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Review: The Time Machine

One of the gaps I’ve spotted in my reading life is classic sci-fi. I tend to like science fiction when I do pick it up, but I’ve noticed that I don’t read very much of it, and when I do I gravitate toward newer releases. So this year I’m hoping to read more YA sci-fi, more sci-fi from female writers, and more classic sci-fi. So I turned to H. G. Wells, to start. Specifically, to Wells’ The Time Machine.

thetimemachineAbout the book: an unnamed scientist, referred to throughout the book as the Time Traveler, hosts a dinner party with a range of notable guests to reveal his latest invention: a device that moves through space’s fourth dimension: time. What he shows them is a prototype, too small to carry a human. But when the narrator returns for another meal with the Time Traveler, the scientist barges in late and in disarray, with a wild tale about the future of Earth and humanity that none are quite sure whether or not to believe.

“There is no intelligence where there is no change and no need of change. Only those animals partake of intelligence that have to meet a huge variety of needs and dangers.”

Published in the 1890s, The Time Traveler was Wells’s first science fiction novel(la), and one of the first printed stories about the possibility of travelling unchronologically through time.

There are two storytellers within this book. Our main narrator is an observer at the Time Traveler’s dinner party and a witness to his presumed return from the future. He notes facts and suppositions objectively, leaving the reader to make up his or her own mind about the truth of affairs. The middle part of the novel is narrated by the Time Traveler himself, as he speaks in a long, uninterrupted monologue about his experiences with the time machine. He leaves less room for interpretation, though he does admit when he’s deduced something rather than seen it proven firsthand. The Point of the novel seems to be to start a discussion about what is possible rather than forcing the reader to adopt a certain stance about what the future holds for our world.

I do not remember all I did as the moon crept up the sky. I suppose it was the unexpected nature of my loss that maddened me. I felt hopelessly cut off from my own kind- a strange animal in an unknown world.”

There’s an impression of reading fantasy when one gets to the Time Traveler’s exploration of the far future, but one of the reasons this book has stood the test of time so well seems to be that even the most bizarre details within are grounded with rationalization. Wells draws on real research and opinions of the time to create his narrative, and he takes the Time Traveler far enough into the future that the scope of the story does not become outdated as the novel ages. The Time Traveler considers the entire future of our race and planet, which is just as unproven today as in 1893. The Time Traveler doesn’t just meet the Eloi and Morlocks (the humans of the distant future) and wonder at their strangeness- he considers how their society functions, and speculates on the path that humanity has taken to reach such a point and where its behaviors will take it next.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the premise is that the Time Traveler does not find super intelligence and world peace ahead for humanity; though there are bright spots in the darkness, the creatures he finds past year 800,000 AD are not a hopeful omen for humankind. It really puts things in perspective to think about how little some things will matter in the grand scheme of so many years, and yet, each person alive is helping to drive the planet toward its real inevitable end, good or bad.

“I must have raved to and fro, screaming and crying upon God and Fate. I have a memory of horrible fatigue, as the long night of despair wore away; of looking in this impossible place and that; of groping among moonlit ruins and touching strange creatures in the black shadows; at last, of lying on the ground near the sphinx and weeping with absolute wretchedness. I had nothing left but misery.”

But Wells doesn’t stray too far into the philosophical. Instead, he speculates openly and leaves the reader to decide what to do with the story’s implications, right up to The Time Machine’s ambiguous end.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. This is a short, worthwhile read that’s great for anyone just starting out in the science fiction genre and seasoned pros alike. It’s very readable for a 120+ year-old classic, and Wells’ bio is equally fascinating (the edition I read seems to contain about as many pages of introductions and notes as the story itself takes up). I definitely want to read more of his work, and more science fiction in general. I think there’s still so much of this genre that I haven’t even glimpsed yet, and I’m looking forward to delving deeper.

Further recommendations:

  • For more classic sci-fi, you can’t miss Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. This is a novel about a scientist attempting to bring life back to the human body after death; his creation doesn’t turn out the way he expected, but the monster of the story isn’t who you think. Even more than science, this is a book about morality and showing acceptance/kindness toward people you don’t understand.

