A Rumination On The Genius Of David Foster Wallace

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Like many people, I’m sure, I was part way through Infinite Jest when I realized that David Foster Wallace is a genius. The entire scope of the book, its almost encyclopedic nature (not to mention the length, because I’d be remised) in how it feels so all encompassing of this world, no, universe that he created, to these painful characters who are so human and raw. I knew he was a literary genius as soon as I read that book, then later on I got further through his bibliography and read Everything And More (his book literarily about the history of infinity largely told through mathematic equations) and Fate, Time, And Language (his college thesis on free will and his critique on philosopher Richard Taylor) and realized I had to throw the “literary” caveat away and realize he was just a flat out genius.

It didn’t start out that revolutionary, though, as I was pretty averagely whelmed by his first novel The Broom Of The System. I really enjoyed it for the first half when it was building up its world and ideas, but then everything fell off a cliff in the back half and I found it a slog to get through. Wallace just meandered in these character’s thoughts and didn’t seem too intent on actually doing much besides the very base introductions into the main character Lenore’s mental crises. I found it funny that Wallace himself famously hates looking back on this novel as he thinks its pretty juvenile and amateur in a writing sense. Not that I’m taking any extra credit in not really liking it, quite the opposite, in fact wish I could write something this good at my age, let alone his age at the time.

Girl With Curious Hair just seemed like a fine enough short story collection where I particularly liked the ones on Jeopardy!, Lyndon Johnson and Late Night With David Letterman, but the rest fell pretty flat and often were a slog to get through. His collaboration book Signifying Rappers: Rap And Race In The Urban Present with his friend Mark Costello read like it was just written yesterday with its pin-point thoughts on everything inside of hip-hop from race to piracy to communication to its perception and on and on. Wallace and Costello both expertly broke down the prejudices laid against the music and the untruths about it and how hip-hop encapsulates a wide breadth of modern culture, even back in the early 90s, that some might not even be fully aware of. And as good as it was, I’m preconditioning to liking hip-hop anything because I love the genre so much, but I still felt like maybe I just didn’t “get” Wallace and was waiting to see if anything of his really clicked with me, or if I was going to be part of the other group who just never understood his hype.

And, yes, now we cue Infinite Jest. Everybody cries about the length of the book, and yes it’s long as hell with its footnotes section being longer than your average book, but it never really feels that long. This is a 1,000 plus page book that never feels like it drags, and that’s something when it’s largely just spouting philosophical thought or rambling on about the effects of whatever random drug. The book is obviously dense and has layers upon layers, but it’s not hard to get through per se, but it just takes time. A lot of the plot doesn’t even matter, because not all that much really happens, it’s just really following these various storylines that really never make any grand aspirations to go anywhere, and thus you reading this is less of following what happens, but living in this absurdist world that Wallace has created. “Absurd” is the word I always keep coming back to with this book, especially in something I wasn’t really expecting, even though I should have, was how hilarious this book is. Wallace knows how to write true characters, and this book has straight-up jokes, but also mines humour from just basic humanistic things that nobody ever speaks aloud, but pretty much everybody does. I never really thought I’d like this this much, but I was kind of left in awe of this world that Wallace created where I was constantly admiring his scope in world building, characters and fine details that made this thing a piece of art from simple word to word connections on each page.

Following that he delivered A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Anymore which is basically his masterpiece essay collection which I loved it all the way around. The highlights are his essay on television which is very insightful and surprisingly relevant from when he wrote it over twenty years ago, the tennis essay on Michael Joyce which lets Wallace dig around in his passion and exposes some of the oddities of the tennis world, and his famous essay documenting his stay on a cruise ship which is full of all his signature observations on human behaviour.

As I mentioned above, Everything And More and Fate, Time And Language took Wallace to another echelon with me, even though I probably understood about 10% combined of what he was saying in both of these works. Seeing that Everything And More was subtitled “A Compact History of Infinity” I of course thought it was a tongue-in-cheek joke from Wallace, just an ironic outlandish name to title a selection of essays that obviously wouldn’t measure up to the concept of infinity. Except, no, David Foster Wallace wrote a legit history of infinity and quite literally writes what is basically a math textbook, with some of that Wallace flair.

Fate, Time And Language is like a sibling to Everything And More in that it continues to prove that David Foster Wallace is a genius beyond the bounds of fiction literature, into mathematics and philosophy. I mean, I couldn’t entirely connect with this book/essay/thesis because I really don’t care that much about philosophy (and definitely not to the astronomical levels that Wallace did), so these questions posed, fighting back on theories and breaking down of these phrases into their literal and metaphysical parts by Wallace just seem pointless to me. It’s like you knew David Foster Wallace was some kind of literary savant on some high level, but then he busts these two things seemingly out of nowhere and you think this guys gotta be on some kind of genius level to have all this scholarly strength rattling up in his brain. It’s kinda crazy how he can switch from writing about sociology to tennis to politics to complex math problems and make them all digestible and brilliant in their own way.

