Let’s Talk Books — House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

Warning: Spoilers!

Well it’s been a while since I’ve written one of these! As many of you know, I didn’t exactly have a satisfying reading year in 2016. It got to a point where I felt discouraged to pick up books, and I started enjoying my fiction in other forms. That’s not to say I’m not interested in reading literature anymore, but for the time being my pursuits in finding new books to talk about have considerably slowed down.

Today, however, I do have a book to talk about that interested me to the point of actually looking forward to read something! House of Leaves is a horror/romance novel that really, really loves to play with format. And if you remember my post on the ttyl books, I’m most interested in reading books with more creative presentations.

So House of Leaves is set up like a collection of fictional notes, academic-style essays, and interviews regarding a fictional film called The Navidson Record. One of the main characters, Will Navidson, moves into a new home with his wife Karen and two children, hoping to either take a break or retire from a life of traveling the world for his photography career. He wishes to document his family life in a quiet, suburban environment for a change, so he sets up cameras around the house to capture everyone’s day-to-day activities.

When the family returns home one day, they find an undiscovered door that leads to a hall connecting two rooms in the house. Looking at floor plans reveals that they didn’t just miss it, but this hall isn’t supposed to exist at all. Will also discovers that the dimensions of the house are off by 3/4 of an inch; the inside of the house is slightly larger than the outside. He calls his brother Tom to help investigate any possible causes, and eventually a new door appears in their home. This time, however, the other side of the door is more threatening. There is a very dark and cold hallway that leads into a seemingly endless maze. When trying to explore it, Navidson gets lost and almost doesn’t make it back. Not only is the inside a labyrinth, but the halls shift, making any progress markers pointless.

Navidson eventually makes it back home, but his curiosity needs answers. Although he promises not to go back because of a promise to Karen, he does hire a professional explorer named Holloway and his crew to investigate for them. Navidson also outfits them with filming equipment so Holloway’s crew can document what they find.

Eventually the team discovers an enormous, spiraling staircase that leads deeper underground. However, after descending for at least half a day they realize it’s not ending and decide to head back. Future expeditions cause problems with Holloway’s mind, convincing him there’s a monster lurking somewhere. Navidson, Tom, and their buddy Billy also believe something else is lurking in the darkness; they find unusual scratch marks in the halls and Holloway’s team also finds their progress markers shredded as well. Holloway eventually shoots his own teammates, who flee and try to survive until Navidson finds them with his rescue team of Tom and Billy.

They eventually make it out, but one of the crew dies in the process. Navidson also finds a recording of Holloway’s final moments before killing himself, and sees/hears the body being dragged away and consumed. The house eventually starts transforming outside of the mysterious hallways; floors in the main house collapse and threaten to swallow everyone inside. When Navidson’s daughter is still trapped inside when everyone else has escaped, Tom goes back to rescue her. He gives her to Navidson just before the house takes his life.

Karen, who has already had enough of her husband’s shit, finally convinces him it’s time to go. Karen takes the kids while Navidson says he’ll meet with them in a couple of days after he tries to salvage his footage. However, he doesn’t return, and Karen is conflicted whether she should finally just leave him or if she should go find him herself. She eventually does go after him; Navidson couldn’t help himself and needed more closure about what the house actually is. Karen rescues him from the dark and that’s it… sort of.

What makes House of Leaves unique is that this main story is basically a summary of Navidson’s documentary, which was released as a film in the book’s universe. There are intentionally missing pieces to this whole story, so if it feels unfinished I supposed you could say that’s one reason why. The “essays” on the film that summarize the plot (and give genuinely interesting insight into small details in the film that expand or theorize about different parts of Navidson’s relationship with Karen or the house itself) I believe were written by an old man named Zampano, but I’m not 100% sure on that. Mixed into that are journal entries, newspaper clippings, interviews, and other material that try to help us understand the mystery of this house, this documentary, and whether or not it all really happened.

Zampano is the person that was compiling all of this information together. He died before House of Leaves even started, and it’s here that the other main character of the book comes into play. And unfortunately, he’s the worst part of the entire novel for me: Johnny. He’s a 20 or 30-something guy that works in a tattoo parlor and mainly goes around abusing drugs, getting plastered, fucking random girls (sometimes all three at once), and ejaculating philosophy to… I guess make him seem deeper than he actually is. If you couldn’t tell, I’m not exactly a fan of this type of character, so being stuck with him for half the book when something infinitely more interesting is going on in the other half really hurts an otherwise great reading experience for me.

So for whatever reason, Johnny takes an interest in Zampano’s work and begins editing and finishing the compilation himself. During this time, he suffers from hallucinations, feelings of cold, claustrophobia, and other symptoms that parallel those suffered by the exploration team in Navidson’s house. I guess there’s supposed to be some kind of connection from reading about the situation to actually being in the house itself, but with Johnny’s self-destructive habits I can’t even take him seriously as a narrator. And while he may have been meant to be an unreliable narrator in the first place, seeing him abuse his life so often makes me think his symptoms have nothing to do with The Navidson Record, but just with his drug and alcohol abuse.