What’s a genre you want to explore more thoroughly in 2019?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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Review: Dumplin’

I watched the new Netlifx film Dumplin’ last month when I desperately needed a movie day, even though I had not yet read Julie Murphy’s novel and almost always prefer to read the book first. I was only going to watch the trailer, but then I couldn’t resist. After watching (and adoring) the film, I knew I needed to step the book up on my TBR, so I found a copy through my library and picked it up last week when I wanted something light to read.

dumplinAbout the book: Willowdean’s mom is a former pageant queen, but she’s never encouraged her only daughter to apply. At her size, people don’t exactly think of Willowdean as pageant material. But when she finds an unsubmitted application from her plus-size aunt’s teen years after Lucy’s death, Willowdean decides it’s time to make a statement- to her mom, to the mean kids at school, in honor of Lucy, and for herself. But how can she focus on the pageant when there’s a cute boy she might have a chance with, an epic battle of wills between Willowdean and her best friend, and her mom trying to turn Lucy’s bedroom into a craft room, devoid of beloved Dolly Parton memorabilia? And what about the other misfits who’ve signed up for the competition with Willowdean as their inspiration? One way or another, there’s going to be a big showdown.

“I think you gotta be who you want to be until you feel like you are whoever it is you’re trying to become. Sometimes half of doing something is pretending that you can.”

This is probably the only book I’ve read in years that I can say is completely cute without also being relegated to “guilty pleasure” territory for lack of substance. Dumplin’ the (YA contemporary) novel is just as wonderful as Dumplin’ the film, with a whole lot more drama packed in. It’s not YA fluff though- this is a book that makes a loud statement for any girl with body image doubts. I do appreciate that the movie is a bit more streamlined and less boy-focused, but I was relieved to find that there was so much more in the book that I didn’t even know to expect from the movie. The two formats make a great duo.

One main aspect that’s consistent across both mediums is Willowdean’s impression of herself. She is so set on refusing judgment from other people, and generally in front of any audience she stands up strong, knowing better than to let anyone else tell her what she’s worth. But she does judge herself. And she judges the people that she thinks are the most like her. In most books, I would’ve found this hypocrisy annoying, but it’s intentional here, and to great effect. Willowdean is a teen who learns throughout the course of the story that like most of us, she is her own harshest critic. She doesn’t want anything or anyone to hold her back on account of her size, which includes swallowing her own self-doubt.

“The way she says it. It’s not mean. Or rude. It’s true.”

On the flip side, Willowdean also needs to accept that she won’t be getting special treatment because of her mom’s place on the judges’ panel of the pageant. Refraining from holding herself back also means that she needs to put as much effort into her pageant events (and relationships) as the other girls do. If she wants to compete for any reason- whether it be in the name of revolution or in earnest for this year’s crown- she has to see the contenders as her equals, not her enemies. She has to play the game, just like everyone else.

“I don’t even want to win, but I think there’s this survival instinct inside all of us that clicks on when we see other people failing. It makes me feel gross and incredibly human.”

But this isn’t a book solely for plus-size readers. Dumplin’ is about friendship and grief, self-acceptance and acceptance of others no matter what their differences are. It’s about first love and family, coping with bullies, surviving high school. It’s about Dolly Parton and Southern traditions. It’s about being who you are, no matter what.

“You don’t always have to win a pageant to wear a crown.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I’ll definitely be reading Murphy’s recent sequel, Puddin’, though I’m always a bit less enthused about sequels that focus on different characters than the original. I think Murphy will pull it off, though. It’ll probably be one of those books that will pleasantly surprise me when I get around to picking it up. I’m also more interested in checking out Murphy’s other publications. And I’ll certainly be rewatching  Dumplin’. Again.

Further recommendations:

  • For more reading on what it’s like to be big in a world that values smallness, check out Roxane Gay’s memoir, Hunger. This book is more for adults, but I think younger readers could benefit as well as long as they know to expect some mature and difficult topics. Gay talks about using food to build her body like a fortress in the wake of rape, but she also talks about more everyday challenges like chairs with arms, stares at restaurants and gyms, and buying professional clothing in appropriate sizes.

