Good News Everyone!

I’ve mentioned on my blog several times that I bowl quite frequently.  I even work in a warehouse where we distribute bowling supplies.  Well, this past weekend I was bowling in a tournament and I achieved a couple of significant goals for any bowler.  I shot my first (sanctioned) 300 game, and backed it up with a 238 and a 290 to shoot an 828 series, which is also my first 800 series.

It’s been a long time coming, and I’m very glad to get the monkey off my back by finally hitting those milestones.

And speaking of milestones, I hit another one with my blog a few days ago, March 11th marked the 3 year anniversary of starting my blog.  It’s been a fun ride, and I look forward to keeping it going in the future.  Thanks to everyone who stops by to read, comment, and suggest books for the future, I hope you’re looking forward to more of my insanity in the future.

Adam

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Amazon’s 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime

Obviously, I enjoy books, I read them as often as I’m able (I’ve been keeping a steady pace of about a book a week for the past month and a half, which I’m quite proud of) and I talk about them here.  Part of the reason I started my blog was to help me keep track of the books that I’ve read, and I’ve done a decent job of cataloguing everything since then.

One of the other things that I’ve most enjoyed about starting my blog, and I suppose that this is arguably the main point to blogging in general, is reading other blogs and finding out about other books that people have loved through their blogs.  I’ve also noticed in the past couple of years that I’ve found myself drawn to lists of books, as they often help me find new books to read.

I’ve talked before about some fairly specific lists of books, the first two that come to mind being the NPR lists for the top 100 Fantasy and Science Fiction novels of all time, and their list for the top 100 YA books of all time.  Well, a couple of weeks ago I came across another list that I thought was interesting, as you can probably tell by the title of this post, I’m talking about the Amazon.com list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime.

When I first saw title of the list, I had to check it out and see whether or not I agreed or disagreed with the books on the list.  And while there may be some books on this list that I don’t like, overall I think this is one of my favorite “Top 100” book lists that I’ve ever seen.  “Top 100” is in quotes both times in this paragraph because they creators of the list didn’t intend for it to be a be-all end-all list of books, they made it to create some discussion, and I’ll start that discussion here with why I loved the list.

The people who picked the list chose a variety of different styles of books, ranging from children’s books to non-fiction, poetry collections to epic fantasy, young adult to memoir.  There is such a wide variety of books on this list that I think everyone will be able to find at least 6 or 7 books on the list that they would enjoy, and probably quite a few more than that.  As it stands right now, I’ve read 14 1/2 of the books (I’ve read about half of Oliver Sacks book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat,” which is a collection of clinical stories.  I’ve also read a version of The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, but it was when I was younger and it was probably abridged.)

Along with the books that I’ve already read from the list, there are a couple of others that I already own that I plan on reading.  This is one of the more interesting lists of books that I’ve come across in some time, and I think that it stands out precisely for that reason.

So what do you think of the list.  Are there any of the books on the list that you think absolutely shouldn’t be on the list?  Are there any books or authors that you think are sadly missing?

I’d probably have to consider adding Flowers for Algernon and The Willow Tree – the last two books that I gave a 10/10 rating to on my blog – and I’d probably want to throw in a couple more Fiction and Fantasy novels, something like Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, The Wheel of Time, or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  I’d also want to throw in something like Lamb by Christopher Moore, which is one of the funniest books that I’ve ever read, or perhaps And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, because one of the best mysteries by one of the most famous mystery writers of all time deserves to be on the list.

The Catcher in the Rye

What’s this?  Two book reviews in less than an hour?  No, I didn’t learn to speed read, I actually read The Things They Carried last weekend and I read The Catcher in the Rye yesterday.  I’ve just been lazy in getting around to writing up the review for O’Brien’s book, and I’m writing my review for Salinger’s book now.

Book StatsThe Catcher in the Rye

214 pages

Drama, Classic

Setting

The book is set in and around New York in the mid 1900’s.  I don’t know exactly when, and to be honest the exact year doesn’t matter for the book.

Characters

There’s really only one character who matters in the book, and of course that’s Holden Caulfield.  He’s in many ways a typical teenage boy who is facing a future that he isn’t ready for and in some ways doesn’t want to deal with.  He’s cynical, brash, and doesn’t much care what many other people really think.  But he does show some signs of being a much better person, and in finishing the book you really feel like there’s going to be hope for him once he grows up.

