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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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E.M. Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread

This book’s been on my reading list for ages now! I finally got around to purchasing a copy at Waterstones in London while I swung by on my way back to the U.S. from Europe recently. My original introduction to E.M. Forster’s was his book Howard’s End. After watching the film adaptation of that book, I realized why Forster’s work lends itself so readily for motion picture adaptations. The stories capture quintessential British dilemmas within a short period timeframe.

The plot to this book is rather straightforward. Basically, Lilia Herriton, played by Dame Helen Mirren, goes to Italy and marries Gino, the son of an Italian dentist, played by Giovanni Guidelli. I have to say that the film adds layers to the story that make it better than the book. It’s one of the rare, very rare, times when I say or write that because the novel, while rich story-telling, is also rather sparse in details. It’s like Forster knew that it would become a film at some point. Now that’s some foresight! Anyway, one of the details I really enjoyed was the age differences between the characters. It was not immediately apparent in the book.

A film favorite, one that also features in Howard’s End, appears in this film too, Helena Bonham Carter plays Caroline Abbot. If I’m frank, I loved her work in Howard’s End and I, obviously, know she’s in A Room With A View. Check out my link for that review in the Table of Contents. She may have disliked, or chosen to distance herself from, her corset era, but I loved it. Anyway, she’s really immersed in the plot. She accompanies Lilia along the way and has a connection to Philip, Lilia’s brother-in-law from her first marriage. Philip is played by Rupert Graves.

If I write anymore on the plot, I will ruin the entire story. It’s not like E.M. Forster is known for writing long, complex epics. Instead, he sticks to a rather simple crescendo that leads to a climactic moment. To peak your interest just a little bit in the climax, there is a baby and death involved. You do the math. Ugh! My heart broke. It’s all about British heritage, you know? That’s at the core of it, like so many British novels. In any case, read it and watch the movie! It’s totally worthy entertainment.

Works Cited

Forster, E.M. Where Angels Fear to Tread. Penguin Publishing Group, 2008.

Where Angels Fear to Tread. Directed by Charles Sturridge, Sovereign Pictures, 1991.

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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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Gary Chapman’s Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married

I went through a phase recently in which I read a lot of relational books, and I think I may return to that trend at some point because it’s the one area in contemporary literature that I think I actually quite enjoy. My interest was partly driven by my own consideration of the value and worth of long-term relationships and marriage. Would be something that would actually suit me at all? Also, there is a lot to glean off relational books such as new insights into the psychology of relationships and everyday relational soft skills that could be applied in a wide variety of situations not simply heterosexual, coupled relationships. Anyway, after reading Chapman’s first book The 5 Love Languages, I decided that I would read his second, Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married.

The decision to get married will impact one’s life more deeply than almost any decision in life. Yet people continue to rush into marriage with little or no preparation for making a marriage successful. In fact, many couples give far more attention to making plans for the wedding than making plans for marriage. The wedding festivities last only a few hours, while the marriage, we hope, will last for a lifetime.

To get to the review, like many topic-specific writers, Chapman tries to expand on the original book, but it does not turn out nearly as good for him as it does for other writers. I, personally, found that he repeats a lot of relational common sense. He may have felt, like so many other relational experts out there, that common sense is not so common, especially when sex and emotions are involved. Anyway, it was a quick read, but there isn’t anything uniquely memorable about this book. Chapman provides similar case studies from his first book, brings in his experience as religious marriage counselor again, and that’s basically the book. It makes for a short and rather disappointing book review, I know. Readers are better off only reading The 5 Love Languages. Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Got Married is a bit of a flop for me. Skip it!

Works Cited

Chapman, Gary. Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Got Married. Chicago, Moody Publishers, 2010.

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Paulo Coelho’s Eleven Minutes

As I write this review on Paulo Coelho’s Eleven Minutes, I’m sitting in the lounge area of a hostel in Munich, Germany. I am more than half-way through my 2021 tour of Europe, and I had hoped to write more reviews while here. The planned writing has not happened as I expected it to, but that’s okay because it’s given me a fresh perspective on a few things. Interestingly, the setting of Coelho’s Eleven Minutes is in Switzerland. This novel is infamous or famous, depending on your perspective, for its subject matter. The protagonist, Maria, is a young Brazilian woman that finds herself in Switzerland working as a prostitute. Oddly though, I think the core of the book is really about the spectrum of connection between money and sex in relations between men and women.

Passion makes a person stop eating, sleeping, working, feeling at peace. A lot of people are frightened because, when it appears, it demolishes all the old things it finds in its path. No one wants their life thrown into chaos. That is why a lot of people keep that threat under control, and are somehow capable of sustaining a house or a structure that is already rotten. They are the engineers of the superseded. Other people think exactly the opposite: they surrender themselves without a second thought, hoping to find in passion the solutions to all their problems. They make the other person responsible for their happiness and blame them for their possible unhappiness. They are either euphoric because something marvelous has happened or depressed because something unexpected has just ruined everything. Keeping passion at bay or surrendering blindly to it – which of these two attitudes is the least destructive? I don’t know.

Maria, a young Brazilian girl, is hired by a Swiss club owner to work at a nightclub. She travels to Switzerland after arranging for a work visa and begins to work, but she has a disagreement with management and quits. Then, she finds herself unemployed. After taking money from an Arab to spend the night with him, the unexpected profession seems to temporarily suit Maria. She seems to enjoy the liberty it affords her in terms of time. And, her diary leads readers through how she reconciles sex with accepting money for it. Oddly enough, it was kind of therapeutic to read her thoughts on the subject matter.

I am two women: one wants to have all the joy, passion and adventure that life can give me. The other wants to be a slave to routine, to family life, to the things that can be planned and achieved. I’m a housewife and a prostitute, both of us living in the same body and doing battle with each other.

How in the world was this even therapeutic? It’s a very interesting and unique take on the realities of relationships between couples, not even just men and women, even fleeting and temporary couples. Relationships, in their reality and in practice, rather than just fantasy or imagination, are transactional things. There is an exchange of energy, time, money, resources, etc. The novel points this out admirably. One final interesting note about this book, it does touch on the subject of kink or alternative sexual preferences and how prostitutes approach the issue. Since Paulo Coelho is a man, I always do wonder if a woman writing a similar novel would offer a different or unique perspective. I’ve very much in the Hélène Cixous group of thinkers that women/female should write women/female. Anyway, that’s the direction in which the book led my train of thought.

Really important meetings are planned by the souls long before the bodies see each other. Generally speaking, these meetings occur when we reach a limit, when we need to die and be reborn emotionally. 

The quote “Really important meetings are planned by the souls long before the bodies see each other” is so beautifully and romantically Coelho, but there is also somethings really Romantic with a capital R alla Jane Austin and Charlotte Brontë. I have to give it to Coelho, controversial subject handled well and good prose makes for a great book. Of course, Maria falls in love. She meets a painter named Ralf, but it’s not going to work out for them. I may re-read this book because I forget the ending, but I am rather sure she ends up back in Brazil. Anyway, if you want a book to read that deals with a tricky subject elegantly, this one is for you.

Works Cited

“Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho.” Goodreads, Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/1950213-onze-minutos.

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Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages

I bought the “Single’s Version” of Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages. My friend and coworker at Los Angeles Southwest College, Dania, was taking marriage counseling sessions with her fiancé, and I was inspired to read the book for myself. It was an odd paradox because my friend and her fiancé are Muslim while Gary Chapman writes from his Christian background. Love and making a marriage last, to Chapman, is deeply connected with faith.

“Love is something you do for someone else, not something you do for yourself.”

What are the 5 love languages? They are ways in which we tend to give and receive love. They are patterns of behavior that show how we connect with others and how we form relationships. These love languages are very much learned as we grow up, and Chapman states that people often live without being aware of them. The 5 Love Languages are: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, and Physical Touch. He is great at highlighting that we often love, or often apply the love languages we would like to experience from others, rather than what others might actually prefer. Meaning that we unconsciously tell others by our actions how we would like to be loved.

