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Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”

Truth be told, I was looking for a copy of some of Buddha’s writings or maybe Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. I found Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet by accident at Barnes & Noble. It was tucked in a little corner and caught my eye. The first couple of lines I read immediately caught my attention. The prose was just what I needed to feel a sense of grounding and meditation. He says, “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.” As noted on several other reviews online, the book follows a prophet by the name of Al Mustafa as he seemingly journeys through a village. The villagers ask him questions about life and whatnot. He answers them from a well of seemingly infinite wisdom, “You would know in words that which you have always known in thought.”

“Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.”

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“The soul unfolds itself like a lotus of countless petals.”

The Prophet has a sensuality to it. It was one of the qualities about Gibran’s poetic style that caught my attention. With subtle poetic devices used and deep aphorism, it is no wonder that The Prophet became very popular around the 1960’s. It’s sensuality and free-form, prose-poetry suited the counter-culture of the time. Apparently, John Lennon was a fan and used it in his music. Since I stopped listening most of the Beatles’ work after Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, this was a new fun fact about music and literature that I learned while looking into this book. One of my favorite quotes is: “And let today embrace the past with remembrance and the future with longing.” The theme of my first two books were remembrance and memory. The idea that memory is not always held in the mind but the body, and other places of great significance, community or the cultural subconscious. Kahlil Gibran also touches on another of my favorite subjects: pleasure. The prophet says, “It is the caged taking wing, but it is not space encompassed.” It’s such a beautiful way of saying that pleasure is that space between nature and freedom held in the friction of just the right amount of closeness. It brought to mind that quote, “I know why the caged bird sings.”

Work Cited

Gribran, Kahlil. The Prophet, Fall River Press, New York, 2019.

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Lil’ Libros’s Lotería

Oh my goodness, I love these books! They are the cutest little things on any store shelf. Lil’Libros is a Latin-founded book company. They publish multilingual children books on a lot of incredibly well-curated subjects including: lotería, famous people, and telenovelas. Please, please visit their website and check out their store to support their work through a purchase! You can also find them at select Target stores. It’s so worth the purchase.

My first Lil’Libros book: Lotería

I used my nephews as an excuse to buy my first Lil’Libros book: Lotería. It’s essentially a mini-guide to the beloved traditionally-Latin game. The cards are explained while readers get to enjoy the wonderful art that illustrate the book. All of Lil’Libros’ books have amazing artwork, mostly thanks to Citlali Reyes. This particular book was a collaboration with writers Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein. Of course, these ladies are not the only ones collaborating with Lil’Libros. I’m already eyeing a few other books from different writers and/or artists on their website; I’m sure my nephews will enjoy them too.

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Work Cited

Rodriguez, Patty and Ariana Stein. Lotería, Lil’Libros.

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Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey comes highly recommended by my youngest sister. She really enjoys reading books from the personal development genre. Me, not so much. I decided to give this book an opportunity either way because it seems to bring in Covey’s ideas with a mix of statistics and psychology and because it was available on Hoopla, one of my new and favorite ways of reading books with a public library card. While it conveys ideas similar to many writers in the personal and/or professional genre, I cannot say that it was particularly outstanding. Regardless, I want to touch on a few highlights.

“Just as breathing exercises help integrate body and mind, writing is a kind of psycho-neural muscular activity which helps bridge and integrate the conscious and subconscious minds.”

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“Things which matter the most must never be at the mercy of things which matter the least.”

One of the best take-aways from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is that it really mixes in practical ideas for improving your life and personal concepts that shape a healthy human psychology. For example, what are the key points to focus on for time management? Covey says organize and execute. Make a list of items, dates/deadlines, prices, etc. and execute. Don’t wait. Just do. In the process of doing, refine the idea incrementally. He says, “Begin with the end in mind.” Make sure that everything you deem important directly contributes to your mission, values, and/or goals. Constantly assessing the importance of tasks, for example, will help with staying focused on priorities. If you have to say “no,” then say “no.” Politely, of course.

Integrity is, fundamentally, the value we place on ourselves. It’s our ability to make and keep commitments to ourselves, to “walk our talk.”

Covey moves away from the hard-core advice on meeting professional and personal goals. He begins to focus on a few topics that do not seem to be pertinent to success. Nevertheless, relaxation and cultivating the mind as a key habit are crucial. We need to let nature talk to us, with us, every so often. Connecting to nature gives our body the opportunity to come back into balance, harmony, and a healthy rhythm. Covey then notes, “Sharpening the saw in the first three dimensions – the physical, the spiritual, and the mental – is a practice I cal the ‘Daily Private Victory.'” Like many educators and intellectuals, he places a great deal of importance on self-analysis. Examine your own mind, it’s reflex thoughts. Critically analyse your own critical thinking. Easier said and written than done. Personally, I think the reason why many people fail at personally and/or professionally evolving is that they are fearful of placing themselves in that kind of a vulnerable position. That mirror is harsh. It’s all in the name of not letting our minds atrophy after we’re done with our legally-compulsive education.

“The person who doesn’t read is no better off than the person who can’t read.”

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Work Cited

Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, e-book edition, Mango Publishing, 2022.

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The State of Affairs

“But when we reduce the conversation to simply passing judgment, we are left with no conversation at all.”

One of the most controversial books in the last two decades, Ether Perel’s The State of Affairs quickly joined Mating in Captivity on my bookshelf. Her first book primarily addressed sexuality in the twenty-first century. The State of Affairs tackles the second biggest relational issue worldwide: extra-marital affairs. When it was released, Perel took a lot of flack for purportedly condoning extra-marital affairs. But, having actually read the book with an experienced critical eye, she does not attempt to excuse the wanderer but rather seeks to help the couple review the relational context that led to the affair.

“The best ideas rarely arise in one isolated mind, but rather develop in networks of curious and creative thinkers.”

Much like Mating in Captivity, I read The State of Affairs twice and took a lot of notes. I kept comparing relational betrayals to types of trauma. When you place trust, loyalty, and your body in the care of someone and there is a betrayal, it fragments the relational schema that you live by. Perel does say quite often that individuals find out who they are in relationships, as a by-product of relationships of all kinds. It goes without saying that affairs are heart wrenching when romantic relationships are a place in which most modern individuals allow themselves to be vulnerable. The beast of burden is to overcome the consequences.

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“But one theme comes up repeatedly: affairs as a form of self-discovery, a quest for a new (or a lost) identity. For these seekers, infidelity is less likely to be a symptom of a problem, and is more often described as an expansive experience that involves growth, exploration, and transformation.”

The State of Affairs lays out several case examples and Perel’s commentary on them. Oftentimes I read books that don’t capture the speaking tone and style of the writer, I’m glad to report that her books do. What’s even more interesting? She explores the works of the professionals she cites on her Sessions Clinical Training platform, which I had the pleasure of sampling not too long ago and wouldn’t mind returning to some day. Even as a English Literary Arts professional, I think it would be of great help. Not only is it invaluable educationally, psychology and relationship wise, but she is creating a community open to exploring questions with answers that are rough to capture for the average person. In any case, read The State of Affairs because it’s better to know a little relational first aide right from the start than not.

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Work Cited

Perel, Esther. The State of Affairs, HarperCollins Paperbacks, 2018.

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Collective Trauma, Collective Healing

Jack Saul’s Collective Trauma and Collective Healing aims to give health professionals – and anyone really – an insight into how to create community based assistance programs after traumatic events. Since I work in the English education field, it’s a little outside of my area of specialization. Yet, I read this on the sheer respect and admiration other professions in the field seem to have for him. He seems to really know his craft. Psychology theory is easily examined by English literary intellectuals, but the application of it for wide-scale use – rather than only individualized therapeutic sessions – is a different conundrum requiring a unique eye.

The original goals that led to reading this book were (1) learn more about its potential application in bibliotherapy, the use of literature as a psychological tool, and (2) survey the psychology books from published from the 1990’s to 2000’s. Collective Trauma, Collective Healing is a guide for mental health professionals that breaks down the steps and methodology for creating community based programs to build resilience and coping skills among populations struggling due to political and other types of violence. The real-world examples he gives in his books are the mental health response programs established as a result of major catastrophes like 9/11, the Holocaust, Kosovo’s political conflicts, and the Liberian civil war.

I had the pleasure of attending a conference hosted and produced Thomas Hübl which had Jack Saul as a speaker recently on healing collective trauma. It’s my personal opinion that many professions would benefit from incorporating some of the strategies he argues for in their offices, classrooms, and work. I’ve experienced a succession of traumatic events in my life: family domestic violence, sexual abuse, the death of my father, mental health struggles, and PCOS. The one healing tip that I can give and which this book confirms is that art – our artistic endeavors – are the key to healing wounds, from literature to painting, and theater to music, and dance to anything else that lights you up inside.

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Work Cited

Saul, Jack. Collective Trauma, Collective Healing, Routledge, 2013.

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Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity

“Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy. Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness.”

Reviewing Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity feels a little like reviewing anything written by Brené Brown. Alas, it will not be a perfect review, so I may as well confront it directly. It’s more than a little anxiety inducing but also too good to let the opportunity pass. Mating in Captivity is one of those books that I think have risen to popularity because they directly confront some of the biggest issues plaguing individuals and/or relationships. It is a marker or symptom of the psychological troubles of certain demographics since the 1990’s. We crave healthy relationships and good sex while bemoaning the fact that the divorce rates have spiked and all the good partners are taken. And, we really don’t do much about it individually and/or collectively to set into motion positive changes.

“Our partner’s sexuality does not belong to us. It isn’t just for and about us, and we should not assume that it rightfully falls within our jurisdiction.”

Mating in Captivity really does have some great insights into sexuality and relational psychology. But, when I read some of the online opinions of Perel being a “woman hater,” I admit the modern feminist in me cringed a little. Never one to take someone else’s opinion as my own that easily. I kept reading the book, made a ton of notes on it, and then gave it to a friend whom I thought could use some of the insight. I realized that my notes could have been helpful for some future dissertation work on a modern survey of genre-specific literature, so I got myself a second copy and made a ton of notes on that one. It’s never as good as the first time I tell you. I have yet to chase down my original copy and see if I can ever get it back.

“Woman hater” is definitely not the worst I’ve heard or read about a writer. Rumor had it that Lewis Carroll was a child molester, and we still adore Alice in Wonderland. To many people, it is the content that counts. It would have been nice to have this book available while discovering my own sexuality. I mean that in the normal sense that most women – and men – find what they like and don’t like, their opinions, and learn about this or that, good ways of negotiating conflict with a sexual or romantic partner. It not only took the time to highlight the actual issues with sexuality, especially in a country like the United States, but it also compared perspectives with other parts of the world.

“Everyone should cultivate a secret garden.”

