Friday, January 28, 2011
Two highly influential events occurred almost simultaneously at the end of 2010. First, on December 2, 2010, Oprah Winfrey announced her 65th selection to her infamous book club. The new addition, actually two books, was the Penguin deluxe double edition of two Charles Dickens classics, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. The selection was slightly controversial—at least to those interested in such things—because it was only the second book selected in 2010 (Jonathan Franzen's Freedom being the first), and only the fifth since the beginning of 2008. To choose a pair of undeniable classics such as these was an extremely safe bet for Oprah's Book Club, which has arguably yet to recover from the fallout of James Frey's A Million Little Pieces scandal of 2005. Oprah even went so far as to admit on her show that she had never read Dickens before. Hmm, I wonder how much Penguin had to shell out to make the list...
The second event that brought me to this week's read was the much-anticipated launch of Google Books, also in December of last year. After years of planned launches and inevitable delays, mostly due to the mounting number of lawsuits the idea spurned, Google's attempted dive into the digital book world was met with moderate fanfare for about a day and a half. Google claims that there are 129,864,880 unique books in the world, and is devoted to scanning them all. At present, Google has scanned over 15 million of them. Of those 15 million books, guess which one comes free when you sign up for the service; that's right, Great Expectations.
Now, Google Books both is and isn't in direct competition with the current major e-book names. There is no Google-specific e-reader, so physical sales of the Nook, Kindle, and other devices are seemingly not affected. Google does offer the ability to synch apps on multiple devices to your account, though, enabling readers to enjoy a book on their Android, iPhone, iPad, iPod, Nook, or even directly on their computer, which definitely does compete with Amazon, Sony, and Barnes & Noble. Not only that, but also, when you use Google to search for a book title, one of the hits that comes up is always going to be a link to Google Books, which most certainly has its benefits.
What does this have to do with me, you ask?
Well, it's important to note that, while Google Books is absolutely free, and comes with a wide variety of public domain titles, it does not hold any exclusive access to these titles, for obvious reasons. A book like Great Expectations can be obtained for free just as easily on a Kindle or a Nook. While it is nice to be able to read books on the web, you could always read free books on the web; you just had to find them. Google puts them all in one place. As for paid books, Google's prices are virtually identical to Amazon's, so it all comes down to the reader. Do you like reading on a computer screen? or would you rather help your eyes and use e-ink? Are you in the market for an e-reader? or would reading on your computer or smart phone suffice? Are digital books something you plan on investing a lot of money in? or just something you tend to enjoy when you have the time? All of these questions are important when determining how exactly to get your Oprah Book Clubbing on.
As for the read itself, it honestly took me a while. Great Expectations is a phenomenal book, much better than I anticipated. It is highly suspenseful, colorful and vivid, and downright hilarious at times. Dickens' characters are, as always, larger than life, and tend towards ridiculous mannerisms and habits of speech. I enjoyed every minute of this book. Why did it take me so long, then?
Mostly because of Google Books. I tried reading in a variety of ways—my phone, online, my girlfriend's Kindle—and some were much better than others. The Google Books app on my iPhone is definitely handy to have, and I did most of my reading that way, but it was slow going. The pages are obviously very small, and the app itself has trouble handling anything else you might be using your phone for at the time. Pages need to reload after every incoming text message, even if you hit close and ignore the message. Also, Google' scanning process, while revolutionary in its speed, is prone to glaring typographical errors that are difficult to ignore. The app makes up for these faults in several ways, though. There are options that allow you to change your font, font size, and font and background color, and there's even a function that let's you read white on black, which is much easier for reading in the dark. Also, it is extremely easy to move around within the book, and the touch screen is utilized to great affect.
I did not read much of the book on my computer, as it ended up being much more trouble than it was worth. When I'm reading, I don't like to have to worry about clicking or scrolling with a mouse/trackpad to flip a page, and the glare of a computer screen tends to affect my eyes much more than my phone screen. Also, books are meant to be held in your hands, even e-books. As bizarre as it feels to be saying this, we're at the point technologically where laptops are bulky, especially for a task as simple as reading a book.
by Charles Dickens
Dickens is one of the all-time bests at throwing interesting characters into unexpected situations.
