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! πŸ™‚

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

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

Warning: Spoilers!

Or Internet Girls series as it’s apparently known. I kind of didΒ  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. πŸ˜›

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! πŸ™‚

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

 

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,Β  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 likeΒ Dracula, it took a long time for me to evenΒ 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! πŸ™‚

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Info for my edition of Dracula:

Published 2004 by Barnes & Noble

Paperback, 417 pages

ISBN 9781593081140

 

Let’s Talk Books! — Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut

Warning: Spoilers!

Kurt Vonnegut was someone I’d heard great things about since high school. I knew a few people that swore by him back then, and one of my friends even went so far as to wish he was her grandfather.

Despite the high praises and interest to check him out myself, I never did pick up one of his books back then. It wasn’t until my creative writing courses in the second half of college did I hear his name mentioned again with the same praises as before. A lot of my classmates were surprised I’d never read anything by him before and instantly recommended Slaughterhouse-Five.

After graduating and having more time to read for myself, I went on a reading spree, trying to catch up on a lot of books I felt I should have read but never did. Checking out Kurt Vonnegut was on my list of things to do, and I checked one of his books out of the library soon after. This book was While Mortals Sleep, a collection of unpublished short stories released after his death. I loved it — maybe it was because I was just coming out of an environment that taught me how to critically analyze and take away valuable experiences from short stories, but I felt a big connection with the book. I liked it so much, I ordered my own copy almost immediately after finishing it.

I tried Cat’s Cradle next, but it didn’t hold the same punch for me. It was okay, but… that’s about it. Just okay. It never really left much of an impact on me.

Slaughterhouse-Five came fairly shortly after that, and I’ve got to admit: I didn’t like it. I didn’t see what the big deal was. Maybe it’s because Cat’s Cradle left a disappointing taste in my mouth after loving While Mortals Sleep, but Slaughterhouse-Five didn’t captivate me at all.

It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, either. I always heard Kurt Vonnegut, particularly Slaughterhouse-Five, was terrific at dark humor, which I normally enjoy. But nothing in Vonnegut’s work really felt like humor to me. It reflected real people and their experiences well enough, certainly. But all three of his books never felt like they were supposed to be humorous. Was I missing something?

After that, I felt I kind of had my fill of Kurt Vonnegut. I wrote While Mortals Sleep off as the one book I genuinely enjoyed by him, but otherwise felt he just wasn’t for me. Didn’t hate him. Just not my cup of tea.

A couple of years later someone recommended Welcome to the Monkey House to me. At first I wasn’t interested in reading another Kurt Vonnegut book, but then I learned it was a collection of short stories. Since While Mortals Sleep was the only book I enjoyed by him, I thought maybe his short stories are just more appealing to me then his novels. I added it to my to-read list and finally got around to reading it during the past couple of weeks.

Unfortunately, it didn’t really do anything for me either.

To be fair, I enjoyed it more than Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five. I definitely feel like I can invest myself into Kurt Vonnegut’s characters more when they’re presented in 10-20 page chunks instead of an entire novel. Still, as a whole, the stories in this collection for me were okay at best, and pretty uninteresting at their worst.

Among the more interesting stories are “Harrison Bergerdon,” which is about a world that has devices on people to make everyone have relatively the same intelligence and capabilities, and shows a pair of parents watching their son tear away from the shackles and get shot as a consequence; “Who Am I This Time?,” a story that tells of a girl that moved constantly as a kid and becomes enamored with an actor (or rather, his character) in a play she’s participating it; “Long Walk to Forever,” a love story between two childhood friends, one who’s about to get married and one who went AWOL to come back home and tell her how he felt; “The Foster Portfolio,” which was about a financial advisor consulting with a meek and humble man about what to do with a recently inherited fortune; “Miss Temptation,” a story about an attractive girl a town falls in love with until a returning soldier comes home and lashes out at her for dressing like a whore; “Next Door,” which is about a kid who stays home alone and tries to fix a troubling marriage he can hear from next door; “D.P.,” a story about an young boy living in an orphanage that believes his real father is a soldier camping out nearby; “Deer In the Works,” tells us the story of a man leaving his small business behind to enlist in a much larger corporation and how he struggles with adapting until he eventually runs away from the place; and “Adam,” which is about a man whose wife just had a baby and his feelings regarding how happy he is and how little everyone else cares.

