Archive for January, 2013

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King – review

January 26, 2013

For whatever reason I think the short form is the area where King has most excelled at. Even with his novels, I think I appreciate his shorter works (especially The Gunslinger) over his larger works. His collections of novellas have spawned a small legion of wonderful films from Stand by Me to Shawshank Redemption, Secret Window, Secret Garden to Apt Pupil, and his best noevl to movie translations have arguably been his shorter works (Misery, The Green mile, The Shining). The collection of four novellas Full Dark, No Stars falls into the same vein. Reading the four stories included in the volume and all of them are readily filmable, though this is something I’m sure some would hold against him.

It’s too easy to say a book should be a book, and that books have come to rely too heavily on capturing the film aesthetic. While I think there is a bit of truth to this, I don’t think it applies to King. Being filmable doesn’t detract from the impact of the stories or how well they function on the page. I think Russell Banks is very filmable as well, but it doesn’t make me think any less of novels like Affliction or The Sweet Hereafter. With King,I think it’s more a criticism that he sells a lot of books, that popular doesn’t equal good. I’m not the biggest King fan, but I think he does exceptionally well at capturing his stock and trade, the darker side of human nature.

With Full Dark, it leads with “1922” and it is easily the strongest story of the collection. A farmer recruits his son to kill their wife/mother and both are driven to horrible ends from the results of this act. Typical of King, you are never quite sure how much is real and how much of what transpires is delusion on behalf of the characters, striking a similar chord to his novel Gerald’s Game. Is the dog real in Gerald’s Game? Are the rats real in “1922?” In both cases, you assume so, and you’re never really sure whether to believe otherwise at the end. in any case, the dog and the rats were certainly real to the characters at the time.

The second story is a revenge story. Within “Big Driver,” King makes reference to the Jodie Foster movie The Brave One and it is damn apt comparison for this story. It’s a good read, quick, and the scope of evil it nudges towards at the end, the sheer scope of the act of rape, is the most unsettling part of the story.

“Fair Extension” is the arguable home for the most unsympathetic narrator in Stephen King’s body of work. I’m not sure I have ever seen a King story where the main character so quickly reveals how monstrous he is, only to have him continue to be monstrous and to be rewarded for it. This is really the sole reason for it being a stand out piece in this collection, maybe my favorite work.  The small, early reference to the meagerness of human souls to the ugly “transaction without mercy” backbone behind the story, it is unsettling. Considering the profession of the narrator (works at a bank) and the timing of the collection, I would have to wonder if it is in some way tied in to a greater anger at the financial crisis, but I don’t know if King ever spoke to that or if it is in any way true. Still, the ruthless “I want mine, and yours too” feeling of the story is difficult to ignore.

The collection wraps with a solid enough short story of a woman who discovers her husband’s dirty little secret. To be honest, that part of the story didn’t really hook me and I was pretty ambivalent to the story until the old detective shows up at the end to question woman about her recently deceased husband. there was something about the aged, retiring detective that screamed Kinderman from Blatty’s classic The Exorcist.  in no way do the two detectives appear to be literally linked, but there was something to King’s detective that seemed entirely in line with Blatty’s, and either way I can only picture Lee Cobb as either of them.

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On Amazon, Nick Harkaway, and digital revolutions

January 16, 2013

I did have a longer book links post to put up yesterday, but it appears wordpress managed to eat it.  Unfortunately, I lost most of the links I was going to use, but I did remember where to get one of them. Nick Harkaway, the author of The Gone-Away World and Angelmaker, put up a blog post about a new feature from Amazon called autorip. Now, I think this feature is ridiculous, and shouldn’t be as popular as it will likely be. The gist of it is that when you buy certain CDs from Amazon, they will install a “free” digital version into your Amazon cloud player for you. Now, I quote free because it’s not really free, you’re paying for the CD. And ripping a CD is insanely easy. Ripping it yourself also gives you control over the rip’s quality, the format, and what devices you want to put the rip on. Also, it doesn’t give Amazon the ability to just step in and erase your music for whatever vague reasons they can concoct like they have from time to time done to ebooks stored on their servers. I can think of literally no good reason to want to take Amazon up on this service aside from sheer laziness and apathy. And all of this is slightly to the side of Harkaway’s point in his blog post.

