Let’s Talk Books — Eleanor & Park

Warning: Spoilers

For whatever reason, I’ve been reading a lot of YA books lately. I used to like them a lot more, then I kind of drifted away from them, and now I’m at a point where I think I can enjoy them more if I go into one with the right frame of mind. Like, they’re meant for young adults, they’re not technically adult fiction, they may have mature themes but don’t be surprised if the book as a whole isn’t as polished as fiction aimed at an older audience. With that said, I think I’ve started to be less distracted by things in YA fiction that normally would have irked me.

But Eleanor and Park — wow. It’s good. Like really, really good.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading so much YA lately, but the first thing I noticed about the book was that the writing was good. Really, really good. It honestly didn’t even feel like a YA book at times, and for that I was impressed. There weren’t many sentences that had to stop what it was saying to explain something to the reader, the characters felt extremely real and relatable (no feelings of “this is an adult trying to write teenage characters and it’s coming off cliche), the places felt real and relatable, all of the subplots more or less went somewhere or ended properly, it was paced well — while I can still see how the story may not appeal to older readers past their twenties, I think Eleanor and Park is more than capable of sitting on a shelf with other adult fiction.

The story’s concept itself will probably be the deciding factor of whether or not you’ll be interested in reading it — two socially awkward teens find themselves in love with each other, and they try to make a relationship work even though it may not be possible. The book’s cover art and font will probably give you a good idea of the tone of the book, so if it looks like something you might like, it probably will be. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t.

Too bad the book’s summary on the flap doesn’t do it justice. There was a lot more to this story than just that. Eleanor is overweight; Park is way too skinny. There are a lot of body image themes spread throughout the story. Bullying is also a big part of the plot, at least for Eleanor. She’s the new girl and everyone harasses her because of her appearance. Park is pretty different from most of the bullies at school too, but he’s got a weird kind of social status because of his relationship with a couple of the bullies and because of his family’s role in the town’s history. He’s got somewhat of a free pass when it comes to bullying, and it takes a while before Eleanor starts to feel the effects of that pass as well.

And then of course, there’s the domestic issues. Park isn’t strong like his brother and father and often feels inferior to them. He doesn’t get along with his father all the time and feels like he’s constantly disappointing him. While I do feel like Park has some home issues, the spotlight shines more on Eleanor’s house situation.

Eleanor has an abusive stepfather named Richie, who verbally and physically assaults Eleanor’s mother and siblings. I know that sounds pretty cliche, but I was actually surprised at how well the author made me feel uncomfortable and fearful whenever a scene with him played out. To make things worse, Eleanor is unfortunately in a situation where her mother is either too scared to leave Richie or is in denial about what’s happening, and her siblings are all young enough to accept him as their new father despite his asshat-ery. He kicked Eleanor out of the house for a year before letting her come back, and Eleanor desperately wants to leave again. She can’t have any friends over, or have a boyfriend for that matter. Her family is very poor, and is even forced to take baths in a small tub off the side of the kitchen, barely concealed by a sheet. Eleanor’s home life is depicted very well, and it’s very unsettling.

The story’s written in third person, with sections switching focuses between Eleanor and Park. I love multiple perspectives in stories, so consider that another personal reason why I liked the book so much. By switching between Eleanor and Park, we get a much better insight into what their personal lives are like, something I feel a good romance story needs. It also stops the story from getting stale, although I don’t feel like the book was ever in any danger of doing that. This perspective switch also helps show how Eleanor and Park feel at the same time. For example, when Park says he loves Eleanor and wants to lose himself in her, it’s much more interesting to see her thought process of trying not to get attached to Park for either fear of retaliation from her step-father or doubting Park because of her own self-worth issues.

Despite trying to hide her relationship (and coming to terms that she is, indeed, in a relationship), Eleanor’s siblings find out, and her step-father soon discovers too. She comes home one day to the sound of him screaming and breaking things because of the news, and she runs away. She and Park formulate a plan to get her out of town. She has an uncle that lives in a neighboring state, and Park is going to drive her there with his newly acquired license. They part ways and, well…

I love the last set of pages after their parting. It hurts, but it’s so real I can’t help but love it. Park insists that they’re not saying goodbye because they’ll still phone and write each other. Eleanor leaves Park with that delusion because she’s too afraid of becoming attached to him. All of Park’s last sections consist of him having a very difficult time moving past Eleanor. All of Eleanor’s consist of ignoring Park and trying to get used to her new life. I’d say it’s cruel of her, but after getting to know her throughout the book I can completely see why she does it. Although something changes in the last chapter, with Park receiving a postcard from Eleanor with three words on it. We don’t know what those three words are. It could be “I love you.” Could be “I miss you.” Maybe even “I’m sorry, Park.” Who knows? But that’s the last scene, and I guess it’s up to the reader to make what they will of the relationship.

If there was anything I didn’t like about Eleanor and Park, it’s that the author sometimes overused ellipses. But I’m not a fan of ellipses in general, so take that as a personal complaint.

Honestly, I’d definitely recommend this to anyone that likes YA fiction, or for someone wanting to give YA fiction more of a chance. For everyone else, if the book sounded interesting to you by reading this post, then I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. As a side note, the book takes place in 1986, so there are plenty of references to that time period, so older readers can at least get that from the book if the story’s not for them (although they’re not so numerous that it becomes unbearable).

Info for my edition of Eleanor and Park:

  • Published 2013 by St. Martin’s Press
  • Hardcover, 328 pages
  • ISBN 978-1-250-01257-9

How I Started Writing

Ugh. This is one of those weeks when I really don’t feel like talking about anything specific. Here’s a random story about how I got into writing instead.

If you want to get technical, I guess you can say it started when I made comics as a kid. I’ve always enjoyed telling stories in some way, and since art was a huge part of my life I tried making comics for a while. But it wasn’t until middle school, when our family had a decent computer and Internet service, that I started writing writing. If you even want to call it that.

A lot of my earliest stories were fan fiction. I don’t know what inspired me to even write something like that except for one Legend of Zelda fan site that had someone’s story on it. There were probably some other fan sites that had something similar, but anyway, I started writing cheesy fan fiction for Zelda, Dragonball Z, and other stuff I was really into at the time.

I think my first actual story (again, if you want to even call it that) was written in eighth grade. It was a weird love story that reeked of first-time writing. Even the title, “Only For You,” was super cheesy. I don’t even know if it’s worth talking about. It still had strong video game-like tropes in it from when I was writing fan fiction about different games. Some guy goes to school, and his only friend is this girl that’s super nice to him and I guess they had feelings for each other or something predictable like that. Anyway, this guy also has a bully and ends up killing the main character’s friend, so the main character kills him, too. With his sword.

Because oh yeah, this teenage protagonist was also a swordsman, I guess.

Anyway, he leaves town and wants to find out what’s at the end of his continent (because again, let’s write a story that’s totally not about a video game). He meets this tough guy who follows him because… ? He rides a motorcycle while the protagonist… runs at super fast speeds.

Ugh. I can’t describe the cringing I’m feeling. Anyway, they meet some psychic girl that goes with them and they find this lighthouse at the end of the continent and they see the ghost of the girl that died and she told him to live life or something dumb. I don’t know. Who cares. But yeah, that was my first “original” story.

At around the same time I started writing poems. A friend/girl I liked wrote poetry too and e-mailed me some of them to read, and I e-mailed her some of mine. I can’t really remember what either were about, but you could probably guess they were the same kind of poems we all wrote as middle schoolers. There were no video game themes, thank god. They were all about feelings on growing up.

I wrote another short story during my freshman year of high school, but I honestly don’t remember a thing about it except I wrote it during a very whiny, bratty time in my life, and the story probably felt similar.

