Friday, July 24, 2015

The Giver by Lois Lowry - a review

The Giver (The Giver, #1)The Giver by Lois Lowry

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Reading The Giver right after finishing Williams' Stoner was a mistake. Now that I'm done with it, I feel like I had just completed a satisfying meal complimented by a delicious dessert, only to reach for a glass, take a sip, and find out it has sea water in it. My palate is ruined.

I must admit that, before writing this review, I looked at some of the reviews posted on Goodreads. I also must admit that either my literary tastes have been spoiled by past quality offerings, or that most of the [over one million] people who rated this book have no idea what quality fiction is. Whatever the real case might be, I feel sad.

Where should I begin? Oh yes, at the beginning. The Giver lacks originality. Those who read widely will probably find elements from other books and stories, done and overdone ad nauseum.

The premise of The Giver vaguely resembles the ideas put forth by Plato about 2500 years ago in his The Republic. The idea of a society where predetermined ideas replace choices for the greater benefit of an unknowing populace has also been explored in many utopian and dystopian books alike. Unlike the original proponents of such ideas, The Giver does not have a clear path to follow, as it dabbles in both utopia and dystopia without any clear direction. The entire book is composed of a fabric so full of holes, that an alert reader simply cannot take the information presented for granted.

Instance after instance, the reader is offered a 'fact' which contradicts reason, yet the author either does not consider the reader intelligent enough to see this, or valuable enough to bother with an explanation. Simply put, the author asks the reader to suspend disbelief without providing the necessary path for this to occur. To me, this is both insulting and a sign of laziness.

Let's assume, for a moment, that I was writing a novel, which takes place in a world where everyone walks. Suddenly, the protagonist takes off flying. As an author, I would have to create a backstory, a believable explanation why the protagonist has ability unique to him. Lowry, however, does not bother with explanations. Acts are presented as a matter of fact, despite their pertinence to the advancement of the plot, and there is no justification.

The plot itself, if it can be called that, is rather shallow at best. Imagine, for a moment, a society where feelings are superficial, emotions are unnecessary, and a ruling body makes choices for the populace, which is unaware of the lack of reality, that ensure the smooth continuation of the utopia. Then, out of the blue, a boy with a power to see beyond (unexplained) is told that he was selected to carry the pain of memories for the entire community (again, no explanation why the regular citizens do not have memories, emotions, et cetera). The boy begins to receive memories, both painful and joyful, and mentions to his teacher that it would be better if all citizens had memories. The teacher agrees, but reasons that he has thought the same for ages, and could not find a way for it to happen. The teacher recalls an incident where an earlier apprentice quit and the memories transmitted to her escaped and entered the citizens. Suddenly, he and the boy realize that this is the way to enable the citizens to have memories, and they hatch a plan for the boy to escape the community so that, once he leaves, the memories he has will return and enter the population. Wow. Really? Ahem . . . boring. There are so many holes in this, and the author does not bother with any explanations. How are the memories contained within only one individual? How do the memories leave that individual and enter the population? How come the memories cannot leave the physical boundaries of the community but the individual can? Why does the 'giver' not leave himself do accomplish this? Why did it take him ages to figure this out? How come no one has done it before?

Okay, what am I, an idiot?

Thus, as a utopian/dystopian tale, this fails.

Some, however, view this as a coming of age story, since Jonas (the protagonist) has an awakening and finds his consciousness. Again, I cannot view this work seriously as a coming of age story, because the awakening is mediocre at best, and the required character arc is lacking. Jonas might have had an awakening, but it was nothing groundbreaking. It was more like: Oh, I have a power. Oh, I'm learning things. Hey, my father has been lying to me! Okay, this should stop. I'm outta here before they kill the baby, which recently entered my life.

The story had the potential to explore the disenchanted nature of the protagonist, the buildup and the excitement of discovering the truth, only to have the weight of the truth crush him. It had the potential to explore inner turmoil, the will to rise against injustice, deception, and the wrong rule. But it did not. It presented the tale in an arc that was rather flat.

The plot and characters aside, I found the writing somewhat dull. It lacked on many levels.

In conclusion, I must admit that I am, perhaps, more critical in my review than necessary. Nevertheless, in light of the countless glowing reviews posted on Goodreads by English Majors, educators, and readers, I feel it is my duty to be critical. When numerous books of higher literary merit are overlooked and virtually unknown, a book awarded the Newbery Medal should live up to the standards associated with that prestigious award. Looking back at it, I do not see why it was awarded.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Stoner by John Williams - a review

StonerStoner by John Williams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having read the last pages and having said my farewell to a man who had kept me company for the past few days, it is with a certain sadness that I gaze upon the closed covers of Stoner, a novel which manages to divide friends and foes alike. Fortunately for me, I came to meet Stoner with an open mind, paying no heed to the numerous reviews already written.

I met William Stoner during a warm summer evening. He entered quietly, hardly drawing any attention to himself as the opening lines laid the crux of his life bare before my eyes. There was an odd familiarity to him from the start . . . at first, I thought of Hamsun and his Hunger, even, perhaps, of Camus' Mersault. Yet, the more I read, the more familiar he became, (a cast of characters flashed through my mind - Severin, Don Quixote, Cornelius Conlon, Dr. Rieux, Cosimo, even the old drunk Chinaski) and I realized that Stoner was all of them and more.