Chapman is really good emphasizing that applying the love languages is akin to a dance in which each partner has a role. Applying the love languages is supposed to be a mutual, reciprocal experience. It requires mutual engagement. Chapman is an interesting author to me; he sounds very much like a psychologist, but he has an educational background in anthropology and religious studies. Of course, he uses a lot of examples from his experience counseling couples that have been married for a while and undergoing a crisis or newly engaged to be married. Though I am not very religious, I don’t find Gary Chapman overbearing.

Many people mess up every new day with what happened yesterday. They insist on bringing into today the failures of yesterday, and in so doing pollute a potentially wonderful day.

It’s a nice read. At the end though, I wish that it was a little longer and the cases he mentioned more interesting. It was a short, quick read. Nonetheless, I recommend it because the ideas he presents for those in relationships of any kind, which is most of us in one way or another, are very valuable. And, with this book, I will recommend that you actually make an effort to use the questionnaire portion that Chapman includes, but do it in pencil because it may change in the future for you and whoever else you invite to explore the 5 love languages.

Works Cited

Chapman, Gary. The 5 Love Languages Singles Edition: The Secret That Will Revolutionize Your Relationships. Northfield Publishing, 2017.

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Ken Robinson’s Finding Your Element

“It’s about doing something that feels so completely natural to you, that resonates so strongly with you, that you feel that this is who you really are” (ix).

In his first book, Sir Ken Robinson said that not everyone may find their element. I get that, but I also thought it was a shame because there are so many talented people out in the world that don’t know they’re talented in some way. I was pleasantly surprised to notice that the introduction was prompt in giving the thesis of the book: “The aim of this book is to help you find your Element” (ix). Straight to the point.

“One way is to create time and space to be alone with yourself, to experience who you are when no one else wants anything from you and the noise has stopped”(7).

One thing I noticed between the books and the speaking events was that his voice reads distinctly different but he had a collaborator “from start to finish” so that’s not that surprising. It is a bit disappointing because Sir Ken has a very unique comedic voice and the book reads very clinically. In any case, he dives right into strategies that can help someone find their Element. My favorite is what he calls automatic writing, which in the English writing and composition world that’s basically like free-writing. For those who wonder what to write in free-writing, Sir Ken Robinson asks a lot of questions in the book itself that could help as writing guides. I had the thought that free-writing, journaling, keeping a diary were so similar to automatic writing but that the use of terms have changed quite a lot in recent decades. Keeping a diary was seen as a domestic sphere activity for so long, meaning that it was something women primarily did. Now, with men pursuing education beyond K-12 less and less, it may have seemed appropriate to modify the term to make journaling less feminine because it has been proven to help.

“Finding your element means being open to new experiences and to exploring new paths and possibilities in yourself and in the world around you” (27).

One of the next interesting clarifications Sir Ken makes is between aptitude and abilities. The distilled way he makes the distinction between the two is nurture versus nature. He says, “Understanding your own aptitude is an essential part of finding your element” (33). How exactly does one know these things about ourselves other than journaling and taking time for yourselves? Sir Ken then ventures into the lengthiest portion of the book: the tests. *Insert dramatic horror music here. I grew up in the “No Child Left Behind” era of the DOE, so I had to bite my lip reading about the different types of tests that any given person could take. It was like those pharmaceutical commercials with the disclaimers at the end that take longer than the actual commercial. In Sir Ken’s defense, I don’t think his intention is to sell the tests to anyone. In fact, the opposite is more true. His review of them serves to highlight that this era’s need to replace one box for another has reached almost comedic levels. There is so much natural diversity in humanity that it may seem better to study the tests for what they measure and how they measure it. Regardless, not enough attention is paid to learning styles and models because, inevitably, fostering personal growth is key. I think it’s safe to say that the reason so many experts emphasize the importance of the The First Five Movement is because this is a crucial moment in a persons life. Not that adults can’t find their Element, but time is a precious commodity. A child has the most drastic, exponential learning curve within the first five years of his/her life, and I think it is no small coincidence that it is also the most play centered time. Sir Ken goes on to explain: “Also, many children are bored and restless in school not because they have a condition but because they are children and what they are required to do is actually boring… When they’re doing something that they love, they’ll focus for hours and hardly look up. It might be anything from writing music or poetry to working with animals or doing experiments” (73).

“In some almost tangible way, finding and exploring your passion puts you on a different path – a path that, while hardly free of difficulty or hardship, seems easier to take” (108).

Moreso than his first book, I’d say Finding Your Element is a great book for new parents or parents with young children. The overall advice is definitely counterintuitive: let your child play and remain at distance observing. The brain is a computer built for critical thinking and problem solving; it’s a muscle like any other that does well in environments that give it space to work out. But, what would anyone look for? Sir Ken gives a list with explanations: Sensitivity, Intensity, Activity, Adaptability, Approach or Withdrawal, Persistence and Attention Span, Regularity, Distractibility, and Mood (161-163). After wrapping up his thoughts on children, Sir Ken redirects his attention to us adults. He encourages us to take on challenges and push beyond the frontier of what we already know. He reminds us of one of my favorite quotes; Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than the ones you did do.”

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life that was true to myself, not the life others expected of me” (239).

Work Cited

Robinson, Ken. Finding Your Element. New York: New York; Penguin Books, 2013. Print.

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Malala’s Yousafzai’s I Am Malala

My friend Marissa Brandson, a teacher at LAUSD, actually gifted this book to me a while back. I had heard of Malala vaguely over the years, but I didn’t become fully aware of her until I read her book. She tells the story of how her home region in Pakistan was taken over by the Taliban, her assassination attempt, and her escape to England. I was pleasantly surprised to note she included a map of the regions she mentions in the Middle East; it was rather helpful because I’m honestly one of those near clueless U.S. citizens on the exact geography of the boarders. Historically, I do know that entire Middle East area has seen quite a lot of dramatic changes in the last 10 or so years, if not longer with the ratification of the Israeli State.

“After paying rent and salaries, there was not much left for food, so we often had little for dinner. But the school had been my father’s dream, and we were all happy to be living it” (20).

She’s so normal and humble. Her family does uphold the traditional religion with the Quran. She learned the Arabic alphabet which makes me slightly envious because it’s one of the oldest languages in existence; it’s beautiful sounding and has influenced somewhat the development of Catalan and Spanish. Malala talks about The Radio Mullan and how the Taliban used it to persuade and indoctrinate and push their agenda on an ever increasing population of Pakistan. This was back in 2012. Now, in 2021, the Taliban have taken over Afghanistan with America pulling its last troops out. So, I thought doing this review and highlighting her story is apropos.

“All music was haram, he said, forbidden by Islam” (40).

I can’t imagine living without songs and music, melodic sounds and worthy lyrics. One of the ways my Spanish, Italian, Linguistics, and Latin instructors taught me to follow the historical trajectories of language was to evaluate the components of words. English medievalists tend to do this quite a lot too since they consider Old English a separate language, or divided into separate languages. I get a kick when she describes words like haram because linguistic parallels can be found in a great variety of civilizations and societies, each with its own specific meaning. Examples, like Ramos and Ramses and ramifications and ramrod. Malala’s father is actually a professor and founded a school, but he had to close it down after being threatened by the Taliban. Then, they went after Malala specifically after sharing her diaries with journalists and doing interviews on behalf of girls’ education.

“Terrorism is fear all around you. It is going to sleep at night and not knowing what horrors the next day will bring” (64).

I can relate in my own way to feeling bone deep terror not knowing what the next day would bring in my early-life bubble, so her calm tone sometimes drives me up the wall. Now-a-days, I have to resist the urge to huff and puff when I’m met with an obstacle. But as Lao Tzu says, “The best fighter is never angry.” Malala is so fucking chill when she tells readers of how how the Taliban shot her on a bus near her left eye and the bullet lodged itself in her left shoulder (144). She fractured her skull bone which sent splinters into her brain; doctors had to remove a piece of her skull to allow the brain to expand (148). I’m indignant that they almost took her most prized possession, her brain. I am also indignant at what most others might fail to see, her forced migration. Her family, the very kind of people Pakistan and Afghanistan need, were forced to leave. And, though the English were very kind to accept her into the country and the United Arab Emirates offered a plane for her emergency medical transportation, they along with the United States were complicit and still are complicit in the utter fuck-shit-terry that has occurred in both countries and in that region. I obviously lack the grace, but I’d love to see the part of her skull she kept. I wholeheartedly think this should be on everyone’s reading list right now given its major importance and relevance.

