Tangent Reviews: Beneath Ceaseless Skies #174

Last week I reviewed Beneath Ceaseless Skies issue #174 for Tangent Online Magazine. I was really impressed by the stories in the second issue of May. Maybe it’s just that my tastes in fiction run in the same vein as BCS, but I have really enjoyed reviewing them this month. Yoon Ha Lee and Kay Chronister are both fantastic writers who have a wonderful way with words. Go read my review here, and read the original fiction here, when you have the chance. You won’t be disappointed.

The Stranger: Afterthoughts

The Stranger
by Albert Camus
123 pages
three and a half

 

I was surprised how quickly I made it through this book. I read it on my kindle, though, so I didn’t actually know that it was only 123 pages, and sometimes it takes kindle a while to calibrate for my reading speed. So yes, this is a fast yet good read that I did enjoy in part because it was of a length and a quality that I could just continuously read until the end and feel the satisfaction of having received the entire story all at once.

The StrangerIf you scroll up and down really fast you may see an optical illusion!

First of all, I had to do some research into the life of the author and the meaning behind the book and in the process I learned some big new words such as existentialism. While Camus denied that he was an existentialist, he seems to have written enough pieces containing that philosophy that critics often shuffle him into that camp. Camus was born in French-Algeria which makes the vivid setting of The Stranger make perfect sense. He contracted tuberculosis like all the authors did, back in the day, and for a time was a member of the French Communist Party, though he was eventually expelled after being labeled a Trotskyite. He then became an anarchist.

Ok, enough of the author bio. Despite not considering himself an existentialist, Camus seems to have written a good example of existentialism in The Stranger. This might be one of the rare books in which an utterly boring, unassuming and unambitious character doesn’t sink the entire thing for me. In fact, much like Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim I found myself eerily connecting with the protagonist and his apathetic attitude to everything around him. (I certainly hope I don’t end up on death row for failing to show sorrow at my mother’s funeral.)

The main character is a man named Meursault, living in what appears to be lower-middle class Algeria, in an apartment complex with a host of interesting characters. He lives alone, though after having indifferently buried his mother he hooks up with pretty young Marie and the two of them hit it off rather well.

Unfortunately for Meursault, he gets involved in the feud his neighbor Roger has going with a group of Arabs over the treatment of an Arab woman who Roger suspects has been cheating on him. This sordid business eventually culminates in Meursault killing the brother of the Arab woman in the disorienting heat of the midday desert sun. This lands him on trial for premeditated murder. During the trial, the prosecution spends as much time analyzing Meursault’s apathetic behavior at his mother’s funeral as they do examining the facts of the shooting, ultimately to paint the picture of Meursault being a hardened, soulless criminal. He is eventually condemned to die as a result of this.

In the final scene of the book, Meursault is confronted by the prison chaplain who urges him to confess his sins and give himself to the mercy of God. Meursualt, who has up until this point been calm and indifferent to everything else going on around him finally loses his temper at this point and seizes the chaplain by the collar to tell him that no one has the right to judge him or his actions, and that God and religion both are a waste of his time.

Camus once said about his book,

I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.

and it is very true of Meursault. He doesn’t play the game of society, at least, society as it was in the 1940’s. When Marie asks him if he loves her, he answers truthfully, ‘it doesn’t matter, but not especially’. When she asks if he would marry her, he answers that he would if she wanted it, if it would make her happy. He doesn’t cry at his mother’s funeral, or show much sorrow at her passing because they didn’t get on especially well in her later years and he had to send her to a home, because of a lack of ability to properly care for her himself. He doesn’t show any sort of moral dilemma when Roger beats his mistress, and no remorse at killing the Arab. Meursualt doesn’t conform to the normalcy of society, and for that, he is sentenced to death.

In this message, the existentialism shines through, the belief that only the actions of the individual with free will matter. The book also carries Absurdist philosophies in Meursault’s condemnation despite him not having been at all the man that the town paints him as, as well as Meursault’s belief that everything is ultimately meaningless.