I feel like these stories do a good job identifying many different aspects of being human. The other stories, while they certainly do the same, don’t hold the same kind of punch for me. I think one of the reasons why is because so many of them involve war and history, something I don’t really have much of an interest in. Looking back, this may be one of the reasons I failed to connect with Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five, as both had similar themes.

But further than that, I feel like a lot of these short stories, even the ones I listed above, had pretty weak endings that hurt the overall experience for me. For example, in “Miss Temptation,” after the man harasses the attractive girl and causes her to lock herself in her home and eventually plan to move, he comes by to give her something when she lashes out at him for judging people by appearances and criticizes him for taking his frustrations out on her just because he thought she was attractive, and therefore, a shallow person. It’s a really great scene, but unfortunately it feels diminished when immediately after, she says he can take her by the arm and walk her into town to show everyone he’s fine with how she is. I’m not sure how this was supposed to be interpreted , but it felt too much like the setup for them becoming a couple and it really crushed the themes of the consequences of built up frustration due to loneliness that the story was expressing. Many of these stories seem to abruptly switch to a “happy ending” situation that feels too separate and out of place from the rest of each story.

And then some stories just completely bored me. “All the King’s Horses” in particular was my least liked. It was about a group of POWs forced to play in a chess game by their captor, with all of his players as the POWs. While an interesting setup, it lasts way too long and feels like it goes nowhere. The ending itself feels especially weak, as the captor lets them go and basically has this conversation:

“I was never gonna kill you guys. You’re free.”

“Thanks.”

“Let’s play again sometime. But just normal chess.”

“Yeah umm maybe. Probably not, tho.”

In the end though, is it something I could recommend? Probably not. I personally feel there are better short story collections out there, and plenty of authors better than Kurt Vonnegut.

But that’s just me. So many people love him and chances are, if you’re reading this review, you probably love him too. And that’s fine. He’s just not my kind of author, I guess. It’s a shame, because I’d really like to enjoy him more. But I’m either missing something pretty important from his works, or as I mentioned earlier, he’s just not for me. Although if you’ve got a recommendation of one of his other books you think I might enjoy based on what I’ve said, let me know. It won’t be anytime soon, but I can still see myself wanting to revisit him in an attempt to like him.

Thanks for reading, everyone! I hope you’re having a great week! πŸ™‚

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Info for my edition of Welcome to the Monkey House:

Published 2006 by Dial Press Trade Paperbacks,

Paperback, 331 pages

ISBN 9-780385-333504

 

Let’s Talk Books! — Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Warning: Spoilers!

Earlier this year I read Kafka On the Shore, which incidentally was my first translated read in a long time. Despite it being a Japanese novel and my departure from liking anime, I really enjoyed it (even if I had some issues with the storytelling).

And now I’ve read another translated Japanese novel I’m excited to talk about: Battle Royale. One of my friends read it last year and I thought it sounded interesting. It was about a group of students who were thrown into a fight to the death/survival situation, like a combination of Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games. Kind of tired of borrowing from the library, I asked to borrow from her instead and finally gave it a read.

The story changes perspectives often, but the main character of Battle Royale is Shuya. The story starts off with Shuya and his classmates taking a study trip. On the bus ride there, we are introduced to every. Single. Person. In. The. Class. All 42 of them.

I hate to say the worst part of the book is the beginning, but if you ever want to read it it’s important to know. The entire first chapter gives introductions to every single person in Shuya’s class all at once. It’s confusing, cluttered, and really unnecessary. From 10 years of anime, manga, JRPGs, and even these two most recent novels, I can tell Japanese stories are told with different values in mind that Americans might normally label as bad writing. I’m willing to give some of these things a little more slack considering they’re told from a different culture, but I think something every reader and writer can agree on is to never start your story off with introducing forty different characters at once. Chances are extremely likely that no one is going to remember a fraction of these people and throwing the reader right into such a complicated information dump is most likely going to make them lose interest.

