The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: A Unique, Compelling Take on WWII that Trades Severity for Ingenuity

Every so often, a book comes along that takes the nation by storm. Not just within its generic audience, but throughout all subsets of readers: the literary, the YA crowd, those who enjoy popular fiction, and kids. Of course, Harry Potter is the default example of this sort of trend, but I tend to discredit that a bit considering how many now-adult readers came of age with the series. The best recent example I can think of is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, though I know that tends to select for older readers.

One such book to achieve this phenomenon situates itself chronologically between the other two titles I listed, and is, perhaps, more representative of a jack-of-all-trades piece of literature. Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, originally published in 2006, is generally classified as a young adult novel, though you wouldn’t know it based on the scores of adults who claim to have read the tome. A World War II narrative with a twist, The Book Thief has been taught at high schools throughout the US, translated into over 40 languages, and still remains in the top ten of many bestseller lists to this day. Though it may slant toward a younger audience, there is no denying that Zusak’s work has amassed a following beyond even his own expectations. Though it fails to fully realize the darkness of its own setting, The Book Thief  makes for a gripping WWII narrative that speaks to our humanity in a time period where everyone’s chief concern was his own mortality.   Continue reading

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The Future of Book Reviews on this Website

Hello, friend, family member, or poor soul who got lost on the internet and accidentally stumbled upon my small corner of weirdness.

I’ve got an update post. I’ll try to keep it short and sweet, but if you’ve been reading my work for any amount of time, you know that I often struggle with being concise. I ramble a lot.

I first started this blog back in 2014 with the intention of putting myself out there as a writer. Since then, I’ve written a couple a few random posts about my life, a narrative capturing of the time I met a famous dude, a satire piece that sent my school up in arms for a week, and a (largely) still relevant post about the Colin Kaepernick-national anthem controversy that gained a surprising amount of traction. The thing I’ve written the most, though, are book reviews. I enjoy doing them, and they give me a chance to practice writing in response to the things I read, which is great for honing my craft.

For the most part, these reviews have taken a rather personal tone. I haven’t chosen to stick with any particular format, and I’ve interjected my daily life into almost all of them. This has resulted in reviews that are too large in content and not as professional as they should be. Along with my many literary endeavors, (writing, attaining a Ph.D. in English, and reading a ton), I also aspire to be a book critic. I don’t necessarily want to make this a full-time job, though I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t jump at the first website to offer me a gig in that vein. However, if I want to make any sort of money or garner any semblance of a consistent readership, I know I’ve got to change a few things, and that starts today.

I’m sorry if you did like the personal anecdotes and interjections. They are now a thing of the past. I can’t expect to be taken seriously by any publication if I continue to waste hundreds of words explaining connections I have to certain books or why I put off reading them for so long. I have to learn how to be straight to the point and spend all my time discussing what works and what doesn’t. I need to find the way I like to speak about novels and repeat the formula consistently. Only then will I have achieved a book review’s purpose: to tell you if it’s worth a damn or not.

Starting with my next review, (Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief) I’ll be completely overhauling the way I’ve done things in favor of something more streamlined and repeatable. I’ll be spending the next few days scouring the annals of The New York Times and The New Yorker trying to get a feel for the stylistic demands of the craft. I got pretty good at doing this for films when I was in college, so it shouldn’t be too difficult of a transition.

Suffice it all to say that any review from this point forward will be my attempt at emulating anything that you might see from professional places online or in a magazine. They’ll still have my voice and idiosyncrasies, but hopefully I’ll be able to provide better content–quick reads that allow you to make a decision. I’ll also be sticking to more current works for the most part, because it probably doesn’t do you any good to read my thoughts on a book that came out 50 years ago. I’m a subscriber of The Book of the Month club, so I’ll be putting out a review of my selections as I finish them. I’m hoping that recency will be on my side and I can gain some real traction. I probably should have done this a while ago, but, then again, I probably should have finished my novel by now, too. I’m slow to adapt.

If you liked my old stuff, I’d encourage you to stick around for this new wave. I’m excited and chomping at the bit, and I think it’ll translate into my work. If this doesn’t sound like your thing, I’m sure I’ll still have content from time to time that you’ll find enjoyable. Either way, thanks for reading anything I’ve posted on here over the years. I appreciate every ‘like’, ‘click,’ and ‘comment’ I’ve ever gotten. You guys rock.

