Monday, September 30, 2013

Book of the Month: October

The votes are in and the book of the month for The Thousander Club in October will be The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells.

The Island of Dr. Moreau was written in 1896 and has become a well-known science fiction tale, along with H.G. Wells' other works--War of the Worlds and The Time MachineThe Island of Dr. Moreau is seen by many as an examination into the ethics of natural science, the differences between man and beast, and a philosophical exploration.  The most recent film adaptation was released in 1996, starring Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando, but it was very poorly received.

To see the full list of Books of the Month click here.  To vote for the upcoming books of the month make sure to 'like' us on Facebook.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Reflections: The Prince of Frogtown

Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts on Rick Bragg's The Prince of Frogtown:

"About ten years ago I read All Over but the Shoutin', which I still consider one of the finest books I've read.  About four or five years ago I read Ava's Man, which is the follow-up to All Over but the Shoutin'.  Although I wasn't as affected by Ava's Man, it was still a wonderful piece of writing and well worth reading.  A few months back I came across The Prince of Frogtown.  It took me a minute or two to realize it was the third book in Bragg's unofficial autobiographical/biographical trilogy of his and his family's life.  It only took reading a page of The Prince of Frogtown to remember how impressively talented Rick Bragg is as a writer and how poignantly he can tell a story.

The Prince of Frogtown is, without any hesitation on my part, one of the best books I have ever read.  On the back of the hardback copy I have, a reviewer compares Rick Bragg to Harper Lee in terms of his abilities as a writer.  That praise is deserved and well-founded.  His portrayals of his life in the deep South of Alabama and the tragedy, heartbreak, and even the good times have not been matched anywhere that I know of.  There are plenty of autobiographies about drunk fathers and the bruised children they leave behind, but Rick Bragg is able to say it all better than anyone else.  What would be throw away sentences if I or most authors were writing become poetic and pithy and absolutely essential in Bragg's establishment of tenor, place, and time.  He is just that good.  No, he's great.

I have nothing negative to say about The Prince of Frogtown.  It's a masterpiece, in my opinion.  When I turned the last page I was so affected by what I had read I just sat in my car, pondering, remembering.  At times I laughed out loud reading The Prince of Frogtown.  Other times I wanted to cry.  But at all times I wanted to keep reading. 

To truly appreciate what Bragg has done, a reader should read all three books--All Over but the Shoutin', Ava's Man, and The Prince of Frogtown.  There simply aren't many books out in the wild that can compare to what Bragg has written in those three books, especially when compared to our contemporary selection of books.  Read these books.  I can't give any stronger endorsement than that."

Other Topics of Interest:
Her Name is Scout
Dandelion Wine

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book of the Month: October Survey

Vote for The Thousander Club's Book of the Month in October, which is dedicated to scary and creepy books.  Make your choice below (If you're having trouble seeing the question below then click here):

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

See the full list of Books of the Month Here.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Reflections: Dracula

Adam C. Zern opines on Bram Stoker's Dracula:

"Reading Dracula was similar to reading Frankenstein.  An iconic character like Dracula, just like Frankenstein, has been iterated upon again, and again, and again.  Through all those versions and variations there will inevitably be some missteps and mistakes made by storytellers trying to meld their creativity with Bram Stoker's.  Reading Dracula proves once again that sometimes the source material, the original, is superior to everything that has been built on top of it, and it also proves why so many storytellers have tried to grapple with Dracula and make him their own.  Dracula is an excellent book.

Dracula is a lot of things.  It's a mystery, thriller, horror, and romance novel.  It has elements of a multitude of genres and it does it all so very well.  The feeling of tension created by Stoker's shifting narrative made me on multiple occasions gasp out loud as the tension reached its peak.  I knew bad things were going to happen to certain characters, and I really, really didn't want it to.  Yet, when they did happen it always felt surprising and, at times, sickening.  And therein lays the brilliance of Stoker's story—characters.  I cared about them, felt for them, and hoped for them.  Dracula, as a character, is surprisingly absent through most of the story.  (Albeit, his presence is felt throughout the entirety of the book).  The real beating heart of Dracula are the characters affected by the menace surrounding and caused by him.

Frankly, I felt Dracula was as flawless as a book could get until the ending.  There is a devilishly tense chase as Dracula attempts to flee London and return to his prison-castle in Transylvania, and, as a reader, you would reasonably expect a momentous pay-off.  Sadly, it doesn't really happen.  Yes, there is a conclusion; however, after all that the characters have endured, the story would have benefited from a more memorable closure. 

Dracula is a fantastic book.  It is without hesitation one of the best books I have read this year.  Its writing is brilliant; its story is compelling; its characters are unforgettable; it's another reason why I read books.  (It also has one of the most memorable moments I have ever come across in any book—poor, poor Miss Lucy).  Sometimes the original is just better in every way; Dracula proves the point."

