Sunday, May 21, 2017

Review: The Silver Chair

The Silver Chair (Chronicles of Narnia, #4)The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book sucks. It's little wonder that Lewis would spend the next two books going backward rather than forward before he reached his conclusion because you could really feel that he was running out of steam with this one. The characters are either annoying or bland (Though, there is a scarecrow-esque character who provides some welcome humor), and the journey seems even more unnecessary than the last few. Maybe I'm just reading these books in the series too closely together (separating each book with just one non-Narnia book), but the charm is wearing thin for me. Harry Potter this isn't.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Review: Around the World in 80 Days

Around the World in Eighty Days (Extraordinary Voyages, #11)Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is certainly a book of its time, and by that, I mean it's incredibly racist. Its depiction of Native Americans is downright disgusting. That said, despite its yucky racism, this is a pretty exciting book. Especially when you put your mindset in the time period. The story is a fun one, and it holds up. An Englishman makes a bet that he can travel around the world in 80 days, and calamity ensues, most of it caused by his silly sidekick. The ending is also pretty satisfying, which helps. I love Jules Verne!

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Review: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Chronicles of Narnia, #3)The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I know many consider this their favorite Narnia book, and I guess I can see why. It's probably the book that feels like the grandest adventure, but to me, it feels more like a lopsided series of vignettes, with some working, and some not working. As a whole, I think the trekking from island to island is interesting, but only from a surface level. It doesn't really hope my interest like The Horse and His Boy or the first book. Overall, a decent book.

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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Review: The Magician's Nephew

The Magician's Nephew (Chronicles of Narnia, #6)The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While completely unnecessary (Very much in the same way that the Star Wars prequels are unnecessary) The Magician's Nephew is pretty much a whole book that could have been explained in a single chapter. For that reason, it feels much lengthier than the other books in the series, even though it's just as short as the others. And unlike say, The Horse and His Boy, which is interesting since it takes place in the period when the main children of the series are kings and queens, which didn't make much sense at the end of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, this book really just feels like filling. We didn't need to know how Narnia came to be, or the creation of the wardrobe, but I guess it's okay that we do. It's a harmless, but interesting book. Not terrible, but not terribly important, either. The series would have been fine without it.

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Review: The Giver

The Giver (The Giver, #1)The Giver by Lois Lowry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jeez. I guess I'll go kill myself now. I know death is a popular theme in many Young Adult books, but man. This book takes it to another level. I mean, don't get me wrong. The Giver is a modern masterpiece. It's the kind of book I would easily put next to The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby as a you-should-read-this-in-school kind of book, but it's so much more than that. Doing dystopia literature before it pretty much became the only content provided in YA, The Giver is a story of conformity and all its sickening problems. It is 1984 for the Clinton era. A stew of audacity and darkness for kids of all ages. I now want to read the rest of the books in the series, though I hear they're not as good.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

To Be or Not to Be a Writer in 2017

What does it mean to be a writer in 2017? I know what you’re probably saying. Are you seriously starting off an essay with a question? That’s grade level stuff, man. The kind of stuff they teach you in school when you’re writing a persuasive essay. I should know since I teach seventh graders and tell them that starting off with a question is just one of many great ways to hook a reader. They’re a great way to start since they demand an answer. And the answer to my question is this: To be a writer in the year 2017 means you have to change your definition of what it means to be a writer altogether.

Let me explain. Being “a writer” essentially means the same thing it meant back in 600 B.C., i.e. that writing a language is the act of making words visible. That will never change. But the concept of being “a writer” has surely been altered over the years. For example, is a blogger a writer, or is a blogger a blogger? Is a poet a writer, or is a poet a poet? Surely the intent of how you write is equally as important as what you write. But in an era when news can be gathered in 120 characters or less, you have to wonder, has our beloved art form become less…sophisticated? Here’s a good one: Is a tweeter a writer? Is “Tweeter” even a word? (I looked it up. It is.)

I’m certain most “serious” writers will wonder if I’m mad to even pose such a question. Tweeting is not writing, silly. Tweeting is…whatever. A monkey could tweet. But am I really so crazy? Writing has always been one of the most malleable art forms out there. Look no further (Or look a lot further, if you like) than writers such as James Joyce, Hunter S, Thompson, and Ernest Hemingway. Hell, do you want somebody a little bit more current? Look at Mark Z. Danielewski, author of House of Leaves. All of these writers, and many, many more, have forever changed the idea of what “good” writing actually is. As a father and teacher who writes articles and ebooks in my spare time (shameless plug: Find my books on Amazon), I’ve had to reevaluate what the modern reader wants when they take time out of their busy schedule to actually sit down and “read.” And no, I didn’t make a mistake when I put quotation marks around the word “read,” since the concept of reading has changed over the years, too. But more on that later.

