Category Archives: Literature

January Reading List: “Zombies vs. Flappers”

Collected Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I have probably mentioned this somewhere before, but the short story happens to be my favorite form of literature. There’s something to be said about an author able to leave a life-long impression in a few thousand words. Of all the stories in this collection, two have caught my fancy: “The Offshore Pirate” and “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.”

Both of these stories are fantasies, which, if you have been reading these lists from the beginning, should not come as a surprise. “The Offshore Pirate” tells the story of Ardita Farnan and her love affair with a pirate that raids her uncle’s ship off the Florida shores. “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” chronicles John T. Unger’s trip to visit a classmate at his home in the west. John soon discovers that his friend’s family lives on a mountain-sized diamond and will go to any lengths to keep this secret to themselves.

“The Offshore Pirate” is quickly climbing to the top of my favorite short stories list. I adore the strength of the characters that drive this narrative and the truths that are revealed within the last few pages. Fitzgerald’s writing was conversational, his descriptions simple but captivating, and his dialogue masterful.

Bay of the Dead by Mark Morris

I bought this because Ianto was on the cover. stfu.

This short novel is an offshoot of the BBC series Torchwood. It was far from a masterful piece of fiction and instead rather like reading a badly written episode. This is where I peer to and for before muttering, “I’ve ready better fanfiction.”

Bay of the Dead takes place some time after the end of the second series. Jack, Gwen, and Ianto find themselves in the midst of a zombie apocolypse. Now, I don’t like zombies simply because they terrify me. Yes, I have an irrational fear of zombies. I watch zombie movies and I immediately have nightmares of my face being eaten by a stinky, rotten corpse.

The plot is very action-oriented and leaves little room for character development. I had hoped that reading the companion books to the series would give me a broader and more intimate look into the thoughts and personalities of my favorite characters. Needless to say, I was sorely disappointed. That isn’t to say that this book wasn’t a fun way to spend the afternoon. The book still features Jack Harkness being Jack Harkness and the occassional quip from a suit-clad Ianto.

Anyway, if you want to see the Torchwood team take on the Zombie apocalypse George A. Romero-style this book is for you. If you’re like me and looking for character development, don’t look here.

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Reading List: November

Yesterday it was October. Today it is December. What happened to November?  I thought I saw a large, lumbering leaf-pile skulking just outside my field of vision– that must have been it.

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

I read this novel early in the month and, sadly, it was the only work I managed to complete. I found the book unremarkable. Or, rather, the characters and general plot failed to produce any sort of reaction from me as a reader. I breathed a sigh of relief when Griffin, the invisible man, was beaten to death by a rabid and angry crowd.

Yet, I came away from reading this with more than a smile on my face. There is something about the mix of blooming scientific fact and paranormal fantasy in 19th century literature that tickles me pink. It was worth the few hours it took to read this novella if only for the fact that it had the same atmosphere as some of my favorite works.

That’s all, really.

Hi-Fructose Magazine

hifructoseRecently, I find myself drawn to the world of magazines. These pint-sized purveyors of words are ideal for sliding under paperwork and perusing between phone calls. As it is, a beautifully crafted, thousand word article can often be more powerful than a 50,000 word novel. My search for bite-friendly literature lead me to the magazine section at my local Barnes & Noble.

Dazzled by the selection– should I read about dolls, games, anime, fashion?– my eyes settled on the haunting portrait that decorated the latest issue of Hi-Fructose. I picked it up, thumbed through to find myself assaulted by stunningly crafted layouts and mind-numbingly gorgeous artwork. My penny-counting shoulder fairy carefully replaced the volume and opted for a less expensive underground and alternative art magazine. Still, this volume beckoned to me from the shelf throughout my daily visits to the cafe.

When I finally did break down and purchase the magazine, I was not disappointed. In fact, I was absolutely shell-shocked. Not only does this magazine showcase phenomenal artists, but the articles themselves feature high-calibre writing. . The crisp, clean layouts and top-quality professional writing make this magazine stand above the others sitting next to it on the shelf. So, if you like art or if you’re just looking for some beautifully written, inspiring articles pick this up.

Hi-Fructose is published quarterly and can be found in many major bookstores as well as online at their website http://www.hifructose.com/.

