Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bedtime Stories with Adam & Sarah - Young Adult Fiction

Adam & Sarah discuss the Young Adult Fiction genre - positives, negatives, and whatever else.  Let us know what you think of the genre.

Other Topics of Interest: 
Bedtime Stories with Adam & Sarah: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Brow Bruising Reads
3 Reasons Why You Should Read 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bosom Buddy Books: The Prince and the Radical

 Adam C. Zern discusses two books he feels should always be read together - The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli and Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky:

Sometimes there are books which are so closely affiliated in some way they deserve to be read in connection with one another.  Keep in mind, I'm not referring to sequels, prequels, or spin-offs.  Rather, I'm referring to books written by different authors but usually on similar subjects or narratives which enhance and complement one another so well it would be a shame to have read one but neglected the other. 

Take, for example, Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince and Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals.  As I was pondering these types of 'pairings' among books this pair immediately came to mind.  In fact, Saul Alinsky said explicitly at the beginning of his book: 'The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power.  Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.'  Rules for Radicals and The Prince are, in my opinion, must-read books for anyone interested in political science, politics in general, or the nature of political power.  Power is the central thesis of both books—how to get it, how to keep it, how to take it from others.  The Prince's focus on political rulers maintaining power is complemented greatly by Alinsky's focus on the impotent obtaining power.  One realizes very, very quickly the alluring nature of power and why a person or group seeks to achieve it, regardless of their current level of political influence, social status, or wealth.

The Prince is incredibly topical and provides insights that hold up extremely well today.  Human nature is human nature regardless of which point in history we're discussing and The Prince reveals as much.  Rules for Radicals reveals that human nature is human nature regardless of our class in society.  Both books also reveal an informative ethical outlook and a certain set of principles.  I derisively call it 'unprincipled principles,' and I think Alinsky and Machiavelli would agree with me.  The point is power, not morality or ethics.  Having read both books, I believe I understand both authors' reasoning to a greater extent than if I had read only one or the other.  The two books should be seen as companions. 

If you have read The Prince, then don't miss the chance to read Rules for Radicals.  If you have read Rules for Radicals, then don't miss the chance to read The Prince.  If you have read neither, then plan on reading both at some point instead of just one of them.  Separated by hundreds of years and myriad of political intrigues and machinations, it's staggering to see within both books how universal the nature of power is and how little mankind has progressed in handling it."

Other Topics of Interest:
What Every High School Student Should Read but Probably Doesn't
Reflections: Democracy in America
Reflections: Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

Friday, July 26, 2013

Adaptation, Please: The Candy Bombers

Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts on the Berlin Airlift, The Candy Bombers, and why it's a great historical event and a great story to be turned into a feature film:

"Most people would not have a good understanding of the 'Berlin Airlift' if it were mentioned to them.  I confess I knew nothing of it until reading Leon Uris's Armageddon.  It changed my feelings toward my country and has become one of my favorite moments in American history.  Last year I read Andrei Cherny's The Candy Bombers, and I am convinced the Berlin Airlift and the unprecedented historical circumstances that surrounded it could make an incredible film.

If a film were to be made revolving around the Berlin Airlift it would look a lot more like Spielberg's Lincoln than it would Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan.  The full frontal aggression and warfare had concluded by the time the Airlift was underway, but the political machinations and cold deliberations between the United States and the Soviet Union were just getting underway.  In fact, it was one of the first salvos in the Cold War.  Taking it from that angle, the film could focus on key Americans bearing the burden of leadership and how their decisions directly impacted the lives of Berliners.  Of necessity the film would have to create an emotional connection between the audience and Berliners; otherwise, you might as well make a documentary.  Giving sufficient time to show the Berliners' struggle to cope with their ruined city and nation and their subsequent struggle for freedom would be a way to create that connection. 

The beating heart of the film, however, should focus on the singular and moving action of the 'Candy Bombers.'  When I read of American pilots improvising miniature parachutes to attach to candy bars and dropping them from their planes over suffering Berliners I felt it was the most humanitarian action I had ever heard of.  I think the visual alone of floating candy bars slowly descending on a devastated city and its people could create a powerful reaction in the audience and a truly unforgettable moment. 

