Thursday, September 30, 2010

Anathem by Neal Stephenson (GRADE: C)

I just finished Anathem by Neal Stephenson.  It was recommended to me by my esteemed colleague AB.  I wanted to like this book but at the end of it, there were too many weaknesses in the narrative.  This book gets a grade of C.

I found the following review:

It pretty much sums up the way I feel about the book.  Check it out if you want a more thorough review of the book (and a better written review).

The story is essentially this:  This earth-like world is divided in two ways: saeculars and the avout (or monks).  The monks in this world don't worship God but worship mathematics and science.  The main character is a young avout named Erasmus.  A space ship is seen in the sky with telescopes and is seen to be a possible threat to the world.  The book is about the discovery of the space ship, elucidating information about the space ship and eventually confronting the spaceship.

The main weakness of this book was the exposition.  There was simply too much of it.

The writing was good but the pacing was very poor.  At times, the story was engaging but frequently, the story or plot would be halted by philosophical talk about multiple universes or philosophy.

The book could have been about 300 pages and very good but instead it was 900 pages and relatively boring.

Don't get me wrong.  Stephenson's book is very intelligent and even clever at time and I can imagine that it was very hard to write but he forgot the first rule of storytelling.  You always have to serve the plot!  You always have to serve the story!  I feel he got enamored by the world that he created and spent too much time on things that didn't serve the plot.

Overall, I do not recommend the book.  At times it was engaging but the pace for most of the book was slow and it dragged, a lot!  I grade this book a C.  I really wanted to like it but I just couldn't get past the poor pacing.  Sorry Mr. Stephenson.  And sorry AB, my recommender.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Plot by Ansen Dibell (4 stars of 5)

I just finished Plot by Ansen Dibell.

Plot is a non-fiction book for aspiring writers who want to learn the basics of the mechanics of plot.  The book was good; I learned a lot.  It didn't have any secrets about writing that I couldn't figure out myself by reading a lot of books.  But what the book did do was help me put a name and organize the concepts that I subconsciously recognized in reading other people's book.  There were a lot of A-HA or YES I RECOGNIZE THAT IN BOOKS THAT I'VE READ moments as I read.

I was a little confused about some of her choices for examples of good plot but then I realized that she wasn't picking the choices for creative genius but rather for accessibility to the reader.  She talked about EMPIRE STRIKES BACK a lot and I mean a lot.  I thought initially that she did this because she thought it was a work of profound PLOT genius but then, after further thought, she probably picked this story because most people are familiar with the story.  Another story she mentions a lot was LORD OF THE FLIES and REBECCA.

As I'm reading about learning how to be a better writer, I'm actually becoming a better reader.  As I read through short stories, novels and even movies and tv shows, I'm realizing all the mirror and patterns and juxtapositions that are commonly used that I never noticed before.

Overall, this book was good.  It definitely delivered on what it promised.  I learned about plot, the beginning, the middle and the end.  There was less HOW TO and more DESCRIPTION of ELEMENTS OF PLOT but I appreciated the writing and the few tips that she gave.  She also describes common pitfalls which was helpful.  I liked how she gave a lot of examples from books/stories/movies that I was familiar with.  I rate this a 4 out of 5, minus one star because I was hoping for some secrets or things that I would not have noticed on my own but didn't get.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Green Mile by Stephen King (5 stars of 5)

I just finished The Green Mile by Stephen King a couple of days ago.  I thought it was a really good book.  It was well written and the story was engaging and satisfying.  I give it 5 stars out of 5.

The Green Mile is told as a first person narrative from the perspective of Paul Edgecomb about his time as a prison guard in the Green Mile, where they execute prisoners by electricity until dead.  It is set in the 1930s during the great depression in the United States.  John Coffey, a gentle but very large, black man is brought into the prison for killing two girls and he is to stay at the Green Mile until his date of execution.  This story how John Coffey changed Paul Edgecomb's life.

Stephen King wrote this as a serial.  In other words, he wrote this in monthly installments.  The first 90 pages came out in March 1996 and about 30 days later, the next installment came out.  Stephen King wants to keep his writing fresh and he keeps on trying new things to achieve that goal.  In this case, he tried to write a serial novel to keep his writing fresh.  King says that it was a good experience but he would not do it again.  He liked and didn't like the pressure of having 90 pages complete in one month; he liked the excitement of keeping the story going but he said that it was hard to write that much in such a short time.  Also, he said that he does like that the critics get a chance to lambaste him 6 times (one for each installment) instead of just once.

I think this is a great story for character study.  John Coffey = J. C. = Jesus Christ, perhaps.  Percy Wetmore, a bad man out of incarceration compared to Wild Bill Wharton, a bad man that is incarcerated.  Eduard "Del" Delacroix is portrayed as a person who is a victim of Percy's malice; I found it interesting that I frequently forgot that he murdered six people.  This book is full of character gems.

The story, as with all of King's novels, has it's own pace, some slow (in a good way) and some really fast.  I really like the pacing of Mr. King's books.  This one was on the quicker side because the book was about 400 pages, slim for a King novel.

The story itself was very engaging, brilliant at times.

I really liked the character of John Coffey.  You'll have to read the book or watch the movie to find out what is so interesting about him.

Wild Bill Wharton was a bad, bad man.  King writes the best bad guys, I think.

NOTE about the movie.  The movie, which I saw tonight, was very good.  At one point, I found myself tearing.  I thought the movie was true to the book, flavor and all.  The casting was particularly impressive.

Overall, I thought The Green Mile was a well written and engaging story with very interesting characters.  I would highly recommend this book.  I rate it 5 out of 5 stars.  :)  Until the next time...