Our sexuality is an aspect of ourselves to cultivate like any other part. We worry about our resumes and 401k accounts and shave our legs religiously, but many of us don’t bother to think of our sexuality as something that needs an equal, if not more, amount of attention. Mating in Captivity was also incredibly validating. It’s been a personal struggle to navigate relationships, both romantic and personal, when my opinion of a relationship does not match Hallmark’s Valentine’s Day marketing campaign. I enjoy a smutty, romance novel just like the next girl. But, whenever I have dated a guy that hit all the romantic notes hard and fast, my first instinct was to bolt. And, 99% of the time I did, and I still would to this day! Why? I smartened up and read some of the books and authors Perel cites. Guess what that may end up being? Love bombing. So, for the girl or guy who’s like me and is trying to avoid repeating abusive patterns present in their family or childhood, it pays to read books like this one and follow the trail of experts.

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Work Cited

Perel, Esther. Mating in Captivity, Harper Paperbacks, 2017.

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Marcus Clayton’s indicia

Clayton’s indicia has several issues out now. I admit that I’m a bit insecure about listing him as the primary editor, so I will note that he does collaborate with several other highly talented individuals. indicia periodically updates its submissions page. For those who have desire to have their poetry published and feel they meet the theme selected, it would be a good idea to check the website. A simple Google search would anyone find it or check out the link below.

I selected “when a person lives in a spider’s nest” by David Diaz to review from Vol. 2.1 of indicia because I really enjoy its erratic and disjointed way of conveying meaning. It is not only a visually impactful poem, in the sense that it utilizes the full page as a word canvas, but also weaves its meaning back and forth, back and forth. It’s almost as if the reader falls into the web and awaits the spider’s bite by the end. It’s also mildly grotesque and creepy to read. I kept visualizing spiders crawling all over me when I first read it. After actually having a spider mite infestation in my bedroom not too long ago, I can say that it is really, really difficult to live in that kind of environment. Oddly enough, I picked up on the idea that the adult female in the first paragraph would definitely be mildly envious of the little boy up on the tree because he seems utterly impervious to them. Or, is it just that ignorance is bliss? And, how old must that tree be to host such a disturbing amount of spiders? The poem tree seems to stretch its branches out to the sky in the little boy’s mind as a symbolic statement of resilience. If you feel like reading the end, check out the rest of it online. Again, follow the link below.

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Work Cited

Clayton, Marcus. indicia, a journal curating literary arts, Online.

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Dyeneka Campa’s Leo the Fearless and the Furless Lion

My forte is definitely not children’s literature, so preparing to write this review left me wondering where to start and what changes have taken root in the field since I was child. While scrolling through Instagram recently, I noticed a post on the subject. I was laughing in stitches after a few minutes because of its irony. It was in celebration of the LGBTQ voices that found a home in children’s literature and influenced generation after generation of readers despite facing all manner of persecutions in their day-to-day lives. Subversive, revolutionary, and persistent. These voices entertained and inspired child after child to pursue their dreams and build a strong identity. And, they still do. Dyeneka Campa certainly aims to make a similar memorable impression on young children these days with Leo, The Fearless and Furless Lion though the targeted audience is the many multicultural and multilingual children that are under-represented in literature.

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I bought a copy for my nephew Aaron of Leo, The Fearless and Furless Lion when Dyeneka first published it. Even though it was meant for him, I have kept it in my custody for safekeeping. It’s a kind of memento for us. At the time, he really enjoyed my reading of the book and the story itself. Leo is a young lion that doesn’t really have a mane. He looks different than his peers and is struggling with a moment of self-consciousness and lack of self-confidence. Regardless, he braves his day at school and realizes that diversity is part-and-parcel of life. The book tackles the subject of acceptance in a beautiful and multicultural way with each of its characters having a rich uniqueness to them. Children can enjoy reading and re-reading this book. It will join my list of recommended children’s books next to Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.

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Work Cited

Campa, Dyeneka. Leo, The Fearless and Furless Lion, Bright, Blended Books, 2017.

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Marcus Clayton’s Petals Blue As Blood

Professor Marcus Clayton was one of my supervisors at Los Angeles Southwest College in Southern California when I worked as a tutor and later a supplemental English instructor. He’s in a rock band called Tudors, is getting a PhD at USC, and writes poems. He’s one of the most prolific literary dudes that I’ve ever met. I highly suggest checking out his website to find out more about his work.

Marcus gathered some collaborators and put together indicia, a magazine that curates the work of some great up-and-coming poets and artists. His poem “I Can’t Draw a Heart” is probably one of the best poems that I’ve read in the last decade. It can be found in his chap-book petals blue as blood. He wields the morbid imagery to paint a crisp picture of someone that, I imagine, craves intimacy fiercely. Yet, that intimacy seems as unattainable and illusive as the ideas presented by the modernist authors he likely analyzes for his PhD at USC.

One of the reasons why I find this poem really intriguing is the different thematic elements that I sense while I read. We are living in a time in which science and technology has created synthetic, clinical barriers between individuals. Connection is more and more a by-product of the use of cellular phones and computers. But, here, you have a speaker that yearn for something tactile. The desire has turned so grotesque in nature which, to me, sends a vampiric echo through my mind while I read. Interestingly, the gender of the speaker remains vague. It presents an avenue for a gendered reading or analysis of the poem. At the very least, it weaves enough intrigue into the reader to induce a flipping of the page and find out the ending. Check out petals blue as blood!

Work Cited

Clayton, Marcus. petals blue as blood, indicia, 2020.

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Yumi Sakugawa’s Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe

In my personal opinion, one of the key markers of the postmodernist literary movement is the increased demand for self-help and individualized psychology books. We are living in a time where books that give us relaxation strategies, explain terms that previously existed only within the isolated field of psychology, and break down into simple concepts what exactly happens to our body and mind when placed under stress for long periods of time are in high demand. It seems to finally have occurred to the generations after the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s that we really don’t know how to relax, our workaholic lives are not always that fulfilling, and that making a good impression of an over-worked donkey doesn’t pay off nearly was well as we thought. Interestingly, many psychologists would also argue that books like Yumi Sakagawa’s Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe are subtle responses to an over-traumatized society.

Most of the time, the universe speaks to us very quietly … in pockets of silence, in coincidences, in nature, in forgotten memories, in the shape of clouds, in moments of solitude, in small tugs at our hearts.

You read that right. Large literary movements have been known to correlated with strong social movements or trends. Popularity in book genres and key novels with exceptional sale success are typically a response to some greater psychological and/or socio-political and/or economic shifts. I could go into so much more detail about this. But, the point is that Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe is made for this era’s stressed population. It’s illustrated; it’s cute; it’s calming. The reader is guided into relaxing in a novel way. Most recommended strategies for relaxation are not books now-a-days. Go check out this app! They say. Listen to this podcast! Or Check out my friend’s playlist on bla bla bla. More and more, I’ve noticed a trend in which people associate or have been conditioned into associating literature with stress. So, it’s refreshing to have this book on my book shelf. To think that I bought it on a whim only to be pleasantly rewarded.

It’s in black and white. Yumi is an incredible artist. I wondered for a comically long time why it was only in black and white. Then, it kind of hit me that coloring is known to be incredibly relaxing. Such a sneaky psychological strategy. We’re given a blank canvas with Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe. It’s play. It’s childish. It requires us to let go of our inhibitions and indulge in a carefree, purposeless activity. I would not recommend markers, though. Stick to crayons so the ink doesn’t bleed through the pages. Mine is not colored in yet, but I think I will enjoy taking the time filling in some of the pages one day after pouring myself a large glass of wine. If you buy it, enjoy!

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Work Cited

Sakugawa, Yumi. Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe, AdamsMedia, 2014.

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Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods

If you have seen any episodes of Ancient Aliens (2009), then you’ve probably heard of Erich von Däniken. He is a frequent collaborator and commentator on the show. In Chariots of the Gods, he poses many of the questions explored by the TV show series. Questions such as, “Could it be that God was extra-terrestrial?” Not only that, but much like Carl Sagan, Erich von Däniken tries to give some basic scientific education to back up his claims.

“Can we still afford to close our eyes and stop up our ears because new ideas are supposed to be heretical and absurd?

He states facts that are now considered common knowledge in the scientific field. For example, there are 4,500 stars that exist in the universe. Even the biggest telescopes, which can view up to 2,000,000 visible stars cannot caption its full dimensions. And, Earth’s crust has been dated at 4,000,000,000 years. Life forms can exist of different combinations of oxygen, water, and carbon dioxide. It is difficult that, statistically, we are the only life, humanoid life, or otherwise in the entire universe. Plus, we really only know very little of human history; we can fill in the information for about 7,000 years out of our 1,000,000 reported existence. Imagine that. Very rational, right?

It’s rationality and macroscopic view of the facts make this book and shows like Ancient Aliens (2009) very believable. Incredibly, the microscopic facts also seem to back up the theories posed by this book. And, that’s where we get hooked. However, unlike the TV show, the book fails at midpoint to grab readers attention. I found myself drifting and getting distracted. So, I sped read some sections. Nevertheless, it is an impressive thesis piece for Erich von Däniken.

“The time has come for us to admit our insignificance by making discoveries in the infinite unexplored cosmos. Only then shall we realize that we are nothing but ants in the vast state of the universe. And yet our future and our opportunities lie in the universe, where gods promised they would.”

As soon as we gather the smallest evidence of other lifeforms somewhere on the planet, it will revolutionize the way we think about our human history. Chariots of the Gods and shows like Ancient Aliens (2009) may actually have many of the theories proven or dismissed. Given that science is still evolving and perfecting its own field, I would not dismiss it just yet. Like Carl Sagan said once, and I’m paraphrasing, some books are like seeds; they have the keen ability to flourish in even the most unpromising soil. Personally, I can’t get past the connections and similarities between many of the creation myths of many of our ancient societies. Gods, creation, life after death, celestial beings, travel to another realm (i.e. heaven). Who could deny it raises our curiosity?

“Can all these related phenomena merely be dismissed or a coincidence?”

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Work Cited

von Däniken, Erich. Chariots of the Gods, Berkley, 1999.

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Carl Sagan’s Cosmos

Hands down one of the most influential books for me in the past 5-6 years! Carl Sagan’s Cosmos is an absolute diamond in the sand. I cannot rave about it enough, honestly. There also happens to be a show Cosmos with a more revamped version released in recent years. The edition that I read had a foreword by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. At the time that I first read Cosmos, I was not that familiar with DeGrasse Tyson’s work. But, when I’m able to get one of his books, it will definitely be reviewed here too. He happens to be the host of the newer Cosmos show.

Knowing a great deal is not the same as being smart; intelligence is not information alone but also judgement, the manner in which information is coordinated and used.

I think I’ve mentioned this book so many times in conversations with other people that I could have sworn I already had a review drafted. Let me just say that Carl Sagan had a very interesting life story. He had very humble beginnings and truly believed in the power of literature to shape young minds and inspire them to achieve their goals. He spends a lot of time in this book weaving clear scientific explanations for phenomena in the universe while simultaneously giving a broad education on other fields that impact it: literature, anthropology, history, geography and geology, and on and on. But, it doesn’t really get boring. He delivers so much information in a very easy and affable tone.

