Let’s Talk Books — Watership Down

Warning: Spoilers

First thing’s first: this isn’t the post I said I was working on in last week’s update. That’s still being written, unfortunately, but hopefully next week it will be done. However, because it’s been a while since I wrote an actual post, I wanted to give you guys one last something before the year was over. So without further ado, here’s my last Let’s Talk Books post of 2015: Watership Down.

I tried explaining the plot of Watership Down to a couple of friends yesterday, and it wasn’t until then that I realized how simple of a premise the entire book is: a group of rabbits trying to find a new home. However, while the plot is basic and grounded in reality, the narrative is written like an epic journey kind of story you’d find in fantasy books.

To give more detail, Watership Down is about a rabbit named Hazel, who leads a select group of rabbits from their warren in search of a new one. Hazel’s brother, Fiver, is known to have prophetic visions. When he foresees the destruction of their home, he and Hazel try persuading their chief that they need to evacuate as soon as possible. Unfortunately, since Fiver’s prediction is little more than a hunch at this point, their pleas are ignored and Hazel takes it upon himself to leave the warren with whoever wants to come with them.

The group of rabbits travel, attempting to start a new life and home somewhere. They briefly stop at another warren, home to rabbits that live very differently than Hazel’s previous home. When Hazel’s group realizes these new rabbits live in a forced, ignorant bliss where one of them will routinely be killed by a nearby farmer, Hazel’s group flees.

They eventually find Watership Down, an ideal place to start building their new warren. The only problem is, they don’t have any does (female rabbits) in their group, and they’ll need to start populating their new home soon if they hope to survive. At a nearby farm, they’re able to persuade two pet rabbits to come back to their developing warren, but two does aren’t enough.

It turns out there’s another nearby warren called Efrafa that’s overpopulated. A small team of rabbits are sent to ask if they would like to send some does their way to help both their warrens with their problems. But it turns out Efrafa is led by a dictator named General Woundwort and keeps the team prisoners, attempting to assimilate them into Efrafa’s culture.

Hazel’s rabbits escape, and when they return to Watership Down they make a plan to break as many does out as possible. They send their strongest rabbit, Bigwig, into Efrafa under the lie that he’s been traveling the country looking for a new home after his was lost (which I guess is technically true, when I put it like that). After a complicated series of events, Bigwig manages to break out many does and rendezvous with Hazel. They escape on a small boat, of all things, effectively cutting their scent and trail off from the pursuing Efrafans.

Unfortunately, the Efrafans manage to track them back to Watership Down, and a major battle takes place between Hazel’s rabbits and General Woundwort’s. It gets pretty complicated, almost as complicated as the plan to break out the does from Efrafa, but eventually Hazel’s rabbits win and are able to start their new life.

Watership Down also builds an interesting worldview of these rabbits. They speak their own language, which only really becomes apparent from time to time, like when a made up word is introduced to refer to something (my favorite was hrududu, which refers to cars or other motorized, man-made machine) or when speaking to other animals. They also have their own religious-like view of the world. For example, they worship the sun and refer to it as Frith. They also hold a folk-hero like rabbit called El-Ahrairah in high regard, with entire chapters dedicated to telling stories of his past triumphs while drawing parallels to Hazel’s growing role as chief.

It was a really fun and interesting read, but it’s also one of those books that may take a while to get into. And I don’t mean that the beginning is boring — I just personally found myself more invested when I sat down and read for hours as opposed to, say, 30 minutes at a time. The book is also pretty long at almost 500 pages, so make sure you have some time before starting it. Normally books this length overstay their welcome for me, but I really enjoyed it all the way through.

The only real fault I have with the book is, that when it comes down to it, half the book is about rabbits trying to find girls to fuck. That’s crass, I know. After all, despite the humanization of these animals, they’re still rabbits and act entirely on survival. But I couldn’t help but notice a huge section of this book was Hazel’s group trying to include female rabbits for the sole purpose of reproducing. Maybe they could have added in more romance between certain rabbits to make it seem less animalistic.

