My Grandfather

I love Autumn. I love October. Leaves are changing, the spooky nature of the world is being celebrated, the weather is cooling off and nights are growing long and, most importantly, I got married in October! Tomorrow will make two years since my wife and I said “I Do.” The last two years have flown by and we’ve fallen more in love with each passing day. It definitely doesn’t seem like two years, so it’s a little hard to believe. But it’s harder to believe that it has been 13 years since my grandfather passed away.

As happy as the month makes me, October 3 is one of the hardest days of the year for me. October 3 was my grandfather’s birthday. For 13 years I’ve woken up knowing what day it is and knowing that I won’t be able to tell him to enjoy the day, or tell him how much he means to me. My grandfather was the biggest male role model I had growing up. From the time I was a little kid I can remember staying with my grandparents and knowing, if I didn’t wake up as he was leaving (or if he didn’t take me with him) that he would be gone fishing until at least breakfast time – closer to noon if he was having good luck. When he came in and ate he would immediately go outside and spend hours prepping or taking care of his garden, often while I “helped.”

The man wore hats and flannel nearly every day of his life, his white hair often sticking out below the back just a little, protecting the lightest part of his dark skin, the Native American blood in him more obvious than ever at the end of a nice long summer. In the winter he wouldn’t shave, a habit left over from the days he farmed for a living, knowing the best trick to keep the winter wind from biting too much was to keep as much body heat in as possible. I can still remember him teasing me if I got a haircut during the winter months, telling me I’d freeze if I wasn’t careful.

He and my grandmother raised their 3 children on a farm-hand’s wages, moving where the work took them and providing what they could for their kids. Retirement was kinder to him, my grandmother working when he was no longer able. He wasn’t a shirker by any means, working through at least one heart attack without stopping, only finding out he’d had it later on. Even after he stopped working for a living, he farmed and fished nearly every day of his life. Only the most extreme heat or cold could keep him from the water most of the time, and he always produced enough crop to feed most of the family – even just working out of his own backyard.

He saw the world much differently than others, in more ways than one. Being blind in one eye, he had to learn to do everything in his own way, but it never slowed him down. He could fix most things wrong with the family vehicles, could do basic home repair – and he could tie a hook on a fishing line as fast as anyone I’ve ever seen. He also wasn’t much for what he called ‘putting on airs.’ You are who you are, and there’s no reason to hide it. That’s one of many lessons from him I’ll never forget. From the time my grandfather opened his mouth until he closed it he was as real with you as anyone in the world, never pretending to be something he wasn’t. He loved good jokes, and loved to laugh – but he hated nonsense.

I can remember the sound of his laugh even now as I told him my lame jokes, and I remember how quickly that laughter dried up whenever someone turned on a goofy 90’s Jim Carrey movie. If he didn’t like something he made it obvious, and if he didn’t want to be somewhere he left. It was always easy to tell when he didn’t want to be around someone, because he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t be rude to them, but if someone came in a room that he didn’t want to be around he would silently stand and leave. I think he realized that life is too short to waste it doing things that don’t make you happy. Of course, I like to think he had a lot of life’s answers tucked away in his hat somewhere, so maybe I’m putting a philosophical spin where one wasn’t intended.

I could write about my memories of him and tell stories of how, as I got older, my grandfather would talk on the phone with me for hours sometimes, even though we just lived across town from each other – but when we went fishing together the talking was minimal and hushed, so as not to scare the fish away.Of his grandchildren I think I was the only one that had the connection with him I did. We had our understandings and we liked many of the same things. We could sit in a room together for hours without uttering a word and could say all we needed to say in a moment.

I could tell any number of stories of how he was so selfless that he often went without in his own ways, wearing his clothes until they were threadbare and falling apart before he would worry about trying to buy a replacement. I live for hours in these memories sometimes, wishing for just one more day, one more hour to talk to him. Granted, I understand he wasn’t perfect. He smoked, he drank, he ate food that clogged his arteries and he lived life in an antiquated fashion. He was very much a product of his generation. But I think I would be the only one who would get the full effect of all of these stories and memories.

My grandfather would have been 76 years old today. So much has changed over the last 13 years. The world is nothing like it was when he left it. Technology has taken over, racism has become breaking news again, and everywhere we look there is a fear of bombs falling. I know none of these things would have changed him, though. He wouldn’t own a cellphone, and he certainly wouldn’t pay attention to things like vegan diets and low-carb foods. If there was ever a constant in my life, it would still be Calbert Mathews. He would get up at the crack of dawn and make coffee, watch a few minutes of the local news (I’d love to hear his opinion on his favorite weatherman retiring) and would hit the river bank or lakeside. Like clockwork he’d spend his afternoons weeding, tending the garden and resting on the porch until a little after sunset. I miss knowing that if I wanted to find him, there were usually only half a dozen places I’d have to look.

I often wonder, though, what he would think of me. He wasn’t one to talk about the future much, so I can’t be sure what he had in mind for me as I grew up. I chose a very different path than he did as I went on in life, picking books over farming equipment and writing over being a full time farmer. He always encouraged me in my reading, though. He maintained an interest in my grades and never seemed to mind if I did want to pick up a novel instead of weed the garden or fish. I had not made the decision to be a writer before his death, though. I would definitely like to have gotten his opinion on that. I wish I would have been able to see his face at my high school and college graduations- although I’m sure he would have ducked out and avoided the crowd after seeing me walk across the stage for each one. I wish I could have been able to hear his reaction when I told him I got my first post-college job or hear his frustrations that his house was just outside of the delivery range of the newspaper I worked at later on.

