Books I Read This Month - December 2012

Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D.T. Max

David Foster Wallace is one of my literary heroes, so I was incredibly glad to have stumbled upon this biography. The writing style is straightforward and to-the-point, which is effective for most of the book, but in discussing Wallace's suicidal thoughts it seems a bit disheartening, bordering on disrespectful. However, I found Wallace's life and literary career fascinating and inspiring. I must admit I teared up at a few parts. This is probably one of the books I've been most glad to have read this year.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

I knew from the start this this book is Rowling's attempt to justify herself in the literary world apart from Harry Potter; knowing this, I was sure to expunge all judgement in comparing it to the Harry Potter series, but this brought to light other crucial perspectives.

For an "adult novel," in my objective literary opinion, much of The Casual Vacancy is tremendously juvenile. Numerous and unnecessary references to genitalia and the like are not what make a novel "adult." Adults do not, in general, use literature as an excuse to giggle at unmentionables or as an escape from the oppression placed upon them by their elders to remain innocent; that is what young adults do. Of course, profanity and nudity are welcome in this form of literature—assuming it serves a purpose other than as a means of defining a novel as "adult."

Secondly, if the dialogue and action are good—and Rowling's, the majority of the time, are good—then dialogue tags and descriptors become perfunctory. If a character says, "Casual vacancy [is the] proper term," then there is no need to explain to readers that he said it "pedagogically"; they effectively assume that the author thinks them unintelligent. The words the characters say and the context in which they say them should effectively infer the way they say it. If the audience is adult, as Rowling intended, there is no need for her to tell readers what to see or what to think; if the "what" of the story is explored thoroughly enough, the "how" and "why" of it will reveal itself in context—if the novel is "adult."

The subject matter of the book is certainly adult, and it is thoughtful, extremely well planned out, and fascinating; however, the writing style does not in any manner match the content. Rowling's experience in juvenile and young adult fiction has hurt her more than it has helped her in her endeavor to write an adult novel: adults readers do not need nearly as much hand-holding when it comes to inferring subtext as do younger readers. The Casual Vacancy is in dire need of a stripping of "telling" and an injection of "showing." The writing style is fit for teenage readers, but the content is definitely adult; it is difficult to pin down a genre or an audience for this unusual book.

There is some literary merit to this work, though, of course. I always try to look for a writer's strengths, and Rowling's is in world-building and character development. Her experience in the fantasy genre—where world-building is crucial—has paid off in that she has painted a miraculous picture of the small town of Pagford and its inhabitants, which are easily conjured up in the reader's mind. And the reader feels deeply for these characters, the town, and their outcomes as well.

This book starts off incredibly slow, the action hardly picking up until about page 50, and the writing style that consists of unnecessary repetition, redundancies, and lackluster flow is an understandable cause for putting the book down after only a chapter or two. Rowling has made a brave and noble attempt here, but in all honesty, I think she should return to juvenile and young adult fiction.


Unthology No. 3 by Various Authors

Vortex by Jean Stites

Lunch with Buddha by Roland Merullo

Lunch with Buddha by Roland Merullo

Lunch with Buddha accompanies the characters from Breakfast with Buddha, expanding on Otto Ringling’s spiritual journey as a sequel, but it can be read as a stand-alone novel in its own right. The story begins with Otto taking a plane out West with his two now grown up children to release his recently deceased wife’s ashes at a special camping place. Like Breakfast with Buddha, Otto’s sister, Cecelia, has organized a road trip for Otto and Volya Rinpoche, a Buddhist monk to whom Cecelia is married and with whom she has a young daughter. After this trip, Otto’s children will be leaving for college, and he will be returning to work in New York.

There are numerous similarities between this novel and its prequel, namely that narrator Otto has recently experienced bereavement (his parents in Breakfast with Buddha) and must embark on a road trip with his brother-in-law. However, the new layers concerning Rinpoche’s daughter, Otto’s forthcoming life changes, and his developing interest in Buddhism bring additional spiritual elements to the story. Extremely similar in plot but quite different in tone, Lunch with Buddha is still definitely worth the read, even if some of the action may seem derivative of its predecessor.