Works Cited

Yousafzai, Malala. I Am Malala. New York, New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014. Print.

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Ken Robinson’s The Element

I can’t remember exactly when I was introduced to Sir Ken Robinson, although I am rather sure it was after 2016 via his TED Talk on Youtube, which I happen to believe is slightly better than this book. I had a lightbulb moment where I went: Aha! I found a credible resource that says so much about education that’s been in my head. Sir Robinson’s ideas were super helpful during the part of my English M.A. program when we focused on teaching pedagogies. It made a lot click in place. It took me way back to being in fourth grade and being the little nerdy overachiever with writing; our teacher gave us an essay to write, and I doubled the page count required. Granted, it was wide ruled pages not college ruled, but that was still a feat for a fourth grader. Why did I write so much extra? I got really into The Great Wall of China with those National Geographic magazines. Don’t judge me.

“They and other people you’ll ever meet in this book have identified the sweat spot for themselves. They have discovered their Element – the place where the things you love to do and the things that you are good at come together” (8).

Sir Ken Robinson says, “Never underestimate the vital importance of finding early in life the work that for you is play. This turns possible underachievers into happy warriors” (7). It happens very naturally. One caveat that I like to point out is that it requires fostering and encouragement from those around us. Teachers are a great source of this in my opinion. Where do we often go wrong? Typically, its the administration and parents that get in the way. I’m not even going to go into the innumerable ways in which the systemic issues that kill creativity are perpetuated over and over again. Sir Robinson does that really well in The Element. Facilitating the innate abilities of our youth should be the foundation of education rather than subjecting students to a standard K-12 processing line. Especially important are the first five years of a child’s life, hence The First Five Years Movement.

“The Element is the meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion” (21).

So much to say so little time! Sir Robinson is so right when he says that, if we don’t find it in youth, we may discover or rediscover it later on in life, and it feels like an epiphany. But, it’s not a guarantee. He breaks The Element down into features and conditions; the features are aptitude and passion, while the conditions are attitude and opportunity. As I was reading, I was reminded of a quote that I heard during an interview with Eva Longoria. She gave a great explanation of what success meant for her, and it has stuck with me ever since. Eva said something like: success is just preparation meets opportunity; preparation is doing the things that you think are needed to be able to do the thing you want to do (aptitude), and opportunity is cultivated, meaning that you consciously put yourself out there in situations where you’ll bump into people that will take note your aptitude. Sir Ken Robinson just backs her up with science, developmental psychology, etc.

“They find that their time passes differently and that they are more alive, more centered, and more vibrant than at any other time” (21).

This last Sunday I kept thinking: And, on the seventh day he rested. But, there I was at the closest Starbucks keeping myself entertained with editing my next writing project, not part of Read House Review, which is only a hobby for me. It did not feel like work. I now recognize when I go into The Zone as Sir Robinson calls it. And, I can do it at will now rather than wait for it to spontaneously happen for me. It doesn’t mean that it always happens without hiccups or frustrations; those are just part of the beautiful chaos of creation. “People who work creatively usually have something in common: they love the media they work with” (73). Some people say love while others say obsessed. PotAto POtato. Same thing in our literary world. I can’t remember who said: The masters of their craft are always more than a little obsessed. Ugh, I feel that. It’s too bad it landed Paulo Coelho in a psychiatric institution multiple times because his parents just did not get it. But, this is why the best poets – from Shakespeare to Edgar Allan Poe – always speak of madness. The world’s wonders and mysteries rest in a handful of words. Who needs friends when you have books? Who needs enemies when you have punctuation! Anyway, I’m gonna go buy my next Paulo Coelho book just to get back at his parents. The bastards! How dare they.

Works Cited

Robinson, Ken. The Element. New York, New York: The Penguin Group, 2009. Print.

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Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection

The impertinence of a white woman to have a name with an accent when she’s neither Latino nor European! These website generating software systems don’t come with an easy way to add the accents. So, this is how I’m starting this review. My copy of The Gifts of Imperfection was published in 2020; it’s the tenth-anniversary edition with a new note from Brené and some pages to make notes at the end. I began stress eating carrots before starting this review, and I realized that reviewing such a widely-liked TED speaker was very anxiety-inducing for me.

But when the same truth keeps repeating itself, it’s hard to pretend that it’s just a coincidence (xx).

Reading this book was like a mini-therapy session, for better or for worse. Some parts make you go: hmm, yeah, I totally do that, kuddos to me. Other parts make you cringe: ooh, ouch! In Dr. Brown’s defense, she does warn readers about the subject(s) she researches. One of the first subjects she focuses on is wholehearted living. It does sound a little like new-age hocus pocus, but I kept reading. Sounds like a healthy way of coping with life’s struggles. She makes note of the things wholehearted people do when they reach a point of exhaustion and overwhelm; they get: (1) Deliberate in their thoughts and behaviors or set intentions, (2) Inspired to make new and different choices, (3) Going or take action (7). Why would this interest anyone? I want to say because that special thing we notice in others or that we sometimes wish we had is not some mysterious gift bestowed upon us by faeries at birth. These are qualities we can cultivate within ourselves if we really want them or aspire to have them. Being a wholehearted person is something within our control that relies very little on anyone else but ourselves, which I think is key for those of us who struggle with social anxiety or self-worth in community. Even then, though, some of us might still get that who do you think you are? look at least a few times (10).

It was clear from the data that we cannot give our children what we don’t have (xxiv).

One mental note that I made to myself recently was that it seemed like individuals tend to conflate charity with compassion a lot. For example, if you are a compassionate person, then you are a charitable person. I had the thought when I decided that I wanted to be more giving this year, but I wanted to be discerning with how and why I was giving even if it was a minor $10 for a cause. When Dr. Brown talked about compassion, I realized that I wanted to be a compassionate giver. I did not want to give out of guilt or obligation; that defeated the purpose for me, so I have a mental criteria for giving. It hit home when Dr. Brown notes that “Compassionate people are boundaried people” (25). Trespassing on our own boundaries hurts just as much as allowing others to trespass or disregard them. My mental criteria for giving is a type of boundary whether it be with money or time.

Shame loves secrecy (15).

Disclaimer: read this book before you get a therapist just to double check some of your issues are easily resolved. On secrecy, I had the thought that I don’t mind having my secrets. I like the idea that some secrets are a form of cultivating your inner garden. Not everyone needs to know everything about you, and somethings about you can and will be on the edgier side of life. I like knowing me better than anyone else knows me and that requires some secrecy, thank you. I did cringe when Dr. Brown mentioned a few things to avoid. Specifically, the judgmental “he/she should be ashamed of him/herself” and the comparing/competing “it could be worse, wait until you hear this” (16-17). Guilty as charged! This is an example of where a little psychological education and mental hygiene comes in handy. I don’t think I’m the last person to realize that emotional dumping is not a healthy relational habit or what that looks like in conversation. Being mindful of it is tough, but once you catch yourself doing it then the work turns to resisting the fall into shame. If these things don’t get modeled to us growing up, then we don’t know them as adults until we take an active stance to learn them.

Incongruent living is exhausting (39).