I would have loved to have seen him at my wedding, sure his dressy flannel shirt and fresh, clean jeans would have been perfect contrast to my own suit and Chuck Taylors. I’d give nearly anything to be able to pick up the phone and tell him that I still look up to him to this day. That his hard-working nature rubbed off on me, whether it is in a different field or not. That I strive to be myself as openly as possible and that I don’t ‘put on airs’ to make people think I’m someone I’m not. I like to think that he would be proud of the man I’ve become, the way I’ve handled myself and my life through thick and thin. I know one day I’ll see him in Heaven, and I look forward to seeing what he has to say about everything we never got to talk about. Until then, I have my memories, I have my mementos, and I have the strong will and morals that he provided me with – whether he knew it or not.

Happy birthday, Papaw. I love you and I miss you every day. I’ll see you again on God’s great golden shore and we’ll go fishing, or maybe just take a walk and catch up. It will be a glad reunion day.

It Matters

Have you ever been down and out, feeling like things were going all wrong and life was a bit much, but you encountered a piece of art that changed everything? Have you ever looked on or listened to something that completely altered your mood, your mindset, your attitude, your entire day – or even your life? If you haven’t, don’t worry, you’ll find it when you need it most. And if you have, I want you to take a moment to think about it. Remember what you felt both before and after. Remember the way it felt to have everything change in that moment. Go on, I’ll wait.

There. You remember? What does it make you feel now? Grateful? Surprised? Genuinely happy for the art and artist that changed, and may well have saved, your life? Good. I want you to hold on to that and never let it go. That is what art is. That’s what it does. That is the complete and entire reason it exists. It is motivation. It is inspiration. It is emotion. It is pure, unadulterated soul laid bare on a piece of paper or in a note of music. It is the very core and essence of human life, passed down to us by God, or the universe or whatever it is you choose to believe. Art, in every form, from painting to drawing to music and literature, is here to help us and inspire us, to allow us to lay down our burdens and look into the timeless web that connects each and every soul that was, is and shall ever be in this universe.

I was taking a small social media break today, despite the damaging effects of such things on one’s creative ability at times, and one of my oldest friends sent me a video of Jim Carrey. Now, I can take a wild guess and say that your minds automatically went to one of his hilarious and memorable film roles that have been forever embedded in our hearts and minds, but that wasn’t it. It was a video of Carrey talking, painting and discussing why he paints. In the video he discusses what painting is to him and what it can be to everyone, the release it gives, the fact that it saved his mind and soul from incredibly dark times. It inspired me so much I couldn’t stop myself. I had to share it, I had to write about, I had to obsess over it.

Carrey has always been one of my favorite actors, and his influence has meant so much to me over the years. I know the things he’s been through. I’ve followed his life and career fairly closely a good portion of the time and, while I don’t fully agree with everything he’s done, I get why he’s done it.

So often people just look at the slapstick, hilarity inducing roles Jim Carrey plays, but they don’t look at the man. He does that on purpose. He understands the world around him. He understands pain, and sadness and remorse and guilt – and he understands joy. He uses his presence, his influence in the world, to instill the latter because he knows the world is torn from the inside out by all the rest. He understands that if he can make just one person laugh, get one sad human being to just crack a smile, then he has gone a great distance toward healing the human heart. And that is immensely important.

To me it’s everything. If we, as artists, can use our gifts and talents and abilities instill that same joy, that same mirth, that same sense of happiness in at least one person, then things will be better. If you can relate to the feeling of needing something, anything, to make your life a little better, a little easier, a little happier, then you need to understand why you have the calling you do. If you take nothing else away from this, remember; when you have a calling – like Carrey’s comedy and his painting, like Bob Dylan’s music, like my writing – you don’t have it or use it just for you.

You use it because somewhere, somebody is needing exactly what you have to offer in whatever form you have to offer it in. Someone out there is struggling and, when they need it most, they’ll find your work – and it will change their life. You do it because one of the best and most worthwhile things we can have is to know that we made a difference in the world. You use it to fight as hard as you can to make this agonized rock a better place than you found it. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll succeed. Even if it’s just for one person. You’ll succeed.

I had to write this blog and share these ideas with you all, because there comes a time in every artist’s life that they question whether or not their work is even worth it. Whether the effort they are putting forth is ever going to make a difference for themselves or for someone else – whether or not any of it even matters. I’m here to tell each and every one of you now that it does. It absolutely does. I’ve said this before, but it’s well worth repeating; you have your ideas and your calling because there isn’t a single person out there who can produce what you can produce. Do you think artists like Van Gogh woke up every day and felt like painting? Do you think anyone in the history of the world has ever lived without experiencing at least a twinge of doubt, depression, even outright disgust at what they do? No. But they fought through. Van Gogh battled crippling depression to become one of the most famous and most notable artists in history. Edgar Allan Poe fought depression and a lifetime of death and despair to become one of the most prolific writers to ever live. Your gift matters. Your talent matters. Your work matters. You matter. Just keep going. Never give up. Even if you don’t see it pay off, someone else will. It’s all being produced for a reason.