In fact, I don’t really feel like Johnny has anything to do with The Navidson Record at all. I think he was meant to be a vessel in which the reader can see that the collection of essays, interviews, etc. were meant to be a work of fiction within this fictional world, if that makes sense. I think if House of Leaves was, by itself, this random collection of documents, readers may not understand that this is a work of fiction. So Johnny is essentially a character in this book that was meant to discover The Navidson Record and present it to the reader in a more understandable way.

And if that’s all there was, then that would be fine. The thing is, among the many footnotes throughout the book, Johnny will randomly go off into tangents on his nights of debauchery that honestly didn’t feel like they held any real purpose. There would be so many times when I’d be in the middle of an exciting discovery about the halls in Navidson’s home, only to be interrupted for 10 pages about how Johnny dropped acid with some random girl and then went back to her house to fuck her. I found everything about Johnny extremely obnoxious; I ended up skimming his sections just to get back to The Navidson Record, which I honestly think this entire book should have been about. To make matters worse, the end of The Navidson Record is kind of tossed to the side in favor of a series of letters from Johnny’s mother to him. There’s a good 60-70 pages worth of letters, too, which makes the actual ending to House of Leaves pretty anticlimactic.

Johnny’s sections aside, though, House of Leaves was the most interesting book I read in a while. It had me captivated and I looked forward to each time I sat down to read it. The books plays with format a lot, not just with the different types of documents, but with page layout as well. The book is close to 700 pages long, but a lot of the pages don’t even have half a page’s worth of text on it. Sentences and words are sometimes scattered about the page or arranged in a certain way to compliment the way the halls in Navidson’s house are changing or how the mental state of certain characters is transforming.

The only thing that disappointed me (aside from Johnny) is that there are no real answers given to what the deal with the house was or if there was a monster inside. There are some clues given throughout the text that hint the house exhibits interstellar properties and that it may predate the Big Bang, but that’s about it. I don’t necessarily hold this against the book, though. Mystery and horror stories often don’t offer satisfying answers; the thrill of the buildup is usually supposed to be more satisfying than the conclusion. And since this is also supposed to be a romance story, I’m happy with the way Navidson and Karen’s relationship was explored and arguably fixed by the end of the book (which I’ll admit I haven’t done a very good job explaining in this post).

All in all, I definitely recommend checking this one out. 700 pages is a lot, but with how the pages are laid out I’d say it’s more like 400 pages. It’s a different kind of book, so if you’re looking for something to read that’s less traditional please check it out!

Thanks for reading and I hope you’re having a great week! ๐Ÿ™‚

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House of Leaves
by Mark Z. Danielewski – Published 2000 by Pantheon – Paperback, 709 pages – ISBN 9780375703768

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New art!

Hey guys!

It’s been a while. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been sick of reading lately so I haven’t really picked up any books that I want to talk about. I read a few graphic novels — the first two volumes of I Hate Fairyland, a humorous, cartoonishly violent story of a girl trapped in a magical world she’s desperate to escape; and the first volume of Jonesy, which is about a girl that has the power to make anyone fall in love with someone else and the inevitable antics that follow. I enjoyed them, but I probably won’t go into too much detail on talking about individual volumes of graphic novels. Maybe once a series is finished I’d talk about the series as a whole, though.

So even though I don’t have any books to talk about, I do have a few art-related things to share. I got a nice case of markers from my sister for Christmas, so I drew a character named Annie from Splatoon.

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Annie’s got this really funky coral-like hair, complete with a snarky fish swimming in it. Between that and all of the colors in her design, I felt a strong urge to try drawing her and I thought she would be a good way to test out my new markers.

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I also made a fairly big Bowser out of Perler beads. I’ve been watching a let’s play of Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story lately and… well, I’m not exactly sure what it was, but I was really impressed with Bowser’s sprite work. Like, so impressed I dropped everything to go make a Perler Bowser!

He wasn’t too bad. I had to substitute some bead colors here and there, but overall I’m really happy with how he came out! And if you’re curious about the let’s play, it’s being done on YouTube by lucahjin, so go look her up if you’re in the mood for some fun, silly commentary for a fun, silly game! ๐Ÿ™‚

And finally, I’ve been working on a huge cross-stitch project since New Year’s Eve. Last year I learned how to cross-stitch and I thought to myself, “Hey, this would be a cool alternative for doing pixel art for projects too big for Perler beads!” I also thought there were a lot of cozy, homey areas in video games that would make good cross-stitch projects. So I started my first in hopefully a series of cross-stitch projects, Pallet Town from Pokemon Red/Blue. I was going to wait a little while longer before revealing my progress, but since today is Pokemon’s 21st anniversary…

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It may not seem impressive now, but I’ve put a lot of work into it! This is Oak’s lab, and I’m hoping to have this portion of Pallet Town finished within a few weeks! I debated whether or not to go with the classic black and white color palette of the Game Boy, or the color palette of the Super Game Boy. I eventually decidedย  to go with the Super Game Boy palette, mostly because I obtained a newfound appreciation for it when I played through Blue last year with my friend and completed the Pokedex for the first time.