His various other collections throughout the years in Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, Oblivion, Consider The Lobster and Both Flesh And Not all exceed in their own ways giving Wallace equal balance to explore his more serious efforts sandwiched in between something funny or even just fawning over Roger Federer. Up, Simba! Up, Simba! was a fascinating read on John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign, mainly because I at my young age really only started knowing about McCain from his 2008 bid, so it was fascinating hearing about him in this context because all the insights about his personality don’t really seem that interesting or new due to the fact that I’m reading this 16 years after it was written and I was already aware of this portrait of him (ie. the whole Vietnam POW stuff, and how he seemingly flys in the face of what a buttoned up politician should act like). This Is Water, his 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College, proved that, hell, Wallace might as well tackle another medium for his words and make it masterful.

Wallace’s last piece of work before his death, The Pale King, is terrific in its own unfinished right. It’s great all the way around and has sparkles and glints of a masterpiece buried beneath it. Of course we’re always gonna wonder what this novel would’ve looked like if Wallace got it to how he wanted it before he died, but I bet it isn’t too far away from what we got to read and all-and-all it’s a pretty great reconstruction of chapters in varying levels of madness. Dude literally made a book about the IRS interesting, that should be grounds for a masterpiece itself.

It’s funny, coming into reading David Foster Wallace I kind of didn’t want to like him. I have this semi-hipster mentality where I hate liking things that the mass media fawns over and loves. Infinite Jest would not stop popping up wherever I looked like some goddamn gopher, so I said “okay, I’ll finally read this thing” and because I’m an insane maniac I can’t just read a book part way through someone’s bibliography, so I read all his works from the beginning and as gross as it sounds, I’m better for it. Knowing very little about David Foster Wallace I just assumed he was kind of a shut-in literary snob who was this lame, pain-filled writer who had one legendary book and killed himself. Reading all of his works, including the essential Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself (and the great film version, The End Of The Tour, with fantastic performances from both Jason Segel as Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg as Lipsky)road trip recollection from David Lipsky that charts Lipsky’s time with Wallace over part of the Infinite Jest book tour, I found out about the beautiful person Wallace was amongst all that pain bubbling under.

David Foster Wallace was SO human. That’s what I liked about him, I mean sure I believe he’s actually operating on some genius level I don’t understand, but he also just fucking loves Alanis Morissette a lot and wrote an essay on why Terminator 2: Judgment Day sucks so much and writes about tennis like Michelangelo is sculpting it. He’s simultaneously this smart guy in mathematics, philosophy and higher-thinking and should probably be a snob about it, but he’s just too human and understands low brow and high brow equally enough that those two definitions wouldn’t seem like a division to him. In other words, the history of infinity to him is of the exact same importance to why Terminator 2 sucks so much. As I read his books I would often become very sad that his genius wouldn’t continue to create great works, but happy that the ones he did create exist and that they represent himself so accurately in all the happiness, pain, and wonder that made up David Foster Wallace.

Chuck Klosterman In Three Sections

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I feel like you can break down Chuck Klosterman’s bibliography into three types of books, so that’s what I’m gonna do. Firstly, you have the “essay” books. These are the books that Klosterman is most famous from and for, including Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota, Sex, Drugs And Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto and Eating The Dinosaur, among others. They include essays whether on an overarching topic or not, and just his random thoughts and muses from things on music, sports, sociology and such, drawing on an idea from a piece of pop culture. Secondly, we have his narrative fiction novels with Downtown Owl and The Visible Man. These are his foray into fiction storytelling, but still are just basically a different conduit for him to wax about small town America or frame his theories on human interaction through a different book medium. Lastly, are his essays with an overarching theme that ties each essay and chapter together such as I Wear The Black Hat: Grappling With Villains and But What If We’re Wrong? Thinking About The Present As If It Were The Past. These have essays that may vary in topic, but are still about the theme at large and contribute to a corner of that picture, hoping to paint something new with all these ideas tackling it from different directions. I’m not here to say anyone is better, it’s just interesting to see the progression Klosterman has taken in how he intends to approach his ideas, since it’s a clear leap from one idea to the next in how he frames these books.

1. Essays

I think “Fargo Rock City” is his best book, and coincidentally or not it’s his first one, mostly because it doesn’t fall into any boring memoir traps and focuses on the topic at hand rather than shoehorning himself into everything. When I first heard it was a memoir I was a little apprehensive because I could care less about how popular music affected one dude because it’s literally the same case for millions around the world. Klosterman always talks about the minutiae and differences about growing up in a small town in the mid-west, but he always does it with a tone where he seems to think he’s the only with this upbringing and that there aren’t millions of people who have grown up the same way he did and he’s not honouring us with this special look into small town lifestyle. Anyways, “Fargo Rock City” was good because he focused on the music and charted how it progressed and grew in and of itself and didn’t relate back to himself that much.

