Book Review: “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King

On WritingIt’s been a few months since I read On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, but I wanted to make sure and get a review written for it because I thought the book was fantastic, and if there is anyone out there unaware of how helpful it can be to aspiring writers, then they need to know that it exists. I first got a copy of the book because I wanted to read it before giving NaNoWriMo a try, unfortunately I didn’t manage to get to it before then.

Ultimately my endeavors with NaNoWriMo were a pretty decent-sized failure, but after that was all said and done I did finally read this book and it gave me a little bit of a pick-me-up and encouraged me in my writing attempts for the future.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is split into two parts. The first part is a short autobiography about Stephen King’s life and how he first started to write when he was a young boy. It covers the silly stories he wrote when he was small, the newspaper he helped his older brother with, and then it moves on to his first successfully submitted short stories, novels, and then the beginnings of his career. I found the tales of his early career and his childhood to be fascinating beyond belief. There are so many little things about his early life that have influenced his writing in little ways, even the very small sampling of his books that I’ve had the chance to read so far.

The second part of the book is a series of chapters each dedicated to a different mechanic of writing short stories or novels. King talks about how to plot well, how to cut the extra fat out of your prose, how to make characters feel real, and a whole lot of other things. He gives straightforward, easy to understand advice that I feel anyone who wants to be a writer can find useful. Some of the things he mentions as good ideas I don’t agree with 100% due to personal style and preference, but despite that I can’t really argue with what he had to say, it was all good advice.

One of these days I’ll find the time to do some writing for real instead of not being able to dedicate much time to it and I’m sure when that happens I’ll be using the tips and tricks I got from this book to help me out. If you are someone who does any kind of creative writing of your own, do yourself a favor and read this book. You may only learn one small thing, but you may learn an entire mountain of things that will help you.

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Looking Back at October 2013

October was a really, really good month for me in regards to getting books read. I may not have enjoyed all the books I read, but I finished 10 books in the month again for the first time in a long time, which makes me pretty happy. I read some older books, some long books, some short books, some bad books, and some brand new books that blew my mind. It feels really good to be back on the reading horse so-to-speak after having several months where I felt like it was a bit of a chore.

I even managed to reach 70 total books read for 2013 by having such a great month and now I get to see how far I can push that number by the end of the year. If I were to get 10 more books in November and December respectively I’d be at 90 which is a pretty big number if you ask me.

So, here are the books I read in October:

My favorite book of the month was Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. She did some amazing things with gender assignments regarding the characters and told a very vibrant story that had me racing to finish the book. I’d heard lots of great things about Ancillary Justice for weeks before I started reading it and I’m a little disappointed I didn’t pick it up earlier because it was so good. Parasite, which I just finished last night, was also really good. I’m glad Mira Grant has a new novel out and I’m excited to see where she ultimately winds up taking things with this new story. Although, part of me wishes she would write another book in the same world as her Newsflesh trilogy again. I loved those books so much.

Getting a chance to finally see what Dragonlance was all about was a lot of fun. There are some fun characters in Dragons of Autumn Twilight and I’m sure I’ll be revisiting that world again soon. Shattered Soul left me with a really bad taste in my mouth, but I’m not going to discuss my issues with it in this post. There are a lot of things I want to say about it but I need to decide how I want to say them first. Suffice it to say that I don’t recommend the book to anyone.

Coming up in November I’ve got some really good books I’ve been waiting to read for a long time. A co-worker wants me to try my hand at a Dresden Files book or two, I’ve got Caliban’s War and Abbadon’s Gate to read, and I’ve got the last few David Dalglish novels I haven’t read yet on deck as well. My goal is to get another 10 books read, but the holiday season is approaching fast so we’ll see if I can hit that goal or not. Ultimately, I’d like my Kindle to be 100% empty by January 1st if I can manage it just to say I did it.

Book Review: “Under the Dome” by Stephen King

Under the DomeIt’s taken me a fair amount of time to really begin to appreciate the books Stephen King writes. It wasn’t even until late last year that I even picked up my first Stephen King novel, and that was Insomnia, which I’m not sure was the best choice when it comes to my first exposure to him as an author. Even reading the very widely loved book of his, The Gunslinger, didn’t have me entirely convinced. As it turns out, the book I really needed to read was Under the Dome.