Or maybe I’m looking too much into it. Or maybe I have a dirty mind. I don’t know. It’s a book about rabbits. I should leave well enough alone.

Anyway guys, I’d recommend it for anyone of all ages. It has a pretty general appeal, and I expect many people that give this one a try will enjoy it. With that said, thanks for reading, and have a happy, healthy new year! 🙂

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Info for my edition of Watership Down:

  • Published 2005 by Scribner
  • Paperback, 474 pages
  • ISBN 9780743277709
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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone! And for those that don’t celebrate Christmas, Happy Friday! I hope everyone’s having a good time during the holidays. I know for a lot of people, the holidays are a pretty crappy time. For those that are struggling, I hope you’re holding up all right. They’re almost over, so just hang in there.

I’m sorry I haven’t posted much lately. I’ve been working on a new review for the past few weeks, and it’s taking longer than I thought. It’s a big one, but still, I was really hoping I could get it done in time for Christmas. Unfortunately, I still need a little more time. It’s something different than what I normally do, but I’m hoping it will be worth it. I’m aiming for next week, so keep your fingers crossed!

Anyway, hope everyone’s having a good month! Merry Christmas and Happy Friday! 🙂

Let’s Talk Books — Dirty Daddy

Warning: Spoilers

As some of you may know, I’m not much of an autobiography or memoir reader. My love of reading definitely lies with fiction, although I’ve been trying to branch out lately. Among the new titles I’m trying to include in my reading cycle are… celebrity autobiographies? It sounds so stupid to say aloud, but yeah. I guess that’s what you’d call them.

I don’t know if they’re getting more popular, if it’s a current trend, or I’m just being subjected to too many tweets and Barnes and Noble display stands promoting these types of books, but I’ve been noticing a lot of celebrities releasing books during the past few years. Like I said, I don’t have a lot of interest in autobiographies, but after seeing certain ones all over the place I’m finally giving in and seeing if there’s something in them I can enjoy.

And the first one? Bob Saget’s Dirty Daddy.

Another fun fact about me: I love Full House.

LOVE. IT.

And I honestly have no idea why. It’s not funny, it’s super cheesy, and it reeks of family friendly values that taught my generation that people who smoke, drink, have sex, and swear are bad people.

But… I don’t know! I kind of like it because of all those reasons! It was a kindhearted show that made for relaxing background noise while I fell asleep at night. And… I don’t know! It came on Nick at Nite one year while I was in high school (and by came on I mean completely dominated) and I had it on every night while I did homework, played video games, read, drew, and went to sleep.

And my friends and family made fun of me for it. A lot. As a particularly moody and “dark” teenager, the irony wasn’t lost on me that I loved something as harmless and fuzzy as Full House. And you’ve probably guessed where I’m going with this, but a big reason I loved Full House was because of Danny Tanner.

Again, I’m not sure why. 75% of me believes that I casually said I liked Danny Tanner or defended him when one of my friends made fun of him, and I ended up liking and defending him more as my friends and family hated on him and the show.

But for whatever reason, I ended up loving Danny Tanner. Super clean, super dorky, super lame — again, I have no idea why I love this character or this show, but I’m so thankful the Internet has let me know I’m by no means alone in this boat.

I even remember one day I was at a friend’s house and we were just goofing around on his computer, and I randomly typed “Danny Tanner is God” into a search engine and… well, we were pretty shocked and laughed hysterically as we found someone (that wasn’t me) who had made a shrine to Danny Tanner as the one true lord and savior and actually accepted donations to the “church” of Danny Tanner. Or something like that. I tried doing a search for the website before I started writing this post, but I couldn’t find it. This was back in the days when Angelfire and GeoCities were popular, so I’m guessing this may have been one of those kinds of websites and it’s disappeared into the void since then.