I stopped writing poems after my freshman year as well, although I can’t remember why. Maybe it’s because me and the girl I liked weren’t really friends anymore, and she was the only person I was showing poems to. So I guess I felt like if no one else was going to read them, what was the point? Stupid, stupid me.

The friends I had at the time weren’t exactly the reading type if things didn’t involve comics, fantasy, sci-fi, etc. Maybe that’s why I drifted out of reading fiction that was about real people and real feelings when I was in high school and college. That’s an unfortunate part of having your interests scattered — you can only get particularly passionate about so much, and you tend to concentrate more on whatever the people you spend time with are into. Most of the people I hung out with then were into anime and video games, so unfortunately that’s where most of my focus went.

However, I still wrote stories in high school. One of my friends wrote an extremely bad short story for one of his classes that involved him, me, another one of our friends, and that girl I liked (which was extremely awkward considering he didn’t even know her, yet was written as if he was her love interest). We went on this stupid RPG adventure to save the world from an evil man that killed our master, who trained us in the art of listening to tutorials on how to play RPGs. I won’t spoil this magical tale for you (as if you had any way to read it), but I’ll say my favorite part was definitely the time when we saved some town from completely burning down, but before somehow magically restoring it to normal, went to a perfectly intact McDonald’s where no one seemed to notice what the hell happened outside. Perfect.

I can’t remember if I was the one to come up with this idea or if it was someone else’s, but I wrote a parody to this story. His was way too serious and as a result, it couldn’t be taken seriously. So I wrote a comedy about our group of friends doing the same thing, except being idiots the whole time. My friends loved it (except for the one that wrote the original story, but we made up about it so I don’t feel particularly bad), and I ended up making four more during my time in high school. It turned into a parody series of just about everything we were into at the time, from video games, TV shows, anime, and even ourselves. It was really exciting to write them at the time because when I announced I was working on a new story, my friends would constantly ask if it’s ready yet. People were excited about something I was making. And it felt good. I would work on it as soon as I got home from school and just keep writing for hours. It was really great.

Unfortunately, those stories are really dumb and immature. We were in high school, so naturally it wasn’t going to be fantastic or anything, but I’m so embarrassed at some of the jokes I made back then. It also doesn’t help that each story was pretty much written for my friends because of all the references, so once again I found myself unable to share something I’d written with a lot of other people.

My friends and I went our separate ways after high school, and I was extremely frustrated with adjusting to college life. As much as I drowned myself in anime and video games when I wasn’t doing schoolwork, I actually did write a decent amount while I was at community college. I started a couple of longer stories (or at least an outline for them) that were more or less about my struggles with change, only I tried disguising them as fantasy stories that were more suited as scripts for anime or video games. One of them got pretty long, though — about 100 pages, single spaced. I don’t have any desire to go back and work on it, but sometimes I wonder if I should read through it again, just for the hell of it.

In my second-to-last semester at community college, I took a creative writing course. And it was pretty terrible. It was an 8:30 am class, we sat in a cold room on the basement level, it was pretty dark, and no other student was really into the class. We didn’t even really learn what made good writing. We basically took turns reading our stuff for critique, but the only people that would regularly contribute were the professor and me. I didn’t want to be that guy who had something to say about everything, but I was honestly really annoyed that no one else was showing any interest in being there and couldn’t bear the silence. Don’t want to be in the class? Drop it. Or don’t sign up for it. One thing’s for certain — that class didn’t make me want to pursue writing outside of it being a hobby.

When I transferred to my four year school, I switched my major from liberal arts to literature because the counselor I spoke with recommended I choose something more specific. Literature had three different tracks: literary studies, creative writing, and another one I can’t remember. I chose literary studies because after my experience at community college, I wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic about another creative writing course.

Well as it turned out, someone goofed and gave me wrong information. If I stayed on the literary studies track, I would have needed to take more courses than I was told, and all of them were courses I held absolutely no interest in. After talking to another counselor, I was advised that switching to the creative writing track would help me graduate on time (I also had a limited number of semesters my scholarship would pay for, and I already wasn’t in a great financial situation).

Reluctantly, I switched, and I’m so glad I did. The creative writing program was much better than the one at my community college. There were passionate professors and students, the classes were much more engaged, and we experienced short stories and poems outside of critiquing each other’s works.

I felt out of place, though. I was surrounded by people who were much more familiar with literature and writing fiction and poetry. I focused too much on anime and video games in high school and community college, and I felt like an outsider. I tried embracing more realistic forms of reading and writing since then, and although it took a while, I eventually found myself more at home than I was with my previous forms of writing.

At first, most of the stories I wrote were pretty dull. I guess that was to be expected, considering they were my first actual workshops. It wasn’t until I fell into a pretty big depression during the middle of college when I started writing better. Maybe it was that I’d been writing for a little while at that point, but I think it had more to do with me using that depression and using it as a fuel to write more passionately. I won’t say everything I wrote from then on was good, but I think I finally found some sort of voice, and everything I wrote from then on seemed more natural.

And there’s not much more to say. I wrote and read more in the following workshops, I researched writing and writers more, and I overall ended up experiencing more through writing and reading. It’s kind of anticlimactic, especially considering everything with my writing is so up in the air at the moment, but there you go. I’m kind of embarrassed I had such a dorky beginning to writing as opposed to some childhood epiphany by reading people like Ronald Dahl or Shel Silverstein in their libraries, but I’m a pretty dorky person so I guess that fits. :3

Different Phases of Writers

Yesterday I attended a publishing panel hosted by the college I attended. A few authors visited to discuss their experiences with self-publishing. I don’t know why, but halfway during the panel I couldn’t help but notice how different writers can be.

And I know. Like, duh. But it was one of those weird moments when you kind of step outside yourself for a minute and look at the timeline of your life. And while that feeling is fairly fresh, I wanted to touch on it a little.

So one phase of a writer is their grade school selves. It’s usually when someone is writing something for fun, like fanfiction, or when someone is trying to express themselves, like through poetry. Writers usually find somewhere online to post their stuff, like fanfiction.net or their own personal blogs. This is usually the time in their lives where they can look back and laugh at how bad their writing was because it falls under that umbrella category of making fun of your teenage self.

Then there’s the college phase of writing. You listen to your professors talk about writers and writing and you’re in awe that you’re finally among people that understand your passion. You attend readings, slams, and other literary events on campus. You talk about your life as a writer on campus with other writers. You experience what will probably be your first form of constructive criticism, most likely about a piece that’s emotionally important to you, and it hurts. A lot. But you learn from it. You learn how to write better and you learn how to take and give constructive feedback.

The immediately-after-graduation phase of a writer’s life is wonderfully ignorant. Well, at least for me and a few others I knew. College is over; the community of supportive writers you’ve come to know and love is gone. You try staying in touch with people, and for a while you do. You talk about different writing projects you’ve started since graduating. You try to meet up and recreate some kind of writing environment like college provided, but it’s hard when everyone has their own life to live and schedules to keep. In an attempt to make your job-hunting seem more productive, you tend to talk about your writing life more often to those that normally don’t care. You start looking for writing quotes and advice to help your mind and focus stay sharp. You try to ignore the inevitable feeling of missing your college workshops.

The following phase in a writer’s life sucks. You’ve come to terms with the fact that you’re pretty much on your own for writing. If you’re still looking for a job, your dreams of being a successful writer start to diminish as you focus on more immediate problems. You focus less on writing, although the desire to keep trying still lingers in the back of your brain. Any writing you do is pretty much either for you or some kind of online network you post your work to; workshopping and constructive criticism are a thing of the past. Like college life, you begin to think the writer’s side of you should remain in the past. You try to grow up and achieve “realistic” goals.