He's also pretty spectacular at writing about mundane events in a way that really gives them flavor and life. He throws metaphors around like they're falling from the sky; it's ridiculous, I love it.
Absolutely fantastic. I've seen the Ethan Hawke/Gwyneth Paltrow movie, and it doesn't nearly do this book justice. Even knowing the basic story, it was still full of surprises.
I don't doubt that I would have given this book an even higher rating had I sat down and just read it straight through, but the stops and starts and constant interruptions from reading on multiple devices, especially my phone, brought it down a bit. I've only read a couple of books on the Oprah's Book Club list—and she hasn't even read this one!—but I think I might look into it a bit more in the future, because this novel was a complete joy. Keep reading, Genoshans!
Friday, January 21, 2011
Story: 3.3 - Okay, so it’s a collection of essays and they don’t necessarily need to be that closely related. But from the start, we’re led to believe that they will be by this notion of negativity as a positive force, yet that is not apparent enough in most of the essays. I lost count of how many times during the course of reading this book I stopped and thought, “Wait, what does any of this have to do with anything?” I kept waiting for it to all come together and make sense in the end in some masterful way, only to be left hanging with some generic conclusion that felt contrived. Some of the essays did have compelling premises though, particularly “Dark Meat,” about the tortured Jewish love affair with pork and “A Capacity for Wonder,” about three trips to culturally iconic places that are disappointing or underwhelming. Through it all, the journalistic touches were one of Half Empty's strengths, albeit downplayed, offering refreshing moments of objective substance.
Style: 2.5 - You know that friend that everyone has that always has some story to tell, but midway through they start talking about something else vaguely related and go on and on about it, and this goes on until they remember the thing they had started talking about in the first place or they just stop? Give that friend an incredible vocabulary and a wide cultural knowledge so they can use a lot of big words and make a lot of obscure references, and you’ve got David Rakoff in Half Empty. If there’s such a thing as a connoisseur of the runoff sentence, Rakoff is the king and his crown is made of parentheses. I enjoy a good set of parentheses here and there, used sparingly and purposefully. But here they’re more often disrupting. In the first essay alone parentheses are used so liberally that there’s a pair on nearly every page, and Rakoff often uses them as an excuse to digress or interject an irrelevant, page-long anecdote.
General: 2.0 - I really disliked this book. If I hadn’t forced myself to finish it for the sake of this review, I would have stopped reading it midway through the second essay. That’s a shame, because the later essays were the more interesting ones, but still in need of tighter editing. I also had a hard time being able to relate to many of the essays, but I could have dealt with that if I hadn’t had to stop to roll my eyes so much or reread every other sentence.
Friday, January 14, 2011
Friday, January 7, 2011
I had high hopes going into Paul Auster's Sunset Park because as a friend put it, "Everyone loves Paul Auster." So when I finished reading the novel on the train back from New Year's weekend, I wondered, What is wrong with me?
Miles Heller starts the book off for us, and Auster is strong with descriptions of the abandoned houses still cluttered with abandoned things, shells of lives no longer afforded after the beginning of the 2008 economic collapse. The descriptions of Miles Heller are promising, but fail to reach deeper than the surface of his thoughts.
In 308 pages we are expected to interact with and understand six characters. That number doesn't take into account peripheral characters such as Morris Heller's wife Willa - who is undergoing a breakdown - and Miles Heller's under-aged lover Pilar.
The novel's elements: Economic collapse, adultery, illegal romances, a prodigal son motif, love triangles, glamorized poverty - all clashed for me. They came at me too quickly to absorb, keeping any of them from eliciting any reaction stronger than a grimace before I was shuffled onto the next character and batch of terrible, unfortunate circumstances.
The situations are unique, and there are deeper levels I so desperately wanted to explore - to a point where I questioned my abilities as a reader. Truth is, it's the writer's responsibility to carry the story (or in this case, stories) to the end.
