Book Review: Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (3/5). I’m glad I don’t eat beef.

29 Jul

A lot of people gave me their opinions on this book, which ranged from ‘It will ruin fast food for you,” to, “Everyone should read this book so they know the truth!” I guess, in the end, I’m somewhere in the middle. I’ll continue to eat hot, greasy french fries (this book made me crave them, to be honest) but I’ll stay away from hamburgers, thank you very much.

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Fast Food Nation: The Dark side of the All American Meal by Eric Schlosser

Rather than focus exclusively on the health benefits (or lack there of) of fast food, Schlosser looks at the history of the industry first. He takes us back to the McDonald brothers churning out milkshakes as fast as they could and Ray Kroc seeing a future of golden arches across the country. Schlosser focuses on the economic impacts of the fast food industry as well as the health problems Americans face as a result of consumption. He does have to touch on the darker sides of fast food (as his title implies) such as the realities of working in a slaughter-house and the potential spread of E. Coli disease, but his tone is more to inform than to scare. After ‘Super Size Me,’ it’s a welcome change.

I wasn’t overly shocked by the content of this book because of the title. I was more shocked that it was milder than expected. I thought the information would be much more biased than it was. While there were several facts I could tell immediately were biased, they were much farther between than many other non-fiction exposes. I learned a lot about food production, especially beef, that I didn’t know before. I don’t eat beef for dietary reasons so I wasn’t as bothered by the information in this book as those who eat beef might be. I wish Schlosser had touched upon chicken as well and the ‘pink sludge’ substance that I’ve heard about in school lunches. There were a lot of topics unexplored that would have fit well under Schlosser’s thesis.

I thought the section on employment in the fast food industry was really insightful. Colorado Springs made for a very good case study. Schlosser concentrated on the appeal of fast food to an unskilled work force and how the industry will actually benefit from its high turn-over rates. From my time in retail, I remember having people answer questions to see if we qualified for the tax credit he mentions and I never thought about it encouraging high turn over. I was also shocked by the high violence in fast food and how at risk employees can be. Refusing to protect its workers was the biggest fault I found with the companies after reading Schlosser’s evidence.

Eric Schlosser Image via Amazon.com

Eric Schlosser
Image via Amazon.com

The history of the industry at the beginning of the book was the most interesting to me. I like history and I think Schlosser did a good job of covering the industry instead of focusing on one company. I was fascinated that Carl Jr.’s, Mc Donalds, and Jack-In-The-Box had very common history, though I wish there was more about Burger King and Wendy’s.

The section on slaughterhouse practices could have been shorter. I think this is a point Schlosser could have written a separate book about but a lot of it ended up in this one. There’s a lot to say about the meatpacking industry and a lot of it is wroth hearing, but to me, it was repetitive. Here’s a summary: slaughterhouses are dirty and the jobs are dangerous. There’s a lot of ways for people to get hurt killing the cows and eating the beef. Done.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book doesn’t give a lot of advice for fiction writers, but it’s a great example of neutral voice (if not content) in a non-fiction book. The parts where Schlosser himself visited location are tinged with a bit more bias, but for the most part, I thought he kept it pretty neutral.

Good but not great, but I don’t think I am going to find something on this topic I like better. Three out of five stars.

Until next time, write on.

This book fulfills ‘Colorado’ for my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American meal by Eric Schlosser | book reviews forever
Dark Side of the All-American Meal – Eric Schlosser | read this!

Book Review: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (3/5). Finally catching up on classics

28 Jul

I was skeptical when my carpool buddy picked this title. I’ve never read this classic and frankly have never heard too many rave reviews of it. Nevertheless, I thought letting her pick the first book would be a good move as she’s never done audiobooks before.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Four hundred years from now, we’ll all be savages. The civilized people will play elevator squash instead of tennis and will be decanted instead of born. They will take Soma instead of alcohol and everyone will be happy. Or at least, that’s what Aldous Huxley believes. In his dystopian world, the relationships between men and women have changed drastically and love is considered an antiquated idea.