Jim Carrey has always been a huge influence on me, and continues to be so. I’d love to meet him, spend just five minutes of time with him. I’d never be the same. I know that some of his work has made a huge impact on me, and I’m so glad I stumbled across that video at a time when I needed it most. I hope this blog has done something to help at least one person who was going through a tough time and questioning their work. If it has, then I’ve already succeeded. Please share it where it may be needed in the hopes that someone else in need may get a glimpse of it as well. Oh, and if any of you happen to have Jim Carrey’s number, feel free to pass my info along. I’d like to thank him myself.

Have a good day, and keep up the good work, everyone.

The Circle

This book was incredible. The parallels between this and other dystopian thrillers are immensely weighty. At times it was like I was literally reading a prequel to 1984. I was very eager to dive into this book after seeing a trailer for the movie in theaters a few months or so ago (I know, I know, sue me), and I knew I couldn’t see the movie without first reading the book! I finished the novel well before the release of the movie, which comes out today, so there are no worries there. Enough small talk, though; let’s jump right in.

First and foremost, as I said before, this book almost read like it could be a prequel to 1984. The ideas of the Circlers and their almost incessant need to make everything known was incredibly ominous. I can’t count the times that I thought it was almost like watching the development of Big Brother. The cameras, the mandatory participation, all the way to the ending. That ending! Man!

We enter the story with Mae, who seems just as innocent as one would imagine; a small-town girl moving to this huge opportunity. We see that she (and some around her) understands just how much bigger than her The Circle really is. As Mae immerses herself in the work she is given, we see her start to open up a little, but she has many questions. There are many instances where people like Eamon Bailey and others make comments about knowledge and the fact that they feel everything should be known. Mae is very taken aback by this idea at first. It seems like she understands the importance The Circle has in the future of the world, but she also sees the importance of privacy and separation. This quickly seems to die out.

Mae keeps herself slightly distant from The Circle at first, not attending many parties, leaving campus a lot and generally letting herself live as if she was working a standard 9-5 job. She left The Circle behind when she left The Circle. This didn’t work for the company. They addressed this a few times before Mae was faced with a situation that really threw her out of herself. In the middle of trying to fit in and find herself in The Circle family, Mae has some sexual encounters with a young, shy man named Francis and a slightly older, mysterious and impossible to find man who only tells her his name is Kalden. These encounters do a little bit of work towards making Mae a closer part of The Circle and helping her focus on the job itself. But this work is nothing compared to what happens as her parents continue to deal with her father’s MS and associate with her ex-boyfriend, Mercer. She had slowly grown more accustomed to being more open and public with her life, but it was Mercer’s first big resistant moment that made it sink in for her. He more or less told her that she was a part of what was wrong with the world, saying The Circle was crossing too many lines and she needed to grow up and see the truth. She left her parents house that night and had the experience that lead to her becoming the poster-child for citizen transparency.

Mae getting arrested really broke something in her, I think. The fear she felt at knowing she could lose her position changed how she looked at everything, and Eamon Bailey helped push that through her head. He encouraged her to feel that showing everyone everything at all times was the best way to live her life. This way of thinking, needless to say, was a game changer.

Mae started wearing her camera and documenting everything, helping The Circle with its attempt at closing in on the world and consuming everything to be consumed. The story really gains so much weight at this point. Mae slowly becomes a different person. She goes from a girl who is mortified at the thought of one person seeing her perform a moderate sexual act to being perfectly fine with taking millions of followers into the bathroom with her. The Circle’s (for lack of a better term; or is this the best term?) brainwashing of Mae really culminates and reaches its most dangerous level when she speaks up and suggests developing the mandatory voting technology that is Demoxie. The very name of this program, to me, sounds like poison. Demoxie influences everyone around the world to make their voice heard, which, although a great idea, has consequences. In addition to recording the answers, The Circle has the power to record who answers, and how. Much like Mae was able to look and see who voted her as not being awesome in a demonstration of the technology (that in itself is an experience that really allowed us to see into the damaged psyche Mae has developed, or maybe just revealed, through the text), any government organization may have been able to convince The Circle to allow them to see how its citizens voted. For that matter, Circlers themselves have access to the information. Anyone who may have voted against a popular idea could thus be singled out for their voices.

The real life-changer for this comes when Mae is given control over the technology to look for people – any person – all over the world. The first instance is likely helpful. Circlers and audience members are able to help find a fugitive and bring her to justice. But then Mae decides to take the situation further. She decides she wants to look for Mercer, who had AWOL after deciding to go “off the grid” in an attempt to hide from Mae and The Circle.

This search would have been all fine and dandy, had she known when to call off the dogs. I literally cringed as I read how intense the unnecessary chase scene became after Circle followers tracked Mercer to a house in the woods. He fled in fear and anger as Circlers and Mae followed him with no explanation as to why. Mae used The Circle’s technology to literally chase Mercer to his death. He drove off a bridge because he became so desperate to find a way to get away from the power of The Circle. That moment was very powerful to me.  I feel like it represented everyone who has ever stood up to a government or an organization that has too much power. There is so much that can be said about that scene, that idea.

