Now, off to his other works which I hear treat suicides more thoughtfully, or perhaps nothing else beats a talking cat.

The Weird of the White Wolf by Michael Moorcock

I was giddy picking this book up. I was looking for a good series in the field of epic fantasy after reading full blown novels and saw that the Elric series is revered in the genre. I finished the two books and did not stop until well within the third of the series. However, the seemingly unprecedented fears of reading Moorcock and the Elric saga emerging within the second book (which for me) seemed to have been nothing but unfounded was embossed within the third books as if fundamentally attached to the series, at best, and at worst, with Moorcock's writing. I place a caveat as need be. I did not read the succeeding books in the series, nevertheless, I will carry on, with intrepid audacity, rendering a review that would seem conclusive for the entirety of the Elric saga. Who knows, the edit button is never far from reach if i may chance to pickup the other books in the series, which i doubt with great veracity.

Elric was off at a good start, if I can remember, Elric is the first antihero scheme i have read under the genre. In hindsight, it proved disheartening. The series lacked the grandiosity that is fantasy (for me, defines books under the fantasy genre). The world building, which is vital to a fantasy series categorically failed. Conceivably due to the fact that the series' books are almost always composed of three novellas rather than being a single composite work. Withal, Moorcock did not seem to have deliberately expounded on his world building aside from laying the essential necessities of the Elric series. The character/story arc, although credited as idiomatic as it were, just went too wide losing sight of the main arc. They were entertaining yes but in the end it leaves you candidly empty. This arc failure is because of Moorcock's concept of the Eternal Champion (please google it) of which i will not go into pains elaborating but to me simply is (sad to say) another marketing strategy to get you to read his other works. I do no want to read another book to understand a character. If a renvoi is in the making so that i can enjoy your books, then that's consequentially disappointing. But this did not lead me to stop, no, I read the next book and that's where the proverbial straw was lying.


A. Moorcock was simply repetitive in his stories. There were a handful of plot repetitions of some of which i ought to mention.

1. There will always be a sleeping girl!

Which of course Elric will help.

2. After helping a high-born short of being a perfect lady, our man Elric will always leave her.

3. Elric will never lose because he can summon a god, or when that god is defeated, a stronger god, or a stronger one or so on.....

This repetitive sequences simply sucked the life of the story barely leaving Elric with any character or persona at all.

B. Numerous PLOT HOLES (easily discoverable)

C. Story conclusions are what would rather seem convenient to the arc rather than well thought out inferences. (Elric can just summon a God to end whatever the hell is pestering him - but then again this may be a selling point of the series).

Considered however as revolutionary and radical with the presentations of fantasies in the tone of an antihero theme (one of the earliest of its kind), Moorcock is still something that an avid fan of the genre should not miss.

White Fang by Jack London

Reading Jack London's White Fang was beyond any expectation. The manner by which he has so vividly written in an animal's point of view leads one to incredulous experiences and conclusions while wholly experiencing the enthralling story. I'm almost inclined to argue - with an implausible idea - that London is white fang himself experiencing firsthand all that he has written. This statement does not render absurdity but rather should be further taken as an evidence giving credence that London's White Fang has perfectly captured the wolf experience, however fictitious it may be. I did not give it however a perfect five star rating due to the manner by which it is written as short as it is, that in itself is not even a flaw but a matter of personal preference. White Fang is surely a must read.

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Boy, that goddamn killed me!

Reading is never an easy thing. Surprisingly I still find that there are books that are laboriously... fatal. It killed me, it really did.

Now, where the hell do I goddamn start? I'm obviously done with the use of profanities.Some things are just not good enough, certainly not with the use of profanities in this case. The concluding paragraph on chapter seven for instance has this:

"When I was all set to go, when I had my bags and all, I stood for a while next to the stairs and took a last look down the goddam corridor. I was sort of crying. I don't know why. I put my red hunting hat on, and turned the peak around to the back, the way I liked it, and then I yelled at the top of my goddam voice, "Sleep tight, ya morons!" I'll bet I woke up every bastard on the whole floor. Then I got the hell out. Some stupid guy had thrown peanut shells all over the stairs, and I damn near broke my crazy neck."

How can Holden be so irritatingly inconsistent of a character and yet at the same time be so annoyingly repetitive. In hindsight it actually is of no surprise, it is rather a perfectly unfortunate complement.