In this world, Lenina Crowne has found peace and what she considers a happy life. Shen her lover, Bernard, takes her to visit the savages in America, she’s more worried about the number of elevator squash courts at the hotel than how the trip will change her. Bernard and Lenina find a woman named Linda who was previously a member of civilized society but who was shamed when she became pregnant. She has raised her son, John, on the sanctuary property. Bernard decides to bring Linda and John back with him to London as a sort of social experiment. While Linda is ecstatic to return, John has trouble adjusting to civilized life. He had been the odd-one-out among the savages for his learned ways and he’s the oddball among the civilized for his savage tendencies. Needless to say, John has a hard time adjusting.

I didn’t expect this book to be so funny! Really, to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. The narrator really helped as he did a great job with the work. I think there was a lot of setup so that the reader could understand the world the way Huxley saw it and for a while I did feel it dragged. I guess there’s a fine balance to hit for this because I felt China Mieville didn’t give enough. I liked it enough, though I’m not sure I’d call it a ‘favorite’ or ‘must read.’

All of the characters were so over the top and crazy that they seemed unbelievable, but I think that was part of their charm. They come from a world that’s so incredibly different from our own, that they should seem unreal. I wish John had been a bit more relatable, but his background was different from our own. I think the story would have been more impactful if John and Linda had been raised in a setting similar to the modern world (or whenever Huxley wrote the book). Then we would have had one character to latch onto; a dog in the fight.

I didn’t particularly like any of the characters because they were so shallow. I understand they were supposed to be that way, but it doesn’t make me like any of them. I guess Helmholtz would be my favorite because he seemed more level-headed than the rest. Unlike Bernard, he indulged in some of the pleasures of the civilized world at first while keeping himself more grounded than characters like Lenina. When Bernard goes crazy with his new-found fame toward the end, Helmholtz seems like the one grounded. I liked him as a foil for Bernard.

Aldous Huxley Image from The Independant

Aldous Huxley
Image from The Independent

I liked the book best at the beginning when the reader was learning about Huxley’s London. I could laugh at the ‘sign of the T’ and decanting and all that. I think it dragged on a bit, but it was a great example of ‘show, don’t tell’ for a writer.

I didn’t like the later half of the book, after John moved to London. I felt like he was a trained animal in a cage the entire time and I felt bad for him more than anything. It wasn’t funny any more and that took away a lot of my enjoyment of the story.

I’m still trying to digest Huxley’s overall theme. I noticed a lot of little ones; nostalgia, commitment, and control seem like the biggest ones to me. Nostalgia in the form of Linda, who yearned to return to civilized London and refused to adjust to life with the savages even after being there for years. It destroyed her in the end. John’s demise was also partially due to nostalgia because he was yearning to go back to the savages by the end and wanted to live the way he’d grown up.

Lenina and John had a misunderstanding of commitment that led to the sad ending of the story. In Lenina’s world, there were no commitments. Men and women didn’t commit to each other and it seemed that anyone can change their mind over their decisions at any time with minimal consequences. John came from a world where a decision was hard to go back from and he didn’t trust Lenina’s commitment to him. Oops.

Control is an obvious theme of this book where people aren’t trusted enough to have children and the government has a say in almost every facet of life. To one point, there was very little that people had to worry about and Lenina and Bernard’s greatest fears were not food, water, and shelter, but rather the sport facilities at hotels and how their apartments smelled. On the other hand the characters became interchangeable because they were so alike. They’d been conditioned to not have personalities and without personalities and passions, there’s less room for innovation and creative change.

Writer’s Takeaway: Wow, there’s so much to go on with this book. Huxley wrote this book in 1931 so before anyone thinks this is part of a ‘dystopian trend,’ consider that Huxley defined this genre more than followed it. His imagination is a bit different from Panem or the Divergent experiments, but it’s unique and original. As writers we shouldn’t be afraid to write something radical and new. Huxley wrote during the great depression when people were yearning for a happier, better future. It’s been argued that dystopian is popular today due to the ‘Great Recession’ and unrest with the political and economic situation in the current economy. What a wonderful parallel.

I do think the exposition in this story was a bit drawn out, but that’s really my only complaint. It was very well-balanced and written.

