I have been looking forward to penning this entry to my online journal for a while. The intent of this post is to provide a little overview of my reading adventures for the first half of 2017. This blog exists as a manifestation of my commitment to being productive, and everything- my consistent writing output, my sleeping patterns, the attrition to my anxiety, my new work ethic, and my overall increasing levels of happiness- stems from my reading. For me, reading is the way out of the snake-pit of depression. It’s the best starting point, because all you need to do is sit down and do it. And then everything snowballs. The more I read, the more ideas for stories, poems and blog posts I got. Working towards the goal of finishing a book gave me a sense of purpose. I will detail my previous struggles with reading in a later post. But for now, here is a selected overview of my reading journey for the last few months; three books that have helped me in different ways. There are others I have not included because I have either blogged about them already, or I am planning a more in-depth post about them. Enjoy!
Starman Jones – Robert A. Heinlein
Publication Date: 1953
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction, Space Opera
This book is special to me because it signified two things: my return to the genre of science fiction after a long hiatus, and the beginning of my attempts to escape from the snake-pit. At the time I was in a bad way. I couldn’t sleep and part of the problem was the fact I was watching Youtube videos until 4am every night on my smartphone. My roommate Aaron said, “You need to stop watching Shaqtin’ a Fool and start getting some good sleep”. For the first few nights, given that my body clock was already messed up, I decided that I was going to use the time to listen to an audiobook on Youtube. There are tons of them. This one was about 8 hours or so. No problem, right? I could just listen for two hours every night and be done in a few days.
This was very appealing to me because at the time I was a weak reader. I was like a rusty athlete trying to get his stamina back. The quality of the audiobook was excellent. The skill of the one recording the book is such an important factor. It literally makes the difference between me turning off the video after a minute. A good narrator will get you hooked.
This book is set in a futuristic United States that captures the optimism of the 1950s. It’s very much how they imagined the future to be back then- the technology is exciting and efficient and wondrous, and the American character is largely unchanged. Instead, space represents the new frontier to be tamed and explored. I think that is part of what drew me to the novel; it’s quintessentially American spirit. Reading it, one is quickly reminded of Mark Twain. The protagonist is a sympathetic character- a young farm boy with a lousy home and a thirst for adventure- a fascination with discovering the stars. The novel has a picaresque quality to it- we are taken on a wondrous and whimsical voyage through space, encountering all kinds of alien life forms and futuristic technology. There is just something very charming about its clean, golden view of the future, and the fact that the sci-fi elements are for the most part aesthetic. The conflict of the novel is emphatically human. I am sure the story could quite easily be remade in a real world setting. The boy has to suffer a greedy stepfather, a jealous boss, and his own self-doubt. It’s a beautiful coming-of-age novel with a fantastical backdrop, and some very interesting and intricate descriptions of the mechanics of future technology.
I am so pleased to finally experience the genius of Robert A. Heinlein. This guy deserves your attention!
Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a Death Foretold) – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Publication Date: 1981
Genre: Literary Fiction novella, Crime Fiction
I have been desperate to try some Gabriel Garcia Marquez for a long time. A few years ago I enjoyed reading several books from the Latin American scene- a book of strange philosophical short stories by Jorge Luis Borges called the Book of Sand, and a highly experimental novel by Julio Cortazar called Hopscotch. Both of them are Argentine. I enjoyed their work; even if I didn’t entirely understand it, there was just something mesmerizing, intriguing, poetic and mysterious about the way they wrote. They left a distinct impression on me, and though I often try to write in an experimental style, I don’t think I would ever have the balls to try and emulate their work. The very idea is frightening. Instead I just admire it as an outsider.
My desperation to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez was intensified when he passed away in April 2014, and one of my favorite all time Chelsea players- back-to-back player of the year Juan Mata- sent out a poignant tribute to the literary giant on twitter.
I got my chance to read a novella of his just a few months ago. Even though the end is given away in the title, I found it utterly compelling. It’s fictional, but reading it was like watching a documentary of a tragedy you know is coming, and yet despite its already having happened, you grow nervous and wish your truth is incorrect, that the film might provide a happy ending and rewrite history. It reminded me of when I watched the HBO series Rome, and I knew that Caesar was gonna get shanked, but I hoped against hope that he would survive and history would be rewritten. And then, when the violence occurs, it is so graphic and ghastly it leaves you literally nauseous. Another good example is the recent Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. Marquez’s novella had me squirming at the end. I was sad. The book is short but it is so powerful. It really captures the atmosphere of small town Colombia, and the descriptions are some of the most beautiful and perceptive passages of writing I have ever read. The modest, tropical town is infused with these raw, larger than life themes of chastity, suppressed desire, femininity, the nature of machismo, and ultimately the collective responsibility and complicity of the town in the butchery that occurs. The style is very straightforward and somewhat journalistic. Everything about this book is intriguing. I can’t recommend it enough.
Cabal – Clive Barker
Publication Date: 1988
This was an attempt on my part to try something new! Prior to reading this, I had never delved into Horror Fiction before. I’ve got a copy of Misery by Stephen King on my bookshelf but I still haven’t read it yet. I became intrigued by Barker’s style and decided to give this a go. In short, it’s about a guy in Calgary (Alberta, Canada) whose mental health issues and reliance on medication leaves holes in his memories. He starts to suspect he might be a serial killer, and decides to stop himself from hurting anyone else by seeking out a mythical commune in the Canadian wilderness that is a place for monsters, murderers and bloodsuckers to live in acceptance of their true nature.
I won’t spoil anything, so I shall leave it at that. But this book is definitely a page-turner. It’s a straight up thriller, complete with twists, suspense, horrific violence, and graphic sex. But I don’t want to make the book sound cheap. It is expertly written, and the kind of suspense that Barker creates (and which authors like Stephen King are celebrated for) is an aspect of creative writing I am extremely envious of. I hate that thrillers might be admonished as “popular fiction” by the snobs of the literary scene, for supposedly focusing on plot as opposed to character development. Everything is not so black and white. The two protagonists Boone and Lori are fascinating characters with memorable journeys and inward struggles. I just find the whole craft of engineering a reader’s sense of fear and panic so amazing, and I truly envy the writers that can pull it off, using their pens to manipulate the emotions of their readers.
Although the book is categorized as a horror, it made me think more of a dark fantasy, a thriller with Gothic elements. Back in the day I dabbled in the works of Gothic fiction, enamored for a brief time with the prose of Ann Radcliffe and John William Polidori. I feel like this book played with those motifs, appropriating mausoleums, graveyards, catacombs and fiends of the night. You should definitely try some Clive Barker if you are looking for a grim and dark page-turner that is at the same time nuanced and wildly imaginative.