What We Get To

Recently I read Found, a book of poetry by Souvankham Thammavongsa. Not to disparage this book in the slightest, but the content of this book specifically isn’t important. What matters right now is what it is to me, what is has been. I read her first collection of poems, Small Arguments, in 2008 for Critical Thinking about Poetry, a first year course I took during my time at the University of Toronto at Scarborough (UTSC). I can’t precisely remember when, but I bought Found in the UTSC bookstore shortly afterwards because it was there. I recognized the similar binding, that I’d read the poet already, and picked it up. I wasn’t even particularly partial to Thammavongsa’s work. I was just starting to collect books and I jumped on it.Read More »

Top Five Books I Read in 2014

With the year coming to a close I thought I would provide a list of my top five favourite books I read this year. I will briefly run down my feelings on each and what they are about as best I can. To clarify, these are not books that came out in 2014, simply books that I read throughout the year, listed in no particular order.

Barrett Fuller’s Secret

Author: Scott Carter

Genre: Fiction

For disclosure purposes, Barrett Fuller’s Secret is a novel written by my uncle. Regardless of this, I found the book to be a great read.

The titular character Barrett Fuller — a wildly successful children’s author who uses his success to fuel a life of debauchery and excess — receives an extortion letter forcing him to reform his ways and behave more like his virtuous pseudonym, or risk having his secret life exposed. His story is told alongside that of his nephew, Richard Fuller, who also has a secret that shakes him to the core. As their stories intersect, their respective secrets start down a collision course that will change their lives forever.

In the best way, I found the novel to be a very quick read. The characters were interesting and I found myself siding with Barrett in spite of himself, which made the conflict all the more interesting to me. The way everything ends caught me off guard as well, which I appreciated because while I didn’t see it coming, the twist made perfect sense in the context of the story.

American Gods

Author: Neil Gaiman

Genre: Fantasy

The central premise of the novel is that gods and mythical beings exist through the power of human belief, and in modern times their power and influence has waned due to people’s reduced faith. Diminished gods that were brought over by immigrants reside in America, alongside new modern gods of media, technology, drugs, and other concepts. Shadow Moon, a recent ex-con who suffers the loss of his wife and best friend just before release, is hired by conman Mr. Wednesday to be his body guard. This propels him into the world of gods in America and their struggles exist.

While I was already a big fan of Gaiman from the Sandman series, this novel helped to solidify his status as my most favourite author. Despite the page count, it didn’t feel its length and kept me eagerly coming back for more. Though its core concept is right up my alley, I found the world and its characters to be both beautiful and dreary as well, capturing a sense of wonder and desperation at the same time.

Cloud Atlas

Author: David Mitchell

Genre: Multi-Genre Fiction

Following one soul as it is reborn across time and space, Cloud Atlas is a novel that blends genre throughout, using many small stories that recur and intersect with one another. They are seemingly separate, but come together in small and profound ways, unifying them beautifully as a whole.

Admittedly, I read this book because of my love for the film, and it did not disappoint. While I did not find it quite as impactful as the movie did, it felt better thought-out and realistic. The movie could be a little hand-holdy to me at times, whereas the book made you work a little harder to realize the connections, which I appreciated. Though more complex than other novels, I highly recommend it to anybody looking for a less conventional narrative.

A Dance with Dragons

Author: George R. R. Martin

Genre: Fantasy

Continuing the Song of Ice and Fire series, A Dance with Dragons is the fifth and most recent book, taking place in the world of Westeros and across the Narrow Sea. Martin’s style of writing makes the novel difficult to summarize, as it is a world that follows numerous character narratives and tells its story continually with each new book. For those who know the series, it tells the story of characters absent from the previous book before continuing to drive the narrative forward.

While I have heard mixed feedback regarding the book, I found it to be a worthy and compelling addition to the series, leaving me eager for the next book to be released. The book introduced elements that make me worry about the story being able to wrap-up with supposedly only two books remaining, and certain characters I was a lot less interested reading about than others, but these criticisms are ultimately minor to me in the grand scheme of the book. The series continues to compel me, and I recommend it to any fan of more grounded fantasy.

A Short History of Myth

Author: Karen Armstrong

Genre: Mythology

Easily the most “written on the tin” of all the books I read, A Short History of Myth is simply that. A part of Canongate Myth series, which are short novels written by modern authors re-imagining old myths, Armstrong’s book simply talks about the history of myth as it relates to human development.

While I would be interested in a book that covers the subject matter more in depth (such as Joseph Campbell’s Masks of God series), I found the book to be a great entry-level glimpse into the history of myths for humanity. It helped me to consider mythology in a different way, introducing concepts about earlier forms of human civilization and what stories would mean to them in context in a way that I hadn’t before.