Enjoyable, but not something I’d re-read. Three out of five stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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Read Along With Me #1: The Maze Runner by James Dashner Chapters 52- THE END

24 Jul

ReadAlong1Maze

It’s over! My first read-along is over and I’m so glad that those who participated had a good time doing it. I’m thinking of starting another one of these in a month or two, so stay tuned if you’re interested in this again. I’ll put up a few choices for books in a poll in the near future so keep a look out for that! And now, time to finish the book! If you haven’t read it, HUGE SPOILERS AHEAD!

Question from Katherine: Do you think this will be an instance where the movie will be better than the book?
Oh my gosh, YES! Dashner wrote a great plot, there’s no denying that, but his characters are seriously lacking. I think any mid-grade or better actor could portray the emotions Thomas and the others go through better than they were conveyed in the book. The plot is sure to be impressive, as we already know, but I see only room for improvement in character development. Plus, we get to see Grievers!

Question from Nicole: Do you think at the end of the book the boys have any idea what’s in store going forward? Do we know if any of their families survived?
I doubt they have a clue. Thomas says he feels safe and I think their sense of safety is going to be very different from a normal humans. They just survived a massive Griever attack; safe is not being in battle! I think the beginning of the second book will have them second guessing their rescuers, but I think they’ll still feel safer with someone telling them what’s going on rather than trying to figure out a maze every day. As far as their families, I’m not sure we’ll ever know if they survived because I’m not sure that the kids would be able to figure out who their birth parents are. If they were taken from their parents at a young age and I’m assuming their names were changed, there’s no easy way to reconnect them with their parents. In my mind, they’re orphans.

Question from Ashlee: It broke my heart when Chuck died. Who were you most surprised to see die?
I was surprised with how quickly and without ceremony Alby died. He was a rather major character in the plot up until the end and he seemed to go quickly. I suspect that it wasn’t a sacrifice like it seems, but that the Creators were controlling his mind and made him run to the Grivers to get the Gladers to attack. It still shocked me.

Question from Lynn: Any guesses about the purpose of this whole experiment?
One of the people on the bus said something about ‘believing the rumors’ from South America. That leads me to believe that there’s not a lot of communication between the two continents and they’re looking for a way to reach those in South America. I wonder if the Maze was designed to test the boys and see if they have what it takes to cross the Scorch and reach those on the other side. Thomas and Minho can obviously run all day, they know how to fight large monsters, and they’ve shown their cunning and bravery. I think they’re going to be sent across the ‘no man’s land’ and try to establish contact with another group of civilization.

I want to thank all the wonderful ladies who participated in this read along with me! I had so much fun in my first digital book club and I hope they all did as well! I’m thinking of starting this up again in a month or so, when the hectic part of summer is over and I’ll have to time to pick some titles. Look for a poll in another few weeks if you want to participate.

For a link to all the posts about this book, visit the hub page.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 23-July-2014

23 Jul

I was so determined to finish a book for MizB’s WWW meme. I’m going on an audio binge for the next week or so, so I was glad to finish a physical book!

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:  I’m making steady progress through  The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien on my phone. I’ve had a lot more time to read eBooks this past week than I thought I would. On audio, I started The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe and I’ve made decent progress over the last week, which means I’m spending a lot of time alone in my car even though it was an Ozone Day on Monday (but I carpool so often!) Speaking of, my carpool buddy and I started Looking for Alaska by John Green and she is loving it, as am I. I hope we can finish it before it’s due back at the library! I started  The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen as I’d hoped to. I’m really loving it and forgot how much I enjoy books about royal courts. Yes, I do love Philippa Gregory. And because I love having more stories going than I can keep straight, I started an audiobook on my phone, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick. I’ll listed to this while I’m cleaning and cooking around the house. I think that’s enough books to be in at once!

Recently finished: I finished The Coward by Kyle R Bullock over the weekend. I enjoyed it and I’ll have a review up soon, as I promised Kyle I would by the end of the summer, which sadly is fast approaching! I posted a review for The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson if you want to check that out.

Reading Next:  My husband and I are road tripping to New York this weekend, so I’ve got Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs on audio for us to enjoy. We’ll likely finish it on the way home, but if not we’re going camping the weekend after and will have another two hours in the car each way. I’m so lucky my husband loves stories as much as I do!

Does anyone else get really excited over road trips because of the audiobook potential? Or is it just me? What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Review: The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (3/5). A story that confirms living in North Korea must be terrible.

