Tag Archives: Reading List

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: April

It is hard for me to believe that April is drawing to a close, but here we are. Between not working much and finishing up my final semester of school, I was only able to complete two books:

The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker

A friend recommended this one to me and I thought that since I enjoyed Abarat it would be worthwhile to explore some of Barker’s earlier works. Rumor had it that this was a great piece of horror fiction; the sort of fiction that makes my heart beat a little faster and the hair on my arms stand up. Unfortunately, The Hellbound Heart, though a clever little novella, did nothing of the sort. There were moments in The Vampire Lestat, which terrified me more than this little book ever will. However, that isn’t to say the book was entirely without merit.

The plot is centered on a curious device—Lemarchand’s Box—a puzzle box that serves as a gateway to a world of “great pleasures.” These great pleasures turn out to be a group of deformed creatures, Cenobites, who gain this pleasure through the most violent means imaginable. This, for me, was the highlight of the book. I thought the idea of a puzzle box that opens up gateways to different worlds was quite exhilarating, but as the characters were introduced to the story my pleasure decidedly stopped.

Like in Abarat, Barker utilizes plots that are very predictable and devoid of the little twists and subtle turns that make a truly great piece of literature. The moment Rory and Julia move into the dark little house where Rory’s brother, Frank, opened the box, I knew more or less what was going to happen next. The very flat, unchanging characters do little to relieve the banality of the overarching plot. The only character of interest is Kirsty and this might be due, in part, to the fact that she is ultimately the hero of this unfortunate tale.

All this said, there is only so much that an author can accomplish in a tale so short. The Hellbound Heart is the sort of work that can be enjoyed in one sitting on a dreary afternoon with a cup of tea. It may not be particularly thought provoking, but Barker’s novella still offers readers some dark, violent entertainment that had me smiling on several occasions.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

If more popular fiction was written like Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, I would not be as disgusted as I am every time I walk into Barnes & Noble to find stacks upon stacks of the latest bestseller. Golden’s fictional narrative of the life of geisha, Nitta Sayuri, is a beautifully painted, captivating work of modern literature. The novel, told in the first person, takes advantage of the popularity of memoirs and brings to life the enchanting, fairy-tale like story of Sayuri from her childhood as a fisherman’s daughter, to her transformation as a geisha in Kyoto, and finally ends with her retelling her story to a professor in New York.

There is little for me to say about this novel that has not been stated somewhere before, so my only advice is to read it and experience it first hand. Golden’s prose is breathtaking in its elegance. His descriptions of the daily life of Sayuri in Gion, right down to his discussions of a geisha’s makeup is truly magnificent. This novel is written in such a way that Golden breathes life into his characters and settings, so that even one unfamiliar with the foreign items, clothing, and images can still create a vivid picture in her mind.

Admittedly, I had been a fan of the movie years before I ever planned on picking up this book. The movie, however, loses so many of the subtle twists and turns and trials that Sayuri must suffer through in her life. The format of the book itself, with its conversational style, makes it seem all the more real to the reader.

My only complaint lies in the fact that the narrative moves very slowly and as a result I had a hard time “getting into it” so to speak. It took some getting used to before I could really appreciate the story for what it was, instead of sitting around wondering when something interesting was going to happen. Truly, some of the most enchanting moments of Golden’s novel are not the turns of the gears of plot but instead lie within his fluid descriptions of minute details – the kimono Sayuri wears, the scenery that surrounds her, the people that she meets. 

Reading List: March

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

This trilogy, comprised of The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, follows the fantastical adventures of Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry as they weave their way through a labyrinth of epic events and trials. When I first read the series, admittedly, I gave up well before the midway point of The Subtle Knife— disappointed by the turn of events within the overarching story.

The Golden Compass, the first book of the trilogy, is by far my favorite of the three. This story takes place in a fantasy world much like our own; Lyra is from a place called Oxford, where she lives with the scholars at Jordan College. Not far into the story her best friend, Roger, is kidnapped by the Gobblers (a group of people who have been stealing children from the streets) and the course of the novel more-or-less follows her struggle to rescue him.

This first novel, aside from hints of deeper intrigues to come later, is very much your typical fantasy novel. The world that Pullman creates is one that is a blending of physics, science, and religion. Lyra’s world is a place where magical happenings and armored bears run hand-in-hand with zeppelins, guns, and aeronauts. By far the worlds of His Dark Materials are the most rich and well-done aspects of the series. The settings and technology have a very Steampunk vibe– from anbaric lanterns to hot-air balloons, the technology Pullman creates is truly magnificent.

The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, take the series in another, but not unexpected direction. In The Subtle Knife, Lyra meets Will Parry, and the two of them soon find themselves with the ability to move between different worlds and dimensions. At the same time, the reader is able to put together some of the more vague events of the first book: Lord Asriel and his war against the Almighty, Mrs. Coulter and the Oblation Board, and so on. It is in these two books that most of the controversy surrounding the series manifests itself. While I was not particularly unsettled by the blatant bashing of organized religion or the idea of battling the Almighty, I can certainly see where others might feel uneasy. Philip Pullman surely is not the first literary figure to take such a stance within his writing and certainly will not be the last.

Actually, I found many of the strange twists and turns of the storyline to be quite entertaining and even unexpected. The merging of scientific ideas, physics, theology, and fantasy were all very fascinating in so far that they were put together in such a way I have never seen before.  The series is beautifully crafted and Pullman is a master at creating enduring characters and worlds.

So, here is my advice if you are planning on reading the series. Go into it with an open mind. If you are looking for a light, harmless, and conventional fantasy adventure this is not it (this is part of the reason I did not finish the series the first time I started it).

Next month, I will be moving away from the fantasy theme that has been prevelant in my reading towards more variety. On the list? Memoirs of a Geisha, The Hellbound Heart, and Mansfield Park.