Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Archive for the category “Reading”

That isn’t literature

When I think of literature I think of an older guy sporting a greying moustache, sipping a sherry, wearing a smoking jacket, seated in a library of leather-bound books in front of a simmering log fire. The guy speaks with an aristocratic English accent and expounds on the greatness of some book that other older men dressed like him, sitting in similar log-fire warmed libraries, also like to read when not shagging the maid.

man-smoking-jacket

Aspiring literary snob reader

Now clearly not everyone who reads literature fits this image. Some probably can’t even afford a maid to shag. But it does appear to be an image that people aspire toward, an image that informs what they deem literature, and thus what they deem worthy of reading. Rather than judging any written work based upon its lasting artistic merit – although that definition is so subjective as to be useless and ideal for starting pointless arguments…. (cough) – people seem intent on creating boundaries before a work is allowed to be judged. They must defend Fort Literature from the invading Lesser Works.

Normally I’d launch into a whinge about how speculative fiction is unfairly maligned, or how I’ve read crime fiction that has more artistic merit than most literary works. But instead I’m going to talk about graphic novels. In an article on The Conversation, Catherine Beavis explained how the graphic novel Maus came to be part of the literature curriculum.

Despite this explanation there was always going to be someone in the comments telling us how a graphic novel can’t be literature. I assume they wrote their comments whilst wearing a smoking jacket and taking a break from shagging the maid.

Well well……..so it’s art as literature.

Why not a more well-known comic (sorry graphic novel).

Not saying this isn’t a worthy addition to any curriculum, but more as social comment rather than literature.

Surely the novels of great Australian writers should be preferable – Winton, Malouf, Carey etc.

Let’s break these points apart one by one. As will be seen from further comments, the argument primarily revolves around the feelpinion that because graphic novels contain pictures they are art and thus not literature. A similar argument could be made for movies being TV shows and thus we could abolish the Oscars… actually, that isn’t a bad idea. Anyway, I guess we’d better break the news to the literature professors that Shakespeare’s plays need to be taken off of the curriculum.

The argument then moves to the “I haven’t heard of it, so it can’t be good” assertion. Maybe because they realise this isn’t a great argument, they immediately distance themselves from it. But we start to see the worthy argument being formed. I’ve argued many times that worthy is a great subjective argument put forward by people who think they are worthy.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a literary argument if someone didn’t cite some authors they deem worthy. For those unfamiliar with Winton, Malouf, and Carey, they are award-winning Aussie authors who write “interior histories” and about “people rebuilding their lives after catastrophe” and “people who experience death and will never be the same again”. None of those statements could be applied to a graphic novel about someone who survived the holocaust…. No sir.

Their list of worthy authors is as subjective as their comments about graphic novels and Maus. I could similarly ask why the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy isn’t on the curriculum. It has a lot to say about society and has entered the lexicon, which is more than can be said for any of the other authors mentioned nor the graphic novels being shunned. I could say the same again about Superman or Spiderman, which have implanted ideals and phrases of morality into society, regardless of whether people have read those graphic novels or not.

*Steps on soapbox*
I personally welcome any work into the class that will encourage kids to read, think and learn. And to anyone who derides graphic novels, they are clearly saying they don’t or haven’t read any.
*Steps down from soapbox*

The commenter responded to criticism of their subjective opinion:

That may be so, but my bigger point was that literature = words.

This is art with captions.

Not disputing that it may be hugely popular or good (even great)…
but literature it ain’t.

I think the appropriate response to this is a head shake. The problem is the black and white definition of what literature is, whilst ignoring the fact that the graphic novels fit the definition of literature. Pointing out the flaws in these opinions is as easy as saying that graphic novels, with very few exceptions, are composed of words. They also use graphics, but that is often a collaboration between the writer and the artists they work with. Thus, by the definition of “literature = words”, graphic novels are eligible to be classified as literature.

But anything to keep only the “worthy” books in contention as literature. Can’t have that kids stuff being called literary!

So I named three contemporary Australian writers – call me subjective.

I am not knocking the (art) form…just that it (to ME) is not literature.

Your opinion is obviously as valid as mine……don’t get huffy.

