Amazing Fantastic Incredible

Today I am recommending Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir by Stan Lee and Peter David and Colleen Doran. This memoir is a brief overview of Stan Lee’s life and his work in comics. I say brief because it touches on key moments without delving into anything beyond a the surface. The book is actually a graphic novel which adds a nice touch considering the topic of the memoir. The pages are beautifully illustrated and the setting of Stan on stage delving into his story really makes you feel like you could be in an audience experiencing it alongside other fans.

When I said this was a brief memoir, I meant two things: you can read it easily in one sitting (due to the graphic novel format), and you only get the basic information without too much detail (probably also due to the format). It’s great if you don’t know much about Stan Lee (real name Stanley Lieber), but if you are looking for an in-depth look into his life, I suggest waiting for a full-on biography that will surely come out within the next few years. There are other biographies already out there if you don’t want to wait.

This book/graphic novel is a great introduction to Stan and how he came to be the icon he was. It also provides a great “history of comics” and details about how certain characters were created and interesting tidbits about certain processes and others who were in the field. If all you’re looking for is a little more information about the man himself since maybe you only know him by his many cameo’s in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), then this is the one for you. I’m certain several events mentioned in this memoir are shaded with a little bias. This is both a good and bad thing. The good being there is no negative views of any events mentioned though I’m sure there were some interesting discussions regarding business deals. This I view as good because it makes the memoir available to even kids. The bad I think would be the overall removal of any negative experiences. Something that is far from real life. The few mentioned are quickly passed over.

Since the MCU has been blown into epic proportions that have reached millions of people worldwide and brought superheroes once again into mainstream pop-culture, I wanted to learn more about the iconic man who spent his life laying the groundwork for this incredible adventure.

Overall, I enjoyed this memoir because it has a lot of information and I learned several things, but I will probably be looking forward to an in-depth biography when I want to know more about Stan the Man.

Happy Reading.

How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World

I was fortunate to see a pre-screening of How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World this weekend. The movie officially releases later this month. I know this blog is mainly about books and my own writing, but it really is about all types of stories. Besides, this movie series is based on a book series by Cressida Cowell so it still fits. I also only wanted to talk about it because of my chance to see it early.

Fun Fact: I didn’t actually see the first movie in theaters (I can’t tell you why because I of course like dragons and it was something I was sure to be interested in). The second movie I did make sure to see opening weekend, and now I’ve seen the third and final installment before its opening weekend. Easy to say I’m a fan. This series is probably my favorite Dreamworks animated series. That being said, I was able to go into this movie with little expectations. I always try to do this so I’m never disappointed. Easy to say that I was definitely not disappointed. I enjoyed this movie greatly and I think part of it was the fact it is the final chapter of a journey that started eight years ago when the first movie was released in 2010.

How To Train Your Dragon

This movie wraps up the series extremely well and the thematic undertones were strategically placed. This movie’s overall takeaway, from my opinion, is that growing up means being strong enough to let some things go. I almost never tear up during movies, but I have to admit that there were two moments I had to hold back.  To keep this post spoiler free, I’ll let you take that as you will. Of course, certain things can be expected since it is the third movie in a trilogy, but I think the personal growth of Hiccup and his ability to learn, with the help of his friends, that he is stronger than he thinks of himself is the main story arc. It’s something that we all need reminding of from time-to-time.

There are many things I can say about the main villain Grimmel, but again, I want to keep this spoiler free and the things I would talk about would contain spoilers. What I will say is that his character is hypocritical and believes in a world-view that unfortunately I think many people today may align with. Please don’t believe that there are any political undertones to this movie. What I’m vaguely talking about is humanity in general. People believe different things and that is okay. Stories have to have villains and heroes and they almost always have opposing views. The villain is usually believes in things that are grossly evil, but not always. In this case I don’t think he is evil. I think he believes in something that we, the audience, will agree is unjust.

The story picks up after the second movie nicely and ties all three movies together as a final installment should do. Overall, I think this movie will be enjoyed by all current fans of the series. Especially you, reader who found their way here just to get more information about the upcoming release. When you watch this movie, allow yourself the chance to watch it with a child’s eyes, and I hope you grow alongside our beloved characters. As I have.

The Once and Future King

Today I am recommending The Once and Future King by T.H. White. This book is actually a collection of four books. The first being The Sword in the Stone which was turned into and animated film by Walt Disney in 1963. This first book was originally published in 1938 (Beyond the first book, I’d say this novel is not particularly for kids as war and fighting and sex and death are, for the most part, shielded from the eyes of children). The collection of all four into The Once and Future King was published in 1958.

This recommendation does come with a few reservations. I enjoyed the lengthy novel (roughly 650 pages and nearing 300,000 words) which is centered around the Arthurian tales, but I’m afraid I may have come to it with a slight case of expectations. I know, I know, it is best to remove all expectations prior to experiencing a story so as to allow yourself to form your own opinion of it. I was planning on doing just that but seemed to have caught the little bug, which flew to me upon the words of Ursula K. Le Guin and Neil Gaiman as well as others who provided blurbs or introductions to this book. People whose opinions hold weight with me.

