Week 22: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (All Time Favorite #3)

The year is 2044, and the “irl” world as we know it is in a state of decay. Nearly everyone on Earth is logged onto The Oasis- a fully immersive online utopia, a virtual reality that is more than just a video game, it is a way of life. One morning, a video that would soon become the most viewed Youtube clip in history was released following the death of the creator of The Oasis, eccentric multi-billionaire James Halliday. He announces to the world that before he died, he had concealed an easter egg (a hidden secret within a video game) somewhere within The Oasis, and the first person to find it would inherit his entire estate- around $240 billion dollars. Halliday invites players to find three keys- copper, jade, and crystal, that will then unlock the easter egg and win his fortune. A year passes, and no one is able to locate the first key. When even more years pass, people begin to joke that there is no such thing, and the keys became somewhat of an urban legend. Then, 5 years following the video, a name appears at the top of the high scores list on Halliday’s website. The copper key had been found, by an 18 year old kid living in a trailer park. The events that followed would become the most told story in history.

That kid is Wade Watts, known online as Parzival. He lives in the Stacks, a vast group of trailers that are stacked on top of one another, a common lifestyle for the lower class. Parzival is known as a “gunter”, a nickname given to the large number of egg hunters that are still in search of Halliday’s fortune five years after his death. Inside of the Oasis, Parisival is what we might consider a noob; his combat experience is only level three, and he doesn’t have very much in-game currency to his name. However for gunters, the ability to fight is not considered a player’s most important attribute. James Halliday was raised in an era that he was also completely obsessed with: the 80’s. Halliday makes repeated references to the decade in his contest video, and every gunter and their mother knows that in order to find Halliday’s easter egg, one will need to know everything there is to know about 80’s pop culture. Along with his high-level best friend Aech, Parzival spends each waking moment outside of school studying and enjoying the movies, music, books, and video games of the 1980’s. Knowledge of the time period is not only considered cool, it is your best shot at finding the egg.

Using his wealth of 80’s trivia and l33t video games skills, Parzival is the first player ever to find the copper key, and becomes an instant celebrity in The Oasis. Unfortunately, this also makes him a target. There is an army of mercenaries within the Oasis known as The Sixers who want to find Haliday’s egg simply so their employer can gain control of the Oasis, and ruin it for free-to-play users. Parzival may have been the first to obtain the copper key, but there are still two more to find before he can claim Halliday’s fortune. Things really start to heat up when Parzival’s long time crush Art3mis joins him on the high score list, when she becomes the second player to find the copper key. Friends become the competition, and the game Parzival once lived to play becomes a game he plays to live.

“I burned through all of my extra lives in a matter of minutes, and my two least-favorite words appeared on the screen: GAME OVER.” 

This book is an absolute must-read for gamers, but even some of my friends who have never touched a controller in their lives can attest to the incredible adventure that this story brings to the table, and that’s why Ready Player One comes in at number three on my favorite books of all time. Parzival’s unforgettable journey brings video games to life, and shows that the only thing more valuable than the reward to a quest is the experience you gain along the way.

Thank you for reading what I have to say about books! The Cloud Atlas review has been delayed, but stay tuned for that and my #2 favorite book of all time review coming soon!

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Week 21: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

I remember one night as a kid when I was zipped up and trapped inside my sleeping bag at one of my brother and I’s birthday parties. I wasn’t stuck in there long, and I knew that no one meant it to be more than a joke- we were just kids. But I remember the feeling of fear that gripped me in that hot and dark space as I yelled to be let out. It’s amazing how even little things that happen to you as a kid can stay with you your whole life; I’ve been afraid of small enclosed spaces ever since. Thirty-three years following the release of Stephen King’s most popular work of fiction, The Shining, a sequel was finally written, about a boy who also had a childhood experience he would never forget. Alright, his is a little worse. According to the author’s note in Doctor Sleep, there was a hardly a day that went by that King wouldn’t think about what happened to the little boy whose horrific childhood was changed forever one winter in the Overlook Hotel. The little boy with the rare and extraordinary ability of “the Shining”- the psychic power to communicate telepathically with others, catch glimpses of the future, and see ghosts. The Stephen King who wrote Doctor Sleep may be a different man today compared to the well-meaning alcoholic who wrote The Shining, but his ability to write a disturbing horror fiction has suffered no change.

Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in The Shining

There is an old Alcoholics Anonymous saying that says “FEAR stands for Face Everything And Recover”. Unfortunately for Danny Torrance, the now grown-up son of Jack Torrance, who died in the Overlook Hotel along with Danny’s childhood, recovery is a thing that is easier said than done. Dan may have survived the haunted hotel that drove his alcoholic father insane, but the memories from that winter still chase Dan through his nightmares for many years to come. On top of that, Dan has retained the Shining ability even though he is now an adult. He continues to see the demons from his past, and Dan turns to a different sort of spirits in an attempt to drown them out.

“The world was the Overlook Hotel, where the party never ended. Where the dead were alive forever.”

Dan struggles with alcoholism for several years until he eventually finds refuge from his mess of a life in a small town in New Hampshire, where he receives help from the AA community. It is here that Dan is able to put his Shining talents to good use. He works at a nursing home where his ability to give a final comfort to the spirits of the dying earn him the nickname “Doctor Sleep”. Around the same time that Dan is getting sober, a special girl named Abra Stone is born. Though Dan has met a few others in his lifetime with the Shining, when a 2-month-old Abra telepathically communicates with him on his blackboard one night, Dan knows that she possesses the brightest Shining that the world has ever seen. Abra continues to contact Dan as she grows up, and the young girl’s powerful Shine talents are accompanied by the same curse that Dan possesses.

Far to the West of Dan and Abra, a band of travelers known as The True Knot quietly exist. The Knot appear to be humans, but those with the Shining are able to see them for the vicious monsters they really are. Conversely, The True Knot, led by Rose The Hat, are able to see Shiners for who they are. Rose and her friends share certain vampire-like traits: they are immortal, have unique powers, but also require sustenance to survive. The True Knot travel the United States in search of children with the Shining, whose powers they are able to feed upon after they kill them. It is one of these occasions in particular that Abra, through the Shining, witnesses the murder of a young boy in Iowa, as the Knot leech the life away from him.

Abra’s presence at the scene does not go unnoticed. Rose senses the powerful Shine within the girl, and a blood hunt begins as Rose and her troupe seek Abra out. However, she is not the only one doing the hunting. Abra and Dan resolve to put and end to The True Knot, and an epic battle between good and evil ensues. For me, Doctor Sleep doesn’t read like a horror novel in the same sense as its prequel, but in terms of chilling nightmares and creepy imagery, the book most certainly delivers. The clash between the Shiners and The True Knot was ghoulishly thrilling all the way up to the end, where Dan must once again meet the horrors from his childhood, ones he thought he had locked away forever. After all, as Danny Torrance and Stephen King can both attest to, our real demons come from our pasts.

Thank you for reading what I have to say about books! Join me next week for a review of Cloud Atlas, with help from a special guest reviewer!

Week 20: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

CuckooI was a soon-to-be junior in high school when Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows was released. I remember where I was, and who I was with. I had just finished my morning shift at Target on that July day, and I happened to be with the asshole cashier who spoiled the ending for me, as he had heard on Wikipedia, as he sold it to me. Thanks, asshole. Like many other fans, I stayed up all night reading it. I distinctly recall that I was in tears as I closed the 759th page, the last page, of that book. I cried not because Fred died in the end, or because that loser who still works at Target spoiled the ending for me, but because I knew it was the last time that I would ever read a Harry Potter book for the first time. This would not be Rowling’s last book ever however. In the spring of last year a mystery novel called The Cuckoo’s Calling was released, but it turned out that there was more than just a mystery in the pages here. A while after the book’s release, Rowling came out to reveal that the name Robert Galbraith was in fact the author’s pseudonym.

“I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer, because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience. It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.” – J.K. Rowling

So let’s get right into it then. Rowling’s mystery/crime thriller debut kicks off with an explosive prologue; a young and enormously famous supermodel by the name of Lula Landry plummets to her death from her apartment balcony, several stories up, one winter night in an all-muggle London. Despite several suspicious circumstances, such as hooded men seen on camera leaving the area, rumors that say Lula had just had a big row with her famous drug-junkie boyfriend, and a coked-up neighbor claiming to hear shouting despite the impossibility of it, police closed the case as suicide after a lengthy and strenuous investigation. Everyone and their mother knew Lula had psychological issues, and all suspects had alibis and were accounted for that night. However, the person who supposedly knew Lula best, her adopted brother John Bristow, doesn’t believe that Lula was the suicidal type. John decides to hire someone to re-investigate the case 3 months after Lula’s death, but with so many suspects and very little evidence, the killer could be anyone.