While this book may be a more humble entry than the others on my list, I enjoyed it greatly nonetheless, and am eager to read more from the Canongate series.

That concludes my list for this year. I hope you enjoyed it.

Happy New Year, everyone!

The “Original Story” Folly

This past week, the topic of writing was briefly brought up between a co-worker and I. He mentioned that he’d always wanted to write a novel, but he could never think of an original story. This is something I have struggled with, along with many other young writers I have met. We all strive for the one idea that will grow into a great and original story that nobody has quite read before. Another friend and I also knew of a young writer who apparently had an idea “so original” she dared not explain it for fear of it being stolen, leaving her without any constructive feedback.

Maybe she did have a very original idea that could be a phenomenal success, but I have my doubts. My reasoning for this is not out of jadedness or cynicism, but simply that I have come to learn that there is no such thing as a purely original story idea. Furthermore, if you strive too hard for this ideal of originality you can potentially stonewall your creativity.Read More »

Quality vs Preference

There is a dichotomy that exists when considering artistic subject matter that I feel few people seem to acknowledge, let alone respect. This dichotomy is between quality and preference. This lack of acknowledgement seems to exist most prominently on the internet, where people will argue back and forth or simply trash something because they don’t like it.Read More »

My Reading Journey & Old Stories

It was about five years ago when I really dove head first into becoming a reader. I was just embarking upon studies in English at university and the world of fiction, novels, and storytelling was opening up to me. Before then the amount I read of anything was actually rather limited.

I read the Harry Potter series as they came out, up until Order of the Phoenix. The release of Half-Blood Prince marked a distinct transition in my reading patterns. While many of my friends eagerly picked up their copies, I found myself disinterested, instead picking up a copy of The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells. This led to me going through a brief fascination with Wells, compelling me to read The Invisible Man and The Time Machine as well. I got a copy of The Island of Dr. Moreau, but for some reason did not end up reading it.

As I’ve said, it was still a number of years before I really delved into becoming a reader of various works, but I felt this little instance was an interesting one to share because it was the first time I expanded my horizons when it came to reading.

When I finally did open up to reading across the spectrum of literature it was like opening a flood gate. Not only did an influx of novels find their way into my possession because of the extensive syllabi of my courses, but I began to seek out and buy massive amounts of books on my own, purely for the pleasure of it. I became a collector, slowly building my own library until I had stacks of books and nowhere to put them. Many of these books I’m happy to say I have since read, but many more have been sitting in stacks on my shelf for years waiting for me to crack open their pages.

Even now, as I write this, I can simply look up and count six books before me that I haven’t started reading: Sarah Court, Lullaby, The Penguin Book of Norse Myths, The Princess Bride, The Divine Comedy, and Paradise Lost. Among these are some I intend to get through this year, and some that I may not start for years to come.

This impulse to collect books became such a problem that a couple years ago I imposed a rule upon myself that — with a few exceptions of course — I would only buy the next book in a series if I had read the previous one. Along with this, I force myself to resist buying a new book unless I intend to read it soon after buying it.

Needless to say, I’ve got enough books to keep me consistently reading for a long time. It has actually become a great personal undertaking to get through them all. I make lists of what I want to get through each year, as well as keep a log of what I have actually finished.

While books are the primary culprit, my collection of content extends well beyond books to include comic books, movies, and video games. I have access to more of each than anybody reasonably should, to the point where it sometimes seems insane to buy anything new.

During 2014, however, a dear friend of mine managed to inadvertently change my perspective. As I observed her revel in her love of specific series through fandoms, recounting times she’d re-read an entire series of books, or simply re-watched favourites for the joy of it, I realized that this was something I had not been doing. For all of the stories I’d fallen in love with over the years I’d never revisited them or taken the time to go through them once more and rediscover why I loved them so much. I’d been so caught up in going through all the new content I have that I have neglected what I already love.

I am reminded of one of my favourite quotes from A Storm of Swords: “Old stories are like old friends. You have to visit them from time to time.” I took this to heart recently and I have visited some old friends: I’ve watched Sin City once again, played through an entire file of Ocarina of Time, and just finished reading all eleven volumes of The Sandman comic book series by Neil Gaiman. All of the above turned out to be more comforting and fulfilling than I could have imagined, each offering something new that I hadn’t experience with them before.

My reading journey is far from complete, and I have a lot of new ground to cover before I am done, but sometimes it really is important to just stop and retread some old ground, visit some old friends, and remind yourself why you’re making the journey in the first place.