Though I personally, as a fan of Breakfast with Buddha, was ecstatic to hear it would be having a sequel, I do not think I would be as excited to have “Dinner with Buddha” if it was announced: a final installment may be fulfilling in its completion of Otto Ringling’s spiritual journey, but it may be difficult for Merullo to write something new and engaging for the reader.

That being said, Lunch with Buddha is an expertly written book. Ambitious in his exploration of Buddhism’s influence in bereavement, Merullo has successfully captured the emotional and spiritual effects of the loss of one’s spouse. Otto’s journey encapsulates the guilt one feels when facing the prospect of moving on and the spiritual ache for answers about life after death. Humorous in some parts while ominous in others, Lunch with Buddha confronts the reality of heartbreak with both delicacy and eccentricity. Highly recommended.

Vortex by Jean Stites

Swept up in a mysterious cloud one gorgeous, serene night at sunset and dropped off in the middle of a crowd approximately onehundred years in the future, the narrator of Vortex, now a celebrity, struggles with the prospect of never returning to his or her (the narrator's gender is never specified, which neither adds nor subtracts from the story) previous home. Using the funds accumulated from celebrity—which occurred simply because he/she was the "first time traveler," magically dropping out of the sky from the near past—this nameless narrator attempts to recreate the "Vortex" to return home. However, the lonely accidental time traveler begins to develop feelings for the assistant hired to schedule appointments, such as with reality television shows, radio interviews, and potential financial contributors. Though the narrator continues to feel isolated and out of step with the world, some budding friendships begin to make this new place feel a bit like home.

The future of Vortex is not drastically altered, like many science fiction novels. Instead, only a few years past a time when any of the narrator's friends or family would be living, the technological advancements are created entirely for the purposes of work productivity and personal comfort or entertainment—as a matter of fact, this what one would expect of the near future. The narrator's favorite item, for example, is the "Miracle Rug," which acts as a surrogate for slippers, warming one's feet when one wakes and gets out of bed in the morning or after a few hours outside in the cold.

Conversational in tone, simultaneously playful and deep, Vortex explores the emotions elicited when human nature (love, comfort, and consistency) is disrupted. This journal-like tone leads to some long, occasionally dull passages with little to no external action, and the voice of the narrator may be a bit annoying, perhaps even boring, at first; however, if the reader decides to stick with it and delve into the emotional internal world of the narrator's mind—which is essentially the entirety of the novel—the payoff at the conclusion of the story makes it worth the read. Though the ending is not completely original—it's not where (or when) you are but who you're with—the journey toward the end is highly creative and enchanting.

Written in a diary-style, Vortex will intrigue light science fiction fans and those who enjoy character- or theme-driven novels. A very quick read, this book is not for those who require action and dynamic plots, nor those who seek fascinating technological gadgets in their sci-fi. It's not quite boring but definitely not exciting—a thought-provoking yet simple read. 

Unthology No. 3 by Various Authors

This collection showcases eighteen short stories by eighteen—both new and established—authors. Unlike most anthologies, the stories inside are not “a hit and a miss.” After finishing one engaging and well-written story, the reader begins the next, and is enthralled just the same. A few of the stories, of course, are not as memorable, intriguing, insightful, or effective as the few that stand out, but they all have their merits.

In “The Theory of Circles” by Debz Hobbs-Wyatt, the narrator relays the FaceBook and Twitter updates and blog posts of an acquaintance, who documents his observations of his neighbors backwards through time, beginning when he finally decides to “unplug” from the internet and ending when one of the two neighbors first moved in. This story explores the capacity that friendship, and even observation of strangers, can have in helping an individual self-actualize and come out of their shell. It is cleverly written and a fascinating read.