-ELM

Aaron Hernandez, CTE, and Shoddy Police Work: Jose Baez’s UNNECESSARY ROUGHNESS Tells All

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You don’t have to be a football fan to know the name Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez was the former New England Patriots tight end who took his own life on April 17th, 2017, just days after he was acquitted of all charges in a 2012 double murder case in Boston. After the acquittal, Hernandez remained in jail for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd, a man whom Hernandez knew and occasionally hung out with. Before the dust had even settled from the court case, Hernandez was found dead in the jail, hanging by a bedsheet in his cell. He left behind a series of notes, some of which are illuminating and others baffling.

I still remember my reaction after reading the headline on ESPN.com. Why would this man, upon being found innocent of a crime, hang himself so abruptly? If he were truly innocent, did this make him innocent in the Odin Lloyd case as well? Was he actually as evil as we were led to believe? Of course, as I considered all this, a darker possibility loomed: Did Aaron Hernandez take his own life because he really was complicit in the murders for which he’d just been cleared? Was his death the result of a troubled conscience?

I tended to believe the latter. I think most of the country did, too. Hernandez had been portrayed in the media as a gun-toting gangster whose hyper-masculine tendencies had gotten him in trouble on multiple occasions. The prior murder conviction certainly didn’t do anything to help his public image, either.  I, along with a lot of people, assumed that the guilt of his actions had become too much to bear, and Aaron took his own life as a result. I didn’t give the situation much of a second thought until I picked up Jose Baez’s book a year and a half later.  Continue reading

TGAR 1C: Final Thoughts on the (Mostly Overrated) Lord of the Rings

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As I wrote previously, my relationship with The Lord of the Rings dates back several years and includes many start-stops of the series and a couple read-throughs of The Hobbit. Every time I attempted to venture into Tolkien’s vast world that is Middle-Earth, I felt like I was missing the point. Never was I in love with the sensationalized descriptions of landscapes or awed by the clashes of warring cavalries in battle. I’ve only just now finished the final installment, The Return of the King, and this was an ordeal that took me two and a half months. the time I spent reading The Lord of the Rings lengthened between the books, and the final, shortest volume in the series took over a month itself. Now that I’m done, I can speak with some authority (whatever you, my wonderful audience, wish to bestow upon me, at least) on The Lord of the Rings as a whole. If I could sum it up in a sentence or two, I’d say: Though the influence of LOTR for the fantasy genre cannot be overstated and is perhaps understated by today’s standards, the books/novel itself is, undoubtedly, overrated; the reverence with which we hold The Lord of the Rings stems mostly from its generic implications and the Peter Jackson films, and not from the text itself. The adventures of Frodo & company are epic, but the themes of the book are juvenile, the prose is dry and dull, and there are so many unnecessary plot digressions that draw the story out much longer than it needs to be.  Continue reading

TGAR 1B: Slightly More-Coherent Thoughts on The Two Towers

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All right, I know it’s been a while, but I finally finished the second volume of The Lord of the Rings, AKA The Two Towers, AKA the one with Orlando Bloom on the cover. This one is 70-something fewer pages than the first one, but (predictably so) a lot more action happens. However, if I say anything about The Two Towers, it’s this: True to how Tolkien apparently wanted it, The Two Towers reads much more like a continuation of The Fellowship of the Ring than a sequel. The prose doesn’t miss a beat, and essentially what we’re left with is the rising action of the story, compressed into a singular volume for our reading pleasure. Does tons of action and plot development elevate The Two Towers over the previous installment? It depends.

Also, just a heads up–If you haven’t read The Lord of the Rings and have a strong desire to, go ahead and skip the next paragraph. The rest of the review will be spoiler-free, but I can’t help myself from spoiling stuff in at least one spot.

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TGAR 1: Half-Cocked Thoughts on The Fellowship of the Ring

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All right, everybody, as promised, here’s the first written review of my journey through The Great American Read! As previously stated, the first book (or books, however you prefer to look at it) on my list was The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I’ve decided to split the review into three parts for the sake of giving us more to discuss, and here’s part number one. I finished The Fellowship of the Ring on June 6th, 2018, and I can’t wait to share my thoughts.

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Review: Stephen King’s IT (The 2017 Movie)

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Well, I floated. And not like the rubber ducky in the bathtub, but more like that sensation you get when the dentist gives you too much of the good stuff before a procedure. I floated right into my seat, high on life, and I didn’t come down for two hours and 15 minutes. I was like the red balloon we saw in the trailer, like that butterfly Mohammed Ali was always talking about.

