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).

Romance and War

I recently started thinking about the books my parents gravitate towards and found it interesting how such opposite concepts can manage to come together. My mom is an avid romance reader, which means she looks for that HEA (Happily Ever After). My dad is fascinated by stories of war, the tragedy that comes with a life of strife. Romance and war don’t belong together. And yet…

Don’t all the best war stories include tales of love? A soldier leaving behind the girl he loves, promising to come back, even though he knows that’s not a promise he should make. Two best friends on the front lines together, for better or for worse, taking on the fire for one another. A father leaving his children in the care of the mother or trusted relative, never knowing if he’ll see them again, but assuring them it will all be alright in the end. How can such a seemingly hateful event be filled with stories of love and romance?

What is it that makes that HEA worthwhile in a romance novel? Is it the rosy good times of significant others spending hours walking hand in hand and making lovely, laughing memories together? No, it’s the strife. It’s the fight. It’s the war that comes with battling to hold onto something that makes the darkness tolerable. Sometimes love and romance can be hell. I’m not talking about toxic, unhealthy relationships where all the two people ever do is hurt each other and call it love. I’m talking about the genuine mistakes made in the process of learning to share yourself with another person, and that can hurt and feel like a fight, but it’s not futile.

So, romance and war. My mom and dad. Two types that are so different and yet somehow work together to create a story that’s full of multiple HEA’s after multiple battles to learn how to get to the end of the book together.

Crushing on Classics

For the longest time I could not put my finger on what about classics made me love them so much. As far back as I can remember I’ve been a fan of the classics, starting with stories like Anne of Green Gables and The Wind in the Willows. Eventually I graduated to works such as Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, and made my way through high school readings like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and various Shakespeare plays. Of course like every other 13-year-old of my generation (probably. I’m just making that up), I became obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

While I take pride in having a fondness for the classics, I know I’m not a literary snob. Classics are obviously not the only worthwhile books to consume, and I’m certainly a fan of cheesy fantasy/scifi novels as well as comic books and mystery-thrillers. I read across genres frequently, but I always come back to the classics.

I think part of my love for them is the language. Since becoming a kindred spirit with my dearest Anne Shirley, it was the first time I ever read a character that sounded like me. She was a young girl like me and she spoke in earnest and with what the adults and others around us like to call “big words.” I always felt so strange being the kid with a sophisticated vocabulary, but trying to speak the way I was expected at my age felt wrong. It wasn’t until Anne came along that I found a repertoire of characters and people that spoke like me. The flow of the language, its poetry and drama, all spoke to me on an unidentifiable level.

It wasn’t until recently after I started watching Jane the Virgin (great take on the telenovela btw) that I realized why classics called to me. Remember that part I said about the drama? Well, growing up in a house with parents that watched telenovelas, and having been a huge fan of Aguamarina myself, I know a thing or two about drama. The classics spoke to me because even though they were written in English by Europeans (most of the ones I’ve read, anyway), they reminded me of home and my culture’s way of storytelling.

Everything is life or death. Love or hate. Joy or sorrow. Nothing is in between. Apathy does not exist in classics the same way it goes by the wayside in novelas. Catherine’s and Heathcliff’s toxic romance is something straight out of a show on Telemundo. And when Edna Pontellier makes her stand against the men who think they own her, I see glistening eyes, perfectly arched eyebrows, set crimson lips and an icy glare so piercing it makes the room go quiet.

It’s easy now to see the connection between what are considered the classics and my experience with passionate, dramatic storytelling. The language is big and over the top and emotions run high, because whether it’s Aguamarina or Pride & Prejudice, rich people got first world problems that suck everyone into their drama. And I am up front and center with popcorn in hand.

The DNF Doubt

First of all, I only learned what the acronym DNF (did not finish) stands for within the last year. I had to look it up because I’m at that awkward age where I’m a millennial but I don’t know all the lingo the kids are using these days. Anyway, DNF hadn’t been a part of my vocabulary not only because I didn’t know what it meant, but because I used to be the type of reader who couldn’t fathom not finishing a book (except Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood…sorry Ms. Tucker!) Ok, there were two others that fit the rare DNF category, but in my defense they were Jonathan Swift and Nathaniel Hawthorne and I was 8-years-old. My mom was a proponent of letting me pick up books she knew I wouldn’t understand and letting me figure out for myself that I was not smart enough yet to get them.

Other than those three rare occasions, I was never a DNFer. How could I possibly put down a book I’d started without giving it a chance? How could I truly judge its quality without reading all the way through? And what if even after 100 pages of nothing, I missed something truly incredible? I couldn’t not finish a book, no matter how boring or bad it was. Besides, what did it matter if it wasted my time? I had time to waste.

Alas, I am no longer the carefree student with time on my hands and a dwindling bookshelf. Now I’m a responsible adult who has to divide my time carefully between all the things I want to do, read, watch, listen to, etc. And my bookshelf? Double-stacked from top to bottom and I’ve barely made a dent in the last five years. Time can no longer be wasted. Therefore, I decided to no longer waste time on books that just don’t do it for me. I can proudly say in the past year I’ve DNFed two books! And one I stuck around with because “well I already started it and I’m more than halfway through and it’s for my reading challenge I might as well finish it.”

I did it again. I let the DNF doubt drag me down into another non-enjoyable book that I gave nothing but excuses. It’s like I’m in a bad relationship with my book boyfriend. Take my advice, readers. Don’t do this to yourselves. If a book isn’t sparking your interest, or if it’s making you mad or any other negative feeling, don’t hate read or try to give it the benefit of the doubt. Just let it go. There are so many good books out there waiting to be read, and we do not have time to waste on those that do not give us joy.

Set a standard if you have to, whether it’s determining how many pages in you can go before you decide enough’s enough, or taking notes and reviewing how it makes you feel. Just figure out a way to let yourself know it’s time to get out and move on.