Posted in book review

Hopefully, a Journey to Somewhere: The Gunslinger


This isn’t going to be much of a review of the Stephen King fantasy/western/adventure/pulp hybrid, The Gunslinger, as much as it will just be some thoughts. To begin with, a confession. I hate reading series. This may mean that I am a lazy reader, or possibly a slow reader. I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s a combination of the two. But a series is a commitment. I think the last one that I read was Harry Potter and that was, well, probably mandatory to have any standing in my high school social circles. Also, they are excellent books. But they were coming out year-by-year as I went through middle and high school, so it wasn’t daunting to pick up the first one and just pick them off as they came out. The Dark Tower Series, however, has long been finished. King put the last of the proper series out when I was 14. That’s seven books of hard core fantasy that I honestly would have enjoyed more than Harry Potter at the time. They’re dirtier. That’s fun to a 14 year old boy.

Another confession. I think Stephen King is an American treasure. Save the, “but he’s lowbrow” bullshit. He’s amazing. I love his writing, all of it. The horror, the fantasy, the general fiction, it’s all good. So, despite the daunting task of possibly having to read seven books, some of them rather long, I trusted King to take me along for the ride of my life. To boot, I was spurred along by the movie adaptation trailer that came out a few weeks ago. Idris Elba? The new and improved Matthew McConaughey? A battle of Good Vs. Evil? Sign me up.

Being the literary snob that I am, the book had to be read first. HAD TO BE! To be perfectly transparent, as the trailer ended for the movie I was pulling up an Amazon Prime screen.

The book came in and I dug in. It’s actually a spectacular story! It’s a fresh spin on a genre that I feel has a tendency to settle into grooves of commonality. KNIGHTS ARE COWBOYS! How cool is that?! I’m also a sucker for westerns, so that helps. The lead character is complex. The Man in Black, the antagonist, is even more three dimensional.

Here’s why I didn’t like it. I hate series. And sadly, this was a setup to end all setups. The Gunslinger seems to serve little purpose other than to set up a world that I am expected to read six more books to explore further. Honestly, it just gives you enough of a taste to be hungry for more of King’s engaging, dark fantasy land. And I’m lazy. Also, King’s distinctive voice isn’t present, which is a real bummer. Instead, we have an unfortunate half-drunk Tolkien that likes the occasional flair of vulgarity. It hurts me to say this. Hurts me!

I guess though, the joke is on me. There were things that I didn’t like about The Gunslinger. It wasn’t enough to keep from going to a bookstore two days ago and purchasing The Drawing of the Three, part two of The Dark Tower Series. Make of that what you will.

Stephen King

Posted in book review

Bukowski: The Best Type of Trash. A Review of Factotum


I don’t know that there is much to say about Charles Bukowski, his writing, or writing in general, that the man hasn’t said himself. The man published over fifty collections of poetry, short story collections, and novels, most of them about himself, in one thinly veiled guise or another. Usually in the form of Henry Chinaski.

In the 80s, The L.A. Times infamously named him “the poet laureate of L.A. lowlife.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the man died without having ever heard the quote. He was too busy proving them right through his personal life and his writing. Factotum, Bukowski’s second novel, continued where his poetry and first novel, Post Office, left off. Whores, drunks, and vulgarians abound. Around every corner a venereal disease, or a wife beating dead beat awaits. Bukowski reveled in being a low brow and he reveled in writing about it. This is not a book anyone should read pinky out.

The structure of the book is interesting, and I have to wonder what drove him to tie it all together as a “novel”. He was prolific, no doubt, but I wonder what caused him to publish the vignettes that make up Factotum as a loosely cohesive novel instead of putting out several short stories using the same material. The only reason I can come up with is that each little tale in this novel pretty much has to do with the same thing; work. More accurately, Factotum is about how much work sucks. It is also about how much Bukowski- I’m sorry, Chinaski, hates working. Reading this on a Monday morning before starting that first daily commute of the week is highly discouraged.

In the mixture of hirings and firings, there are whores and visits to the dog tracks. There are drunken brawls and infidelities. It’s all really quite trashy, but Bukowski does trashy with a severe honesty that gives you no other choice but to hear him out. When a writer says something like “My ambition is handicapped by laziness,” (Bukowski, Factotum) you kind of end up paying attention because it’s so damn hilariously transparent.

Reading Factotum is like letting all of your worst feelings about the worst jobs come spilling out of your guts. “How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 8:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?” (Bukowski, Factotum) Quite hard to disagree on some days, don’t you think?


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Straight on ‘Till Morning…Nah, I’ll Sleep In


I finished this book in perhaps the most appropriate way possible. As I crammed breakfast down my throat and gulped coffee, in preparation for another day at work. Even more appropriately, I read this in my childhood home, in the same bedroom that I once took flight from to that wonderful Neverland. Naturally, mine looked quite different from the one depicted in Peter Pan, but it’s essentially the same place.