“National boundaries are not evident when we view the Earth from space. Fanatical ethnic or religious or national chauvinisms are a little difficult to maintain when we see our planet as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and citadel of the stars.

Aside from reminding us that the light of the sun is technically the product of an active nuclear fusion occurring, Sagan does more that delight us with his scientific knowledge. He tries his best to keep us humble as a species, reader by reader, book by book. He does the math and puts it this way: we are worth no more than $3.00 (plus tax) in chemicals. The human body is simply the right combination of a handful of chemicals. And, in the vast expanse of the universe, we really only have one home: Earth. Knowing that we are alone and the nearest planet that could sustain life – or us really – is millions if not billions of light years away should make us think twice about not caring for our planet.

I believe our future depends on how well we know this cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.

To wax lyrical and romantic, Carl Sagan does what some of the most brilliant literature minds only wish they could do. Move over Jane Austin and Danielle Steel! He takes us to the stars and keeps us grounded here on Earth all in one book. There is an eloquence to his voice. It’s evident to me why Cosmos is one of the best-selling science books of all time all around the world. He has some of the most elegant and graceful writing that I’ve ever read, a very quotable man. Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, to add a final note, even inspired some of my own writings in Remembrance of a Lover Lost for which I gave him a mention.

“We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.”

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Work Cited

Sagan, Carl. Cosmos. Ballantine Books, 2013.

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Stephen King’s On Writing

One of my favorite books to recommend to writers and reader is Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. The books reveals details about his early life, struggles with alcoholism and drugs, a severe accident that changed his life, and his writers journey. This particular book, though short in comparison to so many other texts on writing, is succinct, to the point, and delivers some of the best hard-earned advice in the business, subject, and craft of writing.

“The work is always accomplished one word at a time.”

For those that enjoy writing and use it as a form of personal outlet, it’s satisfying to learn about King’s journey as a writer and his feedback on rejection letter from publishers and magazines. Reflecting back on it, I can draw comparisons to the everyday individual receiving rejection emails after submitting employment applications. And, King himself seems to think of it like any other job out there. It takes some getting use to the rejection, but the writer or the employee looking for an opportunity simply gathers their skirts – so to speak – and keeps on walking. Get it together and try again.

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

One of the many reasons that I enjoy this book so much and recommend it to others frequently is because, when I had doubts about whether I could ever even be considered someone that knew writing and composition well enough to teach it to others, this book confirmed many of my instinctive recommendations. It was a confirmation that was not actively sought out but really needed. The foundations of the language, some proficient grasp of basic grammar, and the notion that writing and reading go hand in hand are key elements.

“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”

Practice. Practice. Practice. You have to write. You have to read. King simply confirms what so many English instructors have wasted their breathe telling their students. There is no magic formula other than write, read, and repeat. But, what about inspiration some of you must be thinking. King does talk about how he was drawn to certain ideas and themes. For the most part, however, he simply explains how they began with very simple thoughts that came to him randomly in the middle of living his life. He scribbled random notes on paper or napkins and came back to them when he needed to break the mental gridlock. This is the part of the book that I enjoy the most: he doesn’t glamorize writing. In fact, King can be quite self-deprecating. He kind of considers himself a professional liar, nothing special.

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”

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Work Cited

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Writing Craft. Pocket Books, 2 June 2002.

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Ian Kerner’s She Comes First

I found Ian Kerner’s She Comes First at a Book Off store. It had been on my reading list since Pauline Réage’s Story of O inspired me to add more risqué books to my book shelf. To give you a brief summary: Kerner literally dumbs down the art of cunnilingus for the novice apprentice and uses graphics in conjunction with several detailed routines as examples. I always imagined that if I ever had sons this would be one of the first books that I’d place on their nightstand as soon as they hit puberty in their teenage years. In fact, this would be a great read for girls too for the simple fact that many females’ struggles with achieving orgasm are directly connected with a lack of or improper oral sex.

“The premise of this book is simple: when it comes to pleasuring women and conversing in the language of love, cunnilingus should be everyman’s native tongue.”

“When you are using a dental dam, it would be a bold-face lie to say that your abilities as a cunnilinguist are not somewhat handicapped; they most certainly are, roughly by a factor of about 30-40 percent.”

As Kerner explains, the fellatio is so common place and almost an expectation for men, but the art of cunnilingus is frequently absent in sex. We have to set the standard high here – unless you are missing dental dams in a potentially unsafe situation. “A man goes down. No excuses. No hesitation,” writes Amy Sohn in an excerpt. Kerner who holds a PhD in the subject goes on to break more than a few misconceptions about penetrative sex and oral sex such as the notion that oral sex is not real sex. Well, to bring a little humor into the subject, I’m sure that would be shocking news to lesbians all over the world. This one is a must read book! For girls, for boys, for teens, for couples, and especially for anyone that struggles with the subject.

Work Cited

Kerner, Ian. She Comes First. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2004.

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Pauline Réage’s Story of O

“Unfasten your garter belt,” he says, “and take off your panties” (4).

Omg. If readers thought 50 Shades of Grey was intense, they should try reading Pauline Réage’s Story of O. This book goes really deep into some intense kink. Now-a-days, this little gem is overshadowed by 50 Shades of Grey, but in its hay-day, it was a red-listed book-on-fire! But, also very well hidden by those in “the scene.” I don’t recommend this to readers who enjoy the “softer” side of kink. I think this book is for readers who are experienced literary adventurers, and those with an intense interest in all things BDSM and Kink. Definitely, open minds only. Aside from Freud, I can mostly say this was one of the most difficult reads for me to date. That’s saying a lot! But, to those with a big interest in erotica, kink, psychology in literature, this book is the place to begin! There will not be another place to start unless you go back all the way to the middle ages and read Chaucer’s Wife of Bath which deals with consensual cuckolding. BDSM or kink literature is a very particular niche, and it’s always interesting for me to find little gems like Pauline Réage’s Story of O. If you have any recommendations, please add a comment.

“Then they made O get up and were on the verge of untying her, probably in order to attach her to some pole or wall, when someone protested that he wanted to take her first, right there on the spot” (10).

“If someone should notice, she could explain it any way she liked, or not explain it at all, whichever she preferred, but it was her problem, and hers alone” (56).

This book was originally written in French. It made me wish – again – that I could read French. Having studied some Samuel Beckett in the language, I know it makes a difference. Sometimes words have a different flavor to them. Anyway, what are the themes of this book? BDSM, obviously. Submission, monogamy, eroticized humiliation, which is what makes many readers cringe, and the utter political incorrectness of sexuality, dominance, and the sexually grotesque as a form of spectacle. You would think this wouldn’t be so taboo amongst the general population given the pervasiveness of these themes in modern film, but I guess not. In any case, I’m glad that I returned to it and finished reading Story of O; I was one that needed a break to be able to return to it with a fresh perspective. At least now I know why it’s called by some a “mystic book;” it requires a certain type of sensitivity.

Work Cited

Réage, Pauline. Story of O. New York: Ballantine Books, 26 March 2013.

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Paulo Coelho’s The Devil and Miss Prym

Paulo Coelho’s The Devil and Miss Prym sets up an interesting moral dilemma for readers. A stranger arrives to town. And, Berta, the towns resident wise old-woman, notices that it is the Devil in human form. The Devil goes into the town bar. He meets the protagonist Chantal Prym and befriends her. And, he proceeds to tell the townspeople that there is gold buried in town. The townspeople can have the gold if they murder someone. What follows cannot be described as anything less than an interesting social debate. Should the town believe it? Would it be such a great sin to consider it? Would the ends justify the means?

“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened on in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back.”

On the whole, the theme of temptation is strongest current running through the book. And, because the town must choose who to kill, the theme of betrayal becomes the source of no small amount of remorse. Gotta say, the intrigue is intense. It was a rather nice read even though it’s on the shorter end of the scale. But, I can’t say that it completely blew my mind away. It was quaint. It would have really given me a mindgasm so-to-speak if Coelho had included a few more twists and turn. Although, it would have likely turned the book into a modern thriller.

“Whenever you want to achieve something, keep your eyes open, concentrate and make sure you know exactly what it is you want. No one can hit their target with their eyes closed.”

“The devil by your side is smiling because you are playing the game he invented.”

The Devil and Miss Prym is definitely for the melancholic reader. Easy reading material. It’s the type of book that readers who have been away from the hobby for a long time should choose to begin reading again. The town solidarity, the community, the subtle and sensitive themes incorporated explain why Paulo Coelho is a cultural favorite. I think its also a book that will trigger a lot of reflective thinking especially regarding social justice, social equity, power versus influence, and murder by negligence. Because, isn’t the weakest link just another way of viewing a part or a person that’s been neglected for too long? Either way, it seems this town desperately needed change even before the Devil came along.

Work Cited

Coelho, Paulo. The Devil and Miss Prym. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, January 2007.

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold

My review of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold will likely be very, very short. I remember appreciating the subtle wittiness of this book … and not much else. I’m sure there will be many, many other readers that will disagree with me. Perhaps because the events around me or happening in my life around the time that I read Chronicle of a Death Foretold were so chaotic – the height of COVID worldwide, I was inoculated against the drama of this book. I forgot much of the plot. It was not as impressionable to me as the title suggested. Like most of Garcia Marquez’s books, Chronicle of a Death Foretold tells the happenings of a fictional town somewhere in Hispania, i.e. Colombia or Colonial Spain. One of its citizens, Santiago Nasar, has an infamous reputation. His “widely foreseen” death gives the book its title and leads readers through a maze of intrigue and domino effect tragedies that ripple through the community.

Works Cited

Gabriel Marquez, Garcia. Chronicle of a Death Foretold. New York: Vintage, 7 October 2003.

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Elie Wiesel’s Night

Like Number the Stars, Elie Wiesel’s Night is a must read. The average person’s education on the Holocaust is incomplete until they read this book. While not a children’s book like Number the Stars, Night‘s protagonist, Wiesel himself, is a child living through the persecutions of the Nazis. This book was on the introductory English syllabi at California State University, Dominguez Hills when I was teaching on the campus. And, having helped guide student through it, I think it’s still a very under appreciated book. Apparently, the book’s length has gotten shorter and shorter due to edits. The original version that Wiesel wrote was over 500 pages. The shorter drafts are easy to read and very accessible to the average reader.

“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”

Weisel narrates the events of his life between 1955 and 1945. He is imprisoned with his father and other Jews in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. During his time in the concentration camps, Wiesel describes how the Jews survived. Some gave up their faith and desire to live. Others tried to help those sick or motivate those severely depressed. And, the third group mounted a resistance, a subversive group of Jews that found ways to keep others alive or undermine the Nazis’ work. Much of the narrative, though, involves Wiesel recalling parts of his life, his Jewish teachings, and the negotiation with himself about his faith in humankind. One of the biggest themes of books connected to these historical events is the loss of faith. It is every trauma psychologists and post-modernist theorists’ dream: the death of God. Not to make light of such a morbid thing, but it’s also a literary translator’s dream. The books been published in so many languages including Yiddish, French, English. A literal tongue twister if not a mind-bender. It’s an existentialists’ play pool.