The Berlin Airlift was an extraordinary moment in American history and in the history of its military.  The event should inspire a film to showcase the tragedy and triumph included within the circumstances of the event and the people involved.  It is my sincere hope that I will eventually have the pleasure of watching one of America's finest moments on the big screen."

Other topics of interest:
Reflections: The Candy Bombers
Adaptation, Please: Mistborn
Writing History I Can't Forget: Leon Uris

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Reflections: The Alloy of Law

Adam C. Zern opines on Brandon Sanderson's The Alloy of Law:

"I really enjoyed The Mistborn Trilogy (or the Final Empire trilogy if you want to be technical).  It definitely had its problems, some glaring and repeated over the course of all three books, but overall I thought they were a creative and fun ride.  The Alloy of Law, also by Brandon Sanderson, intrigued me tremendously since it takes place 300 years after the events of The Hero of Ages and is set during an industrial revolution of sorts.  It's a fascinating idea and one I was extremely willing to embrace, but I think the book for the most part is a miss, even if I wanted it to be a hit.

The most glaring flaw of The Allow of Law is its premise, which feels more like a short story than a whole new novel.  After the incredible scope of the original trilogy, which became cosmic in nature, it was hard to care all that much about The Alloy of Law's conflicts.  This lack of commensurate stakes or consequences with the original trilogy would have been a barely noticeable difference if the characters involved were worthy of my attention and concern; yet, I didn't care all that much about any of the characters.  The protagonist, Waxillium, had good moments, but nothing to really endear him to me. Sanderson's weakness in writing believable and natural dialogue is on display yet again in The Allow of Law, sometimes painfully so, and it hurts the book enough that it never quite recovers.  Lastly, the last ten or so pages is a jarring attempt to link this stand-alone story in with the overall drama of the original trilogy.  It doesn't work.  It feels out of place, a little cheap, and tacked on. 

Are there redeeming qualities to The Alloy of Law?  A few.  It takes place in the Mistborn universe, which is its greatest strength.  It's a wonderful fantasy world to tell stories in and the industrial revolution setting works surprisingly well.  The inserts of the Broadsheets—newspapers—throughout the book were extremely effective in creating a sense of place and time.  I liked being in the world but didn't care too much about the characters inhabiting it or about the things they were doing.

The Alloy of Law was a big disappoint for me.  I think Sanderson has plenty to work with in his Mistborn universe, including continuing the story abandoned at the end of The Alloy of Law.  My hope is that the follow-up stories will be better.  (Having read 9 books altogether in the Ender's Game universe I know that some books are great and some are pretty poor but one stinker doesn't cripple a franchise).  After reading The Alloy of Law, it may take me a little bit more motivation to jump into the next Mistborn book, whenever it's released, but I'm still willing to do so."

Other topics of interest:
Reflections: The Hero of Ages
Adaptation, Please: Mistborn

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Giving it Up: Sense and Sensibility

Adam C. Zern sounds off on the one book he couldn't bring himself to finish—Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility:

"I have an irrational need to complete every book I begin.  This need has forced me to complete a stack of stinkers—The Stranger by Albert Camus, The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas, The Host by Stephenie Meyer, to name a few.  Yet, there still was one book, but only one book so far, that I just couldn't bring myself to complete—Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.

I must admit I didn't see Sense and Sensibility as being the book I just couldn't bring myself to finish.  I have no aversion to stories of romance or domestic dramas.  Although not a perfect comparison with the book, I deeply adore the film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice directed by Joe Wright (starring Keira Knightley) and consider it one of my favorite films of all time.  But Sense and Sensibility, from what I remember, seemed to be so unmercifully petty and trifling I felt literally no interest in the characters and their dilemmas.  Keep in my mind, I didn't give up on Sense and Sensibility after a few days with limited effort.  I spent a few weeks trudging my way through its pettifogging story—one agonizing page after another—and got to around 150 pages and gave it up.  I've never once wanted to go back to it and finish it; although, I'm afraid my irrational need to finish every book I begin may one day force me to do so.

