This is the last post of the semester, and the last post I will be making on this blog. It was a fun little project, but I have a personal blog I use and do not intend to keep posting to this one. So, what to say about my experiences blogging this semester?
One thing I took away was how to look at a book from a different perspective. Usually, I either read them entirely for pleasure, or solely to learn a new idea. For example, I would read American Gods for the entertainment, and The Trialto better understand the relationship between man and mechanical organizations. However, writing the book reviews, I think that I have improved combining the two styles of reading into one. I know I am not putting this newfound skill into words very well, but let me try to explain with an example. Normally, I would have read a book like Slaughterhouse-Five, and only seen it as an absurd piece of fiction. I use the word absurd in a good way I should note. However, reading it with the intention of getting others to read it made me look at the book from both sides of the spectrum. From entertainment and informative. What I took away from the book was a new way of thinking about war, and a new way of telling a story.
The other thing I took away from this blog (not to sound cheesy) is reading my fellow classmates blog posts. Usually when I read book reviews or analysis, it is from the perspective of a professional, or someone who has been doing it for a long time. It was pleasant to read from the perspective of fellow students my age. Oddly enough, I liked it more than a regular review, because it felt more applicable to myself as a reader. I’m more likely going to experience a book the same way as a fellow college student than a 45-year-old critic. Not to say I’m going to stop learning from experienced readers. It was just refreshing to read from a different point of view.
I don’t know how else I should wrap up this post wrapping up my blog, so here is a photo I took at Vegfest Gainesville 2017. I was a volunteer photographer and had a blast shooting there. Goodbye everyone!
It’s Monday, and I’m reading Kurt Vonnegut‘s Slaughterhouse-Five. Wow. I know that wasn’t a complete sentence, but I feel the word “wow” describes my experience with the book perfectly. I haven’t been this enthralled in a novel in a long time. I’m 240pages in, and I only started last night. I expect to finish in a couple hours, which should give an indication of how good it is. Check out this video by CrashCourse on the book.
World War II is a fascinating subject for me, and my favorite way to learn about it is through fiction. In fact, my opinion is that fiction is the best tool in learning about war. While facts are useful, a well-written story can portray certain aspects of war in ways no clinical description could. This is why I am loving Slaughterhouse-Five so greatly. It is easily the best depiction of WWII I have encountered yet.
“Trout, incidentally, had written a book about a money tree. It had twenty-dollar bills for leaves. Its flowers were government bonds. Its fruit was diamonds. It attracted human beings who killed each other around the roots and made very good fertilizer. So it goes.” (Vonnegut 213)
Slaughterhouse-Five is ultimately a criticism of many different things. It’s a criticism of war, government, ethics, religion, and most specifically the bombing of Dresden. This book is intensely effective because Vonnegut is writing a non-fiction event that he witnessed. He was a prisoner of war of the Germans, and he did hide in a meat locker during the bombing of Dresden. Knowing that “all this happened, more or less,” as Vonnegut puts it in the first sentence, adds an eerie amount of weight to the novel. Having Vonnegut writing in the first person from his point-of-view was bold, and it worked. I am looking forward to finishing the novel, but more importantly, I’m looking forward to learn about the events surrounding it to better my understanding of World War II.
Stephen King’s prowess as a writer is unquestionable. He has written some of the greatest books of our time, which were even adapted into some of the greatest films of all time (as I write this, the adaptation of his story Rita Hayworth and Shawkshank Redemption is number one on the iMDb top 250 list). His ability to tell a story is certainly something special, and On Writing allows readers to get a glimpse at how his works come to be. More importantly than that, King gives great advice to aspiring writers. Although a small amount of his advice could only be applicable to a few people, there is one thing On Writing makes clear that is so important:
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” (King 145)
The most effective tool King uses in this book is empathy. Sure, he could have only written about the nitty gritty process of sitting down, typing for hours, and double checking for comma splices, but the entire first half of On Writing is more of an autobiography than it is a book on how to write. That isn’t to say there is no useful tips on writing though, they are sprinkled throughout in ways the reader can easily get a hold of. The beginning of the book does an excellent job at grabbing the reader, and uses this attention to talk about the less interesting parts of the craft. However, King very briefly discusses things like adverbs and vocabulary; the book very quickly swings right back into things like desk space and how to properly focus. Only Stephen King could end a book about writing with a gripping and suspenseful story of when he was hit by a van. On Writing is probably the only book about writing that had me on the edge of my seat at the end (I swear this story is true: I was reading the end of the book on the bus and missed my stop because I was so engrossed in it). I believe that Stephen King’s methods of keeping the reader involved with the book are its biggest success, and what allowed for the book to be so effective.
