Reading Journal

For me, sometimes stories I read kind of run together, so I decided to start tracking what I am reading. This is a place for me to think through what I’ve read and to share how I felt about a piece.

Ender’s Game Review

In this blog, I take on a very important topic to some: Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. I have some very strong opinions on the book and the movie.

Tread lightly, sir. So, last summer, at the behest of one of my nerdy friends, I finally got around to reading Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. I’d been bugged to do it since I was a teenager by the nerdy wing of my friend group (basically all of my friends when I put it that way), but just hadn’t wanted to do it. Still, wanting to be able to talk about the movie intelligently, I finally picked up the book and gave it a read.

Now, a note on Science Fiction and Fantasy in general. I do not often read these genres. I love Bradbury and Asimov and Philip K. Dick and Lewis and Tolkien, but that’s about where my interests end. Generally, I’ve found that I do not appreciate the sort of hard Sci-fi and Fantasy that often lacks real and interesting characters. (Plus, with Fantasy, I feel like it’s such a narrow genre, it ends up often feeling like a constant attempt to replicate Tolkien. You can read more on my feelings on the Fantasy genre here.)

You’re going to alienate your only reader, you know that, right? So, I would say, with that qualifier, that I did not particularly enjoy either version of Ender’s Game. And yeah, it boils down to character. The thing about Ender that bothers me the most is that the kid is flawless. He’s super capable at a super early age, never loses in any competition or fight, and every time he displays some violent behavior, he’s wholly justified because it was out of self-defense.

I know Sci-fi does not depend heavily on characters, and as one of my dear friends put it, “It’s about the big picture.” In this case, I suppose we’re talking about themes. And yes, Ender’s Game does make some interesting comments on the morality of war, even just war theory, but for me, that’s not enough. If Card wants to lay down a philosophy on war and how society justifies it, he’d have been better off writing an essay, rather than creating thin type characters to preach his message for him. I mean, we destroy Ayn Rand for this all of the time (rightfully so), but at least she had a fully fleshed-out belief system that no reader could miss (because she beats us over the head with it … again and again and again and again … ).

Well, it’s just you and me again. I feel like this story, while exciting, does little to let us identify with the main character, except perhaps through wish fulfillment. Think about it. Here’s a smart little kid who beats the daylights out of any bullies that cross his path. He’s not an amazing physical specimen. He’s not an athlete. But he kicks so much ass. What nerdy little kid couldn’t want to be that? And I feel like that’s the secret of the success of this book. And that aspect isn’t a knock. It works. We see this sort of wish fulfillment in lots of genres. For example, the Romance genre is full of wooden characters that are impossible to identify with as read people, and yet it’s super popular. This is real fantasy (and yes, I’m talking to you, oh whittler of mannequins and self-proclaimed Hemingway of your day, Nicholas Sparks {WARNING: do not read that interview unless you feel like both laughing out loud and getting angry.}).

You’re a wooden character. Fair enough. So, I think this book does something special for a readership that wants to escape their life and embody one much more unrealistic and exciting. I don’t think it’s a particularly good book, despite its heavy themes. This is just my take.

The book was better than the movie, right? Well, so, I watched the movie adaptation the other day at a very sketchy $2.50 theater. In this case, I kind of enjoyed the movie better. Though the movie was essentially set up like one long video game, it was nice to have victory after victory after victory by Ender trimmed down. And I feel like the movie makers did a decent job of trying to humanize the boy more, though not by much. I’m not saying I loved the movie. In fact, I think I enjoyed my bag of popcorn and cup of Mr. Pibb about as much (though I do love Mr. Pibb … I like it even beter than Dr. Pepper).

You apologize. Sorry nerd fans. Maybe I don’t get the story. Maybe I don’t get the genre. I try to be open-minded about Fantasy and Sci-fi, but generally I am disappointed by my excursions into those genres. What am I missing? Am I approaching them wrong? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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My Response to Nabokov’s “Spring in Fialta”

Recently, I had to read and respond to Vladamir Nabokov’s “Spring in Fialta.” Here was my response.

Instructions on how to make a weak story seem clever:

Do you have a weak story you don’t what to do with? Do your characters have almost nothing to lose in the conflict? Is it a love story where the passion is about as hot as the spice in Dutch-American cuisine? Here’s how you fix it:

Step 1: Bombard the reader with unnecessary and confusing details and setting instead of story. Remember, it’s not about the story, it’s about how clever you sound.