Have you read or watched Dumplin’? Which format did you prefer?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: Severance

I was almost caught up with blog posts after my holiday hiatus, but then I got sick last week and now I’m a few reviews behind again. I’ve been having a little trouble staying focused on things because I’m not quite back to my usual energy levels yet, but we’ll just see how this goes… Today I’m talking about my BOTM pick from December, Ling Ma’s Severance, a satirical dystopian novel that’s been getting a lot of interesting buzz and found its way to the 2019 Tournament of Books longlist.

severance2About the book: After months of wandering the streets of New York for the sole purpose of taking photos for her blog, NY Ghost, Candace finds work managing Bibles that are made in China and sold in the US. When Shen Fever begins to infect much of the global population, Candance stays at the office, hoping for a bonus. Work dwindles in the wake of the fever, and Candace resumes her blog, photographing the city’s deterioration until she can’t stay any longer. Out of the city, she meets up with a group of survivors heading for a safe Facility outside of Chicago.

Yes, this is a dystopian/sci-fi novel with zombies. You may think you’ve seen it before.

But in truth, the best part of the book is the satirical parallel drawn between Candace’s adult life of routine and the zombie-like victims of Shen Fever. The fever victims, unlike other zombies in fiction, are only dangerous to themselves: they perform rote tasks at the expense of personal upkeep (hygiene, proper eating,  sleep, etc.) until their efforts kill them. Candance herself denies sensible requests to leave the city for safety in favor of continuing a job that has little meaning or fulfillment for her. The reader follows Candace’s thoughts and reasoning, so her actions always make sense and seem sane, but there are so many ironies and nuances to Candace’s routines and the ways the fever works that the reader is left with a constant undercurrent of doubt about which of the “survivors”- including Candace- might already be infected.

“How do we know, one skeptical reader wrote, that you’re not fevered yourself?”

But the zombies are not entirely symbolic. The narration alternates between Candace’s time in New York leading up to her decision to leave, and her time with the survival group on their journey to Chicago. She has run-ins with infected persons both before and after leaving New York, and while Ma’s zombies are not mindless brain eaters who amass in hordes of undead armies that wage slow attacks against the living, the descriptions of the fevered can still be graphic at times.

Even more brutal is the commentary against corporate work. Though the fate of the one character who does try to make a break from employment under destructive super companies is left hazy, Candace highlights the problems she sees with her job and repeatedly questions her choice to stay there. Her own Chinese background colors her experience with the outsourced laborers who assemble her bibles. Though she may disagree with the practices of corporate America, society assures her she must work for a living, and her employers reward her actions with regular paychecks- so she keeps coming back. One of the most haunting aspects of the novel for me is the way that the job endures even without the personnel. The city’s infrastructure is crumbling, and yet Candace’s key card keeps opening the office doors, the system keeps logging her hours, her bonus can still be earned. Long after the phones stop ringing and the office empties, the routine is the same. If Candace isn’t working for the rest of the world, and she’s not working for her own benefit (what is she going to do with that bonus in a world that operates on strength rather than cash?), who is she working for?

“If you are an individual employed by a corporation or an institution, he said, then the odds are leveraged against you. The larger party always wins. It can’t see you, but it can crush you. And if that’s the working world, then I don’t want to be a part of it.”

And so I conclude that this is not a novel for zombie lovers or even necessarily dystopian fans; Severance is for the young (or young at heart) wondering what to do with their lives and worrying over the state of the modern world. It’s for the readers who are looking for a little extra encouragement to follow their dreams instead of their wallets. It’s a quick read that will stay with you. And the ending is just ambiguous enough that you can change your mind over and over again about how things turn out.

Personally, I like a bleak outlook.

“Just because you’re adequately good at something doesn’t mean that’s the thing you should do.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. Very nearly 5 stars. I think this one will stay with me a long time. It certainly stuck with me when I ran a fever of my own after I finished reading. I wish I had managed to read this one before the end of last year, as I think it would’ve been one of my favorite BOTM selections for 2018.