22 Jul

I made it through my second ebook! I never thought I’d read ebooks, but having these on my phone for the spare minutes of my life has been nice. I’m already getting into another, shorter, title on my phone that will cover a missing period for my Historical Fiction challenge. But I digress.

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

Pak Jun Do lives at an orphanage, but he’s not an orphan. His father runs the orphanage but treats his son like the other boys, sending them to work during the day and sleeping on the ground at night. Escaping that life, Jun Do works in a prison mine where he learns to fight in the dark with such skill that he’s used to kidnap Japanese citizens off the beach at night. His military career develops to being an English-speaking spy and later traveling to Texas to retrieve something for the Dear Leader. When his team returns unsuccessfully, Jun Do is sent to prison again and he never emerges. At least, he doesn’t emerge as Jun Do, but as Commander Ga: husband of the most beautiful woman in Korea and a close adviser to the Dear Leader. He only has one goal; to get his new family out of North Korea and into safety.

This book had so much going on. Jun Do’s life was never stable, always changing location, job, loyalties, and goals. The story is told from several perspectives; Jun Do, later Commander Ga, the interrogator trying to figure out Commander Ga’s story, and the daily loudspeaker announcements telling the citizens about Commander Ga and the terrible ways he hurt the country. Despite all the voices, locations, and times of his life, this book worked. It worked really well and won the Pulitzer Prize.  It took me a while to get into this book, but I think it deserves the accolades and praise it’s received. Johnson gave a voice to a part of the world most of us ignore and know nothing about. I was really impressed with his subject matter.

It’s hard for me to know how accurately Johnson has portrayed life in North Korea because it’s not something I’ve been keeping up on in the news. From what I do know of it, Johnson’s portrayal met my expectations and exceeded them in details. I suspected these characters would be scared, vigilant of their words and actions. I loved how the characters wanted to fight back and oppose the Dear Leader and did so in their own little ways. These small acts together amount to almost nothing but keep hope alive in the hearts of the people. Their actions seemed logical to me; trying to stay in line just enough to be stay out of trouble, but trying to enjoy every aspect of life that’s denied to them.

Jun Do as Commander Ga was my favorite character. I loved the idea that he’d taken over someone else’s life and was hardly questioned. That he could win that life in a prison fight is so contrary to the confines of North Korean oppression that it made me cheer for someone who was a murderer. I’m not sure if this makes sense, but I was glad he killed Ga. I didn’t like Sun Moon’s character very much because she was so moody and whiny. I wanted Jun Do’s accomplishments to be more celebrated and respected and Sun Moon seemed very bitter toward someone who’d eliminated her despised husband.

Adam Johnson Image via the Stanford News website

Adam Johnson
Image via the Stanford News website

I loved Commander Ga’s desire to see his family to safety. His compassion was commendable. He fell in love with Sun Moon long before meeting her but still wanted to keep her and the children safe. He had compassion for the rowing American as well and did everything he could to keep her out of harm’s way. I could relate to his desire to see his family safely to America while sacrificing his own life. He was a great hero.

The ending was my favorite: when Ga sneaks Sun Moon and the children aboard the American plane. I loved the sacrifice involved and the entire set-up the Dear Leader had to convince the Americans that North Korea was functioning better than their own country. The idea of giving Americans aid for their hungry was funny because it was juxtaposed with the hunger Ga’s family endured despite being upper class. The Americans were nodding along, trying to get out of Pyongyang as quickly as possible and the whole situation was comical to me. It was a great way to end the book.

I found the beginning of the book harder to get through. Jun Do’s time as a spy got repetitive for me. Toward the end, I understood how important it was because so many of the things Johnson revealed about Jun Do in those parts played a roll  in the ending, but I think it could have been shortened. It made me reconsider reading the book early on.

I saw two major themes in this book. The first is sacrifice. Even though Jun Do has finally realized his dreams, he has to sacrifice that life for Sun Moon. I think it’s a beautiful message and I love his devotion to her. The second theme I see is that everyone can change their life even in the dimmest circumstances. In a country where it’s almost impossible to move above his station in life, Jun Do excelled through his intelligence, physical prowess, and loyalties. I’ll say it again, he makes a wonderful hero.