“Sex, Drugs And Cocoa Puffs” isn’t as good as “Fargo Rock City” mainly because it lacked the throughline that his first one possessed. I never really buy into that thing where people say you either love something or you hate it, but with these certain Klosterman essays I find you’ll either 100% agree with his opinion/theory or will 100% think he’s off base and thus think his whole argument is dumb and pointless. I love dissecting pop culture and I love how Klosterman will take a seemingly random thing like The Real World, Pamela Anderson or Saved By The Bell and explore some tangential themes of societal roles, sexual identity and ideas about perceived time and identity. Like, I said before, though, if you’re on board with the idea or piece of pop culture, you’ll love it, and thus I know this book would be most popular with Gen Xers, but I can easily see someone hating it due to his wild posits and smug attitude.

Killing Yourself To Live: 85% Of A True Story is a lot like “Fargo Rock City” in that it’s a memoir framed around rock music essays, except this time it’s a lot more memoir-based and focused on the various women in Klosterman’s life and how his relationships succeeded and failed with them. Suffice to say I could not have cared less, because there’s nothing more I hate than writers writing about their love life because they always treat it like some life or death thing that seems so important to the person living that life, but to us reading it it always feels so trite and vapid.

While his first two books have some connectivity, they’re largely just an excuse to write about whatever. Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade Of Curious People And Dangerous Ideas and Eating The Dinosaur on the other hand are just truly a collection of random essays, and thus they all average out to be pretty average with some good and some not-so good. Again, I gravitate to the music essays, so “IV” is great in that it features a ton of his profiles on bands that are maybe some of my favourite things of his to read.

2. Novels

I was really interested to see how Klosterman would fare entering the realm of novels and while they were fine in and of themselves, they didn’t really offer anything new. Downtown Owl is right within his wheelhouse where he gets to paint a picture of small town life, that he is very good at, even when he’s being weirdly elitist about it. He’s great at connecting you to these characters and this small-town world in such a short amount of time.

The Visible Man has a cool concept of a guy that can make himself invisible, but Klosterman doesn’t take it on a “fun” route or anything like that, rather it’s more about the terror it brings to the humanity of those in possession of this power that you wouldn’t think about on a surface level. I did like this framing device because it was a smart and easy way for Klosterman to tell a story, but also an easy way to get out all his theories and ideas about human behaviour that he normally would just have in a pop culture essay. He was able to siphon his thoughts through a psuedo Hannibal Lecter type character (ie. someone being pried for info while they pontificate about random stuff to get into the head of the interviewer). Unfortunately, the novel is quite short and doesn’t really go anywhere in its story or ends up at any credible philosophical ending.

3. Connective Theme Essays

Klosterman’s most recent books “I Wear The Black Hat” and “But What If We’re Wrong” tackle his essay approach in a whole other way. Each essay is made to build up the overarching theme of the book, villains in the first book and the idea about how we think about certain things in the past or present in the latter, whether it be through his usual haunts of music, sports and so forth or through more scientific examining. I felt that “I Wear The Black Hat” failed because while its parts were good it didn’t really add up to anything new, it just confirmed whatever everybody always knows/thought about the concept of “villains” in modern culture.

“But What If We’re Wrong” takes Klosterman books to another level because he actually goes to experts about things and interviews them, because they know all about the scientific side of things, while Klosterman then covers the sociological and culture side of things. He outlines the thought and backs it up with the scientific thought and then approaches it with his idea and what he believes it says about a certain thing.

Jonathan Franzen: A Good Writer Except When He’s Not

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I love family dramas. On the surface they’re the most boring things ever, because it’s literally just following what you/your family just literally does every day. You’re supposed to read books and watch movies because it’s a supposed piece of escapism from your current situation and why would you want to watch what you boringly live every day. Now, of course it’s not that simple, these dramas usually always intend to reveal something about relationships, manners of thinking and approaching various themes in everyday life that you would never think to look at in a certain way. I myself gravitate toward realism and seeing things that I can relate to in popular media, whether you’re trying to get through something similar or can relate to how a character is feeling that reflects your current life situation. Those can be some of the most important things that art in any aspect can do for you.

