Giving Thanks on Black Friday

Okay everyone, I know yesterday was the last day for giving thanks and now we’re all supposed to be stabbing each other in the back for five dollar plasma TVs, but I’m choosing to give thanks today as well. This is a new idea for me. Really, I typically choose to “celebrate” Black Friday by hiding form any and all commercial retail areas and trying to remain perfectly chill so they can’t find me and then the mobs and mobs of people will come thinking I’m trying to take away their discount toaster ovens from them and oh God no they’re coming… I can hear them…

Never mind. That was the TV. I’m fine, just a little anxious. Okay, so, in order to calm myself recapture some of the lovely time I had yesterday, with all the turkey, stuffing, and family, I’m coming up with a short list of things I’m thankful for, Short because, come on you guys, it is still a holiday break, and I’ve got leftovers to eat. Most of these things are book related, because of course they are. Here we go.

  1. Scrap pieces of paper that just happen to make perfect improvised bookmarks
  2. Comfy chairs for book reading
  3. Tea for the comfy chair for book reading. (Maybe use the little pouch the tea bag came in as an improvised bookmark?)
  4. The smell of new books
  5. The smell of old books
  6. The smell of books of a certain age
  7. Libraries with forgiving lateness policies, or else librarians you can bribe to fudge the numbers for you
  8. Bookstores not afraid to go the heavy discount route because they know there are poor college students out in the world who already have to pay upwards of a hundred dollars for books they didn’t even really want
  9. Holidays that allow you to catch up with your reading then fall behind again when friends and family give you the ” 1 metric ton” of books you specifically asked for.
  10. All of my lovely readers, of course! God bless them, everyone.

I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving, and that you won’t let the onslaught of murder shopping and commercialism take away the chance to be thankful, which should really fit in no matter the season.

 

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Which Book Recommendations Can You Trust?

I’ve written in the past about where you can get good book recommendations when you can’t find a good read. Sometimes, though, when enough people know you are a book nerd, the recommendations just come pouring in from every person that can get their clammy hands on you.

I’ve had some pretty strange book recommendations from stranger people, like my high school world history teacher who only ever ate a Snickers Bar and drank a full 7-Eleven Big Gulp for his breakfast, (in front of us, his first class period,) who recommended I read a motivational book about being your best self, finding happiness, etc. I didn’t even know that he could read, and I”m not sure he was doing it right.

Or, there was that one goth-emo kid in my high school biology class who was way too excited about cracking open the skull of the fetal pig we dissected. He recommended the book Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman by telling me that if I ever found out they were turning that book into a movie and I didn’t tell him, he’d find me out and murder me in my sleep. It was a good book, but frankly I definitely did not keep in touch with him and that has me worried a little bit, to this very day. So, uh, Kevin, if you’re out there, I hope you mellowed out a bit since your freshman year of high school and no, I don’t know of a Good Omens movie that has or will come out yet. Last I heard they were developing or had developed a miniseries of it on some network. That’s all I know. Please don’t hurt me.

High school was a weird time for me, looking back.

I’ve also had close friends and relatives recommend books to me that I couldn’t really finish, like they’d recommended them more out of their own zeal than any idea whether I would like it or not. Not liking these recommendations always makes me feel terrible, because I know it means a lot to someone I like, and that I probably dish out a couple of these recommendations every year myself.

To my darling sister, I never really read The End of the Beginning By Avi, or its sequel. Did you even remember you read that book? We must have been no older than eight or nine when you became obsessed with it. It was about an ant and a snail or something, I think. I recall it being not a bad book, but you’d already told me so much about its every detail that reading the just felt boring. I love you very much and so, again, please don’t hurt me.

I’m awakening a lot of old demons with this post, you guys. I’ll really have to make sure to lock my doors and window tonight. Anyway, you might actually want some advice on book recommendations instead a chance to laugh at my pain. So, from my vast personal experience, here are a few tips about when to take book recommendation and when to leave it, based on who is giving you the recommendation.

Family

If we’re talking about you’re immediate family here, you’re probably safe. They know you, your tastes, better than most. You very likely even told them what to get and did or didn’t forget about it before they gave it to you for a birthday or Christmas.