Writer’s Takeaway: Johnson used a lot of writing styles in this one book. I think it was a risk, but it really worked out. A lot of writers will use a variety of styles in a book. In Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell used chapters from Cath’s fanfics between her prose. Johnson’s short chapters of radio announcements reminded me of this. I think this style can be really effective as long as there is balance. Johnson focused his novel on the story and less on the retelling of it. Rowell did the same. I think this style takes some practice, but can add a lot to a story.

I thought the book was a bit wordy for it’s message, but it was beautifully written. Three out of five stars.

This book fulfills Foreign Country: North Korea for my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
The Orphan Master’s Son ~ Adam Johnson | Thinking in Fragments
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Adam Johnson, The orphan master’s son (Review) | Whispering Gums
Book Review: The Orphan Master’s Son (Adam Johnson) | the elephant on the roof

Book Club Reflection: Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

21 Jul

I feel like I’m perpetually apologizing for how long it takes me to write these reflections but I love doing them. Not only do they get the most hits for my blog, it’s a good way for me to review the book one last time after my book review and put our discussions in a more logical order. Well, what’s logical to me at least.

We thought this was a slightly odd choice for a book club selection. There’s never as much to talk about for non-fiction books as there is for fiction titles. It’s hard to refute what someone does or says in non-fiction like you can in fiction. However, it’s a current bestseller, though we’re not exactly sure why. A lot of best sellers make you want to get up and tell everyone you see how life changing the book was and how you’re now inspired to do X or Z or how it’s changed your perspective on Y. But not this book. Don’t get me wrong, it was interesting and well written. It was easy to digest in short segments, much like short magazine articles. However, I’m not raving about it. If someone asked me for a book recommendation now, this would not be it. I was kind of neutral on the book and most of our members were as well. There were a few fans, but they were not the majority.

One of the questions in the back of the book asked us to consider the reliability of Cahalan as a storyteller. In truth, she had to do as much research to write about her journey as she would have needed to do on an event she wasn’t alive for. Luckily she was in near to people who remembered the time, but her research skills are commendable.

Another question from the book asked why the division into three parts and fifty-three chapters was meaningful. One of our members suggested that the three parts were like the three parts of the brain Cahalan addresses, as detailed on page 42 of our copies (Chapter 8); Frontal lobe, temporal lobe, and the brain stem. We likened the short chapters to the articles Cahalan is used to writing and suspect that this is a comfort zone of writing for her.

This book made us all feel vulnerable; like we could become deathly ill tomorrow and never recover unless we’re lucky to have access to some of the country’s top doctors. And the scary thing is that this is true of everyone every day.

Cahalan was very lucky to find Dr. Najjar. Her first doctor denied there was anything wrong with her, but he did get her admitted to the hospital which helped her along her path. In Chapter 23, Dr. Segal, her first doctor in the hospital, tells Susannah’s family that she’s been assigned to Dr. Najjar. While the family is at first upset, we think this showed a lot of bravery on Dr. Siegal’s behalf. He was big enough to admit what he didn’t know. Instead of trying to treat Susannah even though it was above his expertise, he knew to pass her off. It’s hard to remember that doctors ‘practice,’ not ‘perform’ because medicine is an art, not yet a science. There are times when it’s wrong and while that’s unfortunate, it’s the ugly truth.

We were all struck with how supportive her friends and family were, especially her boyfriend Stephen. We thought it was great that co-workers and cousins were making big efforts to come see her. Stephen’s commitment to her was commendable. The two hadn’t been together for very long and he could have left and no one would have blamed him, but he stuck around. I suggested that it’s almost better that they hadn’t been together a long time. Susannah said she never felt completely like herself again after the illness. If Stephen had been with her for a long time before the illness, he might find that he feels distant from the ‘new’ Susannah but because they were not as close before, he can see the changes and recognize them but can still adjust to her new personality.

It bothered some of our members that Susannah’s parents decided not to tell their son about his sister’s condition. Some of us understood more than others. On one hand, you would want to know if your sibling was sick. You would want to be there for them and help out in any way you could. On the other hand, there wasn’t much more that her brother could have done. He was away at college and the only thing he could do was sit beside her bed, which would mean he’d miss enough classes to need to drop out of school.