Sense and Sensibility is the only Jane Austen book I have ever attempted to read.  Will I attempt to read some of her other works?  After my experience with Sense and Sensibility it's going to take quite a bit to set aside every book and give another Jane Austen story a try.  And the next time I read a Jane Austen book I probably will force myself to finish it."

Other topics of interest:
Reflections: Death Comes to Pemberly 
Reflections: Jane Austen In Scarsdale: Or Love, Death, and the SATs
Boring Books: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Monday, July 15, 2013

Overrated: The Road

Adam C. Zern offers a few thoughts on why Cormac McCarthy's The Road is overrated:

"I'm usually pretty okay with dark tales, serious subject matter, and gloomy stories, but Cormac McCarthy's The Road is on a whole new level of depressing.  There was probably only one other book which I felt substantially and negatively changed my mood, and my wife would confirm visibly as well, while reading it and that was Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.  (Although I would defend Crime and Punishment as having some didactic value but would struggle to make the same argument for The Road).  I have read multiple post-apocalyptic books, some of them being very grim, but only The Road left me feeling truly forlorn.

The biggest problem with The Road isn't so much its subject matter and setting; rather, it's the book's unflinching focus on its subject matter and setting without giving enough of a reprieve to the reader, to me, to take a breath and find a reason to keep reading.  Fans of the book point to the relationship between the father and the son, the supposed focus of the book, as the reason to keep reading just as it was the father's motivation to keep walking—there is the brilliance of the book—so  they say.  However, I felt the portrayal of the relationship between the father and the son to be terribly inadequate to counter-balance the madness, death, and despair they both, and the reader by extension, was surrounded by from the hopeless beginning of the book to the hopeless end of the book.  McCarthy, in my mind, seemed far more interested in describing cannibals and their dining habits than he did in expressing familial emotions and connections. 

I did not care for The Road at all, and I've often wondered why so many others have loved it so much.  Like I said previously, I can handle dark stories with a purpose and meaning, but I'm less than enthusiastic toward dark stories which seem to be so simply for the sake of being dark.  The Road felt more like the latter to me than the former, and for that reason I think it's overrated."

Other topics of interest:
Thousander Must-Reads Vol. 3
Overrated: The Da Vinci Code
Page-turners: Black Hawk Down

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Reflections: Mrs. Lincoln: A Life

Adam C. Zern sounds off on Catherine Clinton's Mrs. Lincoln: A Life:

"After watching Steven Spielberg's Lincoln I felt that all too common feeling of ignorance regarding historical events and historical personalities.  I wanted to learn more about Civil War years and the influential people who lived through it.  Looking over my in-laws bookshelf I came across Mrs. Lincoln: A Life by Catherine Clinton.  It seemed to fit what I was looking for at the time so I thought I would give it a try.

Mrs. Lincoln left me wanting more, but in the best way possible.  With the focus on Abraham Lincoln's wife, a great deal of historical information is mentioned barely in passing; however, the focus of the book, Mary Lincoln, is a personality which deserves a book because her story is so fascinating and heartbreaking.

Mary Lincoln, most scholars and historians would agree, suffered from some kind of mental illness.  Her behavior throughout her life, but especially her time in the White House and the years subsequent to her husband's assassination, was erratic, irrational, and in some ways self-destructive.  She was plagued by terrible financial situations, anxiety, an obsession with her own misfortune, and all of this attracted the often brutal attention of America's media.  The author, Catherine Clinton, valiantly attempts to explain Mary Lincoln's many foibles in ways other than 'she was crazy,' which the author suggests other authors have done.  Yet, by the end of the book, the overwhelming feeling I had toward Mary Lincoln, even after having her story told from a sympathetic author, was 'she was crazy.'  Mrs. Lincoln no doubt loved her husband and was devoted to his cause, but her personal weaknesses are signifcant enough to overshadow many of her virtues.

