13 books I’ve read from the last two months. I wanted to review them all but never found the time (I was reading too damn much!)
Here we go:
Horror (’tis the season…)
Stephen King gets back to his nocturnal roots with Revival. Reverend Jacobs is a peculiar kind of preacher. When he moves into a small New England town (I know, shock-er!) a young boy, Jamie, is captivated by his near magical use of what the good Rev calls the “secret electricity.” Jamie and the Rev keep crossing paths throughout their lives, and they may share a common destiny; one that Jamie wants no part of. And what exactly is this “secret electricity”? Let’s just say Lovecraft would be proud of ol’ Stevie boy this time around. I picked up the audiobook version of this, read by David Morse (The Green Mile, Contact). His smooth voice was a pleasure to listen to, and he handled all the different voices well. Dark, ethereal, other-worldly, and certainly influenced by Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, this is easily King’s best horror novel since Lisey’s Story. Don’t miss it.
This one’s an oldie, but not a moldy. If you’ve only ever seen the film version with Will Smith, do your mind a favor and pick up the book; it’s simply better. Period. Robert Neville is the last human alive. He spends his days disposing of the corpses of the dead. At night he is constantly under siege by bands of vampires (yes vampires, not zombies as the movie made them out to be.) But can he find a cure for the vampire disease? Apocalyptic, lonesome, and scary as hell, I Am Legend will haunt you down to your core. This is horror at its most intimate and cerebral. You won’t forget it.
The Classics (because, college)
Homer’s most revered work leaps to new life in Fagles’ easy-reading translation. You know the story and you know the characters; isn’t it time you paid them a visit?
The oldest English epic never goes out of style. Not really my favorite thing to read, but Grendel is still one of the most terrifying monsters of all time. It’s worth a read for this fact alone.
Ciardi’s translation is considered canon and for good reason. The man devoted his life to translating Dante, a fact that rings true through every page. If you’ve always pushed Inferno to the back of your classics-reading list because it’s just too difficult, miserable, or whatever, then bare down and get to it. This is my favorite classic novel (poem). Dante’s journey through Hell is soul-screaming scary, and the truths it holds in its pages are universal. This isn’t the most poetic version I’ve read, but it is the best for the absolute ease of reading Ciardi made it to be. There’s a reason this one will never go away; isn’t it time you found out why?
Before The Lord of the Rings or Chronicles of Narnia, there was Phantastes. MacDonald’s vision of Faërie is part fairy tale, part mythopoeic, and pure escapism. He wrote it because his other more “serious work” wasn’t paying the bills , so he hoped his little “fairy tale” might help out. Thank God he did, because I’m not sure the Fantasy genre would be around today had he not paved the way for it to happen. Want to see where Tolkien and Lewis drew their inspiration from? This is it.
Literature (or drama, if you like)
Oh boy. McCarthy. The fastest book I’ve ever read (3 hours from beginning to end.) God, suicide, Atheism, Nihilism, Christ, Purgatory, Heaven, Hell; all in the course of two people talking. This book disturbed me long after I put it down. So I picked it up again a few days later and did it all over again. More disturbing the second time around. White tries to kill himself by jumping in front of a subway train. Black saves him. Black brings White back to his apartment. They talk. That’s it. Devoid of punctuation, five-dollar words, and any filler; the hardest, easy read I’ve ever encountered. McCarthy will make you face how you feel about life, death, religion, and the afterlife head-on. Caution: Once into this one, there is no stopping. It will shake you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Flowers for Algernon has been on most high school reading lists for decades. Somehow, though, it was never on mine. Charlie Gordon is mentally handicapped. He has trouble with communication, understanding, and a whole host of other psychological deficiencies; at least what society says are deficiencies. Charlie has an operation to make him smart. In fact, he becomes a genius. I wish I could say that he stays that way, but he doesn’t. Neither does the lab-mouse Algernon who mirrors Charlie’s mental development, and eventual decay, throughout the whole story. FFA is a scathing indictment on how our culture views and treats the mentally handicapped, whom at the time it was written (novella ’59, novel ’66) were called “retardets.” Does it still hold true today? You’ll be asking that yourself when your done reading this; that is, after you put your heart back into your chest.
If you’ve read Vonnegut before, chances are that you’ve already read this. If not, don’t start here. This is my least favorite Vonnegut book. The usual wit, sarcasm, an acidic condemnations inherent in Vonnegut’s prose are there, but the story sucks. A Sci-Fi writer finds out that a car salesman is taking his books as real world truth. That’s fine and all but Vonnegut gets so wrapped up in accosting, well, everything that I just didn’t care what was happening in the story. Nor does Vonnegut devote much time to telling the tale, either. I hate to say it, but Vonnegut just comes across as a crotchety old-man that sees no hope for the human race. I’m not saying there isn’t some truth in that, but I don’t want to read an author bitch and moan about it for several hundred pages. If you want vintage Vonnegut, read Slaughterhouse Five or Cat’s Cradle.
Thriller (crime, suspense, mystery…guns ‘n stuff)
Another audiobook version (I’ve got a long commute to school.) Michael Connelly is one of my favorite Thriller writers. All his books are extremely fast paced and well thought out. When I pick up a Connelly thriller, I know I’m going to get a twisting story (usually a who-dun-it in some way or the other), memorable characters, and a quick, break-neck ride. That’s exactly what this one is. Henry Pierce, a mega-minded chemistry expert and millionaire entrepreneur, moves into a new apartment. He keeps getting calls for someone named Lilly on the phone at his new place. This leads him down the darker side of on-line escort services and corporate espionage. A fun mystery with a few cool twists and turns. Not as good as say, The Lincoln Lawyer, but I still dig it.
Raylan is a novel based on one of Elmore Leonard’s favorite characters, Raylan Givens. This was an audiobook as well, and reader Brian D’Arcy James holds his own with a slew of different character voices.This is a novel, but it could easily be broken up into separate stories. There are pieces about kidney thieves, and marijuana/Oxycontin bandits, and of course some murders of Harlan County’s (his favorite place to write about) back-county citizenry, which all tie into a cohesive whole. If you’ve seen the TV show Justified then you are adamantly familiar with Raylan Givens and Harlan County. Favorites like Dewy Crow and Boyd Crowder are back for this one, and if you know who those characters are then undoubtedly you will be running to the bookstore to pick this one up. If not, you can’t get much better crime-fiction than anything by Elmore Leonard. You’ll like him. Promise.
Non-fiction (mostly Memoir, with just a smidge of writing craft)
Yup, I agree with all the comments on the jacket; this is the best book on the craft of writing out there. If you count yourself a writer and haven’t read this yet, then you’re really missing out. Not just a book on craft, but also a memoir on how writing has affected King’s life, and conversely how his life has influenced the writing. Consider this mandatory and go get it. It’s a reference book that’s actually fun to read. Enough said.
Land of Enchantment is a memoir about domestic abuse. Stein’s story will upset you and make you feel what she went through. It’s not a terribly original memoir but the material she covers is handled well. If you like memoirs of this ilk then you could do worse than LOE. For a in-depth analysis and critique, please read my full book review in the upcoming (soon!) November 2016 issue of Hippocampus Magazine.
Well, that’s it folks. Hope you liked it. Agree or disagree with any of my flash reviews? Got some recommendations of your own? The comment box awaits…