The last point here is one that irks me more than irksome irkers on an international irking junket. Opinions are not equally valid. That sort of subjectivism nonsense eats away at reality and suggests we “just don’t know, man”.

The commenter made a subjective list, so I put together some examples that were superior in quantifiable ways (impact on society, entering the lexicon, referenced by society) to show that the subjective claims were more worthless than a $9 note because clearly not much knowledge or thought was put into the claims.

There is also the idea of literary critique and argument, rather than stating feelpinions. I’ve stated an opinion and argued it, offering reasoning. The examples I countered with aren’t necessarily the best choices, but I have justified and quantified my argument, something you learn in high school literature class. Art Spiegelman won a Pulitzer, so clearly someone in the literati agrees. And surely a Pulitzer prize winner is worthy of being on the curriculum. But of course all opinions are equally valid and “I’m entitled to my opinion”, dammit!

Surely the whole point of literature is that the reader has to imagine the scene described, the way words are spoken, the implications of what is said and much more. It’s all in the mind, which develops through reading.

A graphic novel presents the words and pictures with almost no imagining required. The number of words is hugely reduced to give way to often wasted space. In the example above there are 21 words, which if in normal lowercase type could be written in 10% of the space.

Sorry I’m not convinced graphic novels have any merit for senior students.

Shakespeare’s plays give stage directions and poetry is often deliberately obscure. So how do those examples fit this exclusionary definition of literature? I’m sure some artists would object to the idea that they aren’t conjuring a scene that develops in people’s minds. And is the idea to only allow readers to imagine a scene? Isn’t it about conveying ideas and emotions too? Isn’t this some great mental gymnastics to try to maintain Fort Literature from invasion by the Lesser Works?

The second paragraph is also exemplary of someone who hasn’t read many, if any, graphic novels. So of course this commenter wouldn’t be convinced that graphic novels are of any merit. First they’d have to know something. But that doesn’t hold them back from commenting.

While I’m in the mood for alienating folks, let me also say that this is a good example of dumbing down literature.

Give the kids a picture with limited words and maybe they’ll get the idea.

Don’t kids these days have the attention span to read a novel?

The last graphic novel I read was 480 pages long and took many hours to read. It covered sexual identity, morality, the greater good argument, do evil deeds make us evil, etc, as issues. The last “literature” novel I read was about a woman who manipulated people to get what she wanted. It was ~300 pages long and took many hours to read.*

This argument is typical of people who have a snobbish attitude to something based upon pure ignorance of the topic. Similar statements have been made throughout time, decrying the dumbing down or declining standards of today’s youth. Oddly enough it has been proven false again and again only to be spouted once more.

XKCD on declining writing standards

See the full original here: https://xkcd.com/1227/

There is a similar article on The Spectator – a home for uninformed opinion – which argues that if we let graphic novels into literature we have to let in everything. They must defend Fort Literature from the invading Lesser Works. Maybe I’ll address that one at some stage when I’m feeling masochistic, but I’m going to leave it there. The maid has arrived.

*This comparison was true at the time of my original comments on The Conversation. I’ve read many graphic novels since, but no further literature novels.

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Made it to Friday

whole-weekend-to-read

Book to Movie: Lord of the Rings The Return of the King – What’s the Difference?

Previously in What’s the Difference? the Cinefix team have covered The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. So it is time to wrap up their coverage of Lord of the Rings with The Return of the King… and enough partings to make you think you are a hairdresser.

A lot of epic stuff happens in the last third of the Lord of the Rings. A lot of tearful goodbyes happen as well. Honestly, when you are reading the paper version you reach the first ending and can’t figure out why there are so many pages left. By the third ending you start wondering if it will ever end.

As I’ve previously discussed for the other instalments, I think the movie is a fantastic adaptation. The minor changes, like Sam not putting on the ring, don’t make much difference – but that one didn’t make much sense either. The major differences are actually quite welcome. Except one.

First I’d like to comment on Sam not wearing the ring. I actually thought that whilst being a minor point, it was also very important to his character and the later act of carrying Frodo. Sam experienced just for a short moment the burden Frodo bore. It helped him redouble his efforts. And also made for a more believable way for Sam to infiltrate the Orc camp.

