Two Witnesses at Gettysburg: Whitelaw Reid’s Account

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War journalism is not something I’ve read/written about before but I am killing two literary birds with one stone by analyzing an account of the Battle of Gettysburg.  With an essay based mid-term tomorrow in my journalism class, I hope that writing down my thoughts will prove to be sufficient preparation.  Moving on…

Two Witnesses at Gettysburg is, as the title states, composed of two accounts of this battle.  Specifically, I read Whitelaw Reid’s perspective .  Whitelaw Reid was an American politician and newspaper editor from Ohio.  He was working for the Cincinnati Gazette when he was assigned to accompany the Union army and write a report on the Battle of Gettysburg.

To fully appreciate Reid’s story, it is important to have the context of war reporting during his time.  Journalism in America during the civil war was in its infancy.  Reporters were figuring out what it meant to effectively report on wars.  Being influenced by English writers, journalism at the time tended to be ponderous and flowery in style.  Additionally, news took a lot longer to reach the general public since many people could not afford to send telegrams.  Thus, people were not concerned about the quality of reporting at the time; they were more concerned about hearing any sort of news from the front lines. Reid enters the stage during this time as one of many journalists that were sent out to report on the events of battles as they unfolded.  Though there were many journalists present during this war, Reid’s account is the most revered.

Reid himself was a republican, and a Union supporter.  Unlike modern journalism which has a neutral tone and focuses on facts relevant to the story, Reid did not hesitate to insert his strong opinions throughout his account and let his bias show.  It is first clear that he is a Union supporter by aligning himself with the Union army uses the pronouns “us” and “we.”  His bias towards the Union was further strengthened through his primary use of sources: Union generals and officers, as well as other reporters that were associated with the Union.  Though he is biased towards the Union, he does not spare them from criticism as well.  At one point, he criticizes drunk Union soldiers and stragglers as he is on his way to Gettysburg.

Despite his clear sympathy towards the Union, Reid was still able to capture the full picture of the battle.  He laid out what he saw as he saw it, sparing no details.  Sometimes, his obsession with detail can veer towards verbosity.  The scene at the end of the battle where he picks a flower spotted with the blood of the fallen soldiers is one example of where his style slides from journalism to poetry.  While this style was common of war reporters at the time, Reid differs from the norm in that he avoids glamorizing the battle.  A common criticism of journalism during his time is that war was glorified.  Reid however includes the suffering and pain the soldiers were going through.  At the end of his account, he goes on to describe how disappointed he is in the Union army for General Meade not pursuing Lee, even though they did win the battle.

It is clear through Reid’s account that he was an avid reader.  His literary style influenced him to not only capture every detail of the actual war, but include small details, such as the blood spotted flower, that stick with the reader.  Overall, it is clear why his account is still read and used as an example of journalism during the civil war.  While Reid is biased and verbose at times, his report is rich in detail and gives an insight into key aspects of civil war journalism.  I would never have picked this book up to read on my own, but those who enjoy war reporting or are interested in how journalism in the US has evolved over time will find interest in Reid’s account.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

 

 

 

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“Cotton Tenants” By James Agee

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James Agee, a poet that graduated from Harvard University, was never to witness his account “Cotton Tenants” finally published three years ago. As a reporter for Fortune magazine in 1936 (in the midst of the Great Depression), he was recruited to stay with sharecroppers for eight weeks and record how they worked and lived. Accompanied by the photographer Walker Evans, their assignment lead to Agee’s book “Let Us Know Praise Famous Men.” Before the book was published however, Agee submitted the “Cotton Tenants” essay to Fortune magazine. His document was a richly detailed account of the daily lives of three sharecropping families accompanied by Walker’s photographs. The article was originally rejected and not published until 2013.

Having lived with and been in close contact with these three families, Agee’s account is surprisingly distant in style. He writes as if he is a fly on the wall. His tone is neutral and the content is rich descriptions of the families. The text is divided into chapters that focus on different aspects of their lives: business, education, shelter, leisure, clothes, and so on. It’s as if he was a researcher studying the behaviors of a unique species.