“Trans-Neptune,” the collection’s longest story, by Ashley Stokes, follows a woman over the course of one day as she struggles in dealing with the fame of her scientist husband, who discovered a new planet in the solar system and whom she discovered has been having an affair. Determined to get revenge on him by having an affair herself, she learns from the obnoxious hotel staff the value of dignity and the influence of lust. The characters shine in this novelette, for their gruesome honesty and especially for their flaws.

Gordon Collins’s “Even Meat Fill” and Ian Chung’s “The Triptych Papers” are the collection’s highlights, exploring the psychological consequences of human nature in two very different but magnificently effective ways. Both, but perhaps especially “The Triptych Papers,” stick with the reader long after they’re over, leaving behind a labyrinth of psychological contemplation.

Overall this is an outstanding collection of short stories, perfect for the literary-minded reader seeking something with depth and intelligence in the face of our bombardment with a slush pile of lowbrow, contemporary books.

IWSG: What Happens When You See NaNo as a "Competition"

Now that NaNoWriMo is over, it's time for the winners to either start editing or move on to something new.

I however, am not a winner. I did not expect to be, and I'm not at all upset by it. I had no time to finish; 50,000 words was not realistic, and I knew it.

However, I was in with a great group of NaNoers in my area, and almost everyone in the group succeeded. Throughout the month, I was motivated by them as competition; we turned NaNoWriMo into a race (or maybe that was just me, using them, per se). As the 30th crept up on us and I saw that I was not going to make it, I began to feel dejected. Some of them were doing it just for fun, just to see if they could write a novel in a month---I did it because I am a writer. Seeing them succeed and me fail turned me resentful.

But only for a moment. Their encouragement over the month was uplifting, their encouragement after the month was over even more so. Those who wrote 50,000 words in a month just to see if they could do not bother me in the least---in fact, I appreciate and respect them. They now know what it is like for the individuals who call themselves writers, attempting what they did, but every month out of the year. They wrote with word count in mind, with little regard for quality or the end result of publication in mind; now they understand what their writer friends' lives are like---looking at us, they have to image what the stress of reaching word count must be like with the prospect of others reading and judging it afterward in mind!

A suggestion to my writer/blogger pals: Do not resent those NaNoers who finished while you failed. Respect them. If you believe that you are a true writer, and if you have the courage to continue writing your manuscript, they will respect you too.

Peace, Aimee

Books Released This Month - December 2012

An End to All Things by Jared Yates Sexton
Short Stories
21 December 2012
A collection of short stories about post-9/11 Midwesterners in the face of unemployment and uncertainty.

A Bit of Difference by Sefi Atta
17 December 2012
When her job takes her back to her home country of Nigeria, a  young woman observes drastic changes in her family and the urban landscape of her home.

Tempestuous by Kim Askew and Amy Helmes
Young Adult Fiction
18 December 2012
In this retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest, "it girl" Miranda Prospero finds herself handcuffed to loner Caleb after a storm shuts down the mall where she works, locking her and the shopaholics inside.

Finding Claire Fletcher by Lisa Regan
6 December 2012
The morning after a romantic evening with a young woman, a detective discovers that the woman, who left a mysterious note before leaving in the morning, may be the girl who was kidnapped right from her front yard ten years earlier.

Books I Read This Month - November 2012

I had a hectically busy month! Hardly any time to read! Here are the books I read this month...

Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life by David Grinspoon

I read this 1) for the purposes of research for my novel and 2) because I am extremely interested in the concept of extraterrestrial life. This book explores the history, science, and cultural aspects of the belief in and search for life on other planets. Very entertaining and informative, but I think it focused way too much on our solar system, particularly on Mars and Venus. I was surprised at how much of the science I already knew. This is a great book for those who want an analysis of the possibilities of extraterrestrial life from the perspective of a true scientist, but written in an entertaining and non-jargon-filled way.


As It Is on Earth by Peter M. Wheelwright

The Parallel Conspiracy by Richard Paul Lori

Phoebe and the Ghost of Chagall by Jill Koenigsdorf