“They are committing the greatest indignity human beings can inflict on one another: telling people who have suffered excruciating pain and loss that their pain and loss were illusions.”

“He explained to me with great insistence that every question possessed a power that did not lie in the answer.”

Night is actually part of a trilogy – Night, Dawn, and Day. Whether its 800 pages or 100 pages, Wiesel seems to have imparted onto himself the quest of showing any reader that ventures into his story that even when you reach rock bottom – the darkest, deepest level of jadedness – your memory might still be good enough to write a book and that you are certainly not dead yet. Truthfully, it’s a really sad book. Full of melancholy and utter pain. The anguish that young Wiesel feels is translated through the words. And, if we’re sensitive enough, the reader can almost slip right into that with him. As a trained college educator, I sometimes despair that it might be wasted reading material on a younger pool of students. I wonder if a contemporary film adaptation would revive interest in the novel.

Work Cited

Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Hill & Wang, 16 January 2006.

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love In the Time of Cholera

While sorting which books I would review and in what order, I confused two of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s books. A good lesson for readers would be to space out books from the same author; alternate between two to three authors. It helps avoid confusing one book’s plot for another. Let me tell you about the first time that I picked up Love in the Time of Cholera. I was still taking Spanish classes in college around 2010. I had originally wanted to get my B.A. in Spanish and an excerpt of this book was on my reading list. So, I decided to check out the entire book in Spanish from UCSB’s Davidson Library. I realized after two pages that I was not cut out for the endeavor.

“She had never imagined that curiosity was one of the many masks of love.”

I highlighted all the words in Spanish that I did not understand. And, oof! That was a very neon yellow page. (Yes, I highlighted on a UCSB library book.) The book ended up back at the library. I don’t regret it. Flash forward many years later, I finally picked up the book again. This time I chose an English edition. The book itself is gripping. Love in the Time of Cholera is a candid look at love from the masculine perspective. The love triangle involves Florentino Ariza, Fermina Daza, and Dr. Juvenal Urbino. Florentino falls in love with Fermina. But, by the sad twists of fate, Fermina ends up marrying Dr. Juvenal Urbino. And, ugh! The angst! It’s so smutty, perverted at times, and the promiscuity it reveals blends into the reader a sense of discomfort. I found myself struggling with the notion that someone could have multiple true loves and that the choice between them is not always fueled by youthful passion.

“One could be happy not only without love but despite it.”

Love in the Time of Cholera was one of those books that left me with a cauldron of confusing feelings. I sympathized with the protagonist. As the protagonist narrates his experiences, the reader is drawn to connect with him, his losses, his desires, his pain at having lost the opportunity at a life with the woman he loved. But, as time elapses for the character, the reader senses how his feelings lean him toward a toxic cynicism, disenchantment, with regards to relationships, sex, and love. Florentino does some seriously disgusting and borderline incestuous things. By the time that he gets a second chance with Fermina, as a reader, I wondered if he even deserved it. Had he lived his entire life with Fermina, had she known the extent of his perversion, the full color of his soul, would their reunion have been as fairytale-like. Oh, goodness. I have to say that Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera is one of those books that opens the door for such rich conversation regarding: gendered relations, marriage, morality and permissiveness, etc.

Work Cited

Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. Love in the Time of Cholera. New York: Vintage, 2007.

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Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness

Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness is a chronicle based on Oz’s childhood in the early years of the state of Jerusalem. He captures the tensions and conflicts between Israel and Palestine. These conflicts are ongoing to this day. It occasionally makes the news headlines and re-sparks a flurry of political debate online. So, in the historical sense, this books a contemporary jem. As for the plot, Oz’s mother takes her own life by overdosing on sleeping pills. This becomes the focal point of much of his personal development. Oz’s narrative seems echo the Jewish sentiment of emotional abandonment and the feeling that Israel became a type of orphanage after WWII. The Jewish motifs embedded within A Tale of Love and Darkness that add richness to the plot are the fight for freedom, the love of literature, the love of language, and importance of food and eating.

“Friendship includes a measure of sensitivity, attentiveness, generosity, and a finely tuned sense of moderation.”

Most of the Jewish books that I’ve read are directly related to the Holocaust. I came across Amoz Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness after I heard Natalie Portman was interested in directing and/or producing a film adaptation (2015). I naturally decided to put this book on my reading list. It took me a while to read the book, but I finally managed it in mid-2021. It did not take long for me to realize that I had been remiss in not realizing there is a literary pool of Jewish texts that are not directly related to the Holocaust. If anyone else has any other recommendations similar to this book, please add a comment to this post. Hopefully, it will take me less to get around to finally watching the film adaptation. The trailer genuinely peaked my interest.

“Facts have a tendency to obscure the truth.”

I hope the film adaptation of the story will be better than the book. That usually isn’t the case unless the directors or producers are particularly gifted in what they do. Taking the richness of the literary piece and translating that to the screen is a unique art form. Yet, in regards to A Tale of Love and Darkness, I can say right off the bat that I was a little underwhelmed. And, the fact that the narrative is so long really got to me a bit. Perhaps that was the intention. I found it long-winded with an almost depressive, melancholic exasperation to the narrative. Given some of the events that happen to young Oz, I can totally understand why that’s the case. Even without running a literary search for articles on this book, the way that Oz handles the theme of mourning, especially mourning in the midst of growth and the maturation process, has a lot of literary integrity. A Tale of Love and Darkness is definitely the most Jewish text that I’ve read; aside from snippets of the Talmud / Torah that I read in a Christianity course many, many years ago. I definitely recommend A Tale of Love and Darkness, especially for those that have a gap of knowledge about Jewish culture and life in Israel in modern times.

“And books then really were sexier than books today: they were good to sniff and stroke and fondle. There were books with gold writing on fragrant, slightly rough leather bindings, that gave you gooseflesh when you fondled them as though you were groping something private and inaccessible, something that seemed to tremble at your touch.”

Work Cited

Oz, Amos. A Tale of Love and Darkness. New York: Keter Publishing House, Ltd., 2003.

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude

I have to say that I liked Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude a lot less than Love in the Time of Cholera. The story revolves around the Buendía Family in the fictional Columbian town of Macondo. For those that grew up in Latino households, the story has a very familiar vein. It involves inter-generational trauma, drama, and repeating cycles – for better or for worse. The small town is cut off from the rest of civilization, and it seems to the reader that the solitude precipitates much of the drama, romance, and crime between the individuals. It gives the phrase Hasta en las mejores familias a whole other literary meaning because the Buendía would be the most prominent family in town. I’d recommend this to readers that have a strong sense of loyalty to the Latino culture and/or want to explore more literature from Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Work Cited

Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude. New York: Ballantine Books, 2013.

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Michael Crichton’s Timeline

It rankles me when I know I already wrote a review or did something and it literally vanishes into thin air. Whatever. I still love Timeline by Michael Crichton. The original review might be the same or similar. But, when you liked reading something the first time, try watching the movie next if there is an adaptation. Pst, Paul Walker and Gerard Butler are in the movie. Sigh. Maybe some other time I will tell you about how I saw Gerard Butler leaving the New York subway near Broadway. (My mother is a huge fan of him in Olympus Has Fallen.)

“The purpose of history is to explain the present – to say why the world around us is the way it is. History tells us what is important in our world, and how it came to be. It tells us what is to be ignored, or discarded. That is true power – profound power. The power to define a whole society.”

This one is centered around archeology and the development of a time machine. The team finds proof that their missing professor somehow ended up in the past, and off they go on a dangerous mission to rescue him. Or rather, they end up rescuing themselves in the process. It ends in a very angsty vein that I actually found very bitter sweet. One of the archeologist / time-travelers Marek falls in love with Lady Claire, played by Anna Friel. It’s a very charming and adventure-filled tale with the setting in 1357 England and France.

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“Professor Johnston often said that if you didn’t know history, you didn’t know anything. You were a leaf that didn’t know it was part of a tree.”

I would recommend Michael Crichton’s Timeline to readers for the ending alone. He is more often than not known as the writer of Jurassic Park, but I definitely ventured into reading a few of his other works. If you are interested, see the table of contents. He is genuinely one of the best science-fiction writers in contemporary literature. I’d say that in terms of style, prose, and inventiveness, he is on-par with Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Anne Rice. Timeline and Jurassic Park are two examples of how Michael Crichton weaves the science, even hypothetical and theoretical, with reality and turns it into a scientific realism. With the developments in genetic modifications, splicing, biomedical engineering, readers could believe the worlds he weaves are real. In fact, they might already be real somewhere in the world given that I think he actually did inspire many modern scientists.

Works Cited

Crichton, Michael. Timeline. New York: Ballantine Books, 2013.

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Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood definitely won my readers heart with this book. Obviously, for those who want the story but don’t want to read all the words, it was recently adapted into a show on Hulu. I’ve seen the first season, and it was good. The one complaint that I have is that I think they miscast the protagonist. This will likely be an unpopular opinion given the success of the show, but I think Elizabeth Moss was probably not the best choice. I was happy, however, with the casting of Joseph Fiennes who has the gravitas to carry his antagonist character. And, bringing in Samira Wiley from Orange is the New Black really brought balance to the cast enough for me to enjoy the show. I have yet to watch additional episodes beyond season one, but maybe sometime in the future I can squeeze that into my schedule.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

“But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain makes you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.”

Back to the book! It’s a wonderful, creative way to revive the epistolary drama. Mix in a dystopian plot with very relevant political elements and you have a literary hit! The relevance of the feminist dilemma of this novel gives it a very real civil urgency. The world for the women of Handmaid’s Tale has changed; it’s been upended. The U.S.A. has fallen and crumbled and in it’s place is a new regime. This new regime, Gilead, controls a woman’s life like currency. Birth rates have dwindled to non-existent levels. The women selected to be handmaids are considered no more than breeders for a select few upper-class men and, surprisingly, sometimes their infertile wives.

“You can’t help what you feel, but you can help how you behave.”

The book has obviously been analyzed six ways to Sunday by many literary scholars, including myself, because of the poignant parallels that Margaret Atwood makes with the Holocaust, much like J.K. Rowling does with Harry Potter, and modern feminist politics. These are politically charged books. It makes you really think about how politically fragile we really are as a country and/or a planet, i.e. financially and technologically. And, given the corruption and the attempts to squash individual autonomy, it also makes the reader question the actual levels of bravery in modern society. Is society able to critically analyze what battles to fight and which are actually self-detrimental? It seemed that, when Gilead, the political regime that took control in The Handmaid’s Tale, rose into existence, many people just stood by and watched. As I write this, it really does bring back flashbacks of the invasion of the Capitol building back during the Trump administration. We might think it’s just literature, but dystopian books aim to present very real, plausible life scenarios. It leads us to wonder: what would you do if this did happen?