I feel like the colors I’m using are blending in too much with each other, though. I feel like I picked up the right colors, and when I looked at the game itself and compared it to my sprite sheet it feels like I’m doing this right, but… I dunno. Maybe I need to get a little further to really tell. It’s just one part of the entire town, after all.

Well that’s all for now. As for books, I did start reading a really interesting one that plays a lot with structure and layout, so I think there’s a good chance I’ll make a post about it one I’m done! Until then, I hope everyone’s having a great week! ๐Ÿ™‚

Let’s Talk Books — The ttyl series by Lauren Myracle

Warning: Spoilers!

Or Internet Girls series as it’s apparently known. I kind of didย  a double take when I first saw ttyl as Internet Girls #1 on Goodreads and thought maybe it was a mistake, but nope. Even on ttyl‘s Wikipedia page it says this is part of Lauren Myracle’s Internet Girls series of books. That’s nice and all, but I’ve been calling the trilogy of ttyl, ttfn, and l8r, g8r the “ttyl books” for ten years now so you’re gonna have to forgive me for if I continue calling it that.

2016 was a pretty rough reading year for me. It was a year of trying out a lot of books that made their way onto my to-read list one way or another, and a lot of them didn’t hold up very well. Many of these books were usually all right at best, straight up hating at worst, but either way most didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. I even decided to break out of my comfort zone and start reading a new genre altogether, biographies, which I didn’t care for before, wanted to give a fresh fair chance with, but only proved to myself that I still do hate reading biographies. Usually I write posts about each book I’ve read lately, but I started skipping posts about many of these books. Sometime last year, reading just stopped being fun for me. It felt like a chore more than anything else, and I honestly just wanted to do other things with my free time rather than read.

I started thinking about why I wasn’t getting as much value from reading anymore, and I think a big part of it was because of how literature itself operates as a medium. It’s just words. With movies, television, and video games, the story and how it’s presented to you is still there, but there’s also many other factors that contribute to your overall enjoyment of them, like the use of music, lighting techniques, special effects, and acting. With books, if the story doesn’t interest you, you’ve only got the writing style to fall back on. And if it doesn’t stick out, then that’s it. When I was in my fiction workshops in college, I always felt in some ways, writing literature was one of the hardest forms of writing entertainment because all you have to work with are words, so you really had to bring your A-game with how you use them. And I found that to be especially true after this past reading year.

I guess that’s part of the reason I wanted to revisit the ttyl books again after… six or seven years, I guess? I’ve changed a lot since then, and my genuine love for cheesey YA books has long since passed, but one thing I always have and still admire about this series is how the book is written. ttyl is most famous for being told entirely through instant messages. The page format is like an early 2000s era Macintosh window, the entire narrative is dialogue by the three main characters, each girl’s username is presented before their lines, and they all even have different fonts and colors to help develop each character’s personality. It’s like looking through old Facebook or text messages, only there’s a story built around it. This presentation, from a writing perspective, completely stands out to me and enhances my reading experience. More experimental forms of storytelling like this are exactly what I’m looking for in books. I loved rereading these not just for the nostalgia, but because of how they were written.

Which was good, because the stories had their fair share of incredibly cringey moments.

The ttyl books follow three friends, Angela, Maddie, and Zoe, through a few months of their high school lives. ttyl takes place early in their sophomore year of high school, ttfn takes place during the middle of their junior year, and l8r, g8r covers a good chunk of their senior lives. Each book has a new problem for each girl to overcome, and those problems often mix together or bleed into the other girls’ lives, effecting their friendship in some way.

In ttyl, Angela starts dating a guy that’s more into another girl, and after they break up she becomes so delusional that they should be together she starts developing stalker-like qualities. Maddie initially can’t stand what a bully their collective nemesis Jana is, but when Maddie gets her license Jana starts pretending to be her friend for the use of her car. Maddie becomes so blind and defensive to what’s happening, she ignores her friends completely for the last third of the book when she convinces herself her real friends aren’t trustworthy and don’t like her. Zoe starts developing a weird relationship with her teacher, Mr. H. It starts off with him inviting her to come to his church activity days, which Zoe initially embraces as she develops more of a spiritual side, but it turns creepier as he starts picking her up, making lewd remarks to her in private, and finally inviting her over to use a hot tub at a place he’s house-sitting for. Maddie ends up saving the day by crashing their weird date and saving Zoe, and the three resolve their own conflicts by the end.

ttfn starts out with the girls in a happier place, but things get shitty when Angela learns her father’s taking a job across the country and her whole family’s about to move. The girls’ friendship is about to be put to the test again, as the time zone and the physical distance between them makes it harder to keep in touch. Angela’s miserable in her new place, but while this is going on, Maddie is starting to experiment with drugs to impress a boy she likes, and Zoe starts dating Doug, who in the previous book was a dorky kid that was in love with Angela who never had his feelings returned. Maddie gets into some trouble with the police, and sheltered Zoe becomes extremely confused as her moral compass and her body’s needs are in constant conflict while exploring the physical sides of a relationship with Doug. Angela eventually runs away, using all of her savings to take a bus cross-country in the hopes that her desperate action will convince her aunt back home to let her live there.