Overall, this book definitely will have a positive impact on my writing. I have no doubts about that. I started a short story before reading it, then went back and proofread after I completed On Writing. I instantly saw many places I could improve, yet not lose my style of writing. Because this book was intended to have writers appreciate the craft and better themselves in their writing, it is fair to say On Writing hit its marks. I feel as though my writing improved significantly, but more importantly I have a newfound appreciation for the art of writing.
Well what do I say about Stephen King‘s book On Writing? I want to say I love it, which I do, but I am enjoying this book in a way I have never enjoyed a book before. I am 170 pages into the book so far and can’t wait to finish. The pages turn themselves as I find myself grinning ear-to-ear at various moments reading behind-the-scenes of Stephen King’s life. The book is one part autobiography, another part writing guide, and a less obvious part book on navigating through the crazy and unpredictable circumstances of life. Check out the Goodreads page for more info.
Stephen King brilliantly wrote this book as a tool for writers to improve their craft. His brilliance does not come from what he has to say about writing (I guess technically it does), but it comes from how he says it. Rather than be a boring list of what to do and what not to do, Stephen King tells stories from his childhood and from his career as a vessel for lessons on writing (hey look, it’s the title!). I’ve encountered a quote that I think accurately sums up the point of this book:
“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.” (King 101)
Other than On Writing, I’ve been reading a lot of short stories by Franz Kafka. I also love reading biographical information about him. Kafka’s life was insanely interesting, and I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a writer whose work more accurately reflects their life than Kafka. Kafka famously requested that his best friend Max Brod burn all of his work upon Kafka’s death, but Brod (thankfully) did not follow Kafka’s request. I just found out the other day Brod escaped the Nazis on the last train from Prague before the Nazis closed the Czech border. The Nazis found Kafka’s work to be very against their regime, so had Brod not gotten on that train, great works such as The Trial and The Castle would have never seen the light of day. That is so cool in my opinion to think about. There are tons of unique little details in the story of Franz Kafka that seem to get better and better. If you are interested if Kafka, I would check out his short story A Hunger Artist, one of the last stories he wrote before his death.
I picked up The Children of Men by PD James because the film was so impactful. It left me wanting more, so naturally I decided to read the book and see what changes were made. To my surprise, everything was changed. The only thing both versions share is the premise and the names of the characters. Other than that they are completely different stories. However, this is not a complaint. I found it quite satisfying to be experiencing a different plot because I would not get upset at any changes that seemed like poor decisions. The entire plot was changed, which gave me a new experience with the same interesting premise that I enjoyed so much.
The Children of Men‘s premise is that humans have lost the ability to reproduce 30 years prior to the current setting. Our protagonist, Theo Faron, is a professor of history at Oxford and finds himself in the company of five rebels to the government. In this dystopian society, the government has overstepped their boundary of control in an effort to be the first country to solve the repopulation problem. SPOILERS AHEAD, BE WARNED: This small group of rebels are weak, but have something of priceless value: the first known pregnancy in years. Having to run from the law they wish to give the child a private birth before it is used for political power.
The biggest aspect about the book that I find to be better than the film is Theo’s character. Naturally, there is a lot more room for character development with a book. Especially when the protagonist keeps a diary, which allows the reader to know their thoughts despite the third person narration. One quote I particularly like from Theo’s diary shows his character very well:
“Now, for the rest of our lives, we’re going to be spared the intrusive barbarism, of the young, their noise, their pounding, repetitive, computer-produced so-called music, their violence, their egotism disguised as idealism. My God, we might even succeed in getting rid of Christmas, that annual celebration of parental guilt and juvenile greed.” (James 45)
The Children of Men is a book that I would recommend to anyone. It is more than a dystopian novel. There is a lot to think about in terms of mortality and how valuable the young are to society (even with the violence and conflict young people bring). However, as with any book there are many ways to interpret the book. So I think it should be read with an open mind. The goodreads reviews are positive as well if you needed any more a reason to read it, which you shouldn’t because you just read this review and it should have peaked your interest! So go out and read The Children of Men before the real repopulation-free world comes.
The Children of Men by PD James is quite the interesting premise to say the least. I have been reading it for about a week now and am having an great experience with it. The book is set in the near future in a dystopian world in which humans lose the ability to reproduce. I’m 134 pages in so farand this book has so far been very hard to put down.