Reading List: October “Flirting with the Supernatural”

October, a month of changing leaves and goblins and ghouls. So, what better way to spend my month than reading tales of the supernatural? And who just happens to be the queen of the supernatural? Anne Rice.

Blackwood Farm by Anne Rice

Earlier this year, I started a reread of Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles. I thought it was high time I revisited the series and picked up Blackwood Farm and Blood Canticle. I regret it. I really do regret it.

Blackwood Farm is a train wreck. I kept reading with the hope that maybe, maybe Anne Rice would somehow transform the disgusting mess of a narrative into something lovely. This never happened. Let me put it this way, I do not like Lestat. In face, Lestat is one of my least favorite literary characters ever. The highlight of my Blackwood Farm experience was the few moments in the beginning when Lestat was charming everyone and made some off-hand comment about goths.

I don’t even want to talk about this book. I can’t believe I read it. I can’t believe Anne Rice wrote it. What is the world coming to?

The Time Traveller’s Wife  by Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveller’s Wife was one of those books I told myself I would never read. It was popular, people loved it, and I refused to have any part in that. I finally broke down and checked it out at the local library.

I think what I liked most about this book was the clever way in which Niffenegger structures the novel. The reader is presented with two alternating perspectives through the eyes of Henry and Clare. So, for example, a certain scene might be seen through the eyes of Clare only later to be retold and reexperienced through the eyes of Henry. The narrative itself is anchored on Clare’s linear life, while Henry weaves his way through this timeline appearing at different times at different ages. That was a rather disorienting sentence, but the book has a tendency to be disorienting.

My only complain is that, overall, the book is rather overdramatic. It is, at its core, a sappy and depressing love story. It’s much better than orgiastic episodes with ghosts and hermaphroditic vampires, however. The perfect book for a fall afternoon curled up in bed with hot chocolate and slippers.

That’s all for this month. I’m going to take my sub-par writing skills and skip off.

Review: Stitches: A Memoir by David Small

stitchesIf ever there was a graphic novel that set out to redefine and reimagine what this fast-growing genre can produce, it is David Small’s memoir Stitches. The already tragic, poignant story of Small’s troubling childhood is only enhanced by the dreamy, simple images of each panel. The knowledge that what appears before the reader is not a fictional story, but instead the retelling of one artist’s life is… haunting. What better way for an artist to retell his path, than through art?

The withdrawn nature of David’s family, his struggle with cancer and the consequent loss of his voice, his decision to leave home at an early age to pursue a career as an artist, all illustrate beautifully the way in which David was able to overcome the struggles of his youth. Like life, David’s story does not end tidily. Despite the fact that Small’s narrative ends on the path to redemption, the reader does not leave with a sense of completeness.  Not all problems are addressed and not all questions are answered. This, I think, was most powerful of all. Life is not clean, nor does it always happily tie up loose ends, so it was fitting that Small’s retelling of his own road as an artists mirrored these aspects of life.

Much like Savage’s Firmin, Small looks at the ways in which a voiceless individual overcomes these obstacles to make something of himself. I came away with a renewed determination to take what I have in my life and continue to work with it, to improve it, and to take action.

Interestingly enough, David Small is a Detroit native and much of the story takes place in or around the city. If you like memoirs, if you like poignant prose, and if you live graphic novels this is certainly one to pick up.

Reading List Authors Edition I: Sam Savage

I first stumbled upon the work of Sam Savage while browsing at the local Barnes & Noble on my lunch break. They say that you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, but it was the bold, black typewriter and orange background of The Cry of Sloth that grabbed my attention. Amidst stacks and shelves full of hundreds, nay thousands, of books my hand reached out to grasp this curiously colored and titled tome. A few days later I bounded off to the local library.

The Cry of the Sloth

Editor of the not-well-known literary magazine SOAP and unfortunate landlord to numerous crumbling properties, Andrew Whittaker’s tragic undoing is chronicled through a collection of letters, diary entries, shopping lists, notes to tenants and Whitman-esque letters to editors. Readers become privy to the darkest thoughts and deeds that orchestrate the undoing of a struggling writer. In an attempt to save himself (and his beloved magazine), Whittaker begins plans for a grand literary festival. At the same time, he is tormented by a demanding ex-wife, threatened by a rejected SOAP writer, searched for by the banks, and ridiculed by rival art magazine, The Art News.