Further reading:

  • For more biological disasters leading to a vastly reduced world population, check out the ultimate dystopian novel, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. In this book, a troupe of Shakespeare actors travel around to small communities of those who are left, the five narrative perspectives crossing in strange and beautiful ways due to a grand mix of choice and circumstance.

I don’t like the dystopian genre as much lately, but I’m so glad I made an exception for Ling Ma’s wonderfully bizarre book. What’s the last book you read that turned out to be a good surprise after you thought you wouldn’t like a certain aspect of it?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: Sawkill Girls

My January TBR is basically my December book haul (plus a couple of library books), and luckily I ended up with quite a variety that’s helping me read more impulsively this year, despite the constriction of a monthly TBR system. I actually let a friend choose my first book of the year from my January TBR box, and she picked Claire Legrand’s Sawkill Girls, a creepy YA fantasy that I’ve been meaning to read and finally grabbed a copy of in December. It was a great choice to start the year with!

sawkillgirlsAbout the Book: Girls have been going missing for over a hundred years on the island of Sawkill Rock. Everyone has heard the stories about the island’s magical villain, but few know which pieces of the lore are true. Zoey, the local police chief’s daughter, won’t accept non-answers about her missing best friend any longer. Marion, new to the island, becomes much more involved in the mystery than she ever would have thought possible. And Val holds the secret of generations of missing girls- a secret she’s quickly losing control of. Relationships between the three girls are complicated at best, but they may be the island’s best chance at stopping the monster as his greed and strength increase.

“Girl-ghosts swarmed Val’s brain. She could hear nothing but their wails, calling for her damnation.”

Legrand tries so hard for atmosphere, but she tries a little too hard, in my opinion. She uses a lot of visual descriptions, heavy on the adjectives, in a way that made it impossible for me to see this world beyond the page. As engaging as I found the story to be, I could never quite forget that I was reading words and turning pages.

Which isn’t to say that the book is not atmospheric or that I didn’t love the story. What gives Sawkill Girls its perfect creepy vibe is the slow addition of magical elements throughout the entire first half of the novel. The opening of the story feels so present-day and normal that I was confused for a long time about why this book is considered fantasy. Even as the magic is introduced, it feels more like metaphor or magical realism than full-blown fantasy, though it does find its target in the end. But the small, unsettling, otherworldly details really worked for me in a way that the visual cues in the writing did not. Every time I thought I had this story and these characters figured out, Legrand would throw in a whole new layer of intrigue and possibility that upturned my every assumption. That was the technique that completely won me over.

“It wasn’t in her ears as much as it was in her bones, working its way out from the inside. It vibrated in her marrow as though her entire self teemed with tiny borrowing bugs. Like summer cicadas buzzing in the trees at dusk, the cry droned.”

There were a few times when I thought the magical elements (especially Marion’s bone-cry, described above) made the girls’ sleuthing efforts a bit too convenient, but these were small moments of doubt and nothing more. Mostly, I bought into the magic and the ways that the three main characters discovered both the hidden secrets of their world, and the burgeoning powers within themselves.

Speaking of power, though this is indeed a fantasy book (despite whatever first impressions it gives), it is also very feminist and queer. Though there’s no real reason given for the monster’s need for young female victims, there is so much commentary about how these girls are strong enough to stand up for themselves and change the cycle. There are girls who like girls, girls who like boys, girls who don’t like sex at all. They all are given a voice and an audience.

“Marion couldn’t imagine a God like the one she’d grown up hearing about- some man sitting in the clouds, maneuvering the pieces of the world to suit his whims because he, of course, knows best. But she could imagine a God in the shape of an island crowned with trees, brooding in the middle of a black sea.”