And that’s all the phases I’m familiar with. I could guess what other, future phases would be like. There’s a phase when a writer teaches other aspiring writers at a college. There’s a phase when you’re published and develop a bit of an ego when you’re trying to promote your work. There’s a phase when writing becomes your actual job, and it starts to mean less to you as an art and more as something that needs to get done if you want to eat and pay rent. There’s a phase when you’re content with writing; you’ve been doing it for a while and you can reliably produce new content and not view it as a big deal.

And then I guess there’s whatever phase I’m currently in, when I have no idea what I’m writing or what I want to write about and just type whatever’s on my mind. 🙂

Top 10 Books I’ve Read in 2014

I’ve always wanted to make a top 10 list. So why not? Let’s do it. I was going to save this for my last post of 2014, but I’m pretty sure there’s going to be one more Let’s Talk Books segment before the year is over, and since I’m fairly certain my last book to read this year isn’t going to make the top 10, I don’t see why I can’t present this one week earlier. (Ha. Present. Christmas is this week. That’s funny to me.)

First, I want to say this list does not contain books solely released this year, so if anyone has stumbled upon this post looking for the top 10 books released in 2014, well then I’m sorry, but this isn’t that list. It’s just a top 10 list from books I’ve personally read this year.

I wanted to make a couple of rules or else this list would have been a little unfair. I’m only choosing one book per author and one book per series. Also, there are a lot of things that went into consideration for this list, including my preference in writing style, originality, and how memorable it was for me. I tried not to let my own bias influence what was placed where on this list, but I’m not perfect, so take this with a grain of salt if needed. Oh, and if it wasn’t obvious, there might be spoilers.

Well enough talking, let’s do this.

#10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

I was a little surprised to see this sneak up on the list. I’ve liked the Harry Potter series since elementary or middle school, but I was never in love with it like most of the fans I know. I had a decent grasp on the overall plot and main characters, but I’d forgotten so many details. It was obvious that it’s been a while since I experienced anything Harry Potter-related, so over the summer I finally started giving the series a long-overdue reread. And while I really enjoyed getting into this universe again from the beginning, my feelings for the series remained the same: I like it, but I’m not in love with it.

That being said, I was really happy to discover just how much I loved the fourth book in the series. I always remembered this one being my favorite, and now I have a good reason why. There are major turning points in this book: Voldemort’s finally been resurrected, Ron and Hermione’s feelings start to become more complicated, Hogwarts and the rest of the wizarding world are starting to reveal more of their weaknesses and secrets to the readers, and I feel like Cedric’s death is what causes Harry to actually see what a threat Voldemort is, as opposed to hearing everyone else say what a threat he is. The entire last part of the book is intense, and while I’d agree that Voldemort drops a shit ton of exposition, it contains info that I’d waited almost four books to find out about.

The first three books, while having an overarching plot of preventing Voldemort from returning, always had their own separate plots that began and ended within their respective parts. The Goblet of Fire is, at least in my opinion, when Harry Potter starts becoming a little more mature, both in its subject matter and writing style, as well as starting something that doesn’t end when the last chapter is over, let alone end positively.

Unfortunately, I haven’t finished rereading the rest of the series yet, so it might be premature to say this is still my favorite of the series. But compared to the other three (especially Prisoner of Azkaban, which honestly felt a little underwhelming), Goblet of Fire definitely stood out the most in the series.

#9. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

This was the book I did my first Let’s Talk Books segment on, so I guess it’s not surprising it made the list. Since I already talked so much about it, I’ll try to keep this short, but if you want to know more you can read what I wrote on it here.

This year was my first time reading this book since I was in high school, and not only did I still like it, I enjoyed it even more. I wasn’t exactly the smartest guy when I read it the first time, so maybe it was good I grew up a little and learned better literary analysis skills in college before coming back to this one.

Aside from what I already wrote about it, there’s not much more to say. As someone that still feels lost and burdened by what society labels as “normal,” there was a lot in this book I could relate to. McMurphy’s an extremely entertaining character, the descriptions of the Combine are very strong, and although it’s more likely I’d view the movie again before reading the book (it’s faster to rewatch a movie than reread a book, after all), there’s an extremely satisfying charm to seeing the world through the Chief’s point of view, which the movie fails to show. It makes the ending a lot more satisfying, too; seeing the Chief break free after spending so much time reliving his memories and struggles makes the escape seem well deserved, even a personal achievement.

I can’t say much more. It’s a really good book that I feel still stands strong today.

#8. Bill Warrington’s Last Chance by James King

I picked up this book a couple of years ago as an impulse buy. Something about the cover really drew me in. And I know you shouldn’t judge a book by it, but never underestimate the power of a well-made one. It’s certainly more interesting than the bland, giant text some authors use to broadcast their names and titles.

Of course, I wouldn’t have bought it if the book didn’t sound interesting. And thankfully, it was. Bill Warrington’s Last Chance is about a dysfunctional family (already a plus for me) that mostly centers around Bill Warrington, a grumpy, unlikable old man whose actions keep pushing his family away, and his granddaughter April, a teenager who dreams of becoming a musician and wants to get the hell away from her mother. Each chapter focuses on one character’s point of view (another plus for me), but I forgot there are also April’s mother and uncles’ perspectives, as well. I always remembered the book being just about Bill and April, so it was nice to see a varied amount of voices spread throughout the novel.

Bill and April end up taking a cross-country trip with the rest of the family following after, and I guess you can say there’s a lot of coming-of-age, maturing, and self-reflecting themes throughout the book. The book has some mature elements to it, but it never goes too hardcore or anything. It’s not like it’s a family that has physically abused drugs and each other, but I feel like it does a good enough job to capture the realization of how distant and hurt people can become due to a moderate amount of dysfunction many families can produce. In that way, I feel like it’s relatable to many people, but not so intense that it would stand out for all of them.

Still, there’s something about this book I really like, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it’s because we get to see everyone’s story play out; they all seem simple at first but then develop a pretty decent level of complexity I honestly didn’t see coming. Maybe it’s the familiar themes of family dysfunction I can relate to. Maybe it’s all the different POVs and how well they work together. Maybe it’s the pacing. I honestly don’t know. But something about it grew on me over the years, and when I reread it in the spring I couldn’t help but love it all over again. It’s definitely something I would at least recommend borrowing from the library, as I’m not sure a lot of people would love it the way I do. But it still earns a spot on my top 10 list.

#7. Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk

Another book I did a Let’s Talk Books post on (don’t be surprised if this is a thing with this list), so again, I’ll try not to repeat myself. You can read it here if you want more details.

I read Fight Club for the first time last year, and it instantly became one of my favorite books. So when I got a Barnes and Noble gift card last Christmas, one of the first books I went out and bought was something else by Chuck Palahniuk. I picked up Survivor, and it was one of the first books I read this year.

As a writer, there were a lot of aspects to this novel that I liked. The pacing, the many detailed descriptions of how seemingly random things work, Fertility Hollis, how the chapters and pages counted down; everything about the writing style seemed very different from what I was used to reading, and I think it worked out very well. It reminded me of my experimental writing workshops from college, and made me happy to see a published novel that took risks I don’t think many readers could appreciate.

If I get another gift card to Barnes and Noble from someone, I’m definitely going to check out another book by Chuck Palahniuk. Survivor definitely made me want to check out more of his work.

#6. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

No. No. No no no no no no.

Why. How. You’ve read my rants about this book, right? How is it even possible this book worked its way into my top 10, let alone this high?

