Every book you've read in 2014


Gareth
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Focus on the Horror Film, edited by Roy Huss and T.J. Ross - Like Focus on Howard Hawks, a collection of film criticism mostly from the 60s and 70s. It's divided into five sections that touch all the bases. The first section, "The Horror Domain," deals with horror as a film genre. It starts the book on a good note, with writing on the tension between the fantastical elements of horror in the 1930s and the expectations of audiences for realism, followed by pontificating on the meaning of death in the horror film. The "Gothic Horror" section looks at Dracula and Frankenstein as archetypes, including the requisite article on how Tod Browning's Dracula is lackluster. To be fair, the writer makes some good points about the female characters in relation to the novel and it is more theater than film, but I think it's a lot better than people give it credit for. The shot by shot analysis of the Bride of Frankenstein creation scene has some insightful comments on the film's function as straight and parodic horror, but too much of it is just recounting the shots. All three articles under "Modern Gothic" are great, from the 1941 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to Eyes Without a Face to an overview of the new American Gothic of the 1960s. The first three pieces of "Monster Terror" are focused on King Kong: a review from 1933 and two later articles that examine why it resonated with Great Depression audiences and why it continues to resonate. After a breakdown of three categories of the monster movie that gets a bit simplistic, there are tributes to I Walked With a Zombie and Freaks. A love letter to Val Lewton in general leads the "Psychological Thriller" chapter. which concludes the book with fantastic analyses of Repulsion and Targets. There are of course a couple pieces that are duds (I can't decide if the piece on The Birds and surrealism is pretentious or just not argued well enough), some that are outdated. and it could have used one strong look at a silent horror film, but overall it's a pretty great snapshot of the horror film up to 1970.

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Between actual reading and listening to audiobooks in my commuting to my second job, I've racked up a bit of a list.

Command Authority by 'Tom Clancy' and Mark Greaney

Read this one all the way back in Jan. It's the last Clancy title to be published right before his death however he didn't write it. I'm a big Clancy fan and when you've read a dozen of the guy's books you know how he writes. The second writer mentioned Greaney wrote the whole thing. I didn't like it at all. While it was slightly prophetic in guessing about tensions between the Ukraine and Rusisa, the story does little with the premise. I mean how do you make a book about a Russian invasion of the Ukraine, boring? It also tries to weave in a stupid retcon adventure of Jack Ryan Sr. which takes away from the action going on in the 'present day'. You'll have a chapter (which are ridiculously short, I mean four pages for a chapter what the hell?) that follows the present day storyline and then suddenly cut to the past with Jack Sr. and there's no good transition. In addition to that the book just...ends. No real resolution of the storyline, just a 'hey we didn't win but we didn't loose'....huh? By that point I was just reading it to finish the thing.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

I had to read this one for a class I was co-teaching in. It's your basic young adult novel of the 21st Century. Set in a dystopian Chicago, it features a main protagonist girl who of course is alienated with her current life. When she takes the big choose your future test of course she is one of the special 'Divergent' people. If you've seen or read any YA novels of the last ten years you see where this is heading. She meets a tall dark and handsome type with a mysterious past, theirs a rebellion, she must play a role....and yadi, yada. I mean the book's okay but it's just really generic when you get down to it. I didn't think the social conflict in the novel was as compelling as the one in the Hunger Games series nor do I think it got enough set up. Like my previous book this one just ends and since its a YA novel it must set up a sequel. I've wondered would I have liked this more if I hadn't read the Hunger Games series before this but in the end I think my opinion would be the same.