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: The Beetle
Reflections: Frankenstein's Monster
Reflections: Paradise Lost

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Memorable Moments: A Tale of Two Cities - 'It is a far, far better thing'

Adam C. Zern sounds off on an unforgettable moment in an unforgettable book:

"It's tough to understate the impact of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities on the literary world.  It's also completely justified.  A Tale of Two Cities is a beautifully written and masterful tale, which ends with one of the most memorable moments in all of literature. 

Amidst the bloodbath which was the French Revolution, there were innocent people who were swept up in the madness and in more than one instance lost their lives.  Charles Dickens delineates this harrowing moment in human history by placing his characters in the middle of it all and forces the reader to accept the inevitable death of an innocent man, Charles Darnay.  His condemnation to death is a perfect illustration of the injustice of the French Revolution.  He was condemned for his relations and not because of his character.

However, as the violence and injustice reaches its crescendo at the end of Dickens' book, Sydney Carton, a far less noble and admirable person, trades places with Charles Darnay along with accepting his subsequent fate.  This act of selfless heroism is a redemptive moment not only for Carton but for anyone who has ever wondered if their past has to forever eclipse their future.  At that moment, Dickens expresses Carton's feelings toward his sacrifice with some of the most memorable words I have ever read in any book: "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

Like I said before, it is impossible to truly measure the impact that A Tale of Two Cities has had on literature.  Furthermore, its impact is felt throughout other entertainment mediums as well.  The end of The Dark Knight Rises makes specific reference to the line I quoted above.  This impact and influence is good and unavoidable because the end of Dickens' masterpiece is truly unforgettable.  It's elevating and inspiring and worth remembering."

Other Topics of Interest:
Memorable Moments: The Illustrated Man - 'Make a wish! Make a wish!'
Memorable Moments: Ender's Game - Terrible Reality
Reflections: Reflections on the Revolution in France

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fiction for a Day: Who Would I Be?

 Adam C. Zern shares some thoughts on a fictional character he would love to be:

"So many wonderful characters.  So many wonderful stories.  But which one have I wanted to take the place of?  Edmond Dantes, whose story is told in The Count of Monte Cristo, definitely comes to mind, but with some very important caveats.

I would love to experience what Edmond Dantes did but only after the particularly awful experience in the Chateau d'lf.  Certainly, his desire for justice and his character was shaped while confined in that terrible prison, but since we're working within the world of fiction I would skip that part and go directly to his discovering the treasure that makes him a Count.  Edmond Dantes was a man on a mission and it's the mission I would want to experience, not the preparation for it.

This brings me to another very important caveat of the character of Edmond Dantes.  Edmond was less on a mission of revenge, in my opinion, and more on a mission of justice.  I think the film adaptation reduces Dantes' character to tell a story almost entirely revolving around revenge.  However, I believe Alexander Dumas' original story portrays Dantes as a character driven by something more substantial and compelling.  True, the results may look somewhat similar, but the motives are different.  That mission of justice is what I would like to experience—making sure those who have done harm receive their rewards now instead of later.  It flies in the face of a basic principle of existence—"[God] sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45)—but it still would be incredibly satisfying. 

Also, a little mentioned aspect of The Count of Monte Cristo is that before Dantes begins his mission of justice, he completes a mission of mercy.  He ensures the security and happiness, as much as possible, of those individuals who treated him well before he was falsely accused and improperly imprisoned.  I would love to rain good fortune on those I care for and unexpectedly bring a change of circumstances in their life.  Having such an opportunity would be truly incredible and something better than the best fiction.

In conclusion, with a little cherry picking, Edmond Dantes is a fictional character whose shoes I wouldn't mind stepping into. Being driven by justice and mercy and having an essentially unlimited ability to mete out both sounds incredibly awesome.  And it all worked out pretty for Edmond Dantes, so why not me?"

Other Topics of Interest:
Books to Movies: The Count of Monte Cristo
Thousander Must-Reads Vol. 3
Pointless Stories and the Morality of Fiction

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Pointless Stories and the Morality of Fiction

Adam C. Zern opines on dark stories, fatalistic stories, and unavoidable morality:

"I don't like pointless stories.  But let me clarify, every story has a point; it's unavoidable and part of the didactic nature of stories.  They always teach something and always have some kind of point.  What I mean is that I hate stories that teach there is no point—to existence, to meaning, to humanity.  I don't like fatalism in its many sordid forms, but that's not to say I don't like 'dark' stories.  In fact, some of my favorite books are aphotic and can hardly be described as sanguine. 

Anyone willing and interested to understand more about literary criticism ought to read John Gardner's On Moral Fiction.  Gardner delineates a viewpoint on criticism and what makes a worthwhile story as close to my own opinion as I have ever read.  Would Gardner and I agree on every book?  Of course not.  But the principles he sets forth I think are worth investigation and even implementation.  I do believe there is a certain morality (in a very broad sense) imbued within all fiction, and the fiction which best understands this is often the best fiction around.  That's not to say that every book ought to be a child's fairy tale with a clearly labeled moral at the end.  There is plenty of room for moral subtlety but I have little patience for moral passivity. 