Although Battle Royale has been critically acclaimed, so… what do I know? πŸ˜›

Anyway, I didn’t get too invested in any of them because a) in a book about students killing other students, I had to expect at least half of these 42 characters would be written off quickly or off page, and b) my friend warned me that the abundance of characters (as well as the names all being foreign) was going to make for a confusing experience, so I went into Battle Royale with the intention of reading casually and quickly. Luckily, I didn’t find it hard to keep track of the central characters, but I’ll explain why in a little bit.

So Shuya and his classmates fall unconscious on their bus because of some sort of gas, and when they awake they’re in a classroom with a man named Sakamochi. He’s in charge of the “game” these students are about to play in. You see, The Greater Republic of East Asia (which I guess is Japan or what Japan is part of in this story) randomly selects classes to participate in a program where the students are brought to an evacuated, isolated area to kill each other until one student remains (Japan’s government is kind of a dick in this story). The public explanation is that it’s for military purposes, but if that sounds like horseshit there’s a better (although still kind of stupid) reason given at the end of the story.

Each student has a device secured around their necks that lets Sakamochi track them. They’ll also explode if they’re tampered with or attempted to take off, so they force students to participate. In addition, military ships are stationed around the island they’re going to fight on, and if anyone attempts to escape they’ll be killed on sight.

After a specific amount of time passes, Sakamochi will announce who’s died since the last announcement as well as introduce new forbidden zones indicated on maps provided to each student. This also forces students to eventually stop hiding and pit them against each other, but if even that wasn’t enough, if no one dies within a certain amount of time, Sakamochi will have each student’s neck device explode and end the game with no winner.

Each student is given a pack with randomly selected gear, including a weapon. They range from handguns to various bladed weapons, and in the case of two students, a fork and a device that detects neck devices in the area. Like class selection, all of this is distributed randomly.

Students leave one by one with a few minutes in between each departure. The game opens pretty brutally, with Sakamochi showing the class the dead, torn up corpse of their teacher, as well as him killing two of the students before the game even began, one of which was Shuya’s best friend Yoshitoki. Shuya sits and thinks about what to do before he gets to leave and wonders if any of his classmates would actually participate in this game. He’s all for trying to group together and finding a way to escape, but when he finds two dead bodies right as he leaves the school and is attacked by a student on the roof, reality sinks in. Avoiding the assailant and grabbing an emerging student, Noriko (who Yoshitoki told Shuya he liked, thus Shuya vowed to protect her for his dead friend), the two flee to find safety.

They eventually meet up with Shogo, a mysterious student who transferred recently. He saves Shuya from another student and, going off the sole feeling of Shuya and Noriko looking like a good couple, decides to join Shuya’s group. Shuya continuously goes back and forth between questioning Shogo’s trust and following him blindly, and continues to do so throughout the whole book, but in the end the three form an alliance. Shogo has a plan to escape the game but won’t tell Shuya and Noriko what it is in case one of them is captured and questioned. Sounds super fishy, and honestly I expected Shogo to betray them. Turns out that Shogo actually participated in the last program and has a unique advantage compared to everyone else. From experience, he knows more about the workings of the game and what other students are likely to do, so I guess this is supposed t be good enough of a reason to trust that Shogo really has a plan.

Like I mentioned earlier, chapters switch perspectives to different students, although it all remains in “limited” third person. I say “limited” because even though students don’t always share the same knowledge of what’s going on, Battle Royale often drops a line like “although x would have no way of knowing that the reason this and that didn’t work is because y had set up blah blah blah,” so at times it also feels like it’s omniscient third person.

I don’t want to give too much away.Weird, right? Considering I spoil a lot of plot points in these posts? But I don’t know. So much of what happens in this book is irrelevant to the plot that it seems kind of pointless to mention. Even longer arcs that seem important end so abruptly that I can’t honestly say it matters much to Shuya’s group, who I have to think of as the main group with the ultimate end goal.

