Tag Archives: fiction

“Shadow and Bone” by Leigh Bardugo

First of all, cool author name. Beautiful cover art. Original Russian inspiration to a slightly historical fiction-feeling fantasy. Yeah, sign me up. This is a book I would love to see on the big screen, just as much as any of the Harry Potters, and I mean that. It’s a book with a map in the beginning on a double page spread. Enough said.

It starts out like other YAs, but in that third or fourth chapter, the conventions get a big twist, and happens again just after the mid-point.

It has it’s flaws and it’s weak chapters and its girly moments as any fantasy/war story does with a teenage female protagonist, but all flaws aside, the overall experience is filled with original yet familiar world-building and high levels of conflict. While other novels have “world-built” better or deeper, and yes, I would have like a little more from the book in that respect, the majority of the creatures, characters, and environments were better than most, and maybe I’m being too critical. I really, really, liked it, but I did want to know more about the class distinctions and Grisha powers. The culture’s details were never overkill going on and on, and it was never underdone either. I guess it found a happy-medium.

There was just enough Russian insipred diction and dress and decor in “Shadow and Bone” to keep me invested and curious about this place called “Ravka”, however some people may find it thin in some of its details. Considering this is the beginning of a YA trilogy though, and this novel truly set off Bardugo’s career on the right foot, I am eagerly anticpating the next novel. It should expand on what has already been set-up, and if it does, this is going to be a best-selling series.

The wait may be a while though, since Shadow and Bone was released very recently.

If you enjoy original plot twists, stakes which continue to climb and climb, total fear at the three-quarter mark when it seems all hope is lost, splashed with magical beasts, light court intrigue, and some coming-of-age romance (the weakest part of the novel), then this excellent first installement of “The Grisha Trilogy” is for you.

Some writing was weak and you might skim a few pages here and there, but over all, this 4/5 book gets a 4.5/5 from me just because the ending was exciting and seemed terrifyingly hopeless and I really got sucked in. That was well-executed, and Miss Bardugo knows how to write conflict. This has “make me a film” written all over it.

For fans of The Wizard of Oz, The Princess Bride, The Lord of the Rings, Graceling, and Grave Mercy. (If you haven’t read Graceling, and you’re a girl, read it now.)

4.5/5

MH

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“Graceling” by Kristin Cashore: a YA book reaction and rant

My grade breakdown within the book, according to its own segmented “Parts”:

  • Part I: 10/10
  • Part II: 5/10
  • Part III: 7/10

 

Spolier rant and reaction:

Very little conflict in this book. More character and “world” driven. Great language and world and characters, even the plot was good, but very fatty in the middle. Would have liked a better “End of Leck” which was a cop-out scene and a death that happened to quickly, and still can’t believe Katsa’s Uncle didn’t chase her down or make more of a fuss when she left.

Don’t listen to the hype. This is a good book, nothing more. Why people gush over this?….. I’m in the minority, but with good reason.

I really wanna give a 4, but…. no.

She did keep me reading though, but I constantly wanted…. more.

I can’t give it a solid 4 from writing ability alone. And the writing rocks. It’s issues with story building and entertainment execution. The copy editor’s disappearance and the lack trimming left something to be desired, and the story’s 3/4 mark was just weak. Needed core rewrites, 50 pages shorter, too. You’ll enjoy it more if you’re a teen girl who hasn’t read a ton of fantasy, but I’m a bearded man and have read a lot, and other work is just better in this genre right now. This gets third place after two or three other books at least (i.e. “Grave Mercy”, “Daughter of Smoke and Bone”, etc.) She’s an excellent writer though, and maybe Bitterblue is better (the sequel book).

Worth reading, so, yeah, I recommend it, but after you finish part one, which is flawless, take a break and imagine what a great book it could have evolved into. Imagine what you might read next. Salivate like I did for scenes and situations that may never come, cuz some don’t. Then continue reading the novel and be slightly dissapointed.

3.5/5
MH

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“If I Stay” by Gayle Forman: a book review (and a personal introspection)

“…Dying is easy. Living is hard.”