Doctor Who: Prisoner of the Daleks by Trevor Baxendale

The Tenth Doctor runs into a group of Dalek bounty hunters. They are fighting in the Human Empire's war against the Daleks, getting paid for every Dalek eyestalk they bring back. When they capture a Dalek, the Doctor learns of a Dalek plan that could threaten the entire universe. However the group is really heading into a trap that will make them (shocking) prisoners of the Daleks. I LOVED this one. I've listened to a few Doctor Who books and this one is probably my favorite. While I have a soft spot for the Daleks, this one doesn't need those bonus points. It's got some great moments with the Doctor and Daleks who in turn are plenty evil and threatening. Nicholas Briggs does the narration for the audio version so you get the classic Dalek voices to go with his others. He does a good job distinguishing the characters from one another and does a decent Tenth Doctor. If you haven't read or listened to this one I highly recommend it.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Aliens have arrived awesome! They begin killing us, not awesome. The Fifth Wave is another YA tale but at least breaks the mold in a few places to be interesting. It follows Cassie, her brother, and the boy she had a crush on as the three try to survive an alien invasion. The aliens conduct their assault with five waves. One, an EMP which fries most electronics. Two dropping kinetic energy rods on fault lines to create tsunamis and earthquakes, wiping out anywhere with a coast. Next they unleash an Ebola like virus which has been modified to be very contiguous. Finally after all that Cassie learns that there is a Fourth Wave, humans seeming to kill humans and they have alien tech. Yet we eventually learn there is a Fifth Wave and the truth of it is...well not that shocking. Overall I enjoyed the book but feel the first third is way stronger than the rest. Cassie's story about the alien arrival and everything that happens later is fairly excellent. Although a bit slow I really enjoy getting Cassie's thoughts and feelings. There's some especially nice stuff about her growing to be more angry with her Dad who was one who thought the aliens arrival would be a new dawn for humanity.

The book suffers from trying to introduce too many POVs in my opinion. Everything (except one part oddly) is told in first person. So we begin flipping between Cassie, Sammy her brother, and Ben the boy she likes. While if done one at a time it might have been better I find the jumping around to be headache inducing. Stick with one character please. The aliens plot also gets a bit too long to be revealed, however credit to the author for having IMO a nice idea for how the aliens work. I do recommend it for a read (or listen as I was doing both).

Doctor Who The Silent Stars Go By by Dan Abnett

This one features Amy, Rory, and the Eleventh Doctor arriving on a very cold and harsh world. They encounter Morphric Settlers who after generations have been working on terraforming the planet for human colonists. However something is wrong and rather than getting nicer, the winters are getting worse. On top of that people have gone missing, a monster in green armor chases Roy, and the Doctor of course must save the day. This is a great story which had the Eleventh Doctor meeting up with the Ice Warriors again. It was written before the episode 'Cold War' though so the Ice Warriors hold onto a few of their Classic Series traits. It's a fun read (listen in my case) with some moments for everyone to shine and a twist you probably won't see coming. I recommend this story as well.

Battle for the Falklands by Max Hastings

The Falklands Island War is one of those odd ones in history. It didn't need to be fought, turned usual military theory on its head, and remembered as one of those head scratches asking; why the hell did this happen? Max Hastings does a great job looking at the historical, political, and military sides of the conflict. Although written not too long after the war the book is very detailed. Hasting is able to weave the story so that you find it all very interesting and excited to keep reading (listening in my case). Now I am a history major and military history buff so my enjoyment of this might be clouded a bit. Hasting though focuses not just on the events but does spend plenty of time exploring the people involved. His focus is primarily on the British side but there are some bits gleamed from Argentinians along with Americans (working to try and prevent the war as the US was in the uneasy position of having two allies fight). If your a history fan I do recommend checking this out.

Foundation and Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov

I read these based on the review done of them on SF Debris. In the waning century of the Galactic Empire a brilliant scientist, Hari Seldon lays out the groundwork to prepare for the coming galactic collapse. Using the science of psyhcohistory Seldon is able to predict a possible path that will reduce the barbarism of the post empire time from 30,000 years to a mere millennia. To do this he establishes two foundations on 'opposite ends' of the Galaxy. Through these the Galaxy will be saved and a new Second Galactic Empire will arise. Told through a series of short stories, Foundation is a classic of science fiction. I LOVE this series. It's surprising as unlike many science fiction works there is hardly any focus on action. Sure wars occur and major events are playing out but most of the book is people discussing things. Asimov himself actually could never understand why people enjoyed the series as much as they did. I think its because we see such smart, if not brilliant characters as work. The series also looks at the power of the individual versus the forces of history. Do the times shape the man or the man shape the times?