For such a short book, The Stranger certainly packs a punch, and a lot of philosophical meaning. It was a good read.

The next book on my reading list is The Book of the Courtier by Baldesar Castiglione.

U is for…

UU is for utterly understocked:

Updike,  John

 

 

I’m going to have to cheat a little today too, as I really don’t have any novels on my shelf written by a U author. What I do have, however, is John Updike‘s short story, A & P in this collection of The World’s Greatest Short Stories. I can’t actually tell if they actually are the world’s greatest short stories. For one, I haven’t read all the stories in here, and two, I don’t think I’ve come anywhere near to reading all the world’s short stories to be an accurate judge. A & P is a good story, though. It’s got some fantastic imagery and lovely prose as it bumps down the uneven road of the old rattling into the new. This line in particular made me smile:

“All of a sudden I slid right down her voice and into her living room.”

It’s not surprising that Updike was acclaimed for his language and prose. He was one of only three authors to receive a Pulitzer Prize more than once. He wrote about a book a year and produced many, many short stories. A & P showcases nicely the general theme in his works of the day to day first world problems of the average American, especially concerning morality, religion, family, and sexuality.

 

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So this is all I’ve got for U today. Have any others I could add to my shelves? The poor dragon is looking lonely beside one lone book.

T is for…

TT is for tons of talent and no time to read it:

Tolkien, J.R.R.
Tolstoy, Leo

 

I told you I was going to have to admit another gross bit of lacking in my fantasy education, and here it is: J.R.R. Tolkien, father of the modern fantasy epic and I haven’t read a single one of his works yet. The Simarillion is on my 2014 reading list, however and I’m looking forward to reading it. Much of the happier events in Tolkien’s life made their way in one form or another into his writing. He was uncomfortable with the success of his books and being made into a cult icon, and eventually took his wife and made himself scarce. He lead a rather fascinating life that has too many points to mention in brief summary. For a novice writer like myself it was a rather inspirational biography to read.

I’m going to be honest and say that War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy terrifies me. No, I haven’t read it, but its presence on my shelf, with its 1000 pages in itty-bitty print signifies a very long commitment that I’m not ready to make just yet. I’m fascinated yes, perhaps willing to stroke a few pages in a secret viewing, but I’m not ready to put it on a reading list. I need to experiment with a few other books before I give so much of my time to just one work of fiction. Tolstoy was born the son of a Russian count, and after leaving the university he was flunking, he and his brother joined the army. During this time, and subsequent tours of Europe, Tolstoy’s social and political views began to change. He became a pacifist and an anarchist who was passionate about education. He founded thirteen schools for the serfs on his family’s estate, but was forced by the government to shut them down. Tolstoy eventually died of pneumonia when he attempted a mid-winter, late-night escape from his wife and his life of privilege. Apparently she was bitterly envious of how much attention he gave to the students of his philosophy, and opposed many of his views.

 

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So there you go. Two classic authors I should have read by now but haven’t. Are there any other great T’s out there that I’m missing? Let me know in the comments!

S is for…

SS is for self-righteous, shameless, and sickly:

Sabatini, Rafael
Salvatore, R. A.
Sanderson, Brandon
Sapkowski, Andrzej
Shikibu, Murasaki
Sinclair
, May
Shakespeare, William
Sophocles
Spyri, Johanna
Stevenson, Robert Louis
Suzuki, Koji
Swift, Jonathan

I thoroughly enjoyed Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini. Like The Scarlet Pimpernel, Scaramouche is set in the French Revolution. It’s hero Andre-Louis is neither a supporter nor a detractor of the revolution, but a cynic who finds both sides equally ridiculous. He is, however, swept up into the fervor against the aristocracy when his best friend is murdered before his eyes by an unapologetic dick of a nobleman. To save his own neck, Andre-Louis flees to the country where he undergoes many changes of occupation before finally returning to deal justice for the death of his friend. Scaramouche has some great humor, amazing prose and a great ending which had me at least squirming.