If you haven’t caught on with all my lame figurative language, I’m basically being annoying about the fact that I saw IT in theaters on Saturday. Though it was technically the third night for the show, you’d have thought we were at a midnight premiere or something. I mean this literally when I say it was packed; every seat except for one was filled. (I know that because somehow that seat was next to my brother; I don’t know if we smelled that night or what, but I’m not complaining.) The theater attendants were checking tickets each time you stepped in and out of the theater door. This is something I’ve never experienced, but I get that they were probably just trying to keep out movie hoppers and underage high schoolers. A friend of mine who works at a movie theater told me they sold out twice on opening night; suffice it to say this movie was a pretty big deal.

If you read what I published last week about IT, the novel, you’ll know that the story has a very special place in my heart. I went into this movie expecting great–maybe even momentous– things. I was acutely conscious to the fact that I might have overhyped the film so much in my head that I’d hate it– so much so that I was prematurely. prepared to do so. I knew my expectations were too high, but I couldn’t shake them. I’d been waiting for this film for years, and damn it, it had better be good. When I watched the final credits roll, it was like having a weight lifted from my shoulders. It was over. The film was over, and they didn’t butcher my favorite book. Not only did they not butcher it, but they managed to create something that was pretty faithful to its roots, while handling any creative liberties with poise. I walked out of the theater satisfied and clamoring for the eventual sequel. Sure, there were some things I didn’t like, but they were vastly outnumbered by the ones I did. IT isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s one you won’t want to miss. Here’s why: Continue reading

Review: Stephen King’s IT (The Novel)

I was in seventh grade the first time my mom took me to the used bookstore that opened up in our small, farming town. It was owned and operated by one of the librarians in our city, who also happened to be a family friend. I struggle to remember the storefront now, but I’ll never forget the name of the store, because I thought it was freaking brilliant. The store was called Shabby Pages, and it was at Shabby Pages where 13-year-old me stumbled into the world of Stephen King.

I had to beg my mother for the entire time we were in there, but I walked out of that store with a used copy of Everything’s Eventual, a story collection King published in 2002. I devoured the book the following week while I was camping on vacation, and an implacable love for the works of the most renowned author of the last 50 years was born. Later in that same week, I purchased 13 more of his books at a flea market.

Among these 13 new treasures was a 1,000 page behemoth with a one-word title. IT. The book’s cover featured a bare skull with blue stars in the eye hollows, an instantly recognizable red clown nose, and red lines coming from the side of the skull that reminded me of an American flag on a breezy day. All of this was on a black background with King’s name plastered across the top along with the phrase “#1 Bestseller” which is synonymous with his work.

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Here’s my actual copy of IT– old, wet book smell and all. I can’t bring myself to part with it because it holds so much sentimental value.

I had tons of books to choose from, but I picked IT because I remembered my older cousins telling me a story when I was younger about a movie where a clown kills people and only kids can see it happening. After a quick Google search, I was able to confirm that I had the exact same story in print form. I quickly found a quiet spot alone and began reading.

The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years–if it ever did end–began, so far as I know and can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.”  – IT, Page 1

I didn’t know it then, but I was about to stumble upon my favorite book of all time. Continue reading

How I Re-fell in Love with Writing

 

Ok, now that I have the Kaepernick thing out of the way, I can get back to my other work, which was my plan all along. (However, I do want to say a quick thank you to everyone who read that article, whether you agreed with it or not. We broke 100 views in 24 hours, which has only been done like two other times in the history of this website. So thanks.)

For those of you that read everything I post, you’ll know I recently started a fitness website. It launched in June, and so far I have a stream of about 20 dedicated readers that habitually click on whatever I put out. Shouts to you guys. For those of you that like my other work (ie the stuff that infrequently appears on this website) I’ve been inactive for a really long time. The reason for that is a simple, yet important one: I was disenchanted with the idea of becoming an author. I found myself thinking less and less about my career as a fiction writer, and more and more about pursuing a career as a personal trainer and fitness “expert.” My passion switched from writing made up things to analyzing scientific research and learning about the best ways to build muscle. Which would have been fine, if I didn’t quickly become disenchanted with that. Continue reading

In Defense of Colin Kaepernick

I really didn’t want to have to do this.

I mean, really didn’t want to have to do this.

I was actually in the middle of writing a very important post for this site, one that would have been the first in a few months. I’d rather be finishing that up. But instead, I find myself talking about the latest thing that has America’s panties in a bunch, Mr. Colin Kaepernick and his decision not to stand during the National Anthem.

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