March 26, 2015

3/26/15 - Number In The Title/Banned Book

And I unexpectedly make up for the time I lost, aided (for once) by a college class!

This week I decided to read Boy21 by Matthew Quick for my Book With A Number In The Title challenge, but what I had forgotten was that back in 2014, I had chosen Brave New World for my Banned Book challenge. And as it turns out, Brave New World was this week's assignment for my Secondary Worlds course! So the week that I dropped will be rectified now.

Boy21 was an oddity for me, even more than All The Bright Places (gah, that title). For one thing, not only is it a contemporary fiction thing with an undoubtedly "quirky" premise (boy with problems makes friends with another boy with even worse problems), it takes place against a solid backdrop of sports. Gasps from the audience.

But I'd seen good reviews (not like there aren't good reviews for Paper Towns, Collin, geez), and I'm always up for a good bromance, so I tried it.

In short, it was good. It wasn't anything particularly groundbreaking, though it easily could have been. It could have been anything, and therein, I believe, lies its problem. It could have been anything and it couldn't decide what. A black/white racial critique? A black/Irish critique? A friendship story? A mob story? A psychological story? A romance? A coming-of-age?

And there's nothing at all wrong with trying to tackle more than one of these issues, even all of them. Boy21 had huge potential, and I think Quick could have done a lot with it if he had expanded the story by 150 or 200 pages. As it is, it's a very slim, large-printed book of 250 pages (50,000 words, perhaps) and it just doesn't get into anything very deeply.

The titular character, Boy21 (or Russ), alone has so much potential - murdered parents, an obsession with space, the insistence that he's from "the cosmos," his relationship with the narrator, Finley. But none of it is ever explored. It's just explained. Same with Finley's backstory; his issues are narrated mostly through voiceover and exposition, all at the very end of the story. His relationship with Erin is even more truncated; all of the relationships are, really. And so are the social issues - the racial and ethnic tensions, the urban commentary, the educational/sports problems. These things are introduced and then never quite developed.

It ends as obscurely as it begins, but less satisfactorily. It's enjoyable, and it's not that Quick can't write. The plot progression was just... less than stellar. Or maybe I was just expecting too much. As it is, Boy21 felt like a fragment more than a fully-realized story.

Brave New World marks my first foray into classic dystopia, which is really pretty scandalous. I wish I had liked Huxley's work more.

I have to get the positive out of the way first, though. It's an incredibly balanced viewpoint. What you get out of dystopias now - the subgenre of "white girl saves the world" stories - tend to have very firm ideas on What Society Should Be. And that's all well and good, but it makes dystopia lean more towards fantasy than social commentary, which seems to be how dystopia started. And I have to say that while I find absolutely no problem with genres changing and shifting over time according to what the authors want to write, I think I like the complexities of Brave New World over the more cut-and-dry worlds of whatever "stick it to the Man" stories end up on Books-a-Million front shelves.

And anyway, Alpha-Pluses are an absolute dream after mother-hugging Dauntless (excuse my French).

There are no good guys in Brave New World. John is set up as one but even he can't resist the effects of conditioning, even if his conditioning was self-inflicted and "alternative." Even Shakespeare (may he rest in highest peace) is not suitable for basing a morality system upon. Anyway, with no good guys, it's hard to say where Brave New World comes to in the end.

It's really a system that, as my lit professor said at the end of the class, is hard to object to, once you're in it. And that really makes it infinitely more terrifying than any Capitol or whoever the fudge was in charge of Chicago or any of the vaguely American hotspots in White Girl Saves The World stories.

I didn't like Brave New World. But I was impressed by it. It's a hard story to ignore. When you have a story where there are no good alternatives, just as there are no good characters, it makes you think a bit harder.

March 22, 2015

3/18/15 - Based On/Turned Into A TV Show, and the February Book

I made up for last week by reading not one but two Challenge book! One for the 2015 Challenge, and one for the New Book Every Month thing. I present: A Book Based On or Turned Into a TV Show, and a Book Published In February 2015!

