Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Review!

Interview With the Vampire (The Vampire Chronicles, #1)Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For me, Anne Rice is in the upper stratosphere of sensual writing. I've never known a writer who can so immediately and profoundly immerse you in a scene, and she seems to do it with very little effort. For example, writers have endeavored for a century to explain to their readers the difference between living as a human and living as a vampire. Sometimes the experience is an allusion, made between the lines. Sometimes it is more heavy-handed, and the vampire is left to vulgar displays of power to get the point across. But in Anne Rice's world, it's done through an interview.

This is the book that started it all for me. Before this book, I admired writers and I flirted with the idea of writing. After this book I decided I could do nothing else but write, and I had to start right away to capture the world around me in my mind and translate it into words. I had to make people feel, I had to force them to weep, even if their lives were roses and champagne.

Perhaps, then, you're wondering why I've not given this book a full five stars. You have to understand, the first time I took the trip with Louis and Lestat and Claudia, I was an adolescent, and my life was full of angst and the certainty that I could never be understood. The book does a magnificent job of exploiting that feeling of being lost and alone, the only one of your kind in a world filled with Others. To be fair, I decided recently to return to the humid New Orleans of this vampire tale.

Anne Rice's writing is just as I remembered it: Florid, full, rich, and sensual without being overly sexual (if you're looking for sexual, however, I insist you read her "Sleeping Beauty" books). What's more, she knows how to take full advantage of the contract signed by both writer and reader when a book is opened, the agreement to suspend disbelief, the willingness to escape reality and unplug from cynicism and trust yourself to the writer and their manipulation of your perspective. She plunges you into Louis' grief from the outset, and that grief only briefly lifts in moments of contentment, but for the most part, it transforms to true despair.

That's why I couldn't give it a full five stars. The world has a broader horizon for me now, and being trapped underwater with that sadness for so long felt a bit like I was being taken advantage of by a demonic writer with an agenda. I wanted to shake the vampire and tell him to get over himself already, to stop being so paranoid and self-centered, and to shit or get off the pot.

Even so -- there's nothing to do but give deep respect to the book that made writing an imperative for me. I honor Anne Rice and, even after all these years, I find myself a member of Team Lestat.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Book Review!

Brave New WorldBrave New World by Aldous Huxley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ahh, Dystopia. You're a place everyone writes about, but nobody really wants to visit. You're the land in which we all face our darkest fears and learn about ourselves -- our hopes, our skepticism, our optimism, and our certainty of both failure and success despite the steepest odds.

Aldous Huxley's Dystopia is one of the most mildly horrifying places I've ever imagined. The simple question of "is happiness more important than free will?" is answered by removing ambition from 80% of society through selective breeding and programming. What's left is a spoiled upper crust and a genetically inferior series of lower castes who are raised to aspire no further than their own stations. Anxieties and stress are buried under a drug called soma. Motherhood is not only terrifying, but vulgar to these bottle-born people. The extent of their human connection is sexual, but constant, which prevents individuals from thinking too much and coming to the conclusion that this reality is totally bug-nuts.

Add to the mix a traditionally-born "savage" named John, through whose horrified eyes we get to truly appreciate the level of this society's depravity. His honest emotions are met with confusion. His attempts to woo a woman -- not just to be his bed partner for a night, to which she would readily agree, but to be his exclusively, for life -- scare her away. He becomes estranged from the automaton-like constant happiness of "civilization," but even after he finds a solitary place for himself, he's hounded by those who offer him happiness with no content and no meaning.

The last scene is one that will haunt me.

Do I think that society could ever come to such a pass? Thanks to Huxley's exposé, I do not, but it's a close thing, and I owe him a debt of gratitude -- because, just between me, you, and the computer screen, I find myself wishing for a little soma right now.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

How I really feel about Google+ (30 days in)

Google+ is not facebook. That is the most important thing anyone needs to know about it. In many ways, Google+ has features that resemble (some would say "mimic") facebook, and why not? Facebook has become famous for its intuitive and easy-to-follow interface. Nobody is going to launch a social media platform that is more difficult to follow.

However, the two platforms are quite different. I'm going to try to break it down, and I'm going to do it with liberal metaphors (because that's how I roll).

Facebook is famous for making relationships mutual. Twitter is famous for removing the mutual element of relationships by making the decision to "follow" someone exclusive to the follower. The relationship is the difference between asking someone for their phone number (facebook) and subscribing to the newspaper (twitter). What Google+ has done is like straddling the middle ground: You can now "follow" someone and see their facebook-style updates, video posts, blogs, etc. Google+ gives that same someone the opportunity to block you from their facebook-style content, but more on that some other time.

In that way, Google+ is ideal for professional groups, like LinkedIn. In a matter of hours, I'd amassed a Google+ Circle of nearly 100 writers, and I'm adding more daily. That doesn't really happen on facebook, at least, not as fast or as intuitively. It's simple to build a huge network on Google+ because all you really have to do is hover your mouse over someone's name and presto, you're given the opportunity to add them to one of your circles so you can see their updates going forward.

Also, you can control your update feed using those same Circles. Sometimes I just want to see what my friends are up to; just like in facebook, I can choose to see those updates only. If I want to see what the publishing/writing world is up to, I go to that stream.

So where does Google+ fit in with my life?

I never really grasped the point of twitter. I don't like condensing my thoughts down to a character count, because, as a writer, I'm verbose by nature. I know that concise discourse is a good thing, but for the most part, when I'm trying to tell a story about an event, or set up a joke, I run out of room on twitter. Besides, I don't get the immediate graphic payload from it that I get from facebook; when I want to see someone's photo on twitter, I have to click a link. Not so with facebook. I'm just lazy, I suppose.

Google+ is my new twitter. It's an easy-access, higher-graphic-satisfaction version of that platform, and I'm going to use it to network like mad. For personal things, until my friends and family find their way to Google+, I'll be on facebook . . .but I would definitely like to eventually abandon facebook altogether. Maintaining multiple social identities is exhausting.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Book Review!

Vows, Vendettas and a Little Black Dress (Sophie Katz, Book 5)Vows, Vendettas and a Little Black Dress by Kyra Davis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm at a bit of a loss. After all, I *like* Kyra Davis. I *like* Sophie Katz. I *like* everyone in this book, pretty much; I mean, there are the good guys and the bad guys, and I'm not foolish enough to say that the bad guys were overly likable, but all of Sophie's friends held true to their (rather caricatured) personalities. The thing is, I think that I might be growing out of this series.

It's nothing really that Kyra is doing wrong, it's just turning a bit away from the mystery aspect and turning more into an exploration of relationships and maturity, and that can be pretty hard to maintain from inside the confines of this genre. Further, you know how I mentioned that the characters are caricatures? You can't get too complex feelings- and emotion-wise when you're dealing with Ditzy Blonde, Gorgeous Gay Guy, and Hunky Russian Guy.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's hard to play with Barbies after a certain age. I don't know that I will pick up the next one, and that's tragic, because for the most part, I really do like Kyra's style.

(Lastly: how many times can you use the word "hedge" as a verb? *sigh*)

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book Review!

Slumdog Millionaire: The Shooting ScriptSlumdog Millionaire: The Shooting Script by Simon Beaufoy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh my gosh, so good.

I haven't watched the movie yet. I can only hope it holds its own against this masterful epic. The story isn't so much about the quiz show as it is about Thomas's life, his loves, and his efforts to overcome the deprivations of his youth and achieve lasting happiness for himself -- but especially for all those people he loves. Through it all, he remains as honest, upright, and good-hearted as any street kid can be.

If you loved Oliver Twist, you'll love this book.

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