One thing that didn’t work for me, both structurally and in the realm of Sawkill’s magic, was that the island itself is alive in a way. “The Rock” has its own perspective chapters woven between those of the three main characters- only a page or two at a time, scattered sparsely through the novel, but ultimately these seemed overly mysterious and gimmicky, and completely unnecessary to the overall story. The girls learn enough about Sawkill Rock and the history of its most notable inhabitants throughout the course of the novel that the Rock perspectives don’t add any vital information. I much preferred seeing the Rock through the girls’ eyes to seeing them through it.

Speaking of perspectives, I started out enjoying each of the three girls’ chapters, but about halfway through the book I’d had enough of Zoey. She’s a bit abrasive, and I didn’t always agree with the way she treats the people she loves. She wants to be accepted as the asexual, non-white, loud girl character that she is, and she should be, but the way she lashes out against her father, whose mistakes were well-intentioned, and Marion, whose crime is loving someone that Zoey despises, seem as inconsiderate as she’s accusing them of being. She’s constantly ignoring Grayson when he’s justifiably concerned, and expecting his help when she doesn’t seem to be returning the favor. She’s not all bad, of course; I think this comes down to a case of preferring one character (or in this case two) out of the perspective options- they rarely come out balanced completely even.

But I never did tire of the plot. The mystery and the obvious peril created by Sawkill’s monster kept me hooked until the very last page.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. Even though clearly I had a few hang-ups, this book was a great start to my 2019 reading. I want to read a bit more YA and a bit more fantasy this year than I did in 2018, and Sawkill Girls made me excited for more of both. I’m on the fence about trying Legrand’s other big publication, Furyborn, as its premise doesn’t appeal quite as much to me as Sawkill Girls did, but I will be keeping an eye out for future Legrand publications!

Further recommendations:

  • Mindy McGinnis’s The Female of the Species is a great next read if you love teen girls fighting back against the men who hurt/kill them. There are plenty more animals in The Female of the Species for Legrand readers who love the horses of Sawkill Rock, though there aren’t any actual fantasy elements. There is still murder and danger and plenty of challenged stereotypes, and it’s a good (slightly heartbreaking) time.

What’s your favorite YA standalone fantasy?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: In Our Mad and Furious City

I was hoping to finish the Man Booker longlist in November, but I had a seriously tough time getting a copy of Guy Gunaratne’s In Our Mad and Furious City. I could tell you the whole story of paying for copies I never received and discovering that none of the libraries in my local loan system would carry a copy when the US version released, but I’ll leave it at the fact that I did finally get a copy and managed to fit it in just before the new year. If it wasn’t a title I was particularly looking forward to reading and the only Booker nominee I had left, I probably would’ve given up out of sheer frustration. But I’m glad I didn’t!

inourmadandfuriouscityAbout the book: London is a place full of anger and tragedy for the five main characters of this novel. Three teenaged boys try to hold on to their summer freedom in the aftermath of a murder that brings riots and protests sweeping through the city. Two parents recall the gruesome paths that led their families to the Stones Estate. All five live very different lives, though the chaos in the city streets will link them all in the end.

This book’s chapters are subdivided into character sections. Each story is told differently, though the present situation in London runs clearly through the novel in chronological order. Some characters use flashbacks to convey important events. But the most notable difference in these sections is the use of dialect and slang that varies in heaviness by character. I found Nelson’s chapters the most unusual, in terms of wording and grammar, but most of the characters use colloquial phrases that are clear mainly through context. Though at some points I had to slow down my reading to parse exactly what was being said, I did feel that the variations in narration were a nice literary touch that helped distinguish each character and recalled the different backgrounds that had molded these people into the Londoners they’ve become. The characters are wonderfully diverse.

“How would it have felt to come from the same story? To have been molded out of one thing and not out of many? There was nothing more foreign to us than that. Nothing more boring and pale to imagine.”

Each of these characters take a stand in some way for themselves and/or their beliefs in the novel. Ardan pursues his passion for rap music, Caroline turns to independence when her family resorts to abhorrent behavior, Nelson advocates for minority rights and safety, Yusuf sides with the members of his religion when their mosque is challenged, and Selvon hones his body to fight his way free of the city that tries to hurt him and hold him back. Though each of these journeys is specific to each character’s motivations and history, their efforts tie their stories into one narrative that shows how suffering and victory affect more than the individual, especially in a place where the people live so close together. There’s a ripple affect.