The major difference that I thought should have been in the film was the reclaiming of The Shire from Saruman. Obviously we’d already had too many endings and needed another one like an extra hole in our heads. But the heroes returned from war to a village ignorant/indifferent to the war and the sacrifice – can anyone say Vietnam vets? That isn’t really a happy ending. By having the heroes come home and expel the evil from their village as well, it would have shown their growth as warriors, but also tied their sacrifice to the people they had defended…. Plus, it would have been another action scene in a boring section of the film.

Now that Cinefix have finished with Lord of the Rings it is hard to know what they will cover next. Fingers crossed that is a 6 video coverage of the 3 movie adaptation of the 1 book story The Hobbit.

Edit: Since posting this article I’ve come across a video that explains why the ending of The Return of the King feels so long. The video below argues that it isn’t too long, but rather there is a gap between when the plot finishes and where the story does.

Of course, there is a 30 minute gap between the plot finishing and the story ending. The tension has been resolved so the film feels to drag on, entering Ending Fatigue. 30 minutes out of 558 is 10.7% of your run time devoted to that gap. That’s a lot of time. If they had managed to use less screen time for the story ending/s then we wouldn’t have noticed. Or if people were first watching the films in a marathon, such that 30 minutes out of +9 hours feels shorter, then they’d notice less.

More Books You Haven’t Read

I have written previously (here, here) about how people like to pretend they have read something they haven’t. To summarise my take on this phenomenon: Stop it!

People claim to have read books (1, 2, 3, 4) and watched movies they haven’t in order to appear more intelligent. From the new list that I will discuss below, you have to question who they are trying to impress by claiming to have read Dan Brown and Stieg Larsson.

Impressing people is what this is all about. We all have an inability to admit we like (or dislike) stuff because others may have a subjectively different taste and ridicule us. We even come up with the fake term “guilty pleasure” to describe something we like but are ashamed of for some reason. There shouldn’t be guilty pleasures, only pleasures… unless that pleasure is illegal or immoral or both – such as the movies of Uwe Bole.

This new list of lied about books comes from a poll of 2,000 UK adults. In it 41% of respondents admitted they fibbed about what, and how much, they read. This was part of The Reading Agency‘s look at reading habits. It found that 67% of respondents would like to read more, but 48% claimed they were too busy to read… but caught the game on the TV and did you see those new cat videos? Another interesting point was that 35% said they struggle to find a book they really like, and 26% want recommendations from someone they know. I.e. reviews are important.

As you will see from the list, most of these books have been turned into movies. That was probably why people lied. They wanted to impress people in a discussion but couldn’t just admit that they had only watched the movie. Hint: us readers can tell you haven’t read the book.

 Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

1. James Bond novels by Ian Fleming

I can’t claim to have read many of the James Bond novels – one, I’m pretty sure I’ve only read one. But I have watched most of the movies at least once. For my own part, the reason I haven’t read more of the books is partly lack of interest, and partly making time to catch up on older novels. There are a lot of influential authors and novels I’m yet to have a chance to read. Plus I’ve heard that the books have far fewer explosions.

 The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

2. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Admittedly I read the novel after the first movie came out – or possibly only finished it after the first movie came out. I’ve covered this book recently as part of my Book vs Movie discussions (1, 2, 3). I don’t think you can blame people for watching the movies instead of reading the book. The book is long, waffly, and at times difficult to parse. The movies are only long and awesome.

 

3. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

I’ve only read six of the seven Narnia novels. I read this series when I was young and pretty much lost interest before reading The Last Battle. The first two novels (chronological, not published) are well worth reading, but I can understand people not bothering to read the rest. I can also understand people having watched the movies and decided not to read the books. The movies are only okay, which is generally not enough to encourage most people to read books.

4. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown

Apparently The DaVinci Code is one of the most read books of all time…. if you just go by book sales. I have a love-hate relationship with Dan Brown’s Artefact McGuffin Adventures. While I have read two of Brown’s novels, I actually prefer other authors who write superior Artefact McGuffin Adventures. Can’t really blame people for watching Tom Hanks run around historical places instead of reading about Robert Langdon.