What luscious elation I felt rippling through my veins, how gratefully my whole being responded to the flutters and effluvia of thai gray day saturated with a vernal essence which itself it seemed slow in perceiving! My nerves were unusually receptive after a sleepless night; I assimilated everything: the whistling of a thrush in the almond trees beyond the chapel, the peace of the crumbling houses,the pulse of the distant sea, panting in the mist, all this together with the jealous green of bottle glass bristling along the top of a wall and the fast colors of a circus advertisement featuring a feathered Indian on a rearing horse in the act of lassoing a boldly endemic zebra, while some thoroughly fooled elephants sat brooding upon their star-spangled thrones.

Step 2: Never use a short word when you can use a long one.

… as if woman’s love were springwater containing salubrious salts which at the least notice she ever so willingly gave anyone to drink.

Salubrious is defined simply as healthy or health-giving. But if you use those words, you won’t send your reader running to the dictionary, and how clever will you seem then?

Step 3: Lots and lots of semicolons.

She was sitting in the corner of a couch, her feet pulled up, her small comfortable body folded in the form of a Z; an ashtray stood aslant on the couch near one of her heels; and, having squinted at me …

Fill your piece with semicolons. Could something be two sentences? Sure. Could you use a conjunction once in a while? Of course. But semicolons are a great way to show the reader how clever you are. Remember, Kurt Vonnegut once said of semicolons, “All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

Step 4: Since the story has such low stakes for the characters …

I did not experience any inner emotional collapse, the shadow of tragedy did not haunt our revels, my married life remained unimpaired, while on the other hand her eclectic husband ignored her casual affairs although deriving some profit from them in the way of pleasant and useful connections.

… be sure to only introduce real conflict to the story pretty late (the last page of a sixteen page story, if possible). That way, you’ve starved the reader of anything interesting, and even a weak conflict will be delightful.

‘Look here—what if I love you?’ Nina glanced at me, I repeated those words, I wanted to add… but something like a bat passed swiftly across her face, a quick, queer, almost ugly expression, and she, who would utter coarse words with perfect simplicity, became embarrassed; I also felt awkward…. ‘Never mind, I was only joking,’ I hastened to say

Step 5: Be a famous writer.

Look. Let’s face it, if you were an MFA student or worse, a writer without a college education (Impossible!), there’s no way you could get away with this. But if you’re a famous writer whose work critics and professors have blessed with their highlighters because they were able to see the emperor’s new clothes, the “genius” of such a piece, then no one would dare question you. You’re untouchable. For fun, screw with people and write an intentionally nonsensical piece. It’s likely that it’ll be received as a modern Finnegan’s Wake.

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The Book of Nightmares by Galway Kinnell

I read a book of poetry! Don’t believe it? I barely do either, but I liked it. I was turned on to this book by a friend of mine, and in this post I talk about reading said book of poetry … it’s been a while.

The Book of Nightmares by Galway Kinnell

Poetry?! Eww. I know. It’s crazy, but hear me out. Recently, I read a quote by a famous fiction author who said that fiction writers should read more poetry than fiction. I’m not sure if I agree with that thought, but another friend of mine is transitioning from poetry to fiction, and his poetry skills make his language more beautiful than I’ve ever been able to write. I thought to myself, Maybe there’s something to this.

So when another friend of mine recommended this book and said the obligatory, “YOU HAVE TO READ THIS!” I decided I’d give it a shot. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be writing perty sentences in no time.

So, what’d you think? Well, I loved it. Kinnell essentially writes this beautiful love letter to a child, dealing with the difficulty of coming to terms with one’s own mortality. He calls it The Book of Nightmares, but honestly, it feels more like the terrors one experiences in the middle of the night when they realize that one day, they’ll be worm food, then dried bones, and finally, dust.

It’s an extremely human subject, but it’s one we struggle to confront (at least, I do). But he confronts this fear head-on, and he has a way of causing the reader to realize how delicate and temporary human life is. My favorite part about this is in Section VII, Part 1. He says,

When I sleepwalk
into your room, and pick you up,
and hold you up in the moonlight, you cling to me
hard,
as if clinging could save us. I think
you think
I will never die, I think I exude
to you the permanence of smoke or stars,
even as
my broken arms heal themselves around you.

