Brief Book Reviews

Sadly, I haven’t written in a long time. That includes this blog, my stories, and even my poor neglected paper journal. The only things I’ve written of any substance in the past few months have been grocery lists and emails related to work. However, I did read a bunch of books:

  1. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. A sci-fi/dystopian/literary novel that I got from a book sale because I had heard good things about it. The entire time I was reading, the images in my head were in black and white or in muted shades of gray. The book was adapted into a movie, too, but I’m not sure I want to see the movie if it’s as depressing as the book. It almost reminded me of The Giver but without the sense of hope conveyed at the end of that book. I would call Never Let Me Go a warning to society: let’s not let technology get so far that it calls into question the intrinsic worth of human beings. (Oh, wait! We’re already there!)
  2. Confessions of a Mega Church Pastor by Allen Hunt. Super short, super easy-to-read memoir about a man’s journey to the Catholic Church. I like these stories because they remind me of how grateful I should be to have my faith, and how much I take it for granted because I grew up with it and didn’t discover it later in life, as the author did.
  3. A People Adrift by Peter Steinfels. A Catholic journalist’s sociological commentary on the state of the Church circa 2003 (i.e., right after the sexual abuse scandal came to light). Unfortunately, the same negative trends in the Church as a whole seem to be persisting with no real end in sight. I liked reading the book because it wasn’t nonstop statistics, and the author did propose some solutions that seemed viable. However, he did have a slightly more liberal take on the faith that I didn’t always agree with.
  4.  Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres. A memoir by a woman who grew up in a tough Christian household and was sent to a hellish Christian military-style “school” for discipline after she was found “fornicating” with her boyfriend (among other infractions). Honestly, I think the problem with the author’s upbringing was not fundamentalist Christianity itself but the fact that her parents, especially her mother, were totally uninvolved (and even neglectful) and seemed to care only about putting on the faces of good, charitable Christian neighbors. The book was also a commentary on race relations, as the author’s adopted brother was black and she was white.
  5. The Outsider by Stephen King. Ah, Stephen King. I love your books, but your politics and your Twitter page sicken me. Anyway, feelings about the author aside, The Outsider is probably one of the better books King has published recently. It’s not a sequel to Mr. Mercedes et al., but one of the characters does make a cameo appearance, and it is always a pleasure to read about her. The book will scare the crap out of you and leave you questioning the boundaries between the natural and the supernatural.
  6. How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran. I checked this book out of the library only because it takes place in the early 1990s and it mentions the Smashing Pumpkins. Normally, it’s not the kind of thing I would read because (1) every other word is the f-word (with the c-word thrown in every now and then), (2) way too many graphic descriptions of sex, and (3) I got the feeling the author was trying to push an agenda. Aside from that, this is a hilarious coming-of-age story, and the author writes very well. Her descriptions of what it’s like to be a teenage girl are spot on.

My favorite out of these? Probably Jesus Land because it was one of those books that has you marveling at the fact that truth really is stranger than fiction.

Thursday Three #40

  1. I found the coolest thing: 4thewords. It’s a combined video game and writing tool. Basically, you write your project on their website, and the number of words you write allows you to create weapons and battle monsters. The only issue with it is that it’s only free for the 30-day trial. If you want to keep using the program, it’s $4 a month, which isn’t too bad. The idea is so cool that I’m actually considering it as a motivational tool.
  2. I’m reading Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis because I had heard good things about his writing (and because I got the book dirt cheap at a book sale). The genre is black humor, which often tends to go over my head, but I have been getting a few chuckles out of it. It’s about a man called John Self* who is (obviously) obsessed with money and (obviously) self-indulgence. The book seems like it’s a critique of the consumerist culture of the 1980s, and its lessons are still relevant (maybe even more so) today. I’d recommend it if you can stand some pretty X-rated sex scenes.
  3. I’ve resurrected an old project because I can’t not write fiction. (Come on, everyone needs a hobby, right?) Lest I jinx myself, I hesitate to say anything more about it, only that I’m really excited about it and hope to one day share it with you on here.

Hope everyone’s projects are going well, and that you’re reading some good books! 🙂

*The really weird thing is that John Self reminds me very much of Harvey Weinstein. It’s kind of creepy.

Harry Potter and “Diversity”

I used to be a pretty big Harry Potter fan until the books really started getting popular.* Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the books and movies, and the books did inspire some of my writing, but I never got as involved in the fandom as many others in my age group.

What bothers me most about the Harry Potter fandom is the push for “diversity” among the characters, or the laments by some fans about the lack of “diversity” in the characters or situations. A few years ago, J.K. Rowling announced that Albus Dumbledore was gay. My reaction was, “So what? Who cares? Why are we talking about this now, after the books have been published?” Albus Dumbledore’s sexuality doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of the series at all. In a similar vein, we heard that Hermione Granger could have been black, because she was described in the book as having frizzy hair. Her skin color was never mentioned. Also, J.K. Rowling has said that Hogwarts was home to Jewish and LGBTQ students, although there’s not much (if any) mention of them in the books.

Honestly, I’m not sure why all this diversity stuff matters, especially in a book series that’s already been published and read by millions. I paid no attention it when I read the books when I was in middle and high school. I doubt it would have mattered to me if Hermione was black or if there were LGBTQ students. I wouldn’t have thought any differently about the series. So why is J.K. Rowling trying to go back and insert “diversity”? Can we not just enjoy the series for a spectacular plot and well-developed characters, not to mention that it got a whole generation of reluctant readers to actually pick up a book, rather than pick it apart because it’s all of a sudden not “diverse” enough?

I hate reading J.K. Rowling’s Twitter account because I strongly disagree with most of her social and political views, and it bothers me that those views have such importance and hold such weight in the minds of some of her fans. But that doesn’t make me dislike her books. Same with Stephen King—I love his books and always will, but his Twitter account and political views infuriate me and make me want to wring his neck. Sometimes his views and opinions influence his books, and sometimes they don’t. A good author can write from perspectives other than his own and pull it off well. It seems to me that Rowling and King do this… so what is the problem?

It is hard to avoid progressivism and “diversity” in the New York City publishing world, but I fail to see the point of picking apart already-published books just to make sure that they are conforming to the trend of the day, which is to make sure everybody and everything is “included,” lest we “offend” someone. New books with “diverse” characters are being published every day, especially those geared toward young adult audiences. Maybe someday in the near future, we will have another wildly popular series like Harry Potter but much more representative of all kinds of people. Until then, let’s wait patiently and not overanalyze a beloved series.

*I’m kind of weird because I tend to dislike things that are extremely popular (for no real reason other than that they are popular), so the more popular Harry Potter got, the more apathetic about it I became.