I was told how intelligent, studious, and impressive Pilar, Miles's lover, was; how the way she carried herself and her intellect relieved the other characters’ initial discomfort with a relationship between a 17-year-old and a 28-year-old. I was never given the chance, however, to judge her for myself. She is protected, portrayed only in the thoughts and judgments of characters who, as it turns out, I couldn't get enough of a grasp on to trust either.
Miles's father, Morris Heller's own romantic relationships provide no evidence of consequence, either. He presents himself as a victim: He commits one act of adultery during which he claims to have not been able to experience much pleasure because of his guilt for betraying his wife. He then proceeds to rely on that questionable fact of his crippling guilt as reason to sympathize with him when his wife is cold to him. We are supposed to praise him for dropping everything and returning to Europe when she calls him crying. We are supposed to pity him when Willa cuts his son - her stepson - out of her heart, making him choose between them.
I do not mean to attack these two men because they are men, but rather because they, too, are not fully realized as aren’t their women. I consistently felt I was supposed to sympathize with these people without being given a reason they deserved sympathy other than being told they did.
Two of the women in the book who are given their own sections, Ellen and Alice, are introduced as good friends, yet they tip toe around each other with an awkwardness that doesn't suggest anything deeper than two unfamiliar people. If they had been described as two women so out of touch with themselves that they couldn't be in touch with others, I could have accepted their superficial relationship. Instead, they are heralded as close friends - a relationship, once again, I felt instructed to believe rather than compelled to.
Ellen Brice, one of these women, is described as small and fragile throughout, from various perspectives. She is talented but without spark. Her spark comes later when she runs into the man she had an affair with when she was 22 and he was 17. Their affair ended in a pregnancy she kept secret. After their reunion, she begins wearing makeup and tighter clothing; she feels beautiful for the first time since the abortion. The consequences she felt from that affair are ominous and encompassing until she finds a boyfriend, when they seem to disappear altogether.
My distaste for this novel is not simply because women are underrepresented - that is a world that exists and about which books must be written. In Sunset Park none of the characters were full to me, each of them gipped, as I felt upon finishing.
By Paul Auster
Story/ies – 6
The characters’ situations are unique and great fodder for a novel, but each of them falls flat under the weight of the responsibility of character that fails to be met.
Style – 5
There are simply too many things going on for the novel-in-stories structure. Auster’s straight-forward language – while failing the characters and, ultimately, the reader – has moments of beauty and description worth having read.
General – 6
It’s a quick read, partly because of Auster’s style and partly because you’re frantically looking for what it all means, pausing only to flip back to see which quiet, withdrawn female roommate is which. I recommend just going to Sunset Park in Brooklyn and looking at people; you'll probably feel way more connected to the randos on the street than to the smorgasbord of Auster's characters.
Overall – 5.67
I must acknowledge here that 2010 was a sad year, though. The goal was to hit 52 full book reviews, a jump of 10 from 2009, but we actually dropped down to 37 (wah wah). Most of that is due to the terribleness of what I'm calling the Black Fall. From September through November, DG was forced to miss 11 of 13 Fridays due to various conflicts. There were some fill-in posts, including a new feature, "Why Buy?," which will hopefully be returning soon, but those three months were hard to bounce back from. Luckily, we now have three new reviewers here at the Daily Genoshan—Thom, Melanie, and Emily—,so those worries are forever behind us! But enough of that technical stuff; let's get to the countdown!
The Daily Genoshan's Top Ten Books of 2010
10. Omega the Unknown by Jonathan Lethem—7.85
9. This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper—7.9
8. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell—8.2
7. Agaat by Marlene von Neikerk—8.29
6. Stories of God by Rainer Maria Rilke—8.39
5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon—8.67
4. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith—8.88 (Seth's 2nd straight year at the #4 spot on the Top 10 list!)