Well, I have no clue. But as I was assembling the books for this list, I couldn’t help but feel I remembered The Fault in Our Stars almost better than any other book. This is where some bias may come in; the time when I was involved with this story was a really shit time in my life, so maybe that’s why it always seems to come to mind when I reflect back on 2014.

But even so, wouldn’t a shit time make this book rank even lower, if at all? Well, yeah. So there has to be something else besides it being memorable for unpleasant reasons.

Well, there’s Hazel and Augustus. They’re easily my two most hated characters of 2014.

Hmm. Doesn’t really help explain why this book is #6.

Well, I’ll be honest: in terms of writing style and originality, I can’t give The Fault in Our Stars much credit. But all of its shortcomings aside, and as much as I hated the two main characters, I still liked the book (liked it enough to read it twice, apparently). It may not make much sense, but… well, in some weird, creepy way, I guess I warmed up to the book sometime during my rage-fueled yelling sessions as Augustus said something disgustingly corny. And, well… like it or not, it is extremely memorable. And I don’t want to admit that, because every previous book on this list is technically better than The Fault in Our Stars on my radar. But well… I don’t know! I just remember this book most of all, and I have to give the book credit for that. It must have done something right that I can’t quite grasp at the moment. Perhaps a retrospective should be in order sometime in the future.

#5. The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore

Although a couple of other people have been threatening his position lately, I think it’s safe to say that Christopher Moore is my favorite author. He’s the man that got me back into reading, he’s influenced some of my own writing, and he presents a brand of humor in such a way that only he can. And I even had the opportunity to meet him this year when his new book was released! Too bad it was during the before-mentioned shit time. It’s a very weird feeling to have one of the best and worst times of your life intertwine simultaneously.

That being said, The Serpent of Venice also has some bias as being read during such an important time in my life, let alone this year, so it’s memorable factor is naturally going to be high. But it’s also really good, which is why it places so high on the list. The Serpent of Venice is the sequel to Fool, a wonderfully humorous retelling of King Lear from the fool’s perspective. The fool, Pocket, returns as the main character in this book, which retells Othello and The Merchant of Venice, as well as Edgar Allen Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado (unlike Fool, I haven’t read any of the works The Serpent of Venice is based on, so I can’t personally say how much of each work is represented in the book).

If you liked Fool, you’ll probably enjoy The Serpent of Venice just as much, if not more. Pocket is such an enjoyable character, and it’s always entertaining to see him take advantage of his role as jester to openly make fun of and criticize every major villain in the plot. The only bad thing I have to say about it is, without spoiling too much, everything Pocket worked to achieve in Fool is practically thrown away. But since the book works so well on its own, as well as the fact that it was extremely hard to put down once I got into it, I’m proud to say it deserves its place on this list.

#4. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

I know this might piss a lot of people off, but tough. The Catcher in the Rye is still a good book and one of my favorites. I just did a Let’s Talk Books about it, so go read that if you want more details about why this book has such a connection with me. But short and to the point, I love the train-of-thought narration. I love what a flawed character Holden Caulfield is. I love the commentary he feels the need to express on everything. I love how I don’t feel alone when I read this book.

Both personal preference and the quality of the writing style earn major points with me. There’s not a lot to say that hasn’t been said already. It’s a great classic that I hope to always enjoy revisiting.

#3. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

This is definitely one of the most memorable books I read this year. Once again, I went over it in a Let’s Talk Books post, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much here. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is pretty much exactly how it sounds; the main character is an imaginary friend and must find his kidnapped real friend. It’s a good story, although a little predictable at times, but I still thought it was a fun and unique read.

Of course, what really won me over was the rules established by the author for how imaginary friends can behave. You’d think they can just appear and reappear at their creators’ will, but no. These imaginary friends live their own lives outside their creators. And they’re only as capable as their creators imagine them to be. For example, a young child may not grasp the concept of an imaginary friend moving through doors, so if one gets trapped in a closet, the imaginary friend’s life is at risk. The child may forget about him and never come back, and by the time the closet door is opened again, the friend will have disappeared.

There are lots of rules like this peppered throughout the book, and it makes even the smallest tasks seem surprisingly intense. It’s definitely worth picking up the next time you’re at the book store.

#2. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

Ah, Nick Hornby. He’s the only fiction author my sister reads, and I finally decided to see what he’s all about. She let me borrow four of his books over the year, and I’m pretty sure three of them were going to go in my top 10 if I didn’t limit one book per author. It was a close call between this and High Fidelity; I loved them both almost equally, but High Fidelity’s ending really let me down, so I’m going with A Long Way Down.

I read this during the middle of a pretty bad depression, and in hindsight, that probably wasn’t the best idea; it’s about four different people who run into each other as they’re each about to kill themselves. They all resolve to put that on hold for a predetermined amount of time, and even though they don’t like each other, they end up helping each other move past their depression and issues.

The fact that none of them really like each other (in addition to being told from each of their points of view) makes the entire book really interesting when it could have been easily predictable or cheesy. I can’t even say they like each other by the end, but that aspect makes them all have an interesting relationship with each other that I don’t think even they understand. It’s like they’re all on their own personal paths to something, and the others are there for company and some degree of support, and that’s it. But the fact is, they all have depression and suicidal thoughts in common, and that alone forms a weird bond between them.

Like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Catcher in the Rye, there’s a lot of stuff in this book that clicks with me. There were so many quotes and passages I felt I could relate to that I started keeping a Word document of book quotes. You could say that about all of the Nick Hornby books I read this year, actually. There’s something about his style that hits pretty close to home.

I know the premise sounds depressing (and I won’t lie, it is), but there’s also a good deal of humor mixed in as well. It’s definitely an interesting read, and something I’d recommend checking out at some point.

#1. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

You know how much I loved this book. You must have known it was going to show up on here somewhere, maybe even predicted it was going to be #1. I think even when I was considering a top 10 list, I knew it was going to be #1. I tried justifying how that wasn’t fair, because it’s not written like a traditional book and how it’s a collection of short stories and illustrations from a blog, so it should be in its own separate category, but I couldn’t do it. Hyperbole and a Half was my favorite book I read this year.

This book made me laugh the whole way through. Like, laughing out loud, had to put the book down because I was in tears laughing. As a 20-something-year-old, I felt like there was so much I could relate to in this book, which happens to be written by another 20-something-year-old. Allie Brosh recounts a number of funny, exaggerated stories from her life that bring a smile on my face by just thinking about them. The fact that she can openly talk about her anxiety and depression issues through her stories, as well as being brave enough to poke fun at them, is also a major plus in my book.

She combines narrative and intentionally crude drawings for an amazing story-telling experience that couldn’t be achieved by using just one or the other. Coming from a writer, this may not make much sense, but no matter how good you are with words, I’ve always believed that sometimes a picture can just get something across much more effectively. This is something Allie Brosh seems to understand, and she takes full advantage of it in her book. She’s actually inspired me to start incorporating some art of my own into different projects, and hopefully I can focus enough to make that happen next year.

Well, there you go. My top 10 books of 2014. This was actually harder to make than I thought it would be, so if you’re still reading, thanks. If you have any Christmas money you’re looking to spend (or if you need to make a last minute gift purchase for someone that may like these books), give one of these a try. And if you want, let me know some of your favorite books you’ve read this year. Merry Christmas! 🙂

Let’s Talk Books – The Catcher in the Rye

Yup. We’re talking about it.

However, I don’t really want to go too into analyzing the book in this post. Actually, I wanted to talk about the love and hate surrounding Catcher in the Rye, and there’s certainly a lot of it.

