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Tactical Ninja - An attempt at a book review that turns into a rant about literature. Oops.

Jul. 10th, 2014

08:45 am - An attempt at a book review that turns into a rant about literature. Oops.

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I'm not much cop at book reviews, at least not compared to the literate and articulate brainboxes on my flist. But I'm going to have a go because while I was in Australia I read a book by someone who is also on my flist. It was Pictures of You by tedwords.


It's a fairly short novel aimed mostly, I think, at young adults. Without giving away too much of the plot, it's about a young woman whose YouTube account appears to be being taken over by the ghost of her dead brother. As you can probably imagine, the plot thickens quite a lot from there, and it ends up being about closure and coming to terms with massive life changes and adolescence, with a twist of whodunnit in the mix to keep it interesting.

I told tedwords that I liked it. If I have to expand on that, I'd say I liked it because it was easy for me to get inside the main character and see the world through her eyes - no mean feat for a male author writing a teenage girl. It was a fairly light read for me, but as a middle aged woman a lot of the themes are things that I have experience dealing with. As a teenager, especially one that can relate to some of the many difficult situations Ashes faces, it could be quite heavy. The plot was well paced and while the character list is minimal, I still didn't guess the outcome until quite close to the end. Mostly, I enjoyed reading it.

For me, enjoyment is important. I did a year of an English Literature major way back in 1988 at university, and it totally ruined reading for me for quite a while. We were assigned worthy tomes in which we were expected to detect subtext and underlying messages and when it boiled down to it, every single one of them was about The Darkness At The Heart Of Mankind. Yes, we did read Heart Of Darkness (which I took as a personal insult to my intelligence - I mean, how obvious can you be?). By the end of that I was really over reading about horrible people being horrible to each other, and then sifting through the horribleness to find particular bits of horrible to illustrate how crappy life is and how awful we all are.

OK, I may be hyperbolising, but you get what I mean - especially if you've ever done 1st year English Lit.

So for me, there are two kinds of reading - reading for education and reading for enjoyment. I have several books on the go:

- An exploration of various theories of justice through the ages.
- A fanfic about Dragon Age characters bonking each other.
- A policy document about agriculture in NZ.
- A book by JK Rowling that is not Harry Potter.
- Reassembling the Social by Bruno Latour

I admit that Bruno only gets an airing after I've exhausted all my other options - it's a book I want to have read, but it's heavy going and written in somewhat archaic language, and it's work. But roughly 50% of my reading has to be rollickingly entertaining fluff, in which I can choose to detect themes or blithely ignore them in favour of just enjoying a good story.

This is why I am such a fan of Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller books. High literature they may not be, and I know a lot of people love to hate Kvothe with very good reason, but there is no arguing that the story pulls you in and doesn't let you go till the last page, and it entertains throughout. So far, every single person I've recommended them to has enjoyed them a great deal - from my (at the time) 15 year old son through to PhDs and older folk. Because it's an enjoyable read, in which you can play with deeper meaning if you want, or not, but still be entertained.

And that's what Pictures of You is like too. That's why I liked it. No, it's nothing like the Kingkiller books, but it has that same readable, enjoyable quality.


Gosh, I wrote words about a book. I haven't done a lot of that since 1988. Wait, aren't I supposed to say something about how we are all awful and life sucks because reading? Oh wait, that was 1988. Anyone who was a teenager in the 80s may remember the overarching atmosphere of 2 minutes to midnight in which we are all basically doomed at the whim of superpowers determined to out-nuke each other, and by the way there's not much chance of a job when you leave school but here's a movie about a rich white kid who gets whatever he wants by thinking positive. You are the agent of your own destiny and never mind that we screwed destiny so you start about a mile behind where your parents did, you can be like Ferris Bueller if only you try hard enough, and if you don't make it it's your own fault. Also, AIDS - so don't think you can sex your way into fun times, you'll die if you do that...