Aunts, uncles, and grandparents are a less sure bet, depending on how well you know them and they know you, or how quickly they can get your parents phone number and secretly ask just what the kids are into these days. Chances are you’ll learn more about your family’s taste in books than you will about yours, which can be interesting. Wow grandma, never knew you were so into horror and the really grisly stuff like Cormac McCarthy. Is that a copy of Rosemary’s Baby next to the copy of Goodnight Moon you used to read me? Oh Grandma.

Friends

Generally speaking, you get to choose your friends, so it stands to reason that you, like me, don’t let any of your friends into your inner circle without having them fill out a one-hundred question questionnaire about their preferred books and authors, weeding out the mentally inferior ones accordingly. In this case, you should really have no problem accepting book recommendations from friends and being pleasantly surprised.

Strangers

This one group is where I get a lot of the more… interesting recommendations from, in case you can’t tell from the stories above. Over the years, people have approached me with, as far as I can tell, genuine good will in their hearts, and decide to tell this person they know has been spotted reading books, pretty much constantly. They will attempt to connect with me by recommending perhaps the only book they’ve ever read, or a book that’s very near and dear to them and has absolutely nothing to do with any of my interests, like the one friend of mine who was looking for a philosophical self-help type and had a bookstore employee lead her to a book written by that one old guy from Duck Dynasty. If I hadn’t stepped in to help her, she would’ve given her non-American, non-white father the “philosophical” meanderings of a homophobic, kinda racist, kooky Vietnam war vet that needs a whole reality show’s worth of editing experts to make him seem humorous and relatable, and I’m willing to bet his numbers aren’t to big out of the United States and other countries that enjoy redneck-sploitation.

Again, remember, it’s important to keep in mind that these people probably mean well. If you’ll probably never see or here from then again, just gently place their crazy duck man book back on the shelf. If this person is someone you see everyday, perhaps someone that stares eerily at you in your freshman biology class, make a point to at least seem like you tried it and read enough in front of the person so you can pretend you know what they’re talking about if you have to discuss it.

Who knows? People are, in my humble opinion, generally inferior to books but sometimes they can redeem themselves a bit by recommending a surprisingly good read.

How to Not Go Broke in a Bookstore

With finals looming over my shoulder, I’m dealing with a bajillion assigned texts to read and a frumptillion papers to write, (they’re not papers about math, luckily,) so the last thing on my mind right now should be going to the bookstore and buying even more books. Somehow, though, it keeps happening. One second I see the latest volume of Saga is out and next thing you know this “just look and see” trip meant just to relieve academic stress turns into me piling book upon book onto the checkout counter, planning to read them all immediately and saying the ones that are graphic novels don’t count as full books so I can get twice as many. Same for poetry collections.

This behavior is destructive for both my studying schedule and my wallet. I literally go to buy myself food, you know, for sustaining my life, and find I can’t afford these packs of ramen and easy mac n’ cheese, because of those books I bought. Time to call mom and dad! My parents, to their credit, try not to be enablers, but they are an English teacher and a librarian, so they generally categorize things like the latest Neil Gaiman or Gail Carriger book, and also this cool one here that just had a nice cover, as essential expenses due to their own biases. They know the genes they gave me!

Still, I am, as previously established, an “adult” who is getting nearer and nearer to the day those air quotes get forcibly removed from that title and I have to fend for myself. As such, I’ve come up with several strategies to better exercise self control, and decided to present them here, in case anyone else wants to gaze upon the majestic mind fruits of my brain labors, (try not to gag please, it’s impolite,) and maybe find new ways to keep yourself from overindulging as well.

Bring a Friend.

Friends can provide a useful safety net. If you have a non-book loving friend, this is easy. Just bring them and have them keep you from grabbing everything. This is, in fact, the only viable reason why anyone sould want to be friends with an anti-reader. That, or they have your same blood type and you’re making sure you have at least one person in your circle you can guilt trip into giving you a kidney or some bone marrow. Otherwise, reevaluate your social circle.

With fellow bibliophiles though, things get a bit more tricky. You could just wind up enabling and even encouraging each other to go for broke and just buy everything. To make it work, both you and the friend need to agree to go against excess, to really just window shop when you say you want to window shop. Handcuffing yourselves together so one or the other of you doesn’t wander off and start hoarding books like a hungry squirrel might be a necessary step.