In the end, my favorite aspect of the book was the underlying negative view of London. I’ve never been, and often in literature London seems to be displayed as this wonderfully messy and historic city that outsiders should envy; I very much appreciate seeing the other side of that coin. I found this dark glimpse much more compelling than any city idyll.

“So here it all is, this London. A place that you can love, make rhymes out of pyres and a romance of the colors, talk gladly of the changes and the flux and the rise and the fall without feeling its storm rain on your skin and its bone-scarring winds, a city that won’t love you back unless you become insoluble to the fury, the madness of bound and unbound peoples and the immovables of the place. The joy. The light lies in the armored few, those willing to run, run on and run forever just to prove it possible. The only ones that can save us in the end are the heroes.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I think after all the trouble I went through to get my hands on this book, I may have been expecting more from this story than I had a right to. My patience was thin by the time I picked it up. Even so, I’m not sure why this book didn’t advance to the shortlist, as it’s quite excellent. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for more work from Gunaratne.

My reaction to the 2018 Man Booker longlist: what an adventure! This was my first year reading the entire longlist, and I’m sure it won’t happen every year going forward. I loved the look of the list when it was first announced, and added so many of the titles to my TBR that it made sense to push myself to pick up each one. I didn’t love them all equally, but even the books that disappointed me were engaging to read and I don’t regret the time I spent with them. The shortlist did not contain the six books I thought best from the longlist, but I am thrilled with Anna Burns’s Milkman taking the win! For more thoughts on each title, here are the rest of my longlist reviews, ranked in order of personal favoritism:

MilkmanEverything UnderThe Water CureNormal PeopleFrom a Low and Quiet Sea,  (In Our Mad and Furious City,)  The Mars RoomThe Long TakeThe OverstorySabrinaWarlightWashington BlackSnap.

What was your favorite Man Booker title for 2018 (even if you didn’t read them all)?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: The Tommyknockers

I managed to read seven Stephen King books last year, including a single bind-up of four novellas- which arguably could bump the total number up to ten if you want to consider how long even a “short” novel can be for King. Four of my 2018 Stephen King books were buddy reads (those really help with powering through the long titles), including one of my final reads of 2018, a 976-page novel titled The Tommyknockers.

thetommyknockersAbout the book: Bobbi Anderson walks across her wooded property in the fictional town of Haven, Maine one evening–  as she done many evenings before- and stumbles across a small piece of silver sticking up from the ground. Curious, she digs a bit with her hands, wondering whether she’s found an old can, a steel lockbox, a car? But it’s like nothing she’s ever seen before, massive and otherworldly. She comes back to the same spot the next day with digging equipment, and then excavation equipment as the scope of the thing keeps growing. The problem: the metal seems to be releasing some sort of toxic chemical compound into the air that gradually encompasses the entire town, infecting the townspeople and preventing outsiders from entering Haven to discover what’s going on. Bobbi’s find seems to have a mind of its own, and it’s taking over.

“There’s a whole town going loony just down the road and no one has got the slightest idea it’s happening.”

Stephen King has written in a wide variety of genres, but this one fits firmly under the category of sci-fi. It’s not one of his best-known titles, and I certainly wouldn’t call this one a must-read for King beginners, but fans won’t want to miss this adventure. Especially if you’ve ever enjoyed The X-Files.

“It was a marvelous, improbable artifact shining in the hazy sunlight of this Sunday morning… but it was also a haunted house where demons might still walk between the walls and in hollow places.”

The reason this one doesn’t rank among King’s classics (in my opinion) is that the writing is not quite up to King’s impressive par. His characterization is spot-on as ever, but the cast is excessively large, especially considering that all of the people in Haven are undergoing more or less the same change. The plot is engaging, unpredictable, and intense, but a bit slow-paced in the middle. The social commentary is interesting and not entirely outdated (this novel was written in the 80’s), mostly relating to potential problems with nuclear energy. There is no mistaking King’s usual style, though on a sentence-by-sentence level it doesn’t seem quite as polished as others of his works.