Cormoran Strike is a washed up ex-Royal Military Police private detective, who was chosen by John to take the case because Strike was good friends with his deceased brother when they were kids. Strike used to be a big name before he lost his leg in Afghanistan, and now he is a nobody detective who can barely pay the rent through his typical clients, whose mundane investigations never stray far beyond cheating spouses. Strike, who reminds me of a cross between the British Sherlock and the somewhat brutish Hagrid, accepts the bizarre request because he desperately needs the money, and Lula’s wealthy brother has plenty to offer. Along with his new office secretary Robin, who is aptly named in terms of sidekicks, Strike is thrust deep into the dangerously deceitful world of multimillionaires, rock stars, and supermodels to uncover what really happened to Lula, if anything at all.

“The dead could only speak through the mouths of those left behind, and through the signs they left scattered behind them.” 

The Cuckoo’s Calling takes a little while to pick up speed, seeing as there are no wizard duels or TROLL IN THE DUNGEONS to move the plot along. However, once you get through the introductions and the interviews, the mystery really starts to heat up; and I was actually really surprised at the end! By the time Strike, Robin, and John reach the incredible conclusion to the investigation, you get to fully appreciate all of the minute details that are really clues cleverly scattered throughout the pages. Overall I was genuinely impressed at Rowling’s ability to write something so far outside of her claim-to-fame genre, and as much as I’m dying to spoil the ending, I’m not trying to be that asshole from Target.

Thank you for reading what I have to say about books! Next week I will be reading and reviewing Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, the not-so-soon follow-up to his classic, The Shining. Should be scary. The length of it I mean.

Week 19: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The year is 1975, and the coming of winter in Afghanistan marks the arrival of two special occasions for the Muslim youth in the city of Kabul. First, that school is not in session during the winter. However, the most exciting event of the season by far is kite fighting, a sport that involves flying kites with strings coated in glass, in an attempt to cut the kites of the competitors down. The last kite in the sky is declared the victor, but the competition doesn’t end there. When the last kite is cut free, the kite runners follow the last kite through the sky, chasing it down, because the last kite is considered an honor and a trophy to hold. Throughout history, kites have been symbolic of many things, but in the story I am about to tell you, the kite is a symbol for fate.

There is a way to be good again. These opening words come from a letter written to the main character and narrator, Amir, who is a grown man living in San Francisco. The words refer to to Amir’s past, to a time as a young boy that has haunted him for his entire life. Although Amir is grown up and currently living in the United States, he tells a story that takes us back to his past, to the winter of 1975, where his life was changed forever.

Amir was raised a Pashtun and Sunni Muslim in Kabul, Afghanistan. He lives with his father, Baba, who is a rich and very well-respected man in Kabul. Amir is often frustrated by the lack of attention his father gives to him, and would do anything to gain his approval. Hassan is both Amir’s family servant and best friend. They do everything together, but because Hassan is a Hazara, Shi’a Muslim, his lower social class makes it difficult for Amir to acknowledge him as anything more than a servant in public. Hassan is an incredibly humble and loyal friend to Amir, but when they are apart, Hassan and his poverty-stricken family are bullied and ridiculed for their station in life. Social hierarchies aside, Baba treats Hassan like a second son, and despite their differences Amir and Hassan are inseparable companions.

Then, in the winter of 1975, Amir finally has the chance to make his father proud. If he wins in the kite fighting tournament, and brings home the last kite, Baba will finally see him for the son he has always wanted. Amir and Hassan enter into the kite wars together, and after a long day of flying their kite, they manage to cut the last one, and Amir is declared the winner. Amir asks Hassan if he will run down the last kite for him, to bring home to his father, and  Hassan famously answers, “For you, a thousand times over.” 

A short time later, Hassan has still not returned home with Amir’s kite. Amir finds him in an alley, surrounded by three bullies from the village. They tell him that if he gives them the kite, they will let him go. However, Hassan’s loyalty to Amir is undaunted, and when refuses, he is attacked and raped by the tormentors. Instead of opening his mouth to help, Amir cowardly flees from the scene, pretending that he was never there. Amir is haunted by his actions, or lack thereof, for years to come. He eventually decides to run from his guilt rather than face it, and lies to his father in order to dismiss Hassan’s family as servants.

“There is only one sin. and that is theft… when you tell a lie, you steal someones right to the truth.” 

After the Russian invasion and the Taliban rule begins in Afghanistan, Amir and Baba manage to flee Kabul to start a new life in America. Amir grows up, goes to college, and gets married, but still his betrayal to Hassan is like blood on his hands- and he wonders where Hassan is today. That is, until he receives the letter. There is a way to be good again. Amir is not the only one who knows his secret from the winter of 1975, and the only way to relieve his guilt is to atone for his sins. Amir travels back to Afghanistan to find what has become of Hassan, and to face his past. For the first time in his life, he is running towards something instead of away from it.