I’m a huge Drizzt fan. I’m just going to say that now. R. A. Salvatore‘s Dark Elf trilogy hooked me hard, and I’ve nibbled up every book I could get my hands on since. I’m not even sure why. That sort of infallibly good hero type character isn’t one that I usually like. I think there’s just something so tragic about Drizzt’s story that endears me to him.

I have not read any of Brandon Sanderson‘s works. I know that makes my fantasy education incredibly lacking (it’s not the first time I’ve had to admit it during this challenge and it won’t be the last). I got these two books for Christmas last year which made me greatly happy. I’ll get on reading them probably next year.

The same applies for Andrzej Sapkowski. I picked up The Last Wish at the beginning of last year and shelved it. It was put somewhere on my TBR list and I haven’t gotten to it yet. I think it may be on my 2014 reading list, actually.

The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu is my favorite work of Japanese literature–and I haven’t even finished it yet. This hulking volume written almost a thousand years ago is considered to be the first example of a novel. It follows the sexual adventures of the illegitimate prince Genji as he sleeps his way through most of the royal court (including his stepmother) and gets into worlds of trouble in the process. Shikibu herself was a court lady, unusually educated for her time. She wrote The Tale of Genji as an entertainment piece for the empress, delivering it in installments for the ladies of the royal court to listen to. Because she wrote about such raunchy topics, and also because of how she addressed certain events and people in her semi-fictional royal court, she was denounced by religious leaders at the time, who told her she was heading straight for hell. Whether or not Shikibu ever cared what they said is a mystery, as is who wrote the final chapters of The Tale of Genji. There is some evidence to support the theory that it was written by her daughter after her death.

May Sinclair was the pen name of British writer Mary Amelia St. Clair. She could not have had two differently paired parents. Her father went bankrupt and became an alcoholic before he died when she was still young. Her mother on the other hand was strictly religious. May was involved in social activism as well as the super natural, being a member of both Woman Writers’ Suffrage League and The Society for Psychical Research. Her short story collection Uncanny Stories is one of two she wrote, in addiction to other contributions to English literature as a whole.

There’s not much I can say about William Shakespeare that the world doesn’t already know. As far as literature is concerned. Shakespeare was a master. As far as teenagers are concerned, he’s the bane of English classes. To date I’ve read seven of his plays and a handful of his sonnets. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is still my favorite, followed closely by Much Ado About Nothing and King Lear.

I’ve only read Oedipus Rex by Sophocles and while I was already familiar with the story before I started it, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Only seven of his one hundred and twenty-three plays have survived to this day in completion. He was the most celebrated playwright of his time for fifty years, and doesn’t have a small amount of fame these days, either.

I know the story of Heidi, either from having read it as a child, or having seen it as a movie. It’s foggy now in adulthood, which means I should probably read it again. Johanna Spyri wrote Heidi in just four weeks, and like much of the rest of her writing, the story is set in the Swiss countryside. She was socially active, and wrote stories which reflected this. Before she died in 1901 she had written over fifty stories.

I haven’t read Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, but I have read The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. Stevenson had a difficult childhood. He came from a family of poor health, and the location they moved to to alleviate their symptoms only worsened his. He only moved to a more forgiving climate after his father died. After much bouncing around in life, he finally settled in the Samoan Islands, where he became something of a local celebrity there. There are too many interesting things about this writer to list on one post that’s supposed to be under three hundred words. If you’re curious, I highly recommend reading about his amazing life.

Ring, Spiral, and Loop are the three novels in Koji Suzuki‘s horror/thriller Ring trilogy. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the American film adaptation of the first novel, and I’ll tell you now, if there was ever a case of the book being better than the movie, it’s this one. Even the Japanese adaptation, Ringu is horrible by comparison. All the thoughtful, philosophical parts are cut out. The characters are changed and the interesting characters removed completely. Hell, the mail character isn’t even a woman! I highly recommend the first two books in the series (available in English), though the third one sort of lost me. It’s almost as though it’s from a completely separate series, and I don’t care much for precocious children stories anyway. I didn’t finish it.

