Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is a two-for-one. Old School and This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff.

First is Old School. This book is one of two full-length books of fiction by Mr. Wolff (the first being The Barracks Thief), and is an expansion of his short story “Smorgasbord”, which was adapted and used as a chapter in the book. I greatly enjoyed this book for the same reason I enjoy all of Mr. Wolff’s work. He captures human moments and makes us think about our own actions and the way we interact with others.

This book is written as a fictional memoir of a man who recounts his senior year at a preparatory school that is highly influenced by the writing competitions it holds because of the famous authors who come in to judge the stories, which include Robert Frost, Ayn Rand, and Ernest Hemingway.

It’s an interesting story that spirals out of control near the end but, as many of Mr. Wolff’s stories go, the ending packs an unusual punch that makes you think about the importance of things and why we act the way we do.

I also thought this book was even better after having read Tobias Wolff’s actual memoir (and the second part of this recommendation), This Boy’s Life, which details his youthful years growing up. He has another memoir that recounts his time in Vietnam which I also enjoyed. It is called In Pharaoh’s Army. This Boy’s Life is not only compelling, but also shows how Mr. Wolff became the prominent person he is today (he is currently teaching at Stanford University). I also recently discovered (a few minutes ago in fact) that a movie was made from This Boy’s Life in 1993 starring Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio.

I don’t want to say too much because saying almost anything about a memoir, outside of general information, could be considered a spoiler. So all I’ll say is that I think Tobias Wolff is one of the best short story authors America has ever had. He writes primarily short stories and the books mentioned in this recommendation are the full length works he has produced. The two memoirs and the two books. He is well-known for his memoirs and I think that is what makes Old School successful (having been written as a fictional memoir). His work is naturally highly influenced by his own life. I won’t give you an order to read any of his work. I’m just suggesting you read anything he’s written. If you like it, as I have, you’ll want to read more.

 

Happy Reading.

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett. This is the first (and so far only) book I’ve read by Terry Pratchett. He is best known for his Discworld series and has fans from all over the world. If you are a fan of (or looking for) comedic fantasy, Terry will not disappoint you. I have many of his books on my “to be read” list and will eventually get around to them.

A Slip of the Keyboard is a collection of nonfiction, in which he covers many subjects and tells several stories. One of which details Neil Gaiman and himself misjudging a distance to a radio station they were scheduled to interview with, and their decision to walk resulted in them being hours late and effectively banned from that station.

He also covers several other topics. Some serious, some hilarious, but all of them genuine and endearing. He discusses in depth the illness that would eventually take his life, and the state of the medical field in England. He voices his opinions and I was glad to have listened. The world is oftentimes a chaotic mess and I wish Terry was still in the it to add his unique, fun chaos to the mix. It saddens me that I only discovered his writing (and him as a person) after he was gone, but he has left behind many “notes” for us to continue gleaning wisdom and humor from him.

Terry mentions in this collection that he was most proud of his book Nation, so of course that will be the next book I read by him. The Discworld series includes (I believe) over forty books. Not all of them are sequential or follow the same characters, but they all take place in the same universe and there is plenty of material should you wish to embark on such a journey.

I recommend you give any of Terry’s books a try. I still have many to look forward to myself. You can start with A Slip of the Keyboard like I did, or you can start with a work of fiction. As always, you have a choice.

Happy Reading.

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. This book is the first of a trilogy, but can be read as a standalone, which means the second two books are there for you should the first leave you wanting more (which it probably will).

I first discovered V.E. Schwab before I’d discovered her books. It may seem strange, but it’s not the first time it’s happened for me. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and see things differently or it’s because I’ve become serious about my own writing and have started quasi-networking. I don’t know, but this is not the first time I’ve discovered an author before reading their work.

Anyway, I discovered Victoria as a person and thought she was pretty cool and decided to read her book which I am now recommending to you. I’m also recommending you watch her delivery of the 6th Tolkien lecture titled “In Search of Doors” which took place two months ago. I’ll provide a link to that here: “In Search of Doors” because I thought it was brilliant, especially when she begins by stating she has never read Tolkien. Watch it and you’ll understand why I was initially drawn to her work because of her as a person.

