BOOK REVIEW: Stephen King by Bev Vincent

Stephen King: A Complete Exploration of His Work, Life, and InfluencesStephen King: A Complete Exploration of His Work, Life, and Influences by Bev Vincent
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Release Date: October 18, 2022

This book offers one-stop shopping for anyone who wants to know about the life and works of one of the most popular and prolific genre fiction writers ever, Stephen King. The book is built around decade-by-decade examination of the books that King published as well as the adaptations that those books spawned (film, tv, comic book, theater, etc.) It’s arranged in an encyclopedic fashion (though chronologically) with entries on all of King’s titles, and has many textboxes about niche subjects including: King’s side hustles (e.g. owning radio stations, playing in a rock bank, etc.,) major events in King’s life, fictional places and characters that grew lives of their own, adaptations other than film and tv [film & tv adaptations are presented in the body of the text,] and various other quirky King-related topics.

The book is illustrated with a large collection of photos of King from various time periods and engaged in various activities.

Many fascinating insights can be discovered throughout the book. I learned, for example, that the Richard Bachman alias resulted from King’s prolific nature (and because BTO was playing at the time.) Publishers thought that readers would only buy one or two titles from a given author per year, but King had a back log of unpublished material – so he started publishing books under the Bachman persona. King was ever experimenting with various approaches to publishing and that makes the book potentially interesting for those with a curiosity about publishing innovations. The book is forthright about King’s alcohol and drug addictions and the influence they had on his work.

Oddly, I’m not the target audience for this book. I’ve only read a couple of King’s books (and one of those was “On Writing,” his nonfiction guide to writing.) That said, I found the book quite interesting.

View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: The Information by James Gleick

The Information: A History, a Theory, a FloodThe Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Information is one of those topics that remains obscure not because it’s rare or hidden, but because it’s everywhere and the term is used for so many purposes it’s not thought of cohesively. It might seem like a book on this topic would be hopelessly boring by virtue of the fundamental meta-ness of the material. Instead, Gleick had a vast sea of topics and stories involving intense stakes for humanity from which to choose, e.g.: how did we learn to communicate and advance said capability until it was arguably the most important feature of our species, by what instructions are people “assembled,” might the most fundamental layer of reality be informational, and – in recent decades — will our species drown in flood of cheap information?

Given the vast sprawl of the subject matter, organization becomes a crucial question. In a sense the book is chronological, presenting humanity’s experience with information in more or less the order we came to think about the subject. I think this was a wise move as it starts from what most people think of when they think of information – i.e. language and its communication. That makes it easier to wrap one’s head around what comes later, and to see the conceptual commonalities. This approach might seem self-evident, but an argument could be made for starting with information as the word is used in Physics (as addressed in Ch. 7 – 9,) an argument that that approach is more fundamental and generically applicable, and while it might be both of those things, it wouldn’t be as easily intuitively grasped.

I found this book to be fascinating and easily followed — even though it covers some conceptually challenging topics, it does so in an approachable manner. It is over a decade old, but holds up well – though I think there is much more to say these days about the detrimental effects of information overload, a topic discussed at the end of the book. I recommend it for nonfiction readers.

View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Introducing Semiotics: A Graphic Guide by Paul Cobley

Introducing Semiotics: A Graphic Guide (Introducing...)Introducing Semiotics: A Graphic Guide by Paul Cobley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Semiotics is the study of how symbols and signs are used to represent various things and actions in language and communication. This brief guide traces the subject from its origins with Saussure and Pierce (late 19th century) to the present day. It’s not a well-known discipline and overlaps with others (e.g. information science, linguistics, etc.) so as to further obscure it’s boundaries. It’s generally considered a sub-discipline of philosophy.

I’ve read several titles in this series. This one had the fewest and longest chapters – i.e. most of these books have sections that are only a page or two long, but here the sections were generally several pages long. The book looks at differences between American and Soviet approaches as well as discussing the Prague School and the influence of prominent philosophers on the subject.

I felt that I learned something about this obscure subject, though – I must admit – knowing so little of it, I can’t say that I would have recognized if there were any glaring oversights or mistakes in the book. As should be expected of such a concise introductory guide, it’s readable and not difficult to follow. However, it can be dry; though I suspect that’s difficult to avoid, given the subject matter.


View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Methuselah’s Zoo by Steven N. Austad

Methuselah's Zoo: What Nature Can Teach Us about Living Longer, Healthier LivesMethuselah’s Zoo: What Nature Can Teach Us about Living Longer, Healthier Lives by Steven N. Austad
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Release Date: August 16, 2022

This book offers a fascinating look at which animals are long-lived, and – to the extent that it’s known – why. It’s not so much, as the subtitle suggests, a book about how humans can live longer by applying understanding of other creatures of longevity. The advice for living longer would include tips such as: be a relatively large species, be a species that flies [of its own devices,] be ectothermic, be a cold-water aquatic creature, mature slowly, live underground, etc. This kind of knowledge, while interesting, isn’t really applicable to humans. Other takeaways are relevant to humanity, but still don’t change the calculus– e.g. have a relatively big brain. So, if one’s entire interest in this book is based on learning about how humans can live longer by applying ideas from other species, there is little to be gleaned, e.g. a brief discussion of antioxidants, free radicals, and metabolism. That said, it’s an excellent overview of long-lived animals and the evidence for why said creatures (including humans) live so long.