When I write today in 2017, I always wonder, how do my readers want their stories presented to them? Do they want them in audio form? Comics? Facebook videos? Instagram pictures? And do they want them to be lengthy, or short? Also, if I make them short, how short should they be? One hundred words? Fifty? Ten? A single image?

These are questions that writers weren’t asking themselves a hundred years ago, or even ten, for that matter. Sure, writers have always been asking themselves what the audience wants. But as videos and social media become more prevalent forms of getting stories and information out there, the way we distribute our writing is something we have to seriously consider. It’s gotten to the point where we really do need to ask ourselves, am I compromising my art for an audience that seems to want more bite-sized (and visual) renditions of my greatest hits? And, is it really a compromise at all, or is it an evolution? How has “reading” changed? As a teacher, I can tell you that it has changed substantially. My students are now sometimes tasked with answering questions after watching a video. The videos themselves are now considered a form of “reading.” In other words, the game has changed.

One thing that will never change though is that we need to be engaging. I recently wrote a short story that I’ve been shopping around about a future where there are no longer any human writers, except one. Almost all stories are written by highly advanced computers that are spit out through algorithms. This might seem crazy, but it isn’t if you’ve been following recent headlines. Computers have already started writing sports and business articles, and it’s impossible to tell the difference between them and human beings. Writing has often been thought to be one of the few areas where computers can’t infringe on the creative spirit, but that looks to be a thing of the past. Computers have already beaten people in Chess, Jeopardy, and now the Japanese strategy game, Go. So why couldn’t they write the next great American novel? Really, what I’m asking is this: how do we prevent ourselves from becoming expendable?

The answer is to be limber and to adapt to change. Here’s a question I often ask a lot of my reader friends. If you listen to an audiobook, are you reading? Some say yes, and some say no. I can tell you that it’s usually the stuffier people who rigidly claim that listening to a book is not the same thing as “reading” a book. But to millions of people out there, there really is no difference. Are they getting the same story that you’re getting but through their ears rather than through their eyes? Yes. In a sense, some might even say they’re getting a truer version of the story if the actual author is reading to them. So, what I’m saying is this: If writers want to continue to exist, we need to pull our heads out of our butts and follow the trends. One could say that the audience for “traditional” reading is shrinking. But it really all depends on what you consider modern reading to be in the first place. If you consider it as the consumption of ideas, then one might say it’s bigger than it’s ever been in its entire history.

The most important thing to remember is that “readers” don’t care what “writers” want. They don’t even care whether their writers are human or not. Unlike self-driving cars, readers don’t tend to fear a future where robots are in control. In many ways, a reader will always be a reader, but a writer is not necessarily just a writer anymore. A writer is a blogger, a vlogger, a tweeter, a shapchatter, a podcaster, or whatever else the reader demands them (us) to be. And we as “writers” need to take note of that, since the most important aspect of being a writer is being “listened to.”

Whatever that even means.

Review: Big Trouble in Mother Russia

Big Trouble in Little China the Illustrated Novel: Big Trouble in Mother RussiaBig Trouble in Little China the Illustrated Novel: Big Trouble in Mother Russia by Matthew J. Elliot
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This. Book. Sucks! As a massive fan of BTiLC, I am extremely disappointed that this book was even put on the shelves. It reads like bad fan fiction. First of all, the writer doesn't know how to write. Jack Burton, who has always been one to toot his own horn, never spoke in run-on sentences-he specialized in one-liners! But this writer can't seem to help trying to fit as many jokes in one sentence as possible when writing Jack's lines, and it's excruciating. How could the writer ruin Jack Burton like this? And the plot is just all over the place. Events occur, fireworks go off, and all the while, you wonder what the hell is going on. Maybe I had a hard time staying invested in what was happening because it wasn't interesting, but it reads like a complete and utter mess. Didn't anybody edit this garbage? I feel like it isn't even fit for Wattpad. This book preys on fans of the film and is a slapdash attempt of squeezing the money out of the many fans of the cult classic. If you see it on the shelf, don't pick it up. You will be disappointed. It's crazy how bad this book is. For shame.

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