How permanent is smoke? Good question. I’m going to avoid it. Look, if you’re like me, it can be hard to approach poetry. So much of modern poetry is cryptic and difficult, and I feel like many poets have turned off a lot of potential poetry readers (myself included). Kinnell is approachable and the book is relatively easy to read, though it deals with a heavy subject. It’s short (only took me an hour or two to read), but it was worth it. Buy it.

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Pepper Wellington & The Case Of The Missing Sausage
by Tanya Eby

Pepper Wellington & The Case Of The Missing Sausage is one of the most fun books I’ve read (listened to) in a long time, and in this post, I’ll talk about Tanya Eby’s writing style, audiobooks, and fun reading.

Nice title. It is a nice title. This book is funny, sexual, filled with constant ridiculous double-entendre, and smart. I think the title of this book seems to sum up Tanya Eby‘s writing. Her style is sharp, funny, talented, and yet, approachable.

I know, for me, I often get my nose stuck in books that are “intellectual” or “academic” or, frankly, outright difficult. I rarely read for fun, so when I won a contest where I was able to get an audiobook version of Pepper Wellington & The Case Of The Missing Sausage, I was at first skeptical, but I found it to be a great experience.

You don’t read for fun? Well, often, no, not at first. A lot of what I read is meant to be challenging, not pleasurable. I like the challenge, so I feel satisfied by the end. I’d compare it to lifting weights or running for a few miles. Many of the books I read don’t start off fun, but it feels good to have gotten through them, and I feel like a better person in the end for it.

Eby’s book was a departure for me, in that, it feels like the goal of the book was fun. It’s often easy (especially for us potential academic-types) to dismiss “fun” reading, and yet, I find Ms. Eby’s prose to be sharp and clever, and her characters are real, even in ridiculous situations. I think humor is often hard to appreciate in writing. I don’t write humor well. I can’t do it. It’s the thing I see the least often in writing, and among serious writing folks, it’s one of the things I’ve grown to value the most.

OK, we get it. So what about the book? Well, it’s funny. I’d call it a cross between a Shakespearean comedy, with star-crossed lovers, and an Agatha Christie mystery. The humor goes from witty and sharp, to situational, to (my parents’ favorite word) crass. I love that her humor can occupy all of these forms. I’m reminded of one of my favorite authors, Vonnegut, who never minded when his humor got silly or sexual.

Do you know what a twerp is? When I was in Shortridge High School in Indianapolis 65 years ago, a twerp was a guy who stuck a set of false teeth up his butt and bit the buttons off the back seats of taxi cabs.

So, I guess coming in, I wasn’t sure what to think of the book, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s funny, it’s sexy, and there’s murder and intrigue. One thing I would suggest, though, is this: listen to the audiobook. It turns out that Ms. Eby is a professional narrator as well as a novelist, and she narrated this book. You can find an audiobook version of it at Audible, Amazon, or iTunes. Or you can find all of her works as well as follow a funny and thoughtful blog at her website, TanyaEby.com.

I’ve never been familiar with audiobooks, but I have to say, it was a lot of fun to experience a book that way, and it was especially fun hearing it read by the author. Ms. Eby is a talented and exciting narrator, and I’d recommend buying this book in the audiobook form and hearing it read by the author.

Also, follow Tanya Eby on Twitter. You won’t regret it. She’s very funny.

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The Wilding by Benjamin Percy

In this post, I’ll discuss the book I most recently finished, The Wilding by Benjamin Percy. I’ll examine his style and themes then share my overall opinion of this writer and his work without spoiling it for the rest of you.

The Wilding by Benjamin Percy

What by whom? It’s a book called The Wilding by an author named Benjamin Percy. I’d first heard about, and then subsequently met, Mr. Percy at AWP in Chicago last year. He was doing a talk on writing violence (which was an excellent panel, by the way), and since then I’ve been intrigued to get into his work. Not to go all “hipster” on you, but if you haven’t heard about The Wilding or Mr. Percy, you’re not really in the literary know … it’s okay. I forgive you.

My moments with Mr. Percy have been brief. I’ve been able to shake his hand, compliment him on his talk, and then ask some writing questions rather awkwardly. He was very generous and patient, and I appreciated how approachable he was. One of the first things you notice about Mr. Percy is his deep baratone voice, so when you get this book for yourself, it’s key to imagine the narrator’s voice sounding like this.