Things wrap up nicely again, although I’ll admit ttfn was just a little bit weaker than ttyl, partially because this book didn’t really have as much conflict as the first one, at least between the three girls. They all sort of had self-containing issues that didn’t affect the other girls as much as the first book’s problems did, except maybe Angela moving cross-country. But even then, Maddie and Zoe’s life moved on while Angela seemed like the only one to be really effected by her distance from her friends.

l8r, g8r takes place in the girls’ senior year of high school, a year that I certainly dreaded back when I was in high school and always get uncomfortable whenever I read stories about it. All the usual senior tropes are here: fear of going separate ways, deciding whether or not to break up or make long-distance relationships work, stressing over college applications, prom drama — it’s all here. In some ways this makes l8r, g8r my least favorite of the three, given that I have a bias against a lot of the subject matter here, but in other ways I think the problems the girls face are the most interesting in the series.

Angela started dating a nice guy that she legitimately has fun with, but she starts feeling like he’s better as a friend than boyfriend. When she’s about to break up with him, he gives her a jeep and she spends a lot of the book struggling with herself and what to do. She doesn’t want to break up with him because of the extremely generous present, but she doesn’t want to date him, yet she doesn’t want to lead him on — I’ll admit she feels a little shallow at some points, but I feel like this is a problem that many people have to some degree and I can appreciate her trying to do the right thing, even pin down what the right thing even is.

Maddie struggles with Ian, a guy she started dating in ttyl but broke up with between the first and second books. Her actions in the first book made Ian hesitant to see her anymore, and I guess after the first book things just weren’t working out and they went separate paths. Angela and Zoe always voiced their opinions that she still had feelings for Ian and how they want them to get back together, but Maddie always resisted. Ian shows up in her life again, and they hang out again, but she doesn’t want to admit to herself that she has feelings for him. Again, struggling to accept feelings for someone for whatever reason is something I also feel like a lot of people deal with, and I can appreciate it seeing represented here.

Zoe, unfortunately, is the most irritating part of this book. In ttfn she starts to lose herself in Doug and their relationship, but eventually gets some of her identity back by the end. In l8r, g8r, she loses all of that character development and becomes obsessed with her boyfriend. Throughout the entire book, she is constantly going on about how great Doug is, how perfect Doug is, how worldly Doug is, blah blah blah blah blah. Even Angela and Maddie are like, “shut up Zoe.” She puts off spending time with Angela and Maddie for Doug, and a huge part of this book is Zoe hyping up when they’re eventually going to have sex, which I’ll admit is a relatable issue for most people, but always left me feeling creepy while reading about it in YA books as a late-20s guy. Zoe is the complete manifestation of why reading about honeymoon phases in relationships is really irritating, and although she realizes how obsessed she’s become and how much of herself she lost by the end of the book, that’s not enough to make her particularly likable in this particular entry.

If it feels like this series has a lot of teenage melodrama, that’s because it does. Like, a lot of it. But honestly, I can say the same about so many YA books. The big thing I take away from the ttyl series (besides personal nostalgia) is the writing style. Like I mentioned earlier, the entirety of the series is written in an instant message format and I absolutely adore this. I’m still kind of surprised just how well Lauren Myracle built up the subplots by slowly yet gradually introducing them into extremely natural sounding dialogue between the girls’ IM conversations.

A lot of the criticism I hear about these books is how there’s not really a story — not an interesting one, anyway. And I can kind of see where they’re coming from. These books have a lot of conversations that don’t really contribute to the plot. Many of them are like actual instant messages, like just shooting the shit, bringing up stuff that happened in class earlier that day, talking about crushes, and dumb things teachers did. It all sounds like natural dialogue — honestly, this is probably one of the best instances of natural sounding and natural paced dialogue I’ve ever seen in literature — but I know many people follow the school of thought that dialogue like this, that may help with world building or character development, is a waste of space in terms of plot. Personally, I feel like you can’t call it right or wrong because it’s more of a case by case situation. But I do think that these books are built around this type of dialogue and are actually one of the great parts about them, so I think it more than works.

I feel like most of the content in these books, however, only holds up well for teens. It is a YA book, so I guess that’s to be expected, but for this series in particular the subject matter almost always feels relevant to a certain stage of life. And once you’re past that stage, well… you know. ๐Ÿ˜›

However, if you get more from reading than just another story to pass the time and find value in experimental writing, I totally recommend at least checking the first book out. Again, the IM conversations that make up the entire narrative provide a unique reading experience that feels surprisingly natural. I’d love to see more experimental storytelling like this, only from books that target a demographic a littler closer to my age. Like maybe the same exact concept, only taking place in college…?