The Kite Runner is a testament to faith, forgiveness, and above all, love between friends. Hassan’s selfless love for Amir, and Amir’s path to finding forgiveness made for a beautiful story leaving no wonder as to why this novel is considered a contemporary classic. Their roles as master and servant, and pride and humility, turn into a masterful juxtaposition as in the end, it is Amir who must become the kite runner.

Thank you for reading what I have to say about books! Join me next week as I take a look into my own past, as I review The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith”.

Week 18: This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

There are two reasons why I chose to read this week’s novel when I did. One, I just bought it at Barnes & Noble, because I thought the cover art looked cool. Two, and somewhat more importantly, because while the main character of This is Where I Leave You, Judd, was holed up with his family for an entire week, I had to live in close proximity with my own family for an entire week during our cabin stay in Colorado. While a week may not seem like much to some of you, with your small or functional families, I can assure you that a week with mine or Judd’s would lay any of your doubts to rest. Fortunately for me, reading the story of this messy clash of kin made my own week seem mild in comparison.

For Judd Foxman, Life is a bitch. He is 33 years old when he walks in on his beautiful wife Jen, who he met in college and married shortly after, in bed with another man. His boss, to be exact. On Jen’s birthday. He finds out later on, after a short skirmish that involves a flaming birthday cake and his naked boss, that his wife has been sleeping with the cocksure radio celebrity for a little over a year now. Following  this, a calm discussion in the office turns into Judd chucking his chair at his boss, resulting in the loss of his job on top of everything else. Just when things seem like they can’t get any worse, Judd’s father dies, after he had been in a coma for several months. The icing on top of the shitty, unforgiving cake that is Judd’s life is that his father’s dying request is that his family sit shiva together- a jewish mourning tradition that requires the immediate family of the deceased to come together for an entire week, to honor the death of the family member. This request, coming from Judd’s atheist father seemed a bit weird, but nothing is weirder than Judd’s family.

The mayhem that ensues is a consequence of bringing three brothers, a sister, a mother, two neighbors having sexual relations with members of the family, three in laws, three children, and a surprise visit from Jen together under one roof. Judd’s reflectively somber yet satirical dialogue makes him easy to sympathize with while enjoying his story as he struggles to climb to the surface of the life that threatens to drown him.

“It’s just hard to see people from your past when your present is so cataclysmically fucked.” 

This is Where I Leave You was a blend of hilarious, lustful, and heartbreaking moments that I can really only recommend to my guy friends, because the abundance and overwhelming insight into the male psyche could have a feminist burning this one for firewood. That being said, this novel was a very enjoyable look into the ways that sex, family ties, and emotions interact, and exert control over one man’s life. Despite all of the difficulties during their chaotic week together, Judd leaves with some valuable lessons in love and the bonding strength of one’s own flesh and blood. So the next time you go on that dreaded family holiday, bring this book or soon-to-be movie (trailer released YESTERDAY) along with you, and remember that no matter how weird or unorthodox they may be, those freaks are called family for a reason.

“You have to look at what you have right in front of you, at what it could be, and stop measuring it against what you’ve lost.” 

Thank you for reading what I have to say about books! Although my review took a while for me to get around to, my reading schedule is still right on track and I will be finishing The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini very soon.

Week 17: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

It is amazing to me how many things have changed since the beginning of this year. Just over the weekend, I achieved a major milestone in my life- I graduated from the University of Kansas. Since a few days preceding the big moment and up until now, graduating college has had me reflecting on my past and the things I have accomplished harder than a Drake album. Not a lot of people can say they had their name published in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science at 21 years old. Not a lot of people can say they climbed to the top of Strong Hall with their best friends freshman year to watch the lights in the football stadium at night. Not a lot of people can say they tried every item off the Taco Bell breakfast menu either (hold applause until the end). But graduating also gets me thinking a lot about the future, what will change. In this week’s novel, one man’s future, his life, is blown away in the blink of an eye.

Louisa Clark loved her job at a little breakfast café in a tourist town of London. The job was simple, and was just enough to support her lower-class family. But when the shop closes down, Louisa (Lou) is forced to accept the only (and just recently) job available, a caregiver for a handicapped man. Despite Lou being young, lacking any skill whatsoever in the area, and the fact that the position only lasts for 6 months, she accepts the job because she desperately needs the money.