Though I wouldn’t say The Tommyknockers is one of King’s most frightening works, it does maintain a near-constant aura of creepiness. So many of the details are just unsettling enough to keep the reader on board even when the plot verges toward the incredibly bizarre. The tommyknockers are named from a well-known children’s rhyme- one that I recognized from my own childhood (with slightly different wording), despite the fact that I hadn’t even been born at the time this book was written. The story isn’t relatable and all, and it’s hard to walk away from the mysteries of the green light, the locked shed, the magic-trick that turns into a real missing child case, and more.

One of the reasons I would recommend this title to King veterans is the intertextual content. In The Tommyknockers there are some fun references throughout the story relating both to Stephen King himself:

“She wrote good western stories that you could really sink your teeth into, not all full of make-believe monsters and a bunch of dirty words, like the ones that fellow who lived up in Bangor wrote. Goddam good westerns, people said. Especially for a girl.”

(though admittedly marred by that unnecessary final sentence…)

and to King’s previous works, including The Shining:

“So what was she supposed to do? Grab Bobbi’s ax and make like Jack Nicholson in The Shining? He could see it. Smash, crash, bash: Heeeeeere’s GARDENER!

and It:

“Tommy had begun to hallucinate; as he drove up Wentworth Street, he thought he saw a clown grinning up at him from an open sewer manhole– a clown with shiny silver dollars for eyes and a clenched white glove filled with balloons.”

There are several more.

But let’s go back to that “especially for a girl” mention. One of the biggest drawbacks to this novel is that its language and concepts are very much rooted in their time. In the case of technology and lifestyle, these references make for an entertaining flashback. In regards to treatment of women, the old-fashioned sentiments are much less pleasant.

There’s very little in the book that’s truly offensive, the “especially for a girl” statement being the most overt. But there are so many small examples throughout The Tommyknockers of women who are denied their own glory. Though Bobbi discovers the buried object on her property, she needs to be “saved” from self-destruction in the excavation by enlisting male help. In a project involving a large hologram in which a woman is in charge of providing a perfect image for the projection, the task is not complete until she’s enthusiastically lost her virginity to the man watching over her shoulder. The highest police authority in Haven is a woman, but she’s quickly removed from leadership when the townspeople begin changing. Women are not hated within the novel, but nor are they given the same importance and attention as the male characters. Small details add up in a novel of this size.

Interestingly, I found the general disregard for women much less annoying than the over-the-top support of them in King’s more recent work (Sleeping Beauties, Elevation). I know that fiction does not necessarily reflect any viewpoints of the writer, but I think there’s an interesting arc to be located in the social commentary throughout King’s oevre, and it’s fascinating to follow. But I have a lot of reading left to do before I feel comfortable making statements about trends in King’s entire body of work.

At the very least, it’s infinitely interesting to read.

“One of life’s great truths is this: when one is about to be struck by a speeding six-hundred-pound Coke machine, one need worry about nothing else.”

 

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. Though this was not my favorite King novel, it ranks right up there for weirdness and I do love weird. I’m absolutely looking forward to reading more from King, though I’ll also be more likely to watch the women in his fiction, going forward.

Further recommendations:

  • Stephen King’s Under the Dome is a fascinating character study that takes place in another Maine town that finds itself inexplicably trapped inside an invisible dome. There are some similar sci-fi elements between this one and The Tommyknockers, though the stories themselves are very different. But if you liked one, you’ll probably like the other.
  • If you’re looking for something considerably shorter, (and not Stephen King), Michael Rutger’s The Anomaly is a recent sci-fi thriller that’s superbly unsettling and otherworldly. Its main characters find themselves trapped in an ancient cavern in the Grand Canyon, and quickly discover that they’re not as alone as they thought.

What’s your favorite sci-fi book? YA or adult. I love what I’ve seen of the genre but haven’t read much beyond Stephen King, so I could use some recommendations!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

 

 

2018 Reading Wrap-Up

It’s time for my favorite post of the year! So. Many. Bookish. Stats. Ready?