This is one of the best books I will ever read in YA. Read it in a day, by yourself, and then let this one simmer. Girl gets in horrific car accident in chapter one, most of family dies, she has an out of body experience following her body and loved ones around the hospital, and using a potent flashback device we relive with Mia the years leading up to this point.

Her choice is this: leave this world, or stay?

Wow.

It’s not with out minor faults, but when you read it cover to cover, you’ll understand the high rating. Forget the cover art, forget the stupid “Twilight” quote from USA today for marketing purposes… just read.

A heavy tale that exemplifies great modern meta-fiction done right to connect with its target audience. “If I Stay” (released in 2009) houses references to rock-and-roll magazines, CBGBs in NYC, a plethora of 70s and 80s figure heads like Patti Smith and Debbie Harry, and punk rock bands like Weezer, Nirvana, and the Ramones, Batman, television shows, celebrities, movie references, and Harry Potter, The Great Gatsby, and Lord of the Flies. But ultimately, it’s about family, love, and why you should live your crazy life.

Yes, making too many modern pop-culture references in your story can often promise the novel will age poorly or just always hearken back to the time period in which it was written in, but when dealing with the Young Adult genre, it’s wise when doing realistic and dramatic teen fiction to put the characters firmly in the here-and-now; to force the reader to reflect and empathize with the characters in the novel who seem to be inhabiting their own familiar world. Yes, as the years pass, tales using this ploy may not be as affective or relatable for future generations, but in the case of “If I Stay” by Gayle Forman, not only is it crucial, but it’s done masterfully and balanced and graceful. It’s a book for today’s cultural environment and youth and makes no excuses or apologies for it. It’s done well.

Another book will be written by another author years from now for the next generation. This one is for the kids born roughly between 1980-2000. Awesome, awesome message of hope and love that never, ever feels forced. Gayle, fucking bravo, girl!

On the down side (and there is very little to criticize about this book): three issues. One: The early description of the car wreck and the graphic details are a bit much and not necessary. Two: the elitist, scene hipster character, Brooke Vega, though not in the story for long, was an unrealistic personification of the punk landscape, thrown in specifically for humor and stood as a cheap, lazy construction of a very dead part of early seventies era glam-punk. Young teens in Portland, Oregon would never have and don’t have rock gods like this anymore. The descriptions and the dialogue this character spouted pulled me out of the story and rang untrue.

Which leads us to the final complaint: in a story that is so short, there may be too much “insider-type” referential material, two or three too many call-back and shout-outs to obscure sub-cultures which most 15-23 year olds would never know about in any way, shape, or form unless they harbor very curious niche tastes or their parents were born in the seventies, grew up in the eighties, and pummeled their kids in the nineties with tons of rock trivia. I know about it because I’m a punk rock junkie, but not everyone might. I’m turning 27 soon, and I listen to punk from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s; I pride myself on being the person in my group of friends who knows everything about punk rock’s evolution. I even own some of the better documentaries on DVD on the subject, okay? Me. Dork.

Part of this story was very cathartic for me on a personal level. Yeah, I’m gonna get personal on you now. The dad of Mia and his story closely mirrors my own. The parents are in their thirties, and that’s where I’m headed in less than five years, and the dad’s whole back story (the localized popularity while never getting big famous, releasing the CDs, doing the summer tours, then giving up, putting on a tie, and getting a real job) is exactly what I am. Even down to the eerie detail of how the dad’s bands were somehow popular in Japan and fans offered up their houses if they would fly from America to play in Japan. This happened to my band “Flash Grenade” except with fans in London and, strangely, Australia. I honestly thought Gayle Forman read my diary.