But Mae couldn’t see it. She was wounded by his death, but not enough. Kalden (who turned out to be Ty, the FOUNDER of The Circle) tried to get her to  help him shut the whole thing down before it became too powerful. But she wouldn’t have it. She couldn’t. She talked so many times of feeling the black tear in her mind, her soul, and by the end of the book she was convinced the tear, rather than representing the innocence and humanity that was being walled off, represented “not knowing”, which is something The Circle was strongly against, of course.

The final insight we really get into Mae’s mind is all it took for me to both lose the last of my respect for her character and make me want ten more books. Mae’s friend Annie has literally become comatose due to the stresses of The Circle (can we be sure it isn’t something Bailey or Stenton did on purpose?) and all Mae can think about is how she finds it an unbelievable injustice that she can’t see into her friend’s mind. She can’t read the thoughts of the woman who is lying on the bed in front of her. Obviously, my first thought here was the budding idea for the Thought Police, but I digress.

Overall, I thought this book was absolute genius. David Eggers did an amazing job, and I look forward to checking out other works from him. From the time I started reading until the last word, I was enthralled. That being said, this book isn’t exactly the type of thing I typically choose to read for pleasure. But it’s easily in my list of top books. Whether that’s top 50, top 25, or even top 100, I couldn’t begin to tell you. I’ve read so much that the list does change fairly often. But this one is there. The style Eggers wrote this book in is very conversational and matter-of-fact. I didn’t get hung up on any dialogue issues and I don’t recall anything that was over-exaggerated or unclear.

My biggest compliment and biggest complaint for the book would likely be the same. It was very open-ended. From the point we leave Mae, as she considers talking to the founders about finding a way to expose thoughts to the same transparency as everything else, I feel like anything could happen. We know that Kalden (Ty) is still a part of The Circle, but we don’t know where, in what capacity, or what punishment may have been applied to his position. In other words; we have no idea of his motives, or if the mention of his position is even correct. They may well have just told Mae that as a cover. If it is true, what’s to stop him from either continuing to attempt to coerce Mae, or find someone else to help him overthrow the totalitarian organization that grew from his brainchild? Even more, I still feel like there is some way Mercer could be alive. Maybe he jumped from the truck and clung to the bottom of that bridge until it was safe to walk away. Maybe Ty knows this and he’s going to work with Mercer to overthrow The Circle. One way or another, I do think there’s enough possibility to bring this idea back for another round. Come on Eggers, what do you think?

Regardless, this was a great book and it really makes you think about the dangers of continuing down the path of total technological control that we are going on. What did you think of it? Do you agree with Mae that knowledge should supersede privacy? Or should we cherish the privacy of the independent human? There are so many questions! And for that matter, there are so many things that I didn’t really have the space to address here (the terrible things this expansion of knowledge uncovered about Annie’s family, for one) that I would love to hear your thoughts on. Leave me comments or send me messages and let’s have some great discussion on this book! As always, share your ideas for future books at any time and let’s spread the club far and wide.

We’re off to see the wizard

I hope everyone enjoyed this month’s book. It was definitely a treat, as most books are for me. This month, of course, we read L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” I have to make the obvious statement here and say that the 1938 musical has surpassed the book in popularity for the most part. Because of this it was a little difficult to differentiate between the two at first. Once I began reading the book again, it became pretty easy to notice the difference – particularly Dorothy’s projected age and the entire ending of the movie. I also have to make a full disclaimer here; the movie has long been one of my favorites (the Cowardly Lion being my favorite character, if you’re wondering), so this was great!

No matter the differences, I really enjoyed the book. Baum presented a world that both called for a lot of description and didn’t need much at all. The great thing about this book is the matter-of-fact nature of it all. Baum presents the book in a quick, easy, conversational tone. When he’s describing things like the lion, the Emerald City, the Munchkins, he does so in such a way that we don’t have to think about it. He presents the descriptions of his world so simply that we don’t even question what we’re reading. That’s the mark of not only a great children’s book, but a great author in general. He doesn’t overdo it, he doesn’t underplay it, he just SAYS IT.

The witty remarks by the scarecrow remain one of the best parts of the book, in my opinion. Satire was a strong part of literature at the time this book was published, and I loved seeing it float across the pages here in the dialogue of the “brainless” character. Scarecrow considers himself stupid, but remains one of the smartest characters in the novel. His comments on intelligence and nature are something that really leads the book in some parts.

The story of the tin man is very fun to look at here as well. The wicked witch cursed his axe and caused him to cut himself to bits, but he somehow managed to be rebuilt out of tin. Ironically enough, the craftsman managed to put his brain and nervous system into the tin body, but somehow couldn’t figure out how to make the heart work. But again, that’s a kid’s book for you.