Despite Agee’s lush detail of aesthetics, there are several aspects of the southern sharecropper experience that he left out. One notable omission from his account is dialogue. It is clear that Agee is trying to take a neutral stance and avoid bias or sounding political or condescending, which could explain this decision. Another is not addressing the experience of freed slaves-now sharecroppers. However, he does address in the introduction that to write of the African American experience during this time would mean a whole new book entirely.

Although it is clear that Agee desperately seeks to remain neutral in his account, the descriptions of poverty, child labor, and the squalor the tenants lived in make it impossible for the reader to not feel a sense of empathy for the family. Despite avoiding political activism, “Cotton Tenants” manages to expose the dire state white sharecroppers were caught in. As readers, we can’t hear the stories the families tell, but we get an almost voyeuristic look into the exact layout of their houses, down to the oil-stained tablecloths where they gather for dinner. We can almost taste the grimy lard soaked sorghum that most of their meals consist of. We can almost feel callouses develop on our hands as we learn the grueling labor of picking cotton. We aren’t let in on the conversations, but Agee stimulates the other senses with such attention to detail that the reader is left saturated with the sharecropper’s experiences. Agee doesn’t tell, he shows, which makes him an effective storyteller and this account an overall insightful and engaging account.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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Shadow’s Summer List (So Far…)

Normally I’ve avoided discussing my personal life on this blog for several reasons: keep this website semi professional, uphold the privacy of other people, and my mission that this blog be centered around books.  However, I must digress for a little bit to explain my absence.  It’s not that I haven’t been reading, quite the opposite in fact.  Before my recent literary marathon, I moved back to the US a month ago, adjusted back to American culture, and went through two heartbreaks.

I felt (and still do to a degree) sorry for myself and sorry for the people I’ve hurt and have had these crushing feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and failure on my shoulders.

Where there is loneliness and lamentation, literature awaits with open, non-judgemental arms.  It was thus that I admitted defeat in the romance department and threw myself into the world of words.

With thanks to the reader for bearing with me through my tangent, I present to you what I’ve read so far this summer:

  • Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

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While I awaited my mother’s arrival at Istanbul Ataturk Airport, I had about eight hours to kill.  Within that time, I read this book on my I-Pad.  It was that addictive.

Short summary: a woman wakes up older than she was the day before with no memories.  She finds out that she has short term memory loss and amnesia due to a car accident.  As she tries to unravel her past and piece together shards of her memories, she starts to realize that not every one is who they say they are and she cannot trust everyone around her.

This book was creepy on many levels and the suspense built slowly, always leaving you wanting more.  Highly recommended for fans of Hitchcock and Gillian Flynn looking for a quick summer read.

PS: If you saw the movie already, it doesn’t hold a candle to the book.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

  • Help for the Haunted by John Searles

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John Searles used to live in the same town as Ed and Lorraine Warren, who inspired the movies “The Conjuring” and “Annabelle.”  In this book, it is clear this couple also inspired the parents of the main character.  Sylvie Mason’s parents are psychics/paranormal experts that help people who are haunted/possessed.  A year after their tragic death, Sylvie tries to piece together the night of their murder as she also discovers her parents had secrets haunting them as well.

This book reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” in that it shows a character looking back on his/her past which at the time seemed magical and at times frightening with a new adult perspective.  It’s a coming of age story of sorts that I think many people can relate to.  As we age, we see our parents and our child hood memories differently.

Equal parts scary, touching, and tragic, this book is another great summer read.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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Another heart pounding, addictive book is “The Girl on the Train.”  Fans of Gillian Flynn will also like this book for its unreliable characters, plot twists, and suspense.

Recently divorced and alcoholic Rachel rides the train every day at the same time.  At the same stop, she has a quick glance into a couple’s home whom she believes to be the epitome of marital bliss.  One day however she witnesses something that shatters her perspective of the couple.  With that, the tension builds as she tries to figure out what happened to the couple and weave together her alcohol soaked memories.

If I hadn’t been working full time, I would have easily read this book in a day.  There’s a good reason why this book is currently a best seller and that’s because it’s an easy read that hooks you at the beginning and is the perfect book to stay up late on a summer night reading.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

  • Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

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My mom and brother were discussing this book together until it got to a point where I told them to stop their discussion until I could join.  When two people won’t stop talking about a book in my family, I know that I can’t be left out.