 

circa 2006

circa 2007

circa 2006 again

To make it doubly freaky, I too have considered becoming a teacher since my wife and I are talking about having kids in a few years. Then Gramps says how Mia’s father wrote lyrics like poems and he thought he’d be a writer someday. I have a book on Amazon. I wrote lyrics for my band like short stories. Mind-fudged… that’s what I got. Never has a book done this to me. Page 152-160 shook my soul.

circa 2009

It was tricky to read some of these parts. I’m a push-over to begin with: I’m a hopeless romantic, I don’t shy away from sad thoughts or introspection, so when I saw what I could be in a few years, I was struck with a volley of contrasting and opposing ideas, stirring up long buried philosophies about my life and my choices. I still secretly breathe the punk scene. It made me think: would it be sadder to leave those hard decisions of “moving on” in the past, or is it sadder for a librarian and shoe salesman to reattempt slam dunks when he hasn’t touched a court for years?

From 2004-2010, during the reign of Flash Grenade, (yes, on iTunes) I was sure music would be my life, and then, suddenly, it couldn’t be and wasn’t for several reasons. We made thousands of dollars and hundreds of memories in a few short years. Now it’s over. One day, I was going to open for Green Day, right? Of course I was. Just a matter of time, right?

In the end, I guess I’m saying this book hit home on a personal note and made it really real for me – I could honestly relate to at least half the characters and empathize with them.

And then I continued to the final fifty pages of this novel and was blown away by how powerful and honest it was. This book is surely one of the best in recent years. Period.

This YA book for older teens (15+ I’d guess) is not even 200 pages long but pack a punch, keeps those pages turning, and has some wonderfully fleshed out and dimensional characters—further proof that size and page-count of the book isn’t everything when crafting excellent fiction. It’s haunting; it’s true to life, honest about punks and alternative culture (for the most part) and portrays self-doubt and first loves realistically.

The ending of this book is incredible. Must-Read, not just for girls, but for all. I will be reading the sequel, Where She Went (last year’s goodreads.com winner for best YA novel).

5/5
MH

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“The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier: a book review

Because the style and emotional conveyance worked so effectively, “The Chocolate War” gets a 3.0 rather than a 2.5 star.

“What?” you say. “Only a 3? It’s a classic!”

Yeah, but age has worked against it, and being edgy and controversial doesn’t always make great art, and while this book could be great for kids in high school, it’s too damn bleak and bullyish. While argulably realistic, no one — not one character, students or teacher, bad guy or good guy or in-the-middle characters — got what they deserved. The good were punished, the bad guys never repented, and there was simply a lot of harsh language and sexuality here, all of which I was fine with, but given the plot and the story, I felt they were interesting character vignettes; powerful but little else.

It’s a book for boys. Girls are objects, don’t disturb the status quo, adults suck. If anything, it made me dislike organized religion, authority, and bullies more than I already do, and if that was the point, bravo.

But aren’t readers supposed to enjoy the books and lessons in them? Aren’t writer’s goals to give harsh reality checks in a way that make us want to keep reading? Fail.

I was never swept away, I could always find a place to put down the book and check my Facebook account, and the depth of the story honestly merited a short story, not a novel. You would have lost some of the brilliant character depth, yes, but that’s the trade-off, and I would have prefered it.

Robert Cormier was an incredible writer, and it does show it’s face here in “The Chocolate War.” But you can tell by how disjointed some parts are, how repetitious the second act was, and how confusing and unfocused the first few chapters were: this was a book he wrote off-and-on for three years while he was working a full-time job (which he admits in the back of the 30th Anninversy paperback edition).

I admire this author, but he has better stuff out there, and “The Chocolate War” came no where near the excitement and readability and appeal and execution that “I Am the Cheese” can tout.

Final words: Bland, not fun to read, not something you’ll be recommending to friends. You’ll hear about it because your school blabbers on and on about it or because it’s been on the banned book list for ages.

enjoyment at heart: 2.0/5

writing: 4.5/5

my sensible and critical grade: 3.0/5

MH

 

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“Delirium” by Lauren Oliver: a book review and YA Marketing Rant