Enough about this guy. What about his writing? Well, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I bought his book. I enjoyed Mr. Percy’s talk on violence, but then again, I have not been taken by too many modern writers. But as I read this novel, I was impressed. Many people talk about his sense of place (he writes about woods in the Northwest), and it’s true, his sense of place is vivid. It’s easy to imagine the landscapes he draws, and it’s also apparent how dear that area of the country is to him.

Still, it wasn’t his description of landscapes that caught me. It was his rich characters and deep themes. The characters in The Wilding are extremely human and troubled, and yet, animalistic at the same time. Percy plays with this binary, and it becomes the central theme. He takes that familiar theme of civilization encroaching upon the wildness of the world, but he adds the twist of civilization and animal urges butting up against each other inside the minds of his characters. Suddenly, wants aren’t so logical and people are overcome with passion, hunger, and violence.

There are no throw-away characters in this book. They feel as real as the gas station clerk down the street. And each and every one of them has distinct and self-serving motivations. Still, despite the animalistic qualities, the selfish and human wants, the violence, the sexuality, all of the characters, including the most villainous (though there are no easy villains in this book), are extremely identifiable. Oddly, I found myself rooting for most everyone by the end, which is a strange feeling indeed.

A few plots crisscross throughout the novel, mirroring each other in ways, echoing some central questions, like What does it mean to feel loved (by father or spouse)? or When is it permissible to do violence? or perhaps the more important question, What does it mean to be a man? The action and the tension continually ratchet up throughout the book organically, as the characters feel that tension inside of them grow, until the reader is left with a satisfying and complete ending.

Way to be vague on the ending. Well, I didn’t want to ruin it for you. It’s a great book. I’d recommend it, especially for those readers who miss the man’s man authors like Orwell or Steinbeck. I’d say Percy fits well with that tradition of male writers. The Wilding is both great fun and yet, still willing to challenge the reader on some deep levels, questioning core issues. Read this book.

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One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez

I’ve read a ton of Marquez’s short stories and a couple of his novellas, but this was my first attempt at one of his long novels. In this post, I put my spin on Marquez’s nobel prize-winning novel.

So, you loved it, right? Well, it’s not so simple. This book took me way too long to read, and I must say, it was difficult. I’m not sure where I fall on the like it/hate it scale for this book, but it has gotten me thinking about different ways to approach a novel.

What was so difficult? Well, a couple of things. First of all, it does not follow a central character. It follows a family, but just as you start to fall in love with a character, Marquez kills him or her off. It’s frustrating at times, but the family carries on. Going through the book, we follow generation after generation of this family, and one of the difficulties is that most every male character is named either Aureliano or José Arcadio. At first it’s pretty easy to follow, but as the generations go on, the family branches out and there are adulteries and bastards and incests (there’s a disturbing amount of this) and strange relations, and the Aurelianos and José Arcadios start to become muddled and confusing.

The book is also rather bleak and depressing (which I often am drawn to). The women in the book are relatively sane and live amazingly long lives, while the men all essentially either die young or go out of their mind as they get old. It’s strange, the pattern of the characters in the book, both male and female, is that they come into a task, whether that be making gold fishes or starting civil wars or reading cryptic parchments, and they become obsessed. Eventually, this is all they do until they die. By the end, there are many literal ghosts in the house, yet the characters that are still living remind me of how people talk about ghosts. I’ve heard it said that ghosts often repeat one act again and again and again, like they’re stuck that way, and in this sense, Marquez almost creates living ghosts.

Solitude, huh? Sounds like a lot of people are in this book. Well, it’s true, there are a number of characters, yet, like I said, they so often become obsessed with a task that they become withdrawn from the family. Often the characters die alone, and sometimes a character is thought to be dead only to be found alive but haggard and emaciated.

This terrible pattern of living is applied to the family, and no one seems to be able to break it. It’s a very insightful way of looking at the family dynamic, because we all live out patterns we learn that our parents learned that their parents learned, and so on.

Well, what did you think? I … am still not sure. It has gotten me thinking so much about the novel form, yet I must admit that it was tough-sledding for me at times. I was relieved when I was through with it. I mean, like all of his works, it was masterfully written, and his characters are so wonderfully flawed and real, yet set in a dream-like state. In that way, it was great to read. Still, the central conflict was hard to pick out, and lacking of a main character to follow made it hard to come back to at times.

I think it is a great book to read, but I would recommend doing so in a healthy and positive mental state.