A little bit about Nickolas Butler: he is from my home state (Wisconsin) and like all Sconnies, he really really loves Wisconsin.  It’s evident throughout the pages as he paints with words scenic pictures of Wisconsin farmlands, small town life, and describes in detail the smells, the textures.  As a Sconnie, I could easily picture the scenes and recall the scents.  If anything, this book is well worth a read for the great descriptive writing.

A short summary:  four friends grew up in the same small town.  As they grow up, their lives part ways and intertwine.  One friend becomes a famous rock star, one takes over his fathers farm, one gets married and moves to Chicago.  Another becomes the town (recovering) drunk.

As someone who grew up in Wisconsin, I could relate to this book.  The desire to go out into the world and make a difference, but the constant pull towards home and nostalgia for the past.  This book isn’t exactly a coming of age story, but more of an aging story.  As the characters get older, leave their home town and come back, you see how their relationships with each other and their town change.  It’s a book that I think anyone over 18 could easily see a part of themselves in.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

  • Looking for Alaska by John Green

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I read “The Fault in Our Stars” and loved it and laughed and bawled my eyes out.  This other book by John Green however was somewhat of a disappointment in comparison.  While Green does a good job of relating to teenagers and how they cope with grief and growing up, I found this story somewhat subpar.  I think teenagers would enjoy this book but as an adult, I was looking for more.

Basic summary: Pudge goes to a boarding school where his life is changed by meeting a fellow classmate, Alaska.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

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Another John Green book.  Since I’m too poor right now to buy “Paper Towns,” I figured I’d read his other books while waiting for my library copy.  My sentiments about this book were similar to “Looking for Alaska,” an enjoyable book, addresses teen issues and romance appropriately, but not his best work.

Short summary: Colin sets off on an impromptu road trip with his Arabic friend after being dumped by the 19th Katherine he dated while trying to create a formula to predict how a relationship will end.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

  • The Fifth Child by Debra Lessing

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Just shy over 100 pages, this book manages to pack a punch without wasting a single word.  While reading, I was reminded of “Rosemary’s Baby’: a happy couple whose world is turned upside down by a demon baby.  However this book is unique in that it is about a couple who wants to have many children.  They succeed in procreating right after marriage.  When their fifth child is born however, he is…different.

This book is just plain creepy.  The way the fifth child is described, both in mannerisms and physically, is sure to give you nightmares.  Besides ruining your chance of a good night’s sleep, this book is excellently written.  Lessing manages to achieve great character development, build a chilling plot, and end with a bang all without hitting 200 pages.  When you’re in the mood for a scary night, pick this up instead of switching on Netflix.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

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Horror Novels as Scary as the Films

In college, I developed an obsession of horror movies.  Not the gory ones meant to shock and appall you, but the slow burning ones that creep under your skin and exploit your perception of what is safe and comforting.  Many people like to be scared for kicks, I just prefer to do so within the solace of my apartment.

Anyways, I was jonesing for a good scare last weekend and without anything better to do, ended up reading two books that were written in the 60s/70s and promptly had successful movie adaptations that are considered classic horror films.  Have you figured out what those books are?

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Of course, The Exorcist, the movie that spawned a whole franchise of demonic possession films. Most people are familiar with the story: a sweet girl Regan, who is the daughter of an actress becomes possessed after talking to an entity she calls “Captain Howdy.”  After exhausting all other options, her desperate mother calls upon a Jesuit priest to help her daughter.

The movie is frightening in that you see a very innocent young girl turn into a projectile vomiting, swearing, cross desecrating, head turning all the way around being.  The book however is even more terrifying in that there is more of a build up of the characters, so Regan’s decline into possession is gradual and ultimately shocking.  Also, if you thought the movie was bad, the book describes in detail some more disgusting things the demon makes Regan do, which ultimately would not be appropriate at all to be shown in a movie.