REVIEW:
It’s a bit better than the usual 3 stars, but really isn’t quite a four.  This has all the elements of being a very exciting story, but sad to say, it isn’t. The last fifty pages lift it from a two star, barely, but can’t save the entirety of the book. First of all, it’s simply too long for what is in here. The storyline isn’t bad, but it’s far too minutely descriptive and all I can think is, well, this is going to be stretched out to fill three books so, of course, it’s overly descriptive. Something has to fill all those pages. Too bad it isn’t the story, but street by street bicycling and walking or running. And the sights and smells over and over and over. There are some things that are described in almost the same way several times. This is unneccessary. And while we’re on the subject of unneccessary, I know that Lena is five foot, two. I got that the first time I was told and it didn’t need repetition. It was not in need of repetition. Or to put it a little differently while still giving you the same information again: it didn’t need repeating. This whole story could have been tightened up and more than likely the whole proposed three installments would fit within the pages of one book. I get it, I really do. Why write one book when you can hook readers into three? I mean, it’s three sales, three times the money, so kudos to the author on that, but the story really needs to be strong enough to make readers keep coming back for more. And, as usual, it ends on something of a cliff-hanger so, as a reader, I’m left disappointed.

Young Adult Publishing RANT:

The truth is, and I won’t list them all here, but I have 6 YA books behind me on my shelf I have to read and they are all the first installments of series that have begun in the past three years or just came out. Another 4 or 5 I’ve read recently. My concern is that these authors and their little game may be a terrible money making art and nothing more, and while there are good series out there that make sense to be SERIES, some publishers are asking these new, starry eyes, late-twenty-something authors who live in San Francisco or NYC to spread too little butter over too much bread. It’s getting to the point that if you want to buy that new book you’ve heard so much about, you have to find out who the author is, when the series started and play catch up. At the rate first time novelists are releasing now, in five years or less, the shelves will be a mess in libraries and book stores every where trying to finish up sagas and trilogies and people will be scrambling to keep them straight and everyone will be sick of the same forty or so authors digging into our pockets with the same drivel. There will be nothing fresh in a few years because it will be “the decade of series’ completion”.

I just hope some of these authors are worth it and give us good story arcs over a few books and move on. It’s near impossible to find good stand-alone YA novels today, except for John Green, I can’t think of one big name off the top of my head that is not involved in some trilogy or worse. I can only hope I am wrong and that three or more novels I read costing me between 10 and 20 bucks is a story worth finishing, because, you know, we just haaaaaave to know how it ends, right? Fuck.

I won’t even get into the discussion that every other YA novel I read already has a movie deal in the works for 2014. Thanks, Hunger Games. Geesh. Seriously, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Childrenis slated to be directed by Tim Burton, and I’ve also heard Divergent by Veronica Roth could get the Hollywood treatment; and possibly Legend by Marie Lu is going to be a mini-series or an animated TV show. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is also rumored to start production in the coming year. Movies are being based off YA books and adult novels like never before (look at The Help, 127 Hours, Water For Elephants, and Nicholas Sparks novels).

Snazzy titles, slick covers, big margins, 12-point font! Curse You, YA!

3.25/5

MH

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“Divergent” by Veronica Roth: a book review

So, where faction are you? The Honest, Selfless, Brave, Intelligent, or Peaceful?

Though not all the world’s virtues are represented here, these are the factions that a futuristic Chicago is divided into, making the society in DIVERGENT”  ripe for discussion: which faction is more important? Or is it more important to find a balance of them all within ourselves? And do people fit into just one or a few? Can we be made to conform? Should we?

Choices, choices, choices.

However you feel about that set up, rest assured the book is great, which is better than “good” but not “excellent.” People will either like this or love it, I wager. Is it better writing than the Hunger Games Trilogy? Yes. Is the overall story better and more addicting? That’s arguable; and honestly remains to be seen. With the sequel, Insurgent, coming out in just weeks, May 2012, the jury is still out.

It might be unfair to compare every book I’ve been doing lately to Hunger Games, but it is: (a) the book everybody knows about right now; and (b) is a dystopian-adventure, coming-of-age told in first-person present tense. This is the hot genre right now, and luckily for me, I like it. Full of parallels between the fictional world and our world, young adults from 14-21 can learn about oligarchies, dystopias, checks-and-balances, social issues, sympathy, empathy, bravery, and more. Plus, these kinds of high-energy books have really connected with tens of thousands of teenage readers over the past few years — we’ll say since about 2006.