Work Cited

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. New York: Turtleback Books, 1998.

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Michael Crichton’s Micro

I mentioned in a review of Timeline that not many people know that Michael Crichton was actually a really good writer with literary successes other than Jurassic Park. In fact, I think Micro was actually the first book that I read from beginning to end by Crichton. I was in college taking a science-fiction course and one of the books on the syllabi was Micro. Honestly, the time frame to read this was only a few days since it was a summer course, but it’s such a good book that I got through it really fast.

“What is it about nature that is so terrifying to the modern mind? Why is it so intolerable? Because nature is so fundamentally indifferent. It’s unforgiving, uninterested.”

Michael Crichton writes for the science-fiction genre really well. I’m sure he’s influenced the actual doctors and techies of the present day that work in mico-engineering and mico-plastics and micro-anything. From robots to life changing machines, Crichton played with very real tech dreams and made them seem plausible in his novels. The plot of the book revolves around mico-robotics put into the wrong hands for the wrong reasons. And, to weave a small connection to his other works, it is interesting to point out that the setting for this book is also the Hawaiian Islands.

“Nature was not gentle or nice. There was no such thing as mercy in the natural world. You don’t get any points for trying. You either survive or you don’t.”

Crichton loved to weave some fear into the reader by toying with the notion that scientific advancement in the wrong hands, when scientists try to play God, often end up setting into motion events and monsters they cannot control. Humans, with these technology and science games that are left unchecked by the ego, are a danger to themselves. In other words, creation comes with great responsibility. Books like Michael Crichton’s Micro set the stage for modern day science-fiction and dystopian literature and, by extension, visual adaptations to grow in popularity.

Work Cited

Crichton, Michael. Micro. New York: Harper, 25 September 2012.

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Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain

“Perhaps the fact that we bleed to death makes us human.”

If you hadn’t noticed by now, some monster always ends up on the loose somewhere in the world of a Michael Crichton book. The Andromeda Strain is no exception. I read it recently inspired the FX TV show The Strain by Guillermo del Toro with some significant differences. The TV show is essentially about a small organism that acts like a parasite and creates vampires with hive-like characteristics and behaviors. It’s actually a show worth checking out. Although I’m not sure which part of the novel inspired del Toro, I get the sense it may be the general dark, gloom-and-doom of the plot.

“These considerations lead me to believe that the first human interaction with extraterrestrial life will consist of contract with organisms similar to, if not identical to, earth bacteria or viruses. The consequences of such contact are disturbing when one recalls that 3 percent of all earth bacteria are capable of exerting some deleterious effect upon man.”

In the book, the group of unsuspecting people find themselves facing a monster of the worst proportions: a deadly, ET microorganism. It lands in Arizona from outer space on a crashed military satellite, and it begins to evolve into something terrifyingly uncontrollable. It ends up contained in an underground lab where the protagonists attempt to bring it under control, investigate it, and eventually destroy it. By the time the reader gets to the end, the level of anxiety that Crichton has managed to build up may lead readers to want to pull their hairs out. Because, I mean, how do you destroy something you can not or can barely see at all? An illusive, invisible evil? It’s a good question that Michael Crichton poses in The Andromeda Strain.

Work Cited

Crichton, Michael. The Andromeda Strain. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 28 October 2008.

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Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age

I actually really enjoyed reading Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. Basically, it involves a type of book / tablet that talks to you like a teacher and self-generates lessons for all learner levels. The setting is in the near future, a dystopian technique that grounds the plot in plausibility. So, how does this tablet work? A little something called smartpaper. This Illustrated Primer is stolen and ends up at the hands of Nell. Who steals it? Nell’s wayward brother. And, this sets up the drama.

“The difference between stupid and intelligent people – and this is true whether or not they are well educated – is that intelligent people can handle subtlety.”

The futuristic technology portion of the novel definitely drives the plot. How does it work? Who invented it? Why is it important? While Nell learns from the Illustrated Primer voiced by an actress that eventually turns into something of a surrogate parent, two other girls have primers too, but they come from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds. Thematically, these different political worlds and societal constructs that the girls navigate lend themselves to interesting socio-economic and political analysis. Nell’s growth through the Illustrated Primer is the focus of the plot because she has all the cards stacked against her, and her journey appeals to the depths of human emotion. Her journey draws on the basic human hope that one day we will achieve are goals and dreams.

Work Cited

Stephenson, Neal. The Diamond Age Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. New York: Spectra, 2 May 2000.

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Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five

I think the first time I heard of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five was back in high school; it was on my AP English reading list. This is one of those novels that I waited so long to read and had such high expectations for it, but I ended up rather disappointed. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five is one of those “cult classics” and I found out why. It’s so obscure and odd, and it will set your teeth on edge in a very literal sense. No pun intended. This one is definitely not for general audiences in my opinion. But, I imagine that if you enjoy modernist or post-modernist work alla James Joyce’s Ulysses then, I take it back, this might work for you.

Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

The plot is essentially non-linear which means that the story line jumps from different time periods and different locations. The narrator is, in literary terms, considered unreliable because he seems to be struggling with PTSD and/or some kind of severe memory issues. Honestly, he was one protagonist that I thought was absolutely crazy. And, I found myself skipping forward in the narrative because I couldn’t take the mental gas-lighting. It causes intense mental dissonance. Yet, I think that’s the point that Kurt Vonnegut is trying to make. The mental illness – whatever the kind – can have actual physical symptoms and/or act almost as a type of interpersonal infection. And, it could be masked by other external, environmental factors. Since the novel essentially acts like a 2D experience, the experience of the narrator is contained but simultaneously magnified in the mind of the reader. This book can be mildly to moderately triggering to those who have actually experienced trauma, just an FYI.

All this happened more or less.

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So, who’s our time traveling protagonist? One Billy Pilgrim. Omg, what a hick billy, American name. But, I think that was the intention – that he is such an average guy to whom such incredible things happen. He time jumps from his college days, to the Cold War Era in Europe, to an entirely different planet named Tralfamadore where humans are kept in an alien zoo. Billy Pilgrim marries Valencia Merble and eventually even predicts his own death. He lives through a lot! And, the plot that leads to his death unravels with an even more supernatural element. I guess that by the time the reader is done with the novel the predominant sense is Oh God this is so fucked up.

Work Cited

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. New York; Random House Publishers, 12 January 1999.

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Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash

Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash arrived in my life around the same time that Michael Crichton’s Micro did as part of a science-fiction course curriculum. It’s one of the best science-fiction novels that I’ve read. While Michael Crichton’s Micro falls under the scientific realism genre, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash falls more into the cyber-punk niche along side novels like William Gibson’s Neuromancer. These types of novels are the cultural precursors to movies like The Matrix (1991) and its sequels.

Well, all the information looks like noise until you break the code.

What I really enjoy about Snow Crash is its play with linguistics especially ancient languages like Sumerian. Language is theoretically like software programming for the hardware of the brain. The linguistic virus mirrors the computer virus. If I wanted to get into some real in-depth literary analysis, I’d draw parallels with Noam Chomsky’s linguistic theories. And, Snow Crash toys with the notion that it could be one and the same, enough to manipulate individuals like robots. One of the biggest Biblical parallels this novel draws upon is the story of Babel.

If you did enough traveling, you’d never feel at home anywhere.

Hiro Protagonist is the protagonist of the novel, and – naturally – he’s a hacker. He also has a very interesting side job as a delivery driver for the Mafia. He comes across the Snow Crash datafile, and the drama of his life begins to unravel. There’s some travel, some twisted eroticism, and great intrigue. Although this is a cyber punk novel, the technology is easy to grasp for the most part and, when it isn’t, readers can still get the gist of what’s happening in the plot. Overall, I would recommend this novel.

Work Cited

Stephenson, Neal. Snow Crash. New York: Bantam Spectra, 2 May 2000.

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Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nocturnes

Obviously, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nocturnes relies heavily on the theme of music. It’s a short story collection connected by a musical strand. The titles are Crooner, Come Rain or Come Shine, Malven Hills, Nocturnes, and Cellists. The stories have a relational focus with heartbreak and triangulated love and the common regrets of everyday life.

“I now realize this woman was livid with anger. Not the sort that suddenly hits you then drains away. No. This woman, I could tell had been in a kind of white heat for sometime.”

It’s tough to write a longer review for Nocturnes. I think because the stories are simple and very real. This is a book for individuals with a high interest in relational psychology. And, it’s also a very easy read in terms of syntax and style. It’s in the same reading level as Paulo Coelho’s work. I found it strange to read something like this from Kazuo Ishiguro considering the other work of his that I’ve read – Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day – are longer and more complex books.

Work Cited

Ishiguro, Kazuo. Nocturnes. New York: Vintage, 21 September 2010.

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Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments

“You don’t believe the sky is falling until a chunk of it falls on you.”

After the success of Margret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, she went on to write a sequel called The Testaments. The reader picks up the tale years in the future after Handmaid’s Tale. The protagonist’s daughter has been taken out of Gilead and kept in hiding in another country. She is raised by resistance volunteers which are aided by secret spies within Gilead itself. Gilead is – seemingly – universally disliked in the global setting of The Testaments with it’s politics creating a human rights crisis.

“The truth can cause a lot of trouble for those who are not supposed to know it.”

There are flashbacks that tell the story of an important female judge forced to support Gilead. We learn more about her and the secret loyalty she displays toward the ideals that guided her former life. The pursuit of justice, at great personal cost, is a constant theme throughout the book. It makes heroes of even the most unsuspecting people sometimes. The ideal that loyalty to people may be negotiable, but loyalty to an ideal are two completely different matters. What the plot unravels is the machinations of those intent on subverting the structure and politics of Gilead and toppling it from the inside out.

“Reign of terror, they used to say, but terror does not exactly reign. Instead, it paralyzes. Hence the unnatural quiet.”

“How tedious is a tyranny in the throes of enactment. It’s always the same plot.”

Work Cited

Atwood, Margaret. The Testaments. New York: Anchor, 01 September 2020.

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Bessel Van Der Kolk’s The Body Keeps The Score

I have to say that I really liked this book. For those who have experienced some serious trauma, this one’s for you, your journey to self-healing if you don’t know where to start. It focuses on trauma and the responses the body has naturally. Bessel Van Der Kolk uses some real examples such as various wars, the Holocaust, and 9/11.

“We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body.”

Kolk has a way of clearly explaining the effects of trauma on memory, reoccurring or resurfacing symptoms, and the neurobiological responses of the body. Memory in relation to trauma in particular seems to be important in what we know, remember, and how we perceive the world. It’s connected to that feeling of disconnection from self and others, what it means to self-regulate, and how to grow self-awareness when the symptoms of trauma resurface.

“Incidents of abuse are never stand-alone events. And for each additional adverse experience reported, the toll in later damage increases.”