Besides containing more horror than the movie, the book is better in that the characters have time to become more developed, and thus the motivations and actions shown in the movie are better understood.  For example, Karass, the priest that determines Regan is possessed, is shown to be a man full of guilt for abandoning his mother and feeling responsible for her death.  This is touched upon in the movie, but the book does a better job of showing the scope of his emotional baggage.  Compared to the movie, his ultimate action to save Regan in the book seemed more natural and satisfying.

The last great thing about the book versus the movie is the build up towards the exorcism.  In a movie, if they spent screen time covering all the events leading to the exorcism, it would quickly become boring as it would be a string of scenes involving Karass doing research.  In the book, it was a logical string of events that created eager anticipation for the climax.  Karass is very careful in the book to admit that Regan is possessed.  He actually spends most of the book convinced that she is suffering from some sort of mental disease.  It is only when he carefully considers her actions and eliminates any clear sign of mental illness that he decides to propose exorcism.  I actually appreciated this attention to detail because it seemed realistic to me.

Watching the movie before reading the book did not make this horror story any less enjoyable.  Of course, the book is always better so reading the novel made me appreciate the movie that much more.  I give this book five out of five stars for great character development, and a good mix of shocking and slow building horror.

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What if you found out the person that had vowed to love and respect you til death do you part, was actually a member of a satanic cult and let the Devil have his way with you? Yeah I don’t know what I’d do either, but that is the very situation Rosemary finds herself in in this book that went on to become a successful horror movie in the late 60s.

The horror in this book isn’t your typical serial killer or monster/ghost situation. Rather what makes it scary is the idea that the people you think are your friends and the person you think you love are actually conspiring against you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Poor Rosemary, she married the man she loved and for that her parents cut all ties with her.  All she wanted was to have a happy life in New York with her husband and have three children.  After moving into a fancy new apartment and making friends with her new neighbors, the Castevets, she finds out she is pregnant.  From there, the horror starts to sneak in as she realizes something is wrong with her pregnancy, and her husband and neighbors might not be the devoted husband and nice old people they seem to be.  Furthermore, her husband suddenly starts to become more successful in his acting career.  Is she going crazy or is there some deep dark secret the Castevets and her husband are hiding?

Of course, many people have seen the movie already or already know the ending.  I had already seen the movie myself but I enjoyed the book a lot more.  I realized that Roman Polanski did a great job adapting the book and casting the characters, but overall I feel that Rosemary’s Baby is more effective as a book rather than a movie.  My biggest issue with the movie was that not a lot happened.  In the book, you get more into Rosemary’s mind and psyche and that drives you to keep reading.  The only thing the movie added to the story was showing how the pregnancy affected Rosemary’s health.

I give this book five out of five stars because it is a good mix of camp and horror, and hooks you from the first page (I ended up reading this in less than 24 hours).

Overall, I highly recommend both of these books to the lovers of classic horror. After watching the movies, you will enjoy the great writing of these two books.  After going back and reading the novels, you will then have a greater appreciation for the films.

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“Cloud Atlas” By David Mitchell

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Do you remember the first time you encountered nesting dolls? You saw an ornately painted wooden figure and picked it up out of curiosity.  Then you noticed a crack running through its midsection.  Puzzled, you pulled both halves apart to find another, smaller wooden doll on the indside.  You repeated the process again and again, until finally you were left with a tiny replica of the original figure, and the disassembled parts of the larger dolls.  Next, you put the smallest figure into the one that was slightly bigger, and so on, reversing the process until you are left at the beginning.  You weren’t quite sure of what exactly the purpose of the nesting doll was until you had reached the center, and returned to where you started.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is a literary nesting doll.  The book consists of six novellas.  The first five novellas stop mid story.  When you reach the six novella, there is no interruption in the plot.  From there, the stories pick back up and finish, but in the opposite direction.  To put it simply, if each novella were assigned a number, the structure is: 1-2-3-4-5-6-5-4-3-2-1.

Each of the novellas has a different genre within itself, but the overall book is a complex exploration of religion, science, philosophy, and reincarnation.  The unifying theme is a comet birthmark, which makes its appearance in each story on one of the characters.