Oh. I guess that happened a couple of years ago? Yeah, to my surprise, a fourth book in the series called YOLO was released a couple of years ago. Now the original trilogy was released between 2004 and 2007, so my natural hesitation of all things sequel-related is gnawing at me to not check out this fourth book released seven whole years later. However, if it’s more of a writing style like this, then I honestly want to go find a copy. Like I said, I’ve grown so sick of reading lately, and I hate it. I really want to explore more books that play around with how they present their stories, especially if that’s what’s going to peak my interest again. I’ll let you know how it is if I ever read it!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re having a great week! ๐Ÿ™‚

Info for my editions of ttyl, ttfn, and l8r, g8r:

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ttyl by Lauren Myracle — Published 2005 by Amulet Books — Paperback, 209 pages — ISBN 978-0-8109-8788-3

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ttfn by Lauren Myracle — Published 2006 by Amulet Books — Paperback, 256 pages — ISBN 978-0-8109-9279-5

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l8r, g8r
by Lauren Myracle — Published 2008 by Amulet Books — Paperback, 274 pages — ISBN 978-0-8109-7086-1

 

New Perler bead art! (Pokemon, Splatoon, and Legend of Zelda)

Happy New Year, everyone! It’s been a while since my last post, and I was hoping to have one final book discussion before 2016 was over. I read through the ttyl series (or Internet Girls series, as it’s apparently been called) last month, but it took longer than I thought it would. I just finished the final book the other day and I’m hoping to have a post about it before the week is over.

However, I’ve also made some new Perler art in the past month that I wanted to share! The first three were made as Christmas gifts for friends, so let’s take a look!

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The first one I made last month was the Pokemon Espeon, who was first introduced in Pokemon Gold/Silver. It was one of the new Eevee evolutions, and a counterpart to Umbreon, Eevee’s other new evolution. While Umbreon was one of the new dark types and represented the moon, Espeon here was a psychic type and represented the sun. The friend I made this for loves Espeon, so I looked through sprites of it from different games and chose one I thought she would like. This particular one is from Pokemon Diamond/Pearl, and I chose it because it looks like a meowing cat, which my friend is also a huge fan of.

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The next Perler project I did was another Pokemon one. Here I made Vileplume and Oddish attached to each other. The friend I made this for loves Vileplume and used one in her party when we played through Pokemon Red/Blue together last year, so making this particular project held double the meaning for me. I made an Oddish with it because I had an idea to make a mommy and baby Pokemon together and wanted to see how it came out. I was originally going to have Oddish on top of Vileplume’s head, like it was riding on the petals, but I thought it wasn’t going to look good so I ended up putting Oddish slightly in front of Vileplume instead.

These particular sprites came from Pokemon Silver. An interesting thing about the entire Oddish family in the earlier games is that although their artwork depicts them as having grayish-blue body tones, some of their sprites depict them as all black. These sprites did something interesting and kept hints of the blue in the otherwise black bodies, and I thought they looked really stylized and pretty badass. I knew my friend would appreciate something like that, so I chose these sprites to go with.

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My next project is the squid mascot from Splatoon, a team-based game for Wii U. I finally purchased one last year, my first new video game console in eight years. One of the games I’ve really enjoyed is Splatoon. You’re paired up with other players to form teams of four, and your goal is to cover the most ground with a paint-like ink. You play as Inklings, characters that look mostly human with the exception of their hair, which are squid tentacles formed to look like hairstyles. However, you can turn into a squid at anytime, which is mostly used to travel quickly through ink you’ve splattered on the ground.

One of my friends and I have been playing Splatoon online together once every week or so lately, and I thought he would appreciate a Perler piece from that game. Since it’s an HD console game, however, there are no sprites to use, so I took an image of the mascot squid and put a grid over it like I’ve done a few times before. I think it came out rather nice, although I think the spots on the bottom came out a little too blocky.

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Finally, I made some smaller Perler art for myself. These are some characters from The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for the Game Boy. Link’s Awakening is a game I haven’t played through entirely since I was a kid, despite being a big Zelda fan. There was no real reason why, either; for the past few years especially, I’ve always said I should replay it soon but for whatever reason I never did. Three or four years ago, I started a new file but stopped halfway through, again, for no real reason.

So about a week before Christmas, I was getting nostalgic for some of the games I got for Christmas in 2002. That was probably the best Christmas for me for a number of reasons, but gift-wise, I got very lucky and got three Game Boy Advance games and four Gamecube games. I wanted to play one of those Game Boy Advance games again, and I chose the port of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, originally for the Super Nintendo. Now, I’ve played through this game many, many times since then, and although I always enjoy revisiting it, it’s unfortunately one of those games that I’ve played to death and feel like I just go through the motions while playing. I beat it in a few days, but I was still feeling nostalgic and still in the mood for a 2-D Zelda game. So I finally decided that this was the perfect time to finally revisit Link’s Awakening after so many years.