So I read Catcher in the Rye for my sophomore English class in high school. High school was a pretty strange time for me; I’d gotten too frustrated reading books on my own because I never seemed to grasp what my teachers wanted me to take from them. It had turned me off of reading for a long time, and the only stuff I actually read a lot of was manga. I didn’t rediscover my love of reading until after high school, but that’s besides the point. All that being said, I remember Catcher in the Rye being one of the required readings I enjoyed, although I honestly don’t remember why. It wasn’t like I read this during high school and fell in love with Holden Caulfield or anything, which happens to be one of the things haters of the book hold against the fans. I’m fairly certain I forgot everything about the book shortly after finishing it.

I didn’t pick it up again until last year. I was 25 and I loved it. It had been on my to-revisit list for a long time, I finally found my copy, I read it, and I loved it. I was surprised by how much I loved it. There’s usually a decent amount of distance between me and any work of literature from this time period, but I was shocked at how well it held up for me. From a writer’s point of view, I find it really impressive that a book written so long ago has a train-of-thought narrative style that feels not exactly modern, but familiar enough for me to find extremely likeable.

For me.

Look, I’ll admit it right now, as much as I love Catcher in the Rye, I get why it’s not for everyone. I can see why people hate Holden Caulfield. I can get why they don’t like the train-of-thought narration. I’ve tried this style of narration before for some of my writing assignments in fiction workshops, and it was very, very hit or miss. Whether or not it’s done well seems to be irrelevant; I honestly think this writing style is something people either love or don’t, and I’ll bet if you asked the fans and haters of this book what they thought of the train-of-thought style the novel uses, they’ll love and hate it, respectively.

I can understand why they think it’s overrated. To be extremely blunt, nothing “happens.” This is one of the major complaints people have about the book, and I guess in the literal sense they’re right. Holden gets kicked out of school, he dicks around and complains for 200+ pages, and the book ends. In the sense of literal things happening, nothing much does happen.

The thing is, this is a book that’s more about the observations the narrator is making rather than the physical things that are happening in the plot. I can see Holden desperately trying to connect with other people on the spur of the moment and getting mad when they don’t turn out like he hoped they would. I can see Holden struggling to accept how the adult world is filled with people that constantly need to show off to others to obtain their self-worth. I can see Holden missing the innocence of childhood and trying to avoid the inevitable fact that he not only will become one of those “phony” people he hates so much, but is actually in the middle of that change.

(And as a side note, another common complaint about Catcher in the Rye is that Holden is a hypocrite and does many of the things he hates other people do. Yeah. He does. That’s the point. I honestly thought that was fairly obvious, but it’s something that seems to fly over a lot of the criticizers’ heads. Holden is a teenager. His beliefs and his actions aren’t always supposed to be the same. That’s not how teenagers tend to work. And if that’s not enough, Holden does flat out tell the readers that he’s “the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life.” (22) He establishes his potential as an unreliable narrator pretty early in the book. When people hate him because of these things when his character is intentionally built around these flaws, it kind of makes me feel like they’re missing the point. Sorry for the rant, I just wanted to get that out of my system.)

I like stories that are more about the observations and ability to connect with readers that have similar thoughts. I’m not saying plot isn’t important, but after reading and writing short stories for my fiction workshops during college, I’ve learned to appreciate this aspect to storytelling. It’s not like Catcher in the Rye is the only book to do this. Hell, it’s not like books are the only thing to do this. Movies do this, too. Clerks is a pretty good example of not a lot happening in the plot but still being able to show something through character interactions and observations. But literature and films aren’t the same, and I guess it’s not completely fair to try comparing the two. I think the point I’m trying to make is, some people need a beginning. They need people physically going places and physically doing things, and they need to be more interesting than everyday events. Some people need a bad guy. Some people need a romantic interest. And then other people need characters to relate to. To have a story make a comment or observation about real life that makes the reader feel like they’re not alone. Different people come to books (and all forms of media) for different reasons, and I think Catcher in the Rye is one of those books that only caters to a certain type of audience.

What about Holden Caulfield? Well, like the way the story is presented, people either seem to love or hate him. A lot of what I said about appreciating the writing style can be applied to appreciating the main character, so I don’t think I need to go over him too much in that regard. What I do want to try to talk about is why Holden (and I guess to an extent, the book, although the book and Holden are so closely linked they may as well be one entity) is obsessed over, for better or worse.

Liking or hating Holden Caulfield also seems to be closely linked to the reader’s personality and tastes. People like characters. People don’t like characters. They finish the book and move on.

Not Holden. Like the characters in Twilight, people hear someone talking about them and come rushing over, either adding praise or criticism. Is it something in the hype? Catcher in the Rye is a pretty popular book, I guess. Everyone knows it and most people have read it at least once. But it’s old. And yeah, it’s talked about a decent amount in literature circles, but it’s not like there’s a ton of posters and t-shirts waiting in a bookstore for a herd of fans to pick up (you need to go online for that). If you didn’t like Catcher in the Rye, and you heard great things about it beforehand, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking it was at least a little hyped up.

But what about other popular classics? 1984? One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? Lord of the Flies? Anything by Shakespeare? There’s a ton of stuff just as popular as Catcher in the Rye, and while it gets its fair share of hate as much as love, it never seems nearly as bipolar as the love and hate this book receives. It’s almost like you have to dedicate yourself to loving or hating it.

So is there something else? Well… all right, hear me out. Let’s say you know someone who has a lot of trouble expressing themselves. This person is very lost in life and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. They want to do something, there’s a definite drive there, but they don’t know what it is and they wear themselves out trying to think of it. They have a lot to say about a lot of things, and despite needing to get it off their chest and needing someone to listen, understand, and try to support them through life, it can come off as very whiny.

Sound familiar? Are you one of these people? Were you one of these people? Do you know someone like this? Do they frustrate you? Is the situation frustrating because you want to help them but can’t, and you get mad at them? Do they simply annoy you?

Holden Caulfield is one of the most real characters I’ve come across, for better or worse. Holden has serious emotional issues. He needs help. It’s hard to see for a lot of people because it comes off as whining. But as my regular readers may be aware of, I write a lot of posts about mental health and trying to cope with things. I can’t help but feel the ability to understand, tolerate, and deal with mental health is a big factor in dealing with Holden. A lot of people complain that the only reason fans of Holden Caulfield like him so much is because they are him.

You know what? Yeah. We are. Not all of us have our shit together. Not all of us have found our place. Not all of us can communicate with other people the way we’d like. Not all of us have found somebody. A lot of us are lonely and scared and angry and need to know we’re not the only people in the world like that. Looking at Holden at a personal level, this is why we love him. And I don’t think that’s something we should be ashamed of. Should we aim to be like him? No. Should we aim to recite his word as law? No. That’s not the point of Holden, or any flawed character for that matter. He’s a mirror that shows some parts of our lives, whether it’s past or present, and we take comfort in knowing we’re not alone.

Communicating with many people that hate Catcher in the Rye is like communicating with people that either don’t have a tolerance for people with depression and other mental health issues, or don’t understand them.

At least for me.

I don’t want to generalize, but if I’m going by my personal interactions with people that hate Holden, this seems to be a recurring theme. Maybe this is why I felt the need to try understanding why people hate or love this book so much, and the need to voice my own opinions about that love and hate. I reread this book last week, and I honestly couldn’t help but notice the similarities between how people talk about Catcher in the Rye and how people deal with mental health. I don’t want to criticize anyone by saying that, or assume anything, or make any kind of hurtful statement to those that genuinely don’t like the book. But the way people almost unprovocatively lash out at Catcher in the Rye makes me feel like they have some personal issue with someone like Holden Caulfield.