“Incongruent living is exhausting,” she says (39). Where were you when I ended up crying my eyes out at the therapist in 2016-2017? It’s another way of saying that gas-lighting is exceedingly harmful for your health. Some contradiction in life is inevitable. But, when your constantly bombarded with intentional contradiction, it makes living and making life choices impossible; it’s crippling. We have to foster hope. Dr. Brown says, “I was shocked to discover that hope is not an emotion; it’s a way of thinking or a cognitive process” (87). Yes, gurl! You can teach people this little secret. As an educator, there is an entire field of academics that model their teaching pedagogies around the cultivation of hope. My own is a mix of this and narratology given that I’m a life-long writer. So much more I could say and comment about this book. In many ways, I think what Dr. Brown is getting at with The Gifts of Imperfection is that our biggest personal gifts are actually rather imperfect, revolutionary and rebellious in fact, for our modern, squared world.

Work Cited

Brown, Brené. The Gifts of Imperfection. New York, New York: Random House, 2020. Print.

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Mikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism

Everyone needs to read this book! Mikki Kendall wrote one of those books that leaves me thinking for days. How do I respond to this? What should I highlight for this review? And, what kind of commentary do I want to provide that will be beneficial to modern feminists? Because, that’s the key to a book like this. Hood Feminism is so important and crucial to the modern state of feminism, but it also opens the door to some very complex issues. Although I first read this book months ago, I let it sit on my shelf while I mulled over a few points in my head.

First, Mikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism is a book that encompasses the spirit of gender studies. To me, though I’m an advocate of college education, it makes sense why it’s not an academic publication. So many great papers and articles on modern feminism, and other subjects, are not read or widely publicized, so their message is often lost within the classist realm of academia. Hood Feminism is so much more accessible to those that should read it by being available for purchase on book shelves everywhere or being available for rental at a public library. Kendall’s grandmother had the right idea: “As with work, education was something she believed everyone needed to have, and she didn’t much care how you got it, or how far you went, as long as you could take care of you” (x).

I didn’t want this review to be a regurgitation of all the highlights I’ve made in this book. It’s one of those books that you place on your coffee table during a nice dinner gathering with new and old friends because it’s a great conversation starter. Hood Feminism, at the very least, has a lot of statements that prompt the sharing of stories and the comparing of realities of being a female, woman, she/her, etc. Mikki notes, “We rarely talk about basic needs as a feminist issue” (xiii). It’s true, and I think it goes back to feelings of shame, self-consciousness, and embarrassment. So many of us prefer not to get into those details because of these feelings, and we do ourselves a disservice in the end. We revert back to centering the feminist discussion on “those who already have most of their needs met” (xiii).

Something that has been a personal struggle is the need to educate, not just ourselves on the movement’s progression and development but those within our communities. “Women in communities of color must balance fighting external problematic voices with educating those inside our communities who are bad actors, and we expect feminism to do the same work on itself,” Kendall writes (11). I can say from personal experience that those of us that try will often find a lot of push-back from our communities whether in the form of snide comments, ignorant assumptions, gossip and rumors, and a slandered reputation. Women, it seems, are often the biggest obstacles in the name of progress. Kendall highlights this need for education and the exposure of issues, especially in regards to the hyper-sexualization of girls of color and the issues men face within and because of patriarchy.

We need to talk about sexuality openly if we are going to handle the matter of feminism with a growth mindset. In my humble opinion, or not so humble if you review my resume, we need to educate and re-educate everyone on sexuality. Sexual arousal does not entitle anyone to an orgasm. Sexual arousal is not a direct pathway straight to orgasm. Sexual arousal should not be used as a shame function. And, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The conversation then needs to move to the practicalities of reproductive health and safety. I’m much invested in the BDSM slogan: safe, sane, consensual. Here, a multidisciplinary perspective works. And, then, Kendall moves into the touchy subject of eugenics and its place within the feminist discussion.

It all sounds so straightforward, but Kendall does present some contradictions that should be addressed. Yes, we need to think of real-world models of feminism, in other words, on the ground feminism. She doesn’t believe in leaving behind or disregarding our men of color because toxic patriarchy works against them too, which is a sound judgement. And, simultaneously, “We can’t sacrifice the futures of girls and femmes to preserve the futures of young toxic men or the institutions that made them possible” (84). As someone who’s been actively looking at these issues, through lived-experience and in researcher mode, this is the tricky part. We’ll end up alone and with very few friends and sometimes no family, not to mention a difficult time on the dating market. A very real threat of being an active feminist is marginalization and/or isolation from our community, which is not psychologically beneficial. It’s really difficult to find a happy middle ground in which we continue to remain open to experience and human connection, but I suppose that’s why we have these books and conversations. Kendall says, “Feminism that comes from a place of fear, that prioritizes not being afraid or not being uncomfortable over being effective, is dangerous” (168). Easier said and written than done!

Works Cited

Kendall, Mikki. Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot. Viking, 2020.

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Erika L. Sànchez’s I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

Sànchez tells the story of Julia, a rebellious teenager that wants to be a writer. Julia is haunted by the death of her sister Olga who was run over by a bus. Olga essentially becomes that perfect picture image of the lost daughter hanging over the fireplace with a Virgin Mary candle burning eternally underneath. If you’re Latino/a/x, you know what I’m talking about.

The good: I like seeing some Latino/a/x representation in the publishing world, so kuddos to Knopf. The bad: the book is riddled with so many of the modern clichés circling around stories today. In all fairness, I think this book definitely falls under the young reader genre, and I was never particularly fond of the genre. In fact, I am not a huge fan of much of the current literature trends. I was reading Anne Rice’s rich and complex prose and Virginia Wolf’s elaborate, modernist stories as a teen. So, I seem to find the young reader genre, which is a relatively contemporary one, rather patronizing. Nevertheless, Sànchez is definitely up there with Sandra Cisneros level good, so it’s still recommended reading.

“Sometimes it’s best not to tell the truth” (312).

Working in the English Language and Literature Arts has certainly given me a critical eye, one that I often have to put in check and restrain when reaching brutal levels. On the positive side, because of this, I try to remain relatively aware of the current zeitgeist. My experiences have not been all that different from Julia, so I find it difficult to escape into the fantasy of the story. Rather, it’s mildly triggering because it’s too close to my own personal reality. Truthfully, the premise could have been taken straight from some of my journaling. I am not closing my heart to Sànchez just yet though; I think her literary intentions are in the right place, so I hope she develops and complicates her writing in the future a little more.

The quote from the book reminds me of a particular sentiment that seems to be part of first generation high school and college graduates. How much of our American reality and experience should we really reveal to our less acculturated family members? It’s a statement on the flip side of Stephen King’s similar quote: “Liars prosper.” Ah, the field day that moral philosophers can have with quotes and statements like these. It’s a quasi-rye and quasi-dejected reality. Some truths may be true, but also hurtful and unnecessary. Like: I hate my nephew’s red crocks, and I hope he doesn’t read this until he’s hella old. Versus: I can just get him a pair of converse and low-key convince him to switch shoes.

Works Cited

Sanchez, Erika L. I’m Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. New York, New York: Knopf, 2017. Print.

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Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre

“Superstition was with me at that moment: but it was not yet her hour for complete victory: my blood was still warm; the mood of the revolted slave was still bracing me with its bitter vigour; I had to stem a rapid rush of retrospective thought before I quailed to the dismal present” (9).

Charlotte Bronte supposedly wrote Jane Eyre after spending some time as a governess. She wrote the book under a pseudonym which was typical of women writers prior to the late twentieth century or so to keep their anonymity. Many writers, to this day, still feel the need to neutralize their names to access the commercial book market. It was difficult to choose quotes for this novel because the best ones are always so long and complex. In grammar terms, Bronte certainly knows how to work her compound complex sentences.

“The garden was a wide enclosure, surrounded with walls so high as to exclude every glimpse of prospect; a covered veranda ran down one side, and broad walks bordered a middle space divided into scores of little beds; these beds were assigned as gardens for the pupils to cultivate, and each bed had an owner. When full of flowers they would doubtless look pretty, but now, at the latter end of January, all was wintry blight and brown decay. I shuddered as I stood and looked round me: it was an inclement day for outdoor exercise – not positively rainy, but darkened by a drizzling yellow fog; all under foot was still soaking wet with the floods of yesterday” (47).