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All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

Disappointing. So, for years, I’ve been trying to fit a Cormac McCarthy novel into my reading list, but I never quite found time for it between school readings and personal readings I had already decided on. Finally, I bought his National Book Award winning novel, All the Pretty Horses, and resolved to read it.

I have to say … this book was, at best, disappointing. At worst, it is horrible.

[NOTE: To those of you who have not read this book yet, but mean to, don't read below, because I am going to talk about the story.]

[NOTE II: To those of you who have not read this book yet ... do yourself a favor and read below.]

The basic premise. So, the story centers around this sixteen-year-old kid named John Grady and his seventeen-year-old friend Rawlins. John Grady’s family ranch is being sold, and his parents are divorced and dysfunctional, so this is the perfect reason for him and Rawlins to head down into Mexico. “Wait … but why are they heading down to Mexico?” I told you! Because his family’s ranch is being sold! “But … I mean, is there something down there? Like, do they have a plan?” Ranch! His ranch was sold! What other option did he have but to head down to Mexico?!

Anyway, John Grady goes down into Mexico, and he is the best at everything. Apparently, he’s the best ranch hand in all of Mexico, and if you put him in the toughest Mexican prison, he’ll be able to best their toughest guy. This is the central issue with the story … John Grady is perfect, and he is sixteen. I don’t know if McCarthy has ever met a sixteen-year-old before in his life, but they are pretty much useless. Still, John Grady is a model employee, breaking horses and teaching his rich ranch-owning boss all about horses. He’s wooing women, performing frontier medicine, fighting off large groups of men who want to do him harm, etc. He’s pretty much the best at everything … or at least, he’s better than anyone in Mexico, which makes me wonder if this is sort of a racist book. I mean, think about it. A sixteen-year-old Texan from a broken home is more skilled, smart, and impressive than every man in Mexico? Kinda weak.

So, John Grady is terrible, and soon, I began wishing for some angry hombre to plug him in the back of the head. Another terrible character is the woman of John Grady’s lusts, Alejandra. She’s the rich, ranch owner’s daughter. She’s well-bred and cultured, but high-spirited and wild … in need of taming (KIND OF LIKE THE HORSES JOHN GRADY IS BREAKING?! WHAT?!). She’s beautiful and rich, and of course, they fall in love for no more apparent reason than they are both the worst characters in the book.

The cliches continue. Alejandra has a rich aunt (her mother is nowhere to be found) that wants to protect her honor. She does not like this John Grady character and forbids them from seeing each other, essentially pushing the two into each other’s beds (which by the way, John Grady seems expert in as well).

Why people like it, I assume. The book isn’t all bad. McCarthy has a sharp and colorful writing voice, and his ability to make the scene feel real is quite impressive. The reader gets a good sense of the badlands of Mexico, and McCarthy gives the impression that he knows a great deal about horses … even if he doesn’t know anything about characters.

I will say that I found some of his attempts to create a realistic picture irritating. For example, the Mexicans almost always speak Spanish to him, and we, as readers, must draw from context clues what is being said (if we are not fluent in Spanish). Most times this works out well, but there are a few scenes where I had no idea what happened. Frustrating.

Conclusion? Well, I have to say, this was disappointing. I’m hoping to get over it and give him another chance with his book Blood Meridian … but I will need some time. It’s a bad thing when the reader hates the main character, and McCarthy did himself no favors by leaning on tired old cliches all the time. I mean, the guy rides off into the sunset at the end. Seriously.

Judging by what I found on the web, the response to this book seems quite positive. Most people seem to love it, and many people I know recommended it. What did I miss?

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The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Cover art. Don’t you just love old cover art? I know. I know. I’ve brought it up before, but when I go through a used bookstore, I’m so drawn to these covers. It isn’t that glossy mess you see in so many paperbacks today, but it’s a nice paper cover with art that’s subtle and doesn’t feel like it’s shouting from the shelves for attention. I’ve been thinking recently about getting a Google tablet for a reader (a toy), but I think I’d miss the feeling of an old book. I don’t know. Thoughts?

The real reason we’re here. Sorry. Anyway, I read The Hobbit. Hadn’t read it since I was a kid, and it’s impressive to me how much I enjoyed it. College has a way of ruining reading for me, and since I’m out, I am finally beginning to take joy in reading again.

The Hobbit is different than I remember. It feels like a first draft of Lord of the Rings. It’s like he hadn’t worked all the bugs out yet. For example, I remembered the trolls in The Hobbit, but I’d forgotten that they were named Bill, Bert, and Tom. In fact, Bill has a full name, William Huggins. This feels so different from LOTR.