My university didn’t give us Labor Day Weekend off (which is a Federal Holiday in September for my non-US readers). Their reason was simple; retention. They found that Freshman were more likely to drop out if they returned home so soon after classes started. If they had one ‘bad’ professor or fight with their roommate, it might be tempting to stay home and leave that awful college thing behind. But by staying on campus, students had to figure things out for themselves and were more likely to stay in school. I think this is kind of what the Cahalan’s were thinking by not telling their son. They wanted him to stay in school.

We wondered if Cahalan did make the 100% recovery she thinks she did. She says she was changed as a result of this disease. Is part of that change not having the full mental capacity she had before she got sick? Even though she feels she has made a 100% recover, she has a 20% chance of the disease reappearing. If it does, it could damage her further, but knowing what the disease is might be key to getting her the treatment she needs quickly in the event of a relapse. We doubt she’ll ever completely recover her brain function, but she’s recovered enough to happily live the life she had before. I can bet that Cahalan is happier to be alive and healthy each day much more than I am.

Our book club meets again next week! We’ll be discussion Will Schwalbe’s book, “The End Of Your Life Book Club.” I really need to get a jump on that title!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Prompt Group: Frenimies and Thunderstorms

17 Jul

I actually went to my prompt group! Yep, that’s right. I haven’t been going a lot lately because life has been super crazy but I went on July 1 (and took forever to post this).

Our fearless leader was absent so our friend John bravely took over. We did four prompts, which I’ll share here along with my response for two of them. I’ll list the prompts first and if you want to do them yourself, please pingback here so I can read them.

Prompts:

  1. Think of your favorite antagonist and the trait that makes him/her/it an interesting character. Write a scene with a character who has that trait (7 minutes)
  2. Last minute disappointment (3 minutes)
  3. An interrupting thunderstorm (5 minutes)
  4. How did it/he/she get that name? (3 minutes)

My Responses:

Prompt 1

“Caitlin, you can’t play with her at recess.”

I looked around, confused. The only person I was playing with was Ashley and as far as I knew, Hannah and Ashley were friends.

“With Ashley?” I asked, understanding that I wasn’t going to figure this out in my own.

Hannah glared at Ashley who shrunk under the glare. “Yes, with Ashley and her perfect baby-cut top.”

I looked at Ashley again; I hadn’t noticed her new shirt. It was a blue-green that matched her eyes and had a really nice cut.

“I don’t get it,” I said, really not understanding.

“She went out and bought the same shirt as me!” Hannah was mad, pointing her finger at the offending article. “She’s trying to copy me, to be just like me. How sad.” Hannah crossed her arms, continuing to glare at Ashley who was kicking the ground with her toes and tugging at the hem of her shirt as if she could change it.

“That’s not true, Hannah, you don’t know that.”

“My mom bought it for me,” Ashley pipped up in a weak voice.

“Shut up, Ashley. Don’t lie to me.” Hannah was glaring at us both; at Ashley for stealing her style and me for not choosing her side. What’s a girl to do?

“Hannah, it’s just a shirt; we can still play together.”

“I’m not going to be seen with someone who’s copying me. And I won’t be seen with someone who’s obviously not my friend!”

I knew the last bit was directed at me and I took a step toward Hannah. Hannah started to smirk and Ashley looked on the verge of tears.

“Is there a problem girls?” The tall shadow of the recess monitor, Miss Molly, loomed over us all.

“No, Miss Molly,” we all said in unison as if it was rehearsed.

“Just deciding what to do on this beautiful day,” Hannah said with a smile.

“Well, no need for the yelling. Run along.” She turned and walked away to take care of some boys pushing each other really high on the swings.

Hannah’s eyes turned dark again. “Let me know when you decide who your real friends are,” she said to me and turned away from us. I looked at Ashley, still not knowing what to do. I took a step toward Hannah and paused again. I wanted to be her friend, but I didn’t want to follow her.

Prompt 3

“What was that? Was that a gunshot?”

“No, baby, come back to bed.”

“But what if someone’s dead out there? Bleeding?”

“It was a thunderstorm; come back to bed. This was just about to get good.”

“How can you be thinking of anything besides the fact that there might be a dead dog out there?”

“Because of what you were just doing to me. Can we get back to that?”