This comic tale feels and reads much like John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. The pages are filled with off-the-wall and ridiculous situations that work to illustrate the truly tragic nature of the main characters. Savage weaves a beautifully dark, tragically funny narrative that completes itself in a mere 224 pages. Admittedly, I was a little skeptical as to how successful the book’s format would pan out.  The epistelary nature of the book makes for an interesting conflict: the reader is left craving for more from the characters that appear in Andy’s letters and notes, yet the author gives enough that the reader is able to paint elaborate pictures of these characters. Questions like “How did Jolie respond to the last letter?” are hinted at in later replies from the narrator. Yet, these letters and snippets of Andy’s writings add a certain intimacy that might have lacked in other formats.

firminFirmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife

Of all the books I have read this year, this volume stands at the top of the list. Firmin: aspiring author, lover of literature, and rat. The runt of among is 12 siblings, Firmin realizes early on that he is different than other rats. More intelligent than some of the most well-read humans, Firmin is condemned to a life of silence and literature within the walls of Boston bookseller, Pembroke Books. Here readers are exposed to the life of a rat who isn’t really a rat and the tragedy that comes from living such an isolated, lonely life. Full of eloquent words and beautiful passages, Firmin has not the voice to share these with the handful of humans he falls in love with.

Beautifully crafted, dark, and sometimes humerous, Savage captures the lonely isolation of the genius – a feeling that we all have no doubt felt at one time or another. Firmin’s tale is endearing, unique, and moving. His habit of wandering into the nearby Rialto theater to watch x-rated movies with the girls he dubs “Lovelies” only serves to emphasize the fact that Firmin, however human he might appear to be, is still a rat by nature.

What strikes me most about Savage’s prose is the sheer amount of eloquence that he conveys while still writing in an easy, conversational manner. His language is not the haughty, hyper-elegant prose that often bogs down the works of Anne Rice, nor is it the crude, every-day language that sometimes makes me cringe while reading Stephen King.  Instead, Savage captures the essence of literature in flowing, easy-to-read prose that sends shivers up this sentence-lover’s spine. Both of these books are short, with The Cry of the Sloth at 224 pages and Firmin at 162. Yet, despite the brevity of these works, Savage creates powerfully moving narratives devoid of fluff and terribly charming.

Reading List: September “Of Pictures and Kings”

September, oh, September! It has been a dry month in the literature department. I have been negligent. My days spent mindlessly answering phones and staring at mundane projects has all but devoured my will to do anything else.

Okay, I lie. Most of the reading I did this month happened in the world of manga. There’s nothing like the uplifting tale of a strong heroine to add a little spring to a girl’s step. Yet, can such things as comics and graphic novels and the like be labeled “literature”? Mmhmm!

Revolutionary Girl Utena (Vol. 1) by Chiho Saito

I love Revolutionary Girl Utena and it is one of the very few animes that I regret not owning. Utena, our pink-haired heroine, strives to life a noble life after being rescued by a rose-scented prince. She fights duels, rescues damsels, chases princes, and so on. This is an inspiring fairy-tale filled story with a great many twists and turns.

Also, there is sword fighting. There’s nothing like a good sword fight.

Paradise Kiss (Vol. 1-3) by Ai Yazawa

I just wrote about Paradise Kiss in a recent post, so it would be redundant to write about it again. This is a short series, consisting of five fun-filled volumes. There’s something about the sleek, stylish characters and the blend of fashion and storytelling that keeps this series as compelling as ever.

The Once & Future King by T.H. White

This, as Shawn always points out, is a book of ideas. Unfortunately, my tired and battered mind latched onto those golden instances of storytelling peppered throughout the narrative. I loved reading about Wart’s adventures with Robin Wood, his experiences being turned into various animals by Merlyn, and the later tales concerning the collapse of Arthur’s dreams and kingdom.

Admittedly, I felt that the middle third of the book was sadly lacking in some respects– I dragged through these pages only to find myself entirely engrossed in the last third of this epic tale. Yet, it is a powerful author who is able to illicit a true dislike for a character and T.H. White does this beautifully.

Someday, I will read this again and get a little more out of it.

I read one final book this month, The Cry of the Sloth by Sam Savage, but I am working on a larger post concerning this work. I need to learn how to write through the exhaustion, this is rubbish. In fact, if this were a sheet of paper it would be in the trash– probably.