If your a scifi fan you've got to check them out. Currently I'm reading Second Foundation which covers the fallout of the end of F&E and the questions raised by it. I'll post my thoughts here when I finish.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror by Jason Zinoman -

I figured this would be a good follow-up to the last book I read, as it's about the major horror films of the '70s. The main thesis is that there's a vein of ambiguity and more emphasized realism running through the horror films of that decade. It starts with an amazing symbol of the state of horror in the late '60s: a recounting of a talk show debate about horror between Vincent Price and Fredric Wertham (!!!) that Price loses. Then Zinoman identifies the New Horror through analysis of Rosemary's Baby, Night of the Living Dead, and Targets (1. it's amazing that those three films came out in the same year 2. I love that this book also gives Targets its due), not only by their ambiguity and realism, but also how they respond to Hitchcock. What follows is a tour through the horror films of the '70s combining making of and analysis, from The Last House on the Left to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Carrie to Halloween and Alien. Weaving through chapters on specific films are chronological segments on John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon, their friendship and its dissolution to their respective contributions at the end of the decade. While the focus is on the New Horror and how each film manifests it, the book touches on a number of other '70s film topics: exploitation, the MPAA, and the tension between collaboration and the prizing of the auteur. The best chapter is probably the one on Brian De Palma. I've only seen a couple of his films, but I've heard of his reputation as a Hitchcock hack. Zinoman makes a great case for him being influenced by Hitchcock, but making much more personal films and not being afraid to break Hitchcock's rules. It's a good overview, bringing a lot of cinematic techniques and themes to the surface, but there are a few missed opportunities. It becomes clear that there's a divide between showing gore and suggesting gore, but Zinoman doesn't delve too deeply into why and what it means for the decade. One glaring omission among the filmmakers is David Cronenberg. It may be because the focus is pretty exclusively on United States directors, but reducing him to a footnote during the Alien chapter seems misguided. And while he touches on the subject briefly during the epilogue, I think he could have written another chapter on the horror films of Craven, Carpenter, and Hooper in the decades that followed and how they relate to their work in the '70s. Overall though, I blew through this and got some great insights and anecdotes out of it.

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Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause by Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel - This is as comprehensive a history of a film as you can get. A third of it is devoted to pre-production, a little over another third breaks down the filming and post-production, and the rest sketches the lives of James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, and Nicholas Ray after Rebel. It combines documents from the Warner archives with interviews with cast and crew from as recent as the 2000s to detail everything you'd want to know: script development, casting, performances, the technical aspects of scenes, and even the gossipy stories from the set. As informative as the making of part is, the most fascinating sections of the book might be those featuring James Dean and Nicholas Ray. James Dean is a 20th century mythological god, and this book provides a great deal of insight into who he was as a person and an actor. While certainly not on the same scale as Dean, Ray has his own share of mythology in film history and this book paints him as the brilliant, tortured, at times awful man he was. My favorite anecdote is the filming of the opening. It originally involved the gang beating up a man walking home, but that got nixed, so they had to come up with something else. Dean and Ray then spent a night improvising the opening as appears in the film with the rest of the cast and crew fixated on them. That moment to me sums up those two artists, the process on the set, and the power of Rebel as a film. If you love it or making of books in general, you need to pick this up.

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Contact (1985) by Carl Sagan

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1995) by Anne Lamott

Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age (1999) ​by Michael Barrier

Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, Revised and Updated Edition (1987) by Leonard Maltin

Novels: 4

Non-Fiction: 3

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  • 1 month later...