Many people are still rather ignorant on what are some appropriate ways to approach a trauma situation or person. Kolk outlines the different therapeutic approaches. He certainly does not rule out the importance of the actual neurology of the brain, how the connectivity of the electrical circuits affects trauma, and how attempts to restructure the inner maps could help. Essentially, he gives a strong overview of trauma psychology from single events or recurring minor episodes: event driven like a bombing, relational such as domestic violence, and/or sexual abuse. This is for those readers that really want a good jumping point into further research. Highly, highly recommended.

Work Cited

Van Der Kolk, Bessel. The Body Keeps the Score. New York: Penguin Publishing, 8 September 2015.

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John Boyne’s The Boy In Striped Pajamas

“Sitting around miserable all day won’t make you any happier.”

John Boyne’s The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas is one of the saddest books that I’ve ever read. I closed this book with the hands of the devil gripping my heart. The two little boys in this book just break it to pieces. It’s set during the Holocaust with one boys in the camp and the other outside the camp, the son of a Nazi. They end up becoming best friends.

“Despite the mayhem that followed, Bruno found that he was still holding Shmuel’s hand in his own and nothing in the world would have persuaded him to let go.”

Boyne weaves the theme of Jewish pain into the narrative. There are some books at a reading level that might be a little too difficult for children to read, but they are great books that adults can read to children. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, along with books like Number the Stars and The Giver, are some of those books that would be great reads for children. Why? Because the themes of friendship, innocence, and compassion are really strong. While the ending is sad, I think it would be a valuable emotional and historical lesson for anyone at any age.

“When he closed his eyes, everything around him just felt empty and cold, as if he was the loneliest place in the world. The middle of nowhere.”

Work Cited

Boyne, John. The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas. New York: David Fickling Books, 23 October 2007.

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Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room

“But language is wine upon his lips.”

This review will definitely not do Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room justice. Norton Critical Editions typically include excepts, if not complete, literary reviews of the text. I have to make the distinction between the layman’s reviews that I write for Read House Review and the type of literary reviews suitable for academia that are published in the Norton Critical Editions. Jacob’s Room was the book that I studied for my comprehensive examinations to complete my Master’s Degree in English, and this edition came in really handy.

“But then, this is only a young woman’s language, one, two, who loves, or refrains from loving.”

It is the story of a young man named Jacob. The reader learns about his life from the perspective of those around him. It’s a modernist masterpiece. Virginia Woolf does the literary equivalent of the artistic beauty of the expressionists. She paints a picture with words. Stoke by stroke, she builds an image of Jacob’s life without his direct presence. We learn about the different women in his life, his male friends, the global circumstances that lead him to join the British troops of WWII. The narrative ends with a disjointed sense as his mother walks through his empty room. What happened to Jacob? How and why was his life important enough to read about?

“Shakespeare had more guts than all these damned frogs put together.”

Work Cited

Woolf, Virginia. Jacob’s Room. New York: Norton, 1 May 2007.

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Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief

“The only thing worse than a boy who hates you: a boy who loves you.”

“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”

Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is about little girl trying to survive the Holocaust, like so many other children at that time. Liesel Meminger’s story is narrated by the personification of Death. After losing her own family, Liesel is adopted and protected during WWII by Hans and Rosa Hubermann. The couple takes the additional risk of hiding a Jew in their basement named Max Vandenburg. While the bombs go off elsewhere and Hitler carries out his prosecution of the Jews, Hans teaches Liesel to read and write. She becomes so enamored with the fine art that she begins to steal the books and writes a story of her own.

“Like most misery, it started with apparent happiness.”

Liesel’s life changes because of Death. She sees it at work everywhere throughout the war. It takes her brother, it takes the town, and eventually it needs to take her. The reader seemingly becomes as enamored with words and their magic, their beauty, as Liesel does. This thematic element encompasses the freedom of thought and how important it is for the human spirit. It literally keeps individuals alive, spiritually and otherwise, in the most challenging circumstances. By the time Death greets Liesel in her old age and returns to her the manuscript that she wrote as a child, we realize with bittersweetness that it was only a very painful beginning to her story.

Work Cited

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. New York: Knopf Books, 11 September 2007.

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Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse

“To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, the expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others … and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures.”

Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse has the same flair and flavor that Jacob’s Room does. It’s crafted with a lot of intensity, but a rich British subtlety too. It’s the story of a family with a cottage home on the coast of England. Again, the time setting is around one of the Great Wars. It’s a note to how much Virginia Woolf was impacted by these global events. Her brother died in the first Great War, if I’m not mistaken.

“And all the lives we ever lived and all the lives to be one full of trees and changing leaves.”

The narrative is like a tapestry, woven to stream fluidly through our mind as we read like a memory like a movie. We experience the death of the matriarch of the family, the impact that has on her children, but, most importantly, on her stoic, somber husband. Though he seems so stereotypically British and devoid of passionate feelings, their love is so touching. We learn, through key moments, how much they genuinely loved each other. Unfortunately, some of the children die too. The book is essentially the chronology of an entire family life including its glimmers of happiness and its tragedies.

Work Cited

Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. New York: Harcourt, 27 December 1989.

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Stephen King’s IT

Writing a review for Stephen King’s IT and the movie adaptations feels a lot like trying to write a review for Game of Thrones. Truth be told, it feels a little futile. By now, most people have seen or heard of Stephen King’s IT including the movie adaptations. Like, what am I supposed to add that is original in any way for something this popular?

“We lie best when we lie to ourselves.”

I really enjoyed the book and the most recent movie adaptations. And, I’m not only considering the ones with Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy and Bill Skarsgard. I want to remind readers of the earlier TV adaptation with Tim Curry. The Tim Curry version was a lot more cringe-worthy. He definitely gave the scary clown genre life in the 90s. But, the most recent movie remakes, Part I and Part II, are frightfully scary and believable. If you love cuddling with someone and being a little spooked as a form of entertainment while you eat a buttery, salty bowl of popcorn, this is for you.

“No good friends. No bad friends. Only people you want; need to be with; people who build their houses in your heart.”

If you read a few key Stephen King books, like the Dark Tower Series and IT and Dreamcatcher, you realize that he actually connects some of the beings of horror, some of the monsters, to create his own meta-universe of sorts. So, IT is a fascinating read in that sense. He plays with the notion that there are worlds beyond this one with dark, negative beings and once in a while a portal, a doorway, the veil between worlds thins enough to have them seep through into our world. Planets beyond our own are home to humanoid and monstrous beings that wage battles, and the safety of Earth often falls on the hands of select few individuals like the kids of Derry where Pennywise the Clown breeds a reign of terror. Everything depends on the strength of their friendship(s) and love for each other.

Works Cited

King, Stephen. IT. New York: A Signet Book, 1981.

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Stephen King – Salem’s Lot

Oooh! Another great vampire story. One of the best and highly under-rated. The title always reminds me of that Eminem song Lose Yourself: “Mom, I love you, but this trailers got to go, I cannot grow old in Salem’s Lot. So, here I go with my shot. Feet, fail me not. This may be the only opportunity that I got.” Always a classic. One theme that connects both the song and the novel is perhaps the idea that living in a small town, confined and limited to its borders, can induce a sense of anger and desperation especially when times are tough, or feel more like life or death.

Anyway, as it usually happens in vampire stories, people start going missing, they get attacked, they’re forcefully converted, etc. There’s always that one guy or group in town that start investigating, looking into things, and – eventually – they all somehow meet up and band together to get rid of the monsters. Like most Stephen King books, Salem’s Lot explores town life, the people that give it life, and how it all goes round. He likes to really weave in the details into the narrative, which others often complain bogs down the drama and suspense. It just so happens that these vampires, though, are not entirely charismatic like Anne Rice’s. They are grotesque, monstrously predatory, and horrifying. Good old-fashioned, scary vampires. Salem’s Lot is a chunky, scary read.

Work Cited

King, Stephen. Salem’s Lot. New York: Pocket Books, 1999.

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Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes

I’m always amazed at writers that can set a sinister tone to their work with only the first sentence. And, you know, the reader knows that they’re in for a bit of a freight. Ray Bradbury was really one of the pioneers of science fiction. Plus, he always incorporates scary, creepy twists to his plots. It’s been such a long time since I’ve first wanted to read one of his books. I think he’s been on my list since 2009 to 2010.

“The stuff of nightmare is their plain bread. They butter it with pain.”

The book essentially follows two young, teen boys, Jim Nightshade and William Holloway. A traveling carnival arrives in their town in October. Oooh! And, the darkness of the plot begins. Mr. Dark and his carnival cronies start to breed havoc in town.

“Evil has only the power we give it.”

“By the prickling of my thumb, something wicked this way comes,” say the witches of Macbeth. The theme of magic is really strong throughout the book. A deep sense of surrealism invites readers to be overcome by their darkest fears and desires. It almost echoes the maturity state the boys are transitioning out of from childishness to growing maturity. There seems to be a phase where taking control of once base impulses becomes essential. This is certainly an interesting cautionary tale for young children. And, to be honest, I’d really dig a good Hollywood adaption of this books. It’s long overdue, I think.

“His flesh took paleness from his bones.”

Work Cited

Bradbury, Ray. Something Wicked This Way Comes. New York: Simon & Schuster, 24 October 2017.

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Paulo Coelho’s Veronika Decides to Die

There’s a movie adaptation of this book with Sara Michelle Geller and Lee Pace. I absolutely love both of these guys. They have such good chemistry together. I recommend the movie after the book.

“The two hardest tests on the spiritual road are the patience to wait for the right moment and the courage not to be disappointed with what we encounter.”

The book is full of melancholy, medical intrigue, and a portrait of depression. The protagonist is a 24-year old Slovenian that ends up in a mental institution after attempting suicide.

“You have two choice, to control your mild or let your mind control you.”

“Nothing in this world happens by chance.”

Veronika Decides to Die is an easy read. She learns to experience love again; she experiences betrayal. The ending – surprisingly – was a bit of a shock for me if a little underwhelming. How those two qualities could be meshed in an ending only Coelho could accomplish, I think. This text is, ultimately, for the modern girl who wants to get in touch with her soul.

“They spent days, nights, weeks, and years talking, never accepting the fact that, good or bad, an idea only exists when someone puts it into practice.”

Work Cited

Coelho, Paulo. Veronika Decides to Die. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2000.

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Stephen King’s Misery

Kathy Bates won the Oscar for her role as Annie in Stephen King’s Misery film adaptation. And, it was certainly well deserved. She is such a great actress, and she delivered such a great performance, or terrible depending on the perspective. Anyway, I have the funniest and cringiest story about me as a reader connected to Misery. It literally took me two years to finish the book. Two years!

“Because writers remember everything Paul. Especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels, not amnesia. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar.”