Or maybe not. Who knows? Maybe they really just hated the book and that was that, and I’m looking too much into other people’s reactions. :p

At any rate, I hope this made some sense. It’s a little hard for me to put my thoughts about all this together, and I’m sorry if it turned into a bit of a jumbled mess. If it’s been a while since you’ve read Catcher in the Rye, whether you loved or hated your last read, try it again. I think this is going to be one of those books that affects people in different ways at different times in life.

Info for my edition of The Catcher in the Rye:

  • Published 2001 by Back Bay Books
  • Paperback, 277 pages
  • ISBN 9-780316-769174

Don’t Give Up on Your Craft

When I was on Facebook this morning, one of my friends from college was talking about looking for a new job. Among the comments following her post, it sounded like she had given up on writing. I haven’t talked to her in a while, so I’m not exactly sure what her thoughts on the matter are, but she was so focused on being a travel writer when we were in school together. Now, almost two years after graduating, she doesn’t even want a writing job.

It’s not like I’m particularly surprised; a lot of students from my writing workshops stopped writing after graduating. The thought of being a published writer someday is a pretty comforting thought when you’re in college. You spend so much time focusing on your craft, and maybe some publishing opportunities in small, college-supported contests that you don’t even worry about what kind of job you’re going to look for. Hell, I’m still looking for some kind of job I’m qualified for. It’s not until after you leave that network of supporting writers and go back to your home life that the doubts about how you’re going to use that degree start to noticeably manifest. Snarky remarks by relatives (so what are you actually going to do with poetry?), the lack of interest in your craft by other people, and for many, the need to start making substantial payments on student loans, are enough to start discouraging anybody from following their writing passion.

Stuff happens. Life gets in the way. Your focus and interest in writing starts to fade. It’s pretty easy when you don’t have a professor demanding another draft of something on a regular basis. I’m pretty guilty too. This year’s been shit and has demoralized the fuck out of me. I haven’t completed a short story in half a year, and although I’ve started several since then, I haven’t made nearly as much of an effort as I used to. If it weren’t for these weekly blog posts, I honestly couldn’t even call myself a writer anymore.

People come from and continue on different walks of life, and unfortunately, not all of them are going to support your desire to write. Accepting that you may never have anything published or “succeed” as a writer is something you should do as early as possible. It’s not being negative, it’s being realistic.

But don’t give up on it just because it’s not going to make you money. If you started writing, if you went to school for it, if you really wanted to perfect and continue appreciating the art of your craft, then don’t give up on it. You’ll have less time for it as the years go on, and you’ll probably be less enthusiastic about it too, but if you really love it then keep doing it. A passion for the arts is a true test; you see how much you really love something when it’s not working out for you, and finding that out is a pretty strong life accomplishment in and of itself. Don’t be discouraged by critical family members who don’t “get” it. Don’t feel too isolated if you’re the only one in your area that can appreciate the art of writing. And don’t worry about not making money off of what you write. You can find ways to live and still keep writing for you.

After all, didn’t you start writing because you had something to get out? Didn’t you want to put your unexplainable feelings into a more tangible form other people could connect with? Didn’t you find a joy in reading other writers’ work and finding ways to make intelligent comments to help improve it instead of just saying “it’s good?” Don’t you remember reading something that hit so close to home that you wanted to write something that would have the same effect on someone one day?

Just don’t stop doing it if you really liked it. Stop doing it if you’ve honestly lost interest. But don’t stop because of money or time. If you’re having trouble with that part of life, then you’re probably pretty frustrated. That’s understandable. Too bad there isn’t a way for you to express that kind of frustration, huh?

Let’s Talk Books – Burnt Tongues: An Anthology of Transgressive Stories

It’s been a while since I’ve read some short stories. Hell, it’s been a while since I’ve actually finished writing a short story. I’ve become so used to reading novel-length fiction lately that I feel like I’ve lost touch with something important. Luckily, Chuck Palahniuk’s been promoting a collection of short stories he helped edit for a while, and last month it finally came out. I picked up a copy after work, rushed home… and put it on my book shelf, as I finished up other books I felt entitled to complete first.

But my eyes kept drifting towards it. It’s sexy spine kept tempting me to cheat on the books I was currently reading. I’d been looking forward to this one for a while, and I wanted to give it my undivided attention. Like I said, it’s been a while since I’ve dived into reading short stories. I wanted to reconnect.

Well I finally read it, and truth be told, this book is going to be a little hard to talk about. It’s good. Really good, actually. Granted, not all of the stories are as great as others, but it’s still a solid collection worth checking out.

The problem is, this book isn’t for everyone. I don’t want to build anyone’s expectations up, but there are some fucked up stories in Burnt Tongues. Like… really fucked up. I actually had to pace myself while reading this. I could usually only get through 1-3 stories a day; just when I thought I could keep reading, one story would either make me feel too uncomfortable or a little sick and I had to stop. I don’t want to spoil what any of these stories are, but let’s just say I had to tell my cat and dog I loved them after reading a couple. (My dog was confused. My cat was indifferent. Still love them, though.)

I know that may disappoint some of you who want to know just what they’re getting into. But I honestly feel like approaching this book, only armed with the knowledge that it’s messed up but not knowing in what way, is the best way to read it for the first time. I will say there’s a large variety of stories; each one felt unique and separate from every other one. Even though there were a couple that I personally didn’t care for, I could tell careful consideration went into selecting these stories. The variety makes me want to say there’s something in here for everyone, but like I said, Burnt Tongues isn’t for everyone.

Geez, how many times can I say “it’s not for everyone?” Who the hell is it for then? Well like the subtitle says, these are transgressive stories. If you can appreciate looking at the ugly areas of reality, the courage to actually write about them, and the coping methods people use when faced with that ugly reality (whether they’re healthy or not), then I would suggest giving this book a read. If, however, you’re not satisfied with unhappy endings, if you don’t like graphic descriptions, if you’re easily grossed out, or if you don’t like when stories don’t explain every detail to you (these are short stories, after all), then you’re probably not ready for this book.

I think it’s something all avid readers should try out, however. There’s most likely something in here you can appreciate. Same thing goes for writers; considering these are all stories that have been workshopped by other writers, coupled with the fact these stories are good examples of showing how to talk about uncomfortable subjects, I feel like there’s a lot in here writers will be able to appreciate (although if you’re a writer, you should already be an avid reader 🙂 ).

I know there’s only so much I can say without actually mentioning any of the stories, but I really believe you should go into this one blind. At the end of the day, you may just have to end up reading it to know whether or not it’s for you. Everyone’s tastes and weak points are different, but if you’re curious, read the first story the next time you’re in the book store. It’s one of the strongest and sets the perfect tone and expectation of what you can expect from the rest of the book. And everyone, everyone who appreciates any kind of art should read the introduction by Chuck Palahniuk. One of the best introductions I’ve ever read. It’s not very long and it’s pretty powerful.

As a final thought, this isn’t something I can see myself picking up again anytime soon, and I in no way mean that in a bad way. This isn’t the kind of book you can read again and again. It’s powerful, but it’s the kind of book that provides the best experience when you need it. You know what I’m talking about. We all have certain books or movies or games that we love, but we don’t abuse them. We need the feeling they provide us at specific times, and when we really need them, we take them out and lose ourselves in them. We learn from them. We relearn from them. We grow up a little. We face truths with them. We come out a little differently. And then we store them back on our shelves until we really need them again.