The really interesting thing about the book, for me was that Dorothy was cool with all of this. She went about her way in Oz barely questioning anything, which takes me back to Baum’s style. We don’t question, because Dorothy doesn’t have to. I think the characterization here does speak to a difference in the personality and upbringing of children now compared to 100 years ago. Dorothy’s house gets picked up by a tornado and she just goes to sleep and wakes up in this random place with a bunch of little people to find out her house landed on someone and killed them. Now any one of those things would be enough to cause a kid to freak out and need all kinds of therapy and everything else. Dorothy was like “Oh bother. I bet Aunt Em misses me. Let’s set out across this weird country and ask a wizard for help.” Granted that was more or less her only option (unless of course we look a little deeper into the fact that the good witches knew the shoes could send her straight home but chose to endanger her life rather than just tell her), so it’s a little understandable. But honestly, even in my mid 20’s I can’t say that I wouldn’t freak out at least a little in a similar situation.

I wasn’t overly wild about the speed of the book, I must admit. It may just be me, but I felt like we were no sooner introduced to a new, weird species of animal of some strange race of people than they were little more than a memory. For instance we come across the hammer-heads and within minutes Dorothy calls on the flying monkeys to help them out. The entire scene involving the new race lasts maybe two pages and we barely have time to digest their existence. I’m aware there are a ton more Oz books, and these characters may come back, but it was  little off putting to see that buildup only result in  a couple of lines of description, almost no dialogue and then they’re a thing of the past. This happens a few times in the book, and it kind of makes it feel like Baum runs through it a bit too quickly. It could be fleshed out a fair amount, in my opinion. But that’s alright. It all works out in the end, and gives us a very beloved book.

What did you guys think? Are you fans of the classic? Or would you just as soon stick with the movie? Do you like the way the children’s book element plays out here? Hopefully you’ve been enjoying the book club and enjoying the books we cover. As always, I look forward to next month’s selection and I hope to hear all of your opinions about it. This month I want to look into a good dystopian work that can really make us think about the state of the world. In other words, let’s get paranoid! Make your suggestions below or message me! Tell me what you thought of the book and let’s keep reading, guys. Share this as far and wide as you can and help me get eyes on it!

Preparing for dystopia

The world has certainly kept turning since January 20. But that’s really the only way we can say it. Global citizens have watched, many in unabashed horror, as the new leader of the free world has stomped on countless toes and attempted to create little more than an industrial, alienating wasteland of our once-great country. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the U.S.. I still see that, as a citizen of the United States I have countless opportunities to see and explore the world in ways others may not, and I fully respect the great country I live in. But the danger is here nonetheless.

Just in the last month we have heard about how certain people should be banned (but not banned) from the country, we’ve heard that actually counting the heads of those present to get a number is clearly a dated practice that doesn’t mean anything, we’ve heard how large a threat grizzly bears pose to the public school system, and we’ve realized that some people think an industrial pipeline is more important than preserving the resting place of the dead. And that’s just the drop of the hat.

I have kept my over-sized nose out of the discussions of politics that are rampant on every form of news and social media available, but I do want to share my very real concern for how much worse things may realistically end up getting before they get better.

Just today I’ve been seeing the news of an overturned regulation that now allows coal mines in my region to once more dump their waste into streams. This particular practice has led to filthy, sulfurous, uninhabitable water for a good portion of my area. The repercussions of this practice have only recently started to see a reversal. I honestly fear what problems may start to arise from these things alone. I look to the future and, sometimes, I find myself unable to see little more than a ruined, smoking hole in the ground that is not unlike the disaster showed us at the climax of countless apocalyptic movies. But, (and on a much less serious note)it would appear Mother Nature has also picked up on the problem and is working to rectify the situation.

Thousands of people in my region have been hit by a severe strain of the flu this week, leading to around a dozen counties in my neck of the woods going so far as to cancel school for multiple days in an attempt to slow the spread of the illness. I hope I’m not the only one who sees the truth here. We are now entering the real-life culmination of the events in Stephen King’s “The Stand” – and our new president is Randall Flagg.

What other explanation is there? He walks out, looking somehow less than human, feeding off of human suffering and strife, turning as many people as possible against one another, while the rest of the people around him are fighting a severe version of the flu that medicine doesn’t seem to be able to help. Schools are closing, streets are filling with people shouting for change and help, hospitals are being overrun …. My only question now is; where is Mother Abigail when we need her? Who else is going to throw down the Walkin’ Dude and bring us back to a moderate form of social peace? Or, if that can’t happen, where is Roland, who will stop the fall of the tower and bring order back to the realms. Shout out to those of you get the interconnected references of a King fiend here.

In all seriousness, though. There are some administrative decisions being made by “those in charge” that are going to continue to cause problems for those of us who, like Atlas, are left holding up the rest of the world. Wow, that was pathetically conceited and hopelessly deep. I’m in a league of my own today, huh? Basically I just wanted to share that the world is slipping into rough shape, but that we can still survive and use humor to get through life. Most importantly, we can compare the real-life horror story that surrounds us to literature and find true peace to comfort us as the world burns!

I’ve shared my own ideas of the lack of existence of true democracy many times, so none of you really need to hear that again, I’m sure. So the question of the day must be; what book are you reading now? What fictional world are you pushing your consciousness into in order to escape the harsh mundane reality of everyday life? And, more importantly, what’s next?! I hope all is well for everyone here, and I hope I’ve at least brought a smile to a few faces. Keep reading, writing, watching movies and enjoying the world while we have the chance. My review of Thirteen Reasons Why will go up next week and then I’ll be ton the lookout for the next big review, so send me your ideas and let me know what we should read. Have a good February, a good weekend, and make sure to take advantage of any half-priced candy you see!