.. Gosh. That got a bit dark. But then, that's a lot of what I recall of my teenage years, and I guess that was reflected in the literature they thought was worthy at the time.

Fact is, we don't all suck. Most of us are good people, trying our best with the tools we've been given to live a good life. But like reality TV, that doesn't make for good literature apparently.

I wonder what they teach in English Lit in the 21st Century, and how that aligns with the current zeitgeist regarding the chances of doom we all face?

Comments:

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From:fbhjr
Date:July 9th, 2014 10:53 pm (UTC)
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A bit off topic, but what is the book on justice through the ages?
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From:tatjna
Date:July 9th, 2014 11:02 pm (UTC)
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Justice by Michael Sandel.

I like it because he presents the theories alongside real world dilemmas, without arguing for the rightness of a particular one, so you're left to decide for yourself. I've been dipping in and out of it for quite a while, since I like to think a bit about each part before moving on.
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From:fbhjr
Date:July 9th, 2014 11:05 pm (UTC)
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I'll look into that one. Thanks!
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From:fbhjr
Date:September 17th, 2014 01:21 pm (UTC)
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I just finished the book and found it very interesting.
Thank you again for the suggestion!
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From:happyinmotion
Date:July 9th, 2014 11:24 pm (UTC)
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Eighties zeitgeist of doomy doom came down to human rationality, where game theory predicted that nuking the other guy before he could nuke you (much) was the best possible outcome, and rational humans will choose the best possible outcome. Or it was certain coz humans are fuckups and make mistakes, while being in charge of tens of thousands of hair-trigger nukes.

Current zeitgeist of doomy doom comes down humans being rational but limited in their awareness and concerns, so climate change is certain to destroy all human civilisation at some point in the future coz the effects are not present and obvious enough to stop us burning fossil fuels.

What human beings actually are is yet to be discovered.

(And current nuclear arsenals are no more than 5,000, tops. Maybe 15,000, depending on the breaks. So that's not civilisation ending in itself, just a bit messy.)
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From:tatjna
Date:July 9th, 2014 11:28 pm (UTC)
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So 1st year English Lit books will be a combination of near-future post-apocalyptic dystopia stories, alternate-civilisations-that-do-better-that-we're-doing spec fiction, and probably also still fucking Lord of the Flies and Heart of Darkness.

Because academics like nothing better than to inflict their own experienced tortures on the young 'uns. Oh wait, s/academics/humans.
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From:brynhilda
Date:July 10th, 2014 12:03 pm (UTC)
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Some years ago I read the first Kingkiller book...high time to read the second part now...but the problem is, that I hardly find time for reading anymore...sigh.
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From:tatjna
Date:July 10th, 2014 07:24 pm (UTC)
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I thoroughly recommend reading the second, especially since the third is now in the publishing-edit stage.
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From:brynhilda
Date:July 12th, 2014 07:42 pm (UTC)
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..and here I thought it was already out. Ha, so at least I'm not that behind with reading the books.
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From:pundigrion
Date:July 10th, 2014 07:20 pm (UTC)
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Yay, agriculture! (Um, yeah we all know which book I would choose for light reading)
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From:tatjna
Date:July 10th, 2014 07:23 pm (UTC)
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Hehe yeah, it was an analysis of projected training needs out to 2025, taking into account the increasing automation of on-farm processes and focus on added value prior to export.

I've seen lots of these produced for my own industry (in fact, written a bunch of them myself) so it was interesting to see how it's approached in an industry that's close to my heart but that I'm not actually in any more.
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From:pundigrion
Date:July 10th, 2014 07:26 pm (UTC)
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Heh, yes I would still probably like that sort of reading even if it isn't my style of farming. Right now I am reading one on market gardening. I don't really have plans to make that sort of jump in scale, but I'm picking up tons of tips. (Most gardening books assume you just have a single small plot)
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From:tedwords
Date:July 11th, 2014 04:53 am (UTC)
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Thank you for the very thoughtful review, my friend. :)
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