Friday, May 29, 2009

Published Review!

Hey everyone, sorry for the week off, but there was a lot of stuff going on, not least of which was the fact that I was actually hired to do a book review! The Glendale News of Glendale, CA has hired me as a freelancer to do some reviews for them, but don't worry, next week we will return to our regularly scheduled, rated weekly book reviews. For now check out the review I did for the Glendale News on Invisible China: A Journey Through Ethnic Borderlands by Colin Legerton and Jacob Rawson that got published in Wednesday's paper. It was a great time, I highly recommend it if you see it on a shelf somewhere.

Published Book Review!

Thank you so much, Genoshans! It wouldn't have been possible without all of you! See you next week, but until then, keep reading!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

1,000 Apologies; or, 5x500

Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control—some very good, some very, very bad, and some indifferent—there will not be a book review this week.

Please feel free to visit instead. There are new posts up every day, Monday through Friday, so catch up on what you've missed so far. I'm the Tuesday writer, and tend to secretly—or sometimes not-so-secretly—write about things relevant to that date in history.


5x500 is genius, and full of extremely talented writers. Especially that guy who writes on Tuesday, what a catch.



Keep reading, Genoshans!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Atonement (Ian McEwan)

It is with a heavy, defeated heart that I finally give to you the review for this, the slowest book ever written. It took me four weeks to get barely over a third of the way through, and I just can't do it anymore. It's too painful, somebody (I'm looking at you, Genoshans) please put me out of my misery. ::SIGH:: Here is my review, a white flag waving in the face of ::coughcough:: "great" literature, the sigil of my botched attempt at completing what John Updike referred to as "A beautiful and majestic fictional panorama." Yeah, right.


I would like to start off by saying that Atonement is actually a beautifully written book. Ian McEwan is a master at painting a scene and showing off all of its details from every possible angle. Unfortunately, that's also what makes the book so slow.

I'm not even sure how to begin describing to you the main story of the novel. Basically, a young girl named Briony makes a mistake in identifying a man who she sees raping her cousin, and accuses her older sister Cecilia's new lover, Robbie, changing all of their lives forever and forcing Briony to deal with her mistake for the rest of her life. The problem is, this event, the main, driving event of the story, takes place about 150 pages into a 350-page novel. The book does not get off to a running start. In fact, it doesn't even get off to a walking start. When the book starts, it's half-asleep, and doesn't really even know that it's begun. McEwan uses his ability to paint striking scenes in the worst way possible: by painting the exact same scenes over and over and over again, from every possible vantage point. Minor, possibly even trivial events are painstakingly written out. It's exhausting. There are entire chapters devoted to lone conversations, followed by more chapters chronicling those same conversations, but from someone else's point of view. The repetition is tedious and does little to get the story moving at all, which is disappointing, since the infrequent movement that is displayed is quite intriguing. At one point Robbie attempts to write a letter to Cecilia explaining how he feels about her, but in his frustration over not being able to find the right way to say things, he types out the naughty things that he actually wants to do to her. He then types out a new, clean letter, but the naughty letter is still sent to Cecilia accidentally. This is the first true moment of tension or conflict that moves the story at all, but it doesn't come until almost 100 pages in.

I wanted to like this book a lot, and purposefully haven't seen the film adaptation because I didn't want it to have any impact on my reading. I may make an attempt at rereading this book again in the future, though. Maybe it speeds up? Maybe the ending turns everything around and makes the rest of the book okay? I don't know. I'm interested in hearing what anyone else who has finished the book has to say about it. I'm sure that there are plenty of people out there who enjoyed it, and I'd love to hear why. For me it was a let down.


by Ian McEwan

I'm sure it was going somewhere, and the characters were well-written and vivid, but it needs to move along a little—okay, A LOT—faster.

I get that the book was supposed to be about how Briony has to "atone" for her past mistakes, but with a slow-moving story and the forced repetition of the scenes, the themes become overstated. I wouldn't nominate McEwan for any subtlety awards.

It was slow and painful. I wouldn't recommend this book unless you've got a huge chunk of time to murder.