Jonathan Franzen wouldn’t find his bread and butter in direct family drama until The Corrections, but his first two novels are definitely interesting case studies. His first novel The Twenty-Seventh City is a weird mix of family drama with the exploration of governing/policing, race and so on of St. Louis as a living breath city. There’s also a tinge of creepy mysticism that keeps things off kilter and makes you feel like you’re viewing this novel as an alternate dimension that is just 0.1% off of what ours is. I do like Franzen’s writing quite a bit, but often he’s too showy and wordy with his descriptions of simple things that thus seem so forced. It reeks of him trying to show off his writing skills by overcomplicating things to a fault, where his writing gets too much in the way of the story.

His second novel Strong Motion takes awhile to get where it wants to go and achieve what it wants to say, but ends up being marginally worth itself in the end. There’s a lot of good stuff in here, the narrative is fine, but the drawing of his characters is the key element to the novel (something that is the prime key in all of his novels). This novel continues the theme of Franzen being so stuck in trying to SHOW you how good a writer he is by describing simple things in vast over-exaggerated metaphors that it comes off so painfully try-hard. I love the irony that what he thinks makes him such a great writer does the exact opposite and makes him dreadfully trite.

I might as well get into it now, because it’s basically the prime reason I’m writing this thing, Jonathan Franzen’s gotta be one of the creepiest writers of all time. I can’t tell you how many screenshots I took on my phone when reading his first two novels (and then eventually the rest of his bibliography) of some of the weirdest most unnecessary depictions of sex and human body parts/functions. I always gotta shake my head every few pages just because he feels the need to muse about a character “putting semen in the hollow of a pelvis” or comparing breasts to scones or some other weird thing. It’s cringe-inducing for him to be so graphic about describing sexual experiences and activities by insisting they be spelled out with the creepiest metaphors and by either describing things wholly scientific or by the most gross out way possible. I’m the furthest thing from a prude, but literally every novel he writes has to include the most frank descriptions of sex that it’s like it’s in his contract or something. It’s not even like he’s trying to make a point by writing like this, it just comes off as this weird, out of touch (probably literally with these types of descriptions) dude who writes about sex as if he’s never done it before and is relaying this information second-hand from someone he overheard once.

The Corrections is a very bare bones family drama, concerning the mother of the family wanting to get her three kids back to their family household for one last Christmas with their father who is ailing from Parkinson’s and other underlying health conditions. Franzen is largely a very good writer, but it often gets clouded in his incessant need to bang us over the head with his political and economic themes. The Corrections is the first after his first two novels to do well in being able to siphon his ideas through these specific characters where it doesn’t feel like he’s just halting the novel to lecture you about things like he did previously. I don’t think it’s a masterpiece or anything like that, but it’s the first of his novels to actually click on every level in detailing family, sociology and industrialism and so forth and actually ends up saying something meaningful.

Freedom is basically Franzen realizing that The Corrections did so good, so let’s go full out with this family drama thing. Again, for the most part, it works because Franzen’s ever longing need to stuff his books with his thoughts on politics, industrialism, Americana, sociology etc. into these characters makes it seem less forced (not that it isn’t still forced, just less so, but still largely feels like Franzen lecturing you on ideas that even if you agree with just makes everything seem so overbearing) by driving them more through the characters and how they progress and change, or don’t.

Purity on the other hand is an aimless mess that never amounts to what it sets out to be. The attempt is to draw some sort of social commentary (as Franzen ALWAYS has to do) by drawing from modern technology and Edward Snowden and Julian Assange character archetypes that falls flat on its face. This is one where Franzen’s obsession with his own writing swallows what small nuggets of a good story are somewhere in here. It was reasoned to happen that he wouldn’t be able to keep a lid on his social commentary by just having it bubble underneath like he previously did, nope this thing is full out and in your face and thus gives you his worst novel because of this. In a way it’s interesting to explore the new technological edge and how that affects these sorts of societal norms that Franzen has been writing about for twenty years, but that gimmick has been played out for so long already that Franzen just seems even more out of touch than usual.

Harry Potter: Wherein I Finally Read The Entire Series After A 14 Year Break

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Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone kicks off with a bang and it really doesn’t let up until the end. I forgot how much they packed into this short book and how well it moves along, never coming up for air, and just marches to the end full of confidence. It’s funny reading this book now where it’s so short, whereas when I first read it when it first came out I thought it was the longest book ever.

“The Chamber Of Secrets” takes a while to get going, which is unfortunate because one of the biggest positives of the first novel was its quick pace. It ends up being fine and unspectacular and my least favourite of the series along with “Order Of The Phoenix.”

“The Prisoner Of Azkaban” takes a nice step-up from the lacklustre “Chamber Of Secrets,” where this one actually delivers a storyline that makes sense within the Harry Potter world and doesn’t just seem like a one-off story that isn’t informed by the overall arc of the books, as the second novel kind of did. It pushes forth the mythos and the mystery surrounding Potter, his upbringing and parents, as well as setting up interesting things story-wise for the future, things that the second book didn’t seem too concerned with doing.