Will Traynor is a quadriplegic who has been wheelchair-bound since he received a spinal injury during a motorcycle accident nearly two and a half years ago. Before then Will led a big life- skydiving, mountain climbing, CEO of a major company, beautiful girlfriend, the list went on and on. Now Will is trapped inside his own head, paralyzed from the neck down. Will is very wealthy, but deeply dejected over the lack of control in his own life, due to his need for around-the-clock care. When Lou begins to work for Will, things don’t exactly start off on the right foot. Will is extremely bitter about his new life, and like with the caregivers before Lou, he is extremely guarded because of the cards that life has dealt him.

Frustrations aside, Lou’s sarcastic and witty attitude match Will’s own, and they grow to stand each other, and even sort of like each other. It isn’t until Lou overhears an intense conversation between Will’s mother and sister that everything changes. We find out that Will recently became so claustrophobic in his paralyzed life that he gruesomely attempted suicide, and nearly succeeded. But it doesn’t end there. Lou finds out that Will still intends to die via euthanasia (assisted suicide, legal in some countries), but his mother got him to agree to wait just 6 more months, to see if he changes his mind, before she lets him go through with it. Lou realizes grimly that her title of “caregiver” was just a facade that masked a much darker reality- she was there to make sure Will didn’t try anything again. In fact, Lou realizes that she has become very attached to the person beneath the resentful and crippled exterior, and she makes a resolution of her own.

“I had a hundred and seventeen days in which to convince Will Traynor that he had a reason to live.” 

Lou dives into the challenge head first, researching any kinds of activities and travels that a quadriplegic would be able to participate in and enjoy, anything that could make Will feel the thrill of life like he did before his accident. Through all the difficulties they struggle through together, Will shows Lou that she has so much to live for, but despite their time together and the strong emotions that develop between them, Will is still not convinced that he can say the same about his own future. The thing is, I get that this could be a good life. I get that with you around, perhaps it could even be a very good life. But it’s not my life. It’s nothing like the life I want. 

This beautiful story really shook me to the core, and now I’m sitting here feeling like this book broke up with me, because it ended before I was ready for it to leave. There is so much more than just lessons about love here; there are many thought-provoking questions about life in general. How it would feel to live in a body that can’t do what it’s mind is pleading for, screaming for. Whether you would be able to let someone you love die if they begged you. As the time until Lou’s six month deadline comes to an end, I have to leave it up to you to read about Will’s decision, because this book was just too great to spoil. The important thing is that whether you are living or not, you have a chance to leave a lasting impression. Tell em’ Wheelchair Jimmy.

Thank you for reading what I have to say about books! After I finish wiping my eyes from this one, I’ll be reading This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper for next week.

Week 16: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

Something truly unexpected happened to me this week. While I was reading the novel that I had selected for this week’s blog post, which had undergone the usual scrutiny of reading reviews and ratings beforehand, I was about halfway done with said novel when I decided that I hated the book I had chosen. So I surprised myself. Instead of plowing through to the end anyway, like the deadline for an English class was rapidly approaching, I decided to put the book down and pick a different one up. This left me with only a slight problem: there were two days left in the week. So what motivated me? I am not interested in reading a terrible book just as much as I am not interested in writing a terrible review that will be a terror to read. For the sake of this blog, I simply don’t have time for that crap. Without further ado, let’s talk about the next book that I had a rendezvous with much more recently.

This is also the first week that I have read two books by the same author. A few weeks ago, I reviewed About a Boy, also by Hornby. This week, I jumped a bit backwards in time to read his debut novel,  High Fidelity. Similar to About a Boy, this week’s book stars a middle-aged man who doesn’t quite act his age. In fact, I think that the first line of the novel gives the reader a pretty good idea of what our protagonist, Rob, is all about.

“My desert -island, all time, top five most memorable split-ups, in chronological order:”

That’s right, this week’s book is about one guy’s recollection of his most memorable break-ups, and how they affected who he his currently, when real-time takes over midway through the story. Rob is the owner of a vintage record store in downtown London, and similar to the line above, spends a lot of his time breaking things down into “top-5 lists” over ultimately mundane things, such as top-5 songs about death, or top-5 singles from the ‘ 70s. The purpose of Rob’s lists, I believe, is to show his feelings of disdain for other people and make himself feel better by belittling them; if you don’t think that Lets Get it On by Marvin Gaye was one of the best singles of the century, then Rob has an excuse to dislike you. The only redeeming quality of this modern day Scrooge is his cynical sense of humor, which I found to be highly amusing.

“What came first – the music or the misery?”