The Romantics and Gothics relied heavily on the use of setting and environment to establish themes to expand the meaning of their work. It’s very much still connected to the Victorian use of flower language and horticulture to convey hidden, coded messages. The tradition began as a way of encouraging individuals to do their own part in conserving the English countryside. The wealthy and intellectual classes had access to this language and were able to use it as a means of social networking. Many protagonists like Jane are constantly taking long walks and seeking fresh air to have some privacy and clear their thoughts.

“I believe he is of mine – I am sure he is – I feel akin to him – I understand the language of his countenance and movement: though rank and wealth sever us widely, I have something in my brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that assimilates me mentally to him. Did I say, a few days since, that I had nothing to do with him but to receive my salary at his hands? Did I forbid myself to think of him in any other light than as a paymaster? Blasphemy against nature! Every good, true, vigorous feeling I have gathers impulsively round him. I know I must conceal my sentiments: I must smother hope; I must remember that he cannot care much for me. For when I say that I am of his kind, I do not mean that I have his force in influence, and his spell to attract; I mean only that I have certain tastes and feelings in common with him. I must, then, repeat continually that we are for ever sundered – and yet, while I breathe and think, I must love him” (186).

While I did enjoy reading Jane Eyre, some parts drove me nuts. She falls into a the romantic stereotype of the woman whose husband becomes her whole world. Then, again, given the remoteness of their surroundings, that is also not very surprising. She is a very self-aware and self-referential protagonist, giving us the know famous line “Reader, I married him” when speaking of Rochester. What Bronte does well is complicate their romance by the existence of a crazy first wife that lives in the attic and burns shit down the first chance she gets. Jane is placed in the precarious position of having to make a decision regarding Bertha, the crazy first wife in the attic, and her marriage to Rochester. Dum Dum Dum!

“There was a reviving pleasure in this intercourse, of a kind now tasted by me for the first time – the pleasure arising from perfect congeniality of tastes, sentiments, and principles” (378).

The 2011 movie with Mia Wasilkowska is rather good actually. I really enjoyed the scenery in this movie from the lighting to the wispy fog. Rochester is not my favorite Byronic hero by any means. His character rubs my twenty-first century sensibilities the wrong way a little too much at times; he’s a rough guy. Perhaps it’s because of the heavily blurred lines between wife, lover, and caretaker that Jane takes on for a blinded Rochester. A part of me cringes and thinks she’s a protagonist that becomes too much like a pseudo mother to her husband. There’s one way of killing the sexual ire in a relationship. But, I’m not the psychology expert on that.

“All was changing utterly with a sudden sweep. Religion called – Angels beckoned – God commanded – life rolled together like a scroll – death’s gates opening showed eternity beyond: it seemed, that for safety and bliss there, all here might be sacrificed in a second. The dim room was full of visions” (455).

Works Cited

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York, New York: Bantam Classic, 1848. Print.

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E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View

“She beheld the horrible fate that overtook three Papists – two he-babies and a she-baby who began their career by sousing each other with the Holy Water, and then proceeded to the Machiavelli memorial, dripping but hallowed” (21).

E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View is the coming of age story of Lucy Honeychurch. She’s in the company of her cousin and chaperon, Charlotte Bartlett, along with several others. Many period bildungsroman novels used the European tour as a thematic element to highlight the maturity and development of the protagonist. This particular novel focuses on Lucy’s stay in Florence, Italy.

“It was unladylike. Why? Why were most big things unladylike?” (39).

Lucy wanted a view when she arrived at her hotel, and she managed to get it. Forster follows her wanderings and musings; he manages to capture how she’s blooming socially. It’s a very feminist text in that sudden friendships between women, especially those that seem at odds with one another, are of great interest to the author. Nevertheless, the antifeminist themes are still utilized with an almost frank brutality. Charlotte says at some point, “It was not that ladies were inferior to me; it was that they were different. Their mission was to inspire others to achievement rather than to achieve themselves” (39). Reading that made my hackles rise!

“We literary hacks are shameless creatures. I believe there’s no secret of the human heart into which we wouldn’t pry” (48).

One of the characters is an author, and I find that she seems to be one step ahead of Lucy when it comes to these big worldly things and these secrets of the human heart. It’s as if the novel tells you that the challenge is to cover those unladylike things with the finesse of words. How French. And speaking of, there has be a love interest, no? Lucy is somehow charmed by George Emerson, but follows English convention and engages herself to Cecil Vyse. It’s a common human conundrum; choose security or passion. Forster even says, “Passion should believe itself irresistible” (48). It will only get you so far in life, we’re better off with practicality. Circumventing this little social knot is something that will keep anyone in love up all night. Oh, and Helena Bonham Carter plays Lucy in this film adaptation; I don’t think most people these days highlight her period work though some of us junkies absolutely love them.

“But they have yielded to the only enemy that matters – the enemy within. They have sinned against passion and truth, and vain will be their strife after virtue. As the years pass, they are censured. Their pleasantry and their piety show cracks, their wit becomes cynicism, their unselfishness hypocrisy; they feel and produce discomfort wherever they go. They have sinned against Eros and against Pallas Athene, and not by any heavenly intervention, but by the ordinary course of nature, those allied deities will be avenged” (175).

Works Cited

Forster, E. M., and Mona Simpson. A Room with a View. Toronto New York: Bantam Books, 1988. Print.

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Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights

I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!

Watching Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche in the 1992 film adaptation of this book led me to take a closer look at the psychology of love and damned relationships. I broke my read-the-book-first-then-watch-the-movie rule. I gotta say this story is such a tease because it always leaves me wanting a real raunchy sex scene alla “Outlander.” Ah! I can dream, I guess. I could wax lyrical at length on the minor modifications I would make if I ever directed an adaptation.

I have dreamt in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind. And this is one: I’m going to tell it – but take care not to smile at any part of it.

There is a reason why The Brontes are so important to English literature. Wuthering Heights manages to capture the width and breathe of longing for your soul mate while interweaving the socio-economic realities, class manners, and the tradition of arranged marriage very much part of British society. Having the setting be in the British moors adds a whole other layer of thematic complexity.

I’d be glad of a retaliation that wouldn’t recoil on myself, but treachery and violence are spears pointed at both ends: they wound those who resort to them, worse than their enemies.

This book is famous for its Byronic hero, Heathcliff. I’d be hard pressed to name a better archetype of the tortured antihero because I’m obviously biased. I’m sure one of my literary colleagues could point out a few if I only bothered to ask; the term was inspired by Byron after all. Heathcliff gets a lot of attention, but I often ask what a psychologist would say about Catherine Earnshaw. She would have married him properly, but she had no other option. And, Heathcliff’s redeem-ability after all of his damnable manipulations is deeply questionable. Perhaps the ending was fitting, the best these two lovers could hope for came true: after they die, they lie side by side within their earthly tombs in peaceful slumber for eternity.

He wanted all to lie in an esctasy of peace; I wanted all to sparkle and dance in a glorious jubilee. I said his heaven would be only half alive; and he said mine would be drunk. I said I should fall asleep in his; and he said he could not breathe in mine.

Works Cited

“Wuthering Heights Quotes by Emily Brontë.” Goodreads, Goodreads, http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/1565818-wuthering-heights?page=1.

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Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go

“I thought sooner or later someone would start saying it had gone too far, but it just kept on, and no one said anything” (15).

I have a cousin that loves this book and its corresponding film. I have to say that I’ve read this book twice now, and it’s heart-wrenching every time. It’s a dystopian novel with romantic and angsty tones. Kathy, the protagonist, tells the story of her life as a caretaker-donor. She narrates her upbringing in a secret program next to her two friends Tommy and Ruth. After Ruth completes, Kathy and Tommy reunite. Tommy is close to completing. Their love triangle is quite sad because Kathy and Tommy’s love remains so unfulfilled.

“What I wished more than anything was that the thing hadn’t happened at all, and I thought that by not mentioning it I’d be doing myself and everyone else a favor” (72).