So it may come as to no surprise that I was a little shocked when I first found out Bob Saget, the man that played Danny Tanner, was the complete opposite of his Full House persona. I covered my mouth to hide a smile as I said “oh my” when I saw my first clip from his stand-up. But that was almost ten years ago now, and strangely enough I’ve never seen his stand-up, save for some clips online.

Another fun fact about me: I’m not really into stand-up comedy. Again, I don’t know why. I’ve seen several comedians perform stand-up over the years,  some were good, some were bad, but at the end of the day I seem to prefer seeing them act in a show or movie rather than on stage.

So I know Bob Saget strictly through Full House and have never seen a full stand-up show (although I did see his roast on Comedy Central when it aired). I randomly started following him on Twitter a couple of years ago, I guess maybe to see what he’s like nowadays, and I was surprised to find a mixed bag of dirty jokes and surprisingly sweet messages. It was like a combination of what I knew him as and what everyone said he was really like.

Which — finally — brings me to his book, Dirty Daddy. Aside from my curiosity for these new celebrity autobiographies, I thought this would be a good opportunity to learn more about Bob Saget and what exactly he’s all about. And after reading the book, I can say he’s just like his tweets: a mix of dirty jokes and sincere messages. Bob Saget takes you though his life growing up, losing family members (including his two sisters) very frequently, talking about how his father and other comedians influenced him, how he struggled in clubs and comedy shows before being cast in Full House and America’s Funniest Home Videos, effectively portraying him as a completely different person, and his life afterward. I won’t go too much into it, as I find an autobiography’s purpose is to convey information and there’s not a lot left to enjoy if that’s spoiled.

I will say it was interesting to learn more about the man, although a large part of that probably has to do with my interest in him. I know some people that read autobiographies exclusively. I don’t know if they read everything they can or stick with the people they want to know more about, but I’m going to assume the people that will enjoy this book are the people that enjoy Bob Saget and his humor. His stories are lined with dick jokes, poop jokes, etc., so it helps to know what you’re getting into beforehand.

I’ll admit, I didn’t find a lot of his jokes very funny. I knew he was raunchy, and I knew he uses a lot of immature humor, and I can be fine with that. However, in a written book, his humor doesn’t have the same impact as I would imagine it would during his stand-up. (Actually, I watched my first stand-up show of him right before writing this, and I can safely say he’s much funnier performing on stage than reading his jokes from a book, even if some of them are still in poor taste). From the reviews I’ve read on Goodreads, this seems to be a common problem among other readers, along with the fact that Bob Saget’s kind of all over the place. I’m normally a fan of stream-of-consciousness styles of writing (in fiction, anyway), but he constantly starts a story, cuts away to some jokes, cuts away to another story, and then resumes his first. After about five pages he finally gets to the point. In his defense, he tells us that’s how the book’s going to be very early on, but still, you can tell he’s trying to write like he would speak during stand-up, and it doesn’t translate very well here.

Still, I didn’t hate any of the book. It did its job, it told me more about Bob Saget and included his humor along the way. He seems like a genuinely nice person, someone that struggles with pain and insecurities just like the rest of us (although for all I know, every autobiography says something similar). My favorite parts were about his struggles as a comedian and trying to find a proper place for himself, two things I definitely connect with (only replace comedian with writer). I also naturally enjoyed the chapter on Full House and some of his behind the scenes stories, although there aren’t as many as you might expect. So Full House fans, keep that in mind if you decide to read this book.

I borrowed this from the library, as I’m sure I’ll do for all the future autobiographies I read, and I feel like it’s a fine book to borrow. I’d go for the paperback if you really want to buy it, as I can’t imagine reading it more than once. Although again, I’m not much of an autobiography fan, so that may just be me. The writing’s a little all over the place, so even if you’re a fan of autobiographies this one may not be the most appealing. I haven’t listened to it, but I imagine the audiobook would fit Bob Saget’s narration better, so try that if you can.