The message of the book, which is that we are all connected by time and souls that float from one body to the next, becomes obvious as the reader progresses from one novella to the next.  Each novella is fairly weak when examined apart from the other novels, but perhaps this was an intentional strategy.  Like a nesting doll, you need to read the entire book to fully appreciate the message.

My biggest critique of the book was that the delivery of the moral lacked the literary punch I was expecting.  Perhaps Mitchell was trying to achieve too much in this behemoth that his main message was overwhelmed by sub-meditations and revelations.  I found myself wondering what exactly he wanted the reader to take away from this ambitious novel.  It was only after I watched the movie and couldn’t fall asleep that night that I realized: if anything, this book makes you think.  There I was, lying awake at night, trying to decipher all of the complexities and subtleties and finding myself going around in mental circles.  I can’t remember the last time a book has affected me in this way.

My recommendation to readers is to watch the movie after reading the book.  Even for the seasoned bibliophile, this book is complicated and seeing the action on screen helps in peeling away the layers of the story.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars for being thought provoking, but falling short of delivering a novel, mind-blowing message that it promised.

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“I am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

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Have you ever read a book that (figuratively) slapped you in the face and made you realize the true scope of your privilege?

“I am Malala” does just that, which is why I think this book should be required reading for high school English classes.

Most people are probably somewhat familiar with Malala Yousafzai, or at least have heard of what happened to her.  At age 15, she was shot point blank by a Talib, survived, and went on to be the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace prize.

Part history of Pakistan and the rise of the Taliban, part family saga, and part memoir, “I am Malala” is an engrossing look into the Muslim world that shatters the stereotypes and prejudices Americans hold against the Middle East.  Malala was raised in a world where women serve their husbands and children, but her father made sure she was educated.  When the Taliban took over Pakistan and started to suppress the rights of all citizens, especially women, Malala stood up for her right to have access to an education.

Ever since 9/11, many Americans have upheld the stereotype that all Muslims are American hating terrorists.  “I am Malala” shows true insight into what it’s like to live in a Muslim country under the control of a small group of violent fundamentalists.  With the frightening increase in attacks against Muslims in recent news, this book shows the humanity and innocence of most of the Middle Easterners, as well as the fact that Islam is a religion that promotes love and peace, just like Christianity.

This book is heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting.  Malala wanted an education, something that most people from western countries can easily obtain and often take for granted.  Because of that, she was shot by a terrorist on her way to school one day.  This happened less than three years ago.  It is chilling that this kind of violence, especially directed towards a young girl, is still going on in the world.  Amazingly, Malala survived and was only fueled by the attack to fight harder for women’s education.  She is only 17, but has already proved to be an incredibly brave and strong woman.  Her persistence in seeking peace and access to education is inspiring.

Why should this book be required for English classes? Because it shatters the prejudices against Muslims, inspires you to stand up for what you believe in, and makes you appreciate that you can go to school without fear of being targeted by terrorists.

I give this book four out of five stars for its engaging writing and inspirational message.

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“Atonement” by Ian McEwan

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In my quest to read at least 50 out of the 100 books on the BBC Book List Challenge, I chose Atonement because it is a short book and I saw the movie a few years ago.  I remember somewhat enjoying the movie, but found it a little depressing.  However, the book is always better than the movie so I went into this book hoping that good writing would make up for the melancholy theme.

Aptly titled, Atonement is a family saga of sorts that traces the aftermath of a young girl, Brionny, who witnesses her cousin being raped and mistakenly blames her sister’s lover (Robbie) for the crime.  I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but the title does make it clear she spends the rest of her life trying to atone for her error.

The success of the book comes from showing the maturity of Brionny, who transforms from a naive girl living in her head, to a nurse who rues her mistake and tries to find absolution with her sister (Cecilia) and Robbie.  Mixed in with Brionny’s character development is what happens to Robbie and his relationship  with Cecilia following the false accusation.

Does Brionny ever find forgiveness?  Do the Romeo and Juliet-esque lovers ever find their happy ending after being torn apart?  For those answers, you will have to read the book.

My only criticism of Atonement is the very last part, which seemed to drag on.  The only purpose seemed to answer the question of what happened to Robbie and Cecilia, but I think the reveal could have been done in fewer pages and still leave the reader satisfied.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars for its en pointe writing and character development.