Info for my edition of Burnt Tongues:

  • Published 2014 by Medallion Press
  • Paperback, 329 pages
  • ISBN 978-160542734-8

Let’s Talk Books – Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend

Warning: Spoilers

I think it was about a year ago that I saw Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend sitting on a shelf in Barnes and Noble. I read the back cover and thought it sounded really interesting. I put it on my to-read list, although I made an additional mental note to prioritize getting around to this one. It wasn’t a top priority, but I didn’t want this book to fade away in an ever-growing to-read list, which already contained too many books I’d completely forgotten about.

Well last month, I saw Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend on a clearance table for five dollars. I wasn’t really looking to buy any new books (I’d only come into Barnes and Noble for Starbucks), but come on, man, five bucks. Break the fucking bank already. So I bought it, although I didn’t get around to reading it until last week. There were other books I wanted to finish first. You know how it is.

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend was an interesting read. It’s pretty much exactly how it sounds. Budo’s an imaginary friend to Max, this kid who’s super sensitive, doesn’t like talking to people or being touched, “gets stuck” whenever he gets overstimulated, etc. There are several times throughout the story when Max’s parents argue about what’s wrong with their son, and they even take him to a therapist to begin finding out what’s up, but the book never labels him as autistic or anything. I’ve got mixed feelings about this; on the one hand, something the author says in the interview at the end of the book makes a lot of sense about his decision not to label Max:

A diagnosis can be very useful to a person and his family-it’s often the first step in getting proper treatment and support. But a diagnosis can also be a label that stops the conversation, “Oh, so-and-so’s got Asperger’s…” or “She does that because she has autism,” as if that can explain everything about a person. It’s never that simple. I didn’t want Max to be defined, or worse, dismissed.” (318)

At the same time, the topic came up enough and the symptoms were descriptive enough to make me feel like the author wanted us to know Max had a specific condition without actually letting us know what it was. It’s not a big deal, it just seems a little strange how he didn’t want Max to be labeled but set the story up like he almost needed one.

Anyway, one of Max’s teachers, Mrs. Patterson, starts acting strange and meeting Max in secret. Budo doesn’t like this and spies on them, which makes Max mad. At the risk of further upsetting Max, Budo listens when he’s told not to follow him to Mrs. Patterson’s car with her. Mrs. Patterson then kidnaps Max, and Budo’s the only one that knows who took him. But as an imaginary friend, he can’t talk to real people except for Max, so it’s up to Budo to rescue him.

I’ve never read a book about an imaginary friend before, so maybe that’s one of the things that made this title stick out to me at the book store. I can’t say for sure if it’s a completely original idea, and the story was honestly a little predictable, but it was still interesting enough to really enjoy and make me want to finish out of pure curiosity alone.

One of the best things about the book, however, was the rules the author set for imaginary friends. For example, Budo can’t just magically appear to find out where Max went. Budo (and all imaginary friends, for that matter), are bound by the extent of their creator’s imagination. Some kids don’t imagine that their imaginary friends can walk through doors, for example. And since imaginary friends can’t physically interact with the real world (save for one), they can get trapped if they’re not careful. And because they need to interact with their creators to stay alive, this can also be fatal. These rules are the driving force behind the story. They give limits to entities that many people would naturally assume are omnipotent, and they make the story seem more real. Trying to locate Max and rescue him, when Budo can’t interact with the real world, gives a simple story heavy stakes, and for the most part this works really well.

There’s also a theme of life and death that plays throughout the book. Budo cares about Max, and truly wants to find and rescue him. But the longer Budo is separated from Max, the more likely that Max will forget about Budo, which will make Budo disappear. Budo’s not only trying to save Max, but also trying to save himself. He contemplates this throughout the book, and even other imaginary friends question whether or not Budo’s trying to save Max for the right reasons.

Budo is the oldest imaginary friend he knows. Most imaginary friends last from a few days to a couple of years. Budo’s seen a lot of friends come and go, and naturally is very curious (and frightened) of his eventual death. He wants to know what it feels like to disappear. He wants to know if there’s an afterlife for imaginary friends. And perhaps most importantly, he wants to know if Max will even remember him. Where the external struggle in the book is trying to rescue Max, the internal struggle is coping with the inevitable. After he finds Max, who is being held in a secret room in Mrs. Patterson’s house filled with his favorite types of toys, Budo even wonders if he should leave Max here. You know, let him be a happy little boy forever and stay with him.

In a lot of ways, this book reminds me of Toy Story 3. Woody wants Andy to keep playing with him forever, even though Andy needs to grow up. Woody’s self-worth is defined by his ability to entertain Andy. Budo wants to help Max deal with his condition and grow up, but doing so pushes Budo closer and closer to death. Woody and Budo truly love Andy and Max, but they both need to accept the fact that Andy and Max are going to move on one day. It’s sad, but it’s for the best.

The entire last third of the book was intense. Budo hesitantly teams up with an imaginary friend, Oswald, that had beaten him up before the book began. Not just beaten him up, but threw him around like a rag doll. This new teammate (who, thanks to the book’s description, reminded me of Billy from Adventure Time) is the only imaginary friend who can interact with the real world, but he has rules like everyone else. He can’t move heavy things, for starters. He can move doors and other small things, as well as push buttons. However, doing so takes a heavy toll on him. It’s extremely difficult for him to interact with the real world, and he can’t do it whenever he wants or else it wears him out. He can’t walk through doors like Budo can, which adds an extra layer of complexity for Budo’s rescue mission.

After breaking Max out of Mrs. Patterson’s house, she takes chase after them through the woods and neighborhood as Max tries to get back to his house. Max shows a real change throughout these final chapters as he learns to rely on himself in a situation that he would normally either “get stuck” in or depend on Budo. Budo takes note of this, too, and goes through his own change as he accepts Max growing up, which eventually leads to his own disappearance. It’s something that I think everyone could see coming, but it was still a really sweet way to end the book.

Overall, the book was really good. I was kind of surprised how much I got into it, but I’m a sucker for themes like these. It’s kind of like a Disney movie: even though it’s predictable, it’s still a fun ride.

However, there were some things that kind of bugged me after I finished. Some are technical writing problems. For example, there was a lack of contractions throughout the narrative that became a little distracting (I do not instead of I don’t, for example). I have a feeling this was intentional, like it was supposed to somehow reflect Max’s inability to interact with people on a socially acceptable level (even if Budo is the one narrating, although I view Budo as a reflection of Max). And I’m sorry if this makes me sound like an ignorant asshole, but when I’m reading words on a page like that, it can become very distracting. Not nearly as distracting as a book like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but still, sometimes distracting. But I guess that’s a personal issue. Same goes for the occasional spelling and grammar errors I found.

But those are nitpicks. What actually let me down involved Mrs. Patterson. Okay, so maybe I missed something, but why did Max go meet with Mrs. Patterson in private in her car in the first place? I was under the impression he hated her as much as Budo, and since he hates talking to people anyway, why did he not only go with her, but look forward to those meetings? What did she actually do to persuade him to go with her?

I may have grown up on too much television, but I found it a little unrealistic for Mrs. Patterson to have a secret room in her basement. A secret room whose door blended perfectly into the wall and could only be opened by a secret switch, no less. Like… what? That seems a little too… cartoonish.

When Budo reunites with Max for the first time, Max implies that Mrs. Patterson killed her husband. This isn’t the first fucked up thing in this book, but it’s never revisited again. Like… why bring it up? The book does this a couple of times, actually. It plants these seeds of potential plot that never go anywhere, and it leaves me wondering what the point of even bringing them up were. The thing with her baby dying, okay, that I can understand. That gives motive for Mrs. Patterson to kidnap Max and want to raise him for herself (even though I still remember Mrs. Patterson not liking Max at the start of the book, although I may have misread something). But the thing with killing her husband? Why bring it up if it’s not going anywhere? At first I thought maybe that would be revisited after she was caught by the police at the end. Like, maybe they felt sorry for her, maybe they realized she kidnapped Max because she wasn’t sane, maybe they sent her off to a mental hospital or something, but then they find out about the murder and send her to jail instead.