I very much enjoyed Mrs. Lincoln.  The book was extremely well-written and seemed to be a notable effort to be even-handed toward an historical personality who is tough to understand.  I would highly recommend Catherine Clinton's book.  The Civil War years were a fascinating time during our nation's history with incredible and interesting people involved in important events, Mary Lincoln being just one of them."

Other topics of interest: 
Reflections: Gods and Generals
Reflections: Killing Lincoln

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Encore Reading: Why I Don't Re-read Books

 Adam C. Zern shares a opines on "encore reading" and why he doesn't re-read books, even the really good ones:

"I am extremely unwilling to re-read a book I have already read.  'Encore reading,' as I call it, is a practice apparently fully embraced by devout readers but one in which I have avoided except in the most rare cases; however, I do understand why other dedicated readers do it and am fairly convinced their reasoning is solid.

In the month of May, The Thousander Club selected To Kill a Mockingbird as the book of the month.  It's an excellent book—one which I love dearly.  (So much so my wife and I named our third daughter Scout).  Yet, I couldn't bring myself to re-read the book.  Why?  Because there are so many other books to be read.  I am certain now I don't read nearly as fast as others and with my goal of reading 1,000 books, I feel as if there is little time to be 'wasted.'  But I know 'wasted' is absolutely the wrong word to use.  Re-reading a book like To Kill a Mockingbird would be many things but certainly not a waste of time. 

stack of booksI keep a stack of books on my desk at home, which is a constant reminder of the books I have yet to read.  Therefore, it's difficult for me to pick one up I've already enjoyed and, quite frankly, one I already have on my 'Read' list, and complete it again.  The first thing I do after completing a book is add it to my official 'Books I have Read' list, and re-reading a book doesn't allow me to do that.  It doesn't get me one more book closer to my goal of 1,000. 

Is numbers everything?  Of course not.  But numbers do matter quite a bit in my mind.  There is so much to be learned, so much to be enjoyed, or even so much to dislike, hate, or refute.  If we never expose ourselves to those things, then we can't receive any of those benefits.  I'm constantly thinking of what I don’t know and I see the next book as an antidote to some portion of that ignorance, and 'encore reading' hasn't found a good place in my reading habits yet.  Could it?  Certainly.  But right now I can't talk about it because I have something else to read."

Other topics of interest:
Her Name is Scout
What You Don't Know is the Reason
3 Reasons Why You Should Read

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Books to Movies: True Grit

Adam C. Zern sounds off on the film adaptations of Charles Portis's True Grit:

"True Grit is an interesting book in that it has undergone two separate film adaptations from two very different time periods and filmmakers.  The first film adaptation starring John Wayne was decent for its time, so I'm told, but hasn't aged very well since its release.  The newest adaptation, adapted for the screen and directed by Joel and Ethan Cohen, is straight forward in its violence, unflinching with its characters, and exactly the film it should have been to reflect Charles Portis's excellent book.

I knew essentially nothing of Charles Portis's True Grit when I was given a copy to read.  I consider it a masterful book with truly memorable characters and moments, and I believe that's what the most recent film adaptation of True Grit is so perfectly attuned to.  It understands its characters, their simple-minded and guarded motivations, and it presents all of this in a very gritty and extremely believable setting.  The two forces to be reckoned with, Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn, deserve the amount of attention given to them in the book, and it is their troubled yet caring relationship which adds a brilliant layer of sympathy over top of a story which could simply have been about revenge and very little else.

The film adaptation of True Grit starring John Wayne is a good example, in my opinion, of what could go wrong with an adaptation.  (John Wayne was most certainly not Rooster Cogburn as much as a lot of people would like to believe).  The latest film adaptation of True Grit by the Cohen brothers is a perfect example of what an excellent film adaptation should look like and more importantly feel like.  I consider the original source material, Charles Portis's True Grit, and its latest film adaptation works of art and wonderful pieces of entertainment."

Other topics of interest:
Books to Movies: The Count of Monte Cristo
Books to Movies: The Princess Bride
Books to Movies: The Prestige
Adaptation, Please: Mistborn