It’s been awhile since I’ve done a book review so I wanted to take some time to write one now. I just finished The Shining, a book that I’m sure you’ve at least heard of from Stephen King. The book was 659 pages, and I was able to finish it in four days with my newfound, unemployeed time. To start, I want to say that I liked the book and it will stick with me for awhile, but I’m sure he has better work out there. I hadn’t seen the movie because honestly, I’m a big baby when it comes to thrillers and horror books/movies, but I felt drawn to read this and by the end, I basically couldn’t put it down.
The only things that I knew going in (which I gathered from clips I’ve seen of the movie) were that Jack attacked Wendy with an ax and that there were some ghost twins. (Dating a twin throughout the reading of this novel has not effected my view of her.) To my disbelief, the twins were mentioned in the book, but were never much used other than in stories, and Jack didn’t even use an ax, but instead a roque mallet to break down doors and bones. With that said, I’ll take you through my journey.
The only thing that I had read from King in the past were some short stories in the Skeleton Key collection (my favorite being “Cain Rose Up” and my least “Here There Be Tigers”) and The Gunslinger. I didn’t like The Gunslinger and put it down after about 100 pages. I wasn’t thrilled with the writing and the slow, nondescript pacing that it started with and it lost my interest. The Shining was a chance that I kind of took randomly and not expecting much.
I loved the opening of the book. It gave me my new favorite insult, officious little prick, and gave over 100 pages of story that was completely needed for character development and setting building. You learn about Danny, the kid with the gift, and his parents Jack and Wendy. Jack struggles with alcoholism and a history of abuse, while Wendy tries constantly to mother Danny to the best of her ability, sometimes letting her maternal instinct betray her trust in Jack. There is strain in their relationship from page one, and it leads to an interesting dynamic that never feels more comfortable throughout the entire book. You learn about the Overlook hotel and some of its mysterious past and why Jack is going to be taking his family to spend the entire winter season there, from the beginning of fall to the end of Winter. I won’t bore you with details, but everything was developed in a way that seemed totally reasonable. It gave the book this feeling of normalcy, like everything that would happen could happen in real life.
Eventually, they are snowed into this hotel and that’s when King’s writing really starts to flourish. He builds up these mysterious backstories about gang members, psychotic fathers (foreshadowing) and other peculiar deaths. You start to feel the ghosts roaming the halls, before King even mentions them. I want you to honestly think for a second; how would you feel if you were locked in a hotel for months on end, even if there were no scary backstories? Well I’d be terrified because I’m a wimp, but it’s a weird, eerie feeling. Add countless deaths to that and boom, I’d poop myself. As the book progresses, Danny, a uniquely gifted boy, starts to see these ghosts and weird occurances, like blood on walls, a naked and rotted woman crawling out of a bathtub to strangle him, and topiaries out front moving from harmless positions to positions of power and danger. He is the first to see them, but eventually Jack is shown these images too, but he fears he is only hallucinating and is more afraid of going crazy than being worried for his families safety. As the book progresses, it goes down the path that many are already familiar with. Jack goes nuts and tries to kill everyone, and then the hotel blows up.
Believe it or not, I wasn’t too scared by the end of the book because, and that is my one true complaint for the book; I don’t think it stayed scary. By the end, the mystery of the hotel is gone and Danny isn’t seeing anything else that isn’t too horrifying. More than that, Danny isn’t scared by it anymore either, so his herosim affected me, the reader. The whole time I read, I was worried that creepy twins would appear and I’d lose it, but they didn’t. They were mentioned, but they never actually showed up like they do in the movie. Jack went crazy and tried to kill everyone, but it wasn’t him going insane, it was the hotel basically taking over his mind, and the idea that a hotel is tormenting a family as opposed to a mentally fragile father snapping and attacking them is less exciting and if you look at it with an unbiased mind, kind of laughable. This book had the same kind of payoff that I feel some of his short stories had; they were exciting and scary all the way through until the end, but then the actual payoff was less exciting than the ride, so my interest disappeared. The version that I had had an excerpt for the sequel, Doctor Sleep, and I couldn’t be less interested in reading it. As far as I am interested, Danny did some crazy shit, same with Jack, Wendy and another character name Dick Hallorann, and then that was it. The hotel blew up and then whatever ghostly force lived inside of it was gone forever.
Kings writing is amazing. There is no questioning it. The descriptions are good, the worlds that he paints are so unbelievably well done that I can picture the Overlook when I close my eyes. I was scared up until the last 100 pages, which online reviews stated were the most exciting part, and then left kind of bored and disappointed, waiting for more that never came. The twins never showed up, Jack was possessed by a building and Danny caught a fish in the epilogue.
I’d be more than happy to give Kings work another go in the future but I hope that the conclusion is resolved in a way that doesn’t leave me wanting more. I wanted that one, big, definitive moment where my brain would be like “put this down, this is too scary” and it never came. That would be like watching Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and instead of The Empire setting up this huge trap for The Rebellion, they just kinda let them swoop in and blow up the deathstar again. Yeah, that’d be triumphant and a huge win the The Rebels, but as a viewer, would you really care?