But that’s the thing! We don’t know what happened to Mrs. Patterson! Max’s dad pins her down, the police come, but… that’s it! We don’t know what becomes of the major antagonist of the book! Maybe it doesn’t really matter, because this is more Budo’s story of accepting reality, but I don’t know… I felt a little let down. Especially because the book sets her up as a semi-sympathetic character by the end.

But you know, even with all those issues, I still really liked the book. I’d still recommend reading it. It’s not the best written book, and older readers might be more annoyed with the technical writing issues than I was, but the idea behind the book was extremely refreshing and creative, and the rules that the imaginary friends need to follow are really, really interesting. Go check it out if you can. Or wait for the movie. This book has “film adaptation” written all over it, I’m sure it’s bound to happen sooner or later.

Info for my edition of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend:

  • Published 2013 by St. Martin’s Griffin
  • Paperback, 328 pages
  • ISBN 978-1-250-03185-3

Sad Art Day + Update

Pokemon Sketches 8-02-2014

Remember when I said I should try drawing more when I’m not feeling great and nothing else was helping? Well, I had a sad art day last weekend and drew sketches of random Pokemon from one of my old strategy guides. I didn’t think I’d do anything with it, let alone post it. But here we are.

I know this usually isn’t what I post, but I don’t think I have it in me to write about a random topic in more depth this week. To tell the truth, I’ve been thinking about uploading art for those weeks when I don’t feel like I can write well about something else. I want to contribute something each week, but at the same time I don’t want to write half-assed articles on whatever’s been on my mind. So I’m considering this as an alternative. Granted, it’s not like I’m going to draw something for the blog each week. I love writing here. It’s really helped me improve as a writer, as well as keep me on track when I get distracted or lazy with fiction. At the moment, I still want to primarily write on my blog. But sometimes I feel like I’m picking topics out of the bottom of my ideas barrel. And for those weeks, or weeks when I’m very busy, or weeks when I don’t have it in me for whatever reason, I’d like to know I have something besides my writing to contribute. So that might be something that’ll be happening around here.

Besides, the blog’s called Some Type of Artist, right? I kind of feel like there should be more… art. And yeah, there’s a lot of types of art, and writing is a form of art… ugh, never mind. 🙂

So I guess that’s kind of what I wanted to say right now. I know I don’t normally address my readers directly, but I just passed 50 followers, so I may try doing it more often. I know 50’s probably not a big deal, but I didn’t think anyone would even read this blog when I first started it, or at least not this many. And whether you’re a regular reader, a casual one, or an inactive account, 50 people decided they liked my writing enough to want to follow me. And I dunno. That’s, like… a lot of people, when you think about it. Like… that’s two classrooms full of people. And that’s not including non-followers who took the time to read my stuff and leave a like. And I’ll admit, when I write or rant about something each week and I see some people liked it or started following me, sometimes it makes my day. Sometimes it makes my week. So thanks.

Okay, so I guess now that’s all of what I wanted to say. Hope everyone’s having a good week! 🙂

How to Get Back Into Writing

As a writer, you’ve probably heard a lot of people say that you should write every day. This is more or less true; even if it’s not for a long time or if you barely write anything, the practice of making time to sit down and write is critical to make writing part of your natural daily routine (because let’s face it, as much as we love it, it is work, and we don’t always feel up to it).

However, there’s going to be a point when you have to take some time away from writing. You’re going to sit down for the nth time, stare at a screen for 20 minutes, and realize that you’ve got nothing, and returning to your computer time after time isn’t going to change that. So take a break. It’s healthy. It’s necessary.

However, there’s also going to be a point where your break doesn’t seem to end. You keep telling yourself you’ll start writing again tomorrow. You keep convincing yourself you still have nothing to write about. You scare yourself into thinking you don’t have what it takes to write well.

Getting back into writing can be tricky. It’s a lot like getting back into a regular exercise routine. You want to do it, but you don’t want to start small and build yourself back up to where you were before you stopped exercising. After all, you were pretty boss on the elliptical’s highest setting. To start on the lowest one again can be demoralizing, especially when you want to get back to where you were.

Unfortunately, if you’ve been away from writing for a while you might have to ease yourself back into it. Unless you’ve been struck with inspiration to write about something in particular, you could be as lost as when you stopped. That’s fine. We all get lost sometimes. The important thing is you want to at least get back into the habit of writing. To start things off, you can try some writing exercises. They might seem a little beneath you, especially if you’ve been a writer for a while. But remember that you’re also reading a post on how to get back into writing after a frustrating break, so hear me out.

Writing exercises aren’t meant to be long-term projects, and that may be exactly what you need at the moment. Maybe you’re frustrated because you can’t write anything that you want to perfect in the long run. So why not work on exercises then? They start and end in the same session, so there’s no commitment or emotional investment involved. They’re simple prompts used to work your writing muscles. Think of them like warm-up exercises. They’re meant to ease you into a much bigger challenge, not replace your exercise routine completely. You can find plenty of daily writing prompts if you search online. Some are even presented in your news feed if you follow them on social media.

Speaking of writing exercises, have you ever considered writing shit? You might have thought you’re already writing shit and that’s why you needed a break, but you were probably trying your best. Have you ever considered intentionally writing shit?

One of the best exercises from my college workshops was to write the worst thing I possibly could. Write 1-2 pages of the worst you can possibly do. Drown your exercise in cliches, poor dialogue, overuse of caps and punctuation, not enough punctuation, misspelled words, and anything else you can think of. It’s a lot of fun, and it will help you see what makes bad writing. It may even make you feel better about your own natural writing.

You’ve also probably heard of the egg timer technique. If you haven’t, it’s when you set an egg timer or another device to a specific period of time, and you do nothing but write during that time. No checking E-mails, no social media, no bathroom, no distractions whatsoever. This is a really good way to get back into writing without getting too intimidated. Set a timer for 20 minutes, 10 minutes, hell, even 5 minutes and write something. If you feel like writing after time’s up, you’re more than welcome to, but the point is to give this dedicated amount of time your undivided attention. Again, it’s like regular exercising. You can start small and build your way up as you grow accustomed to the routine.

Once you’ve gotten back into the swing of things, try thinking about what kept you in your extended break for so long. Did you get bored? Frustrated with what you produced? Try mixing things up a bit. You probably have something you specialize in. For me it’s fiction. But sometimes it just doesn’t work out and you feel like if you can’t write in your own zone, you can’t write at all. If that’s the case, try writing other stuff. Try poetry. Nonfiction. Write descriptions of things you notice outside your window. Keep a journal and write about your life. It may not be what you want to write, but it does help you continue writing, and you’ll still improve your craft along the way.

Don’t forget to read different stuff, too. If you find yourself writing the same thing again and again, maybe it’s because you’ve gotten too comfortable with reading the same stuff again and again. Go to the library and pick out the first thing you see that you would normally never glance at. (Yes, I’m encouraging you to judge a book by it’s cover. Don’t pretend like you never have.) At best, it’ll make you a more experienced reader. At worst, you’ll hate it, but at least you can still learn something from it. You can analyze it and see what made it a bad book. Again, that helps you as a writer.

At any rate, the fact that you want to start writing again is a good start. Just don’t forget to act on it. Start small and work it back into your life. Don’t focus so much on writing stuff you want published, focus on getting familiar with writing again. Then you can go back to hating what you write. 🙂