I was a bit worried as I read this book. In the opening passages, I found myself favoring Mr. Darling, the father of Wendy, John, and Michael. He is a total kill joy, pitiful and a bit neurotic. But he needed order. He demanded discipline, and something about that felt right. These damn kids need to calm down, with their flying about the room and running amok. Mr. Darling spoke straight to the fledgling adult in me.

When the kids find Neverland, it only became worse for me. A far cry from when I read this as a child, Captain Hook, that evil figure right up there amongst the scariest literary monsters of my youth, had suddenly become a massively flawed hero. “You really should poison Peter Pan, Hook!” I thought. “Because you’re right. His boyish cockiness is extremely off putting, and the little bastard needs to be put in his place!” So there’s that, but also, Captain Hook’s obsessive contemplation of his impending death. Constantly he waits for the ticking of the clock to wind down, for the crocodile to approach and finish him off. I wish for the days when I was Peter Pan and thoughts like that, despite being as young as I am, weren’t so relatable.

But the last few passages of this book really hit home for me. It wrecked me in the way all children’s books should wreck adults. I imagine J. M. Barrie writing the end of Peter Pan with delight, knowing that perhaps the children listening to the their parents reading wouldn’t quite get why their loving ma or pa seemed so effected. As Wendy grows older, she forgets how to fly. “I’m ever so much more than twenty,” she tells Peter when he comes to whisk her away again. These types of adventures are done for Wendy, as they are for most adults who read this book. But Peter moves right along to Wendy’s daughter. It is time for her adventure, for youth doesn’t know how to stop. When we get older, we get to see it “wasted on the young.” Of course, it isn’t actually wasted on the young. That’s what youth is actually about. I feel you may have a difficult time discovering a book, as an adult, that demonstrates this idea so well as Peter Pan.

“I’m youth, I’m Joy!” Peter answered at a Venture. “I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg.” How could anyone but the young spend their Youth so wisely?


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Crying Or Laughing Or Both : Slaughterhouse-Five


I don’t really know what to write about this novel that hasn’t been said, by myself and others. I will say, it is one of, if not my absolute favorite book. It’s a beautiful, genre bending, meta narrative that begs it’s readers to think a little harder. To try to see the world through a different lens. Among all the things that Vonnegut asks his readers to do, is to laugh in the face of great destruction and death, and the fact that time is time, and will do the damages that time was always meant to do.

I really don’t want to write much about the content of this book. Doing so teeters on a line of pretension and difficulty that I no longer have to balance on since I don’t write for grades anymore. I’ll just say, go read it.

I would like to mention a few things about the first chapter. First, the fact that it is labeled “ONE” in the book is the first indication of how odd this book will prove to be, very Vonnegut. It reads like a prologue. It is Kurt Vonnegut writing about himself, and how he came upon the idea to write Slaughterhouse-Five. But it is included in the body of the novel, and it should be. The novel is subtitled, The Children’s Crusade, A Duty-Dance With Death, and in this first chapter, we find out why, and it sets the tone of the rest of the narrative.

Basically it goes like this: Vonnegut meets up with an old war buddy a couple decades after coming home. The two are distracted by his buddy’s wife, angry for some reason that Vonnegut can’t understand. When he asks her what’s wrong she tells him she’s pissed about the book he’s planning on writing. That it will glorify war and make it so that more boys have to go die for God knows what reason because war movies and war novels make soldiers look like big heroic men conquering evil. In truth, these fighters are boys, little boys scared shitless and sent to die for something they couldn’t comprehend.

Of course, Vonnegut being himself is not interested in writing that book. His response to the woman is “I tell you what…I’ll call it the children’s crusade.” (Vonnegut, 15) And that is exactly what he does. From there, the novel rolls on with a child like perspective of the worst things that happen through the course of humanity: war, murder, death and destruction. Not only that, but Vonnegut has the gaul to think you should laugh while reading it. It’s heartbreaking in the moments when you realize that you’re laughing because you don’t want to cry.

I lend my books out quite a bit, especially this one, so I don’t know who did this. But there was a piece of a straw wrapper marking a page while I read through this time. Since the passage it was marking was about giraffes, and she loves giraffes, I’m going to assume it was my lovely girlfriend. In the scene, the main character of the novel, Billy Pilgrim, is having a wild dream about being a giraffe. It is a really lovely, funny, and happy scene. But it is a dream after all. What’s actually happening to the character is that he has just been through a hellish war, he’s being strapped to a gurney and shot up with enough morphine to keep him from screaming. I love that the paper that was left in my copy of this book had scribbled on it “read when sad” because this visual seems to match this novel perfectly.