Again, I might take another crack at this book at some point in the near future. I'm interested to see how it varies from the film, and what the director did to smooth out those pacing issues.

Keep reading, Genoshans!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Time and Materials (Robert Hass)

This is a book of poetry, so let's see how this works out. Robert Hass is a highly renowned American poet. He's won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, twice won the National Book Critics Circle Award (once for poetry and once for criticism), and he's even been Poet Laureate of the United States. I hear he's a pretty decent writer.


Time and Materials, released in 2007, is the book that won Hass the Pulitzer Prize. It's quite a well-respected book. Now, I'm a poet. I've studied poetry, I've written a lot of poetry, I'm getting a Masters in poetry, so it's from a lofty, pretentious, highly informed poetic pedestal that I attempted to look at these poems. Apparently I'm not poetic enough, though. I had a tough time connecting with these materials (see what I just did there?), and believe a full appreciation of this book can be obtained just by reading the following series of words:

August, October, aspen, dawn, summer, thrush, pine, hawk, cottonwood, trees, trees, dawn, river, birds, trees, dawn, woman, birds, trees, dawn, sunlight, water, Czeslaw Milosz.

I wish that was an exaggeration. Every single poem in this book is a variation on one general theme: relate an anecdote that could be considered a philosophical experience, and make sure to include as many of the aforementioned words as possible. Here's an example, an excerpt from his poem "The Problem Of Describing Trees:"

The aspen glitters in the wind
And that delights us.

The leaf flutters, turning,
Because that motion in the heat of August
Protects its cells from drying out. Likewise the leaf
Of the cottonwood.

Compare that to another excerpt, this one from "A Supple Wreath Of Myrtle:"

Poor Nietzsche in Turin, eating sausage his mother
Mails to him from Basel. A rented room,
A small square window framing August clouds
Above the mountain. Brooding on the form
Of things: the dangling spur
Of an Alpine columbine, winter-tortured trunks
Of cedar in the summer sun, the warp in the aspen's trunk
Where it torqued up through the snowpack.

Or to "That Music," a poem of only 8 lines that still manages to contain several of his favorite words:

The creek's silver in the sun of almost August,
And bright dry air; and last runnels of snowmelt,
Percolating through the roots of mountain grasses
Vinegar weed, golden smoke, or meadow rust,

Do they confer, do the lovers' bodies
In the summer dusk, his breath, her sleeping face,
Confer—, does the slow breeze in the pines?
If you were the interpreter, if that were your task.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that he isn't an excellent poet. I think that Robert Hass is an incredibly talented writer, and has a poetic mastery over the ability to convey emotions that words normally have trouble reaching. Individually, I enjoyed many of the poems, especially "Winged and Acid Dark" and "The Problem Of Describing Color." It's hard to take him seriously when so many of his poems end up looking exactly the same, though. It's borderline satirical. I recently attended a Robert Hass reading, and despite how engaging and animated he was, I found it difficult to follow him after the first few poems because they were so similar. It was hard to distinguish where one ended and the next began, especially since he tended to pause and comment on his own writing in the middle of some of the readings. I spoke with him after, and he's a great guy, but I wouldn't highly recommend his work.


Time an Materials
by Robert Hass

I've decided not to do ratings on any poetry reviews. Poetry is an extremely personal art, and it's much harder to judge such a subjective thing by objective criteria. Some people are more attracted than I am to the naturey, Midwestern feel of Hass' work. If any of the excerpts I've provided here hit you in a way that they hadn't affected me, check out some of his other work and let me know what you think. Or better yet, tell me why I'm wrong, and why Robert Hass is the greatest living American poet. I'd love to hear some of your opinions!

Keep reading, Genoshans!

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Hood: Blood From Stones (Brian K. Vaughan)

The novel I'm reading right now is slower than molasses going uphill in January, but I'm determined to finish it, so in the mean time I'm going to review another comic book. This week's comic was a six-issue mini-series published through Marvel's MAX line, which tends to put out more adult books. They even put those fun little "EXPLICIT CONTENT" warnings on the front!