Expect a lot of these to be made into films between 2013 and 2020, including “Matched” and “Blood Red Road”, maybe even “The Forest of Hand and Teeth.”

A lot of first time and second time authors are getting some big breaks into the industry by being at the right place at the right time, and I can honestly say that they are not just riding on coattails completely. (Of course, a bit.) But they are all bringing something slightly different to the table (if you ignore the usual romance sub-plots and the unconfident female protagonists who blossom into confidence). Some things are just “staples” of the genre. Tried and true.

But rest assured, Divergent, the first novel by Veronica Roth, has as much or more death, groping, kissing, and definitely brings more socio-political ethical questions than the Hunger Games. Less survival, more brain. Equal in violence, but somehow more raw.

The writer and editor here are clearly a better team than Collins and her editor, and I’m optimistic that Roth’s trilogy will do what the Collins’ trilogy could not: deliver on big ideas about family, love, and virtues, show some real love and not be so virginal/chaste/asexual, and more deeply consider the politics of society. Plus, Roth’s work flows better and delivers more fluent action paragraphs. Honestly, I give Collins’ trilogy a 7/10. Divergent is on course to be an 8.

Criticism for Divergent: the book could have been fifty pages thinner, chopping every other sentence out of the middle 100 pages. But beyond that, it’s believable; except for a choppy, sudden stumble into the third act, because, well, it’s time to get to that part of the story…. I guess…. Right? But the last 50 pages makes up for any minor grief. Great, deafening, realistic, heart-breaking, hopeful ending.

Lose some, gain, some, move on. This is just the beginning of something HUGE.

Unlike the one-dimensional hierarchal vagaries shabbily explored in the Hunger Games, the Divergent Series is likely to touch on something more than just being weary about those in power, but how we should be living our lives — period. Through a war of virtues and finding where we belong and what is the best way for a government to represent the whole, Divergent could almost stand as a precursor to the Hunger Games series, showing what happened during the war 75 years ago when the “factions/districts” rebelled.

If any of this interests you, this is a book worth reading. It might very well be the next big series. Also, look out for The Maze Runner and Legend – two other dystopian Young Adult novels by first time authors that are supposed to kick major ass if you like fast-paced, me-against-the-world, danger books.

At 480 pages, I killed Divergent in three days. It’s a good book to talk to friends about, especially if you think this kind of government could ever work. Why or why not? Read with a friend!!!

Rating: 4/5

MH

p.s. an interesting reviewer youtube v-log “the readables” is silghtly more critical here, but well supported — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWa0KPgMgEQ&feature=relmfu

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Brain Droppings: When the Last Page Turns

Books don’t come with one idea, they come with a few.

They are not always designed around one theme or focused on one lesson which everyone should get. Sometimes (often) people take different things away from the same book. Furthermore, sometimes authors approach the art of writing with no intention of preaching any number of ideas or arguments, but are honestly trying to find meaning for a question themselves. They say, “What if this happened to characters like this? What does that say about human nature or just this character or me?”

The point is: post-reading discussions or research sessions can and should be an integral part to deepening a relationship and comprehension of a novel for readers looking for the fullest experience. Too many individulas read books—partially or fully—and never utter a word about the book to anyone. Alone, we are all but one mind. Alone, fun and pleasure stop at the last word of the final sentence. A community never blossoms.

Between reading group participation and utilizing websites dedicated to discussion, review and analysis, there’s no reason to not dig deep into something a reader enjoyed. In our time, right now, we are wholly spoiled with access to information, through each other and the internet, to grow as educated, curious beings, who sometimes naively (but always rightly) believe true personal growth and learning can come from something as insipid and questionable as fiction.

Beautiful.

click and check it out...

I bid you good day, sir.