Although many of the chapters don’t matter much to the plot, I can’t say they’re worthless. In fact, in their own weird way, they’re probably the most memorable parts of the book. Many chapters focus on one student or a group of students and their encounters with others. It’ll usually start up with someone hiding and being found, or going on the offensive, or something like that.

But then everything will be put on pause as a long, elaborate backstory is given for them. Every time this happens, I can’t help but think of Weird Al’s “Albuquerque” when he says “Hey, that reminds me of another amusing anecdote,” when he goes off topic onto something else. The transition is so blunt it’s almost comical. These backstories range from interesting to “all right, let’s get to the killing now.” Regardless, they all seem to set up an upcoming death to make it seem more meaningful. For example, two students debate whether or not to come out of hiding to call a ceasefire and a flashback is given to help us understand their desire to learn to trust others more. Once it’s over, they come out only to be mowed down by gunfire almost immediately.

There are a few characters who recur enough through these side chapters, though. One of the biggest ones is Shinji, Shuya’s friend. Shuya makes a huge deal to search for him for the first half of the book, so you really get the impression they’re either going to team up or fight each other at some point. They don’t. There’s a good chunk of chapters dedicated to Shinji using his expert, flawless, middle school hacking abilities to try disabling their neck braces and taking down Sakamochi (in between bragging about how he’s already slept with three girls, of course; you know, standard Japanese middle school stuff), but in the end he gets killed off by Kazuo, one of the two recurring “villains” of this group of students.

Kazuo is cold and emotionless (perfect for hating and conveniently making our heroes not feel too guilty when they eventually have to kill him) and comes equipped with a machine gun, and later, a bulletproof vest. Most of the students are killed by him, including his gang at the beginning of the program. To Shinji’s credit, he puts up the most of a fight anyone gives Kazuo (aside from Shuya’s group at the end, of course), but his entire arc is ended abruptly and rather disappointingly.

The other major villain is a girl named Mitsuko, the most popular girl in the class. She’s the sweet talking, seductive, but secretly vicious antagonist that kills her fair share of people, too. Unlike Kasuo, Mitsuko actually has emotions and makes for a more interesting character, especially when you find out about her past which explains some of her behavior. She uses more people and it’s interesting to see other students’ responses to her. There’s one in particular where Mitsuko is taken prisoner by two students, one who doesn’t trust her and another who has feelings for here, and her relationship with the latter is one of the more complex interactions we see in the entire book.

Numbers wind down and eventually it’s Shuya’s group and Kazuo left. Mitsuko, despite the build up, is unfortunately also one of the abruptly ended arcs that never went anywhere. Shuya’s group never even encountered her. Kazuo took care of her, and now he’s hunting Shuya’s group. There’s a large car chase (it’s only about half as comically random as it sounds) and Kazuo eventually dies to Noriko, although Shogo finishes him off so Noriko won’t feel as guilty.

Then Shogo turns on Shuya and Noriko. There are gunshots and the game is over.

Not gonna lie. I almost laughed when this happened. The possibility Shogo would do this was something Shuya voiced concern over multiple times throughout the novel. And the longer Shogo stuck with Shuya and went out of his way to help treat his and Noriko’s wounds, the more I began to believe he was really on their side. To have Shogo turn on them after all that time, abruptly and bluntly, seemed way to predictable at the start for it to actually happen. It honestly felt like a “fuck you” moment to the reader.

But in reality, as revealed during the final couple of chapters, it was staged. Shogo knew how to disable the neck devices and removed Shuya and Noriko’s after firing his gun into the air (he knew Sakamochi was listening in, but since they remained hidden under trees satellites couldn’t get visual confirmation). Shuya and Noriko secretly board the ship carrying Sakamochi and Shogo off the island. They kill everyone aboard and escape. Shogo dies from wounds he received both on the ship and during the fight with Kazuo. The book ends with Shuya and Noriko hiding, making their way towards wherever the road may take them, running from the police.

As I mentioned earlier, the way character backstories are abruptly presented isn’t often clean. So much is thrown at the reader that it’s unrealistic to remember everything and connect with many students. But the odd thing is, there were more memorable experiences here than I thought there would be. I thought it would just be Shuya’s group I’d find myself concerned with, but some of the other characters turned out to be more interesting than the main cast.

