Ten books to read from 2017 (part 1 of 6)

Every two months, I’ll wrangle up ten of my favorite books that I’ve come across to recommend to friends and family (plus random internet strangers). These might range from books I think are the “best” to ones that just surprised me to authors I interviewed. Here are ten from January and February in the order that they were released.

A lot of people have been viewing all of pop culture – including literature – through the political lens of 2017. While it’s important to make these connections, it’s not always necessary. Remember, books are written years in advance. They’re purchased by publishers who pick a date in the future that they feel will be the best for sales. Some of the books on this list are easy targets when making connections to the new President Administration. Others are not. However, they all have something in common even if they don’t seem similar at all.

Some explore the past. The future. Some look at the fringe aspects of society. Some take place in America. Some don’t. All of the books explore the beautiful, as well as haunting, aspects of humanity. They all stand on their own and will still be seminal reading experiences they’re read during a more stable period. Continue reading “Ten books to read from 2017 (part 1 of 6)”

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Writer’s Bone Podcast Episode: Emily Ruskovich

IR White

Internal Review hopped onto Writer’s Bone‘s podcast to interview Emily Ruskovich, author of Idaho, to chat about her upbringing in rural Idaho, what interests her enough to write about, and what cliches young writers should avoid. Continue reading “Writer’s Bone Podcast Episode: Emily Ruskovich”

‘Everything I Never Told You’ reviewed

'Everything I Never Told You'I picked up Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You because I saw it on a few Best of 2014 posts and because of the publisher’s description of the novel. It tells us the first line of the novel. It’s a good first line: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”

The publisher’s description goes on to say the novel is an exploration into an Asian-American family in the 1970s. That the death of Lydia – a high school aged girl who is half Chinese (she inherited her father’s dark hair) and half full-blooded American (inherits her mother’s bright blue eyes) – was a catalyst for the unravelling of the family. Continue reading “‘Everything I Never Told You’ reviewed”

‘The Dinner’ (Herman Koch) reviewed

Herman Koch’s The Dinner (2013) is intriguing from the beginning. Sure, an entire story told through the course of a dinner is nothing groundbreaking, but the way Paul, the narrator, speaks to the reader is what makes this unique. He purposely omits details about the story at hand; the name of the restaurant, for example. Instantly he is seen as unreliable, but you grow to believe him as he spins his tale.

'The Dinner'

Paul Lohman is private and wearisome, yet his brother, Serge, is on the verge of being prime minister. The story promises to revolve around something that their two fifteen year old boys did, but that doesn’t come into play until much, much later. This book is a slow, laborious read. There are many pages spent describing the food and atmosphere of the restaurant. This doesn’t bother me as much as it does others, but I wish that Koch developed the characters’ problems earlier. There are passages that feel like if they were omitted then the pacing issues would be non-existent.

About halfway through the book is when everything finally becomes interesting. The plot moves quickly, and it’s rather refreshing. However, it feels rushed and we end up only get the slimmest of details. Perhaps this was to go in hand with Paul’s purposeful lack of narration, but I feel Koch just didn’t develop the gritty details enough. The action of the last half, especially the final act of the book, is boom-boom-boom. It left me wanting more, but not in a satisfactory way. In more of a, “wait-what?” way.

There were some points during my read that I felt that Koch’s beautiful prose was lost in translation from Dutch to English. It felt choppy at best during times I wanted the scenes to flow painlessly. However, Koch’s take on jumping back and forth in time to unfold a story was good. His jumps were always triggered by key moments and sometimes spent entire chapters on events that didn’t seem all that important until the rest of the story unfolded.

All in all, it’s a good read if you’re interested in dry drama and have a pension for rapid assault endings. If you’re looking for all out forceful novel a la Tom Clancy or Dan Brown, then this isn’t for you. Definitely a slow burner.

5 films I wish were novels first

In a world where novels are constantly being made into films, I often think about what would happen if some of my favorite films were actually adaptions instead of original films. I thought of five off of the top of my head, and I know there would be better options, but these are the ones that instantly came to mind.

  1. American Beauty – Alan Ball’s script tackles multiple themes rather poignantly. Critics have been split on how to interpret the work, leading many to argue if it’s about finding yourself, the meaning of life, or an existentialist view towards humanity. Just think about what the passage describing the floating plastic bag could read like. Mmm. Intersting note: the film was released in 1999, which was the same year as novel-turned-film Fight Club; just saying.
  2. Inception – Christopher Nolan’s launch to super-director came with 2000’s Memento, which incedentally was an adaptaion of a short story. The reason I think this would have been a fabulous novel is because of the simple fact that most people complain that the novel to film conversion leaves out the meat of a story. I just feel that the world Nolan created could have been explored with so much more depth if it was fleshed out in a novel. Think about how interesting it would have been to see Cobb’s and Arthur’s relationship, or the development of Ariadne’s skills. Of course the abrupt ending would be hard to depict on page.
  3. The Royal Tenenbaums – I’ve always said that Wes Anderson was the JD Salinger of film. In fact the Tenenbaums were greatly influenced by Salinger’s Glass family. The film itself uses a novel narrative format, which could easily have lent the film to a great story. The relationships that Anderson created with the immediate and extended family could have easily been expanded. Perhaps the most interesting aspect I would have enjoyed to have read was the disbursement of flashbacks. Structually the novel could have been set up in a way where it told two stories a la “Grapes of Wrath.”
  4. The Usual Suspects – The epitome of an unreliable narrator. But would have been interesting is that it would be an unreliable narrator of a story-within-a-story. Screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie wrote an amazing cast of usual suspects and lets those characters drive the story. The most frustrating thing about the film is many feel the ending comes out of nowhere. Perhaps that was McQuarrie’s intention, but I feel that subtle clues in a longer novel would make this story that much better.
  5. (500) Days of Summer – The fact that the writing duo (Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber) started the story off with an author’s note made me laugh. “AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any persons living or dead is purely coincidental. /// Especially you Jenny Beckman. /// Bitch.” I just think it sets up the humor that goes along with the story. Even the structure of this film could have been easily translated as a novel. Each day is a chapter. I mean, during the first time I watched this film I was thinking, “Damn, this is just like a story I’m writing.” It’s a classic tale with a modern twist.