Also, let me warn you about something. I had forgotten that in The Hobbit, the bad guys are almost always called “goblins.” As someone who has read The Silmarillion (maybe my favorite work by Tolkien), I wondered what the difference is between an Orc and a Goblin. Let me tell you something … don’t ask. I began to do Google searches on the topic, and what I found was a number of people who were, perhaps, too passionate about the issue. Apparently, Tolkien fandom is akin to Trek fandom, and anyone who has ever been in the middle of a Picard vs. Kirk argument knows the hazards.

Book before movie? I enjoy reading books before going to movies, though I have friends that would argue that reading the book ruins the movie. Not me. I feel like it gives me much better insight and makes me appreciate (or justifiably detest) the movie that much more.

I remembered the big plot points from when I was a kid, but it was great to go through this classic one more time. The Hobbit is not Tolkien’s best work, but it’s great to see where the ideas started and how he was thinking through his world. This story laid a beautiful template for the LOTR trilogy. Plus, it’s a lot easier to breeze through than the trilogy. It doesn’t take the investment of reading through family lineages and so forth.

Do yourself a favor and read, or reread, this book before seeing the movie. You’ll have fun. I promise.

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“Artificial Roses” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Cool little story. If you follow my blog at all, you’ll know that I’ve been talking about Garcia Marquez a lot lately. He’s been very influential to my writing these last couple of years, in more ways than just “magic.” Although, this gets me to thinking … maybe he’s not so much influential on my writing as he is validating of my writing choices. It’s like I’ve found a kindred writing spirit who feels the same limitations, and feels the need to make some of the same choices I do … like this one for example:

Hints. One of the things I love about Garcia Marquez is that he sets up the reader to be ready for something supernatural to jump into the realistic story, but sometimes, he leaves us wondering. A great example of this is the story “Artificial Roses” from his collection, Big Mama’s Funeral. In “Artificial Roses,” Marquez hints that a character has a supernatural skill, yet, he leaves open the possibility that it could simply be a coincidence or maybe the character is just extremely shrewd. Nevertheless, he has the ability to leave us wondering because of the context of his catalog.

I love how he takes Realism and bends it and twists it until we can’t be entirely sure what we’re seeing, as readers. He does successfully what so many genre writers seek to do, in my opinion. He reinforces his conflicts by pressing against the limits of Realism, yet, his characters and the problems they face are as real as a gravelly road.

How I use it. Right now, I am getting my MFA applications ready to send out, and I have two stories. One of them has a supernatural element, and the other does not. Still, the reading of one will affect the reading of the other. Obviously, this bears out better in a collection or in a catalog of work, but it’s wonderful to make the reader question. Isn’t that the goal in the end? Make the reader question something? Orwell challenges us directly, Vonnegut forces us to face harsh truths, making us question what we believe, but Garcia Marquez makes us question what is laid out directly in front of us in clear, plain text.

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Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Chronicle Of A Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A strange little detective story. So, in a day or so, I polished off Garcia Marquez’s 120 page novel Chronicle of a Death Foretold. It’s a strange little novel, in that it’s a sort of detective story, yet without all of the Noir elements. The story seems to be centered around a main character’s reconstruction of an event: an honor killing.

We don’t really get to know the main character. He was around at the time, but he seems to be the only player in the town that did not have some impact on the final outcome. Garcia Marquez does an excellent job making the entire town into a character. Everyone takes part, and in the end, a man is dead, but fault is hard to pinpoint.

I’ve read detective stories before. I know you have, but what makes this one pretty cool is that from the beginning, the reader know who dies, how he gets it, who does the killing, and why. You might ask, “So, why would I need to read the book?” Well, I’ll tell you.

Garcia Marquez constructs a town and a culture that is both fiery in its righteousness (willing to defend it to the point of violence) and frozen by inhibition and fear. By going on through the story, he troubles the easy fault-finding of the murderers, and he challenges the reader on notions of loveless marriage, abuse, sexism, and virginity.

This book is violent and it does not leave the reader feeling like the bad guys lose in the end. As with real life, the result of violence is pain for all involved. Garcia Marquez does a masterful job creating a real-as-the-gravel-beneath-my-feet town with human characters.

Give this book a read. It’s quick, but it’ll stay with you.

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