“The Goblet Of Fire” was my favourite of the series as a kid (and the last one I stopped reading until I decided I should probably finish out the series almost 15 years later). It’s not quite as flawless and perfect as I remembered as a child, but it’s still very good and definitely one of my favourites in the series. I love the Triwizard tournament as a framing device for all the Voldemort stuff and it’s a fun way to continue the overarching story and insert some action and new dimensions to the Hogwarts world. Also, as a weird aside, since I hadn’t read or watched any of the Harry Potter books or movies since this book in 2002 or whatever, I would hear random Harry Potter tidbits and stuff, but largely remained unspoiled. One of the things that I heard, and thought was 100% true, was that Harry ended up with Cho Chang at the end of the series. Now, in this book you could totally see it coming and everything made sense to how they could end up there in a few books. But, the next few books painted a different picture and I kept thinking, “man, how are they gonna get Harry and Cho together, it just doesn’t make sense within the story anymore and it would totally make sense for him to get with Ginny.” So, of course, he ends up with Ginny and Cho is nowhere to be found, which makes all the sense in the world, but it was bizarre for me reading these next couple books and just waiting for the Harry/Cho reconciliation that just would never happen…

“The Order Of The Phoenix” was my first big disappointment because I was expecting big things with these last stretch of books as it drives towards a conclusion. The story momentum from the fourth book was pretty much squandered here. This is the longest book of the series and basically nothing happens for the first 90% of it and then the last 10% they throw everything at you with some tiny revelations, but nothing amazing that makes any of this long trudge worth it. Harry comes out on top over Voldemort once again, learns some more about his past, rinse and repeat.

“The Half-Blood Prince” is a nice step up from the previous book. They finally get Malfoy actually involved in things (i.e. the main plot of the books) but, unfortunately, it kind of fizzles out. This one definitely had a ton towards finally opening up everything about Harry’s past and connections to Voldemort, so even in the less busy first half of the book there was a lot going on that set up for the end, something that “The Order Of The Phoenix” never quite felt like doing. It does a nice job getting its ducks in a row and pushing everything into plain sight for the conclusion.

“The Deathly Hallows” does really well in wrapping up the story by introducing new elements, but most importantly stays true to its world from the first book and gives you all the answers to the questions you were hoping would be answered. It hits some nice emotional beats that the series has always been really good at, especially when everything has been building for so long with these characters.

“The Cursed Child” was a fun enough little story that gives fans what they want by checking in with Harry Potter and co. and also delves into that world a little more through the eyes of his kid to add a new dimension. It works well in going back to the “Goblet Of Fire” plot, since in my eyes that is the best/most fun one. Where this book/play suffers majorly is the cringe-inducing overarching theme of how Harry finds it so tough to be a father and the trials and tribulations of raising a kid. It’s a bit much where they beat over the head this obvious theme of how he’s this great wizard and celebrated person, but even those people have trouble raising kids!!! Also, I have no clue why J.K. Rowling didn’t just write this as a novella or full out novel or something like that instead of making it a play, as it never really seems all that suited for this format.

A quick closing note on the movies, they were all fine! I mean, I was kind of disappointed because I was expecting a lot more and kind of feel weird speaking down on them because in and of themselves they are really good movies, but none of them ever really felt “great.” The las two “Deathly Hallows” movies are definitely the best ones, even though I heard that “Prisoner Of Azkaban” was great, but again that just seemed fine to me, good but not amazing. The special effects were obviously a highlight and it is super cool to track Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint throughout the movies and see how they age and grow, which exponentially increases your connection with the movies and characters as you do the same. Ultimately, I really enjoyed the series, and although the books and movies didn’t quite reach the heights I thought it might, it was a lot of fun and I’m glad I can cross off this pop culture blind spot I’ve had for so many years.

Bret Easton Ellis And The One Idea 30 Year Career

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Less Than Zero, and frankly all of Bret Easton Ellis’s novels, are about how awful self-obsessives are in their privileged lives, whether ironically or not. It’s basically all luxury porn, reading about these people without a care in the world except having sex with whoever, doing drugs, enjoying the perceived “finer” things in life and all the way ignoring any consequences that come along with it. I find the novels of Ellis are most enjoyed as a slice of life type story. The stunted writing and formatting of Less Than Zero helped well in conveying these short blurb-esque thoughts of the main character Clay.

The Rules Of Attraction is basically a spiritual sequel of sorts to Less Than Zero but I didn’t quite connect with it like I did the previous novel. There’s only so much you can read of people doing drugs and cheating on people and them wondering why everyone hates them when they continue to do horrible things to each other. “Why, oh, why, does this person hate me, all I did was sleep with their BF/GF!?!?!?” It does kind of lead into the negative immediately where Ellis tries to recapture the fervor of his first novel by copying the same generic ploy, with less than stellar results compared to the first. Throughout his career, and one of his big drawbacks I’d imagine, is the idea that he really only had one idea that he tried to milk for multiple books over all these years, to varying ends.

