Meagan Reads Sci-Fi: The Martian by Andy Weir

I feel like it’s been a while since I picked up a book that made me really excited and breeze through it so fast, even with a full-time job and part-time grad school. Andy Weir’s The Martian did that for me. I read it as my 24th book for my 26 book reading challenge (almost done!) for the category “a book with a great opening line.” If memory serves me right, the opening line of this book was, “Well, I’m pretty much fucked.” That’s a really strong start in my opinion. It immediately sets the character’s voice as someone who has a sense of humor in the face of overwhelming odds, and that’s who Mark Watney, the main character, is. Throughout all the terrible things that happen to him, he never loses that smart ass attitude. I genuinely found myself laughing out loud several times while reading, and that is not something that happens often when I read a book.

I admit, I watched the movie first. Listen, I’m an adult now, so I can’t pull that, “I’ll only watch the movie/TV show after I’ve read the book,” crap anymore. There’s just not enough hours in the day. There’s something to be said for watching the movie first in this case. Personally, it helped me wrap my mind around all the science and technology described in the book. Weir’s writing is heavy with specific jargon and tremendous scientific detail. It was written in a way that did not overwhelm me though or make me feel lost, but I do think having the movie in the back of my mind helped with that interpretation of what was happening on the page. The story truly is an adventurous space romp with the added legitimacy of attention to detail about what is real science. At least it sounded like real science to me, so good enough.

Now, truth be told, the writing itself is nothing spectacular. It relies on some pretty shallow character development and the pacing could use improvement. Sentence structure is also lacking, as most of the book is written in frustratingly short, clipped statements. However, even with the lower quality writing style, the narrative itself never really suffers. It maintains its entertainment quality and at the end of the day, in my book, that’s what counts. Sometimes, it’s fun just to have fun with reading.

I’d like to end this post with a note about Mark Watney’s character that I noticed immediately. He reminded me so much of another fictional person that I adore from a show called Killjoys on SyFy: Johnny Jaqobi. So if you’re a fan of that show and that character, then I think you’ll like this book.

Have any of you read The Martian? What are your thoughts on the story and characters?

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The Comic Book Kid

I was not, in fact, a comic book kid. They just weren’t something on my radar as a child reader. I had a subscription to a Barbie book club. I frequented the library and eventually as I got older, Borders Bookstore. But comics were just never introduced to me. There was never any negative attitude about them, like saying they weren’t real reading or anything like that. No, comic books just never appeared in my household and I never looked for them, frankly, because I didn’t know they existed to look for.

Then, a few years ago in my early twenties, the guitarist from my favorite band announced he was releasing a comic book series. Naturally, being obsessed with Good Charlotte, I absolutely had to pick up Billy Martin’s Vitriol series. This was my first dive into the comic book world. I had no clue what to expect. As far as I knew, comic books were basically big kid picture books. But oh, dear reader, they are so much more than that. Yes of course, the artwork plays a vital role in the consumption of this media, but to say, “They’re just picture books,” a) demeans the value of picture books and how they impact children’s reading and b) underestimates the true craft that goes into combining appropriate images with a storyline.

See, until I delved into the Vitriol series, I hadn’t realized that comic books had to work double time, with the artist making a conscious choice in structure and style that adhered to the voice and tone of the story being told through dialogue, onomatopoeia and narrative boxes (I don’t know the official industry term for the formatting, that’s just what I call them). In a novel, where the author would describe the movement, emotion, and noises of the protagonist as he bled out from a bullet wound, the comic book artist must use color, shading, and lines to portray the hero as he cringed in pain and indicated wracking coughs with the subtlest of dashes near the drawing’s mouth. Complex, right?

Now, I admit that before Martin’s work was announced, I’d been toying with the idea of picking up comic books because I was so invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Where was I supposed to start, though, with superheroes who had a 50+ year history? Starting with a publication that didn’t come from one of the big two in the industry turned out to be the perfect introduction to comic books. I found myself going back and rereading books to catch every inch of color and artwork that I may have missed while reading the words on the page, as my eyes had been so vigorously trained to do for so many years.

After that, I felt brave enough to try my hand at Marvel with the Axis series. Let me tell you, reading that storyline was a bonkers experience. It was confusing and chaotic, but still, I felt better prepared for it having accustomed myself to the format with the previous comic books. I may have been 22 when I picked up my first series, but now I truly feel like a comic book kid.

Book Club Medley

After several years of liking one another’s Goodreads and Facebook statuses, my cousins and I finally had the brilliant idea to start a family book club. Virtual, of course, as we are spread around South and Central Florida, Virginia, and New Jersey. The only problem is, with such varied schedules and reading speeds, picking one book to share proved to be difficult. So, what’s the solution? For our first month’s meeting, we agreed to each read our own book and bring it with us to the Google Hangouts session. Things were off to a rough start as no one made it to the originally agreed upon date. If we couldn’t manage to set time aside to do a video chat together, how would we ever read a book together?