 The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I can honestly say I haven’t read this book, nor been interested in doing so, despite the paperback being on our shelves. The movies didn’t exactly inspire me either. The main reason I haven’t tackled it is that my wife only thought it was okay and similar to Divergent by Veronica Roth.

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

6. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

I didn’t even realise the movie was based on a book until relatively recently. I’m sure most people will have seen the movie and assumed the book is pretty similar.

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

7. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Another book I haven’t read and one I’m not really interested in reading – nor the rest of the series for that matter. I’m not sure why anyone would claim to have read this book when they haven’t, unless they want to say “Oh, the books are so much darker” when the movie is being discussed.

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

8. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

Another novel that is on our shelves thanks to my wife. The impression I have of the main character is that I would probably not enjoy this, especially since I try to be out of the room when people are watching the movies.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson

9. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Ugh. I read part of this book before shredding it and using the remains to create a nest for a family of rats. Even the Wikipedia synopsis of the novel bores me to tears. Any “thriller” that starts with ten pages of descriptions of flowers, followed by a few more pages discussing home renovations had better make them giant mutated flowers with Uzis that are renovating the home with explosives. If only people would stop talking about this book so that people would stop talking about it as though it was good.

The Godfather by Mario Puzo

10. The Godfather by Mario Puzo

I bought The Godfather from a bargain bin next to a pile of remaindered books. The only reason I decided to buy and read it was that the movie was/is a classic. It is probably fair to say that most people only ever considered reading this because of the movie, so it is no surprise that people inflate that from considering to have read.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

11. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

I have neither read this book nor watched the film. My entire understanding of this book comes from Thug Notes. That’s enough for me.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

12. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This book certainly isn’t for everyone. When I reviewed it I called it literary crime fiction, which puts it between genre fiction that people like reading, and award-winning stuff people only pretend to like reading.* That means it could attract people from both audiences, or annoy both audiences – yes, I am assuming that those two audiences are disparate entities that share nothing in common. So I could see why some people would claim to have read this novel, what with the awards, and praise, and movie forcing them to either admit something about their reading habits or to make some facile excuse for not having read it yet.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

13. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

This book has the dubious honour of being a novel I was only aware existed as a result of it appearing on these lists of books people claim to have read but haven’t. Maybe this book doesn’t actually exist but is inserted into these reading lists as an internal check for the survey of readers. Let’s see who notices that this book is fictional fiction.

As you can see, it is easy to admit which books you have and haven’t read. Some books you may not want to read. Some you may not have had a chance to read yet. Some you might only be aware of due to the movie adaptation. The main thing is to acknowledge the truth so that entertaining books are promoted (review books, but do it the right way), rather than dreck that people haven’t read but assume is entertaining. And if you want to continue to lie about books you’ve read, here is a summary of some classic novels:

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*Yes, that is me being snobby. Yes, I am meant to be against that judgmental stuff. Yes, I am a hypocrite at times.

Book Review: The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wells

The Island of Dr. MoreauThe Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you can make an animal into a person, how long do you think it will be before someone can make a person decent?

Edward Prendick survives a shipwreck and is rescued by a supply ship headed for The Island of Dr Moreau. Prendick is cast overboard by the supply ship and is thus stranded on the island where he discovers a mad scientist (surgeon actually) has been at work for many years. The locals are huge fans of vivisection. Things go downhill when Brando is cast as Moreau.

I mostly enjoyed rereading this novel, and I definitely understood more of the issues than when I read it as a kid. At the time HG Wells wrote this famous tale, there was much debate in Europe regarding degeneration, evolution, and vivisection. Wells himself thought that humans could use vivisection for evolutionary purposes. And what better way to discuss these issues than in a science fiction novel.

There were two main issues that stopped me enjoying this novel more. The first issue is common to all of the HG Wells novels I have recently reviewed, and that is the dated style that drains a lot of the tension out of the narrative. The reader is always left at arm’s-length from the story. The second issue is a narrative device that is still commonly used today: book-ending. Book-ending (a term I’ve probably made up) is where the actual story is wedged between an external narrative that is used to recount the story proper. This does two things that annoy me: it adds needless narrative and characters; and it destroys any suspense or mystery. The latter is the worst part. In The Island of Dr Moreau we already know that Prendick survives the island and his experiences have left him emotionally scarred and unable to live among people, because his nephew introduces the tale after finding the manuscript when Prendick dies.