American Psycho definitely lives up to its name. Pre-eminently extreme luxury porn mixed with extreme gore porn. Might be a weird thing to say, but I loved just living in this world where everything’s done to excess without fear of the consequences of what comes next. I think this is Ellis’s most coveted and praised novel because it maintains a lot of the same themes and exploration of wealth, relationships, substance abuse, one’s own self and focuses it all through a better narrative than his previous efforts. It actually pins these ideas to a more constructed story and avenue of focused expression rather than just being like his two previous novels and just relatively haphazardly documenting a bunch of young people’s partying and philandering ways with little to hold it together. I think it’s far from being any sort of masterpiece, but Ellis’s writing is so fun (such a weird thing to say about a book about a serial killer who does some insane acts with his victims) and feels so lived in and of this time period. I rarely laugh out loud when reading books, comedy or not, but I did multiple times with this and it was solely because of how great Ellis is at capturing characters and making them all feel so unique and fleshed out even if we were just introduced to them. Here’s a fun drinking game for you if you’re reading American Psycho for the first time or entering the world yet again: Take a drink every time you see the word “hardbody” and be guaranteed to be belligerently drunk by the fifth chapter. If you want to take it to the extreme you can take a drink every time you read something misogynistic, but that’s just an unruly suggestion on my part because I don’t think you’d make it past the first page. And please don’t attempt that misogny thing on his whole bibliography, unless you’re a cat with some extra lives to spare.

I was really looking forward to Glamorama because Ellis seems like the perfect person to satirize celebrities and the idea of celebrity and the life and culture it entails. Unfortunately it wasn’t as good as his previous novels, but there was still a lot to like. What I’ve briefly mentioned before with the work of Ellis is that I like that he always has a defined voice, whether you like it or not, and I happen to enjoy how he strings words together. I wish it hit the celebrity satire a little harder, because that stuff is my kryptonite, but it does enough well in its exploration of the idea. The book kinda goes a bit off the rails in the latter part, but it’s all in service of depicting this wild delusion that is celebrity, so it works for the most part.

Lunar Park works a lot because Bret Easton Ellis seems to be the perfect guy to write a pseudo-memoir about himself. He takes it a bit further and makes it into a twisted type of ghost story that does well in its means and gives off a creepy vibe throughout. Like I mentioned earlier I have a small feeling of dread about how Ellis’s later novels are just retreads or capitalizing off Less Than Zero and American Psycho, his two most famous and successful novels, and how he can’t write anything “new” and has to resort to his past. Although, in this aspect it kind of works well in helping him with the stringing of the idea of him writing American Psycho and it coming back to put him into this serial killer story was really clever and well-done, especially within the memoir part and as a response to the criticism of the novel. Father issues are a prevalent theme in all of his novels and this one provides a good vessel that doesn’t feel too cheap and works organically within the story that doesn’t seem like he’s just using loose strands of a book to just cry about his daddy issues. Ellis seemingly intended to cover a lot of ground within this small concept and I was impressed that he largely pulled it off without seeming too cheap and using his previous novel ideas and criticism to work towards creating something new, rather than just retreading.

Imperial Bedrooms has enough of what made Less Than Zero good, but spins it into a deeper and darker place that doesn’t entirely work in the end. This is the most clear sense of “I have only one idea, so fuck it, let’s just make a sequel to my most celebrated novel.” It seemed like a lot of the novel was going to be about the how a Less Than Zero-esque story would take after this 25 years of difference since he wrote that first novel, but that seemed to fall by the wayside early.

I came off reading Bret Easton Ellis of two minds. I had a lot of fun reading his novels, living in these worlds as an outsider and experiencing excess to its fullest extent. Every criticism rang exceedingly true, though, whether it was him largely writing the same book seven times and his constant misogny. A defence of him would be, yes he’s a satirist, but that excuse only works a few times until every novel features the same things and just feels like an easy conduit for him to say what he feels behind the guise of awful characters. Kind of like how Quentin Tarantino’s last few films have largely fielded characters using the n-word (granted this is his whole career, but most specifically with the last few movies), where he claims it’s intrinsic to the time, but when it’s used so exceedingly in multiple movies it has you questioning the intent behind its machinations. Bret Easton Ellis seems like the exact type of writer whose had one masterpiece and his whole career has been trying to replicate that success or prove he’s up to that standard. I mean, it’s kinda like that, except for the whole “having a masterpiece” thing. Less Than Zero and American Psycho are good and definitely have something to say, but largely they just remain as a cultural piece of zeitgeist, us looking back and seeing how far we’ve come and how so much has changed.