The experiment turned out to be a success though. After a couple of days of flopping around, trying to make our schedules jive, we finally started our video chat and exchanged our thoughts on our individual books. We asked each other questions and discussed new perspectives, and all without having read the same book. There was a medley of genres, with one cousin bringing literary fiction and a fairy tale retelling, another cousin bringing a murder mystery and a true crime book, and still another cousin bringing comic books into the mix, while I myself brought a classic satire and work in translation.

It didn’t turn into a confusing and disorganized stew as I’d originally feared it might. Instead, we got a taste of different works and thoughtful discussion, like going to a buffet and trying a little bit of everything. I’ve never done a book club before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but our modified version turned into a fun and exciting adventure that left us wanting more. We agreed to do the same thing again for the next month and then try a joint book venture the month after, with a graphic novel or comic book series so that those of us with less time on our hands or shorter attention spans could still keep up with the reading schedule.

For any book clubbers out there, I highly recommend giving our cousins’ book club experiment a spin and instead of everyone reading the same book, read different books and start a conversation. It was such a fascinating result that made me excited to be a part of the reading community.

The Bookshelf Purge

As I go accumulating more and more books, I have less space available on my bookshelf, naturally. This has made me reevaluate what I allow space on my shelves, so I recently did a bit of a purge. I had kept so many books for so long that I’d never read because I kept telling myself, “Someday.” I think it’s time I stop deluding myself. There’s no way I can ever get through ALL THE BOOKS before my life is over, especially since I’m a responsible adult with a life. What did that mean for some of my old second-hand purchases? It was time to let go of the notion that I’d eventually get around to them.

The deciding factor though for purging some books off my shelves was the diversity. I admit, I’ve been guilty of not reading diversely, but I’d like to change that. Making room physically for such books is a start. I didn’t just get rid of all white and/or male authors from my shelves, because I’d essentially be getting rid of my entire collection altogether, and I’m not that evolved of a human being yet. I did, however, rid myself of copies of the remainder of Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas series and Michael Connelly novels. At this point, in my attempts to be a more conscious reader, I’ve come to realize the problematic characterization that can occur with such writers.

It’s not just the way certain characters are written that prompted me to purge these books from my shelves, although that aspect definitely made me feel less guilty about getting rid of books I hadn’t read yet. With the above two mentioned authors, I’ve already read enough of their canon to feel satisfied with having experienced those worlds and characters. Yes, Odd Thomas is a cool series, but having already read the first three books, I think I get it. He’s a ghost-seeing fry cook that it reticent to get into the action but does so anyway because that’s what protagonists do. Yes, Connelly’s Detective Bosch is a fun, cranky officer of the law with a gritty personality and serious machismo faults, but I’ve read enough of his adventures to know he’s always gonna catch the bad guy and be a terrible romantic interest.

With a significant chunk of books gone with getting rid of those two authors alone, I’ve made room for Roxane Gay, Zoraida Cordova, and Isabelle Allende. I know I should probably get rid of some more books from my shelf, but I’m still working on letting go of my material possessions. I have, however, extended my white and/or male author purge to my Goodreads TBR list and gotten rid of the last book in Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, the remaining Percy Jackson series books, and others. It felt like a breath of fresh air to see a good number of books get off my shelves and lists, taunting me with guilt for not having read them after all these years. From now on, I’m going to read what I want and not what I feel obligated to read (sans school textbooks).

Triple Threat Reader

Gone are the days when I could settle down with one book in my lap, perhaps a snack or two and a hot beverage, and focus on one story line at a time. My attention span has been shot to death with the invention of the internet, and I freely admit that. I still enjoy reading though (obviously). How to solve the problem though of a wandering mind. Over the last couple of months I think I found the solution.

I’ve allowed myself to pick up more than one book at a time and switch between stories when I feel like one isn’t captivating my attention at a certain time, even if I really like it. The real trick though is the medium by which I consume these reads. Last month, for a lighter daily bag, I brought my Kindle with me to work and read an e-book (The Death Cure) during lunch. During the 50-minute car ride home I’d listen to my audio book (Gulliver’s Travels) as I navigated Miami traffic. And at night, when I was comfy cozy in my pajamas, ready to settle in with the lamp alight on my nightstand, I’d read a physical hardcover or paperback (Leyenda and Lord of Shadows). Some nights I still can’t concentrate on a full fledged novel though, so I compromise with comic book reading. Short pages and mostly artwork does wonders for keeping the brain entertained.

My new strategy of reading multiple books and stories through different channels at different times has also expanded the amount of reading I get done in a month. The thing about trying to keep reading one book when I wasn’t feeling it, is that I’d read the same sentence at least five times over and still not process what was happening. Letting myself give in to the new millennial attention span and spreading my reading around through e-book, audio book, and physical book has increased my ability to multitask and enjoy a story even more than I already could.

For the first time in a long time, I look forward to taking a look at my TBR list and not feeling a dreadful pit in my stomach, making me feel guilty for adding, adding, adding and never making a dent. I’ve finally started to get some of those books off my list. Should I even dare to dream that one day I can make it through the whole list? Alright, that’s probably farfetched, but a reader can dream.

Review: Card of Fate by Duke of Quails

I was asked by a Goodreads author to review their book of poetry honestly, so here are my thoughts on Card of Fate by Duke of Quails.

This collection of poetry deals with the subject of gambling addiction, mostly from the perspective of the addict. Each poem reiterates the vicious cycle of one more hit, one more time, just one more try, portraying how easy it is to fall into a self-destructive pattern.

That being said, I did want more poems from other perspectives, like the piece called “What Me and Dad Did On Spring Break.” This poem is told from the perspective of a son who is watching his dad make bad decisions, but due to his innocence, he doesn’t recognize what his father was doing as wrong. I think the collection could have had a stronger impact with more poems of this variety, showing how addiction affects those around the addict as well as the addicts themselves. However, it can be argued that the point of such repetition in the poems conveys the nature of addiction, in that it’s a person making the same choices over and over again, never recognizing the consequences of his or her actions.

Duke includes a heavy use of punctuation throughout the poems, and that sometimes works well as it creates a manic feeling emanating from the lines, like someone breathing fast and talking to themselves desperately, such as in the opening poem “Gambling Temptation.” In some cases though, like in “Innocent Ticket,” the use of so many commas, periods and semi-colons is overwhelming and becomes a distraction.

The concept of innocence is threaded throughout the collection, with the use of the word often attributed by the speaker of each poem giving themselves excuses or reasons for the gambling addiction. I think it’s interesting especially as with the previously-mentioned poem about the father and son, how a little boy can be innocent to what his father is doing but that same man can also see himself as an innocent victim fallen prey to the predator that is addiction. Many of the speakers see themselves this way, arguing with the reader that if only the slot machines didn’t entice them, if only the cards had been dealt differently, if only, if only, if only. The consistent diction choice with this idea establishes a strong voice throughout the poems.

Duke’s poems don’t rely heavily on imagery and flowery language as one would expect with poetry, but that’s not necessarily a negative thing. While there are occasional lines like, “My little mouse I used to call him,/Now a scared rat before my eyes he’s grown to be,” (“How Did We End Up Hiding?”) to portray the corruption of innocence, the poems mostly use plain, simple language more in the form of conversation. This choice makes it clear that a constant inner monologue is going on in the addicts’ heads as they struggle to break free from the dangerous cycle.

I’m going to wrap up with this final observation. The collection utilizes rhyme schemes through every piece, some of which are successful, and some of which fall flat. In “Mommy Can I Have a Dollar?” the rhyming feels forced and detracts from the poem as a whole. However, in “A Gamble’s Story,” Duke employs slant rhyme beautifully with the lines, “It’s a graduation,/A sure step up from an inauguration./Scratch-Offs no longer valid;/Lottery ticket can’t kick the habit,/But the place itself, the casino’s buzz./The smell of the table is a sick drug.” The mix of short, punchy lines and rhyme scheme here creates a feeling of anxiety and urgency that comes with addiction.

Overall, a fair collection of poems that may resonate strongly with those who have undergone addiction struggle themselves or for readers looking to broaden their minds.

Meagan Reads YA Horror: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

As part of my ongoing (and almost done!) reading challenge, I chose this young adult horror novel about a protagonist named Theseus Cassio (who prefers to go by Cas) for the category “a book you heard about because of this challenge.” Following in his father’s footsteps, Cas has become a ghost hunter himself with a plan for revenge to kill the thing that killed his father. Upon arriving in Thunder Bay, Ontario, everything about this hunt is different from the ghosts he’s hunted in the past. Unexpectedly gaining a circle of friends, and a guilty conscience for classmates lost during his hunt, Cas takes on the most powerful specter he’s ever encountered.

The story was reminiscent of early Supernatural seasons, so of course it held my attention. The plot moved at a fast pace that never left me bored and had the right amount of rise and fall. What I appreciated most was that the story didn’t go longer than it had to and finished in a good place. The twists were surprising and left me wanting to continue each time a new one came into play.

Now, while the story was entertaining enough, the characters for the most part were annoying. Their personalities and descriptions relied heavily on stereotypes that sounded like an adult who has no idea what teenagers are actually like. Blake tried to give a couple of characters layers beyond their surface personalities, but the writing didn’t go deep enough to make them stand out as realistic people.

The best parts of this book were the supernatural elements and horror story, which made the audio book worth listening to. However, the narrator really seemed to have a hard time grasping what a teenage girl sounds like, and only seemed to have one mode for the boys: smarmy asshole. Perhaps the narration is part of the problem I had with characterization in this book, but I think that had more to do with Blake’s writing and the narrator didn’t help. Overall, not a terrible book, but not one I feel the need to continue the series.