Plot

The plot to this book is almost non-existant, we basically follow Holden as he goes through a a fairly rough weekend and follow his thoughts.

Enjoyment

One of the first things that you have to talk about when talking about this book is the fact that while it’s widely considered to be one of the best books written in the English language, it’s also one of the most widely banned books in the United States.  And after finally reading the book, I kind of wonder what the big deal is.

To be fair, I do lean towards being fairly liberal in most matters, and I have no problem with people pushing the limits of what most people consider to be acceptable.  Even with that, I think you can tell that some of the people who complain about the book probably never read the book, or if they did they never got past the surface level.  To begin with, Holden swears constantly (just like many teens today), thinks and talks about sex constantly (just like many teens today), drinks while being underage (just like many teens today), and doesn’t care about school or his future (just like many teens today).

So yeah, as far as being an obedient child and teenager, he’s an awful person.  But the book also shows just how horrible his life really is as he’s going through the weekend in the book.  You could easily argue that this book does a better job than many others that I’ve read of showing you how having an excessive number of bad habits can ruin your life.

Another thing to talk about with this book is that while it’s frequently banned, it’s also one of the most frequently taught books in public schools.  I never read this book in high school, and while I enjoyed reading it now, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed it as much had I read it in high school.  The biggest selling point of the book for me was the character voice, and I don’t think that I would have appreciated a book with a strong character but a bare bones plot in high school.  Either way, I’m glad that I read the book.

Overall Grade

An interesting book driven by a great character.

7/10

The Things They Carried

This is a book that I heard of through a podcast that I listen to fairly often.  For once, it’s not the Writing Excuses podcast, although one of the members of the Writing Excuses cast is part of it.  This time I’m referring to the podcast Do I Dare To Eat A Peach? which is hosted by Dan Wells and Rob Wells, two authors (and brothers) whose work I enjoy.  I’ve reviewed works by both authors on this blog and I have a good time listening to their ramblings about various topics.

This is one of the books that they talked about in their best books you read in high school podcast.  After finding the book a while ago, I’m really glad that I read it.  Tim O’Brien is a wonderful writer and I’ll probably check out more of his stuff in the future.

Book StatsThe Things They Carried

233 pages

Drama

Enjoyment

Like a few of the other books that I’ve reviewed on this blog, this is a collection of short stories.  The difference between this and some other short story collections is that the works in this book loosely form a larger story.  Easily the best thing about this book is the writer’s voice as he talks about the events in the book.  One of the last books that I read was by Dean Koontz, and in that book I hated the flowery language that he used to try and make it sound fancy.  Take that in comparison to this book, O’Brien never seems to try and force the prose to sound flowery, but the writing ends up being absolutely gorgeous in it’s simplicity.  There are times when the best way to say something is as simply as you possibly can, and this book does it better than any other book that I’ve read in quite some time.

The book is also written as though it was a sort of memoir recalling parts of O’Brien’s life.  I have no idea whether or not the author actually went to Vietnam as he described in the book, but the way it’s written he makes it sound like he was there.  And while I enjoyed all of the book, I especially loved the chapter titled On The Rainy River, where the narrator talks about his reaction when he was drafted.  It’s amazingly well written, and it’s a perfect example of everything that I think would be going through my mind if I was in the same situation.

If you’re a fan of military history, I think you’d love this book.  If you’re a fan of fantastic writing, I know you’ll love this book.

Overall Grade

A very interesting set of stories with some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read.

9/10

Coyote Blue

Since picking up Lamb and A Dirty Job a couple of years ago, I’ve been a big fan of Christopher Moore’s writing.  I’ve said before that I think it’s far too easy to dismiss Moore as nothing more than a humorist, when he is a very skilled author who does a lot of interesting things in all of his books.  This book is no exception.

Book StatsCoyote Blue

294 pages

Drama, Satire

Characters

The characters in this book are all interesting, but not terribly deep.  The book focuses on Sam Hunter, a full blooded Crow indian who left his reservation when he was 15 due to a “deadly misunderstanding with the law” (words from the back of the book).  Since then he’s become an insurance salesman, and because of this he’s become very adept at hiding who he is, to the point where he really doesn’t know who he is, only who he is pretending to be.