Category: Pretentious Book Reviews
Brave New World – Part 2
I don’t know why I finished reading this book. Maybe it’s because it’s a classic, maybe it’s because I hate to be a quitter or maybe it’s because I’m a masochist. The book was boring, narcissistic, bounced from character to character in a way that was sometimes hard to follow and never really built any relationship with any of them. It reminded me of Pulp Fiction, where it bounced from Uma Thurman to John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson repeatedly, but none of them were on the screen for more than 1/3 of the movie. Although that’s a cult classic, I thought it really missed some of the immersion that it could have had. Let me focus on a few points in the book that I found particularly annoying.
Let me start with the language. Huxley used language that I feel is highfalutin, as I said in Part 1. That’s not a problem in itself. It’s fine to use longer and more complex words. It can really develop a character and show how they speak, but when every character uses the same language in a world where books aren’t widely read, it seems out of place. It would be authentic if the world dedicated their free time to books, but instead it was to escapism and sex. Plus, when you use complex words, they stand out more if you use them repeatedly. If I use the word “happy” one-hundred times in a book, it doesn’t seem out of place because people say “happy” much more than they say “delightful”, “wonderful” or any other synonym like that. The word that stuck out to me the most was indefatigable. I found three cases in the book. Granted, the book is a little over two-hundred pages, but the fact that it stood out like that is telling. Even close synonyms like inexhaustible stood out because they were so similar and held the same meaning. It made his writing feel redundant in the worst way. Another word stuck out to me even more. He was trying to say “milk” – a basic, simple word -but instead of using the word “milk”… he used “pasteurized external secretion.” Honestly, what the fuck is that. That’s ridiculous. It’s not always the right choice to use longer words, especially because no one EVER speaks like that.
My next point is the actual message of the book. The last bit of the books is the Savage speaking with the Controller. The Savage has transitioned from speaking in broken English at times when he lived in his reservation to flawless, Shakespearean English and I find that hilariously stupid, but that’s not the point. The main message just seems to be the internal conflict of Huxley debating between morality in logic versus morality in emotion. At times he thinks that happiness, no matter how it’s obtained, is the best thing for humanity, while at other times he thinks that allowing emotion to flourish is better, even if it means struggle and occasional unhappiness. It leaves a confusing message for the reader because he never really expands upon either sides until the end. It reminded me of what I thought was the most boring part of 1984, which was when Orwell decided to spend thirty pages reading through the new worlds book giving needless exposition. In Brave New World, I felt no need to make my own conclusions or think further about his dystopia. I didn’t think that Huxley’s thoughts were resoundingly pure and genius. I didn’t think that his book was a classic. I thought that the book ended in an uneventful way and left me with only thoughts of the wasted time that I spent on it.
My last complaint is the use of God/a god/commercialism in the book. The use of Ford in place of God is absurd. It felt like Huxley was going for an element of seriousness by implying that materialism has come so far that a great progression of one man led to a new type of worship, but I practically laughed out loud when I first read it and every other time it made me angry because of how judgmental it all seemed. I know the book was published in 1932 and the perception of religion in the eyes of the people has shifted immensely since then, whether you hold some religious views or don’t, but the idea that if ideals shift away from religion, they must be replaced by a religious appreciation for material is pessimistic at best and, ironically enough, shows a total lack of faith in humanity.
The reason that 1984, A Clockwork Orange, Fahrenheit 451 and other novels in the same genre have such an impact is because they fight so hard for what they believe in, but are inevitably crushed by society anyway. Brave New World just shows people struggling with their internal emotions and are then granted freedom from the system. The society built is clearly disturbed, but the reason that the other books that I mentioned do so well is because you become attached to the characters and they risk everything, while in Huxley’s eyes, all that matters is thinking, therefore becoming. Let me compare it to something in real life; Self-immolation, or the act of lighting oneself on fire as a form of protest, of Tibetan Monks shows impact and why people need to listen. Simply stating that something is bad and then escaping to a distant place does nothing. If Jesus said that he would take on the worlds sins and then instead of crucifixion, he moved to France, would he be followed today? If when Martin Luther King Jr. saw the errors in American judgement and ideals, thought “I wish this was different” and then fled to a more accepting country, would civil rights have progressed like they have? Absolutely not. So is running from the machine without trying to fix it in a Brave New World doing anything to enlighten the reader or the world that he belongs to? Absolutely fucking not. He may have died but it was for him and only him. There was so much more that could have happened but every time Huxley could have wowed, he fell short. Reading it was a waste of my time and it missed the moral lessons that it barely tried to reach.
I finished Sphere by Michael Crichton a few days ago and honestly, I don’t have much to say about it. It’s better than a lot of the stuff that I’ve read recently but it won’t linger in my brain. I’ll give a little description and then dive into it.