MH

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Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk: A Review

To Mr. Palahniuk: I can guess you’re every story. A darkly romantic, apocalyptic warning against cultural materialism. Okay, Chuck. We get it. Stop shoving it down our throats like we’re whores with your every book. And don’t be mad at me. I loved you once, and if you try—maybe, maybe—you can win me back and many other of your old readers, but that’s a damned tall order. The thimble full of respect I have for you is a sieve. The truth is, now that I am in my mid-twenties and have read close to 150 other books not by you, I realize your stuff is one-note, and has often been done before and deeper and better. Now your work seems preachy to me, and I hate author’s putting entire chapters in “italics” for very loose reasons. You do this in “Lullaby.” Some chapters, without any dialogue or setting, we’re just in character’s head, never specified, and talk at about philosophies. I realize now we’re just in your head. Like a sixteen year old who just discovered pot and whose favorite movie is still motherfucking “Donnie Darko”. Grow up. Short sentences. Same thing. Every book. Not original or fresh anymore. Stop. Please.

And stop starting new lines every couple sentences and leaving it solo, like this.

When you put a single sentence on its own, lingering with its own indent, multiple times on a page, well, you lose its dramatic impact. Not everything can be that important. Not every little sharp, witty thing is that sharp and witty.

The Review: Palahniuk wrote this book in 21 days, and learning that was kind of a revelation for me. It did seem like he wrote it in 21 days, read it over once and inserted a few chapters in the earlier section to account for some ideas he had along the way, then called it good and cashed his check.

Disclaimer—to be fully honest, I only read most of this. Take that however you will, but do not discount my review for it. I did read the first and last 75 pages, but the middle 120 pages of this book?—I almost killed myself. And when I was done I felt kind of dirty, like I’d just wasted five hours watching wrestling on TV. You’re like: “Okay, so that just happened, but so what? I could have done something else but I didn’t.”

If your whole point is to waste five hours, I guess this will do the trick, but there have to be better options out there. Next time I want to waste my time, I’ll do it with an author who is didn’t write the same novel in four slightly different ways. In his defense, and this is all I will give him, this was his fourth book and a departure from his more “grounded” works that could actually occur in the real world. He took a creative gamble and took this one deeper into fantasy, and that must be appreciated and respected. While that is all “fine and good”, it’s a shame the book was not fine or good. It was average at best. At Best.

Palahniuk’s premise is certainly intriguing (albeit difficult to swallow at times), but he stumbles with the execution. The culling song presents the kernel of an interesting idea, but the book feels padded, and I mean padded!, even at just over 250 pages with plenty of blank ones purposely scattered throughout. (Whenever a page started on an even page, he left that page blank and started the new chapter on the odd page more than half way down the page. Probably publishers fault to make a short novel feel more substantial.)

Simply put, this is an idea that would have worked much better as a short story. You can tell this tale in 30 pages like a Grimm Fairy Tale without any dialogue, or even a 120 page novella. Let me know if you want me to rewrite this for you, Chuck.

Palahniuk is clumsy in communicating his major themes, taking a heavy-handed approach that simply involves bludgeoning the reader into submission through sheer repetition. And repetition. And repetition. Have I made it clear he repeats a lot of his ideas? So, Palahniuk is becoming repetitive as a writer. He has an incredibly unique voice, but it hasn’t expanded much since “Fight Club” and “Survivor”. Hell, even “Invisible Monster” was great when I first read it, but now that I’ve read five of his other books over the past decade, I’m terrified to re-read “Invisible Monster” because I have grown as a reader and may find it to be total garbage. While reading “Lullaby“, I was suddenly struck by an observation — all of the characters sound exactly alike. And I mean in this novel and all of his other novels. The themes of nihilism, media saturation, and salvation-through-destruction are used and re-used, over and over. I understand that authors have common themes that they revisit, but after a while, it begins to feel more like a rut than a style. Palahniuk needs to show more growth in this area quickly or he runs the risk of being seen as a one-trick pony. And it’s sad, because I really liked that pony at first. We all did. But I grew up, and now I want a horse.