I decided to read this book because I love the film and wanted to see what differences were made when it was adapted. So far, there hasn’t been anything drastic. But there have been some changes that seem pointless. They don’t take away from anything, but I am not sure why they made the change. Whatever changes were made must have been for good reason because the film was well received by critics. The book is very good, however the elements that made the film so enjoyable are not present in the book. Not at the books fault though; one of the best aspects about the film is the long takes with incredible amounts of detail. There isn’t really a book equivalent of not cutting the shot. The long takes aren’t the only appealing thing about the film, but they are their absence is most notable in the book.
Theo (the protagonist) in the book is way more fleshed out of a character in my opinion. The film’s take on Theo is way more “blank slate-y” and less unique. The film’s version of Theo seems like he was created to have the audience project themselves onto his character. Both characters were very likeable. I am not far enough into the book to discuss other characters without giving away spoilers. I found this quote from Theo to be quite telling of his character:
I don’t want anyone to look to me, not for protection, not for happiness, not for love, not for anything. (James 26)
I’ll wrap up this post on a different topic. A lot of crazy stuff has been happening in the world of politics and because of this I have discovered a book called Brave New Worldby Aldous Huxley. I was planning on reading The Bodyby Stephen King next, but supposedly Brave New Worldis very similar to Orwell’s 1984, which is an absolute classic book. So I picked up a copy of Brave New Worldand can’t wait to read it next.
The Trial by Franz Kafka was published in 1925, one year after Kafka’s death. The history behind the book is just as interesting as the book itself. Kafka never actually finished The Trial and asked his dear friend Max Brod to destroy it along with all his other unfinished works. Thankfully, Brod went against his friend’s wishes and did his best to scrap together and finish the messy manuscript that has become The Trial. A lot of interesting details regarding the history of the book are found in the publisher’s note in the beginning, which is followed by a translator’s note that is just as pleasurable to read. However, be warned the translator’s note does contain sizable spoilers. Check out thisvideo by The School of Life on Kafka’s life and how it influenced his writing.
The story is about a modest individual named Josef K. who finds himself under arrest one morning for reasons he is not aware of. His arrest isn’t very normal either. He isn’t put in handcuffs or taken to jail, but he is simply “under arrest” and told there will be a trial to determine his guilt. The conversation K. has with the two men who place him under arrest give a warning of what is to expect from this story; it is utterly absurd. Frankly, I would not consider the following explanation of the premise to be a spoiler. But nevertheless, some people might consider the following to be spoilers. Read at your own risk! K. never finds out what it is he is on trial for. This is the main mechanic of the book. Everything K. does to try and help his trial is utterly useless and this is almost always attributed to the fact he has no idea why he is on trial. I don’t think wild goose chase is the right way to describe the circumstances, but it more feels like his trial is a futile battle. Spoiler territory has ended.
I enjoyed The Trial immensely. I was initially turned off by the writing style, which is plentiful with run-on thoughts that never seem to end. The dialogue isn’t broken down with indentations either, so it can be a little tricky to follow at points. And on top of it all the book is a translation from German to English, which according the translator is not the easiest translation to make. However, almost unintentionally, the style of writing embellishes the absurd tone of the book and makes it very easy to get sucked in to the story. The story is very susceptible to interpretation and I find it best to read the text before being influenced by other people’s interpretations. Skip to the next paragraph if you do not want to be influenced. My favorite way of looking at The Trial is as a critique of the modern way of life. It is no secret the ultimate criticism is of societal judgement, but it goes further when considering the way K. deals with his trial. Everything about K.’s life falls apart when he is arrested even though other than being “on trial” nothing about his life has changed. He isn’t held anywhere, he voluntarily goes to all of the inquiries and hearings, and all his choices to fight the accusation are on his on behalf. Nothing is preventing K. from leaving town and avoiding it all together. But he stays in vanity and fights it because he is selfish and wants to keep his life equally as comfortable as it was before the accusation.
An excerpt that is particularly telling of what The Trial conveys is when K. is speaking with the priest. They are talking of a story about a doorkeeper and a man from the country. The man wants entry into Law and the doorkeeper prevents him.
“The man has only just arrived at the Law, the doorkeeper is already there. He has been appointed to his post by the Law, to doubt his dignity is to doubt the Law itself.” “I don’t agree with that opinion,” said K., shaking his head, “for if you accept it, you have to consider everything the doorkeeper says as true. But you’ve already proved conclusively that that’s not possible.” “No,” said the priest, “you don’t have to consider everything true, you just have to consider it necessary.” “A depressing opinion,” said K. “Lies are made into a universal system.” (Kafka 223)