How is that even possible? I think because I kept getting anxiety since the kidnapped protagonist happens to be a writer. And, the beginning of the narrative is very slow and kinda boring. Yikes! I just could not get into it at all. I kept falling asleep on it every few paragraphs or every few pages. Omg. I cannot believe I’m writing that I fell asleep on a Stephen King book, and he’s one of my favorites. The irony.

“He felt as he always did when he finished a book – queerily empty, let down, aware that for each little success he had paid a toll of absurdity.”

“Annie was not swayed by pleas. Annie was not swayed by screams. Annie had the courage of her convictions.”

In any case, once I got 30 pages in or so, that’s when the pace picked up. I guess because Paul, the writer, really begins to wake up from the drug-induced delirium that Annie Wilkes puts him in. She is his “biggest fan” and kidnapped him to have him change the ending of her favorite book series. Cringe to the one billionth degree doesn’t begin to describe it. I would recommend this book, but I’d probably not read it again myself.

Work Cited

King, Stephen. Misery. New York: Berkley Books, 3 June 1988.

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Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo

I first read this book back when I was in middle school. After reading The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, I was looking for other books with the same romantic and melancholic vibe, for lack of a better descriptor, and I found The Count of Monte Cristo. Alexandre Dumas is also well known for writing The Three Musketeers. However, when I tried to read that novel, I could not get very far into the plot.

It’s necessary to have wished for death in order to know how good it is to live.

The Count of Monte Cristo was completed in 1844. And, surprisingly, a lot of the plot is recycled from an earlier short story. Yet, the wide consensus amongst its readers seems to be that it is no less of a great story despite that little fact. There is something deeply sensual and full of yearning about it. Perhaps it has to do with the way that Dumas plays with the themes of time and regret for certain decisions or actions made or missed. Or, perhaps it’s the Dumas’ ability to capture the zeitgeist of French and Italian society in the era of Napoleon Bonaparte.

All human wisdom is contained in these two words – Wait and Hope.

When you compare the sorrows of real life to the pleasures of the imaginary one, you will never want to live again, only to dream forever.

What is the story about? Essentially, Edmond Dantès is wrongfully imprisoned. Due to his imprisonment, he is separated from his love Mercédès. There are a handful of very important themes that run through the novel. After he escapes imprisonment and discovers the wealth that allows him to transform himself into The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond’s focus turns to rewarding those that are kind to him and finding revenge on those that played a part in his sufferings. So, one of the themes highlighted has a lot to do with the French Revolutionary spirit, how much influence does one individual have in correcting societal ills. How does society view one individual’s desire to play judge, jury, and executioner? Woven through the novel is also the longing for lost time with the love of one’s life. A deep grief motivates Edmond’s actions because the life he lost beside Mercédès is priceless; it is something that the wealth of Monte Cristo island could never replace or purchase.

Moral wounds have this peculiarity – they may be hidden, but they never close; always painful, always ready to bleed when touched, they remain fresh and open in the heart.

If love stories full of angst, longing, and those deep Shakespearean feelings are your thing, then watch the movie adaptation of the novel. The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) film features Guy Pearce and Richard Harris, Henry Cavill, and Luis Guzmán. It’s been a while since I last saw the movie, but I think it’s worth a cozy movie night. Regardless, when you watch the movie, be prepared to miss so many of the great quotes full of wonderful existential truth readers can find in the book.

Works Cited

“The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.” Goodreads, Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/391568-le-comte-de-monte-cristo.

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Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South

Ugh! This one is angsty! If you love books with a deep romantic vein, this one is for you. I found that readers that enjoy books like Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go also enjoy this book. Readers follow Margaret Hale who is, for all intents and purposes, an English southern bell. Margaret is a well-educated young woman. She moves up north to the mill town of Milton with her family. There, she meets John Thornton, a factory owner, whom she loathes from the beginning and judges as cruel but eventually grows to love him.

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention the BBC’s adaptation of this book featuring Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe. For Tolkien fans everywhere, Richard Armitage went on to portray Thorin Oakenshield in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit Trilogy. He does good acting work in that gruff, stuffy British way. Like in the book, viewers of the adaptation are kept in that romantic purgatory awaiting the moment John Thornton reveals his true feelings for Margaret. We hold are breathe as she is leaving in that carriage. Bitch, turn around and look at him! When you see it, you’ll understand.

I dare not hope. I never was fainthearted before; but I cannot believe such a creature cares for me.

Though it may seem like just another romantic novel, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell is actually a really important historical book with a lot of important British history subtly woven within the plot. It is a snapshot of life for men and women during the Industrial Revolution. The struggle between classes, both economic and social, is evident in the notions Margaret has about human decency and, overall, her criticism of England’s exploitative capitalist practices. Interestingly enough, their union as a couple can be read, theoretically, as the inherent need for the unionization of workers to improve working conditions and bolster the middle class. Phew! I went really deep in my analysis there. But, it’s true. Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South is to the Industrial Revolution as Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice is to the Romantic Period. It’s such a good book, and it’s such a dreamy adaptation. Check it out!

Works Cited

“North and South Quotes.” Goodreads, Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/1016482-north-and-south.

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Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Dracula is a must-read if the genre is of any interest. The basic premise of the book follows Jonathan, a lawyer, that gets caught up in the conniving plans of Count Dracula, a vampire, who is trying to spread his evil in England. Barnes and Noble has these hardcover, special binding classics. I’ve wanted to start collecting them for a long while, and I finally started with Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I had watched the film adaptation with Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, and Gary Oldman. The film is good if it’s not compared to the book. The movie is not a faithful adaptation of the characters or plot. And, overall, I’d give the movie an 8 out of 10 rating.

There are mysteries which men can only guess at, which age by age they may solve only in part.

Two characters stood out to me, Mina and the famous Van Helsing. Dr. Van Helsing has his own movies which were made sometime in the early 2000s with Hugh Jackman. He tends to praise Mina in the book and hold her in very high regard. I could not help take that as an attempt at giving his character a feminist vein. I was not sure how to take that. It came across as a little forced, likely by Bram Stoker, to make the character seem more open-minded and progressive than others of his time. Or, worst-case-scenario, it was a subtle introduction of Stoker’s political views regarding working and educated women.

Van Helsing is the first to suspect that Mina’s friends were being hunted by a vampire. And, whipped out the garlic by the pound to ward against Dracula’s blood sucking. He’s the story’s credible source of the vampire mythology in the novel. In retrospect, it’s funny how he kind of stole the story away from the original main characters Jonathan and Mina. Nonetheless, he made the story better. He has a very “take charge” personality when it comes to the trouble that Count Dracula presents.

The vampire mythology was developed well by Bram Stoker. There was so much space to expand the mythology in different ways, and it explains the development of the genre since Stoker first published the novel in 1897. His use of the often-invisible and shadowy European gypsies was ingenious. It gives the vampire mythology an extra layer of plausibility because their use was a great way to blur the facts artistically. Readers can believe in the fiction of it all, as if it had really happened in the past. If you have read any vampire books, I’d recommend reading this one too. It’s a classic for a reason.

Work Cited

Bram, Stoker. Dracula and Other Horror Classics. Barnes & Noble Classics, 1 January 2013.

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Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles

04 October 1941 – 11 December 2021 (80)

How was I first acquainted with Anne Rice? I found a copy of The Body Thief, the fourth book in The Vampire Chronicles way back in 9th grade of high school. It was the only book at the bottom of a crooked, old book shelf of my Spanish class. I opened The Body Thief, liked what I was reading, and decided to do some research. It turned out that it was the fourth book in a series, and, since I liked the prose, I decided to start from the beginning with Interview with the Vampire. That was the start of a long reader’s journey for me with Anne Rice that completely enriched my understanding of so many genres: horror, goth, paranormal.

We breathe the light, we breathe the music, we breathe the moment as it passes through us.

Like so many of the characters in The Vampire Chronicles, readers cannot help but to love to love and hate Lestat, The Brat Prince as they call him. Louis, the vampire that Lestat creates in Interview with the Vampire, retells his story to a reporter, Daniel, in San Francisco during modern times. He takes us back to the colonial days of New Orleans, and before the readers know it, we’re too deep into the story to stop reading. Let’s just say that it gets dicey when Lestat creates an immortal child vampire, Claudia. This might not be the place to say it, but I’m gonna spill a little of the tea and note that Stephanie Mayer totally ripped that plot line of the forbidden vampire child from Anne Rice. Rice was an original OG of the writer’s world; she completely revamped (pun intended) the vampire mythology and gave it an incomparable richness and sensuousness. She never did specifically call out Stephanie Meyer on that plot theft, but rumor has it she was very critical of Meyer’s work. To be honest, I would have at least taken it to Twitter post level.

Good night sweet Prince, may flights of devils wing you to your rest.

Interview with the Vampire was such a hit that it was adapted into a film. And, it starred so many talented actors that went on to be super Hollywood famous: Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Antonio Banderas, Christian Slater, Kirsten Dunst. The film was really well adapted from the book. I have to say that the vampires’ long nails in the film adaptation give them a tad too monstrous look. And, they are really really pale. They do have to be able to blend in with the general population rather well. Anyway, that whole plot idea gets updated in The Queen of the Damned and the following books. One central theme is how the vampires deal with the juxtapositions of living forever and having amassed a lot of wisdom with not really fitting into a time beyond their own. And, the theme of wanting to die and not being able to because their age actually makes them stronger. It’s difficult for many vampires to maintain a sense of vivacity and energy which is why Lestat is such a favorite and also a bane; he’s the eternal rebel.

Evil is a point of view.

To make an already long review a little shorter, read these books. You really don’t have a clue about vampires and their modern popularity until you read Anne Rice. She’s gone now, but I will always cherish the days I would get comfortable on my bed to read the next few chapters with a bag of Doritos and a Dr. Pepper during my high school years. I will miss her posts on Facebook and Instagram. She was one of the few writers that had a genuine following. Her wittiness and authorial gifts will be missed. It looks like next year, 2022, there may be a memorial service for her in New Orleans according to her son. So, if you are a fan and decide to attend, I may see you there, along with a vampire or two!

Work Cited

Rice, Anne. The Vampire Chronicles: Interview with the Vampire, Vampire Lestat, and The Queen of the Damned. Knopf, Alfred A, 1 January 2009.

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George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones Series

Winter’s coming! I was super late for this series. The reason why I waited until the last season was announced to read these books and then watch the HBO show adaptation was because I’m always skeptical of anything that has a huge following and gets overly hyped-up. While I like a lot of movies, books, and music that are super popular and mainstream, I have my own criteria for what makes something worthwhile.

I’m not sure that I started on the best footing with Game of Thrones because my first introduction was through all the social media memes. I kind of understood what the plot was about from interviews with George R.R. Martin. He described it as taking inspiration from England’s monarchy. To me, a history geek, that told me it would probably be a power battle, blood-fest included. My instincts weren’t wrong. Then, I found out he mixed in some Tolkien-like fantasy with dragons and everything. Cool.