Any rumination in his head got repeated every couple chapters, just in case you’re reading at a speed of one page a day and need reminding. Whole chapters feel like untouched drafts. Who is this guy’s editor? The average chapter length is between 3-6 pages, and there are 44. That’s 44 chapters in a 250 page book with frequent blank pages. Yikes.

Overall, the book is interesting, but it never rises above the level of just “OK”. You could argue that it’s just fiction and for Palahniuk to make a point, even a really obvious one, perhaps he feels he must take the ends of his stories somewhere strange and foreign and impossible and we are supposed to accept it like a fable or an allegory. We’re supposed to “just get it.”

Without being too pessimistic, I can say the best days are behind him and I won’t be reading any more of his books. Especially his last one, “Damned” — I heard it was shit-ball city. I’ve read most of his work, so I know what’s up; including Invisible Monsters, Choke, Haunted, Survivor, Diary, Fight Club, Rant (really shitty), Snuff, and now Lullaby. I won’t even touch his more recent “Tell-All”—nor “Pygmy”—based on horror stories from friends and less than favorable reviews from, well, everyone (amateur and professional reviews, digitally and printed, and Amazon reviews). The synopses are cringe-worthy.

I think I’m nauseous. A little Palahniuk goes a long way. If you’ve never read Palahniuk before, I’d recommend reading “Survivor” (4/5) and then “Choke” (3.5/5) and maybe “Fight Club” which I blasphamously give (3.5/5) whose Fincher film from 1999 is far superior. Which, bytheway, how that incredible screewriter turned that book into such a coherent movie I will never know. I read it after I saw the film and couldn’t believe how scatterbrained it was.

Skip “Lullaby”, then, please, do what I did not and quit while you’re ahead.

Score “Lullaby”: 2/5

Avg. Score of most Chuck Palahniuk novels: 3/5

For more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuck_Palahniuk#Criticism   and  http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/fantasticfiction/lullaby.htm

p.s. the background of this story, as in what was occuring in Chuck’s real life at the time, is for more interesting and sad than the book; but knowing that his father died does explain why Chuck is Chuck and writes how he does. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lullaby_(novel)

 

MH

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On the Value of Writing Honest Fiction

(a look at how adding real life experience to fiction affects you and me)

an essay by Matthew Hughston

 

Possibly the scariest thing about writing is the fear that someone may discover something about you that you did not want known. Do the fanatics and scholars not mince over works by Fitzgerald and Plath and Hemingway and Shakespeare in an attempt to better understand the author?

All thoughts, themes, and situations a writer creates must bloom from somewhere, and often times they are not disguised that well—especially if you know the writer. Sometimes the plot or themes are not connected to the author’s experiences at all, yet sometimes a scene or a certain type of language convey to the reader this thought:

“This author must have really felt this or been there. You can’t make this stuff up.”

If it truly is “made-up,” then so expertly creating depth and illusion should be a pat on the back for superb writing; on the other hand, if “true” it is a testament to the idea that some complex emotional and situational elements in writing simply must come from the “human experience.”

Think of two song writers for example—singing of a broken heart. One has never had his heart stomped on while the other truly has. Which writer do you believe would strike a chord in you? Can you even tell if they’re both really good? What is fiction and what is not? Does it really matter so long as it is done well? You can rack your brain trying to figure it out.

So what is safe to publish? Should it matter? Who will be reading it? And am I doing myself a disservice by attempting to mask a story; change a name or age, alter a situation, or flip-flop the sex of a character as if that will actually distance my life from the character’s lives? How much “me” do I put in? Can you tell?

I think I should not fear such works. I believe that the true fiction writer must be bold and unapologetic even in the face of examination and retribution from his or her peers. It could be seen as selfishness, but many of the greatest writers placed real people in their lives into their books, and they certainly weren’t always kind or “pretty” reflections. Sometimes they were true, sometimes exaggerated, but always dynamic and made the story better.

In the end, many people will never be given the opportunity to throw their hat into the ring with the great figures of the past. Many will not find or earn the possibility of having parts of their life’s work remembered; unless your name dons a University’s library, or has a city park dedicated in your name, or is immortalized on a plaque at the base of a beautiful piece of modern architecture.