Tommy loves to draw small caricatures that are “deliberately childish” (20). In the program, the guardians collected their art, but Tommy never had any in the gallery. He wants to track them down to submit something before he completes. Kathy and Tommy find that the guardians cannot take his art any longer because the goal during their childhood years was to prove they had a soul. An important theme in this novel are keepsakes with emotional meaning like Kathy’s cassette with the “Never Let Me Go” song.

“We took away your art because we thought it would reveal your souls. Or to put it more finely, we did it to prove you had souls at all” (260).

Sounds like bad copy-write infringement to me. Ishiguro is great at weaving very deeply painful artistic truths into his work. Our art is often overlooked until it is too late or we don’t appreciate our own artistic talents while others use to their benefit and their own agenda. It parallels the truth behind the completions in this novel. The children are duplicates of others, clones, used to replace the damaged organs of their originals. Why have the ability to reproduce if you will never be a mother or a father? Why make sex a taboo when there is no one that will care? Somehow, the pain of the narrative, the cruelty of being at the mercy of others with more power, proves they had/have souls.

Works Cited

Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never Let Me Go. New York: New York, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2006. Print.

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David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas

I had trouble getting through the first 75 pages or so. Even for someone like me who has experience reading difficult books, the beginning was tough. It was only when I put on my scholar reader’s hat that I made it to rest of the book. It’s a dissertation kind of book. As a scholar, I’m looking for motifs, themes, character development, and symbolism. There are many characters and their stories are all connected through time.

“It’s a wise soul, thinks Luisa, who can distinguish traps from opportunities” (137).

The reincarnation of souls and their connections through time makes the various parts of the narrative flow together. The corruption of souls from good to evil, the redemption of past mistakes, and the unfinished business they have with each other from life to life, glimpses of the future or an alternate reality beyond this one. The memorable Cloud Atlas Sextet brings music and it’s role in expressing human emotions to the forefront.

“Perhaps those deprived of beauty perceive it most instinctively” (212).

“No, what’s selfish is to demand another to endure an intolerable existence, just to spare families, friends, and enemies a bit of soul-searching” (470).

There’s a movie based on this book now. The cover for this book is obviously the promo poster for the motion picture. I have to say the casting wasn’t bad at all. This one of those books that I will advice others to watch the movie first. Then, if you are up for a challenge, read the book. In all likelihood, most people will be better off just watching the movie and skipping the book. Unfortunately, this is not one of those deeply memorable plot lines for me. I forgot much of what happens. But, definitely watch the movie!

Works Cited

Mitchell, David. Cloud Atlas. New York, NY: Random House Publishing Group, 2012. Print.

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Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day

Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day is like a long song to that Latin phrase: carpe diem. Seize the mother-fucking-day! Pardon my French. Or, you’ll end up like Stevens. At the closing of his life, he’s a very accomplished and professional English butler that gave three decades of service at Darlington. But, he’s (hella) emotionally constipated, lonely, and probably really needs to get laid.

Stevens is taking a country drive through Great Britain to visit an former coworker, Miss Kenton, now Mrs. Benn. And, yes, you guessed it! She’s Steven’s would-have-been beau. This reads like a Jane Austen novel, very British and constrained narrative tone. Books always make me feel emotions deeply, and this was really angsty. I had a constant nagging feeling because this novel easily highlights how some people seem to really live, live in the moment, era, zeitgeist – live and participate in public life – while others only seem to exist in the shadows, the backdrop, hidden behind key figures.

“What is pertinent is the calmness of that beauty, its sense of restraint” (28-29).

As a Mexican-American, I found this British take on the themes of professionalism, dignity, and strained father-son relationships very interesting. Stevens has a fixation on having given the best of himself to Lord Darlington and doubts about Lord Darlington’s potential anti-semitism shakes him to the core. Reminiscing about it all troubles him so much he takes the first vacation in forever!

A not-so-obvious theme of this story is regret. The regret that people can’t even acknowledge to themselves fully without breaking their own heart. Stevens can’t seem to bring himself to fully regret not having told Miss Kenton the truth about his feelings and, when they finally see each other again, its way too late. She’s moved on. He can’t even bring himself to think that even speaking his truth and being rejected would have been better. Pay attention children of the corn! Ishiguro’s got all the romantic secrets.

“In looking back over my career thus far, my chief satisfaction derives from what I achieved during those years, and I am today nothing but proud and grateful to have been given such privilege” (126).

This story also made me feel kind-of bitter. Stevens has amazing work benefits. Ah, those were the days, when you could give your life to a position, work, employer, etc. and you would be covered! What a dream long gone for some. You know what is a dream though? Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins! If you don’t like to read much, the film is basically a play-by-play of the book. So, it’s an amazingly accurate adaptation. In the end, I was left thinking that many people seem to think that love comes with a set of expectations, that if you love certain actions must follow, a certain life. Stevens’ life story shows that you can love and choose to not follow the era’s romantic expectations. In other words, you’re not an alien if you choose to not be a part of a couple or if you choose to be a life-long single person. Be sure to read and/or watch the film!

“Perhaps, then, there is something to his advice that should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day. After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?” (244).

Works Cited

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Remains of the Day. New York New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Distributed by Random House, 1989. Print.

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Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam

Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam is first and foremost a love story. Atwood opens the final installment of her trilogy with a summary of the first two books. I thought this kind gesture by her was unique because it’s rare when book series writers give summaries of the previous books; they sort of expect you to just read the previous books first, and this can be off-putting for someone that picks up the book randomly.

“There’s the story, then there’s the real story, then there’s the story of how the story came to be told. Then there’s what you leave out of the story. Which is part of the story too” (56).

In the previous books, we met Toby and Zeb. This is basically their story, and I liked it. There were points when I was mildly disinterested, but finding out Snowman-the-Jimmy’s fate ultimately kept me reading. As a reader, I found Toby to be a beautiful blend of tough and gentle. She is a kick-ass in the post-apocalyptic world, but she takes up Oryx’s task as mother figure to The Crakers with genuine delicacy.

The motif of ‘the legend’ or ‘the myth’ is constantly echoing in this novel. Toby narrates the stories of the human survivors and their connections to each other. Zeb turns into the leader for both the surviving Maddaddamites and The Crakers, so he must have a mythology of creation. The reader learns about his brother Adam, and the brothers’ hacking and spying of the mega-corporation Helthwyzer. While a convalescent Snowman-the-Jimmy is recovering from an infected wound, the reader finds three of his former flames (Ren, Wakulla Price, Amanda) working as a team and their sometimes amusing worry over him. As one of The Crakers says, “In his head there is something tangled” (147). In other words, Craker Psychology 101.

“Hope is when you want something very much but you do not know if the thing you want will really happen” (292).

The reader feels the exhaustion from Snowman-the-Jimmy and the Maddaddamites, so it’s hard to believe that it’s been less than half a year when Maddaddam takes place in the chronology of books. The group faces rape, wild pigoons, interspecies pregnancy, and intra-species violence from the Painballers. By the time The Crakers interpret an alliance between the Maddaddamites and the Pigoons, the reader is ready to break down the way Snowman-the-Jimmy finally does when re-confronted by Oryx and Crake’s decomposed bodies.

Atwood weaves the romantic angst within the apocalyptic stress of the narrative in a low-key way that prevents the book’s ending from being too sappy. There are some deaths both expected and unexpected, some interspecies births, and unions in the end. While Toby and Zeb are not able to live out a fairytale coupling, they do acknowledge their love with a simple wedding. The ending left me feeling grief and agony, but there is also a teeny-tiny flicker of hope that Toby is still out there chasing after her man with the same love as in beginning.

Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. Maddaddam: a novel. New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2013. Print.

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Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood

When I pulled this book out of my shelf again to review it, I wanted to re-read it all over again. If I’m being honest, it wasn’t only because the book is an intriguing read. It was mostly because I forgot so many of the gripping details. Like Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood sucks you right into its world.

“Adam One used to say that people can believe two opposite things at the same time, and now I knew it was true” (229).

The reader gets to experience a different side of the drama between Snowman and Crake, the two protagonists of the first book and the central characters in the plague that is unleashed as part of the main plot. Again, even in review, I get a sort of vertigo with this book because of the apocalyptic events that haunt the narrative. It’s almost premonitory to 2020 COVID-19 global breakdown.

