Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Misery by Stephen King

Title: Misery
Author: Stephen King
Publisher:  Viking (1987)
As Michael and the rest of the northern hemisphere folk enjoy the improving weather, we down here at the end of the globe are building more fires and sadly saying goodbye to daylight after work. At least I have to get me through the long winter nights. And, books! Yay, books! I think I am slowly reading my way out of the slump. Not necessarily with this one, but still, things are improving. I forgot to ask Michael if he was surprised I suggested a Stephen King title for our series, I'm not usually King's biggest fan.
For those that are new to our monthly series, this is when Michael reviews a film adapted from a book which gets a review here.

Click here for Michael's film review of Misery

Because I like books (and I don't live under a rock) I'm pretty familiar with Stephen King's backlist. I've dipped into it several times on the strength of his popularity but I'm almost never left a satisfied reader. So I moved on to other authors and left King to his many, many (many, many) fans. But then Misery came up in some random conversation between Dr M and I and the premise sounded awesome. Crazy successful author gets 'napped by his "number one fan" and coerced to bring her favorite character back to life. I was hooked. I had Expectations!! I won't say they were great but they were certainly specific. It took at least half the total pages found in the book for me to lower adjust my expectations.

So, yeah, crazy successful author gets kidnapped by his number one fan and she forces him to perform the ultimate takesy backsy and bring her favorite character back to life. Said author was tired of his Cash Cow protagonist and so wrapped up the series with her death. Number One Fan did not care for this development.

Even with my limited experience I feel safe describing this as typical Stephen King fare. Well-written, nicely plotted, perceptive, funny at moments, horrifying at even more, etc. And, of course, interspersed with those lovely turns of phrase a person just can't get out of her mind.

...the survival instinct, he was discovering, might be only instinct in itself, but it created some really amazing shortcuts to empathy.

And his unfailing ability to bring the physical to perfect life with words.

The quick and uncalculated movement awoke his pain from its doze. It snarled dully in what remained of his shins and in the bunched salt-dome that had replaced his left knee. It turned over, needling him from where it lay imprisoned in its cave of bones, and then fell lightly asleep again.

I think what it comes down to is that I am almost always impressed with his ability as a writer but I have very little interest in his stories. I did a little poking around the old intertubes for some extra info on this title and I learned that it is one of King's personal favorites. Also, that he wrote it out of frustration with his fan base for pissing and moaning when he went trotting outside the horror genre, and that Number One Fan represented his own struggle with addiction. There I am thinking I'm going to read an over-the-top look at how an author can feel enslaved by his work and, by extension his fans, but instead it's just a straight up horror show of torture and psychological abuse. There's nothing really wrong with that, if it's what you want to read, but it's not for me. Plus, there were those Expectations. But even when my expectations were realigned I felt like I was enjoying it more for the behind the scenes writing stuff than for the actual story.

My disinclination aside, I do have some legitimate gripes. If you're pissed at your horror fans, have the guts to express it! Don't snag romance fans under your trailer hitch and then drag them through the slimy gutter of your acute contempt for readers. It makes you look like a raging asshole. Also, it's a little tacky making a controlling woman a stand-in for your addiction (maybe I mean derivative) but it's even worse when you decide her physique is what makes her unfeminine and worthy of even more, if it's possible, contempt. There are a lot of reasons to dislike this woman (she is an inhuman monster after all) but her physique seems like the least of our author's problems.

She did not want to hear about his concordance and indices because to her Misery and the characters surrounding her were perfectly real.

One of my favorite bits of the book was the author's underestimation of Number One Fan's grasp of the obligations of the story-teller to their audience. But I won't ruin it. You're just going to have to read it to find out about the weekly serials and fairness.

Now about that movie... Don't forget to check out Michael's post.

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Click here for an index of the joint post series

A Must Read

I was hunting around for the character list* from The Luminaries, and came by this fantastic article by Eleanor Catton.

I love this type of piece. It's not one you read and then go "no, no, no that's all wrong" or "yes, that's exactly what I think" but one where you think "there are so many interesting observations here, I want to have more discussion right now."

Dr M and I talk about this all the time:
The machine of consumerism is designed to encourage us all to believe that our preferences are significant and self-revealing; that a taste for Coke over Pepsi, or for KFC over McDonald’s, means something about us; that our tastes comprise, in sum, a kind of aggregate expression of our unique selfhood.

And this observation speaks directly to my inner reading self:
At its best, literature is pure encounter: it resists consumption because it cannot be used up and it cannot expire. The bonds that are formed between readers and writers, between readers and characters, and between readers and ideas, are meaningful in a way that the bonds formed between consumers and products can never be

But don't take my word for it. Go read it! It's a readers must read.