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Sci Fi and Horror Short Stories…Oh My!

Last week I wondered whether I was becoming a literary masochist.  Between the two volumes of short stories I read, I bounced between being horrified and depressed.  All that influenced my reading choices however was that both of the authors happen to be my two favorite novelists.  With that, let me dive into the scary one first:

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Night Shift by Stephen King

Just when I think that King can’t frighten me anymore and that I’ve read enough of his work that I know what to expect from him, he shocks me again.  Though some of these stories have ties to his other novels, such as Salem’s Lot, The Stand, and Christine, there is plenty of new horror to experience in this anthology.  Many of his short stories in this book have been made into movies, such as Children of the CornQuitters Inc., and The Ledge.  

Just as he does in his novels, each short story starts out slowly, with characters surprisingly well developped given how condensed the action is, and by the time you start to notice the goosebumps rising on your arms, the climax whacks you in the face and you suddenly feel yourself shifting uncomforably in your seat.  King is a master of what I consider to be the key to creating good horror: he takes a seemingly normal situation you would feel comfortable in, then turns the plot completely around, making you realize no one is safe and evil can lurk anywhere.

Best story in the book: it’s a tie between Graveyard Shift and The Ledge.  Graveyard Shift is terribly frightening for any one who has even a sliver of disdain for rats.  The Ledge is less scary but is suspenseful and has one of the greatest literary twists at the end.  It will have you on the edge of your seat, pun intended.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

After I read Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury became one of my all time favorite authors.  Although I am not a huge fan of science fiction, he uses the genre as a way to promote his warnings about humans and violence and our dependency on technology.  In that way, his books are powerful and dreamlike.

The Illustrated Man is a collection of short stories with an encompassing theme: in the prologue a man meets a tattooed carnie in Wisconsin.  Each tattoo tells a story.  Following are the stories that are pictured on the tattooed man’s body.  Many of the stories are about space travel, Mars, and aliens.  The sub plot in these novels is about how advances in technology have caused man to become isolated, either physically or mentally from others.  The other main theme is the generation gap between parents who hold onto old traditions and books, and the younger generation that embraces technology and distances themselves, again physically or mentally, from their forefathers.

This anthology is sometimes depressing, sometimes scary, but overall thought provoking.  It never ceases to amaze me that Bradbury warned us of a world of people dependent on technology and passionate about violent media in the 1950s, before TV had become ubiquitous.

Without a doubt, the best short story is The Veldt, which is about two children who live in a smart house.  They come to love their nursery, essentially a room completely composed of TV screens, more than their parents.  This story is completely terrifying and makes you question your own dependence on techonolgy.  If you aren’t a fan of science fiction, I recommend you at least read The Veldt.  

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

I was trying to articulate why it is I love short stories so much.  The fact that you can read them quickly is, of course, a plus, but the reason goes deeper than that.  David Sedaris said: “A good [short story] would take me out of myself and then stuff me back in, outsized, now, and uneasy with the fit.” I don’t think I could explain my sentiments better than that.  Great short stories, such as the ones I’ve talked about in this post, have done just that.  They achieve what a great novel does in a fraction of the pages: leave you dizzy, unoriented, and somehow different.

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Kilts, Scots, and Horrifying Medical Practices: “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon

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I’d like to start this post by thanking the Overdrive App for existing. Without it, I wouldn’t have read as many books here in my little apartment in Turkey.

Moving on…

You could say that my trend in reading reflects my dating pattern in college: each new book I read tends to be completely different from the one before. The last books I’ve read recently have been serious and frightening (thankfully, “frightening” has never applied to any men I’ve dated). It was time for a change. A fun “affair” was what I needed to cleanse my palate from my recent Stephen King binge.

As if answering my prayers, the Overdrive God made “Outlander” available for me to download.

At that point, I didn’t care if the book didn’t live up to its hype. Reading about a nurse in the 1940s who travels back in time to 18th century Scotland and falls in love with a handsome highlander seemed like the escapist novel I needed.