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Info for my edition of Dirty Daddy:

  • Published 2014 by It Books
  • Hardcover, 272 pages
  • ISBN 978-0-06-227478-6

Let’s Talk Books — The Art of Fielding

Warning: Spoilers

Have you ever read a book that had characters you didn’t really like, but had too much fun questioning their decisions and dialogue that you enjoyed reading the book anyway? The Art of Fielding was that kind of book for me.

I honestly thought I’d hate this title. It was recommended to me as a book about a college baseball team. Fun fact about me: I hate baseball. HATE. IT. As your average dorky person who likes books, video games, etc., it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that I’m pretty indifferent to sports as a whole. Baseball, however, is the one sport I completely dislike. It’s so… boring. Most of the game is spent watching the players just stand around (which was actually a hilarious comment from one of the characters in the book). Other sports I can see the appeal, but baseball? Nope. Sorry baseball fans, I just don’t see the glamour in it that you guys do. This is also coming from a person whose father is an extremely angry baseball fan, and has brought screams and obscure swearing echoing through our home all my life, so I suppose there’s some additional bias here.

So you might be asking, “Why on earth would you read a book about baseball, then?” That’s precisely what I asked the person who originally recommended me this book, and she said it was still really good despite the baseball themes. And that it wasn’t all baseball. Plus, an author I like gave it a positive review, so when I saw it on clearance for four dollars I thought, “Why not?”

So after sitting on my shelf since February, at the very bottom of my small backlog of used books I’ve picked up throughout the year, I finally read through it. Despite positive comments, I was still hesitant. But to my surprise, I ended up enjoying a lot of the book, even if some of the enjoyment came from criticizing the characters.

The Art of Fielding is told through a third person omniscient perspective, with each chapter focusing on one of the five main characters. Henry is a skilled ballplayer that was scouted by one of the players on Westish College’s baseball team. The student that found him, Schwartz, has spent so much time living on his own and recruiting new players that he starts to develop a crisis as his college career is coming to an end. Owen, Henry’s roommate, is involved in a secret affair with Westish’s president. The president, Affenlight, deals with his newfound homosexuality while battling his desire to be with Owen against the reality of how a student/faculty relationship, including the forty year age difference, is ever going to work. He also has to take on a father role to his daughter Pella, who has reappeared in his life since running away and marrying a man ten years older than her just before graduating high school. Pella has a ton of issues to work through herself, including those with her father and her own artistic and life struggles.

So yeah, there’s definitely a lot more than just baseball going on in this book. Actually, the baseball games themselves are pretty few and far between. I guess whether that would be a positive or negative thing would depend on how much you wanted to read about them. It goes without saying, but this was a positive for me. It allowed The Art of Fielding to focus much more on characterization, which I was surprised at how much it had. There are a lot of conflicts that unfold in this book: Henry develops a hatred for Schwartz for bringing him to Westish and filling his head with dreams and stress of becoming a pro ball player, while at the same time pushing Henry far past his limits; Schwartz hides an emotional breakdown as he’s about to say goodbye to Westish forever after he graduates this season, as it’s been his only home and way of living for so many years; Affenlight gets caught up in the middle of so many different midlife crises, including his relationship as a lover with Owen, his relationship as a father to Pella, his relationship as faculty member to both Henry and Schwartz, and his relationship to himself and the school he’s so rooted in. Pella starts dating Schwartz, Schwartz  gets mad and jealous of Henry and Pella’s ex-husband, they split up, Henry starts sleeping with Pella, Schwartz finds out and then Henry quits the team…

There’s a lot of drama in this book. I can appreciate how interconnected each character is and how each chapter tries to focus on them one at a time.

Of course, that’s not to say each character is a well-written character.

Henry couldn’t be any flatter or more boring if he tried, at least until he starts having a mental breakdown about halfway through the book. And even then, he’s still pretty boring.