The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era by Thomas Schatz - Schatz eschews the typical reading of Classic Hollywood, that being in terms of directors who beat the system enough to be considered auteurs. Instead, he argues that the system of producers, directors, writers, and stars made a lot of the classic Hollywood possible, while also acknowledging the system's shortcomings. He focuses on three studios (MGM, Warner Bros., and Universal) and one independent producer (David O. Selznick) to provide as representative a view of the studio system as possible, touching on the other studios as needed. MGM was about stars and glossy prestige pictures, Warners got a head start on everybody during sound conversion and tapped into the Depression to create hugely successful crime films and backstage musicals, and Universal was mostly stuck making low budget horror films and serials for second-run theaters. David O. Selznick went from MGM to Paramount to RKO to MGM again before going independent, producing such Classical blockbusters as Gone With the Wind, Rebecca, and Duel in the Sun. The most interesting stories are those of MGM and Selznick. MGM dwarfed the other studios in terms of profits during the 1930s, but their excesses and the death of Irving Thalberg (who had a creative instinct about filmmaking that most production chiefs lacked) caught up with them during the war boom, where every other made record profits (and Warners with Bogart become the place for stars) while MGM dropped further and further down the list. Selznick wanted independence and once he got it, he became more and more obsessive with each film, his lack of a real boss to answer to keeping them in production longer and longer. Eventually, he just put together packages of stories, directors, and stars for other studios to make because he just couldn't do it anymore. They're the best illustrations of how delicate the checks and balances of the studio system were, and how too much power in one direction upset the whole process. The chapters are full of production schedules, budgets, and various personnel, but Schatz also focuses on the productions of individual films to illustrate the studios' various interpretations of the system and keep the history lesson from becoming too dry.

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China Mieville, Kraken: First Mieville I've read, and I definitely want more. London, gods, and a hell of a ride. Apparently supposed to be funny, but given that I was reading it in tandem with the next book, I think my perception of it may have been skewed slightly.

John Darnielle, Wolf in White Van: Aka the lead singer of the Mountain Goats does a novel. Told in reverse order, absolutely amazing writing, and with a play-by-mail rpg as one of the centerpieces of the novel. It's a hell of a ride, but one worth taking.

Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad: Short novel of the Odyssey told from the POV of Penelope and the twelve hanged maids. Not Atwood's strongest work, but a great read.

Seanan McGuire, Midnight Blue-Light Special: The continuing adventures of Verity in NYC, and makes inCryptid the world of Seanan's that I am most interested to see develop, as it's only three books in as compared to, say, the 8 of her Toby Daye series. Lots of awesome cryptozoology, some really neat focuses on the communities of creatures that make NYC their home, and a great POV switch halfway through that I was not expecting.

Seanan McGuire, One Salt Sea, Ashes of Honor, Chimes at Midnight, and The Winter Long: Yeah remember how I said Seanan was coming into her own with Toby in An Artificial Night and Late Eclipses? This blows all of that out of the water. Holy shit. The mythos deepens, we get to see Toby undergo some amazing growth, and the level of just how well she has this series planned out becomes especially apparent in the Winter Long. Even if you don't like urban faerie, go and read these books.

Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: Murakami's latest, and honestly, this feels like a fucking gut punch at times. Looks at the falling apart of a circle of five friends, and its effects on them fifteen years down the road. Didn't end where I expected it to, and there's honestly this strong quality of nostalgia and almost a haze as you read it. Definitely recommended.

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Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: Murakami's latest, and honestly, this feels like a fucking gut punch at times. Looks at the falling apart of a circle of five friends, and its effects on them fifteen years down the road. Didn't end where I expected it to, and there's honestly this strong quality of nostalgia and almost a haze as you read it. Definitely recommended.

Awww, I bought that when it first came out as I'm a big Murakami fan, but I've yet to start reading it. How doe it compare to his previous works?

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  • 2 months later...

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