The book was finished in two days. I was left breathless following the intense action and romance. Not being a huge fan of romance novels, “Outlander” managed to avoid what I consider to be the major pitfall of the genre: cliche metaphors for anatomy. Additionally, the protagonist, Claire, was a strong and well developed character. She didn’t play the damsel in distress, despite being thrown into a time period where she was expected to be fragile and helpless. Lastly, there was a plot. I didn’t feel like I was reading a romance novel with some action thrown in to move from one love scene to another. It’s a historical fiction novel with its fair share of romance.

Every now and then it’s nice to pick up a novel that you can thoroughly enjoy, then toss away. Like meeting a cute guy in a foreign city, I had a nice flirtation with “Outlander,” but finished the novel without desiring more. The vacation was over and I had no desire to write a postcard or return anytime soon. What I mean is that there are eight more books in the series, but I will not be reading them. The book ended with a cliffhanger, but didn’t entice me enough to come back for seconds.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars for being an enjoyable escape novel, but losing its charm at the end.

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New Year, New Book Challenge

2015 is officially here, and with the arrival of a new year, I’ve set out to conquer my 2015 reading challenge. In 2014, I successfully met my goal of reading 50 books. This year, I’m upping the ante and am determined to read 75 books. Sound crazy? I think so too. However, I have adopted the Nike attitude and will “Just do it.”

Thus far, I have read two books. Here they are:

1) “It” by Stephen King

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You might say I’ve developed a sort of obsession of King novels. You wouldn’t be wrong. From the past few books of his I’ve read, I know that I can expect a novel with meticulously developed characters, a long yet well crafted plot, and a struggle between good and evil. In “It,” these three main aspects were encountered, as well as the theme of childhood memories. Many people have probably seen the movie or are somewhat aware of the plot, so in brief, the book is about a group of adults who return to their childhood town to combat an evil entity that terrorized them as children.

As far as horror goes, this book was on par with “Christine.” The evil clown was absolutely terrifying and I’m sure if I encountered such a being as him as a kid, I’d repress those memories too. The book was further terrifying because of the sad childhoods each of the children had. The girl, Beverly, is severely beaten by her dad. One of the kids has a mom with an un-diagnosed case of Munchausen by proxy syndrome. The main character Bill finds his brother dead in a gutter with his arm ripped off. I mean, all of the characters need some serious therapy for what they went through growing up, evil clown aside.

What startled me about the book was that it showed how easy it is to repress bad memories for the sake of self preservation/so you don’t end up in the looney bin. When brought back together again after 30 years, the characters finally have to face their past so they can stop the evil clown from terrorizing and killing another generation of children.

Nearing the end of the book, I was so depressed I bought a bottle of wine and wrapped myself in a blanket to get to the end. Of course, the wine only exacerbated my feelings so I was an emotional wreck, akin to Bridget Jones after a break-up. I had to watch re-runs of “How I Met Your Mother” for a few hours to fully recover.

With that said, this has been the first novel I’ve read in awhile that really made me feel something. It tore me apart and beat on my soul, but that’s what books are supposed to do: take you out of this world and throw you back as a changed person.

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars for being well written and emotionally twisting.

2) “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson
Oye, Mr. Thompson. The author famous for creating a new genre, gonzo journalism, and being an open receptacle for every kind of legal and illegal drug. I’ve joked before that I don’t feel like a real writer because I’ve never taken hard core drugs and my best writing is done in the early morning with a cup of hot coffee, not sloshed in a townie bar with a pint nearby. Thompson, on the other hand, truly lived the motto: “Write drunk, edit sober.” Although how often he edited sober is debatable.

F&L in short, is a fun drug fueled romp. I devoured the book the way Thompson took ether: I eagerly inhaled it. Having no desire to ever take drugs, it was never the less entertaining to read about his exploits, from leaving hotels without paying to getting pulled over and forgetting he was holding a beer, to his “lawyer” that matched him pill for pill. Honestly, you have to give the guy a lot of credit for being continuously high and drunk and still managing to write a funny, yet self aware book.

This book is a classic piece of American literature, and it deserves it’s fame. It represents the period of American history in which it was written and is an excellent example of gonzo journalism.

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars for being well written and entertaining.

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Filed under Classics, Fiction, horror