My motivation for reading Under the Dome was threefold: I got a copy of the book for $1.99 as a Kindle Daily Deal, shortly after that I realized there was going to be a television show based on the book, and lastly, I was looking to read a longer book because I’d been reading lots of shorter works at the time. I also figured I would give Stephen King one more chance to convince me he was worth reading again and the premise of a town being trapped underneath a giant invisible dome was intriguing to me on a lot of levels.

In my previous experience with Stephen King I felt like his novels were driving down a long road and to start they were moving at 45 miles per hour. A decent clip, certainly enough to keep you interested in what’s happening, but not so fast as to lose you right at the start. Then those novels would slow down to what felt like a crawl of around 15 to 20 miles per hour for the middle 800 pages or so before ramping up to 90 miles per hour and accelerating from there through the end of the book. I found that frustrating. With Under the Dome it felt like I was cruising at a nice, brisk 60 miles per hour the entire time until the end when King began to accelerate the story at a nice, smooth rate right through to the last page. That kind of pacing was much more enjoyable to me personally and I hope some of his other books work that way too so I can read them in the future. The start, stop, rush format of the earlier works of Stephen King I read just didn’t do it for me.

Under the Dome is also free of the more typical spooky vibe I’ve found in other Stephen King novels and instead features a more science fiction and/or alien twist to explain the existence of the dome and how it’s changing the way the people in town behave towards each other. When the revelation of why the dome is in place was made (very late in the book by the way) I felt like it was a really interesting premise. It took me back to some things I’ve thought about before as well as some things I used to do as a kid with a magnifying glass. It almost felt like the entire story came about because King had seen a group of kids with their magnifying glasses over and anthill and things just grew from there when he started writing. I enjoyed the premise in this story much more than the others I’ve read.

However, by far the most interesting thing about Under the Dome was the impact being cut off from the world in that fashion had on the inhabitants of the town. Sure, there were some strange things going on with why the dome was there to begin with, but the things like looting, martial law, enormous suicide rates, etc were all portrayed in what I felt was a very realistic and raw manner. Having a dome slam down over a town that traps all pollutants in the air has massive ramifications if people aren’t paying attention. A small town official can easily set up his own dictatorship overnight if people aren’t focused on the right things. There were so many little details about the goings on around the town that had me fascinated as I watched the story unfold before me.

There were also some very strong political themes woven between events which I’m not sure were so much Stephen King’s personal political opinions as much as they were his attempt at showing how modern-day politics fit into a disaster situation like the one he was writing about.

If Under the Dome hadn’t worked out for me as a reader I probably would have walked away from Stephen King for good and felt I had done my due diligence in trying to see why so many people love his work. However, Under the Dome won me over because of a variety of things and now I’m willing to give him a few more chances before I walk away from his work entirely. I might just need to pick which Stephen King books I read very carefully so as not to get frustrated in the future.

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Top 10 Tuesday: Most Intimidating Books

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

There really aren’t many books that I classify as “intimidating” when it comes to reading them because after you’ve read a few 1,200 page books length doesn’t really scare you much anymore. To be honest, classic books are more intimidating to me than anything else because I often just don’t get why everyone else finds them so good.

Here’s my list of intimidating books I have yet to read.

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A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
People talk about this book all the time when the topic of classics you “must read” comes up. I’ve never read it and despite thinking Dickens is a decent enough author I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not going to like it as much as everyone else.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Just like A Tale of Two Cities, this is a book everyone says book readers should read, and I just need to buckle down and do it so I can say I’ve done it. Then perhaps I’ll be able to speak more intelligently about classic literature to some extent.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
This is a classic book that I’m almost certainly going to enjoy. I love the story, I’ve watched the movies about a billion times, and I love every other television show or movie based off the same concept. It’s long though, very, very long. Also, I know the language style is going to be a bit rough for me to get through which is why I keep putting it off instead of picking it up.

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Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson
This is the first book in a really, really long series which is why I’m scared to pick it up. I have in my mind that if I read this book I need to be prepared to read all the rest of them immediately after and that is a huge time investment.

The Gunslinger by Stephen King
Oddly, I just read this book last week, but I’m still going to include it on the list. Lots of friends have told me this book would determine if I was going to like Stephen King or not and that is a lot of pressure to put on reading one 300 page novel. Not to mention it also is the start of a pretty long and involved series.

