Saturday, December 29, 2012

It's About That Time

With the end of 2012 comes the summation of my reading for the year. Unlike in years past, this year I will pick out my top five favorites from my recommended books and even try to deem one as "best." Some of these books (most, in fact) were new to me, but some were re-reads. I think I may borrow the tradition of some of my friends and re-read LOTR every year. There are just so many books out there to read--we'll see. The books with asterisks are recommended for everyone in general. Anyone who has read Christopher Moore needs to read all he's written. He's my favorite authorial find this year. Absurd, hilarious magical realism. A Dirty Job, Lamb, and Fluke are my all-time favorites. Also, this list is subject to change because it's possible I may finish any of the four books I'm reading right now before January 1st.

Without further ado, here are the books I read in 2012.

1. Flight - Sherman Alexie*
2. Sula - Toni Morrison*
3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie*
4. The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Milan Kundera
5. The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams*
6. The Truth About Stories - Thomas King
7. A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man - James Joyce*
8. A Midsummer Night's Dream - Shakespeare*
9. Much Ado About Nothing - Shakespeare*
10. Tracks - Louise Erdrich*
11. A Wrinkle in Time - Madeline L'Engle*
12. Solar Storms - Linda Hogan*
13. A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin*
14. Ceremony - Leslie Marmon Silko
15. Lament for a Son - Nicholas Wolterstorff
16. Odd and the Frost Giants - Neil Gaiman
17. M is for Magic - Neil Gaiman*
18. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs*
19. Castle in the Air - Dianna Wynne Jones*
20. Out of Oz - Gregory Maguire*
21. The Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien*
22. The Two Towers - J.R.R. Tolkien*
23. The Return of the King - J.R.R. Tolkien*
24. The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien*
25. Good Omens - Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman*
26. The Sandman: A Game of You - Neil Gaiman*
27. The Color of Magic - Terry Pratchett*
28. A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess*
29. A Clash of Kings - George R.R. Martin*
30. The Princess Bride - William Goldman
31. The Once and Future King - T.H. White
32. Practical Magic - Alice Hoffman*
33. Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card*
34. The Cider House Rules - John Irving*
35. The Good Earth - Pearl S. Buck
36. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky*
37. Anansi Boys - Neil Gaiman*
38. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
39. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim - David Sedaris*
40. The Alchemist - Paolo Coelho*
41. Interview With the Vampire - Anne Rice*
42. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
43. Poetry 180 - ed. Billy Collins*
44. House of Many Ways - Dianna Wynne Jones*
45. Holidays on Ice - David Sedaris*
46. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez*
47. Practical Demonkeeping - Christopher Moore
48. Bloodsucking Fiends - Christopher Moore
49. Book of Shadows - Cate Tiernan
50. The Coven - Cate Tiernan
51. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood*
52. You Suck - Christopher Moore
53. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
54. Bite Me - Christopher Moore
55. The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver*
56. The Hotel New Hampshire - John Irving*
57. Have Spacesuit--Will Travel - Robert A. Heinlein
58. Fluke - Christopher Moore*
59. Picnic, Lightning - Billy Collins*
60. Possession - A.S. Byatt*
61. The Life of Pi - Yann Martel
62. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott*
63. Island of the Sequined Love Nun - Christopher Moore
64. The Tales of Beedle the Bard - J.K. Rowling
65. The Stupidest Angel - Christopher Moore*
66. The Silmarillion - J.R.R. Tolkien*
67. The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove - Christopher Moore*
68. The Dispossessed - Ursula Le Guin*
69. Diary - Chuck Palahniuk*
70. America Again: Rebecoming the Greatness We Never Weren't - Stephen Colbert*
71. On the Road - Jack Kerouac*

My top five favorites, in order of descending greatness.
1. The Dispossessed - Ursula Le Guin
2. A Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
3. The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
4. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
5. Possession - A.S. Byatt

I read many great books this year, but these five were absolutely life-changing for me. I was affected seriously by each one and wish that everyone who reads this will read each of these books at some point in their lives.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish?

Am I terribly old hat because that question terrifies me? Something tells me I'm not alone. I know self-publishing is no longer a last resort, a grudging alternative to "traditional routes," but something in me bristles at the notion of my actually doing it.

I'm currently compiling a manuscript of poetry. I thought with the wealth of poems I've managed to produce over the past several years that it might not be that hard. I was sadly wrong. As daunting as just putting things together to produce a cohesive piece and polishing it all up is, publishing is so much more terrifying.

I tell myself that I can continue to submit to contests--single pieces, three poems, or even a chapbook or whole collection--and that once I'm comfortable I can submit a finished MS to "reputable" publishers. My mind flags them as reputable, even though I know the literary journals and other places I've been submitting are just as reputable in reality. Perhaps what my brain means is "prolific." Then I can start my slog up the literary ladder until I have a chance to spin that magic fame and fortune wheel.