Here’s the requisite info from Goodreads, to start:

2019-01-03 (2)2018 was a pretty mixed reading year for me with a lot of variety. I read short books, like Sea Prayer and several 50-60 page Penguin Moderns (like Food), but I also read some very long books, like ItIlluminae, and The Overstory. My average rating of 3.7 is pretty standard. My Goodreads goal for the year was 90 books, and my previous top record (that I know of) was 112, so I surpassed both of those with my 118 books!

I’ve already posted my 2018 favorites, my almost-favorites, and my greatest disappointments for the year, if you want to check out those posts.

This year I continued my membership with Book of the Month Club, and even though I’ve been less thrilled with their selections in 2018 (they seemed to be leaning more toward commercial favorites and run-of-the-mill thrillers and away from hidden literary gems) I have still been committing to a box of at least one book every month. Here are my 2018 BOTM selections:
botm2018

I bought/received on credit 19 BOTM titles this year, and I read 14 of those within the year, as well as 4 extra titles from 2017’s selections. My BOTM goal for 2019 (if I decide to stick with it all year) is to avoid the thrillers, as I was disappointed by every single 2018 BOTM thriller and I don’t want a repeat of that!

And while we’re on the subject of new books, here is a photographic recap of my 2018 book hauls in all their purple glory:

2018bookhaulspt2
2018bookhaulspt1

I hauled 146 books in 2018, which is way more than my goal of 3 or less per month should have allowed! I stuck to that goal only twice in twelve months, which is horrendous and has inspired my new TBR system for 2019: to read all of my new books by the end of the following month. I’m hoping this will help lower my buying rate as well as stopping the increase of my owned-unread TBR.

Of those 146 new-to-me books, I read 63 by the end of 2018, which is slightly less than half. 12 of those 63 were books I had read at some point before buying, some within 2018 but not all. I hope to do much better in 2019, but hey look at all the shiny new books!

Let’s get back to what I actually read in 2018. Here’s how it all breaks down:

Of my total 118 books read, I rated 24 books at 5 stars * 41 books at 4 stars * 40 books at 3 stars * ten books 2 stars * and 3 books were rereads that I left unrated due to changed opinions.

Of my 118, I read 54 books that I bought/received in 2018, I read 15 books that were unread on my shelf from previous years (2017 or earlier), and I borrowed 49 books from a mix of friends, family, my public library, and Kindle Unlimited.

I read 27 contemporary/literary fiction novels (23% of my 2018 reading) * 20 horror/thriller/mystery/suspense novels (17%) * 12 memoirs/nonfiction books (11%) * 12 classic/modern classic fiction books (11%) * 11 adult sci-fi/fantasy books (9%) * 9 YA sci-fi/fantasy books (8%) * 6 YA contemporary novels (5%) * 6 historical fiction novels (5%) * 4 NA/romance novels (3%) * 4 books of poetry (3%) * 4 graphic novels/comics (3%) * 3 short story collections/novellas (2%).

I read 67 books by female authors (57% of my 2018 reading), 41 books by male authors (35%), and 10 books by other authors (mostly meaning multiple authors, 8% of my 2018 reading).

I read 61 2018 releases. That’s 52% of my 2018 reading.

I read 4 ebooks. Less than 3% of my reading. I listened to one book. The rest were physical copies.

I completed 6 rereads. 5% of my 2018 reading.

I read the entire Man Booker longlist for 2018, consisting of 13 books (11% of my 2018 reading). I did not finish the longlist before the shortlist was announced, and I did not finish the shortlist before the winner was announced, but I did read them all before the end of the year.

I participated in 4 buddy reads, all for Stephen King books. I read 7 Stephen King books (6% of my 2018 reading).

I failed my 2018 reading challenge, but challenged myself anyway, and set some 2019 goals. Among them is my Goodreads challenge goal of 100 books.

And I’m excited to see what bookish adventures this new year will bring! 🙂

I would say 2018 was a 4-star reading year for me. What about you?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant.