Archive for classic literature

Year End Book Report: The Best Books I Read in 2016

Posted in Batman, books, comic books, movies, pop culture, Star Wars with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2017 by Paxton

Year End Badass Book Report

Here I go, writing another one of these year end round up articles that I’m shocked to be writing every year. 2017. CRAZY. What a ride 2016 was. Hopefully 2017 will give us a bit of a break.

This past year was an interesting year for my book/comics list.  After so many years of logging my books and comics reading via Google Spreadsheet, I actually converted my logs over to an online data tool called Airtable. It’s similar to Access in that it is a relational database but the user entry interface is very simple to create and similar to Excel. Plus being able to link specific information between tables really helps in cross referencing and spelling.  You have no idea how many times I misspelled author names throughout my logs.

Here’s what my book log looks like now on Airtable.  I’ve converted all my logs back to when I first started in 2007.

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The blue colored fields in the screenshot are actually linked to another table.  I was able to also create the Rating field on the right with different color coded ratings to make it easy at a glance to see what is going to make my year end list and what isn’t.  Plus, Airtable makes all of this data entry even easier with a nice app for my iPhone or iPad that makes it easy to log entries on the go.  Google Sheets had one as well but Airtable’s works better.

So that’s all the behind the scenes stuff.  I had a better year for novels.  I was able to pick 5 this year.  Again, comics were booming and I had a tough time paring down to 5.  But I did it.

So, without further ado, here’s the list!

Books


The Old Man and the Sea (1952) – Ernest Hemingway – I don’t read classics as often as I used to.  I really need to remedy that.  There are two reasons why I read this.  #1, it was featured in the movie The Equalizer starring Denzel Washington as a book he’s reading. #2, Steph checked it out from the library with a bunch of other books and I, on a whim, picked it up to read.  It’s actually really good.  I quite enjoyed it.  I’m probably not going to pick up any other Hemingway, but I’ll definitely try to read more classic lit this coming year.  I’ve been wanting to re-read Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, so maybe I can get that done.


Steve Jobs (2011) – Walter Isaacson – I’ve now read two of Isaacson’s famous biographies and let me say that I’m hooked. Back in 2014 I read his biography of Benjamin Franklin and it nearly made my year end best of list.  This one about Apple founder Steve Jobs actually cracks the list. It’s not only a great portrait of a complicated man, but it’s also a great look at the beginnings of our technological age we live in now.  I would love for Isaacson to tackle Bill Gates in a full book, but I’m not sure that’ll happen.  Isaacson did write a book called The Innovators that really digs into the people who created the computer and the Internet; going as far back as Alan Turing and jumping forward to people like Larry Page and Bill Gates.  That will probably be next on my Isaacson reading list and the closest I’ll get to a full Gates biography by him.


Star Wars: Catalyst – A Rogue One Novel (2016) – James Luceno – The “New Canon” of Star Wars books since Disney has taken over has been very…hit or miss.  Since those books started in Fall 2014, only one has made my year end list.  And honestly, I think that one novel (Star Wars: Tarkin), also written by James Luceno, would work perfectly as a side-quel to this book.  This is the written prequel to the movie Rogue One and it’s pretty great.  It digs deep into the relationship between Galen Erso and Director Krennic.  It also explores a bit more the rivalry between Krennic and Tarkin all while adding in backstory to how the Death Star was built and how it works and what they use to power the planet killing laser.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Magic Kingdom for Sale–Sold! (Landover series Book 1) (1986) – Terry Brooks – I talked about this book earlier in my High Fantasy Month article back in March.  It’s a different setup for a fantasy series and I really enjoyed it.  I had bought the collection of the first three books in the series, but I’ve not delved into the second book yet.  However, it’s on the plan for this year.

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AWESOME-tober-fest 2015: The Invisible Man (1897) – HG Wells

Posted in books, Classic literature, monsters, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , on October 1, 2015 by Paxton

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Yesterday, I talked about one of the very first uses of invisibility in literary fiction. Today, I’m going to discuss probably the most well known use of invisibility in literary fiction.  I decided to go ahead and lead with this book because so much of invisibility in pop culture is derived either from this novel or from Universal’s 1933 movie adaptation, which I’ll review tomorrow.

The Invisible Man was HG Wells’ fifth novel after such classics as The Time Machine and The Island of Dr Moreau. It was originally serialized in Pearson’s Weekly in 1897 but collected into a novel that same year.

Invisible-man

Surprisingly, I had never read this book. I thought I would have been assigned it in high school or college, but that can also be said for several other classics I recently read for AWESOME-tober-fest like Frankenstein and Dracula.  Due to this I, again, have to thank AWESOME-tober-fest for manufacturing a reason for me to shoehorn this book into my reading list.  Let’s see if it was as good as Frankenstein or as bad as Dracula.

The book is certainly well written.  It begins with a mysteriously bandaged man arriving at a boarding house in the small English town of Iping.  The bandaged man not only looks mysterious, he is a very impatient man.  He immediately starts rubbing everyone the wrong way and eventually is kicked out of the boarding house when he can’t settle his bill.  This leads us to discover that he was a scientist who invented an invisibility serum and tested it on himself.  He was trying to work on a reversal serum when he arrived in Iping.

While down and out, he tries to rely on several people for help, but can’t seem to get it together.  All the while, he’s slowly going crazy from the chemicals he’s used on himself and fashions the idea that he’s going to take advantage of the invisibility and start a reign of terror to take over the country, starting with the citizens of Iping.  Will he succeed?

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The story is very well told.  I like the “mysterious stranger” beginning of the novel (despite that the mystery is completely dissolved by the blatant title of the novel).  Seeing Griffin arrive, begin behaving strange and treat everyone so contemptuously is a very in your face way to start the novel.  And I like it.  Eventually, the events that precede the novel are discussed at length about two thirds of the way into the story and by then, you are ready and anxious to hear how Griffin got to where he was.  And HG Wells doesn’t disappoint with the “science-y” talk.  While much of it might be well sounding gibberish, it certainly sounds impressive to hear Wells explain the invisibility science through Griffin.  And there were several disadvantages to invisibility that Wells mentions that I didn’t expect to be brought up like not being able to sleep because you can see right through your eyelids, or that you can see food digesting in your stomach for an hour after you’ve eaten.  Even down to the weather like rain or snow collecting on your head and shoulders making you visible again.  Or dirt and mud collecting on your feet and fingernails also making you visible.  I had expected these things to have come out of later novels and movies, but not this original story.

Things I didn’t like.  The book seemed a little long.  It felt like Wells was padding out the pages a little.  Especially during the scenes where Griffin is discussing what he did before the beginning of the novel.  Some of that stuff is great, but it also felt a little too long.  And some of the side characters have crazy dialects.  It’s supposed to be English countryside dialect, and I can’t speak to the accuracy of that, but it’s damn near unreadable.

But those are small nitpicks, honestly.  I would recommend this book.  Is it as good as Shelley’s Frankenstein?  No, but it’s definitely a good, fun read and I’m happy to say not complete garbage like another classic monster book I know (looking at you Dracula).


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Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.

Making 7 Literary Classics More AWESOME

Posted in books, Classic literature with tags , , , , , , , on February 26, 2014 by Paxton

Bad Ass Book Report

I’m a reader. I love to read. And I sometimes enjoy reading classic literature. However, some of the old stuff is just flat out boring as balls.  I mean, have you actually read Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Frank Norris’ McTeague or anything by James Joyce?  Snoozeville.  Population…YOU.  I had to read those in high school and I needed to drink a case of Jolt Cola to get through just one chapter.

So, being the helpful guy that I am, I thought I’d take some boring classics you may have had to read in high school and college and make them better.  More AWESOME.  And easier to read.

So now, here are seven ways to make classic literature a lot more AWESOME. You are welcome, literature.

Don Corleone Quixote
Don Corleone Quixote – Old guard crime boss Don Corleone Quixote sets up shop in an old windmill with trusty right hand man Pancha.