I understand their love for the book. The wit-filled pages that recount Arthur’s education and inauguration as king to his formation of the round table and the era of chivalry and through the years beyond where if falls into ruin. The story is interesting and entertaining. Some areas drag while others are captivating. It stays true to what is known about the legends (which most of us know of but may have never really read about) and White often refers to Mallory or other sources of the Arthurian legend. I felt that White relied on the reader having previous knowledge of the legend during certain passages.

The more I think about the story the more I like it, but I was not enthralled while actively reading it. White was funny and whimsical while also covering the darker story-lines and allowing tragedy. There are no detailed descriptions of fights or battles or hardships. Many are written without providing action but do provide some detail about the aftermath. The result is no blood and gore (which is perfectly acceptable and not really essential to the story) but plenty of description about scenery and the lands of England. The story of Arthur and his knights has captivated the world for centuries. I believe his story and legend will survive for a long time and White’s telling of it will continue to entertain. After all, it is written for modern audiences and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

The greatest thing about this book is its arching storyline of how England, through Arthur, was shifted from the “Might is Right” society to a more civilized land of laws. The tragedy of Arthur is in his good deeds. He transforms England into a peaceful land by channeling baser human instincts into a morally superior lifestyle. The new lifestyle is what ultimately causes the personal turmoil of the aged Arthur because he ties his own hands against saving the ones he loves.

If you are interested in, or already love, the Arthurian tales, then this book will likely be of great interest to you. If you know a little but would like to know more about these tales, then this book is a great place to start.

Happy Reading.

Getting Lost in a Story

I think many of us can agree that being drawn into a story is one of the greatest experiences we can have, and we have all had this experience at least once. I’m not talking about the “can you believe what Jan did this time?” kind of gossip story. I mean the stories that change us. The ones that last. That we connect with and cherish, oftentimes, for the rest of our lives. I’m also not just talking about books. I’m talking about stories in whatever form they may come. A movie, a TV series, a videogame, a podcast, etc. I’m talking about a story that grips you so tight you can’t even remember that the rest of the world exists. A story that you may develop a somewhat unhealthy obsession for (it’s the rest of the world that doesn’t understand). I want you to think about one of your favorite stories and consider why you like it as much as you do.

I’ll be talking about several of my own favorite stories, but before I jump in, I also want to touch on the phenomenon known as over-hype. You probably have experienced this as well. When your friends (and probably the internet as well) think that this one story is so good that everyone should experience it and all they do is talk about it and hound you about why you haven’t watched/read it yet and that you are missing out on a life-changing experience, so then one of two things happen; you watch it and think it is just “meh” because it was talked-up so much that it could never have lived up to the expectations your friends created, or you decide never to watch it on principle because apparently the entire world is obsessed with this story and you want to be one of the few that has never seen it just so you can shock people with your lack of social assimilation, but you then wait the appropriate amount of time where people stop raving about it so you eventually watch it because it’s supposed to blow your socks off but your expectations are still way too high from all the hype and you have self-imposed ideals about how this story should be the best ever written or you will only talk how you don’t understand why everyone liked it just to squeeze the remaining shock value about how you are unique for going against the grain.

Okay, rant aside, I think we all have been on both sides of these conversations at some point. The reason I bring this up is because stories have power we can’t explain, and that power mostly comes from us. Some stories get world-wide acclaim while others a “cult” following and probably a great many more are lost in the sea of available stories out there, waiting to be discovered as the treasure they are. I am currently reading a book that I think may have been over-hyped for me. I understand its appeal and do not dislike it, but I am not going to jabber about it with everyone who loves it as I often do about the stories I greatly enjoy.

Some of the best stories, or those that affect us the most, are those we happen upon ourselves without knowing anything about them. My most recent experience of this was in March of 2017. I was new to Twitter and was scrolling through things and found this video of an author being interviewed about her new book. She was being interviewed by another author and they were simply talking about books so of course I was interested. I remember they both seemed like great people. The interviewing author was Patrick Rothfuss. I had heard his name before, but knew nothing about his books. I continued to know nothing about them but I eventually picked up his first novel The Name of the Wind, and I absolutely loved it, and the sequel, and the related novella. I am patiently waiting for the next book. I read all of his works within a month (which is quick for me considering their size) because I could not put them down. I enjoyed the story so much it was all I could and wanted to think about. I later came to find out that thousands of others had the same reaction. Many have read his works several times over. I will definitely read them again and they will remain on my bookshelf all my life for myself and others to enjoy. I’ve also gone beyond recommending this book and given a copy or two away to friends. I try to think I showed great restraint by not over-hyping this book to them so they could enjoy it in their own way. Most of them have and being able to share the experience of the story makes us better people.

Not only does enjoying the same story make it easier to start a conversation, it also opens up our understanding of other people. After all, friendships are often built on common interests. Studies were conducted that showed evidence that reading Harry Potter instills empathy. The article “Why Everyone Should Read Harry Potter” discusses these studies and their relation to empathy.