In some ways, it’s almost like a collection of short stories or vignettes centered around the central theme of the program. It may not matter in the grand scheme of things, but a lot of these side characters who only stuck around for a chapter or two was a big part of Battle Royale‘s appeal. For better or worse, bombarding the reader with random backstory in an arguably obnoxious way created more memorable characters. And I’m not sure how I feel about that.

I especially thought so when I began thinking how many participants in The Hunger Games left any kind of lasting impression at all. Besides Katniss and Peeta, I mean.

Okay, let’s throw it all out there. The premise for this book may remind you of The Hunger Games. Teens being forced to fight each other, etc. In fact, a quick search revealed that many people think The Hunger Games ripped off Battle Royale. Honestly, while the concepts are similar, I don’t think Battle Royale “invented” the concept of this kind of story. And both share their own unique traits to stand as their own things.

Regardless, I still couldn’t help comparing the two books with each other. I feel like they both failed where the other succeeded. If we’re talking about an overall better written narrative, I think The Hunger Games is more successful. For more risks involving how violent the characters are with each other, including descriptions, I think Battle Royale does a better job. I think Katniss is a more interesting character than Shuya, but as a whole the cast from Battle Royale leaves a more memorable experience than the other participants in The Hunger Games.

When it comes down to it, I think I liked Battle Royale more, flaws and all. The more I look at The Hunger Games, the more it seems like a YA series. And it is, I know. But the more I look at it, the more I feel like I’ve outgrown it a little. Battle Royale — I’m not exactly sure what demographic this is for.YA, adult, I think it could go either way honestly. Since it’s a translated Japanese book, I’d say it definitely has more of a niche audience here in America. But that being said, if you enjoyed The Hunger Games and want to experience something else with a similar premise, I’d recommend Battle Royale. If you’ve unfamiliar with Japan, the huge amount of names may turn you off, especially after the first chapter (foreign style of writing or not, I don’t think it was a good way to open a book at all). It’s long, though. It’s 600 pages and that might feel a little overwhelming. But I think it’s worth checking out.

There’s also a movie if you’d rather see that instead. It’s more or less the same as the book, but abridged. There’s a larger focus on the main characters instead of the side ones. It’s pretty cheesey, though. It feels more like an action movie than the book, which felt a little more like horror. But it’s on Netflix right now, so if you don’t mind subtitles, it’s there if you’re interested.

Thanks for reading! Hope everyone’s having a great week! πŸ™‚

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Info for my edition of Battle Royale:

Published 2003 by VIZ, LLC

Paperback, 617 pages

ISBN 9-781569-317785

 

Let’s Talk Books! — Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North

When’s the last time you read a choose-your-own-adventure book? I haven’t read one since I was a kid, and honestly I don’t even remember reading many of them. It was probably just one. And for that matter, it was probably something I killed 20 minutes in the library reading when I was little and didn’t even check it out.

Regardless, through the rest of my life I’ve always assumed these kinds of books were mostly for kids. Maybe they are. I don’t know. I’m not an expert or even very experienced in this kind of thing. But one of my friends recently picked up a new book, and when she told me it was a choose-your-own-adventure book of Romeo and Juliet where you can get entirely new scenarios out of these two Shakespearean characters, I honestly felt excited to borrow and check it out myself. It sounded like a really interesting idea!

I’m assuming everyone knows the basics behind Romeo and Juliet, even if they haven’t read it in a long time. And if you don’t, well… I haven’t read it in a long time either so I can’t tell you much. Didn’t really care for it back then, either. Even as a romantic daydreaming teen I could see there wasn’t a whole lot of depth to Romeo and Juliet’s relationship. They fell in love on the spot based solely on appearance, decided to get married, then killed themselves because their families didn’t want them to be together. Yeah, there’s a little more to it than that, but that’s basically the story in a nutshell. It definitely feels like it romanticizes toxic behavior and I always thought it was kind of bull that this was supposed to be a relationship we were supposed to empathize with.