Regardless, this is a creepy tale that is worth reading even if you just want to learn to recite ‘Are We Not Men’.

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Book review: The First Men in the Moon by HG Wells

The First Men in the MoonThe First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Would we have a colony on the Moon if it had gold and a native peoples to wipe out? We know the answer if they had oil.

Perennial con man, Bedford, has escaped his creditors by hiding in the countryside. Here he meets an inventor, Cavor, who is a genius with no idea what he is doing. Bedford cons Cavor into using his invention of Cavorite to fly to the Moon. Upon arrival they discover the moon is hollow and filled with Moonmen (but no Moonwomen….. not sure how that works). And gold. The meeting with the natives follows tradition…

I was disappointed with The First Men in the Moon. This novel was influential to people like CS Lewis, so I was expecting there to be a lot on offer. There are a lot of interesting ideas on display in this novel, but there are also some truly bad ideas as well, even for the time this was written in. For example, Jules Verne criticised the use of Cavorite when both he and Wells had already utilised the more realistic idea of cannons for interplanetary travel. The story is also told in a way that isn’t particularly engaging, particularly the last quarter, which is possibly the most drawn out way to tie up a loose end I’ve read.

This was also one of the many works of HG Wells that was accused of plagiarism. Twenty-six years prior, Robert Cromie had written A Plunge Into Space, which was heavily borrowed from but never acknowledged. Wells’ contestations that he had never heard of Cromie nor his book would have held more weight if the accusations of plagiarism weren’t quite so common throughout Wells’ career.

Skip this classic.

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Book review: The War of the Worlds by HG Wells

The War of the WorldsThe War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interplanetary war breaks out in Woking, Surrey England. Newsreaders even less sure where that is than countries in the Middle East.

The War of the Worlds is about Martians invading Earth using advanced technology, like 21 metre tall tripod machines, heat rays, and toxic smogs. One man is able to recount his experience of living through the invasion from the first landing to the start of the rebuilding of southern England.

It is hard to comment on such a classic novel. The War of the Worlds has gone on to influence culture in many ways. The obvious influences are in books and movies, most notably the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels and the entire alien invasion genre. But it also had an impact on science, such as Freeman Dyson’s search for extraterrestrial life and Robert Goddard’s rocket development. Not many books can claim that (seriously, read the Wiki article for a brief overview). Makes it very hard to comment…

While I enjoyed this book I came away from it underwhelmed. Much of the novel is interesting, not least of which is the understated setting – because now you would be considered mad to set an alien invasion story anywhere without a prominent monument that can be destroyed. The characters the narrator meets are also interesting, particularly the artilleryman who has big dreams about leading the resistance movement. But this is all told in a memoir style that lacks immediacy, tension, and excitement. Southern England has just been invaded by aliens with death rays, yet the narrator could just as well be relating the time he watched a cricket match in Surrey.

Worth reading as a classic, especially if you forgive the narrative style.

NB: It also influenced music, such as this one by Devin Townsend.

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Book Review: The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly

The Four Legendary Kingdoms: A Jack West Jr Novel 4The Four Legendary Kingdoms: A Jack West Jr Novel 4 by Matthew Reilly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you have twelve labours to perform do you get an energy drink sponsorship deal?

Jack West Jr was retired. The Fifth Greatest Warrior had saved the world and become a family man. But his old nemesis Iolanthe recruits him against his will to compete in The Games. This battle to the death takes representatives from the Four Legendary Kingdoms to compete to become the champion: a modern-day Hercules. Oh, and that champion allows an ancient machine to stop a rogue galaxy from destroying the Milky Way. The galaxy, not the chocolate bar.