Vezzali [stated] that fantasy may be especially effective in assuaging negative attitudes because the genre typically doesn’t feature actual populations and thus avoids potential defensiveness and sensitivities around political correctness.

I think that getting lost in stories, not just Harry Potter, does make us more connected and increases our ability to understand others. Stories can be an entirely new experiences that show us things we’ve never seen and makes us see, feel, or think about things we never had before. They takes us to far away places and on grand adventures.

These types of stories are not limited to any one medium. I am a gamer as well as a book fiend. I often say I play too many videogames because I need to write more to create my own stories, but I grew up playing videogames and have formed bonds through them. One of my all-time favorites is the Legend of Zelda series. These games often follow the same outline, but they are all fun to play and have interesting characters. They often tackle serious themes about life. The series entry Majora’s Mask tackles the theme of death and loss. Connor Worley wrote and excellent article about this titled “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – A Story About Loss.” A recent YouTube video by Good Blood titled “Ocarina of Time – A Masterclass in Subtext” argues that the Ocarina of Time entry is the saddest of entry in the franchise (I promise not all of these games are sad, but stories must have conflict to entertain us). Ocarina of Time has its own history in the world of videogames and has fallen victim to over-hype over the years, but it stands as one of the best games of all time not only because of the story, but how it changed the world of videogames as a medium. It was innovative for its time and remains on a pedestal in many gamer’s hearts. Each entry in this series holds new surprises and more things to love. I’ve read many supplemental materials just to get more information about this world that was founded back in 1986 and the characters that have been introduced through its long history.

The Mass Effect series is another videogame franchise I greatly enjoyed. I first played it well after it became a huge hit and the third installment was set to release. I love science fiction and loved these games. Getting to explore an entire galaxy and defend it from invading, sentient robots bent on mass genocide was a blast. The characters were interesting and well-developed, your choices impacted the story-line, there were consequences for your actions. The time invested was a personal journey through the landscape of a fictional world. I was changed from that experience because I learned things about myself and I was able to use the experience to see this world differently. Most art has something to say about the world we live in. The Bioshock series is another story that I often remember and go back to.

Another aspect of falling in love with a story and its characters is the attachment we grow toward it. Many avid readers have their favorite books and authors, and I believe most of us bibliophiles have multiple copies of the same book in different formats, editions, or simply get new copies because the current one is falling apart from use. The same goes for movies and videogames. I have a few HD remakes of videogames and extended or director’s cut versions of films I return watch again and again. I also admit I have different editions of a few series simply because I am both a collector and love the story so much I like different copies. I have several editions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and two editions of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

We grow attached to these stories and cherish them. They are a part of us. They have changed our lives to a point where we can’t remember what we were like before experiencing them. Stories make us better people. They make us experience the entire range of human emotion, and they make it easier for us to understand each other. What are some of your favorite stories? Why do you think you like them so much? Think about how those stories impacted your life beyond the page or the screen. Have you made friends from them? Argued about them?

What stories have changed you? What stories will you tell? When you are gone, what stories will you leave behind? After all, in the end, we are each of us only stories.

The Little Prince

About a month ago I wrote a book recommendation for The Little Prince. Last night, I watched Netflix’s film adaptation of this story with my wife, and all I can say is that it was fantastic. First, I was unaware of how many big-name celebrities were cast. The only one I knew before watching was Jeff Bridges, but there is also Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, Marion Cotillard, Benicio Del Toro, Ricky Gervais, Paul Giamatti, James Franco, and Albert Brooks. Second, this adaptation did not just turn the book into film. It created a story around the book while leaving the original story unblemished. The book and even the drawings are included. This movie uses the original story as a central them within a new story, and this new story works as a modern translator that I believe amplifies the importance of the original (or at least relates it to modern audiences). After all, the book was first published over 70 years ago when technology was just the first sprinkles of rain that would become the ocean it is today.

For those who read my original book recommendation, I stated I first discovered the book from watching the trailer for this specific film adaptation. I was intrigued by the story, so I went and read the book first. Then I eventually got around to watching the movie. I love them both equally. The movie follows the original text and uses the narrator as an actual character. Then, to my surprise, the movie goes beyond the end of the original story. Continuing it in a way that is both unexpected and touching. The film, overall, does exactly what the book does and maybe even better. It makes us remember things we used to know as a child. It makes us remember a very important part of life that we adults tend to forget while worrying about the many responsibilities we have.

Though the film is an animated feature that kids would enjoy. I think the story is really meant for adults. After all, there are no age restrictions when it comes to stories. Recommended maturity levels? Maybe. Some stories should be reserved until a child gets older, but you can never be too old to enjoy a story meant for younger generations. If you’ve never experienced this story, I highly recommend it in either medium.

I hope you find a few moments today (and every day) to stop and appreciate the world we live in. To forget the many demands on your time and breathe. Take in the world around you. There is so many places to find joy.