 

*Image rights remain with the creator.

Book number four, and special announcement

Hey everyone! It’s that time again! I’m really getting back into being able to have book discussions with those willing to participate. I’ve gotten a lot of satisfaction out of these last few months and I hope things will start to pick up even more and we’ll get more interaction soon. Regardless, the time has come to pick up this month’s book.

This particular book was suggested by one of my former teachers and a woman whom I have the utmost respect for. Mrs. Presley, of Tazewell high School, made this suggestion because some of her students have asked to cover the book. The piece in question, another YA novel, is the 2007 work “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher. This is a book that has kind of been on the back of my radar since my wife was asked to read it for a YA college course a few years ago. I really look forward to diving into the piece, but I have to admit that it may not be for everyone.

The book details the aftermath of a girl who committed suicide. She left 13 tapes for those who are responsible for or contributed to her suicide. For those of you who may face emotional pain, it may not be the best book to read, but I think it can be handled if it is read with care. Either way, I look very forward to this book and the discussion that will follow!

In other news; I don’t know if anyone noticed, but this blog is officially over 100 posts! That is just awesome. I’ve been blogging for around four years in total (of course, not all of those posts exist here). Of course, it has been touch and go at times, and some months were better than others, but it’s been something I’ve worked hard at improving. In light of the great news of the blog’s development, I decided that it was high time for an extra special giveaway!

For those of you who may not have seen the news before, I have been working on revamping my existing collection with updated stories, and perhaps some new material. The plan after that is to put the newly remade piece on a different platform and finally get it put in print! This is something I’ve been wanting to do for some time. Unfortunately I am also somewhat terrified of this prospect and have found reason after reason to put it off. But I’m done with that. I’m ready to get my work out to a new audience and see what else awaits!

In case you’re wondering why I brought this up again, it’s pretty simple. I want to give away that print book! Right now I’m planning to give away at least one signed copy of the book. All you have to do to enter the giveaway is like, comment on or share this post. The comment can be anything from giving me a book suggestion or telling me what you’ve thought about the blog in your time checking it out. Feel free to give me any and all suggestions on anything and everything you want. Everyone who does this will be entered to win an exclusive autographed first edition copy of this collection once it’s in print. I plan to run this contest until March 1, so we’ll have plenty of people to choose from!

Share this post far and wide to help me get the word out on both the book and the giveaway, ladies and gents! I look  forward to keeping everything going, and here’s to another 100!

The 5th Wave

The first thing I have to say about this book is that it was incredible. Simply fantastic. In my opinion, if you’re ever tired of reading standard literature, contemporary adult fiction or anything of the sort, pick up a YA novel. Young adult is one genre type that I always try to keep up with, and it always keeps me on my toes. Personally I’m a little sad that I didn’t decide to just do the entire trilogy with this review, but I don’t think any of us have time to read that much in one month!

Diving right in, I think the style of this book is very familiar and interesting. It falls in with the usual tropes associated with YA novels, and it is very easy to relate to. The fact that Yancey basically plays alongside the fourth wall the entire time is something that I enjoyed, although I have to admit if I thought too much about the style it could get a bit confusing. If Cassie is writing in her journal about writing in her journal about Evan reading her journal, we tend to get a bit bogged down by the details.  Of course, as with some things in YA novels, it may be easiest to just take this at face value and not overthink it.

Yancey does a good job, I think, delving into the psyche of people – particularly teenagers and children – who are facing a disaster like this. To see the descent into distrust and near madness of these kids is very revealing of Yancey’s view of humanity. It’s one thing to talk about one 16 year old girl and her opinions, but to see multiple viewpoints from multiple ages and multiple walks of life suggests that the nature of humanity is to both feel fear and fight back whenever possible. Humanity’s willingness and ability to fight back in the face of this disaster definitely provides hope for the possibility of disaster (not that this is necessarily the future). The Others tried to turn kids on the rest of the world, but the children of the world were able to overcome and fight back – at least some of them were. To me, this is Yancey making a statement about the strength of humanity, which I feel is important in a YA novel.

One of the most interesting things for me was the small insight we got into Evan’s thoughts. He finds himself cruel no matter what decision he makes. If he helps the Others, he is cruel to humans. If he helps the humans, he becomes a traitor to “his people.” To me that is the real issue with the aliens depositing their sleeper agents into the minds of humans. In order for the aliens to be truly adapted to humans, they have to develop and sleep in humans- but this also obviously produces a margin for “errors,” like Evan. By spending so many years inside of a human, asleep but absorbing, it’s very easy to see that aliens could absorb too much and become more human than intended. Maybe that is a statement in itself. Humanity is a virus. You try to infest us, and we end up infesting you. It’s the gift of a curse to those who try to invade. That’s the story inside the story that I think Yancey may have tried to slip in there. The greater story might tend to cover this for some, but for me it was a shining idea in an already brightly told tale. It makes me wonder just how many other of these sleeper agents have defected and become human enough to turn against the aliens. Evan does say that he was on a side that was against the invasion. Will the rest of this faction show up in later books? Will they help the remaining humans? It raises so many questions!