We go through time. All of its horrendous moments are there forever, and certain ones are unavoidable blotches in our memories. Moments that we have to look at. Moments when we are strapped to the gurney and screaming. I think these moments are hard to look at, but essential. Sometimes we have to look at them because there is something to be learned. Other times, we find ourselves walking through gardens with giraffes, and these are the moments we like to focus on. Sometimes we need these moments to counteract the strapped to the gurney moments. And all of these moments are on a continuous loop of time, wether you would like to think that as literally, if you can come unstuck in time and visit these moments physically. Or if you are a bit less imaginative like myself, and just recall them as memories. They are all there, and they are all important. If that makes any sense, I think that is what Slaughterhouse-Five is about. If it doesn’t make sense, then great! Go read it yourself, it’ll be more rewarding than this.


Posted in book review

Layers of Morrison: Song of Solomon



I picked up Song of Solomon, kind of at random. It sat on my shelf for awhile, and although I’ve known for years of Toni Morrison’s status of legendary American writer, there was nothing that made me think, hmm, maybe I really need to read one of her several classics. I can say that has changed after my first Morrison experience. There are more of her delicious and filling novels on my horizon.

I’m going to admit, when I decided to read this novel, I was expecting to read a standard African American Narrative. Things being what they are in this country, I don’t think it could hurt most people to grab a copy of Ellison’s Invisible Man, or Wright’s Native Son. These two novels particularly were stirring beneath the surface as I read. Those books are heavy. Heavy isn’t even the right word. They’re wonderful novels, but they tear you to pieces. So naturally, I felt I was overdue for that to happen to me again. I found quickly that this wasn’t even remotely fair to Toni Morrison or Song of Solomon.

It should be noted that there are some similarities to draw between Morrison and those Harlem Renaissance writers. This novel is definitely a study  of the Black Experience in America. The majority of the plot takes place in the early sixties, so there is a discussion to be had about the representation of the Civil Rights movement. Luckily for the reader, Morrison has several scopes. She has the Ellison/Wright element. But we also get a familial element more familiar to writers like Faulkner and her strong feminine voice adds a dash of Virginia Woolf. Morrison has the literary style to match any one of the aforementioned legends. What we get with Song of Solomon, because of its several layers that simultaneously work together without micro-focusing  on any single one,  is a more rewarding experience for the reader.

But, what is this book really about, besides everything? Truth. This novel is about truth. The desire to know it, and the journey to find it. “You a big man now, but big ain’t nearly enough. You have to be a whole man. And if you want to be a whole man, you have to deal with the whole truth.” (Morrison, 70) Macon Dead says this to his son, main character, Milkman. The truth for Milkman is a screwed up family with a blurry, uncertain past, screwed up friends who may not be have his best interests in mind, and a screwed up heart. The cure for his screwed up heart? The truth, of course! It will set him free, if he can find it.

With the truth about his family’s past (and gold, that’s right, a treasure hunt, but that’s really not so important, is it?) dangling in front of him like a carrot, Milkman sets off on a grand adventure from Michigan to Virginia. Through this filter, Morrison writes with tremendous beauty and detailed insight on the themes family, race, gender roles, and love. It is a gem of a novel, or a big bar of gold. I’m happy I cashed in on it.



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Light in August

Faulkner-Light in august

Light in August may be William Faulkner’s most accessible novel. Depending on your opinions of his body of work, that may say very little. It is still filled to the brim with stream-of-consciousness style diatribes, but it isn’t as complicated and mind-splitting as The Sound and the Fury. There are multiple perspectives taken into account, but nothing nearing the complications of 15 distinct narrators found in As I Lay DyingLight in August offers Faulkner’s least fractured, easiest to comprehend narrative, and yet, as I closed the last few pages, I felt more weight pressing down on me, that what I had just finished reading was some how more significant than any Faulkner book I read before.

In many ways, I see Faulkner as a master satirist, and he is in peek form in Light in August. Most will tell you Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is the ultimate commentary on post-cvil war race relations (and I would be inclined to agree) but I would challenge anyone to read Light in August to reconsider their position on the matter. But where Mark Twain used humor to shed light on a nasty truth about American culture (its entrenched racism) Faulkner uses a degree of absurdism that has most sensible readers questioning just how much of the absurdism is rooted in the reality of that period.

For instance, there is a scene in which an African American man is being interrogated by a local sherif regarding a murder.. The sheriff has one of his deputies beating the man with a strap after each question. The black man constantly answers that he doesn’t know about the situation being asked about. “I reckon you ain’t tried hard enough to remember,” the sherif tells him at one point, and has him beat again. After a few cycles of this, another law enforcement officer steps in and says he reckons the black man is telling the truth, and perhaps they could stop beating him since they know now he’s telling the truth.

Light in August is filled with these types of moments, ranging from on-the-nose to tongue-in-cheek moments that will have most sensible readers scratching their heads and asking, why? Or how could this be happening in this book? Or better yet, why is this maybe happening somewhere right now?

faulkner blog pic