Amazing Fantastic Incredible

Stan LeeToday 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 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 other details about how certain characters were created and interesting tidbits about certain processes and other influential people 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 openly available to 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 Lee.

Happy Reading.

The Once and Future King

theonceandfuturekingToday 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 an 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 all the way to his formation of the round table and the era of chivalry and through the years beyond where it 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 story-line 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.

The Time Machine

Time MachineThis week’s book recommendation is The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. I thought it fitting to make this the last recommendation of the year (and last of the weekly recommendations). The book is in itself a time machine, as most books are. It was originally published in 1895, but holds up well in 2018. Of course, the language is a little dated but not so much to cause difficulty in reading. It may even increase your vocabulary as several words in it aren’t commonly used anymore.

It is still an entertaining book. Enough so that it has been made into movies as recently as 2002. I’m sure in 1895 this book would have been considered outlandish, entertaining, and even frightening, but today I’m afraid it would seem just another story. There is an enormous amount of science fiction today that includes time travel. However, this story is the first mention of the concept (I would be more than happy if someone proved me wrong here). It is always interesting to go back and read books like this that seem to be an integral building block to one of today’s most popular fictional subjects. As a writer, it is also interesting to read what had inspired other writers throughout the years. You begin to notice similarities the more you read whether they may be intentional or not.

Time travel has always been of interest to me because it is very hard to pull off in terms of making it believable or at least practical. There is always a chance of missing a small incongruity that ends up debunking the whole concept. These are often in the form of paradoxes but sometimes can just be continuity errors. Either way, they bring in doubt which greatly weakens the story.

H.G. Wells was very clever when he wrote this story because he made it simple with no complicated processes that could easily have initiated such an error. He introduces the machine itself without diving into the technical aspects about how it works (a technique often used by Christopher Nolan in many of his films). He does so in a way that makes it simply believable. We don’t need to get into the nitty-gritty. We just want to see what happens next. Wells then has the traveler go so far into the future that no one could ever refute what happens in the story. Too many time-travel stories make the mistake of setting the future to within one or two generations which quickly dates them, such as Back to the Future. In this book, the character travels hundreds of thousands of years. The world we see through the time traveler (since that is all we know him by) is one that is, for all we know, plausible.

Through clever writing and an engaging narrative despite several dated terms and a standard Victorian structure, The Time Machine holds up for modern audiences. It is shorter at around 120 pages and broken up into 12 chapters, which allows you to break up the reading if you don’t want to read it all in one go.

Happy Reading.

The Screwtape Letters

The Screwtape LettersThis week’s book recommendation is The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. My now father-in-law bought this book for me over a year ago and I just got around to reading it last month (that to-be-read pile never decreases). Of course, Clive Staples (C.S.) Lewis is best known for writing the Chronicles of Narnia series. I haven’t read that series, and now that I think about it, this might be the first of Lewis’s books that I have read.

This book reads as a collection of letters sent by Screwtape, a demon/devil, to his nephew, Wormwood. The letters offer advice on how to effectively tempt a human in such a way that they end up in Hell as sustenance for fellow demons. Though I am not a religious man, I enjoyed this book for several reasons.

The first being the historical context and reassurance that humanity has suffered the same or similar societal issues for at least the past 100 years. This book was published in 1942. Many of the tricks that Screwtape offers his nephew to persuade his patient are also reflections on human nature and its social interactions. I was surprised to find many of the behaviors spot on even for today, nearly eighty years after they were written, in a time drastically different due to technological advancement and the connection of humanity across the world by the ambivalent internet.

I know that C.S. Lewis had a crisis of faith at one time and that J.R.R. Tolkien, along with another friend, helped him during this time. The result ended up with Lewis bolstering his beliefs and going on to write many theologically influenced books, including this one. Lewis even dedicated this book to J.R.R. Tolkien. Lewis and Tolkien were best friends as they taught at Oxford and remained friends their entire lives. They often reviewed each other’s works and offered advice. I could go further into their relationship, but I’ll refrain because I’ll end up talking more about Tolkien than Lewis and this book of his that I’m recommending.

The letters often refer to a war and how it could be used to win the battle for the human soul. This war refers to World War II, but I wouldn’t be surprised if World War I had some influence as well. Apparently there are many ways for us humans to be influenced toward sin and other actions. There is also many ways we can seemingly be redeemed (and fairly easily). This book is considered a “Christian apologetic novel” and honestly I’m not entirely sure what that means, but the book has many interesting lectures I think anyone can enjoy. Lewis stated that he had a hard time writing this book because Screwtape was such an abhorrent character (being a demon). Luckily for us, he was able to produce this interesting religious and social commentary.

Happy Reading.

Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a GeishaThis week’s book recommendation is Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. This book is extremely well written and gives a glimpse into a way of life that I think was obscure even when Geisha were common in Japan. This book is a complete fiction as Mr. Golden overtly informs us, but it is written to be almost a believable and enticing memoir. The story is enthralling in its simplicity and accuracy, which was honed by the significant research done by the author.

I remember when this book became a huge hit. It was originally published in 1997, but became a movie in 2005. I was probably too young to appreciate the story and again too young to appreciate the movie when it originally released. Though I do recall overhearing that the soundtrack for the movie was exceptional. I have always been a fan of John Williams’s work, so this one aspect kept me intrigued. However, I didn’t read the book until just a few weeks ago, and I still have yet to see the movie.

I can’t say what prompted me to read this book when I did. I had bought it a few years prior at a used book sale put on by my local library. There were plenty of copies because, as stated earlier, it had become a huge hit over a decade ago. I knew it had to be good since it made a stir not only in America, but across the globe. I had just finished a science fiction book I greatly enjoyed and was piddling around for a day or two trying to decide what to read next when I happened to pick this one up seemingly at random. I was quickly drawn in and enjoyed it immensely.

This is the only book Arthur Golden has written (so far) and I am not sure if he plans to write any more. It’s been over twenty years since this book came out, but I’m always one to never say never.

You may have already read this book or have at least heard of it already. If you haven’t read it, give it a try. If you think it is something beyond your area of interest, you may be surprised as I was (though I do read biographies and memoirs from time to time). It is never a bad thing to open your mind to new ideas or broaden your horizons. Having a better understanding of other cultures and other people makes us more empathetic. This book is a work of fiction, yes, but it is based in history and facts from the time.

After all, books are meant to show us things we’ve never seen before. To transport us places we may never go (even if it is somewhere we are capable of going). Through them we can experience impossible things like going into the past or completely different worlds. We can learn so much within the pages of a book. Even if the contents are completely fabricated. We may learn even more because they are.

Happy Reading.