The book is divided into four parts, animals of the air, land, sea, and humans – respectively.

If you’re interested in nature and biology, I’d highly recommend this book. I learned a tremendous amount and the discussions of bats and Greenland Sharks were among the most illuminating — not to mention learning about creatures like clams and ant queens that I had no idea could live so long. Again, my only proviso would be that if you are interested in a book about what humans can do to live longer, there won’t be a great deal of information available [though, as mentioned, the last section does talk about longevity in humans, specifically, but not so much in a blue zone (this is what you should do) kind of way.] It’s more an argument for why more research is needed into animal longevity than it is a book about how to exploit the knowledge that already exists.


View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Step by Bloody Step, Vol. 1 by Simon Spurrier

Step By Bloody StepStep By Bloody Step by Simon Spurrier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Release date: August 30, 2022

This is the story of a young girl who goes on journey through a wondrous – and often perilous – exotic land with only the company of her giant knightly protector. The early part of the book involves this odd couple confronting various threats as they engage in their quest, but then they arrive in a fantastical realm, running up against their most dire threat yet — humanity.

This fantasy quest / adventure graphic novel is presented almost entirely without words. Each section is begun with a few poetically vague lines, but otherwise it’s entirely pictorial. The question is whether it works, or is like watching a movie with the sound and subtitles turned off – i.e. confusing and frustrating. The answer is complicated. For one thing, the part of the book where it’s just the girl and the giant works quite well because there aren’t a lot of characters to confuse or complex actions to grasp. However, this limits the story to a series of random unfortunate events. From the part where they arrive at civilization, it becomes less easily comprehended. There’s a lot of potential for: “Who is that, and why are they doing that?” And the conclusion has some complex story elements that are hard to comprehend without textual cues.

For another thing, it really depends on how attached one is as a reader to grasping what the author intended. If one is highly attached, one will probably spend a fair amount of time flipping back and forth and it will become an exercise in frustration as one tries to decipher meaning. If you don’t have such hang-ups – i.e. you see the act of reading as interpretative and believe all you need to do is let your brain make sense of the story (as it might in a dream — ) then it can be great fun. I came down on the latter side.

The artwork is imaginative and the “reading” process fascinating. If you’re game for a wordless story, you may want to check this one out.


View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Cotton Candy by Ted Kooser

Cotton Candy: Poems Dipped Out of the AirCotton Candy: Poems Dipped Out of the Air by Ted Kooser
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Release date: September 1, 2022

The new collection by Ted Kooser is vibrant and playful. While imagery is front and center in these poems, it’s not the imagery of still life, but rather conveys the constant motion of all things. It’s that dynamism that makes for an uplifting read. Most of the entries are nature-centric, but a few – like the titular poem – delve into the world of man.

It’s a brief collection, consisting of about seventy short-form poems.

With so many mopey poetry collections out there, it was a pleasure to read one that enlivens and energizes. I’d highly recommend it for poetry readers.


View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Borges: An Introduction by Julio Premat

Borges: An IntroductionBorges: An Introduction by Julio Premat
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Jorge Luis Borges was a thinking person’s writer, his works are both global and local (of Argentina or, specifically, of Buenos Aires focus,) are philosophical and literary and cut across scholarly domains, and they can also be arcane and fragmented. It’s because of this — combined with the fact that Borges work remains well worth reading — that a volume like this is beneficial. While the book does -in part – simplify and elucidate Borges’ work, it also expands on the Borges canon as a way to present the reader food-for-thought about ways in which one might approach the thoughts of Borges, oneself. The book is divided into two parts, one on the man and the other on his writings.

While this book is subtitled, “An Introduction,” I would suggest it’d be beneficial if one has read some of Borges’ major works (e.g. A Personal Anthology, “Ficciones,” The Aleph and Other Stories, “Selected Non-fictions,” etc.) Premat does offer some relevant background information when he references texts in order to help clarify his points, but not always enough to get the full understanding and less and less as the book progresses – so as to avoid redundancy. Borges’ work (tending toward short [even micro-] writings across fiction, nonfiction, and poetry) is challenging enough for this kind of study. As opposed to a novelist who would have a few major works to discuss, Borges has a vast body of writings that are no more than a few pages each.

As a reader of Jorge Luis Borges, I found this book to be beneficial and thought-provoking, and would recommend it for others who want to expand the depths of their understanding of this Argentinian writer and his ideas.

View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Trapped on Zarkass by Yann

Trapped on ZarkassTrapped on Zarkass by Yann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Release date: October 11, 2022

This odd-couple quest story contextually resembles the movie Avatar, which is to say it involves an Earth-colonized exotic planet that has an intelligent – if primitive – indigenous lifeform. That said, neither the story nor the visuals are reminiscent of Avatar.