I haven’t read Jonathan Swift‘s Gulliver’s Travels in its entirety, which is strange considering we have two editions of it. I read parts of it in high school, along with a few of his other works, and I really respect him as a writer. He packed a lot of political satire into his writing, much of which is still funny today.

Best enjoy this abundance of authors now, we’re heading into another decline after this. However, if you’d like to help me increase my S author collection, I always love hearing your recommendations in the comments below.

K is for…

KK is for keepers, killers and kissers:

Kay, Guy Gavriel
Keats, John
Kellogg, Marjorie B.
Kessy, Ken
Keyes, Daniel
King, Laurie R.
Kushner, Ellen

There might be some gushing in this post. Just a little bit. You have been warned.

Guy Gavriel Kay has been recommended to me a bunch of times, so he was put on my wishlist last year. When I happened to find River of Stars on the shelf at a local bookstore when I went back home for the holidays, I just had to have it. Of course, it helped that my brother was paying as punishment for not bothering to buy the older sister he hadn’t seen in over two years anything for Christmas. How rude!

I’m a little bit in love with John Keats–don’t tell me I can’t love a dead man! He wrote some damn good poetry, had a tragic life, and he was handsome! Between his birth on Halloween (possibly) and his death at the age of twenty-five, Keats wrote arguably some of the best poems of the romantic period, perhaps rivaled only by Wordsworth and Coleridge. My personal favorite is and always will be Ode to a Nightingale (which emo me read all kinds of pain in). Like most of his family, Keats died of tuberculosis, in the arms of his best friend–a painter by the name of Joseph Severn (and naughty me imagines all sorts of extra bits in that relationship). His last request was that he be buried under a tombstone with no name or date, only the epitaph, “Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water” in reference to his poetry having been given a frosty reception by critics during his life. If only he could have known how popular his works would become after his death.

I haven’t read Marjorie B. Kellogg‘s The Dragon Quartet yet. I bought it back when I binge bought everything that said ‘dragon’ in the title, or had a dragon-looking thing on the cover. It still looks good to read to this day.

If I had read a synopsis for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest before picking up the novel, I likely wouldn’t have read it. There’s something about stories that feature forcible incapacitation–mental especially– that get under my skin. It’s probably better that I didn’t know what I was getting into. Ken Kessy wrote the book very well. The voice and narration is incredible, and unreliable in all the right places for the reader to understand what is actually going on. In the end, I did enjoy it to a degree but it was still a difficult book for me to get through.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes is another book that has been recommended to me a lot by friends. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s still got it’s place on my bookshelf, so that counts for something. It escaped the sad purge of books I needed to go through when I moved to Japan.

Laurie R. King‘s God of the Hive is on my reading list for 2014, though I’m not sure how much I’m going to enjoy it. The main character is supposedly the wife of Sherlock Holmes, which sort of twists the latter character out of shape a little bit. In any case, it’s on my shelf, and so it deserves a read. This is another book that was gifted from a friend during her own purge.

Finally, Ellen Kushner sits within my top five favorite authors. Her novel Swordspoint is in my top three favorite books and I still remember it with fondness and giggles. I’m itching to go back and read the entire series again, but new books need to take precedent over old ones until I can figure out how to wire books directly into my brain.

 

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I’ve got a bunch of K authors here but I sure could use some more. Have any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments.

H is for…

HH is for Hell, humor, and Helen of Troy:

Hambly, Barbara
Henry, O.
H.M.C.
Hesse, Hermann
Hobb, Robin
Homer
Huff, Tanya

addendum:

Hines, Jim C.

Here again we have a collection of books I haven’t read. Pitiful, just pitiful.