So — surprise! I liked this book a lot better than the original play. For one, there’s a much more lighthearted tone. It’s very humorous and isn’t meant to be taken seriously, and even pokes fun at Romeo and Juliet. For example, Romeo is played up as being obsessed with the idea of love and completely unrealistic. Instead of being helpless and unable to stand on her own two feet, Juliet is given many opportunities to take her life in her own hands, many of which involve not even dealing with Romeo.

Naturally there’s too many paths to realistically read at once. I’ve gone through four or five different readthroughs before deciding to give the book back. I cheated a little, too: I often kept a finger on a page that required me to make a choice, and if I chose a sudden ending I’d read that and then go back to choose something else rather than read through the entire beginning again.

In fact, if there was one thing I’d criticize, it’d be that rereading the book so soon after one path can get a little monotonous. While there are many creative options to choose from throughout the story, the beginning is always going to feel repetitive until you get to the more varied choices. You’ll always read the introductions to both Romeo and Juliet, you’ll always hear Romeo whine about Rosaline if you start with him (although to be fair, it always cracked me up when Romeo asks why a woman in her thirties doesn’t return the love of a 15-year old within minutes of meeting), and you’ll always go through Juliet’s mom telling her daughter about her plans to marry her off at a party being thrown if you choose to start with Juliet.

But honestly, given the nature of the book, I don’t think it’s really meant to be read repeatedly within a short time. This is a book that’s really good to pick up when you’re in the mood to read, but don’t want to start a new book or continue with one you’re in the middle of. It’s perfect for killing an hour or two when you want to read but only want your investment to last about that long.

Don’t let that discourage you from checking it out, though. Romeo and/or Juliet was a great experience and I’d like to pick up a copy for myself sometime soon. I think it’s great whether you’re a Shakespeare fan or just have casual knowledge of Romeo and Juliet. It’s also perfect for nerdier people like myself — there’s a lot of references to games scattered throughout the book. There’s even an option to go through a path where you take the role of Juliet’s nurse when she has to deliver a message to Romeo, and it plays out just like an old text-based adventure game. At the end of one path I even “unlocked” a new character to “play” as! I’m gonna keep that readthrough for whenever I buy the book, though. Gives me a little more of an incentive to pick it up sooner rather than later.

There’s also a lot of cool illustrations throughout the book, mostly accompanying each ending. If you’re a fan of comic books, you may recognize someone’s art here. There’s a big list of all the contributing artists at the back of the book in alphabetical order, so browse through it if you’re curious (especially if you’re a fan of the Adventure Time comics; a lot of that team has art in Romeo and/or Juliet, including creator Pen Ward himself!).

My friend found her copy in Barnes and Noble, so definitely go look for it and flip through some of it the next time you’re there. It’s probably not for everyone, but I think almost everyone can at least get a few good laughs just from sampling it. And if you like what you read, pick it up! I think it’s definitely worth it!

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

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Info for my edition of Romeo and/or Juliet:

Published 2016 by Riverhead Books

Paperback, 400 pages

ISBN 978-1-101-98330-0

 

 

Let’s Talk Books — How Games Move Us: Emotion By Design by Katherine Isbister

Today’s book is different from the usual stuff I talk about in these posts. This time I’m going to be discussing a book that’s more like an analytical essay. And normally, I probably wouldn’t cover something like this since I don’t have as much to say (I normally wouldn’t read something like this, for that matter), but considering the subject matter I wanted to not only read it, but at the very least briefly talk about it.

First though, a couple of random things about me. I like to read. I also like to play video games. Despite most of my posts discussing books, if I had to choose I think video games hold more of a place in my heart. For better or worse, at the end of the day my video game related experiences stick out to me more than my reading ones. I don’t really know why, because both are important to me. Maybe one of the reasons is because I’m more of a visual and audio person, so when something particularly interesting or moving is happening in a TV show, movie, or video game, it naturally grips me more easily. That’s not to say there aren’t moments like that when I read, but I’ll admit that between a reading year that’s usually providing me with experiences that are mostly only okay at best and maybe even how quickly I go through them, I’ve been finding it more difficult to get those same memorable moments from books alone.