His point is that Amazon is setting expectations for what they get when they buy something. They buy a CD, they will expect to get a digital version for free. It’s something we’ve been seeing for awhile now with blurays, where they package another disk that has your “digital copy.” Harkaway’s thing seems to be that publishers need to get in front of this and start establishing their own brands by creating their own exclusive packages for people when they buy a book from them. And I pretty much agree, up to a certain level. I have to believe that at some point in the whole publishing process, someone has a document file that could be easily converted to a PDF and made available to download with the use of an access code whenever someone buys a hard copy of a book. It’s not like everyone is plodding away on typewriters or scrawling the final versions of their novels out by hand. And this should be a simple thing to do, and able to be used across a variety of platforms. Also, by using a common file, it might help stamp out the individual ereader market a bit and push everyone to a more generic use of a tablet as an all-in-one device for media consumption.

Where I would draw a line is with “enhanced” ebook experiences. I don’t know a ton about programming, but from what I do know, HTML5 seems to be a very powerful programming language that can handle a great variety of tasks from video to text to images to I don’t know what all. So, my suggestion would be to build enhanced ebooks around HTML5 because it would be a common file type that could be opened across a wide variety of devices, while still allowing an abundance of enhancements to make the purchasing of an enhanced ebook worth the price.

Still, with all of my editorializing aside, will the big publishers be able to make the transition? I think so, even if we’re not happy with how they’re doing it right now.I don’t really share Harkaway’s pessimism in that regard, in not being sure that these institutions will still be around ten years from now, filling largely the same role they are filling now. While I don’t believe they are too large to fail, and that the landscape may alter a bit, I think the Penguins, the Simon & Schusters, the Vikings, etc. will still have their place, and they’ll still be putting out big name, big selling writers.  If they would get a bit more aggressive now, though, they might be able to make sure that the landscape down the road is a bit more pleasing to their eye than what may other wise come about.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles – Review

January 10, 2013

first, it’s hefty. very heft.  For being only around 440 pages, my copy is pretty thick, which gives me some confidence in the paper stock. That, or it’s junk paper that’s unnecessarily thick. It has a reader’s guide, which is nice but which I didn’t use at all, and a NYT interview with the author from 1969 that got only a cursory glance. I’m not sure why I had the impetus to read this book, but it has the necessary quotes on the front and back covers about how enchanting the work is, or audacious, or a wonder of contemporary fiction…It didn’t really live up to any of those things for me.

The first two hundred pages were relatively quick and easy wtih Fowles getting into the setting, the characters, and pulling his world together.  Going from memory, the novel runs along the time frame of the late 1960s and early 1870s, though  a larger gap of time exists with the Clue like myriad endings Fowles employs.  Things that stood out to me was the hypocricy of Fowles’ male lead, Charles. To his credit, Charles counts himself as a progressive individual, but he’s progressive in everything but women, and has to be dragged kicking and screaming (and disinheriting) to (maybe) end up with Sarah Woodruff. Sarah, by contrast, truly is progressive and seems to thirst for someone to talk to on a relatively equal level, though she does a bit of work to get Charles built up to that point.  The idea of art being progressive, and being at the forefront of ideas and revolution, is something that is hammered home at the end of the book, with the last two of the possible endings.  Again, just going from memory, but it seems that Fowles “elevates” anything that could be considered revolutionary to ahead of its time to the realm of art. For instance, one of the times Darwin is mentioned, and held up as the epitome of progress, I believe a comment was made about it transcending science, or being bigger than science.

Darwin being often mentioned goes hand in hand with the string of evolution Fowles’ novel is run along. Woodruff seems to be someone who learns to adapt to her surroundings to succeed.  Like Darwin’s observation of birds with differently shaped beaks to allow them to thrive in their particular habitats, Woodruff seems to adapt what is necessary to live in Lyme Regis. However, these adaptations are not permanent, and they are chosen. As much as the environment appears to be shaping Woodruff, she is shaping herself to meet her own ends within that environment and, in the end, it all seems a great deception on her part. It seems this is necessary for her to become who she eventually becomes, and for at least one of the endings to become possible.

Now, there was about a hundred and fifty pages or so, from the middle to about the three-quarter mark, where I didn’t care at all about what was on the page. It just wasn’t interesting, it was slow, and I just wanted it to get to wherever it was going.  this felt like a magician taking more time to tell you how a trick is performed than just showing you the trick. The magician finds it enthralling, but his audience may not care half as much. I didn’t care half as much. part of it was that it was boring. Another part was that Fowles wanting to break that fourth wall and talk to the reader, letting the reader know that this is really a work done in the style of a Victorian novel, and isn’t it clever? got old. I know it’s not a Victorian novel, yes you’re being clever with it, now please get back to the story. His meta of his metafiction just turned me off for great gaps of it.

He pulled me back in with the three endings, though I never got back into it to the same degree as I was for the first two hundred pages.

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