With few exceptions – The Tournament, Seven Deadly Wonders – I’ve loved Matthew Reilly’s novels. They made by taking pure adrenaline, injected with amphetamines, and poured into a stack of paper. The stakes are always high and time is always short. This time Jack West Jr has to save the galaxy by winning a tournament. No doubt Reilly’s next novel will involve saving the universe…

I was a little wary of The Four Legendary Kingdoms. While The Great Zoo of China was a return to form, The Tournament was somewhat of a letdown for me. There was also the fact that Seven Deadly Wonders, the first Jack West Jr novel, is my least favourite book from Reilly. But any fears I had were well and truly stabbed in the neck. I can’t wait for the next instalment in this series.

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Book to Movie: Lord of the Rings Two Towers – What’s the Difference?

Last month Cinefix covered The Fellowship of the Ring. This month they cover The Two Towers with What’s the Difference?

For me the middle third of the Lord of the Rings was both the most enjoyable and most annoying. As mentioned in the video, there are three tales running separately and rather than moving between these tales as they unfold in the narrative, we jump back to start again for each perspective. The book has some of the most memorable moments in this section – I may or may not have named one of my computers Entwash – but the order of events feels confused. Sorry, not confused, more drawn out, which for a novel that includes a hell of a lot of walking is something unneeded.

As with The Fellowship of the Ring, I think the movie is a fantastic adaptation. Seeing the battles brought to life was certainly a highlight. Nothing quite like watching Ents smash up Isengard rather than just reading about it.

Next month we’ll see the last instalment from Cinefix. Well, until the 6 video coverage of the 3 movie adaptation of the 1 book story The Hobbit.

Book review: The Devil’s Country by Harry Hunsicker

The Devil's CountryThe Devil’s Country by Harry Hunsicker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Has there ever been a religious cult started for something other than allowing the leaders to have sex with the congregation?

Arlo Baines is wandering the state of Texas in an effort to forget the murder of his family. The former Texas Ranger sees a couple of guys up to no good, and starts making trouble in the neighbourhood. He gets in one little fight and has the local sheriff and a religious cult wanting to see him leave (for Bel Air).

It was refreshing to dive into a different take on the itinerant vigilante genre. Obviously there are similarities between any of the novels in this genre, the most prominent being Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series (of which I’m a fan). But Harry Hunsicker has brought a more haunted and reluctant hero to the page, one who feels a little more vulnerable, but no less unstoppable.

This is a fast-moving novel which hits all the right beats. While it doesn’t stray from the itinerant vigilante genre path, nor offer up any surprising twists, The Devil’s Country was an enjoyable read. Recommended for any fans of Lee Child, Matt Hilton, Zoe Sharp, et al.

NB: I received an advance review copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

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Readicide

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I have long-held a disdain for the way reading and books are presented in schools. At a time when kids are trying to be cool by gaming, watching the right TV shows, seeing cool movies, Snap-chatting themselves half-naked, and sleeping until noon, schools try to suck all the fun out of reading.

Up until high school kids are more likely to read regularly for pleasure. At high school this rate declines markedly, and doesn’t really recover until retirement (if at all, as I’d argue that the older people making up those Pew survey numbers grew up in an age before internet, decent TV, and gaming). Not only are teens exposed to more other potential entertainment sources, they also find less enjoyment in reading. Something happens in high school. Something terrible. We assign them standardised texts to read!

In his book, ReadicideKelly Gallagher explains why the American system has been failing kids and how to fix it. I think many of the points apply to any nation that utilises an emphasis on standardised testing for schools. Below is a summary presentation that you can navigate to by clicking on the image. Worth a look for any fellow book nerds and/or parents.

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I don’t actually agree with everything in the overview, namely the idea that classics are classics for a reason. You have to remember that the reason a book becomes a classic is often chance, or because some person reckons it should be, not because it is always good. Plenty of good books have undoubtably been lost in obscurity and thus to history. An example of a book now regarded as a classic that was almost lost to history is Moby Dick. It faded into obscurity after its release and was pretty much forgotten until one literary critic – Carl Van Doren – revived the novel 70 years after its publication. So one guy reckoned it was good, others nodded and agreed with him, and so that means it’s a classic.*

The idea that kids should be reading classics or literary “masterpieces” is part of the problem, in my opinion. This is very much a top down decree of what is important by people who have made a career out of lecturing others on what is important…. to them. Just because they like it doesn’t mean that it will inspire kids to be lifelong readers.