Setting

Modern day (well, modern day when it was written, the book was published back in 1994) California primarily, but also located partly in other states.

Plot

There’s a problem in trying to talk about the plot of this book, it’s a little hard to discuss without spoilers, especially since the first 1/3 of the book is largely about setting up the story and the mythology that Moore uses for the rest of the book.  I typically don’t try to talk about events that take place more than the first third of the way through the book, so I won’t get into too much of the plot here.  But one of the things about this book is that it’s less about the plot and more about the meaning behind it.

Enjoyment

One of the books that I read before I started this blog was Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.  I’ve said before that I’m not a huge fan of Gaiman’s work, but a whole lot of other people are.  One of the most thoughtful reviews of American Gods that I’ve ever heard was that the book was really about what it’s like to be a god from a foreign country living in America today.  I think that this book does a better job of explaining that problem than Gaiman’s, while at the same time telling a better overall story.

Sam has his normal life interrupted by the ancient Crow god Coyote, and Moore does a perfect job of showing how different the world today is from the world that Coyote knew.  Moore also does a good job of showing that the gods of old largely survive based upon the the stories that are told about them, and he explains this by visiting another god later in the book who is largely dead to the world because his stories are never told.

At the same time, we’re shown the story of how Sam lives his life basically going through the motions, and never really thinking about what he really wants, only thinking about what he needs to do to get by.  So while Coyote’s part of the story is talking about the loss of old religions, Sam’s is about the alienation that we feel from each other in our daily lives.  Sam’s story also talks about how easily our simple little lives can get thrown out of whack by a seemingly innocuous meeting.

Overall Grade

Not quite as funny as some of Moore’s other work, but a very well written and thoughtful book.

8/10

miracles & ballistics

A very well written post. Stories like this are the reason that I will never own any guns.

gregfallis.com

It was a miracle, according to Justin Carper of Shelby, NC. A miracle that his 17 month old daughter was able to feed herself a few hours after she’d been shot.

“It went through the top of her shoulder. She was feeding herself using that shoulder, using that arm. The bullet went straight through. You wouldn’t even know. Doctor after doctor have told us that there’s nowhere else the bullet could have gone that would have ended up with this story. My mind is pretty much blown.”

A miracle. Carper writes a Christian parenting blog, so I guess he’s familiar with the notion of miracles. But me, I’m thinking miracles wouldn’t be necessary if Carper had had enough common sense to put his 9mm pistol someplace where his three year old son couldn’t get to it and accidentally shoot his baby sister. And you know what blows my mind? At this point…

View original post 754 more words

Your Heart Belongs To Me

So I’ve been wanting to read some of Dean Koontz’s books for a while now, having heard good things about many of the novels that he’s written.  So on  my last trip to Barnes & Noble I found where his books were at, read the synopsis on the back of a few of them, and ended up buying this one.  Apparently that was a mistake.

Book StatsYour Heart Belongs To Me

364 pages

Drama

Characters

The main character of the book is Ryan Perry, a 34 year old internet millionaire who seemingly has everything going for him in life, except of course for a decent – or consistent – personality.  There was really nothing about Ryan that makes him memorable, and if you ask me in 3 months what the main character of this novel’s name is I doubt that I’ll be able to tell you.  The most memorable thing about him is how he completely flipped his personality about half way through the book.  None of the other characters in this book are all that memorable either, and I’m not even going to bother mentioning them here.

Setting

Present day, mostly in California but also takes place in Las Vegas and Denver.

Plot

The synopsis on the back of the book got me interested in buying this novel over Koontz’s 20 or so other novels that they had in stock, so I’ll just give that.  A year after receiving a heart transplant, Ryan is visited by the spitting image of the donor of his heart.  She feels entitled to everything that Ryan has, and is coming to take it from him.