“Not until you go look for the blood trail the poor animal is probably leaving through the parking lot.”

“There’s no dead dog, Jill.”

“You don’t know that!”

“I think you’re trying to get out of doing something.”

“How can you think of yourself right now?”

“You’re working yourself into a panic.”

“You’re working yourself into apathy!”

“Coma back to bed, Jill. What are you doing?”

“Looking for my shoes. I’ve got to get out there.”

“It’s pouring.”

“Then I’ll need to find my shirt, too.”

“If you didn’t want to, you could have said something.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes you do.”

“Well, maybe I do and maybe I didn’t know how to tell you but now I’m worried about this dog. So, I’ll be seeing you later because I’m about to storm out of here looking for that dog and I’ll probably jump in my car and go home after. Good night.”

 

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 16-July-2014

16 Jul

Almost in reaction to last week’s progress, I’ve got almost nothing to report for MizB’s WWW meme. I guess that’s what happens when you do a 120 mile bike tour over the weekend. So there is that, right?!

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:  I’m about halfway through The Coward by Kyle R Bullock. I’ve taken a bit of a break from it to work through the huge pile of Cosmo magazine on my bedside table but I’ll start it again tonight.  I’m making slow progress through  The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien on my phone. It seems so familiar I think I’ve read it, but i don’t remember it enough to stop. On audio, I just started is reading The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe, but I’m embarrassingly still on the first disk! I haven’t been doing a lot of driving besides to and from work and I need to step up my game. My carpool buddy and I started Looking for Alaska by John Green and she is loving it, as am I. We’re almost through the first disk and I think we’ll keep moving well on it.

Recently finished: Nothing finished, unfortunately. Not even much progress on the books I’m reading, really. I did write a review for A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers, so you can check that out.

Reading Next:  I’m still hoping to start The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen soon. This will fulfill the 1500s time period of my When Are You Reading? Challenge. We’ll see after that.

I’ve got a bit more time at home this weekend so I can do some reading. I’m making ‘The Coward’ my goal for the week. What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Review: A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers (4/5). I can’t put my finger on just why I loved this book.

15 Jul

My book clubs have been amazing at picking books lately. This last selection was something I never would have considered and hadn’t heard of, but I absolutely LOVED it.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers

Alan Clay is almost bankrupt and almost hopeless. His last chance seems to be selling hologram telephone equipment to King Abdullah for the new Saudi Arabian city he’s building on the coast. The only problem is, no one knows when the King will arrive. He hasn’t been around in ages and his plans change constantly. So there’s nothing to do but wait.

Alan finds several ways to entertain himself in the very foreign country. His co-workers are much younger than himself and he makes new friends; a foreign worker living on an ex-pat compound who is able to introduce him to illicit parties and a local cab-driver who invites him to visit a house in the mountains where old traditions still hold strong. Alan is fascinated with the country around him as he waits and waits and waits and waits….

I absolutely adored this book. Eggers writing was engaging and his characters were very unique. I loved how they all had two sides; the side they showed in public, and the side they kept hidden from the eyes of the Kingdom. I know several Saudis and while what’s in this book might be extreme, I’ve heard that it’s pretty accurate. I loved that I could relate to this book in that way. I guess my only complaint would be that not much happened, but that seemed to be on purpose. Our book club leader said that this was often compared to ‘Waiting for Godot’ and I can see the similarities. If you couldn’t guess, I adored ‘Godot’ as well.

My cultural knowledge about Saudi Arabia is pretty basic. I had friends who were from there in college, dating a guy from there (SHOCKER!) and have a friend who lived on an ex-pat compound during an internship. So I guess I know more than the average Joe, but I’m no expert. The characters Eggers described fit a lot of the impressions I had from my friends. I loved the Danish consultant who took him to ex-pat parties; this reminded me of stories from my friend who lived there. I liked the conservative cousins Alan ran into at Yousef’s house in the mountains; they reminded me of some of the Saudi’s I met at school while others reminded me of Yousef. I think they showed a pretty good spread of Saudi’s and other residents.