We’ll start with Barbara Hambly, because I have read her, and also because I’ve been trying to do these things in alphabetical order. Have you noticed? First off, I loved Dragonsbane for several reasons: The main character is a homely, married woman who is well able to take care of herself; it’s got a really cool dragon character; the magic is impressive and unique; the dragon talks. Dragonshadow started to get weird for me. The introduction of the demons and body snatching as well as a great dislike for the villains and scenes that started to get incestuous all came together to both confuse me and diminish my enjoyment of the book. The cliffhanger ending to Knight of the Demon Queen was the final nail in the coffin for this series however, and I’ve been hesitant to read the fourth book, or even to restart the series again, even though I’ll probably enjoy it more now that I’m older. Writers, beware of your cliffhangers!

O. Henry‘s Gift of the Magi is a great collection of down to earth, witty short stories that are sure to put a smile on your face. Born William Sidney Porter, Henry was a pharmacist, artist, ranch hand, baby sitter, draftsman, bank teller and journalist before he was a writer. He too was arrested on suspicion of embezzling funds from the bank at which he worked. His father-in-law bailed him out but before Henry could make it to his next court appointment, he fled the country to Honduras where he befriended a train robber. When he finally returned to Texas to be with his dying wife, he was sentenced to five years in prison on embezzlement charges. I almost want to say that his life was more interesting than his stories, but that would be a lie. His stories are wonderful, and if you haven’t had a chance to read them, you should.

H.M.C. is a good friend of mine and the administrator for the short story blog to which I contribute bi-annually. Her debut novel, White Walls was released last year, and if you like psych ward thrillers, you should definitely check it out.

Demian, by Hermann Hesse is another book on my 2014 reading list (I can’t even remember what number I’m on anymore). Alex gives this book high recommendations, and I generally trust her taste in books. Due to a geographic anomaly, Hesse was born with both Russian and German citizenship. After spending some time in a depressed stage in his youth, and having an increasingly difficult relationship with his parents, Hesse attempted suicide and was later admitted to a mental institution before he at last completed his schooling.

I haven’t read anything by Robin Hobb yet, and my knowledge of the fantasy genre suffers because of it. I’m taking recommendations for her work, in addition to the two books I already have in my reading queue.

While I haven’t read The Illiad, this year I did read Homer‘s The Odyssey and I really enjoyed it. The translation that I read (pictured) uses very easily accessible, modern English to tell the story clearly. I feel like a little bit of my education in basic classics has been filled now.

Nick Hornby is a very successful writer of seven novels, but the only one I have read is High Fidelity. I really enjoyed this book as one of the ones assigned in my university literature class. Like Lucky Jim it was a book that really made me think about my life and my relationships, not always in a happy light. Good books do that.

Finally, one of my favorite books of all time, Wizard of the Grove by Tanya Huff. There’s just something in this book that always draws me in–the mythology, the magic, the tangled love story, that Death is once again a freaking awesome character. Wizard of the Grove has influenced my writing in a number of ways, and it’ll always be a book I’ll cherish.

Because I’m a terrible person, I totally forgot Jim C. Hines. To be fair, all my hard covers are on a different shelf because they’re too big. So I’m correcting myself now. I haven’t read Libriomancer yet, but Alex has, and she assures me that I’ll love it. I’m definitely curious.

 

 

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Like what you see up here? What do you think of these authors and their works? Let me know in the comments.

A is for…

AA is for anger, apathy, and absence of opinion:

Abercrombie, Joe
Amis, Kingsley
Anthony, Piers
Ashworth, Jenn
Asprin, Robert
Atwood, Margaret
Austen, Jane

 

 

All right, starting the challenge off with A because starting with Z would just be silly. The Blade Itself was the first book on my reading list this year and if you’ve followed my blog previously you’ll know that it completely blew me away. As Joe Abercrombie‘s first published book it is an incredibly well-written, well-paced, and entertaining read. He now has seven books to his name and is wrapping up a young adult fantasy series at this time. He writes fantasy in the sub-genre dark, or gritty, or grim, or however you choose to label ‘violence, swearing and sex’. I call it realistic, but realism is already used to describe another sub-genre. Oh well. You can find my reviews for his First Law trilogy here, here, and here.