Enjoyment

The plot summary is brilliant, unfortunately everything else about this novel is a complete and utter train wreck.  Rather than taking place immediately before his transplant, the book starts about 4 months beforehand to show Ryan happily living with his girlfriend.  After finding out that he needs a transplant, Ryan immediately does everything in his power to get the best doctors in place so that he can keep living.  But once he gets his transplant, we immediately skip to a year later to show that his personality has flipped, and he’s gone from being a very open person to a paranoid recluse.

There are also some very odd plot points throughout the book.  Koontz spends a lot of time having Ryan follow a very strange hunch, and then it never plays out for the rest of the novel.  Along with that, one of the biggest plot points around which Koontz places the theme of his novel is never mentioned before the reveal in the final few chapters.  Without giving spoilers it’s involving the location of his heart transplant, which is never mentioned in the chapters where it talks about him going to get his transplant, trust me, I checked.

Along with those, Koontz beats you over the head with the idea that novels often have subtexts.  I don’t have a problem with that, but Koontz talks about it for a decent portion of the novel, then beats you over the head with what he thinks the subtext of this novel is.

I also have to comment on Koontz’s writing style.  And considering that this is the first of his novels that I’ve read, I don’t know if it is simply something he did here or if it’s part of his style.  He constantly tried very hard to use poetic and flowery language, but the problem is that I could see how hard he was trying, and it comes across as one of the weaknesses of the novel.  I also think that someone needs to take Koontz’s thesaurus away, or at least smack him every time he reaches for it.

So what we end up with is a novel with a forgettable main character, a pointless first half that is completely different in tone from the second half of the novel, non-existant foreshadowing of some major plot points, and overdone language.

Overall Grade

I’m hoping that this novel is a bump in the road in Koontz’s writing career rather than the norm, and I’m going to check out one or two more books by him to make sure, but for this book by itself, I can’t suggest it to anyone.

3/10

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

This is a really interesting book by Scott Adams, who is mostly known for being the creator of Dilbert.  I’m a big fan of the Dilbert comics, and I’ve read several of Adams non-fiction books before, and this one was a lot of fun.  I think that Adams style of writing is very entertaining, humorous without always going for the easiest jokes, and very informative.  I’m not going to talk about everything that he writes about in the book, but I am going to give some of my general thoughts.

Book StatsHow to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

231 pages

Non-Fiction, Psychology

Thoughts

This book is one part humor, one part biography, and one part self-help book.  If that makes it sound like something fairly boring, well, you’re probably not familiar with Adams work, because I read this book in about 2 days and loved every minute of it.  I was familiar with some of the topics that he discussed in this book from reading one of his previous books – Stick to Drawing Comics Monkey Brain! – but it was still interesting to read them again.

Adams has had an interesting life, one that went from being a kid growing up in the semi-rural northeastern part of the country, to failing in multiple jobs out in California, to being a well known cartoonist, author, and public speaker.  He’s also overcome some potentially debilitating things throughout his life, most notably Spasmodic Dysphonia, and if you’ve never heard of that condition, don’t be too worried, you could probably ask everyone you know about the condition and nobody else will have heard of it either.

Throughout the entirety of the book Adams discusses a process that he has used throughout his life to try and find success.  The basic idea is that instead of trying to set a goal for what you want, set up a system that will help you reach a goal.  It’s a subtle difference, but it is there.  He also describes how it can be used for anything from trying to lose weight, to becoming successful in a new job, to being more popular with other people.

There are a couple of things in my life I want to change, and what reading this book has done is giving me a couple of different ideas for how to go about creating those changes.  Thinking about it in hindsight, I had already started to do a couple of those things, but I’m going to continue to work on more in the future, and maybe in 6 or 8 months I’ll do a post updating what I was thinking about doing and seeing how well the results work out.

I already said that I’m a big fan of Adams work, so it shouldn’t com as any surprise that I enjoyed this book.  If you’re looking to try and improve anything in your life, this book might give you a few ideas for what you can change, and at the very least, it’ll give you a few hours of entertainment.

Overall Grade

An interesting book that provides a very different way of looking at life, I really enjoyed it.

10/10

The Traitor Queen

So we once again come to the end of a trilogy, although rather than simply being the end of a trilogy, it’s the end of a trilogy that was itself a sequel to another trilogy set in the same world.  Catch all that?  I hope so, because I’m starting my review now.