Dead Until Dark has always sounded sort of like a bridge between the less-modern classics of Anne Rice and the super-modern classics of Twilight. Less class than the former, but still more than the latter - you know what I mean?

And though I've not yet read any Anne Rice (it's on my list), I can definitely say that it did have a bit more - not much, but more - than Twilight. For one thing, it's set in Louisiana! The south! My homeland! Sort of. Not really, but close enough for the setting to feel real familiar. 

Though this only ended up with three stars on my Goodreads account, I can say that it was a high 3. Maybe somewhere like a 3.5? Mostly because of sheer comparative value. Sookie is, compared with 99% of the paranormal heroines I've read about, is an incredible person. Almost every situation that your average contemporary YA heroine is faced with is in this book, and Sookie pretty much turns every cliché response on its head and actually is... really, really intelligent, most of the way through. At least in comparison to most vampire lovers. AND THERE IS AN ACTUAL PLOT WITH ACTUAL CONFLICT. I almost cried when I realized that what we had here was an honest-to-gosh problem and real live issues instead of some cockamamie fabricated bullcrap. It was beautiful.

Does all this have something to do with the fact that this is adult fiction written about a decade ago and not current YA? Probably. Does this mean that the reason I really appreciate this book is probably not quite valid? Almost certainly. Does it make me like Sookie Stackhouse any less, or make me want to read the next books any less? Frick no. I'm on the Sookie bandwagon at this point. Bring on the rational decision-making and the Honest-to-Gosh Conflict.

Note: Dead Until Dark is an adult book and I would not recommend it to any younger readers who would be sensitive to adult content/a bit of adult language.

For the February Book, I managed to snag A Darker Shade of Magic, and it is absolutely one of the best decisions I've made this year in regards to reading.

A Darker Shade of Magic splits the difference perfectly between old and new, unique and timeless. There are original systems of magic, and there's the plucky streetwise girl-thief who wants to become a pirate. (She is, however, a wonderful character, not at all like her description makes her out to be, and I liked her almost as much as the male MC.) There are also some pretty despicable but interesting villains, as well as relationships that are frankly beautiful and I hope dearly that they get some fleshing out in the continuing books.

One of the greatest things about A Darker Shade of Magic is the fabulous pacing. Schwab can write very well but she also structures this book intelligently: it's broken up into almost 20 different "parts," with relatively short chapters between them. Like I said in my Goodreads review, it's like Max Ride with quality - it's a normal-sized book for adult fic, but the short chapters and parts make the story whizz by, especially aided by the fantastic pacing outside the technical structure.

A Darker Shade of Magic is a huge success. Please go out and read it right now.

Note: This is also an adult book and while there are not as many adult situations there is still a bit of adult language. Not that much, though. Three or four instances.

3/11/15 - Oops.

The week of March 5th-11th was a bit crazy, which is ironic because it was spring break. But when it's spring break, I did everything but read, basically. I finished one book, which was for my philosophy class, and I'm not going to shoehorn that into one of the categories for actually fun books.

So I'll catch up on this one some other week. Surely it can't be that hard, can it?

4/3/15 - A Book of Short Stories

(We're going to pretend that these were also written on time. Thanks.)

For the first Challenge book of the rainy month of March, we're going with a classic - A Good Man Is Hard to Find by the inimitable Flannery O'Connor.

There's really not much to say about O'Connor's writing. If you've read it, you know what it's like; if you haven't, there's no way to describe it. Her stories are sparse, minimalistic, almost inconsequential. A lot of them are almost impossible to pick out meanings for. But they are hugely powerful. Her control of language and characters is frankly astonishing. And the way she draws you in, half by enchantment and half by revulsion, is... honestly, I can't think of anyone who has ever done the like.

Some of O'Connor's best stories are in this edition, such as the title story and "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" and "Good Country People." My personal favorite was "The River," which was not quite as opaque and difficult as some of the others, but still so incredibly punch-to-the-gut. I've loved her work ever since I read "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" about two years ago, though this is the first full collection of stories I've read by her. I'm glad to report that the majority of her work is equally fantastic.