Ren and Toby are the two female figures we follow throughout the narrative. Margaret Atwood does something wonderfully well with these two female characters. They are not distinctively feminine despite the events they go through. Ren, for example, works at a strip club called Scales and Tails. There were so many moments when I genuinely thought of them as gender fluid, and their names may add to some of that.

“Nature may be dumb as a sack of hammers, Zeb used to say, but it’s smarter than you” (366).

I’m not sure how much of the plot to tell you. Suffice to say that Ren knew both Snowman and Crake rather well; Jimmy and Glen were friends with her in college and their paths cross multiple times. Toby is connected to all of them through the Gardeners, a commune with an anti-corporation agenda that is ultimately proven correct in their paranoia. Yes, this book is riddled with allusions to very contemporary themes and mythologies and secret societies.

Margaret Atwood is very intentional with her allusions. It’s part of the charm of this book. For real literary junkies, the little details make it a real pleasure to re-explore at a later time. I almost want to be a literary snob and note that the wittiness sprinkled throughout the book is something that readers can only appreciate if they have some knowledge of English literature beyond the basic K-12 Shakespeare.

“We have betrayed the trust of the Animals, and defiled our sacred task of stewardship. God’s commandment to ‘replenish the Earth’ did not mean we should fill it to overflowing with ourselves, thus wiping out everything else” (52-53).

One of the central questions that Crake and his fatal virus forces us to confront is “What is the real plague on Earth?” This book is like promotional material for condom use and ecological conservatorship, highlighting the reasons why Margaret Atwood is simultaneously one of the most loved writers and one of the most contentious at the moment. The book asks the reader to take long, hard, and cold look at humanity.

Among the pleasures of this book, the reader learns a lot more about the mysterious and creepy Maddaddam Game. Jimmy’s mother also makes an appearance. Towards the end, we have a sort of reunion of surviving characters on an unknown stretch of coast. Atwood wraps The Year of the Flood up with an ellipsis … stay tuned for the final book of The Maddaddam Trilogy.

Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. The Year of the Flood: a novel. New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2009. Print.

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Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake

Oh my goodness! I’m so excited to write this review for Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. It was really difficult opening the book to make note of my highlights and deciding which to use. I have to make a strong attempt not to use everything and not to give away the entire plot. For the COVID-19 pandemic burned-out population of 2021, this book might not be a good fit because it is a dystopian tale of apocalyptic proportions. In fact, I think the entire dystopian fiction genre might suffer a blow in readership because of the current global crisis; the genre might be too close to becoming realism for comfort. I decided to review it anyway since there’s a unique spin and flavor to the narrative. 

“Extinctathon. Monitored by MaddAddam. Adam named the living animals, Maddaddam names the dead ones” (80). 

We meet Snowman, real name Jimmy, at the beginning of the novel. With it’s third person and choppy opening, the reader can’t help but immediately feel the disconnect between our world and Snowman’s world. The word dissociated comes to mind, a word and world of trauma. Smart move Atwood. I couldn’t help it; I kept reading. What the fuck happened to you Snowman, real name Jimmy? Crake, real name Glenn, happened to him. 

Scientists today are already working on gene splicing and gene manipulation, so Snowman and Crake’s scientifically advanced world that can do or create almost anything is not as improbable as it was when Steven Spielberg first released Jurassic Park. In many ways, the story that Snowman weaves about his friendship with Crake and how his world fell apart is the creation of the myth of God. Crake becomes a scientist that develops miracle-working pills and creates new humanoid beings called the Crakers. Jimmy, on the other hand, struggles with developing a career in the Humanities. Their world glorifies the hard sciences and under appreciates the Humanities; sound familiar? Until, Crake hires Jimmy to work for his company’s ad campaign. Jimmy should have known it was too good to be true. 

“God of Bullshit, fail me not” (102).

Someone in college once said to me, “Sometimes I feel like I’m not majoring in English; I’m majoring in the art of bullshit.” Ouch. I winced, but I also sympathized with the sentiment. Snowman was so relatable because he’s that person. He reminds me of the girl that I was in high school trying to finish an essay on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway at four in the morning after pulling an all-nighter. Interestingly enough, Margaret Atwood uses a quote by Woolf’s To the Lighthouse as an epigraph. There’s just nothing like a good narrative; even Crake admits that we’re hardwired for dreams and singing and art.

“Nature is to zoos as God is to churches” (206). 

Without a doubt, this book is triggering. We know from the onset that something extremely traumatic happens everywhere, but we don’t know what until the end. So, the reader is really just waiting for the hammer to fall. Who or what will be the culprit? The love triangle between Snowman and Oryx and Crake pulls at our basest emotions in the meantime: love, hate, jealousy, pity, rage, despair. I’m not sure if I love the ending or hate the ending; so many science-fiction and dystopian novels resort to the now mildly-rote trope of the Christ-like savor and religious-moral undertones. 

“The proper study of Mankind is Everything” (207).

Snowman saves the Crakers. By the end of the book, my heart feels funny. Too many emotions warring against each other trying to take top spot. I’m trying to decide why I’m so moved. Why is Snowman saving the Crakers so meaningful? Where do we go from here? Then, it hits me! It’s meaningful because of how far Margaret Atwood took us from the disjointed, dissociated beginning. Dissociation is human nature’s response to feeling too much, often too much pain. Well, damn! Now I have to read the next two and complete the trilogy because I want to know what happens to Snowman and the Crakers and the mess Crake left behind. 

Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake: a novel. New York: Nan A. Talese, 2003. Print.

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Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars

The copy of Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars that I own is a used 1989 copy from Thrift Books. I managed to keep the cover together with the help of some clear tape. Somehow I missed out on reading this book as a child, but I decided to give it a try as an adult. By the end, it was obvious why it’s on primary education reading lists all over the world. 

It was an odd word: pride (93).

In 1943, during the German occupation of Denmark, ten-year-old Annamarie Johansen learns about bravery and courage when she helps her Jewish friend Ellen Rosen evade the Nazis. When a narrative is accessible and the speaking voice simple, it can easily engage younger audiences. The reader slips into Annamarie’s world and navigates a really complex world in which children are not spared the harsh realities of war, racism, discrimination, and loss. 

All those things, those sources of pride – the candlesticks, the books, the daydreams of theatre – had been left behind in Copenhagen (93-94).

One of the most touching moments of the book is Annamarie’s guardianship over Ellen’s Star-of-David necklace. Ellen’s separated from her parents for a long time, and Annamarie’s Uncle Henrik joins the family’s discrete resistance of the Nazis. After a series of emotional ups-and-downs, the entire Rosen family is reunited and successfully smuggled out of Denmark. When the war is over, Annamarie, who had the necklace hidden inside the faded yellow wedding dress of her late-sister Lise, returns it to her friend. I think my heart broke just a little after reading about her gesture. Sometimes the most genuine kindness can be found in the simplest of actions. 

So there were other sources, too, of pride, and they had not left everything behind (94). 

Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars won the John Newbery Medal for most distinguished contribution to American Literature. It’s really well-deserved. When I first began to read it, I was skeptical because it’s labeled as a children’s book and it’s rather short in length. One of my pet peeves is reading a good book and feeling left unsatisfied because the plot was underdeveloped, but I definitely did not feel that way with this book. This is a book for everyone.

Works Cited

Lowry, Lois. Number the Stars. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1989. 

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Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning

Around this time last year, I seem to consistently find myself thinking about happiness and meaning. In fact, I wrote a blog article on the subject and on Victor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning. I’ve lost my original article since I’ve been transitioning into a literature review website, but I am recreating parts of it for a second because it seems that I’m thinking about this all over again.

While I was working at Santa Monica College in Southern California, the students were assigned Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning as required reading. I’m guilty of permanently borrowing a copy from the school; sorry, I’m not so sorry. My high school AP European teacher made WWII one of the most interesting topics that we discussed, and I’ve been a huge nerd for the subject since then. Naturally, I couldn’t resist reading the book.