Book StatsThe Traitor Queen

539 pages

Fantasy

3rd book in the Traitor Spy Trilogy

Characters

By the time you reach the sixth book set in the same world based around the same characters, you’re going to know everyone pretty well.  All of the same characters from the previous books are here, and they’re as wonderfully written as ever.

Setting

Same as the previous 5 books.

Plot

The plot of this book brings conclusions to the two main story arcs that had been running through the trilogy, the search for the rogue magician Skellin throughout the criminal underworld, and Lorkin and Dannyl’s actions in Sachaka as they observe a civil war coming to a head.

Enjoyment

Both of the stories in this book are enjoyable, but they don’t mesh together very well to me.  And now that you’ve read that, you’ve read pretty much my only complaint about the book.  The pacing was very well done, the stories were interesting, and the world is richly built and populated with very good characters.  One of the things that I’ve really come to enjoy about Canavan’s writing is how real her characters feel.  It’s easy to see that a character is worried about the war that they’re about to take part in, but at the same time she’s able to show that they have a lot of personal concerns as well.  She also does an excellent job of showing multiple sides of the situations characters are in, and it really gives a lot of depth to the world.

Overall Grade

A pleasing ending to a wonderful series set in a very deep world.  These books have definitely turned me into a fan of Canavan’s writing for the foreseeable future.

8/10

Speaking of the Dead

To begin with, this is probably going to be one of the more offensive things that I’ve ever said, even though I’m going to be referring to a person that most people who read this will never have met.  I’m also at no point in this post give the person’s actual name, I’m simply going to ask a question and give my thoughts about the answer to said question in this post.

The question is a fairly simple one, but one that never gets asked in polite company.  Why is it that when a person dies, no one ever says anything bad about them?

Allow me to give the context for this question.  Recently, someone who had been a fairly close friend of my parents passed away.  I knew quite a few people who thought that the deceased person was an asshole (myself included), there were even quite a few times when my parents agreed that the deceased was an asshole on a regular basis.  The last time that I saw the deceased I had been out shopping and they were in the same store.  I told my mom when I got home and I remember the conversation going something like this:

Me: “I ran into (person) at the store today.”

Mom: “I’m sorry to hear that.”

However, upon hearing that the person died, my mother said that it was really hard, even though she hadn’t seen him in years, and the fact that she had called him an asshole on numerous occasions.

I find it a little, dishonest is probably the best word, to suddenly revere someone just because they’re no longer with us.  When I was at bowling last week, the owner of the bowling alley made an announcement that the person had passed away (the person had been a bowler in the area for years and many people at the bowling alley knew the deceased).  I was respectful an honored the moment of silence that the owner of the bowling alley asked for, but then my first comment to one of the guys that I bowl with was that I knew the person (my friend didn’t) and that I thought he was an asshole.

At this point I find it interesting that I chose to title this post “Speaking of the Dead” because of how much it relates to Orson Scott Card’s book “Speaker of the Dead,” which is the second book in the Ender series.  (And no, I didn’t think of the similarity before I started writing this post.)

The title of Speaker for the Dead comes from a profession that Card invented for the book.  When a person dies, their family or community could call upon a Speaker for the Dead to interview them and then talk about their life, but not in the way that we do at funerals where we only talk about the good things that people do.

A Speaker for the Dead would discuss not only the good things that a person did, but also the bad.  They would be able to discuss both a person’s greatest virtues as well as their worst vices.  In short, they would be able to describe them as a real person, and not simply a cardboard cutout.

No one is perfect, and we all have our shortcomings.  But I’m also of the opinion that nearly everyone in the world has something they can contribute to other people.  And that if you really sit down and talk to someone, one on one, you can find something about them that you relate to.  But I think also think that whitewashing their lives just because they’re dead is dishonest and in many ways disrespectful to the person that they were.  None of us want to be remembered solely because of our worst moments, and I think it’s equally disingenuous to only remember the best about a person.

I don’t claim to be perfect, I have flaws just like everyone else, and like most people I aspire to get better.  Even posthumously, I don’t think it’s good to remember people only because of their good qualities.  Take the bad with the good and round out the person, I think in the end we’re all better off when seen as a real person and not simply as a composite of our best qualities.