*why could I not just reference the book's list, you ask? well, I got the audiobook, all 29+ hours of it.

A Good Point

ETA2: Another good point.

ETA: A more in depth look at the concept mentioned in the video below.

Check out this video, and a browse around the other posts is certainly worth your time.

hat tip: GL

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic (2008)

You just don't hear enough about The Hunger Games... oh wait, that must be another title. In fact, you hear so much I don't even think a synopsis is needed.

Despite this book getting on my TBR list before it was even published, I've only just this weekend got around to reading it. These things happen. One thing for sure, it's a very weird experience to read a book you have heard and know so much about. I mean, yeah, I saw the movie but it's not just that. I've read plenty of books after seeing their film adaptations but, in cases such as these, the sheer volume of coverage is enormous and it's hard to just react to what you're reading rather than to its success and (what feels like) its 100% cultural penetrance.* For me, it took about half the book to have shed the movie, etc and really create my own experience. And here's a bit of what that experience was like.

(*turns out this is a specific genetics term. i had no idea. i was confused by it getting flagged as misspelled as I knew it wasn't but now i should probably just be embarrassed that i have used it multiple times in a non-science setting. so my pop culture definition would be as follows: if you've heard of it, you've consumed it.)

The Good -
 Katniss: She's just fucking awesome. I loved her. What a great character. I had so much fun getting to know her and hanging out with her. You know, excepting those times she had to kill other children (though the book does an excellent job of making sure the characters you're supposed to like are pretty much forced into killing thus making it easy to continue liking them).
 Resource inequity: At times, reading, I'd want to reject the ridiculous resource inequity but you just really can't. It's real and even more depressing in real life than it is in fiction.
 Psychological isolation: This is one of those stories where first person narration is absolutely perfect for feeling the confusion and isolation of the main character. There are a few times when her naivete felt overdone (see below) but, on the whole, I feel like a reader would not get much more than her experience which really helps with the isolation.

The Bad -
 World building: I thought about this a lot as I couldn't at first quite pin down what it was that wasn't working with the world. The premise/plot/action can be really overwhelming (in a good way) but the world is the base of it all so it's kind of important. And it always felt off. This is what I finally came up with. Rather than feeling like a full, multi-dimensional world with any number of stories that could have been told it felt like the author wanted to tell this story and used world bits as add-ons. There were several times this distracted me from the story but never so much in that there were "thousands of slips in the bowl" and most of these people were starving but only two of them thought to hunt in the woods?
 Peeta's backstory: While I enjoyed Katniss not knowing his agenda the whole "loved you since forever, keeping track of you from afar" needs to go the way of the dinosaur. It's creepy, people! And this was also the overdone thing that I mentioned above. I get that Katniss has no idea what's going on with him but I felt it was too easy for readers to figure it out.
 Katniss' end act: I've just read an entire book with this amazing young woman who has gone through what is arguably the most traumatic experience in her world and I have to end it with her wearing sparkly dresses and wilting against Peeta? Now, I like pretty dresses and Peeta (which was a delightful surprise because I thought his character in the movie was terrible) but this was not an end act that could bring me any satisfaction. I got the danger they were in, I saw what the author wanted me to, but I would have liked her to have come up with some better way to do this.
 Lack of female role models/allies: This one seems self-explanatory so I doubt I need to go into it but let's count them. Her father, Haymitch, Cinna, Gale, Peeta equals 5 males. Um, er, Rue? Were they teamed up long enough that I can count her?

The Pretty -
I love the cover! I can't decide if I'm going to continue reading the trilogy but I just might so I can have more pretty books in the house.

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why do anything? It's all on the internet!

After watching a bevy of movies with old dudes romantically linked with women who could conceivably (even if unlikely) have been their children, I was thinking I'd go over a few careers and compare ages at time of filming between the stars. Turns out I don't need to, it's already been done. I love the internet.

Leading Men Age, But Their Love Interests Don't

Some of these are way worse than others. The one that really squicked me out was the pair in which the guy is older than my dad and the gal is younger than me!

More Love of the Horse

Science is Cool

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

When You Mix Scientists and Bookworms

I recently loaned a book to a colleague. Previous to passing the title along, I had been raving about the book having a really cool, unexpected element (not exactly a twist but still very cool). My enjoyment of the book declined precipitously and so then I felt my previous recommendation wasn't quite right. To make all this clear, I drew a little graph on a post-it note and stuck it to the book. I figured we'd get a good laugh out of my silly graph and then it would be recycled. But, to my delight, she returned the book to me today, post-it note intact but with one small addition.

Figure 1. Enjoyment of book vs. page number.
sgwordy in black, colleague in red.

Scientists are the best!