Parker Robbins is a small-time criminal living in NYC, barely making ends meet as he tries to provide for himself, his pregnant girlfriend, and his mentally disabled mother. Life pretty much blows for Parker, until he gets a tip about a mysterious shipment coming into an unguarded warehouse, and decides to steal whatever it is, assuming it has to be worth something. When he opens the door and finds nothing but a folding chair and a circle of candles, he assumes the job was a bust, until he is attacked by a demon-like monster in a red cape and boots. He shoots the monster, steals the cape and boots, and makes his escape before the cops show up.

Lame, right? Parker thought so, too, until he tried on the items he stole and discovered that they bestowed upon him powers of flight and temporary invisibility. From there, he attempts to rise up through the criminal underworld, but pisses off people on both sides of the law when he steals a shipment of blood diamonds meant for a local crime boss, shooting an NYPD officer in the process. Despite his newly-gained powers—and a new alias, The Hood—, life still pretty much sucks for Parker Robbins.

This series does an incredible job showing off BKV's talent and range as a writer. You may remember him as the author of Y: The Last Man, the first comic series that I reviewed here for The Daily Genoshan. The only two things that the two books have in common, however, is their awesomeness. Where Y is epic, allegorical, and filled with quirky moments and high-end concepts, The Hood is a gritty, close-up look at what it's like to be on the other side of the law, making choices that might be seen as less than heroic. Parker often has good intentions, and his primary motives are to take care of those close to him, but BKV doesn't hesitate to show the reader some of the less admirable qualities that Parker possesses, either. He carries a gun wherever he goes, doesn't think twice about inflicting pain on others, and even has mistress/hooker on the side that he uses to get away from his pregnant girlfriend. Somehow, it still isn't hard to empathize with him, though. Parker Robbins is a compelling character that has to make difficult choices, and more often than not doesn't choose "correctly," but still feels guilty from time to time about the life he's living. It's pretty great writing.

Another interesting thing to note is the fact that, similar to other characters that BKV has created in the Marvel Universe, The Hood has become very popular among fans. He has recently been written into several major story arcs in some of the most widely-read ongoing series on the shelves today. It's a testament to BKV's writing and characterization skills that something of his creation would become so prominent in the mainstream Marvel books. If you see this one on the shelves at Barnes & Noble or your local comic book store, I would highly recommend it. It's not too long, not too expensive, the perfect-sized story.


The Hood: Blood From Stones
by Brian K. Vaughan

This isn't groundbreaking stuff, but it's really interesting to see what happens on the other side of the superhero struggle. I enjoyed being able to witness the process by which a young man with his entire life ahead of him decides to become a super-powered criminal.

Being printed under the Marvel MAX label, I would've thought that The Hood might contain a few more scenes that are a little racier. I think it was only put out under MAX so Marvel wouldn't have to cut out the swearing and the handful of bloody scenes.

It's an interesting take on a popular genre, and an intriguing read on the whole. I would say that this is one book that your friends who don't like superhero books would still probably enjoy. A few known supervillains make cameos, but none of the heroes, which—and this is weird to say—almost makes it seem more realistic, as if it could just be a short story involving some mystical apparel.


Also, just so everyone knows, TOMORROW is Free Comic Book Day! No strings attached, just walk into the comic book store nearest you and pick up some free comics! Most stores tend to run sales on FCBD, as well, since so many new potential customers come in for the free stuff. House of Secrets on Olive Ave. in Burbank has a sale of 40% ALL BOOKS tomorrow. That's the store I usually go to, so I'll be glad to pick up some free books and maybe some discounted volumes as well. Check it out at a store near you. You really don't have anything to lose (FreeFreeFreeFreeFree!)

Keep reading, Genoshans!

Contact Information and FTC Disclaimer

FTC Rules: While I do not make any money from authors, publishers, or anyone else related to these books in exchange for these reviews, there have been times where I've received free copies of a book to be reviewed, and may receive more in the future. Due to FTC compliance rules, however, you should always assume that I have an ulterior motive, and thank them for their unceasing vigilance in the face of this ever-increasing threat of blog advertising.

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