The story is about a pair of women who are tasked with tracking down a crashed enemy spacecraft in the remote jungles of the planet Zarkass, and returning with samples and intel about it. Because of treaties, the pair must operate undercover, assisted by a group of locals who are kept from the truth of the mission. One of the “agents” is a sweet, sensitive young woman who is pretending to do research as an expert on butterflies, and the other is a gruff, red-neck-ish drug dealer who’s released from prison to be the first woman’s guide and protector. The downed aircraft is a triangular spaceship that outmatches the Earthling craft, and the colonizers want metal samples to discover why their missiles glance off.

I enjoyed the story and found the world-building to be brilliantly imaginative [it’s outlandish, scientifically speaking, but creative.] As per the odd-couple norm, these two very different women slowly and begrudgingly develop respect and concern for each other by surviving numerous trials by fire together. Furthermore, in the end, it seems like they’ve developed a similar begrudging connection with the indigenous species that they did for each other. Even the main characters look down on the indigenous population throughout the book, but there seems to be a change. If you’re put off by nudity and near nudity of a gratuitous nature, the book does have it in spades.

If you like sci-fi adventures set on exotic worlds, you might want to give this one a look.


View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Dwellers by Eliza Victoria

Dwellers: A Novel: Winner of the Philippine National Book AwardDwellers: A Novel: Winner of the Philippine National Book Award by Eliza Victoria
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Release Date: August 16, 2022

This well-crafted tragedy features a form of magic handed down within a family that allows one to shift one’s consciousness into to the body of another, though this bodily colonization kills the original owner. While it might seem like just another sci-fi / fantasy plot device designed to make for an interesting adventure, the book conveys lessons about the discontentment and the inability to escape oneself. It’s also worth noting that despite its speculative fiction / fantasy gimmickry, the story is also a taut drama of family dysfunction.

The narrative isn’t linear, and this allows the story to begin in medias res, with the protagonist / narrator finding himself in the fire after having leapt from the proverbial frying pan. Two crucial mysteries are solved over the course of the book. The first mystery is why two young men would jump into new bodies, apparently with such urgency as to not realize the bodies they were taking possession of belonged to people whose lives were a horrifying mess. The other mystery is why those lives were such a mess in the first place.

I found this story intriguing and it kept me reading with an interest in discovering the base truth. The book’s beginning is a bit disorienting because all one knows is that the two characters living in the house aren’t it’s rightful owners, but rather mental settlers of unknown identity who’ve taken possession of the occupants’ bodies, and — speaking of bodies – there’s a mystery corpse in the basement freezer. The body in the freezer is both an excellent hook, and also the means to create a pause in any reader who might tend to think, “if I could, I’d definitely change bodies.” Despite the nonlinearity and the snarl of characters within the bodies of other characters, the book is readable; i.e. it’s not as challenging to follow the thread of plot as it often is in books with such narrative complications.

If you enjoy philosophical speculative fiction, this book is well worth looking into.

View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: There Once Was A Limerick Anthology Ed. by Michael Croland

There Once Was a Limerick Anthology: Lewis Carroll, Robert Frost, Edward Lear, Mark Twain, Carolyn Wells, Woodrow Wilson and OthersThere Once Was a Limerick Anthology: Lewis Carroll, Robert Frost, Edward Lear, Mark Twain, Carolyn Wells, Woodrow Wilson and Others by Michael Croland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Release Date: August 17, 2022

This little book gathers a diverse collection of about 350 limericks. [Limericks are a five-line poetic form with an aabba rhyme scheme and short -b lines, and are often humorous – or, at least, punny, quirky, or absurd. The form often uses forced rhymes or contorted language as part of the humor, leaning into the genre’s lowbrow image.] For those who’ve read Edward Lear and may be concerned that these limericks will, like much of Lear’s work, lack punch and humor to the modern ear, that’s not the case. The selected limericks include many clever and witty examples that land as well today as ever. [Lest it sound like I’m dissing Lear, I agree with Langford Reed’s limerick included in this edition – i.e. “We should never forget // That we owe him a debt”]

The limericks are grouped by a classification scheme. The book starts with the most common categories — those that feature locations or proper names in the lead line. It has a few chapters that play with language, twisting it about through misspellings or plays on abbreviations. There’s a chapter that is all tongue twisters. Two of the more popular chapters are toward the end. One is a collection of limericks written by famous writers and personalities, such as: Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, and Robert Frost. The other features ribald limericks. For many, ribald and risqué is what comes to mind when one thinks of limericks – e.g. “There once was a young man from Nantucket.” This book aims for a general audience, and – therefore – avoids the edgiest of material, but it’s good that they realized they couldn’t dodge bawdy and raunchy material altogether, and still claim to be an overview of the form.

I enjoyed reading this collection tremendously. With so much public domain content, I thought there might be a lot of limericks that wouldn’t land, but – on the contrary – most were clever and fun. If you’re a fan of the form, this book is definitely worth reading. And it’s part of the Dover Thrift Edition collection, so no doubt you can pick it up for a song.


View all my reviews