‘A Song Of Ice And Fire’: A Series Of Wonder And Blood

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Like many I’m a big Game Of Thrones fan, and previously like many I was a big Game Of Thrones fan who had never read the books. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, because HBO shows are great on their own, but I’d always wanted to read the books to get the full picture of the series. It’s kinda weird for me because I’m totally not a big fantasy fan at all and never really pictured myself reading five massive books about swords and dragons. As the HBO show attests, though, this book is more than just fantastical knights and battles waged in the names of kings with magic and dragons lurking on the outskirts. No, it often has much more in common with political and family dramas with all its scheming and backdoor dealings that affect things even bigger than anything on a battlefield could accomplish.

A Game Of Thrones lived up to the hype and made me want to keep reading it, even though I knew how it ended since I’ve seen all of the TV show. My main fear coming into these books is that it would be a tough slog going through, because normally these types of fantasy books to me are always wordy and bogged down in minutiae of the times that make it hard for you to read, but this book had none of that. It was easy to understand everything and had a very modern tone of writing, even though it’s about a distant and fantastical time period (yes, I know these books were written in the 90s and 00s, so it makes sense they SOUND modern).

I love the device of having each chapter as a POV of a different characters as it really helps to focalize the story, separate all the characters from one another and really makes it easy for you to follow along with this sprawling story with countless characters. I’m on one hand kind of grateful I saw the show first because it made it so much easier to follow along and keep track of all these characters with being able to put a face to a name, because I don’t know if I could’ve kept everything on track and together if I didn’t have that kind of reference point for a book this dense with characters. When it all comes down to it, nothing really all that big happens in the first novel and really it’s all just about setting the pieces in place and setting the scenery for the coming novels, but Martin does it wonderfully.

A Clash Of Kings is for all intents and purposes as good as the first. The first 3/4 felt a lot like it was spinning its wheels, as it didn’t have the newness and introductory drive of the first novel. It picks up near the end with the big battle and opens things up to explore new areas as it kind of seemed like the end of the first phase.

All the storylines in A Storm Of Swords really click and make it a breeze to get through. The big set pieces like the Red Wedding and certain other big happenings that this book is known for work equally as fun as they do in shock value. But, what really makes the book work is the smaller moments between characters, like the ones between Arya/Hound, Jon/Sam and Jaime/Brienne. The book ends in a sort of lull, with not too much happening in a broad sense, whereas the second novel felt like it was swelling to what eventually happened in this novel (to great effect).

I really enjoyed A Feast For Crows, and in a lot of ways I liked it just as much as the others, but its repetitive nature and spinning of its wheels that go absolutely nowhere over the course of the book started to make it a chore more than anything. The book largely flips between Cersei, Jaime and Brienne (who are all great and interesting characters, I’m not one to be crying that Jon, Tyrion and Daenerys weren’t in the book) which is great, but that Martin never pushes them forward into much of a storyline or gives them anymore character depth that we previously weren’t already introduced to is a major detriment to what the heck the existence of this book even is in the first place. All that aside I love Martin’s writing and how he strings words together, and in that sense it was as much as a pleasure to read this as the others. Even after his ending coda of why he split these books up, I’m not entirely sure why he did it as I don’t know why he didn’t just make two normal books with all the characters like he’s been doing instead of splitting them up like this. It’s not like these books are all that self-contained where it’s really just one long story we’re reading over installments instead of multiple different stories that absolutely NEEDED to be segregated.

A Dance With Dragons I found to be about on par with A Feast For Crows, while I felt it differed in that it exceeded and fell in different parts than the previous novel. Whereas the fourth book felt like a lot of it was just spinning its wheels, A Dance With Dragons is intent on pushing the plot forth on all ends of the spectrum, which re-instills some vigour and drive in the series, but even still it all just feels like build up and build up and build up until who knows what? I also felt that this book might have been a little too broad covering so many characters and POVs that it became hard to really follow or even care about what some of the smaller people are doing, especially when it had little story repercussions at the time or after within the book. Again, I love the writing a lot and I’m looking forward to what’s next, but this is the second time I’ve been anticipating what’s to come in the next book only to get another anticipatory book that seems to have blown all its story in the first three books and is just biding time until Martin can figure out something that stands up to the level of the first novels.