Perhaps the common man will have verbal stories passed down the family line for a generation or two. Maybe if you are a tycoon, or a war hero, or some silly twice-removed relation to a president. But then and only then will your name survive the coming generations.

How many generations of people will care about some old relative from 90 years ago?

But writing or being an activist or musician; these are the things that just might survive the generations. They just might reach out beyond the bloodline and impact the populace in unimaginable ways. Many authors, artists, and public figures meet the end of their lives feeling they were a failure to a public that seemed not to care, but sometimes decades later the impact and legend truly take hold. Look at Plath, Fitzgerald, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Aldous Huxley—all of their works initial met with trepidation, sometimes years, sometimes decades, but the world came around eventually.

Of course it is a bit conceited and self-centered (even self-aggrandizing) to want immortality, and I am not advocating to attempt such feats, but the people on this planet who can leave something behind should make it worth leaving behind. Maybe then their words will have a chance. For some this means constant exploitation to those around them and over-dramatization in their art or music or novels. And for others it is shameless honesty and reflection in hopes that people will learn from their conquests and mistakes. Perhaps from molding a fiction from a reality, the impact will be more relatable and visceral. We are simple animals at our core.

In the end, it may not matter much. The people who will read this long after I am gone may not know the difference between the make believe and the truth. They may ask: “Did it come from his experience or was it made up?”

In that regard, you could argue that the people who made everything up in their art form and found long-lasting success made out the best. After all, they did not have to deal with the fallout and reactions from the people in their world when they were alive, asking “how could you write such a thing?” or “did you really mean it when you said…” or “if you really feel this you need help!” or even “is this character supposed to be you? Supposed to be me?” Perhaps the liars and the dramatizers have the right idea. They made it all up—and anything they have inside themselves is left alone, only to be shared with whom they want and at their discretion.

But the honest writer—the writer who puts small pieces of his or her heart into the story, the one who really shares a secret they should perhaps not share, or a tale that is spun from reality but only barely spun—are those writers braver and worth more reflection? That is arguable. Clearly, I like to think so. And therefore, my experiences with life continue to pour into my works.

I know no other way.

It may sound that I am aiming for immortality, or that I feel my work should one day be more important solely on the basis that it came from some truth, augmented or otherwise. But what if that truth is weaker than a better writer? What if the wholly fictional fiction is better than my “truthy” fiction? Which body of work should be held to higher renown? Should not the best piece, regardless of how it was written, be loved and acclaimed? If so, it matters not where the story or themes bloomed from.

And so in a selfish way, perhaps putting so much of one’s self out there, at their own expense and other’s expense, is a poor decision. Furthermore, what is it we are looking for? What’s the reason? What do we all get from it (the writers and the readers)? Why write? Why read? How sorry can a writer really be about offending the living people who took shape in one’s fiction if immortality awaits? In any event, one can always deny that an episode in a book occurred from first-hand experience, right? Who would know?

When it comes down to it, any artist should make art for the maximum impact by any means necessary, and I hope that I am doing it right. Though other artists may know another way to express themselves or grasp for immortality, I do not know another way to write. And is immortality truly the primary goal? I think not.

But what then?

Judge me if you must, but know at least I was brave enough to share, and for this act perhaps the people absorbing my work may grow in some way. Perhaps I, for sharing, will grow too. If I didn’t hope for this, why would I write at all?

Nothing sounds more rewarding than impacting at least one life. My own or yours.

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First Blog!

Hey everyone! This is Matthew Hughston and this is my first blog for my new site to advertise for my new book coming out in the Fall 2011.

Please check back often! Visit my Twitter, friend the facebook fan page, and go to the official site of the book for more contact information, scheduled appearances, and exclusive excerpts from the book over the coming months.

This blog spot is intended to give you the behind-the-scenes of it all, as I hunt for publishers, continue editing, create art work, advertise, promote via word of mouth, answer your questions, and share my thoughts on books I might be reading. Be part of my brain.

More details on the way.

MH

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