Now, that isn’t to say that those “important” books aren’t worth reading. But it is to say that there is a stark difference between what a literary critic or scholar deems good, and what a kid who just read Harry Potter for the first time deems good. School curriculums would be better off without trying to bash kids over the heads with books they are unlikely to enjoy.

book-graphic

*Yes, I’m being overly simplistic.

Book review: The Time Machine by HG Wells

The Time MachineThe Time Machine by H.G. Wells

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wonder if vegans object to the Morlocks’ diet?

In what is now a classic of the Science Fiction genre, an un-named narrator has local dignitaries over to his place once a week to tell tall tales and show off his latest inventions to. On one of these evenings he limps in the worse for wear, in desperate need of a steak, and discusses his pocket flower collection.

When I was a kid I read a lot of the classic science fiction stories from the likes of HG Wells and Jules Verne. It has been so long since I’ve read them that I thought it was time to revisit these classics. While I can still fondly remember the 1960 movie – let us not ever speak of the 2002 adaptation – the book felt unfamiliar and akin to virgin reading material.

Whilst The Time Machine does deserve its place in history for influencing/creating Science Fiction as we know it (fantastical ideas explored, social issues analogised), as a novel it is lacking. One example of this is the lack of tension in scenes that are literally life or death struggles. Instead of fearing for the narrator’s life and wondering how he’ll survive, we are treated to a recounting of the events that could have instead been describing someone having a cup of tea while watching the rain out of the dining room window. A wondrous adventure told as though it was just another day at the office.

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Book review: The Scam by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The Scam (Fox and O'Hare, #4)The Scam by Janet Evanovich

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When someone launders your money do they also iron and starch it? Why yes, I am a dad, why do you ask?

Nick Fox and Kate O’Hare are once again using Nick’s talents as a conman to take down criminals on the FBI’s list of bad guys. This time they are after a casino owner who is helping launder money for anyone from mobsters to terrorists. Given the company he keeps, is it any surprise he has a tank of piranha in his office for ‘negotiations’.

After being disappointed in the second instalment in this series, The Chase, I was unsure if I would read any more of the Evanovich and Goldberg series. I already had The Scam on loan from the library, so I decided to chance it. This was a rewarding decision as The Scam delivers an entertaining read.

I was disappointed with The Chase because it felt like an episode from one of those will-they-won’t-they crime shows – such as Castle or Bones – during their declining years. You know, just as they are lining up the ramp over the shark cage. But The Scam felt like an early episode at the beginning of the series when Castle or Bones are still awesome, even though there are plot elements here that set this firmly later in the series (can’t say more without major spoilers).

So skip The Chase and read The Scam.

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Book to Movie: Lord of the Rings – What’s the Difference?

This month’s What’s the Difference? from CineFix covers the Fellowship of the Ring section of Lord of the Rings.

Let’s be honest here, the movies were better.

Whilst I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings in both movie and book form, to call the books waffly and slow-moving is an understatement. As pointed out in the CineFix video, huge passages of time elapse before anything actually happens in the book. The adventure Frodo sets out upon literally takes decades to start, such that you forget what the inciting call to adventure is.

The movie also establishes the stakes and opposing forces better. This not only sets the clock ticking but raises tension and consequence. Meanwhile the book has plenty of pipe smoking and walking. In fairness, Tom Bombadil is a highlight that is sorely missing from the movie – although I doubt that the lyricism of his presence would translate to the screen from the page.

In all, this is one of the few examples where the movie was superior. And shorter. Much shorter.

Book review: The Chase by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The Chase (Fox and O'Hare, #2)The Chase by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is no con you can pull on a politician, given that they invented them all.

Nick Fox and Kate O’Hare are once again teamed up as the will-they-won’t-they odd couple. This time their mission is to recover a stolen artefact of national significance to the Chinese government. They have to steal it from the people who stole it before someone realises it was stol….. You get the idea.