Another significant piece of information that hails from the book’s introduction, is when Rob spitefully, in soliloquy, informs his most recent girlfriend, Laura, that she didn’t make the top-5 breakups; she didn’t even come close. We’ll come back to Laura in a second. First, Rob must go through his five most life-changing split-ups, in chronological order, calling or meeting with them so he can find out where he went wrong. Without trying to sound too much like a laptop therapist, it seems obvious to me that Rob has struggled with rejection for most of his life, and his self-deprecating nature is his most comfortable solution to this problem. He is so completely self-absorbed in his own faults that he ends up sabotaging every relationship that he finds himself in. Rob is a class-A hypocrite in the sense that he is always pushing people away, and then wondering why there is no one around.

“My friends don’t seem to be friends at all but people whose phone numbers I haven’t lost.” 

After communicating with the exes, the consensus  seems clear- Rob’s past relationship problems generally stem from burying himself in his music rather than dealing with real emotions. It isn’t until he finds himself making a top-5 list of Laura’s best qualities does he realize that he misses her. Rob comes to the conclusion that all romantic relationships are scrambled versions of the first ones, and now that he has looked back at his past breakups, he knows what he has to do in order to get Laura back. Unfortunately for Rob, rearranging the people in his life is not as easy as rearranging his record collection. High Fidelity is so full of identifiable characters and situations that you could hum them, and my top-5 take-away lessons from this book are

1) It is never too late to change something in your life and start fresh- flip the record over to the other side.
2) Don’t get so caught up in your fantasies or you may lose what is in front of you.
3) “It’s not what you like but what you are like that’s important.”
4) Sometimes you realize how precious something is only after it has ended.
5) Mixtapes can be compared and cross-referenced to relationships in more ways than I could possibly have imagined. Thanks, Rob.

Thank you for reading what I have to say about books! Next week I will be reading the bestseller, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, and I’m sure I will be very excited to tell you about it.

Week 15: Sideways by Rex Pickett

Several weeks ago, we made a journey together alongside the hilarious drug-crazed hooligans in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, as a pair of friends made their trek to the fabulous Las Vegas, with a keen eye for a high and their sights set on finding the American dream. This week, we will be traveling again in the company of two best friends, but instead of a trunk full of drugs, the only thing we’ll be packing is bottle after bottle of wine. Grab the Pinots, some Chardonnays, Merlots, Rieslings, Cabernets, and any other varietal you can squeeze together- we’re on a road trip through wine country.

The narrator of this week’s story is quite unique in regard to the other narrators that I have shared the pages with for each week of my blog thus far. This week we meet Miles, a divorced, broke, and wineglass half-empty kind of guy. Miles is a novelist and script writer who is struggling to make a breakthrough with any of his work (much like the author of Sideways, until a filmmaker turned this debut novel into a quite successful movie). Miles is a wine aficionado- knowing almost everything there is to know about wine-tasting, but as of late it seems that Miles has turned his love for wine into less of a hobby,and more of a way to fill the void of his divorce with the more consistent pleasure of alcohol.

“Pinot Noir country. My grape. The one varietal that truly enchants me, both stills and steals my heart with its elusive loveliness and false promises of transcendence. I loved her, and I would continue to follow her siren call until my wallet–or liver, whichever came first–gave out.” 

The idea of a road trip through the Santa Barbara county in California’s wine country comes from Mile’s best friend and actor/director, Jack. Unlike Miles, whose pessimistic and cynical words would make him the perfect frontman for a 90’s emo band, Jack is positively exuberant in every way that Miles is not. Jack is good-looking, successful, and most significantly- about to get married. Jack proposes that the two go on a week-long trip through the Santa Ynez Valley to live life to the fullest before Jack gets hitched. 

The title of the novel, “Sideways”, is what Jack and Miles call the state of being drunk off wine. With a whole week of endless possibility, our two connoisseurs indulge heavily in wine tastings and fine dining early in the day, and by evening the two are on the other side of the vineyard so to speak, “sideways” as can be. While each night in wine country for the friends is uniquely memorable in its own way (in fact, there are only 10 chapters despite the fair length of the novel, each constituting a day of the week), the majority of Miles and Jack’s experiences revolve around two women that they meet on their first few days in Santa Ynez Valley. While Jack runs rampant with infidelity, charming his way into the bedrooms of the Valley’s female population, we watch as Miles struggles to overcome his depression from his failed marriage and attempt at publishing his book, begging the question of whether or not he is suited for companionship. The alliance between the two guys develops into a hilarious, yet earnest look at the human relationship and the meaning of friendship, which can be critically acclaimed as nothing less than a bromance.