If "Holden was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it,"(as an antihero who decidely hated phonies, he hated this world) still if this is what he considers one of the things he labels a phony, it is contradictorily funny, at best and at worst, is an ironic manifestation of the hypocrite that he is, seeing that he has this decisive use for the word ugly. More than anything that merits of a hypocrite label is how well and how much he lies saying "he could go for hours" (as he showed on the train with his schoolmate's mother). A condescending and rather conceited reason he has for lying is that he hates explaining things to people, thinking that it's easier to lie than to explain the truth to people. Holden Caulfield is not really self-aware that is to say, he can't see that he himself is a phony.

Laden with inconsistencies, I got the feeling that I was reading a book with a child that was not depressed in any meaning of the word, but who is rather a child with a savant syndrome.

Page 38:

"My brother Allie had this left-handed fielder's mitt. He was left-handed."

Holden was repetitively stupid.

If the point of the anti-hero is to annoy, then it did succeed, too well, far to well that I absolutely hated Holden.

A lot of people loved, venerated and labelled this book a classic. Some say the reason they do so is that, God forbid, they identify with Holden and in that process, it changed their lives. This is not surprising for Holden is, without any discernible difficulty, the book itself. I however recommend that rather than fraternizing with Holden, one should seek a cathartic outburst, and if failure still lingers, nothing beats employing professional help.

Lest some incomparably emotionally attached reader lambast me and do educate me that all I've been talking about is Holden and not the book, and I do, to some extent acknowledge that, here then is my leverage.

The book actually had barely any plot at all. This is precisely what I meant when I said that I toiled and labored going through this book. I would gratify at the fact that I could be rectified concerning this point. Adding to such disposition, the stream-of-consciousness narration writing style in the book did not help at all (n.b. most YA novels proliferate under such school).

For all that is now between me and this book, I too have to acknowledge the fact that Salinger wrote this at the end of WWII, an anti-hero theme which gave light to the themes of teenage angst and alienation in a world that the youth are nothing but alienated, in a world that precisely needed it.

A clear undeniable precursor of things to come.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Redeeming. The innumerable opinions and notes on this work do not give justice to the masterpiece that it is. Now this is distinctively Murukami, epic, superb, astounding, is what I would have said, but alas, as clichés are, the book is boring.

The surreality the readers love about this book (and of Murakami) is a trap. The story carries an atmosphere where anything can happen, which antithetically results in nothing happening. That is only the tip of the iceberg though (a cliché of which I'd say, Murakami did nothing to avoid employing). What bugs (cliché) me however is that Murakami knowingly wrote a 600-paged novel tackling an epic story only to leave out things unexplained, unsubstantiated and unanswered.

Surreal. Defined by Merriam-Webster as:

1. marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream; also: unbelievable, fantastic

Under the definition Murakami hits the spot (cliché). The book was irrational and dream like. In some instances (cliché) the prose is simply too verbose it was practically begging for brevity to make some sense, but not even the kind that would give you a minuscule fragmented understanding of the story. Not to mention it was repetitious (perhaps the fault lies in the translation of the material? perhaps this too is a compliment).

Someone on this site said that the book is a flawed masterpiece. I interject, out of sheer audacity more than the cheated feeling of reading a 600-paged novel absolutely arriving nowhere, that technically a masterpiece is something done with extraordinary skill and a flaw is an imperfection or weakness. This is what is now either a masterpiece or a flawed work of art. Either way, I give up on Murakami.

To his credit I enjoyed a subplot (on the WWII) better than anything contained in the book. But alas, even that was lost and forgotten.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

I get the fact that Junot Diaz is a pioneering author when it comes to writing the experience of Dominican immigrants approximating the American dream. I also get that the gritty writing, the occasional offensive Spanish references, and the objectively sexual portrayal is his trademark. What I don't get however is what this book is all about. One doesn't need to be a literary pundit to know that Diaz is telling us that CHEATING is how you lose her and Diaz presents this to the readers by writing every male character in the books as a cheating fornicating bastard. So yeah, definitely, this is how you lose her, sadly, this was how you lost me too. But I guess there must be something profound here, meriting the adulation this book has garnered, so please do tell, that this book has a message aside from that one redundant thing that says, Cheating fucks you up. Genius!