I’ve read many Lee Goldberg and Janet Evanovich novels and have always found them humorous and entertaining. But The Chase felt like a by-the-numbers follow up to The Heist, a book that established a potentially good series. This was like an episode from a TV crime show like Castle, or Bones, or any of the dozens of those similarly constructed dramedies. And not an episode from the start of the series when it was good, but in those later episodes when they are lining up the ramp over the shark tank.

That isn’t to say that The Chase fails to entertain, quite the contrary. This is a fun novel and series, but could feel a bit too formulaic.

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Book review: Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs

Fire Touched (Mercy Thompson, #9)Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who knew trolls were brightly coloured down there. Something to keep in mind during your next internet argument.

Adam and Mercy’s pack is quickly becoming the go-to problem solving group. Vampire dispute: call the pack. Wayward fae: call the pack. Troll rampaging on a bridge in town and threatening to kill everyone: call the pack. Since that isn’t happening anywhere else, Mercy claims the Tri-cities as their territory and any and all are under their protection. Only took a few seconds for someone to take up the protection offer and give them another headache in the form of a fire-touched human hunted by the fae.

This instalment in the Mercy Thompson series sees some of the older conflicts resolved, only to be replaced by new conflicts as the importance of the Columbia Basin pack in the wider world grows. The way Patricia Briggs has gradually grown the Mercy’s world, and the characters who live within it, has felt natural, whilst upping the stakes. Of course now that I’m up-to-date with the series, I have a fortnight to wait for the next instalment to be published.

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Book Review: Night Broken by Patricia Briggs

Night Broken (Mercy Thompson, #8)Night Broken by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you are dyed blue are you at risk of being abducted by Smurfs?

Mercy and Adam have an unwelcome house guest, Christy, Adam’s ex-wife. She is fleeing a stalker who has killed at least one person and burned down a condo. Oh, and he might be a volcano god. Even more reason for Christy to try to manipulate her way back into Adam and the pack’s life.

This instalment of the Mercy Thompson series is filled with tension. The injection of Christy back into the werewolf pack politics, the new enemy, the need to protect people who are trying to hurt you, and the suspicion of the werewolves being responsible for a rash of murders, could induce reader anxiety. Patricia Briggs has certainly left no obstacle out of Mercy’s way in Night Broken.

Needless to say, the review of the next instalment, Fire Touched, will be coming soon.

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Book vs Movie: Shawshank Redemption – What’s the Difference?

Nothing quite like comparing one of the best movies of all time with its source material. This month CineFix do with What’s the Difference? on The Shawshank Redemption.

It’s odd that I have read Stephen King’s The Body but haven’t read Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, given that they shared space in the same collection. But then I don’t often read novellas and short stories, as I prefer novels. I often think that shorter stories make for easier movie adaptations as the filmmakers don’t have to trim material the same way. Of course there are two problems with that thinking:

  1. It assumes that filmmakers actually read the source material (see here, here, herehere….)
  2. It assumes that filmmakers aren’t quite content to stretch source material out to fill as much cinema time as possible, no matter how bad an idea that is. *cough* The Hobbit *cough*

I recently saw a listicle that suggested Shawshank was one of the movies you should have in your collection. That is clearly wrong. If you can’t turn on the TV and catch it on rerun then your TV is broken or you have found Die Hard on instead. Why own it? Which brings me to possibly the only real gripe there is to be had with Shawshank, and that is its over-popularity. Exactly how many times can it play on TV before people start becoming annoyed? At what point does the audience start to groan at what was once a great movie? Can great art remain timeless if you beat everyone over the head with it? I fear the answers.

Book review: Rick and Morty Volume 4 by Kyle Starks

Rick and Morty, Volume 4Rick and Morty, Volume 4 by Kyle Starks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“If I’m being too vague, I’m talking about your penis here.”

Are you missing Rick and Morty? Can you believe it has been 1 year, 4 months, and 9 days since the cliffhanger of Season 2? Can you believe we still have a month to wait for Season 3?

Well this collection of short adventures will tide you over. So many of these stories feel like lost episodes that we missed out on. It’s a Ricklicious fix. Rick and Morty fans will enjoy this collection no end.

I received a digital copy of this collection ahead of release in exchange for an honest review, focussed on science.

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