What I find in a book like The Plague by Albert Camus is an intentional effort to teach that nothing, no human behavior, really matters in the end.  This, I believe, is demonstrably false and hurts any fiction attempting to enshrine it as truth.  Is that a subjective judgment?  Of course!  Such is criticism and my criticism against books, films, stories, etc, which attempts to strip morality of its self-evident existence.  (The actual rights and wrongs of morality and the specific meaning of existence are less self-evident and can and ought to be debated—especially through stories!).  The best kind of fiction recognizes it's a part of a grand morality-charged human experience. 

Opposite to something like The Plague are stories like Frankenstein by Mary Shelley or even the film The Dark Knight by Christopher Nolan.  Both are very dark stories.  The Dark Knight, for instance, is at times brutal in its violence and disturbing in its portrayal of evil, but it acts as an examination of both.  Frankenstein is at times macabre—although I never found it gratuitous—and unsettling.  Yet, it works incredibly well as an examination into humanity's need to discover and the ethics of existence.  Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment is terribly depressing but not without moral exploration; in fact, it's themes, such as judging the value of human life, are permanent pillars in human morality and show up again and again in stories—see Alfred Hitchcock's Rope for another example.  Those are stories, even while being shrouded in darkness, worth experiencing.

In conclusion, and to reiterate, I don't like pointless stories.  I've read many and understand completely what they're attempting to communicate; therefore, I can say with confidence I don't care for them, which is not to say I'll never read them.  I'll just make sure to grumble about them once I've done so."

Other Topics of Interest:
Conversations with Adam & Scout - Picky or Observant?
Overrated: The Road
3 Reasons Why You Should Read

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Brow Bruising Reads: The Hardest Book I have Ever Read

Adam C. Zern sounds off on a truly difficult book to read:

"Way back on November 7th of 2011 I posted a few comments about some of the most difficult books I have ever read.  I called them Brow Bruising Reads, and indeed they were tough reads for various reasons. However, I didn't share my thoughts on the single most difficult book I have ever read—The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

While completing a Screenwriting course at Valencia Community College nearly a decade ago, I participated in a class discussion about the nature of stories—why we tell them, what kind of stories exist, and why we respond to them as human beings.  Joseph Campbell's exploration of story, culture, and psychology was mentioned as one of the most significant contributions to our understanding of story and storytelling.  The well-known 'Hero's Journey' paradigm was developed by Joseph Campbell and delineated in great detail in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  It sounded fascinating!   I made a decision right then to read it.  Little did I know how difficult it would be to navigate Campbell's incredibly esoteric work of profound importance.

Even after only a few pages of The Hero of Thousand Faces I realized how crushing the book could be.  I literally read the entire book with a dictionary perched close by and usually found on average 2-3 words on each page I did not understand.  You can imagine how doing so exponentially increased the amount of time it took me to finish the book.  It was the first time I could ever remember coming across words like 'vouchsafe' or 'pedagogy.'  Yet, I still use some of those words to this very day.

And that's the beauty of Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  It is in fact one of the most influential books I have ever read.  I refer to it often when discussing and pondering stories and our incessant need to tell them.  It's an incredible book, which ought to be read by every lover of stories and most especially by every storyteller.  Whether or not you agree with Campbell is irrelevant.  His insights and intellectual musings are so intriguing and enlightening they can inform every story you ever experience, regardless of the medium.  (George Lucas, for example, was influenced by Campbell's work and incorporated elements of what he learned into the Star Wars trilogy.  Familiarize yourself with the 'Hero's Journey' and re-watch Star Wars: A New Hope and you'll know what I'm talking about).

When I think of the most difficult books I have ever read, Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces is always on top.  It's a tough read, brutal at times, but extraordinarily informative.  It is a prized treasure to have read the book; it helped me appreciate stories on a level I had never considered.  For that reason alone it was definitely worth reading."

Other Topics of Interest:
Brow Bruising Reads
Page-Turners: Black Hawk Down
What You Don't Know is the Reason

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Book of the Month: September

The Book of the Month for September will be The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant. 

The Lessons of History was first published in 1965 and presents the main themes, trends, and lessons that historians Will and Ariel Durant observed while preparing their 11-volume The Story of Civilization.  Will and Ariel Durant won the Pulitzer Prize in the General Nonfiction category in 1968.

"The Durants' masterpiece belongs in any home library and occupies a shelf in many."
-Dana D. Kelley, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

"Among the most provocative books I have read through the years."
-Gordon B. Hinckley
"The Durants' masterpiece belongs in any home library and occupies a shelf in many. "
– Dana D. Kelley, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
- See more at:
"The Durants' masterpiece belongs in any home library and occupies a shelf in many. "
– Dana D. Kelley, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
- See more at: