Sunday, February 27, 2011

Stephen King and I

I have yet another reading confession to make.  Though I'm generally open to reading different genres, I have avoided horror novels like the plague.  With the exception of the R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike books of my youth, and the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it hasn't really appealed to me as a reader.  I just never understood why a person would like the feeling of being scared.  I lose enough sleep as it is.  So I was partially humouring my boyfriend and indulging my own curiosity when I picked up Night Shift by Stephen King.  

It is a collection of short stories that were originally published in magazines throughout the seventies.  A lot of the stories have since been adapted into movies, one of the most well-known being "Children of the Corn."  Due to the fact that there are dozens of different plots involved in this book, I can't really go into the details too much, but I will discuss my personal favourites.  "Jerusalem's Lot" and "One for the Road" stood out to me as stellar writing by Stephen King.  He effectively captures the superstitious nature of the people of those who live in a small town and the outsiders who give them grief.  I like how King approached the story from these differing points of view, and the first of the two stories shows a lot of versatility in terms of his writing abilities.  Other great stories include "The Mangler" and "Trucks" which both feature machines that come to life and butcher their human overlords.  

What I really enjoyed about this collection is the variety that King achieves in terms of the stories. Every type of creepiness is represented in this collection, from stalker boyfriends, to hordes of rats, and mutants.  Other horror that I read in the past was really hollow and predictable in comparison. The only other work that I have read by Stephen King is his non-fiction book about writing aptly titled On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. This book and the foreword of this book both describe King's writing process, and although I've never read any of his fiction before this, his reflections about writing are quite brilliant.  He talks about why he writes about the dark subject matter that he does and his theory makes a lot of sense.  Two people can look at an inanimate object and think of completely different ideas, his usually happen to be scary.  And that's okay. 

Overall, I'm happy that I finally heeded one of my boyfriend's book suggestions.  Reading this book was like a great appetizer platter where I got to sample some thought-provoking work.  I look forward to taking on one of King's full-length novels, so that I can experience his brand of suspense on a larger scale.   


Friday, February 11, 2011

The Perils of Snobbery

There is an issue that has been bothering me lately, and so I thought I would get it off my chest.  It's the plague of what I call "book snobbery."  Everyone has their own preferences in terms of what they read, and those tendencies are not what I'm talking about.  Though I don't think it's a good idea to exclusively read books from one author, one genre, or because Oprah recommends them, if that's what floats your boat, then go for it.  What gets my goat is the concept of "high" and "low" art, and how people use these standards to inform which books they read. 

There are a few examples of this phenomenon, but the one that has struck me recently is the distinction made between graphic novels and cartoons.  For those not too familiar with the term "graphic novel," (and I had to look it up to be totally sure) it basically refers to a novel told in a comic book style.  The story is told in the same format as a novel, just with pictures rather than paragraphs.  I like to think of a comic as a chapter of a graphic novel, it takes you partway through the story arc and leaves you hanging until the next issue.  To me, this is really the only difference between the two genres.  The reason why they are two genres in the first place is the tendency of readers to categorize graphic novels as "high art" and comic books as "low art."  As an equal opportunity reader, this really grates on my nerves.  

When I was trying to figure out the difference between graphic novels and comic books, I ran across the Franco-Belgian concept of bande dessinee.  It makes much more sense to me and it takes away the categories created by North American readers.  In North America, terms like "funnies" are applied to the genre, and they imply that comics are good for a quick laugh or the consumption of children.  There is also the stereotype that people who read comic books are somewhat counterculture, living in their parent's basements and penning their zines.  For whatever reason these attitudes towards comics have never really taken root in Europe, and graphic novels and comics are on equal footing.  Rather than have two separate categories, they fall under the umbrella of bande dessinee.  One term for both genres. 

For me, I tend to read more graphic novels than comic books.  This isn't because I consider graphic novels to be "high art" or because I prefer to say that I'm reading a graphic novel rather than a comic, it's just that I like how they follow the same structure as a traditional novel.  When I read a book of any kind, I enjoy it when there is a beginning, a middle, and an end.  That's just a reading preference, and I don't consider it snobbishness.  I also like reading comic books, but I have found that I don't like being held in suspense until the next issue comes out.  Therefore, I prefer to read an anthology of comics where the story can be read continuously, and that is okay.  What bugs me is when people refuse to read books as a result of a close-minded prejudice.  I don't think a book should be dismissed because it is viewed as "low art" in certain circles.  People should be open to new reading experiences because fun and enlightenment can come in unexpected forms.     


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Just the Right Amount of Blasphemy

There are few books that I get really, really excited about.  I have been wanting to read Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore since it initially came out in 2000.  The premise of the novel is absolutely brilliant.  Within the text of The Bible there are serious gaps in the life of Jesus, and roughly thirty years are missing.  Moore sought to tell the rest of the story.  

The rest of the story is how Jesus goes on a quest to find the Three Wise Men to learn what it means to be a Messiah.  Biff, Jesus' best friend, who is conveniently left out of The Bible, fills in the details about the son of God's spiritual journey.  He provides a good counterpoint to Jesus because while Jesus contemplates deep issues, Biff only thinks about material comforts and bedding women.  These two set out from Nazareth and travel throughout the Middle East and Asia, befriending a diverse group of people along the way who teach them all about Buddhism, Confucianism, and of course kung fu.  Upon the completion of his spiritual training, Jesus and Biff head home to Nazareth and begin to build a group of followers.  

Without giving away anything, the rest of the story expands upon the events The Bible outlines.  Unless you have had absolutely no religious exposure, you know where this is heading.  It's how you get to the point of the crucifixion, that matters.  This book is one of the most hilarious novels I've read in a long time, the type that will make me get stared at as I laugh out loud in public.  I can understand how a person with deep religious beliefs may find this book blasphemous, but, as Christopher Moore points out, those people aren't likely to read it in the first place.  As for my opinion on the subject, I don't think that Moore intends to offend people and he generally paints Jesus in a positive light.  I personally don't have strong beliefs, and I think that any God of mine probably has a good sense of humour.