All that being said, there were things that I had problems with. First and foremost on this list is the stereotypical sexism of the book. Cassie consistently talks about being in love. She literally at one point says that she wants to have Ben Parish’s babies. She’s 16. Come on, now. I get that she might have a crush on the guy, maybe even want to sleep with him, but in the midst of an alien apocalypse she literally says she wants to have his babies. I find problems with that. In addition to this she ends up falling for Evan. Yes, it’s great he saved her. He nursed her back to health. I get that that sort of things is a bit of a standard clichéd idea in many books and movies, but I feel it’s misplaced here. Evan is Cassie’s second love interest (even though she never made a move on Ben or anything), and she goes nuts over him. To me this makes it seem way too much like a ‘damsel in distress’ type of story.

Hearing Cassie repeatedly talk about boys in such a stereotypical manner kind of takes away from the story, in my opinion. And the scene where Evan finds Cassie and Ben with Sam has the distinct possibility of almost turning into a love triangle. I’m very glad that didn’t happen.

Personally I wanted to get more of an insight into the aliens and their journey and purpose. Of course, with any luck that will come in one of the other two books. I’m hoping to learn the full truth of what happens to Evan and learn more about the reality behind the invasion and the nature of the Others.

What did you think of the book? What did you like or not like? What elements did you have problems with? Is there anything in particular that threw you off or put you off about the book? Overall the book was awesome and I look forward to eventually reading the other two parts. I hope you all enjoyed this book like I did, and I hope you enjoyed the review! What book would you like to cover next? Is there a specific genre you would like to see represented? Let me know in the comments. I really want to see lots of feedback! Jump in on the discussion and share away!

Book number two!

Hey there friends and fans! The first month of the book club went great! I had a great time reading “Horns” and you guys seem to have enjoyed the book, too.

I’ve decided to go with a timeless classic for December – not to mention a bit of a shorter work, since we’ll all be busier with the holidays. This month we’re going to be reading “A Christmas Carol” by the late, great Charles Dickens!

I’ve talked to a number of people over the years who say they’ve always meant to read this book, but just haven’t had the chance or haven’t been able to get themselves motivated to do it. Well, if that’s you, here’s your chance! This book has been performed on stage and made into so many movies that we all already know the story, but there is nothing like reading those words as Dickens wrote them.

I hope you’ll all join me in taking a deeper look at this amazing piece of literary history. My post on the book will go up on or around December 31. I’m considering making it December 30, so I don’t have to annoy you all on New Year’s Eve ,  so you’ve got just under 30 days to knock out this awesome book! Let me know what you think in the comments below or if you plan to read along with me, and share this with anyone who’d like to be a part of the club or the discussion for this book.

Book exchange and new opportunity

I hope this week finds you all well and safe. Summer is well underway here in the states and, as always, one of the greatest literary events is the summer reading list. Recently one of my friends on social media shared a post regarding a book exchange that allows one to get to know more about their online friends, and I thought it sounded like the perfect thing to try here! So what I am challenging each and every one of you to do is join the book exchange and share it far and wide to help inspire reading and literacy to everyone you know, and with any luck to everyone they know and so on and so on.

Joining is really very simple. All you have to do is like or comment on the blog post and I’ll send you a message with specifics. After that you just send a copy of your favorite book to the person who shares the exchange before you. In this case that would be me, of course. The book can be a new or used copy, whichever you’d prefer. The exchange provides all of us with a chance, not only to read the favorite books of our online friends, but also the opportunity to have hours and hours of conversation about what makes the book great.

Personally it is conversation about literature that makes the reading experience even more amazing for me. As a writer I have tons of ideas flow through my mind as I read a book and I love to discuss these ideas with others. It’s particularly great when I can discuss my favorite book with someone else and when I can discuss someone else’s favorite book with them. So please like or comment on this post if you are interested in joining a book exchange and I’ll send you the details. After that, make your own post on your blog or on social media (or both!) and start spreading the joy!

On another note, I have sent one of my recent short stories in to attempt publication in a new journal an author friend referred me to. If I get in the journal, I will be published in the very first edition of a brand new literary journal! Hopefully I’ll hear something about the piece soon, and I’ll let you all know when I do. In the meantime I’ll keep writing and reading and I hope you’ll all join in on the book exchange and help make the experience bigger and better than ever!

Light up the Darkness

A lot of things have happened in the world in the last week, and most of it hasn’t been very good. The hate and intolerance that holds us back as a species is still running rampant in our society, and it is something I don’t often address. I try to stay out of public affairs and generally avoid discussing things of this nature because I have a very strong opinion on the matter. I believe in love and peace. I believe in loving what we love and not having to hide who we are, no matter who we are around. Despite my sometimes near crippling social anxiety when it comes to being in a crowd, I still love making sure I have the opportunity to share my opinions – something which many people, even in the 21st century, are still persecuted for.

The world reacted roughly when acts of terrorism were announced in the last month; bombings, looting, a night club shooting that left 50 people dead just because someone didn’t agree with whom they loved. And the past week has been similar. In case you haven’t caught the news in your part of the world, a young black man was killed earlier this week in the U.S. by police officers in what can be considered nothing short of police brutality. Many people reacted harshly, calling all cops corrupt and racist, allowing the hate that has kept us back for so long continue to rule their lives. That hate led to a sniper opening fire on police in Texas and taking the lives of five officers who put their lives on the line to keep others safe.