Basically, the military finds a weird spaceship thing in the ocean that looks brand-spanking-new (what a dumb phrase) and they call together a team of ten people from different backgrounds to investigate it. The main character, Norman Johnson, a psychologist goes underwater for a prolonged period to study this anomaly and then some strange stuff happens.
All of the reviews on the book praise it for being full of suspense and a page turner. I agree with that… mostly. It starts off and they go down in an underwater habitat to research and study a UFO, then they realize that it’s an American spaceship, then they realize that it’s an American spaceship from the future, then they realize that there’s an alien object (sphere) on the spaceship, then one of the members of the team enters the sphere and wildlife like giant squids and jellyfish start attacking their habitat, then the entity that they believe is inside the sphere starts to communicate with the crew via english and names itself Jerry, then half of the crew gets killed by the giant squid which they believe was created by the alien sphere, then they make a discovery that the crew member who entered the sphere is actually the one manifesting the squid using his subconscious fear of the ocean, then they have to try to subdue the crew member because if he remains scared then the squid will come back and attack the rest of them, then another crew member enters the sphere, then Norman enters the sphere to manifest his own fears so that he can stop the other two from manifesting their own, then they end up going back to the surface and with there new infinite manifesting power, they force themselves to forget about the whole experience. He tried to get a cliffhanger but I don’t buy it.
If that sounds like a good time, then by all means, read the book. It’s a fun ride, but constant suspense starts to wear off when something new happens every five pages and proves that the ideas that they had for the last four were all wrong from the start. The ending was kinda bland but I did like reading it. I’ll read more of his work in the future, but if they’re all this erratic, then I might not make him a regular.
Brave New World – Part 1
I’m only halfway through Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, so my opinion of the book may change, but I highly doubt it. I was holding the book off for a day when I knew that I wanted to sit down and read something that I would love. I was excited to dive into the “best dystopian book since 1984” and even more excited to see his hyperbolic perspective on the world. From page one, I was disappointed. If you’ve read the entire book, then please hold on for this and then read my follow-up when I finish it because I understand how this review may be a little skewed.
I feel like Huxley has done a terrible job explaining the characters and the repercussions of the world that he’s developed. Starting with the world, clearly destroying individuality is atrocious and mass-producing almost identical kids is psychotic when looked at from someone who lives today, but I’m halfway through this boring ass book and they haven’t shown me why it’s bad. They have barely talked about gas-bombs, and talk about electrocuting kids at a young age to change their Pavlovian response to a few things, but the world itself seems… fine? The only person who sees it as a problem is Bertrand Marx, and I don’t think that that’s enough. In 1984, Winston Smith tries his hardest to contain himself and hide his issue with the world, for fear of being found out and taken to an unknown place because he knows once that happens, he’s quite simply fucked. In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury shows how having a simple piece of contraband can lead to a chase from a massive robotic dog with poison in it. Neither of those books are perfect, but early on you see the consequences of not following the status quo. In Brave New World, he mentions Iceland as a negative destination, but for what? There’s no fear or suspense from the reader, just impatience because of another piece of information that goes nowhere. By page 100, I wished Chekhov’s gun would shoot me in the temple so that I could see some pay off.
Also, this early on in the book, I’m annoyed by the characters. Again, in 1984, there were other relatable characters, and the ones you hated, you hated because they were mindless conformists. In Fahrenheit 451, the massive screens leave a sense of unnerving after you set the book down. You see the brainwashing and the weird ambiance that it creates in every household. You may hate the characters, but they serve purpose. In Brave New World, keeping people happy with a pill doesn’t seem inherently bad because it doesn’t lead to anything terrible except the forward momentum of a confused and misinformed society. Anytime Lenina has dialogue, I want to rip my eyes out of my skull. She’s obnoxious and although she may have some character change later in the book, her presence ruins the whole experience of getting to see how the savages operate.
Part of me feels that Huxley’s use of sex in the book is perverted to a fault. If you wanted to tell me that diminishing sex to something with no emotion is terrible, then I’m inclined to believe you. I’ve become much more in touch with my emotional side over the passed year and the thought of sex has a status of appreciation and love, and it can be beautiful in a relationship if treated with respect. Even in other cultures today it’s viewed as more and less taboo around the world, and that’s fine. Huxley’s view seems to be, if you have sex without emotion then society devolves into a machine with boring, unfeeling cogs and I think that that’s just ridiculous and very closed-minded.
I can see from a mile away what the second half of the book is going to be… savages are more human because they operate with a more balanced use of emotion and logic, while the other, “greater” population is less happy because they’ve stripped the emotions from them. It’s not a world-changing view. If anything, I think it’s much too simple for how Huxley writes, which to me is in a very highfalutin and unnecessarily complex way. It’s not hard to understand, but I feel like the language that he uses is why people think that the book is such a masterpiece and that causes them to overlook the underdeveloped characters, plot and world.