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
I am a bit of a closet hard science fiction fan and this is supposedly considered one of the best hard science fiction books you can read. I’ve seen it in bookstores and on bookshelves at friends homes for year and have always wanted to read it but just can’t seem to find the gumption to pick it up and do it. I think I might have built up in my mind how good it could be to a point where it won’t be anything other than disappointing when I do read it.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
I’ve held this one in my hands at least a hundred times at local bookstores. As a teenager I wanted so badly to read this book but never bought it because there was always another book I wanted more. Years and years later I still haven’t read it but I keep on looking.

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Dune by Frank Herbert
Dune is a classic that just seems a bit larger than life for someone like me. It’s supposed to be this great book, but what if I don’t like it? Will my nerd card be taken away and never given back? Will my friends who think it’s the best book ever written shun me forever as a result?

1984 by George Orwell
I just need to read this. It isn’t that long, and it’s sort of a rite of passage for a science fiction fan to be honest. I don’t really know why I haven’t read it yet.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
I’ve heard great and terrifying things about this book which makes me want to read it but it got so much great press over the years that I worry I won’t appreciate it the way it was intended to be appreciated because I enjoy things on a surface level so much rather than a deeper philosophical level.

Book Review: “The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger” by Stephen King

This heroic fantasy is set in a world of ominous landscape and macabre menace that is a dark mirror of our own. A spellbinding tale of good versus evil, it features one of Stephen King’s most powerful creations—The Gunslinger, a haunting figure who embodies the qualities of the lone hero through the ages, from ancient myth to frontier western legend.

The GunslingerI’ve had a copy of The Gunslinger sitting in my office desk drawer for probably close to 6 months, if not longer. A co-worker of mine who knows my tastes and preferences brought it in to let me borrow along with a big stack of other Stephen King novels. After reading two other King novels I was a little skeptical on whether I would like The Gunslinger and whether it was worth reading since it’s the first in a series. I didn’t want to read it and then desperately want to read the entire series in the middle of everything else I’m trying to get finished right now.

Well, about a week ago I needed something to read at the office on a slow day and I wanted it to be something short that wouldn’t take too long. Enter The Gunslinger. The book is barely 300 pages in length and has what could possibly be considered enormous font which means reading it wasn’t going to take too long. So, that’s what I did. I read the first 150 pages before leaving the office and then finished the last 150 pages the next morning because I still had no work to do. Like I said, it didn’t take long, perhaps 3 and a half hours of actual reading time.

A couple of people told me that reading The Gunslinger would help me determine if I wanted to read any more Stephen King in the future. I have to say they were wrong. I’m still just as on the fence now as I was before I read the book. In my opinion there was nothing inherently great about the book, but at the same time there was nothing inherently bad about the book. It fell very much in the middle of every expectation I could possibly have.

The character of Roland, most frequently referred to as “the gunslinger” was fairly compelling for the most part. I was very interested in learning more about his past, his family, and what turned him into what he is now. I wanted to learn more about the culture he had lived in and why it collapsed. I wanted to know more about who the gunslingers are and why they are so important. Why is he the last of their kind? All of these things kept me flying through the pages because I was hoping I would get some sort of answer to at least a few of them. No such luck however, the book was just question after question with absolutely no resolution to any of them.

After I was done I decided that it was alright for there to be a lot of open-ended questions left after the first book. It is a pretty grand series spanning lots of books after all and Stephen King knew it was going to be that way. Still, that doesn’t change how unfulfilled I felt after finishing. It was like Stephen King wanted to write a book about Roland but didn’t want to make any official decisions about what was what in the world-building or back story. He wanted to leave as many open doors as possible for future books because he simply didn’t know what he wanted to write next. I guess that is interesting to some, but not so much for me.

I wanted there to be at least a few things that were concrete, established, and firmly rooted that I could latch onto while I read and then speculate about the rest. There was nothing like that and I found it really frustrating. The problem is, it wasn’t frustrating enough to drive me away from the idea of reading the next book, or the book after that, or the entire series for that matter. All of the open-ended stuff was interesting, I can’t argue with that, it just wasn’t fulfilling like I wanted it to be. Frustrating.

In the end, it was a decent book. Nothing special, nothing horrific. It fell squarely in the middle of my tastes and desires when it comes to picking a book. It wasn’t forgettable, but I’m also not going to run out and tell everyone to read it. I’ll likely read the next book in The Dark Tower series, The Drawing of the Three at some point, possibly even later this year, but there are other things I want to get read first before I keep going.

Length: 304 pages

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