I could go on about my recent experience playing Link’s Awakening, but that’s probably better saved for its own separate post. The short version is, I loved it! It was so charming for a Zelda game, and since I haven’t played it fully since I was a kid and only had vague memories from then and a few let’s plays I’ve watched, it felt new. Anyway, I really wanted to make some Perler characters from this game, so I made a bunch of either my favorites or from characters I thought looked interesting. I think my favorite part of making these was that I had found this slightly off-white, almost ivory colored bag of Perler beads that I usually reserve for shades of gray, but here it’s perfect for how white appears on the Game Boy, making these Perler pieces feel extra retro. ๐Ÿ™‚

Well that’s all for now! Stay tuned for my Let’s Talk Books on the ttyl series, and possibly even a Link’s Awakening post shortly after that! Thanks everyone for reading, I hope you’re having a great week, and I definitely hope you’re going to have a great year! ๐Ÿ™‚

Let’s Talk Books — A Series of Unfortunate Events #1-3 by Lemony Snicket

After trudging through Dracula for a month (and a half), I felt like reading through something significantly lighter. There are a few faster books from my collection I’ve been wanting to reread lately, but before I dive into them I felt it was time to give this series a try.

I’ve never read any of the A Series of Unfortunate Events books when I was a kid. In fact, I don’t think I’d even heard of them until the movie came out in 2004. I barely remember it at all, though. At some point I ended up having a box set of the first three books in my house; whether it was always there and I just didn’t notice, or someone gave it to me as a gift for Christmas — I’m not sure. (Although I found my ticket stub in the first book, so I’m assuming it was the latter.) Either way, I never read any of them, and I think I know why. I probably opened one of the books up, skimmed a few pages, and thought to myself that these seem a tad too childish (I was 16 or 17 at the time).

It wasn’t until the past year when one of my friends actually recommended reading through them. She was a big fan as a kid, but said she enjoyed reading through them again as an adult. Was it nostalgia, or was there something in them for adults, too? I dug out that box set and put it aside, intending to read at least the first book at some point. I mean, if I can enjoy cartoons and video games meant for kids so much, it’s possible to enjoy a children’s book series too, right?

Each book was short and pretty basic, so I’m going to combine the first three for this one post. The first book, The Bad Beginning, introduces us to the three Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. Violet’s 14, and she’s interested in mechanical things and inventions. Klaus is a couple of years younger, and he’s a heavy reader. Sunny’s a baby, and she has sharp teeth and likes to bite things. I don’t want to say these are their only personality traits, but…

The three Baudelaire kids lived a pretty nice life, doing their things while living with their wonderful parents in a nice mansion. One day, however, their house burns down and takes their parents in the fire. The children were out for the day when it happened, and their parents’ friend Mr. Poe was burdened with sharing the unfortunate news.

According to their parents’ will, the children are supposed to live with the nearest relative, which unfortunately happens to be Count Olaf, a cartoony villain who will do anything to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune. But unfortunately for Count Olaf, none of the children can even touch the fortune until Violet turns 18. So in the meantime, Count Olaf treats the kids like garbage, making them do horrible chores while verbally (and in one case with Klaus, physically) abusing them.

The kids try to tell Mr. Poe what a terrible person Count Olaf is, but, for lack of a better word, he’s a turd. He can’t focus on one thing for more than like two sentences and ends up shushing the children or telling them generic advice instead of taking them seriously.

Being a turd, Mr. Poe calls Count Olaf and tells him the children came by his office to voice their concerns about their living arrangement. Count Olaf appears to show a change of heart and begins acting nicely towards the kids, even offering them roles in his upcoming play. Even though it sounds fishy, they go along with it.

Count Olaf’s character is supposed to marry Violet’s character in the play, and his neighbor, a real judge, will be the judge (or pastor? I forget) in the play as well. The two are wed, and although his plan was revealed, it was too late; by law Count Olaf has access to the Baudelaire’s fortune. Or he would, if Violet would have made her vow with the proper hand. Saved by a technicality, the kids exposed Count Olaf but he escaped.

In the next book, The Reptile Room, Mr. Poe finds their next closest relative. His name is Montgomery Montgomery, and he’s an eccentric guy that studies snakes. He’s very friendly, gives the children what they need, and they’re very excited to begin researching snakes with him. In fact, they’re supposed to go on a trip to Peru for their research soon, but there’s only one problem.

Montgomery Montgomery has hired an assistant, and it’s Count Olaf in disguise. The children immediately recognize him, but again, no one will listen to them. Count Olaf murders Montgomery Montgomery, staging his death to look like a poisonous snake bit him. Count Olaf still plans to go to Peru with the children, where he will “take care of them” where it’s harder to track his movements.

On the way to the harbor, Count Olaf crashes his car into Mr. Poe’s. Mr. Poe is as useless as ever, although his buffoonery buys the children some time while they figure out how to prove Montgomery Montgomery was murdered by Count Olaf, who Mr. Poe believes is the assistant. When his plan is foiled, he escapes again.

The third book in this collection is The Wide Window. Mr. Poe places the children in the care of their Aunt Josephine, who is afraid to do everyday things like turn on the stove. She’s kindhearted, but understandably frustrating to live with. While shopping for groceries, the children and their aunt run into Count Olaf again, who is in disguise as a sailor. He flirts with Josephine, who will not listen to the children when they tell her he’s Count Olaf. He eventually threatens Josephine, forcing her to write a suicide note that says Count Olaf (still under the guise of the sailor) will be their new caretakers.

The children find several issues with the note and determine that Josephine is not really dead, and eventually track her down. After rescuing her, Count Olaf runs into them again, this time throwing Josephine overboard into water containing fatal leeches. The kids once again prove who Count Olaf is to Mr. Poe, and he escapes again.