Little Haunted House on the Prairie
Little Haunted House on the Prairie – A family is brutally murdered in their secluded old farm house.  Twenty years later, an unsuspecting couple purchases the old farm house looking for a serene retreat from their hectic lives only to find skin crawling terror and wheelbarrows of blood.

Grapes of Wrath of Khan
The Grapes of Wrath of Khan – The Joad family pick up a hitchhiker on their way to California.  Little do they know their new addition is a genetically enhanced super being from the future looking to overthrow and rule the human race.  Wackiness ensues.

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AWESOME-tober-fest 2009: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein book review

Posted in AWESOME-tober-fest, books, Classic literature, Frankenstein, Halloween, pop culture, reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2009 by Paxton

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Today, I review the book that started it all, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Shelley Frankenstein cover
Mary Shelley’s tale of the Frankenstein monster is perhaps one of the most classic and iconic horror tales of all time.  Shelley’s book has spawned not only other books, but movies, TV shows, plays, satire and short stories. It’s a veritable horror franchise in and of itself.  Her book, along with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, helped ground the incredibly popular Universal Monster stable of monster movies in the ’30s. Famously played by Boris Karloff in the Universal movies and by David Prowse (Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies) in the cult favorite Hammer films, the monstrous green, lumbering Frankenstein monster created by a mad scientist looking to create artificial life is what is most popularly known by the public at large.  Is this basically what the original book is about?  Are the events in the book different?  Before this article, I had no idea.

Having never read the original Frankenstein novel by Shelley, I couldn’t answer that question.  So I picked up the classic novel for this year’s AWESOME-tober-fest and read the original novel. I had no prior knowledge of Shelley’s book (other than it existed) and all of my imagery of Frankenstein and the monster pretty much come from the Universal movies as well as cheesy ’70s and ’80s adaptations like The Monster Squad, The Munsters and The Groovie Goolies. Let’s see how different the original novel is from the image burned into our collective pop consciousness.

Frankenstein cover 2

Published in 1818, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is considered a horror classic. Having written the book when she was only 18, Shelley originally published the book anonymously. It wasn’t until 1831 that the book was first published with her name on it.  The genesis of this novel began one night when Mary Shelley, her husband Percy and Lord Byron were at Byron’s villa telling ghost stories.  They all decided they should each write their own supernatural story.  Byron began to research a vampire story that would eventually be written by another author.  Percy Shelley would die before he could write his story. Mary came up with her story after a vivid dream.  Subsequently, hers would be the only one published as originally intended.  The gist of the story centers on Victor Frankenstein and his creation of a monster from dead body parts.

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Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters: Making Romance Readable

Posted in books, Classic literature with tags , , on July 16, 2009 by Paxton

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

I wasn’t going to have any more articles this week, but this news is too good not to share.  After the runaway success of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, Quirk Publishing is at it again with Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters.  Seth Graham-Smith, the author of P&P&Z is busy writing his followup, Abraham Lincoln:  Vampire Hunter, so he doesn’t return for this installment, instead this book is co-written by Ben Winters who wrote a bunch of the Worst Case Scenario books.  I applaud the publisher for not going the easy route and using zombies again or one of the other more obvious monsters; werewolves or vampires.  The Sea Monsters epic is set to be released on Sept. 15, 2009.

My wife gave me Zombies for my birthday which will get read in the next few months and I’m really looking forward to Graham-Smith’s Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter book.  Now I have this to also look forward to. The entire idea of these books inspired my Little Women Fight Club article about making classic chick lit more AWESOME.

To help promote this book, Quirk created a trailer and it’s hilarious.

That’s how you market a book, people. F’n GENIUS!!  Here’s a breakdown including a book synopsis from Quirk’s press release.

With Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Quirk Classics has also developed a new Austen to monster ratio. Instead of featuring 85% of Austen’s work and 15% new text as in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters features 60% Austen and 40% additional monster chaos! Most importantly, this new Quirk Classic stays true to Austen’s original novel…

As our story opens, the Dashwood sisters are evicted from their childhood home and sent to live on a mysterious island full of savage creatures and dark secrets. While sensible Elinor falls in love with Edward Ferrars, her romantic sister Marianne is courted by both the handsome Willoughby and the hideous man-monster Colonel Brandon. Can the Dashwood sisters triumph over meddlesome matriarchs and unscrupulous rogues to find true love? Or will they fall prey to the tentacles that are forever snapping at their heels?

This masterful portrait of Regency England blends Jane Austen’s biting social commentary with ultraviolent depictions of biting sea monsters. It’s survival of the fittest–and only the swiftest swimmers will find true love!

As I said, you can pick this up Sept 15 at your local bookseller.

Little Women Fight Club: Ways to make classic literature more AWESOME

Posted in books, Classic literature, humor with tags , , , on June 3, 2009 by Paxton

Used BookstoreTo completely misquote Ron Burgundy, “I love books. Books-y, books, books. Here it goes down, down into my belly.” Okay, the last half of that mis-quote didn’t make any sense, but you get the point, I love to read. You can check the ever changing I Just Read and I Am Reading book sections on my blog’s sidebar (over there —>)to see what I’m currently enjoying and what I just finished enjoying. I thought about including what books I have “on deck” ready to be read in that sidebar, but really, it’s a crap shoot what gets picked up to be read next.  There’s no guarantee what I put there will, in fact, come next.

Anywho, sometimes I get on reading tangents where I want to knock out a few books that “the man” considers “classics”.  Stuff I never got to read while in school, or something I did read in school that I remember liking, but don’t remember a thing about it.  These are usually fun tangents and it’s allowed me to discover books like The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, which I never read in school, but is FANTASTIC (why the hell didn’t I read that in school?).  However, there are some classics that I should read, but there’s no way in hell I’m going to read.  Books by authors like Bronte, Joyce and Austen, while considered classics by “people in the know”, are considered flowery, boring and gay by “me”.  If I fall asleep reading the synopsis on the back of the book, then there is little hope the ENTIRE book is going to keep my interest.  So there was a whole section of classic literature that I avoided and I was fine with that.  Until savant/genius/author Seth Graham-Smith decided he too thought classic literature needed a little help in being “less literary” and “more AWESOME”.  Thusly was Pride & Prejudice & Zombies birthed upon our virgin world.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Graham-Smith infuses a subplot involving a battle with the undead into the literary classic thereby making it relevant to guys everywhere.  I mean, what good is a literary classic if NO ONE wants to read it?  Seriously.  Besides, what is more romantic than fighting off an army of the undead?  It’s okay if you can’t come up with an answer to that question, there isn’t an answer other than ‘NOTHING’.

So, I thought, in what other books would this work?  The possibilities are endless.  So I sat down at my desk at work….um, I mean the table at home, after I got off work….and came up with a few more twists on some boring classic literature books that would get me to read them.  Come enjoy the awesome-ness with me.

Little Women Fight Club

Original Synopsis – Follows the lives of the four March sisters as they live, love and learn their way through life. It’s an allegorical novel that champions the strength of women during a time in America when women weren’t considered strong.

New More AWESOME Synopsis – The four March sisters, Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy, are always fighting. One day, a fight promoter, James Lawrence, happens upon one of their more viscous fights and gets an idea. Guys everywhere would pay to see these ladies just go at it in an all out battle royal. Mr Lawrence talks to the girls’ father and, having recently lost a good amount of the family’s money, he agrees to let Mr Lawrence train the girls for a traveling “girl fight” festival. The promoter recruits a few other girls from the nearby area and trains them in boxing and Greco-Roman wrestling. The girls then tour the country side with Mr Lawrence, fighting in a 10 woman battle royal 6 nights a week. The story follows the girls across the country as they live in the festival caravan and fight, love and learn in various small towns across 19th century America. This new version also shows the strength of women…in revealing clothing…in non-sanctioned bloody cage matches. Movie rights are pending.

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