Schwartz — I’m not even sure what kind of person he’s supposed to be. He’s described as a stock jock character, but he’s supposed to be well-read (even though we never really see him reading anything)? He also contradicts himself a lot. Like how there’s this one part of the book, when he’s still early in his relationship with Pella, when Schwartz says he doesn’t have time for a girlfriend and that coaching Henry takes top priority. But the next time we see him, he’s sleeping with Pella and he ignores a call from Henry!

When Owen was first introduced, I couldn’t stop laughing. His dialogue was so unrealistic he felt like a token smart kid from a 90s cartoon.

“He spoke so highly of you, and of the more abstract virtues of roommatehood, that I almost forgot to negotiate. Frankly, I find the professionalization of collegiate sport to be a rather despicable phenomenon.” (18)

“Did I forget to mention? I have a gift card for this establishment. And I have to use it right away. Lest it expire.” (27)

“Thank you very kindly for meeting with us today. I found it edifying but more cacophonous than might have been maximally productive. I don’t wish to impose on your busy schedule, but perhaps we could schedule a smaller meeting to determine which initiatives might be fiscally possible?” (78)

Dexter from Dexter’s Laboratory. Edd from Ed, Edd, and Eddy. Maybe Jimmy Neutron. These are the kinds of lines I’d expect from cartoon smart kids, not a character from a book of fiction. Especially not a college student. I mean sure, we all have probably met that one pretentious person that littered their speech with as much advanced vocabulary as they possibly could in an attempt to sound smarter, but it’s still pretty unrealistic here. Especially considering he drops this manner of speech partway through the book, for whatever reason. Was it after his accident? Was the accident the reason why? Who knows.

Affenlight. Geez man, you’re kind of all over the place. For someone that thinks and questions his decisions all the time, I had a really difficult time understanding his motivation for anything. For example, why is he attracted to Owen?  And vice versa, for that matter. I never quite understood why a relationship with this big of an age difference existed at all. If they were ten years apart, or maybe even twenty, then I could see an affair happening. What on earth do they see in each other when there’s forty, though? I think the book dives into this a little, but for the life of me I can’t think of it.

Affenlight also dies rather abruptly at the end of the book. Personally, I think it’s heavily implied he killed himself after his affair was caught by the board, but after reading some other people’s reviews it seems it’s also possible he had a heart attack. Either way, it didn’t really sit right with me. As a person that struggles with depression, I can understand how someone killing themselves would come as a surprise to other people, especially if that person kept their issues to themselves. But after spending so much time following Affenlight’s train of thought, I honestly don’t think it seemed like his character to commit suicide. And if he had the heart attack, well… it’s not exactly any less out of the blue than killing himself. Honestly, it felt like Affenlight was killed off in order to make some kind of resolution for the book. All the characters were able to come together, forgive each other, and put Affenlight to rest together.

Pella’s the only character I didn’t have that many qualms with. Granted, she comes off as pretty spoiled and unlikable when she’s first introduced, but her backstory is pretty complicated and believable, if not unusual. Out of all the characters, she’s the only one I feel actively tries to improve herself and her life. She goes back to school, she starts working a job in the cafeteria kitchen, she even starts to learn cooking from the chef and wants to focus on becoming one herself. She’s a girl that made a lot of mistakes and is trying to correct herself, even if she screws up multiple times throughout the story anyway.

Despite all the issues I had with the writing and characters, I still ended up really enjoying The Art of Fielding, save for the last 50 pages or so. It was just over 500 pages, more then I really care for in a novel, but it moved at a pretty good pace and I found myself wanting to keep going. Granted, I didn’t like it for the best reasons. There were a lot of good ideas and backstories here. But like I said, a lot of my enjoyment came from poking fun at the characters and getting addicted to the drama. It’s not a bad read, but it could have used a decent amount of more polishing, so keep that in mind if you decide to give this one a go.

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Info for my edition of The Art of Fielding:

  • Published 2012 by Back Bay Books
  • Paperback, 512 pages
  • ISBN 9-780316-126670