As I sit back and ponder this line of thinking, I realize I've had it since I was in third grade, when I first decided I wanted to be a writer. But where do I go from here?

I felt a similar panic when I was confronted with the concept of literary agents a couple years ago. The idea of marketing my product was something which simply had not occurred to me. Doesn't the publisher do that? The inner workings of the literary world sometimes seem as complex as the worlds the books they publish reveal to readers. I hope this anxiety at the concept of self-publishing is a rapidly passing one. It seems that more and more people are open to the idea of it, but the practical aspects of it are still a mystery to me. A simple Google search yields an incredible amount of information regarding self-publishing: articles, blog posts, reviews of self-published books, books about self-publishing, self-published books about self-publishing.

It seems like I've reached the end of this post and don't have much in the way of resolution. Rather than pontificating further, here's a quote regarding the nature of poetry from Charles Simic, taken from the Poets Laureate Anthology:

                 I remember once--I was teaching in the schools in
                 El Paso, Texas. And a student had asked . . . me
                 what poetry was good for. And I was stunned,
                 because it's such a serious question. It's a difficult
                 question. And suddenly a hand went up. It was a
                 young woman. So I said . . . "What do you think?"
                 And she said, "To remind people of their own
                 humanity." That struck me as so sensible, so
                 moving, so poignant . . . . You know, I'm mortal,
                 I exist, I have my own conscience, I have my own
                 being, myself. Here I am with this universe. Maybe
                 there's a God; maybe there's no God. This is my
                 predicament, my human predicament. Poetry
                 reminds readers of that.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Official Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The first installment of Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy gives audiences a familiar, exciting glimpse into the world of Middle-Earth, with a twist. Those who have read Tolkien's books may notice a large difference in tone between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit was written before The Lord of the Rings and is intended to be read by a much younger audience, giving the narration a classic story-book tone. Readers unaware of this who read the epic saga of the Ring and then turn to The Hobbit as a prequel may be jolted by the difference in style. In the same way, audiences taking for granted Jackson's Hobbit as LOTR part 4 will find the tone vastly changed.

The film starts in the familiar, rolling landscape of the Shire and features Bilbo Baggins, played by Martin Freeman, as the quiet, unassuming protagonist who is swept away on an unlikely adventure. Joined with a troupe of Dwarves as well as the wizard Gandalf, played by Ian McKellen, Bilbo meets with harrowing danger and finds himself very much out of place. Bilbo's choices during the film further his character and foreshadow more great development for the entire arc of the Hobbit trilogy.

I saw the film in 3-D featuring the high frame rate and was amazed with the clarity these assets lent the film. While the 3-D element certainly makes things pop, its incorporation is not the bygone kind hearkening back to an image of a paddle ball being sprung in the audience's face. And while these elements make viewing the film an incredible treat, I do not believe they are necessary for one to truly enjoy the experience. The cinematography in the film is beautiful on its own, Jackson's familiar direction availing itself as grand once again.

The new technology utilized in creating the film may seem subtle to some, but it is just what the film needs, rather than scene after scene of dizzying flashes of epic battle scenes a la Michael Bay to baffle the viewer. The film relies on multiple new media including new performance capture technology for Gollum, played by Andy Serkis, allowing the entire performance to be caught all at once with live-action cameras filming the motions and expressions of an individual while retaining the actual footage used in the final cut of the film including the interactions with other actors.

Some may be concerned by the length of this film and the promise of those to come. For Jackson's vision, he relies not only on the original text of The Hobbit but also on supplementary texts such as The Silmarillion to add scenes such as the ones featuring the Necromancer, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. While these inclusions do add length to the film, they enrich it with back story and details immediately connected with the plot. Jackson's film also departs from the text in other ways, including the featuring of Azog, the mysterious Pale Orc, as a large antagonist.

While this film is beautiful and enthralling, it certainly is not perfect. In the first few scenes of the film, featuring a retelling of the story of the Dwarves' loss of Erebor, the action looks a bit choppy, perhaps owing to time constraints meaning certain pieces of the film were sped up a bit, or maybe even the scrutinizing eye the high frame rate lends. The depiction of Radagast, the brown Wizard, played by Sylvestor McCoy, is debatable. Radagast is described as being odd in the books, due to his seclusion and love of nature, but the film portrays him as positively zany. With so many other humorous elements in the film, such as the natural banter of the Dwarves, Radagast's hyperactive bumbling seems unnecessary.

All in all, Jackson's vision of The Hobbit is enchanting, pulling viewers into the realm of Middle-Earth once again for a slightly different kind of adventure.