What do all these characters have in common? They are the reflections of us, of our trials and tribulations, of our shared pain. They are human, faulty and beautiful at the same time, and we can relate to them because inside every one of them we find a little bit of ourselves. When I looked at William Stoner, I found a lot more than I would be comfortable admitting.

The novel itself is rather simple, I must admit. Nevertheless, it is in the simplicity where lies its brilliance. It lacks any plot to speak of. Instead, John Williams used a straightforward linear narrative to establish the form of a man, and then slowly proceeded to peel away layer after layer to expose the intricate human being beneath the out-of-style clothing.

William Stoner is not exactly a likeable human being, but he is a sympathetic one nonetheless. I could not help but to feel empathy towards him, from his childhood to his rough entry into the world of academia to his descent into a pitiful existence where only habit and custom kept him going. William Stoner is neither a hero nor a villain, but he is profoundly human. A vulnerable human being hiding beneath a callused shell, a man who is driven by the pureness of thought without any regard for his own advancement, whether at work or at home.

Obstacle after obstacle, Stoner does not really overcome his woes, with the exception of one small victory, which he did not even desire. Rather, he grows numb. Comfortably numb, but numb nonetheless. Yet, as he does, he does not do so for his own sake. Most of the time, for the sake of being left to be himself, he is selflessly putting up with whatever life throws at him. And even when, finally, he begins to enjoy life while he has an affair, it ends with pain brought about by the need to protect others rather than himself.

In a way, Stoner has to be both admired and chastised. His life has a purpose, but that purpose was realized upon an external impulse. His own decisions, often noble yet misguided, merely advance his fall. His suffering is not spectacular, yet it is constant and universal to a degree that we can all relate to in one way or another.

Stoner is one of those rare books that do not shake your world, but help you realize more of it. It is a masterful study of man torn apart. It is philosophical in its simplicity and approach, yet existential in its progression and conclusion. It is, undoubtedly, a work of literature, and it just might be the best American novel of the past fifty years.

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

A couple of special deals

This past weekend, Amazon US ran a discounted promo on Mad Days of Me trilogy. In my opinion, the event was a success, so I decided to extend the offer to our fellow readers across the pond in the UK (Amazon currently does not support countdown deals in other markets).

Mad Days of Me, the complete trilogy is currently available on Amazon UK for 0.99 (less than a pound) through July 18, 2015. If you enjoy an original storyline, multifaceted characters, and some spectacular background (Barcelona, Ibiza, Southern France, Italy, Austria), than this might be a story for you. Don;t let the low price deceive you - there are 800+ pages of unconditional realism between the (digital) covers.

You can check out Mad Days of Me here:

Also, I'm currently running a Kindle Countdown deal on my poetry collection, The Silence Before Dawn. This is taking place in both US and UK. Same deal, 0.99 in your local currency, and it is good through July 19 in the US, and July 20 in the UK.

The Silence Before Dawn is an avant-garde collection of 73 poems compiled within five categories:

Relationships: Reflections upon love, fragile feelings, and the pain that comes with loving.

Thoughts: A look into the poet’s soul, where anything goes.

Confessions of a Troubled Soul: Deepest desires and simple reflections, mainly the product of the poet’s twisted mind.

Tickling the Surreal: Welcome to the border of reality . . .
a personal outlook at our surroundings.

The Noise After Sunrise: Revisiting places that touched the poet’s soul, and a look at the brighter side the rising sun reveals.

Amazon UK deal:

Amazon US deal:

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

800+ pages for $0.99 on July 10

Well, you read that right. From July 10 to July 12, 2015, you can get the entire Mad Days of Me trilogy ebook for less than a dollar. That's six years of writing and 800+ pages of a story like no other out there.

There is no catch, but this edition is exclusive to Kindle, so you'll have to get it here: Amazon

Don't be alarmed by the lack of reviews - this puppy just came out. If you really want to know what other readers and reviewers thought of the books, check out the reviews for any of the three books in the trilogy (Escaping Barcelona, Finding Eivissa, Eluding Reality).

So, what is this book really about?

Sorry, I can't give you a simple, one line synopsis a la boy meets a girl and they live happily ever after as soon as they slay some mysterious creature and save the world from itself. It's a bit more complicated than that.

Nevertheless, here is an attempt:

Rudy, a nineteen-year old runway finds himself half-naked outside a subway station in a city whose language he doesn't speak. Without his passport and with the odds of survival stacked against him, Rudy embarks on an epic journey in search of inner peace and an escape from the city that holds him hostage. This journey turns into a complex love affair with a woman who saved his life, but hides as many skeletons from her past as he does. Faced with the prejudices of a small island community, a crooked cop who wants her for himself, and their own struggles, the couple's future is in peril. While battling inner demons and PTSD,  their relationship traverses four countries as Rudy seeks himself in order to be the man he needs to be for the woman he loves. Unconditionally realistic, Mad Days of Me is a story of the human spirit, its endurance, and the power of dreaming.