Frankl, a psychiatrist, recounts his experiences in a concentration camp during WWII and summarizes his work in logotherapy. My instinctive first question was: Why isn’t this required reading in K-12? It took so long for me to find this book, and I could have used the lessons so much sooner! I can specifically reference sections in my journals from my early college days when I was questioning my own purpose in life. Actually, you can find it on the first page of my existing entries! Please forgive the melodrama, but I quote entry 01.25.2010 word for word:

“I keep thinking about when I’ll die. It’s depressing; I know. I don’t know what to do with my life. In a way, I feel alienated from everyone else around me because they seem so confident in their future. I’ve done everything by the book so far, well almost everything. Yet, I still feel lost. Is that how it’s supposed to be? I feel like something is missing. I’m missing the purpose of my life. How can I find one? When will I find one?”

Considering my upbringing, I know that girl needed a therapist, or a few. But, this reflection is food for thought to the educator and academic inside me now. How many of our students or our youth struggle with these very thoughts? I think most do for different reasons. It speaks of the bildungsroman of human development which finds identity formation at its center. Who am I? What am I supposed to do? I have noticed that there is one answer which is the most frequent. Well, what makes you happy? My inner (R/r)omantic wants to cheer, but the realist academic wants to cringe.

My inner (R/r)omantic wants to give you hope. You can aim to be whoever you want to be. The academic wants to remind you of a few things. But, you may not be happy. “To be happy” is an absolute state of being. We are changing; our circumstances are changing all the time by the simple fact that the future is fundamentally uncertain, despite mathematical probability and statistics. In my original blog post, I wrote:

“These days, I’m not sure I believe in happiness. It’s such a static concept when I analyze it deeply. Happily Ever After doesn’t account for the complexities and fluctuations of life and existence It’s an extremely romanticized notion constantly reinforced by social norms, consumerism, entertainment, etc. Don’t get me wrong. I still hold hope for humanity. The conditions of human existence can be better, can be improved, but I doubt they could ever truly be happy.”

Can we be happy? I don’t consider myself a jaded person, but I still hold this idea about ‘happiness’ in mind. Reading this book also brought to the forefront other related thoughts. Since I grew up in a challenging environment, as I read the book, my mind connected with Frankl’s experiences in relation to the process of trauma. Don’t get me wrong; my experiences could never compare to the tortures of the Holocaust.

While there were moments of joy and pleasure in my upbringing for me, my most immediate preoccupations as a teenager and young adult revolved around finding freedom from the painful circumstances into which I was born. When Frankl says that “A well-known research psychologist has pointed out that life in a concentration camp could be called a ‘provisional existence.’ We can add to this by defining it as a ‘provisional existence of unknown limit’,” I can relate to a certain extent (70). In all honesty, I didn’t know if I would make it out alive at certain moments. You stop asking yourself, When will this end? You start asking yourself, What will I do if it does? Notice the “IF.” I had a long bucket list, but I doubted whether there was a real worthwhile purpose for fulfilling it.

Frankl is famous for stating that “everything can be taken from a man [or woman] but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances” (66). If there is one thing that I dislike most aside from faux positivity, it’s blatant negativity. I wanted my existential footprint to be as authentically positive as possible. Not social media fake; not duck-face-selfie fake. I wanted to be a “prepared for unhappiness” joyful person (92). So, like Frankl implies we should do, I thank my suffering. If I was going to live, then I would leave a positive existential footprint. Because, I understand what Frankl means when he reminds the reader of Dostoevsky’s quote: “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings” (66).

Was Du erlebst, kann keine Macht der Welt Dir rauben.

What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you.

– Unknown Poet.

Human nature and existence are ever so fascinating. At the most painful moments, I had to consciously remind myself that if suffering exists so does joy. Cultivating a mind that critically thinks and analyzes in balance is important in my opinion. Today, for the majority of people, the definition of happiness is an absolute state of being that someone can reach and keep forever. My definition is different; for me, happiness is a reflection on how many joyful moments you’ve experienced, your desire to experience more, and the acceptance that joy is both cultivated but impermanent.

How are we supposed to cultivate joy then? What does Frankl have to say about this? He argues that we should not chase after happiness, but we should seek to discover meaning. Aside from describing his experiences in the concentration camps, he presents a summary of his work in logotherapy: “According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering” (111). In other words, the way I understand it, if you are suffering or in pain: seek to create something from it or do something for another despite it, go have a new experience or try to meet someone new, or seek to avoid a negative attitude because it only adds more negativity to the experience. If you are going to be depressed, then be positively depressed. Pun intended.

Admittedly, the nuances of logotherapy seem complex and, as with anything complex, is fodder for lengthy critical deconstruction. Frankl somewhat preemptively discusses the simplified message of his work: the just be positive motto. He addresses this optimism by stating that to “speak of a tragic optimism, that is, an optimism in the face of tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best always allows for: (1) turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment; (2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; and (3) deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action” (138). The fundamental concept that I gather from these three points is Frankl’s encouragement for individuals to be active. As an educator, I focus on the words he uses: turning, achievement, accomplishment, deriving, change, incentive, to take, action. All of these words are verbs. You must be actively engaged with being alive both in the mind and in the realm of the physical.

As an adult, I’ve actively worked very hard to cultivate a life in which I do not perpetuate the psychological and physical pain and suffering that I experienced in my youth. Have I been successful? I won’t know until I die, but it gives my life meaning. And, I’m satisfied so far. I’ve aimed to learn what brings me real joy. 

Frankl says that when he was freed from the concentration camps, he had one phrase in mind: “I called to the Lord from my narrow prison and He answered me in the freedom of space” (89). When I left home for college, I was confronted with this freedom in many different ways because of my personal history. But, I think many young adults feel this way when they reach legal age or they reach certain maturity points. Do you want to be safe and do what you’ve done before, or do you want to explore unknown joy which requires risk? Everyone encounters suffering and pain in their lives; therein lies the value of reading Frankl’s work. When you find this freedom of space, you must take ownership of it. What will you do with this freedom of space?

Reading Frank’s work has led me to confront some difficult, personal thoughts about my life and the people that are part of it or in the periphery of it. He states that “In the concentration camps, for example, … we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions” (134). 

In my understanding, you may be immersed or you may have emerged from terrible conditions but that neither excuses or condones perpetuating the same conditions or suffering on another. After reading this section, I wondered at length about the strife between these two factions of Holocaust survivors. What did the ‘saints’ do when confronted by the actions of the ‘swine’ and the consequences of those actions? How do you live with and among your trauma comrades who chose to shed the label of oppressed only to become the oppressors or the label of victims only to turn into abusers? What do you do when the ‘swine’ believe themselves to be the ‘saints’? Do you choose to part ways based on your individual experience of suffering or do you choose to honor your collective experience of trauma and remain a unit? 

I think of the modern day parallels that we confront in our networks and communities with these questions. Frankl explores some of these important individual and collective concepts in regards to suffering and WWII in Man’s Search for Meaning. He says, “You may of course ask whether we really need to refer to “saints.” Wouldn’t it suffice just to refer to decent people? It is true that they form a minority. More than that, they always will remain a minority. And yet, I see therein the very challenge to join the minority. For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best” (154). Ditto. If you feel as if you have no meaning to your life, then do your best to understand that you are not the only one. If you don’t know what to do, then aim to do something decent for humanity.

Like all great books, we can discuss Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning interminably, but I will wrap this up with this quote: “Frankl was once asked to express in one sentence the meaning of his own life. He wrote the response on paper and asked his students to guess what he had written. After some moments of quiet reflection, a student surprised Frankl by saying, ‘The meaning of your life is to help others find the meaning in theirs.'” (165). That’s deep. It’s wonderful to believe that writing his blog post and re-creating some of my original reflections can contribute to that for any reader that gets to this point. 

Thank you for reading!

All my best,

D.

Works Cited

Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search for Meaning. Beacon Press, 2006.

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