All in all the A Song Of Ice And Fire was exactly what I expected it to be in the best way possible. Having seen every Game Of Thrones episode up to this point it had no effect in my enjoyment of reading the series, even though I knew of various character deaths and where it was going, if anything it helped me along. It’s such a fun world to be in that works equally as well when its spouting about the supernatural, politicking behind the scenes, waging war on a battlefield or getting philosophical. Now I get to be one of those awful people who gets to complain about George R. R. Martin not writing the The Winds Of Winter fast enough and write angry comments like “WHERE’S THE NEXT DAMN BOOK, GEORGE!!!” In actuality I don’t know why everybody is complaining about the long wait time in between books, because the past three have always been separated by at least five years, but I guess it’s because he constantly talks about writing the book, yet we’ve seen nothing from it. Anyways, I don’t really care when it comes, it’ll come eventually, I think… but as of now I’m content with the wonderful world and writing that George R. R. Martin has delivered with these five novels.

‘The Dark Tower’: A Lesson In Failed Potential From Stephen King

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The Dark Tower series was a real push and pull with me, where the adventure and philosophical side of Stephen King waged war and made a series that just never amounted to the potential he set forth in the first few books, and entirely at his own fault. It’s clear early on that Stephen King sets out to make his own version of an adventurous Clint Eastwood western story tinged with his usual haunts of supernatural and horror elements. It gets off to a raucous start in the second and third books (I’m throwing away the first because although it’s good, it’s largely just set up and almost its own thing), with high adventure and thrills with the perfect balance of fantasy and mystery that puts this western world on edge. But, then as is so often the case with King, he starts to beat over the head his philosophical themes and his ideas get a bit much, all in the face of grinding this series to a halt.

My theory is that King knew a lot of the story he wanted to tell for the entire series arc, but he blew so much of that wad in the second and third books that he had to bring everything to a standstill and stretch over four more books just to fill out this “epic, long” series he wanted to make. That’s one of my biggest problems with King is that he seems to make long books just for the sake of long books. Yes, sure, hearing about Roland’s backstory was interesting and a pretty crucial part of the story, but to screech everything to a halt the way he did after the freight train of the previous two novels was baffling to me, and something that he would never recover from. The first two books include a cool device where Roland could teleport himself in another body in a different world and control it and a literal freight train that holds them hostage over riddles, while the fourth and fifth books are largely just relegated to backstory campfire tales.

From Under The Dome, 11/22/63 and The Stand among others there’s just so much beyond the meat and potatoes that King leaves in that once it reaches a certain level it just becomes excessive where even a scapegoat of “character development” no longer holds much credence. It was just frustrating to me how great the second and third books were and how much they pushed forward all this great momentum that was building up to a great adventure story only to get railroaded by these two books. It just becomes pages and pages of introspective talking and mulling around until the literal last 50 pages or so when something finally happens and then everything turns out all well and good except for the tiny bit of cliffhanger to get you to the next book.

I don’t know why King thinks this is a good strategy, where sure it’s world-building and filling in some blanks, but the excessiveness and dragging on of it for hundreds of pages when the same end could’ve been met in a way shorter form. He actually could’ve provided some interest in the main story that made you want to flip to the next page instead of knowing you’re in fo r another flashback story that really does nothing except highlight that King has very little story to actually cover all these book he intends to write, because as you know he has to write long and numerous books for some reason instead of consolidating them into fewer, more tense and engaging novels, but that’s just me.

The sixth book was a step above the last two books because it actually starts pushing towards a conclusion. The inclusion of Stephen King himself as a character is something I respect on one hand because of how weird and audacious it is in this sort of story, but on another I would’ve liked to see the story played more straight and stick to its own weird world without bringing this whole new totally different element to these stories that now make it something else completely. Building off this it’s quite clear a lot of the problems in storytelling and momentum come from King having no clue how these books would end when he first started and when he came to tackle the series years later he obviously had vastly different ideas on how this story would go. One wonders what they would’ve looked like if he wrote them all in his 1980s mindset.

At the end of the final book Stephen King preaches how the enjoyment in a story is all in the journey, not the end, largely in the defence that of course he would write a lackluster ending to this never-ending story. In truth, I thought the ending was fine and wasn’t that cheap, but in regards to his comment of the pleasure being in the journey, that was the exact problem for me in the series. At a point it seemed he had no intentions of pushing the main story along and blatantly obvious that he had no clue really where the story was going, so I could never commit faithfully to the story. I think this final installment does a pretty good job of wrapping things up and building towards an ending that was suitable for all its characters, even if there was a little more to be desired. It worked within the confines that King left himself to work with.

Ultimately, I left the series with a sense of disappointment and largely mixed to negative feelings. There was a ton of potential to the series, and while I did love the second and third books, the rest never lived up to what those books seemingly promised. King lost that thread and treaded water for a couple books before going into the absurd and taking things a bit far past the edge than seemed warranted. King always has interesting concepts and ideas, but what I’ve read of his so far seems to always fall a few strokes away from actual greatness and leaves a muddled wake instead.