Now onto the book itself. A Darker Shade of Magic (ADSOM for short) centers around the character Kell. He is unique because he possesses a rare magic which lets him travel between Londons, of which there are four. Stay with me here. There are four Londons that are identical but are essentially within different dimensions for lack of a better word. The city is the only constant between the four worlds and each has varying degree of magic that flows through it. Kell is from Red London which is prosperous in magic. Grey London is where us commoners (or muggles if you prefer in this context) would hail from. White London is a power-hungry world. And Black London is a world that was consumed by magic. When Black London fell, the doors were shut between “dimensions” and each world was effectively lost to the others, except to those capable of traveling between them with their own magic.

That’s all the setup I’ll provide. After all, this is a recommendation, not a review, and I would hate to spoil anything for you. If you like reading about magic and the worlds that contain them, give this one a shot. I was in a pretty bad reading slump when I decided to read this one. I read it quickly and enjoyed it thoroughly. I hope you do too.

Happy Reading.

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. The title story of this collection was the inspiration for the movie Arrival, which came out two years ago in 2016. The movie was good and when I found out it was based on a written work, I went out and read it. I’ve discovered so many good books because of movies and have seen many movies because they were based on a book I’d previously read. It’s fun when a book you enjoy gets a screen adaptation. It’s also exciting to discover new authors because of screen adaptations, especially when the old adage “the book is always better” rings true.

As for this case, the movie was based on a short story. This means the movie had more room to create new or original content. When a movie is based on a book, it often has to cut out material while also changing things to make them exciting on screen. With a shorty story, there is usually little to cut for a full two-hour movie and there is actually room to add some content.

There are some excellent stories beyond the title story of this collection. The first page opens to “Tower of Babylon” which made me immediately become a fan of Ted Chiang’s ingenuity and style (I’m actually wanting to get a book of his and read it right now).

A great thing about a short story collection is that you can put it down and pick it back up whenever you like because each story is complete and you don’t need to remember what had happened previously as with a book. I went through and read every story in this collection is short time though. Another great thing is, due to their structure, you can read them quickly and in between the busy tasks of life.

If you liked the movie Arrival, read “Stories of Your Life” which inspired it. If you didn’t like it, then read the other stories in this collection because they are great. “Stories of Your Life” wasn’t my favorite honestly. I liked it, but I liked some of the “and Others” better. If you’ve never read Ted Chiang, I suggest trying at least one of his stories to see if his writing captures your interest. The world of stories is vast and wild. May this gem just be only one that you find along your way.

Happy Reading.

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I first heard of this book during my undergraduate studies and didn’t read it until the year after I’d finished my degree. Probably the most gruesome part of the book was “spoiled” for me, but it did not ruin the book in any way. Perhaps I was saved from the traumatic discovery. To put that into context, this book centers around a father and his son as they trudge across a post-apocalyptic landscape. The father’s goal is simply to keep his son alive. As they are traveling, other humans are basically the enemy, and the two come across some disturbing things.

Though it seems that there is an overabundance of post-apocalyptic shows and movies nowadays, this book came out (still fairly recently) in 2006 and the movie adaptation came out in 2009 (which I still haven’t seen yet). There are no zombies or plagues or supernatural or science fiction elements that turned the world to ruin in this book. There is no detail really as to why, but it could be assumed it is a nuclear fallout. The world they wander is dark. The skies are always overcast and bleak. Everything is coated in ash and cold. They survive by traveling in search of food and water. Outside of the people they encounter, the main story centers on their relationship with many references to the duty of a parent.

There was much criticism about this book in relation to the lack of women characters or treatment of them, especially the mother of the son since there isn’t much explanation as to what happens to her. I can understand that criticism but do not necessarily agree with it. The story would be drastically different if the mother was present. The narrative would have been split and the focus lost. I think most people would agree the book is great the way it is (despite the subject matter).

This book is a little bleak, but it is well-written and engaging even when it seems not much is happening. If you like post-apocalyptic and/or want a new/original take on the subject, then give this book a shot. I think this book delves into a semi-realistic view if our world should ever face the destruction by the bombs we have created (if anyone were to survive). The subject matter is dark, but it’s a book worth reading as it can make you think about what is really important in life. It can let you escape the trivial worries of your day-to-day and help you focus your thoughts on what really matters. That is where I think this book succeeds.