The Bargain Bin

Like any other retail store, bookstores usually have a discount area. Make yourself focus only on those books on sale when browsing for buys. You might worry that this will simply lead to you buying even more books, because you can afford to, but fear not. Quite often, bargain books are bargain books for a reason. Usually, they are sub-par in story line or substance. Maybe they were made cheaply, with asbestos somehow. Do you want to bring more asbestos books into your home than you absolutely have to? Of course not! Problem solved.

Lose Your Wallet

Okay, not literally, but you can’t spend money you don’t physically have, right? Remove your wallet, or perhaps just the money and any credit cards you have, from your person and you can make as big a pile of books as you want, you just can’t buy them. The staff will really appreciate all the giant book piles you keep abandoning in tears throughout their store, trust me.

Your money can wait for you in the car, at home or somewhere else safe. If you’re feeling adventurous and a bit charitable, just give your wallet to the first small child you bump into as you enter the store. They’ll have loads of fun, and I’m pretty sure giving a child carte blanche with your cards and cash can be written off as a tax deductible. Otherwise, I’m not sure how my parents pulled through my childhood without going bankrupt. I was a very grabby child with an excellent memory for PIN numbers.

Physical Distractions

You know how they say you shouldn’t go to the grocery store while you are hungry? Well, turns out being hungry helps me a lot while shopping for books. Constant gnawing hunger is the only thing powerful enough to distract me and remind me that I will need to eat later  so maybe take it easy on those Discworld books I’m piling into my arms.

Other useful ways to distract yourself from buying all the books you can see include putting thumbtacks in your shoe, (which I think is also supposed to help you pass lie detector tests) or wrapping your hands tightly up with tape and turning then into useless flippers. The relative discomfort will distract you from your greed and make it extremely difficult, even impossible to pick up and flip through a book.

Go to the Library

Okay, with a librarian in my family, I guess I just have to mention this one. Instead of shopping for books in a bookstore, check out a library instead. You know, those places where you can get all the books you want for free. Hear me out.

Libraries may not have that delightfully new and shiny whiff of capitalist consumer culture, but they definitely still smell like books, both new and worn, well-loved types, and can have pretty expansive collections overseen by book loving librarians that are happy to help you find what you need, without even getting money from you.

Shining: Book vs. Movie

Alright, I know Halloween time is over and yummy turkey time has begun, but I only just finished reading a horror classic and re-watching its movie adaptation, and the differences between the two are so striking I just have to talk about it. I’m talking about The Shining, written by Stephen King and adapted for film by Stanley Kubrick. Both are considered masters of their respected medium, making the differences between King’s work and Kubrick’s adaptation of it that much more intriguing. I’ll be focusing more on the overall thematic and big picture differences, not the nitty-gritty details, but I’ll still be spoiling both the book and movie in these upcoming paragraphs, so be warned, decades old spoilers coming up.

First edition Shining cover courtesy of Wikipedia

First edition Shining cover courtesy of Wikipedia

I read  a horror classic every Halloween. I also like to watch a couple of scary movies every October as well. I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone and take a look at the Shining, a movie I’d seen before but a book I had not read yet. Having seen the movie already, though, didn’t spoil the book for me at all, because the two are SO different I was blown away by the time I finished the book, just like poor old Jack Torrance (a joke referencing the book’s infinitely more bad-ass ending.)

The thing is, the film The Shining does a lot of things film adaptations usually do to their book sources. The blacks become blacker, the whites become whiter, everything is streamlined and less complicated. That’s what really weirded me out. Stanley Kubrick is regarded as a master of cinema. If someone with his meticulous attention to detail does the same thing that the hacks who butchered your favorite YA novel a couple summers ago did, is there any hope for film as a medium? Let’s see.

Poor daddy Jack Torrance suffers the biggest split personality in the film/book divide. Everyone remembers Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Mr. All work and No Play. He’s an already kind of crazy-eyed guy that becomes utterly unhinged and violent after falling victim to the Overlook Hotel’s power, and his own alcoholism and bad temper.