Next, Kingsley Amis (16 April 1922 – 22 October 1995), a prolific English writer whose only work I’ve read is Lucky Jim. At first I didn’t think I’d like the book, but as I continued I chillingly started to relate more and more to Jim Dixon, which really made me question my own life and relationships. In any case, it’s a slim book and a good read. I should pick up more of Amis’s works in the future.

Piers Anthony, a staple of science fiction and fantasy whose work I have not read. The confession is out, I’m so embarrassed. His books adorned the shelves of my library in high school, but I did not read them then because of a science fiction bias I bitterly held but am now overcoming. That two of his books are in my reading queue is proof of that.

I’ll admit that Jenn Ashworth isn’t an author I would usually pick up on my own, as literary fiction isn’t a genre I usually read. Cold Light was a gift from a friend who was shelf cleaning, and I rarely turn away a free book. It’ll be read sometime.

I have wanted to read Robert Asprin‘s Myth Adventures series since my early teens. I had several of the books from the middle, but never the first one. This was before the days of ‘OMG I can buy anything I want on the internet!’ Also before the days of my actually having money to buy books. Anyway, times have changed, and now I have the first two Myth Adventures books ready to be read.

Be kind. I have not yet read Margaret Atwood or Jane Austen. I am aware that I am a terrible person. I will correct my mistake sometime in the future.

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Which of these books have you read? If you have any recommendations for works by any of the above mentioned authors, let me know in the comments. My Amazon wishlist could always use more books.

2013: Some Bookish Stats

Everyone likes a good look back at the previous twelve months at year’s end. No? Only me? Well, since it’s Christmas time, and I assume that no one is actually paying attention to the last few blog posts of the year, I’ll slip this one in right now. You’re more than free to click away if you’ve got something better to do. Probably more turkey eating or wine drinking. If, however, you’re trying to escape relatives for a few precious moments under the guise of ‘very important emails from the office to tend to’, please enjoy the visual summary below of my 2013 reading list:

thanks but this isn't for us tMoFSF sep-oct the elements of style the halloween tree civilization and its discontents scaramouche the incrementalists shadowdance The unicorn sonata leviathan yurei attack yokai attack sandman-the dream hunters Hawkwoods voyage tMoFSF july-aug The woman in white landmarks of scientific socialism- anti-duehring lord of light TMoFSF may-june Dr. Jeckel & Mr. Hyde The gift of the magi The devil's dictionary 50 great american short stories One flew over the cuckoos nest plot & structure expletive deleted A book of five rings the scarlet pimpernel mythical creatures bible characters viewpoint & emotion womansword Description & setting Masks Book_SunMoonStars

books 2013 piebook format 2013

Ooo, colorful graphs and all.

My goal was to read fifty books this year. Turns out that was just a little bit ambitious. I got through thirty-four in the end, which isn’t all that bad, I think. I’ll try to set a more realistic goal for the new year. I read much more non-fiction than I figured I would, and read a disturbingly small amount of fantasy. This needs to be corrected in the new year. I had a lot of fun reviewing [the fiction books] once I realized that I could do that–give my opinions of written works. In a public place. Where people will read them. GAH!

Mostly, I just enjoyed reading again. As I mentioned in a previous post, in the last five years, I really haven’t had a chance to read much at all. Moving out of my parent’s house, starting university and moving to the other side of the world were just a few of the hectic life changes that have kept me from the sort of leisure time that I would spend with a good book in the past. Unfortunately this means that my reading library ended after high school, while my tastes have matured along with me. I’ve missed out on a lot of good books, new and old. Now, fortunately–and with the help of many likewise bookishly minded friends– I’m discovering some of those great reads for the first time.

So, for all you book lovers out there desperate for a few more minutes of alone time before braving the family holiday drama once again, what were your favorite books of 2013 and which books (preferably fantasy or science fiction) do you consider must reads?