I’m gonna be honest. I still have trouble spelling some of the characters’ names. But if I look on Wikipedia to get them right, then I get discouraged about writing a series summary. Plus, I can’t really summarize the plot other than a power struggle between noble houses for the throne of the entire kingdom that Martin’s created. The books are so detailed that sometimes I found myself speed reading sections about characters that I didn’t quite like that much. Don’t judge me. It’s the reading equivalent of fast-forwarding to the scenes with your favorite show chapters.

My two favorite characters to follow both in the books and in the show were Arya Stark and, of course, Daenerys Targaryen. I’m low-key excited to see the new series about the House Targaryen. Martin’s work is artistic in the sense that he weaves so many multiple main story arcs into each other really, really well. Also, I have to give him props for not shying away from using the incest narrative of the Lannister twins. So many writers and creators are afraid of writing with that level of grittiness.

What else can I say about Game of Thrones? I think I will really enjoy the next book after A Dance of Dragons. It’s due to be released soon if I’m not mistaken. A part of me feels like Daenerys’ story is not quite finished. (I have a secret fan theory that she’s actually not really dead. It’s just a nagging feeling and hunch, but I’ve been wrong before.) This book series is definitely a great example of modern science/fantasy fiction done right, give it a read if you dare brave the wilds of Westeros.

Works Cited

Martin, George R.R. A Game of Thrones, Bantam Books, 2013.

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J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

When I have books on my shelf like J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, I sometimes think it’s pointless to do a review because, by now, everyone has probably seen the movies if they haven’t read the books. But, I mean, I will do a review either way. Tolkien requires a lot of mental preparation before readers dig in and enjoy it to the fullest. If a reader expects to be able to breeze through this read and not invest time in learning about the world that Tolkien has created, they will not get far into the books.

Tolkien almost demands an emotional connection from a reader. He’s a demanding writer in the sense that he really wants you to believe in this world, the richness of it, the fullness. There are so many literature experts dedicated to demystifying Tolkien. This is one reason why I don’t really enjoy reviewing him. A short, one page review would not do it justice. The world he created is layered, so layered, as most people already know, that he created entire languages. A lot of inexperienced readers and film viewers could say that Peter Jackson outdid himself when he directed the adaptations, but I think he landed right on the sweet spot. In fact, I’m rather sure that The Hobbit getting an entire 3 movies was a low-blow for hardcore The Lord of the Rings fans because he really could have expanded so much more.

Anyway, this epic lands in the modern fantasy genre. Frodo’s got to destroy this blasted ring at the top of Mount Doom and a whole bunch of crazy shit happens in between. But – back it up a bit – the story doesn’t actually start with Frodo. The story starts with Bilbo, his great uncle, who, in a hobbit-savior move, goes with some Dwarfs to reclaim their kingdom from a Dragon. And, these are just the stories of the mortals, if you get really into Tolkien’s fantasy mythology, there’s a lot more including the lengthy history of the immortal elves. The Middle Earth world is a reader’s version of Minecraft, a totally emersive experience.

Now that I made it seem like a super difficult read, it really isn’t that difficult to read. It’s prose is simple. The plot is complex. But, there really aren’t any words that a normal reader wouldn’t understand. And, the words that are not understood, I can almost guaranteed are part of the languages Tolkien created. It’s action packed. And, if Tolkien manages to get a reader emotionally invested, when he kills off a character, you will cry. Ugh! I’m having a Harry Potter Dobby flashback. In any case, read these and watch the movies, in either order, it doesn’t matter because Peter Jackson was perfectly matched to create these films. Lord knows what Amazon will give us with these new adaptations they’re trying make now, but I have a bad feeling about it. We’ll see.

Works Cited

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Ballantine Books: Del Rey, 2012.

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Lara Adrian’s Midnight Breed Series

Lara Adrian’s Midnight Breed Series is one of the longest book series that I’ve been a great fan of reading. I started with Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles. Then, I moved on to reading Sherrilyn Kenyon’s The Dark-Hunter novels. I didn’t get too far into Kenyon’s work; she’s got so many books out! Also, there’s Lynsay Sands’ Argeneau Series. These are, in my opinion, must reads if readers enjoy the paranormal (romance) genre. The writing quality is good and consistent.

One warning that I can give about these series, with the exception of Anne Rice’s books, is that the plots can get a bit rote. The book plots stick to a consistent format. And, they can get a little too sappy and, frankly, corny if not overly angsty. This is the main reason why I paused in Kenyon’s The Dark-Hunter novels. One thing that Lara Adrian does really well is weave a long-term plot beneath the main focal plot. This long-term plot can really tie a series together well and keep readers interested for much longer. It’s a technique used frequently in TV show series. The background mystery or problem or the ending hook keep watchers coming back for the next season or the next part, etc. Lara Adrian’s got this going on well.

The biggest take-away from my paranormal romance (series) survey was the importance of the vampire mythology. To clarify, the vampire mythology is the creation, physiology, psychology, i.e. entire existential constitution of the characters. Why is this important? Because as a reader, I want to believe in the plausibility and existence of the characters. This allows for a reader to get lost in what literary theorists call the “fantasy space” of this world the author has created. Part of what allows for the enjoyment of something, anything really, is the ability to get “lost” in the activity, the world, settle comfortably into, emersion.

This wave of paranormal romance shows a section of the modern / contemporary trajectory of the genre. It’s changed quite a lot since the days of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula which initiated the horror paranormal genre. Although, many literary nerds may argue that the paranormal traditions reach all the way back to the early (medieval) development of fantasy. The interesting thing about the paranormal genre is how well it lends itself to overlapping with other genres; it essentially pairs well as a hybrid. Obviously, if these types of books are your thing, I suggest that you give Lara Adrian’s Midnight Breed Series a try. It’s like comfort food when you need to relax with a cup of hot chocolate on a rainy day.

The vampire mythology in Lara Adrian’s Midnight Breed gets better and better as the books progress. Not to spoil it too much, but she makes them otherworldly. Something I like about the main female and male protagonists is that each is quite unique. They don’t all resemble each other. The problem with romantic books is that many readers complain of a lack of depth to the female lead. She’s either too much of a damsel in distress or she’s this kick-ass annoying version of Lara Croft. Underneath the main romantic plot is a well-thought out mystery and drama. How would humans really react on a global scale if they discovered a humanoid breed already living and sharing space on Earth? There’s so much intrigue and threats to the stability of humanity’s way of life that it kept me reading all the way to the end of the first phase of Adrian’s Midnight Breed series. Hope you take a peak at some point.

Work Cited

Adrian, Lara. “Lara Adrian: Books: Midnight Breed.” Lara Adrian, LLC. 2007-2021, <http://www.laraadrian.com/books/books.php?s=MidnightBreed&gt;.

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Virginia Wolf’s The Years

I read one page of this, I paused, and I went to check out the reviews online from other literary experts. Then, I read the introduction to the book by Susan Hill. Okay. So much to say, actually not really. Ms. Hill gives a good introduction that really describes the book well. It was really popular, but it was not Virginia Wolf’s best work. The copy that I bought at Waterstones is from Vintage Classics, and it has a really nice, artistic cover. But, I’m so glad that I did not invest in a more expensive copy right away. There may be one with more literary criticism excerpts attached within circulating around, like the kind that W.W. Norton & Company publish. But, I’d have to look into that if I ever decide to incorporate this particular book into a Modernist course or something.

Being familiar with Virginia Woolf’s work, I thought this would be closer to Mrs. Dalloway. But, in all honesty, it is a longer and more boring version of To The Lighthouse, of which I intend to do a review soon. Anywho… I tried switching hats as a reader and modifying my perspective from entertainment reader to hardcore literary critic. It didn’t work. I’m only slightly embarrassed to say that I re-homed this particular book in the trash bin. Ouch! Maybe one day I will try again because, come on, it’s Virginia Freakin’ Woolf. I don’t think there is a film version of this. Again, the closest one would be The Hours with Nicole Kidman. It’s such a female, angsty film. One for the feminists in the room. Read The Years if you want to fall dead asleep or get side-tracked in a random daydream. Otherwise, for the (contemporary) pleasure reader, this one is a skip it.

Works Cited

Woolf, Virginia. The Years, with an introduction by Susan Hill. Penguin: Vintage Classics, 2016.

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Frank Herbert’s Dune

It took me a few days to wrap my head around the film release of Frank Herbert’s Dune by Denis Villeneuve. I made an Instagram comment about how it was obvious to me that the script and/or the buildup of the movie was a clear indicator that part two was necessary. A few days later, one of the writers who adapted the script was interviewed and mentioned how he wrote it on a really old-fashioned computer and only wrote 40 pages. Sounded interesting! I didn’t realize writers went to those lengths to keep adaptations confidential, but it’s Hollywood, so I’m not totally surprised. I get it; lately, I keep everything in my brain until last minute. Also, it reminded me that script adaptations don’t necessarily need to be exceedingly lengthy.

One of the unique and, honestly, disturbing aspects of the film was the musical soundtrack. Oh my God was it kind-of perfect but also tooth-cracking. I was caught between being reminded of Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 and Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. It just had those otherworldly, creepy, eery vibes. And, it freaked me out half the time while the visuals were simultaneously so alluring. Such a strange experience. But, then I read that Hans Zimmer actually intended to do that and spent time creating new sounds. Well, if the experience I described was what they were going for, they totally hit the mark.

I’ve read a lot of snip-it reviews about Dune: Part 1 (2021). And, I can almost guarantee that the ones that absolutely hate it did not read one word of the book. And, if they read it, they probably lacked the literary background to really dig deep. The book reads very similar to what Villeneuve’s visual intentions seemed to be for the film. It was supposed to mix a sense of awe but also a disjointed, jarred cut-to-scene action feel. One of the reasons why I think the book reads this way is because of the history of the planet Arrakis which Frank Herbert takes so much time to elaborately explain in the book(s). Arrakis is a planet with a long history of violence, war, and colonizer domination. In the end, the reader is left asking his/herself, is this a white savior narrative or a science-fiction version of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness where the wild conquers the heart of the civilized?

I will take points away for not building some relationships between characters better. The casting was good, extremely good, but I think there was something missing in the connections. It broke my heart when Duncan Idaho died in the book (spoiler!), but it hardly felt it with the movie. Bummer! I kind-of wanted to cry a little; I was hoping they’d really break my heart at the theatre, but damn. Well, that’s why I’m waiting on Part 2. The nature of Paul’s gift involves, as explained in the film, breeding a mind that could connect time and space. So, I’m betting on some flashbacks in the next film. Also, why is Zendaya only in like 2 minutes? WTF. False advertising. Just kidding, though the buildup of that relationship is intense. With the relationships mildly lacking in Part 1, if Paul and Chani’s chemistry doesn’t deliver in Part 2, it will be a disappointment. No pressure guys! And, good luck.

Works Cited

Herbert, Frank. Dune. New York, Penguin Books, 2016.

Dune: Part 1. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, Legendary Pictures. 22 October 2021.

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