Yousef was my favorite character. I liked his story the best. He’d gone to college in the US, wanted to do something different from his family and went out on his own. I liked the insight he was able to provide to Alan on Saudi life. He reminded me most of my friends from Saudi. On the surface, they’re conservative but they harbor a desire to be radical; to experience something different and break a few rules. But, when pushed too far, they’ll revert back to the conservative upbringing they had. This is one of the aspects of Saudi culture I find most fascinating; the attraction to changing things, but the simultaneous desire to keep it as it is.

Dave Eggers Image via Amazon.com

Dave Eggers
Image via Amazon.com

I related to Alan’s uncertainty in the story. He seems to bounce between decisions constantly and I feel that way about my life some times. I struggle to make hard commitments and decisions and I saw this in Alan’s inability to write his daughter a letter and his reluctance to see a doctor about the growth on his neck.

The plot line with Dr. Hakem was my favorite. She was such a strong woman who defied stereotypes of woman from that region. I loved how bold she was, even if I didn’t fully agree with her infidelity. I loved how sure she was of herself and her medical skill was commendable. It must have been a struggle to put a strong female character in a book set in Saudi Arabia, but Eggers did it really well.

I’m not sure I had a ‘least favorite’ part of this book. It was really solid throughout. The only reason I didn’t give it five stars is because not much happened, but then again that was the point. In my mind, it reached its full potential.

Would you believe this book is being made into a movie? Starring Tom Hanks? It seems to be true.

Waiting for Godot was once described as,

“a theoretical impossibility—a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats.”
-Vivian Mercier, The Irish Times 18 Feb. 1956

I think A Hologram for the King is a literary equivalent. Alan does nothing of importance, accomplishes nothing, and kept me turning the pages as quickly as possible. I think this is very reminiscent of life; we go from day-to-day, doing something, but never really going anywhere. At least, we don’t know where we’re going and we don’t know when we’ll get there. The characters in most stories have a purpose; a drive, an adventure, a mission. Alan Clay had a mission, to make a sale, but he doesn’t do it. Moreover, he has to wait before he can even try to do it. In what world is that a mission? This book is memorable for its blandness.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book might be the worst example of a ‘Writer’s Takeaway’ section yet. I don’t think we should try to replicate this style. It’s a unique form to write a book like this and I don’t think many amateur authors (I’m assuming not many seasoned professionals are reading this) could pull it off. I think the best thing to take from this is that your character can always be doing something, but it won’t always lead to an end, but you can still make it interesting.

I adored this book. Four out of five stars.

This book fulfills ‘Foreign Country: Saudi Arabia” for my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Dave Eggers’ A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING | Bite the Book
A Hologram for the King. Dave Eggers Come Back, Please | Walworth Sentiments
Failure of a Salesman – Dave Eggers’ A Hologram for the King | Books and Bits
2012 National Book Award finalist in Fiction: Dave Eggers, A Hologram for the King | Vaguely Borgesian

Like this review? Let me know on Goodreads.

Saturday Writers Group: Names and Stanzas

14 Jul

Yet again, I’m way behind on getting these posts up. My Saturday group met on 7-June and this is just now being posted. I’m embarrassed!

One of our members is a talented poet, but she says the thing she struggles with most is stanza breaks in her poems, so this is something we always talk about with her work. The poem she brought had a series of illusions and we discussed if it was better to separate each illusion into its own stanza or to keep them in one stanza and let them bleed together. It the poem is about illusions, isn’t it good to let them become one and create an ultimate illusion? I feel there are some poems that work better in one stanza and others that need to be broken apart to clarify the meaning. When do you break a poem into stanzas?

Some books will have a character without a name, referred to as ‘the boy’ or ‘the mother.’ We talked about the effects of doing this. Does it give the characters a more universal appeal than ‘Brian’ or ‘Mrs. Horm’ would? Certain stories seem to need something like this where as others seem awkward when written this way. When is it okay to not name a character?

One of our members writes personal essays and this got me thinking. In real life, it’s likely that I have two friends named Cat (this happened in college). In real life, that’s fine; you create nicknames or say ‘Blonde Cat’ when talking about these people. But if I were to write a story and Cat and Cat appeared in it, should I change one of their names? Should I refer to one as Catherine and the other Cat? Is it okay to change people’s names to make a stronger distinction between them in a personal essay? When would you keep them the same?

I hope you like the shorter post! Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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