The Jack Torrance in the book is a far more sympathetic character. He does ultimately turn into the same monster as Jack Nicholson, but in a much less simple story arc. Book Jack feels incredibly guilty about his drinking and temper, not to mention the situation he’s brought his family to.The only reason he takes the job is because he was fired from his job as a teacher after he attacked a student vandalizing his car. He struggles to actually work on his writing while at the Overlook, never once devolving into repeating over and over the famous “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” lines in the movie.

He fights the dark influences of the hotel for a much longer time, not wanting to hurt his son or give into his past demons he’s been trying to kick for the longest time. Even in the end, he lets Danny escape in the book, trying to beat himself in the head with his own weapon and shake away some of the hotel’s control rather than kill his son. The book is much more about the tragic pains different family members must go through to try and prop each other up, and the love that makes them feel compelled to do it. The timeline of the whole thing feels much more drawn out, with each little struggle growing bigger and bigger to make a much more tragic ending.

Stephen King is generally known to have disliked the Shining movie, and everyone’s pretty sure it’s because of this loss of that tragic struggle and the amped up demon-ization of Jack Torrance. Jack Torrance’s struggling with drinking are clearly taken from King’s own drinking problem and personal demons at the time. Kubrick kind of slapped a scary Jack Nicholson face on all of King’s personal baggage and turned a the author foolish enough to write himself into his own book into an unsympathetic madman.

Wendy, Jack’s wife, suffers lesser but still noticeable changes. I note these changes here because they frankly kind of make me angry. Mister master of cinema Stanley Kubrick committed the age old sin directors always do against female characters. He simplifies her and makes her weaker. There’s a theme in the novel that talks a bit about how Wendy had a nasty mother and she struggles not to fall into her mother’s own vindictive possessive-ness and guilt tripping. I can regrettably understand that being cut for time, but Kubrick also significantly takes away the power Wendy had in the novel. Mainly, while movie Wendy hysterically screams and ineffectively waves a bat or knife at Jack, only knicking him a few times, book Wendy hysterically screams (slightly less) and then jumps onto her husband and stabs him to death to keep him from killing her and their son Danny. Yeah. She means business. Technically, the hotel just kind of brings Jack back to sort-of alive murder machine, but that’s sadly sort of a given in a murder ghost hotel, and Wendy’s actions still hinder Jack much more than her terrified screaming in the film, as iconic as that “Here’s Johnny!” scene is.

Finally, the ending of the book was, in my opinion, far more metaphorically resonant and generally satisfying than the movie. It’s ironically a bit more “Hollywood” than the film ending as well. At the book’s end, the hotel’s dysfunctional old furnace, which has been neglected while Jack runs around going crazy and trying to murder everyone instead of carefully tending it like he was being paid to do all winter, explodes and engulfs the hotel in a fiery ball of death. Jack dies, properly this time, with the hotel itself and the nasty ghosts too, but Wend Danny and Halleran (the magic black guy who totally doesn’t get a hatchet to the chest and die in the book) escape, riding a fireball of awesome on a snowmobile to safety. I know, right? Way cooler. Also, there’s the sort of wink-wink nudge-nudge notion that Jack Torrance’s anger issues finally did make him “blow his lid.” The evil, all-powerful enemy being tripped up by forgetting a small, basic chink in its own armor is also a pleasant trope I found rather satisfying. I get that horror movies always like to leave the bad guy, in this case the Overlook itself, alive, but if Kubrick was willing enough to stoop to Hollywood tradition and turn Wendy into an ineffectual, simpering fool and Jack into a simple crazed slasher, then he could’ve surely bowed to Hollywood tradition and his source material in giving everyone a nice satisfying explosion at the end. Just use some sets and model Kubrick! Boom Pow Bam! Instant better ending. Whatever.

In the end, I really enjoyed The Shining in its print form, better than the film even. Honestly, I’m still willing to call Kubrick’s film a horror classic. There are just too many iconic moments and brilliant cinematic choices to completely disregard the movie. Kubrick changed the story, but had enough skill to make those changes create a classic horror film. Still though, as an ever suffering book nerd I had to learn, yet again, that a book is always better at being a book and a movie is always better at being a movie, with all the variations in storytelling and complexity that entails.