Maybe it’s also because of my current surroundings. When I was in high school, most of my friends were into video games so naturally that played a bigger role in my life. When I studied creative writing in college, books were naturally more of a focus because the people around me all had that in common. At the moment more people I know are into video games than reading books, so I guess as a result I’ve started leaning towards that side of the spectrum again.

But that whole time, I always thought it was weird that most of these people in my life either liked one activity or the other, but rarely both. And I can’t help but ask, why? Both are on the nerdier side of life, and I can get why hardcore readers and hardcore gamers might not like each other, but it always struck me as kind of weird there isn’t more of a shared interest.

Which brings me to today’s book, How Games Move Us: Emotion by Design. I felt like the title said it all: a book showing how video games can be as emotionally captivating as any other medium. I was pretty interested and hopeful that maybe this would be something that could show other people that video games have more potential than they may give them credit for.

How Games Move Us is separated into four main sections. The first takes a look at different parts of game design that help create a meaningful experience. Katherine Isbister talks about things like how player characters and the role they play within each game affect how the experience impacts the player.

The second section is about playing with other people and how that leaves a lasting impression on people. Whether it’s with people in the same room or one person playing online with many, the author explores how playing with others affects us.

The third section is more or less about motion controls, or using movement to play a game. Different examples of games show how physically moving contributes to a more immersive experience and how there’s more potential to connect with others through games like these.

The final section discusses examples of how video games build intimacy between people, but honestly it feels more like an extension of the second section. At the end of the day, all of these sections basically try to apply how emotional reactions can stem from game experiences. I think as a whole, it accomplishes this. But like I mentioned before, this book is more like a big analytical essay. And I think it kind of loses me there.

I enjoy a lot of analytical reviews on YouTube, so I don’t think being analytical is solely why I didn’t like it more. It’s more because this is like a scientific analysis. Despite talking about emotions and connecting with people, the entire book has that robotic feel you might expect from reading someone’s school essay on any given subject, filled with source listings in the middle of the read and everything. It feels like a formal presentation, and for a book about emotions and connecting with others I don’t think that’s the best approach. Like I said, How Games Move Us technically tells us how games connect people. But the way it told us could have been a lot more… moving.

The best parts were actual stories told by people. For example, a couple people that played the online game City of Heroes wrote about their experiences. There was a mother and daughter that played, for example, and it was a bonding experience. One of them gave the other a bunch of items in-game, and even though they weren’t great items she kept them the whole time they played because they viewed them as sentimental gestures. Another player wrote about how when the servers were going to shut down and the game would be finished forever, he reflected on all the friends he’d made and unique backstories for characters he’d seen, and how a bunch of them played until the last moments before the game shut down for good for one last hurrah. That was sad and a little moving, and I wish there were more personal stories like this in the book.

I want to say I was expecting something different, but realistically I guess this is the only thing the book could have been. After all, even though I’m sure a lot of people want to hear more personal stories about how video games affected them, a collection of them from random people probably wouldn’t sell as well as this academic essay on how game design affects people at an emotional level.

For that matter, I’m not really sure how well something like this sold. Despite coming out this year, I couldn’t find a copy in my library’s district or in any bookstores; I had to get this one online. I wouldn’t recommend buying it, but if you happen to have a copy in your library or know someone that has it, How Games Move Us might be an interesting read if you’re into this type of essay format.

The thing is, I don’t know who I could recommend this for. Gamers will probably appreciate some of it, but it’s mostly stuff they probably already know. And people that don’t play games might be interested, but I don’t think they’ll be able to fully appreciate what the author was trying to convey due to the mostly scientific tone of the book.

It’s just a shame because I was really hoping this book could have brought a common ground between gamers and readers. But in the end, I don’t think it will.

Or maybe it will. I don’t know. Who the hell am I to say?

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

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Info for my edition of How Games Move Us: Emotion By Design:

Published 2016 by Mit Press

Hardcover, 192 pages

ISBN 9-780262-034265