From what I understand, there are 13 books in the series. I’ve heard they get more interesting, shedding light on Count Olaf’s mysterious eye ankle tattoo and revealing more about the Baudelaire’s parents’ deaths. I’m a little disappointed there wasn’t anything like that in the three books that I read. They were fun, but they left me feeling like each book was self-contained, following a similar, predictable formula.

This series, at least from what I’ve read, definitely seems to be for kids. The print is large, the narrator constantly explains what bigger words mean, and the whole story sounds like it’s meant to be read out loud with a little gusto to a young audience. Honestly, I didn’t really see anything that adults would gain from it (although I think there were a couple of topics like a creepy uncle marrying a 14 year old girl or said creepy uncle murdering people that some parents may not find appropriate for kids).

That being said, there was something that grew on me while reading that made me curious to want to read more. I enjoyed that each book was about 200 pages and were fast reads to boot, so maybe something about finishing each one so quickly and being able to go into the next had something to do with that. I don’t know if or when I’ll read more, but when I do I might talk about them if I feel like they do anything different enough with their presentation.

I’d recommend trying a book or two out if you’re looking for a fast, light read. Like I said, these three books definitely felt like they’re meant for kids, but they were entertaining and charming enough for an adult like me to, at the very least, enjoy passing time with.

Thanks for reading and I hope you’re having a great week! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Late InkTober Drawings!

Hey everyone! While writing the Dracula post last week, I forgot to make a post showing the rest of the drawings I did for InkTober.

I cheated a little with some of these final drawings. InkTober is supposed to use, well, ink. And while I did use ink for all of these drawings, I started using colored pencils for some of the last few (I got frustrated doing so many drawings in only black and white).

Part of the reason I wasn’t using color in the first place is that I don’t really have any colored markers. I have a few in varying shades of gray, and a few colored India Ink markers, but I was never happy with how they came out. I would have bought some, but good markers are pretty expensive and now wasn’t exactly the best time to drop money on something I probably won’t use too often. ๐Ÿ˜›

However, one of my friends lent me a few copic markers to try out, and I used those for my final two drawings. I was thrilled with how they turned out! They were very thick, consistent, and left no streaks. I really want to invest in them some time!

InkTober was very fun. I try using my creativity to make different things as often as I can, but this was the first time since college that I actually worked on something every single day for a month straight. Even when I didn’t feel like it (and trust me, there were a lot of days I wasn’t feeling it), I powered through. There was something really great about starting and finishing something every day, too. I’ve got a bad habit of spending too long on certain things, trying to make them perfect, or even giving up on them if I convince myself there’s no way I could make them look good in the first place. Forcing myself to start and finish something within one day made me more comfortable with myself. Even if something didn’t turn out well (and I definitely think some of these didn’t turn out well), I had plenty more that I was proud of. It became easier for me to understand that if something I was working on wasn’t working out, that’s all right. Because there will always be something next time.

Thanks for reading, and I hope everyone’s having a great week! ๐Ÿ™‚

Let’s Talk Books — Dracula by Bram Stoker

All right everyone, it’s finally here! The review of Dracula that I was hoping to have done weeks ago for Halloween! I’m not thrilled it took me this long to finish, let alone get around to writing about it. But better late than never, right? I’d like to say that at least there’s a lot for me to talk about here, but unfortunately there isn’t.

The first and only time I’d read Dracula was actually ten years ago around this time of year. I was a senior in high school and recently obsessed with an anime and manga called Hellsing, a stylized action series about a vampire hunter named Alucard, who himself was a vampire working for London’s Hellsing Organization. I became extremely curious about vampire mythology around this time and eventually found myself reading Dracula, which I believe was the first major work of fiction that defined vampires (but don’t quote me on that; there have been legends of vampires far preceding Dracula‘s publication in 1897).

Well my vampire obsession came and went, but for the past couple of years, whenever I’d look through my bookshelf and see Dracula sitting there, I always told myself, “it’s been a while, I don’t remember much about it, I think a revisit should happen soon.” So for Halloween this year, I finally read through it again. So let’s talk about it before I forget the plot once more.

Dracula is told through journal entries and letters from the story’s cast of characters, so there isn’t one particular main character. However, the book starts off focusing on Jonathan Harker, a man visiting Transylvania to do business with Count Dracula,ย  a wealthy man that lives alone deep in the mountains. Count Dracula wants Jonathan to assist him with official documents and legal matters regarding his plans to move to England. At first, Count Dracula makes Jonathan feel welcome in his home, but things start to feel off a few days into his stay.

Jonathan takes note of certain oddities about Dracula, like how he’s never around during the day and how he won’t eat dinner alongside him. As time goes on and Jonathan wishes to finish his business with the Count, Dracula seemingly invents new excuses for him to stay. Eventually Jonathan encounters three vampire women that attack him; Dracula saves Jonathan from them, but when he tells the women that Jonathan is his, Jonathan realizes that he is being held prisoner by whatever sort of creature Dracula is. After several attempts at escape, Jonathan finally finds himself free again and makes his way back home.

