Review: Running with Scissors (book) by Augusten Burroughs

You know that saying “Truth is stranger than fiction”? It’s true. I finished reading Running with Scissors, a memoir by Augusten Burroughs today, and despite all the reviews on the back cover saying that the book was twisted and horrifying (yet hilarious). When I read the book, though, I found the book hilarious and well-written but was disappointed in the lack of twistedness. Where is the train wreck factor, I asked myself as I read. The reviews on the back cover promised me train wrecks. Now where are they?

But as I read, the story continued to be surprisingly tame. Was it my own fault, or was I expecting something that may not even show up? The answer was both. See, I have train wreck syndrome. Have you ever passed an accident on the road and absolutely have to stare? That’s me with just about everything. What most people would read and say “Wow, that’s terrible!”, I read and just keep on reading because that’s how my brain works. I’m used to the horror, so to speak.

Overall: A good book, but I probably wouldn’t read it again. Not because it was only mediocre, but because I don’t think I’d get more out of a reread.


The real review: Artemis Fowl

As I mentioned yesterday, I finished reading Artemis Fowl, a book about a twelve-year-old criminal and genius who gets on the bad side of a bunch of fairies. He also has a minion…erm, bodyguard named Butler. Sounds cool, right? The plot was actually interesting. The writing made me suffer through the novel. Yes, it’s a young adult novel, as so many people pointed out to me. However, the mark of good fiction is to be immersed in the world that the author has created and to forget that such a world outside the book can even exist. This book didn’t do that. The writing was as jerky as a car ride with that friend of my brother who nearly gets himself killed on every trip. Colfer enjoyed reminding me that no, we haven’t met this character yet, but we should have, and this is why they’re important. Let us take a moment to explain. How important can that character be if he was artificially introduced?

While we’re talking about Artemis, let’s talk about his character. He’s a twelve-year-old genius and criminal. He’s also arrogant as all hell, and boy, does he show it. Yes, he does have his occasional human moments (see a notable instance at the end of the novel for an example), but for most of the novel he’s static, and there’s little evidence of character development that would lead to the ending.

Overall, I read this like a dry textbook. Read it for the text and not for the meaning. Would not read this (or the rest of the series) again.

On another note, Eoin Colfer also wrote the sequel to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. This depresses me slightly because I was satisfied with the ending (even if Adams himself wasn’t) and I’m not a fan of Colfer’s writing style. Perhaps the style will be better when he’s not writing for teenagers, but there is no replacement for Douglas Adams’s humor.


Why don't people read anymore?

National Novel Writing Month user Uninvoked began a thread on the forums pondering if people read anymore. Given my recent book review (and another one pending the finishing of my current book), I’m wondering the same thing. I read anything I can get my hands on and occasionally some things I can’t. My letters to my grandparents as a young child concerned things I read in the encyclopedia. At one point in middle school, I was devouring a book a day to the point that the teacher who let me borrow them started to doubt that I was really reading them until I told her about them. (This was before the plot of every book under the sun could be found online.)

Granted, I read less than a book a day, and probably less than a book a week given my other activities. However, the number of people around me who are astonished to see a book in someone’s hand still shocks me. I could get a shiny halo next to my NaNoWriMo username if I had a dollar for each person on my commute who gave me a strange look for the book in my hand. (I could get even more goodies if we extended this analogy to a notebook. Heck, I could probably fund NaNoWriMo’s expenses this year if I had a dollar for everyone who has ever given me a strange look for having a novel or notebook in hand.) So what do people have against books?

School is the first place that some kids see books. If there aren’t a lot of books at home, they may make the connection that school equals books. Unfortunately, if they don’t like school, they may also grow to dislike books, regardless of how interesting any other book out there really is.

Along with school comes peer pressure. Unfortunately, a kid who enjoys books out of her own will is often viewed as an outsider. It certainly got me pegged as an outcast as a kid. Naturally, the other kids will apply pressure to the bibliophile. Few kids want to be the outcast, so some will cave and try to be like everyone else.

And let’s not forget environment. A kid who grows up around book lovers is likely to become a book lover herself. There are certainly exceptions. I’m one of them.

Whatever the reason, always remember: It’s not the size of your book collection but how you use it.


Review: The Kite Runner

I finished reading The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini a few days ago. For me, the book is typically better than the movie, and despite the excellence of the movie, The Kite Runner is no exception. As a writer, I’ve trained myself to look for the points in a novel that we all learned in high school literature: the inciting incident, the buildup, the turning point, the climax, the resolution. (You may remember them by the proper names; I’m going by memory.) For the terrible books, it’s obvious that they’re just following a formula: possibly because the education system is failing us yet again by churning out barely literate citizens, and possibly because they haven’t spread their literary wings and tried to write without the formula as a crutch. For the wonderful books, the formula may still be there, but the reader doesn’t notice because they’re too engrossed in the story.

One thing in particular struck me while reading: the character-driven story. It’s tempting at first to say “But there is no plot! People are just wandering around and doing things!” Character-driven stories are centered around people, not things, and Amir and Hassan’s childhood turns one unfortunate incident into a life story worth telling, especially when you figure out the significance of the prologue. In fact, the character-driven story made me remember why I love writing so much to start with. With characters leading the way, there’s more room to explore the world around them, and you get to hear the voice inside them that just wants to have their own way.

The verdict on the book: Would read again. I’m keeping this one. It’s a good thing, too. I think I got some water stains on it at the bus stop one morning.

Book vs. Movie: The book, hands down. The movie is great, but there are only so many themes one can explore in a feature-length film.


Banned Books Week

This week is Banned Books Week in the US. I look over the list of frequently challenged books every year just to count how many of them I’ve read. While the answer is never as high as I’d like (I’m ashamed to say that I have read none of the ten most frequently challenged books of 2008), the lists are nevertheless interesting for the variety and the shock value. Seeing some of my childhood favorites on the list and remembering no major shock nor failed attempts from adults to “wait until you’re older” is a surprise every year.

This year the list of banned and challenged classics interests me. At least 42 of the Radcliffe Publishing Course’s 100 best novels of the 20th century have been challenged or banned. If these are in a particular order, then there appears to be a correlation between rank and challenge. If there were a way to obtain the number of challenges a given book has obtained, then one could see if there does exist a positive correlation. For now, though, all we can say is that it is possible.

My book of the week is The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, which didn’t make the top ten list of frequently challenged books until 2008, five years after its 2003 release. I don’t know if it was challenged before 2008, but my guess is that the release of the movie gave the book more attention. A review will come after finishing.

If you’re having problems deciding what frequently challenged book you should read this week, let Hunch, a decision-making website, decide for you with this handy questionnaire. My top three were Brave New World, Animal Farm, and To Kill a Mockingbird, all of which are already favorites.