The long week has its share of both ups and downs, while the downs really strain the extent of their friendship. In the end, Jack and Miles make it Jack’s wedding, but a lifetime of marriage will seem short compared to the week’s worth of memories that came beforehand. In what seems like forever I have finally been able to enjoy a book that was made into a movie, before actually seeing the movie. I am very excited to settle down with a glass of wine and watch Sideways tonight, and am thrilled to eventually read Rex Pickett’s sequel to this novel, called Vertical. This book was incredibly well written, full of imagery and laughs that flowed as freely as Chardonnay, and for that I give it 5 glasses out of 5. This week I digested an immense amount of knowledge about wine, and have definitely developed more of a taste for the drink because of it- while trying not to get too sideways. As Albert Einstein once said, the wine drinks me.

Thank you for reading what I have to say about books! Next week’s novel has yet to be decided, but “Vertical” is sounding deliciously tempting. See you next week!

Week 14: The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

April 29, 2014

Dear friend,
I am writing to you because yet another week has passed, meaning it is time to publish another book review. It has been 4 months now, and I have miraculously stayed true to this goal I have set for myself. You may not know who you are, but this resolution would have never been possible without you. I think you of all people would understand what it means to be noticed when you didn’t think that anybody did, and I will remember everything that is you when I read this book, because it is one I know I will never forget.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is Chbosky’s first novel, and is written as a collection of letters, similar to my introduction, by a high school boy named Charlie. I knew that I would be destined to read this book eventually, because a book blog without a review of Perks is just a poser at the skatepark, and reviewing this felt like a rite of passage because a book doesn’t simply lounge around the New York Times bestsellers list for months on end because the negative space in the cover art  is trendy. No, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a best-selling book and now a critically acclaimed film because it tells the story of love, loss, and the meaning of friendship through the eyes of a kid that I swear anyone can relate to, even if you have nothing in common.

Throughout Charlie’s letters to the unnamed friend, readers experience the intimacy of Charlie’s writing right from the get-go: he thinks a lot about his favorite relative, his aunt Helen, who died when he was a boy, while he is also dealing with the very recent suicide of his best friend Michael. Charlie is left without any friends, and his shy and introverted nature makes it difficult for him to find new ones. The only friend Charlie makes on his first day of high school is Bill, his English teacher. Bill quickly recognizes Charlie’s gift for reading and writing, and he assigns him a variety of novels throughout the course of the book (all of which were major inspirations for the author of this book). In my experience, high school English teachers are about the coolest people around, but it won’t do Charlie any good in terms of fitting in. Fortunately, he runs into a fellow outsider at a Friday night football game named Patrick, a senior who his fellow classmates refer to as Nothing. Patrick is hysterical, full of jokes, and is in love with the football team’s quarterback, Brad. He invites Charlie to sit with him, where he meets Patrick’s best friend and step-sister, Sam. Also a senior, Sam is upbeat, has the best taste in music, and is described by Charlie as the most beautiful girl he has ever seen. It should come as no surprise then that the actress chosen to play the part of Sam in the film is none other than Emma Watson.

Through Charlie’s new friends he is able to”participate” in life for the first time, rather than watching from the sidelines. After accidently experimenting with drugs at his first party (undercover brownies), Patrick and Sam acknowledge Charlie as a wallflower. He has a way of seeing people for who they are- the good in people, but also the things that hurt them. Charlie’s ability to sense right from wrong is strikingly pure, and I found myself holding on carefully to every word that came out of his mouth. I have held up my fair share of walls at dances, felt like I just blended in, and am even guilty of making mixtapes when words were too hard to express. Charlie realizes that even amongst the bad times, and things do get bad for Charlie, there are moments where we can feel “infinite”- when the moments become memories, and then the memories become stories.

“Downtown. Lights on buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.” 

There are so many things going on at once between Charlie, his friends, and his problems, that it would be impossible for me to lay it all out for you like a full course meal, so I can only encourage you to either read the book or watch the movie- which are both fantastic. One thing that made the book more of a memorable experience for me however, was that it included so many things that are left to assumptions in the film. For example, when I re-watched the movie last night, there was this moment where Sam opens Charlie’s christmas present, and when she reads the card that was included with it she holds it to her chest to remember forever. Only readers will know what Charlie wrote in that special moment, along with other whispers between characters in the novel. Charlie’s honesty in his letters and his entire story up until the moment where his depression threatens to overwhelm him is all-encompassing of the teenage experience, and I was surprised to find myself enjoying it so much even as I am preparing to bid college farewell. There was this one occurrence on Charlie’s last day of school when his English teacher, Bill, asks the class who will be reading for pleasure this summer. Charlie was the only one in the entire class to raise his hand. I don’t know if I would have had the guts to, but I like to think that I would have raised my hand too. Every book that I have read so far has been an unparalleled experience, and I love telling you about them in my writing, friend- because I know that you will listen. I guess it is one of the perks of being a reader.