Jonathan’s stay at Dracula’s home is probably the most interesting part of the book. The growing tension between Jonathan and Dracula makes for a very interesting read, and the increasing number of hints regarding what Dracula really is is extremely interesting, especially if you’re familiar with vampires and are discovering for the first time that a lot of their traits famously known today originate from this book (well, in the way that the first major work of fiction regarding vampires is this book). Unfortunately, the rest of the book isn’t nearly as interesting, and a large part of that is because Dracula himself takes a back seat to the other characters.

Jonathan’s journal entries turn into notes meant for his fiancee, Mina. After Jonathan escapes, the plot focuses on letters sent between Mina and her best friend Lucy. Lucy is excited because she’s meeting suitors and Mina is trying to stay happy for her friend despite worrying about Jonathan, whom she hasn’t heard from in some time. Her suitors become involved with the plot as well; two of them are Arthur and Quincey, both of which are so interchangeable and honestly unneeded that I’m not going to address them for the rest of this post, and the third is Dr. Seward, head of a psychiatric hospital.

Dr. Seward plays a larger role in the plot than I initially thought he would. His entry into the plot begins with notes regarding one of his patients, Renfield. Renfield begins exhibiting odd behavior like collecting and eating flies and spiders in order to gain their life force. I’m sure you can guess where this is going, but he also starts to tend to Lucy, who has fallen extremely ill and no one can figure out why, as she appears to be quite healthy.

Dr. Seward calls on his mentor and friend, Abraham van Helsing. He’s secretive and passionate, and really adds a theatrical flare to things. After what honestly feels like too much time, he reveals that Lucy is exhibiting symptoms of being turned into a vampire. Lucy eventually dies and is buried in a tomb, but when van Helsing and Dr. Seward sneak into it one night, they discover there’s no body.

van Helsing fills our merry cast of heroes in on the situation, including Jonathan, who has finally returned home and married Mina. They plan to sneak into the tomb when Lucy is resting in her grave (vampires must return to their burial place or someplace that has the earth of their burial place in order to rest after feeding) and decapitate her, then drive a stake through her chest, as these are the only two ways to guarantee a vampire’s destruction. Obviously, it’s a heartbreaking task for Lucy’s three suitors and van Helsing, who had grown attached to Lucy as well, but it’s done and we move on.

van Helsing, Dr. Seward, Jonathan, and Mina study each other’s journal entries over recent events and begin a search for Dracula to prevent any more losses. They eventually discover he’s had boxes of earth from his home shipped around England, and with some crafty investigating they begin destroying them. Dracula eventually shows up in the story again and promises they won’t succeed in stopping him. Then he… leaves. Can’t exactly remember why, although I do remember van Helsing saying that he’s scared and running back home to rethink his plans. The group chases him back to Transylvania and finds a group of gypsies carrying back home. They ambush the box and destroy the vampire.

And that’s kind of it. There’s a small epilogue saying that Jonathan and Mina are living happily with children, and some smaller plot arcs scattered throughout the story, but overall that’s Dracula. It’s a pretty basic story, but unfortunately it’s long. It’s 400 pages, a little longer than your average novel, but the real problem regarding length is the massive amount of text dumps. There are exclusively large paragraphs in Dracula without any dialogue exchanges to break things up. Well… okay, there is a lot of dialogue here, but it’s not the usual “character a says this,” line break, “character b says that,” etc. Dialogue itself can take up an entire paragraph before someone else responds, followed by yet another paragraph of dialogue.

In other words, dialogue between two characters feels more like monologuing at each other.

I mean, Dracula is often pretty poetic in both narration and the interactions between characters, but it very much feels like an old novel with language that’s unnecessary. I feel like Bram Stoker’s involvement in theater shows itself here, as a lot of the language and characters feel like they belong more on stage rather than in a novel. And I guess in the end it’s up to each reader and their tastes to decide on how those factors contribute to an entertaining read. But personally, while I likeย Dracula, it took a long time for me to evenย want to finish it. This is one of those books that are better read during longer reading sessions when you can get into the flow of an outdated literary era. Trying to pick it up for 10 or 20 minute reading bursts just makes me feel like I didn’t really experience anything new in the plot.

Could I recommend reading it even with its faults? Yeah. I could. You may not want to reread it, but I think it’s an experience worth having. There’s a lot of interesting history about vampires and as I mentioned earlier, it’s very satisfying to read little traits like how vampires don’t have reflections or how they can transform into animals in what’s considered to be the book that defined vampires.There’s also a lot of literary analysis that makes for interesting reads as well, if you’re into that sort of thing. Like I said though, it’s a long read. If you had to read any of it, I would recommend the first quarter or so when Jonathan is being held prisoner by Dracula, as I think that part has the most to get out of in this book.

Sorry again for the long wait for the review. Hopefully it won’t be as long for whatever I look at next! Thanks for reading and I hope you’re having a great week! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Info for my edition of Dracula:

Published 2004 by Barnes & Noble

Paperback, 417 pages

ISBN 9781593081140