3. City of Thieves by David Benioff—8.9
2. Android Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Ben H. Winters—9.17 (Ben's 2nd straight year on the Top 10 list, jumping up 6 spots from last year!
...and the #1 book of 2010...
1. The Scott Pilgrim series by Bryan Lee O'Malley—9.57 (One of the individual Scott Pilgrim books scored a 9.81, the highest rating ever received, but the scores of the 6 books were combined for the purposes of the Top 10, as all collected editions of comic books are.)
***Honorable mentions include Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby (7.7); Pride & Prejudice & Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith (7.62); Old Man Logan by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven (7.59); The Lump of Coal by Lemony Snicket with Brett Helquist (7.58); and The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (7.44)***
That leaves us with a very interesting All-Time Top 10 here at the Daily Genoshan!
ALL-TIME TOP 10
1. The Scott Pilgrim series by Bryan Lee O'Malley—9.57
2. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer—9.56
3. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—9.39
4. The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—9.33
5. Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith—9.22
6. Android Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Ben H. Winters—9.17
7. Tie: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; and Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan—9
9. Tie: 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez; and City of Thieves by David Benioff—8.9
Those are the Top 10 books of the eligible 53 that have been rated. Now how about the worst books of 2010?
The Daily Genoshan's Worst Three Books of 2010
3. Greek Street by Peter Milligan and Davide Gianfelice—7.11
2. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen—6.97
1. Omega the Unknown by Steve Gerber—6.5
That's right, folks, the two versions of Omega the Unknown made the Top AND Bottom lists! Although, to be fair, the field was much closer in 2010 than in 2009. #10 on the Top Ten was .76 points lower this year, and #1 on the Bottom Ten was 2.25 points higher. Hopefully 2011's selections are a little more varied!
Well that's enough for rankings. Let's get on to the review recap! Here is what 2010 in review looked like here at DG!
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby—7.7
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros—7.44
Dearest Creature by Amy Gerstler—Poetry not rated
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell—8.2
Stories of God by Rainer Maria Rilke—8.39
Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell; and Dr. McNinja by Christopher Hastings—Ongoing webcomics not rated
The Brightest Moon of the Century by Christopher Meeks—7.12
Greek Street by Peter Milligan and Davide Gianfelice—7.11
The Secret History by Jean Pierre Pécau—Not rated because I worked for the publisher at the time
Words For Empty and Words For Full by Bob Hicok—Poetry not rated
In Search of Time by Dan Falk—7.15
Chronic by D.A. Powell—Poetry not rated
Agaat by Marlene van Neikerk—8.29
Pride & Prejudice & Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steven Hockensmith—7.62
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith—8.88
City of Thieves by David Benioff—8.9
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon—8.67
Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley—9.58
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World by Bryan Lee O'Malley—9.36
Scott Pilgrim & The Infinite Sadness by Bryan Lee O'Malley—9.67
Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together by Bryan Lee O'Malley—9.36
Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe by Bryan Lee O'Malley—9.68
Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O'Malley—9.81 (as well as the Ultimate Scott Pilgrim Rating—9.57)
Devil Inside by Todd Stashwick and Dennis Calero—Ongoing webcomics not rated
Each Crumbling House by Melody S. Gee—Poetry not rated
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (film) by Edgar Wright—One hundred million billion trillion
Old Man Drinks by Robert Schnakenberg—Books on how to make cocktails not rated
Android Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Ben H. Winters—9.17
Disneystrology by Lisa Finander—Astrological coffee table books not rated
Old Man Logan by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven—7.59
WHY BUY? Hybrid Bastard! by Tom Pinchuk and Kate Glasheen—WHY BUY? books not rated
Black Fall—No posts :(
This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper—7.9
Omega the Unknown by Steve Gerber—6.5; by Jonathan Lethem—7.85
Little Bee by Chris Cleave—7.33
The Lump of Coal by Lemony Snicket with Brett Helquist—7.58
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen—6.97
And that's that! Happy New Year! I hope you're looking forward to 2011 as much as we are here at the Daily Genoshan! Keep reading, Genoshans!