Love always,
Jake

Week 13: Requiem For A Dream by Hubert Selby Jr.

Society has been and always will be a sum of its parts.

 The repressed, the opressed, the depressed, the sane, the insane, you name it. Drug users are the same way, and the dream is never different- escape from whatever reality the high is better than. But there are two different sub-populations of drug users as well- the addicts and the junkies. When I chose to read the book that one of the most hopeless movies of all time was based upon, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you the difference between the two.  Requiem for a Dream describes the descent from an addict to someone who is prepared to lie, cheat, and steal their way into a high even at the cost of their own humanity. If you came to hear a story with a happy ending, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Following the stories of four different characters from the Bronx chasing the American dream, Requiem shows that some dreams are killed just as easily as they are lived. Harry Goldfarb, played by Jared Leto in the film, is a lower class heroin addict whose dream seems to be making himself and the people he cares about happy, and he lives on a day-to-day basis by buying bulk heroin, cutting it (when you buy it pure and then mix it with additives to create a greater quantity), and selling it- while always making sure to hold enough weight for his close friends to get off on a taste. (My heroin vocabulary has dramatically increased while reading this novel.) Harry works with his best friend Tyrone who is also a heroin addict. Tyrone buys and sells from the black community of the neighborhood, and Tyrone’s dream is simply a life without hassles. Make enough to get by on and retire. To round out Harry’s posse, we have his girlfriend Marion, who is also *wait for it* a heroin addict. Marion is an artist who dreams of opening a coffee shop/art gallery with Harry. For Tyrone, Marion, and Harry life is good. They love how heroin makes them feel, but they assure themselves that they could stop anytime they want to. If they want to.
The last character that Requiem follows is Harry’s mother, Sara Goldfarb. Sara lives at home alone, and spends every day eating chocolates and watching game shows on the television. One day the unimaginable happens for Sara: she is invited to appear on a game show on TV. What appears to the reader to be an obvious scam on an elderly woman, to Sara Goldfarb it is the opportunity of a lifetime. She becomes obsessed with losing an immense amount of weight so that she can fit into the “red dress” in time for her television debut. A doctor prescribes Sara pills that will make her not hungry, and for a while her diet is running smoothly: she is losing countless pounds, she is energetic, and happy. For a while.
When winter rolls around, a dangerous game of supply and demand begins for our strung out trio. The supply of drugs into the city runs short, while the demand for the substance is higher than ever, due to the large number of people that have become a slave to the high quality substance that was previously so easy to come by. For Harry and his friends, finding heroin was like trying to find bacon at a bar mitzvah. They become desperate and go to great lengths to score what they can, sometimes going behind each other’s backs to do it. A junkie will ask you first, then steal it when you say no.
“Their disease made it possible to believe whatever lies it was necessary for them to believe to continue to pursue and indulge their disease, even to the point of them believing they were not enslaved by it, but were actually free.”
Requiem for a Dream shows how fiercely a dream can be crushed when you live a life of delusions. Harry, Tyrone, Marion, and Sara look for any excuse they can to feed their addiction, and before they know it they are up to their necks in the consequences- a bitter reminder that nothing lasts forever. Harry ends up in a hospital on the verge of death, Tyrone in jail, Marion turns to prostitution, and Sara finds herself deep in the mental ward. Hubert Selby Jr.’s writing style in this book was eloquently done in a way that made me feel the desperation and emotional detachment of his characters. Some paragraphs could last up to pages to induce a feeling of mania, and the dialogue between characters does not use quotation marks or the “he said”/”she replied” markers that we are used to; it made me feel a closeness with the characters and gave the conversations a fluidity that I really enjoyed. I also found the biography of the author to be a really interesting read. Hubert Selby Jr. became addicted to morphine when he was hospitalized in his youth, and he struggled with his addiction for 4 years. I recommend checking out this timeless classic, or watching the movie (if you are in a good mood)- Requiem for a Dream was an addiction for me, pun intended.
“I suspect there will never be a requiem for a dream, simply because it will destroy us before we have the opportunity to mourn it’s passing.” – Hubert Selby Jr.
Thank you for reading what I have to say about books! I couldn’t cop any heroin this week, so I guess I’ll be reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky instead. See you next week!