While those matters are terrible, something that hasn’t gotten a lot of mass media attention is the fact that there were also two shootings in my part of the country within 24 hours of one another. The first, taking place early Thursday morning, claimed the life of an innocent woman who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That woman worked for the same newspaper that I work for. She was killed in cold blood while on the way to work, while four others were injured by the same shooter. The next day someone reported being shot by an unknown assailant for an unknown reason. Why? Why have we allowed ourselves to be bogged down by the senseless hate and racism and every other pointless thing that does nothing but cause pain?

I’ve been thinking on this for a bit and I think that one of the biggest problems is that we don’t address it unless we have to. In everyday life, when there hasn’t been an assault, a shooting or an act of terrorism, how often does racism and hate come across your mind? Even if you have a prejudice against someone, be it over race or not, how often do you look at yourself and say “wow, that’s racist/prejudiced?” Not at all. Because unless someone has performed an act that complies with the extreme ideas of racism and hate, we sweep it under the rug. Humans don’t want to live in misery and fear. We want to enjoy life and act as if there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way we live, even if deep within us boils a cauldron of hatred.

Realizing this got me thinking a lot about light and darkness. A bit cliché, but it makes a lot of sense to me. I thought about the difference between happiness, which is light and hatred, which is obviously dark. We look at the world with blinders on more often than not because it is easier to believe everyone is happy and there are no problems with anything than it is to look at the problems and try to find a solution. This leads to things like hate and racism being stored away to be ignored until we are forced, by some tragedy, to address them again. This lead me to thinking of the things that grow in light vs. things that grow in darkness. The concept might sound overly simple when saying it like that, but it does make sense.

If you put a plant in total darkness, does it flourish? No. It might struggle on feebly for some time, but it can’t be healthy because overall, most plants need sun to live. The same goes with love. You can’t shut it away and never use it. It won’t last. It needs exposure, it needs fresh air, it needs to be EXPRESSED.  But hate… you put hate in a dark corner of your soul and pretend it doesn’t exist and it will thrive. It will grow and grow and consume everything until you are full of the hatred that leads to innocent people being gunned down in the street.

So often we want to look at ourselves and say that nothing is wrong with the way we think or feel, that we are fully happy and fully right in our way of life. But do you avoid certain people because of what they look like or what they believe? Racism and prejudice aren’t just about killing someone who is different than you. It often starts just by thinking “that’s different. I don’t care for that.” But that can’t be the case, can it? Just because you instinctively cross the street if you see a black man walking towards you, or you wait for the next elevator because the woman who just got on this one is wearing a hijab, that isn’t racism, is it? Yes. And it’s the denial of that fact that leads to the problems in this world.

We can’t go on acting like it’s OK to bash someone because of how they live. That is not human, guys. You can’t wake up one morning and give change to a homeless man and then go home and talk about how dumb your neighbor is because he buys a new car every year. That’s hate. You can’t say that the person who hung a black man 70 years ago was racist and then call a black man you see on the street a thug because he dresses differently than you. That’s not how life should work. We can not keep acting like being different is wrong. You are not going to find a single person on the face of this planet who likes everything you do in the same way that you do. That would make us all robots.

We have the free will to make out own choices for a reason. God put us all here on this rock and said “Love thy neighbor”. Are you loving your neighbor when you walk down the road and badmouth someone for having darker skin than you? No. Are you loving your neighbor when you drive by a mosque and think about how ridiculous the people inside look as they pray facing Mecca? Absolutely not. It is one thing to recognize that someone is different, but it is another thing entirely to feel they are inferior because of it.

This is an issue, people. It is not something that we need to continue letting go un-discussed. Racism will not go away until we stop hiding it. We are all on this planet together and it is meant for us all to live in peace. We can’t do that if we keep pretending we don’t have a problem. People are going to keep dying if we can’t learn to accept that everyone is different. That’s all it takes. We need to look at the world and say “there are over 7 billion of us here, and not one of us is completely alike. And that is perfectly fine.” Until we learn to do that, innocent lives will continue to be lost and pain will continue to be felt. I will leave you with a quote from one of the best human rights advocates I’ve ever studied; Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley.

“Light up the Darkness.”

That is what we have to do. We have to look at the world and look at ourselves and stop hiding what issues exist. If we have a problem with someone due to race, religion or anything else we have to stop acting as if that is normal and OK. Because it is not. We have to shine a light on those bits of darkness and accept that we have an issue with something. And then we need to find a way to deal with it that does not involve violence. Taking the life of someone we don’t agree with is not a solution. We have to find a way to live together in peace. As much as I hate to say it, in times like these I see a group of leaders like those in “The Giver”, and I think they may have had some good points. They did away with religion and race and even the ability to see color – because mankind couldn’t handle it. Unfortunately with that went the chance for individuality, opinion and emotion. Is that what we want, people? An existence that is literally just that? This world, this life, is precious. For everyone. Not just the people you agree with. We have to learn that before it is too late.

Light up the darkness.