Book Review: October Light

October Light

Genre:

Literature

Why I read this book

I finished this book a while ago so I thought I’d write about it.  To be honest, it took a while to write this review because months after finishing I still have this feeling of ‘What the hell did I just read?’ XD  If you look on Amazon.com you will find readers polarized into two camps, Gardner is a genius or a horrible writer.  I found him to be an innovative author with lovely prose, but I know why others found this book unbearable.

A friend of mine (a brilliant writer) recommended it to me years ago, and I finally got around to reading it.  That’s probably the best advice I could give to newbie writers.  Find another writer you love and ask them for book recommendations.

Synopsis

The basic premise of the story is that an old man, James, living off the land gets stuck living with his once-affluent and now destitute elderly sister, Sally.  They get into a fight about the TV because he thinks technology has destroyed everything that is good with America, so he shoots the TV with a gun and  ends up chasing her into a bedroom and threatening to kill her if she comes out.  Then the rest of the book is spent with friends and family trying to get her to come out.  Yep, three-hundred pages of that.  Although I guess one could say the TV series, “The Wonder Years,” was just about a boy growing up.  But they managed to make 100+ awesome episodes on that premise.

Then there is this side-plot about a man wanting to commit suicide, and he unknowingly gets rescued by drug dealers.  How does this fit in with the main story?  It’s a book Sally reads while locked up in her bedroom.  It takes up about about a quarter of October Light.  It’s also missing pages.  Yes, the book within a book is a tattered relic she finds while in her self-imposed prison, so both the reader and Sally can only read part of this story.  It’s hard to follow the book within a book, and some readers on Amazon just skipped it.  It supposedly mirrors the disconnect between Sally and her brother, but it was hard to make that connection.  Or maybe I’m completely off and failed to see the point of it XD

Would I recommend this book to others?  

It depends on what you are looking for in a book.  This book is not a page-turner, the characters are rather unlikable, and the plot relies too heavily on micro-tension.  However, the prose is gorgeous.  It’s less poetic and lyrical than McCarthy’s, but is beautiful in its own way.  I also enjoyed the insightful bits of philosophy scattered throughout the story.  The characters grew on me over time, but by the end of the book the only character I was rooting for was Jame’s daughter.

I like reading avant-garde books because it often inspires new ideas.  I wouldn’t say it was a fun read, but that’s not why I read it.  It was a good learning experience.  There’s a lot of meaning in this book I feel like I missed, so I will probably come back and read it at a later point in time.

Right now I’m reading Annie Proulx’s novel The Shipping News, along with rereading McCarthy’s The Road and Faulkner’s Light in August.  I have trouble reading just one book XD

Bookshelf Tag

So I was nominated to do this “Bookshelf Tag” by Sabrina over at Books and Bark. She has a lovely blog, and I hope my bookshelf tag will be as interesting as hers. No guarantees though XD

THE RULES:
Answer the following questions about books, and then tag five other bloggers. You can answer the questions any way you want, whether it’s on your blog, in a video, or a combination of the two. Then remember to let whoever tagged you know when your post is up so they can read it.

All photos courtesy of Amazon.com with the exception of Tooth Fairy.

1. Is there a book that you really want to read but haven’t because you know that it’ll make you cry?

It took me a while to think of a book that I avoided on the sole basis that it would make me sad.  I avoid sad movies like the plague because I have very strong emotions.  I don’t typically avoid sad stories though.  Not sure how that works XD  A few years ago I bought Watership Down, and I’ve been hesitant to read it because I’ve heard from everyone that it’s really sad.  It is still sitting on my bookshelf, unread.  Maybe I’ll read it in the future.

Watership Down

There are a few other stories that I’m reluctant to reread because they are so sad.  One of them is a short story Flowers for Algernon.  I’ve read it twice, once when I was 13 and then again as assigned reading for high school.  It’s a poignant story and really tugs at your heart.  I would recommend it.  It’s sci-fi because it uses medical technology not in existence.  The other would be The Last Unicorn.  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why I get so sad and depressed after reading it, but I do.  I have not reread either of those stories for a long time, even though I love them dearly, because I know how sad they will make me.

2. Pick one book that helped introduce you to a new genre.

This is another hard question XD  I have read horror, sci-fi, and literature.  I don’t think there was one book that got me into the sci-fi or literature genre.  And my sci-fi phase started at 15 years old, so I’m a bit fuzzy on how my love of that genre began.  If I remember correctly, it was a book of sci-fi shorts that my dad had for college, maybe.  I was forced to read literature for school, so that makes it hard to pin down the one book that got me into it.

I do remember what got me into the horror genre, and that was Goosebumps.  I remember the first book I read, Say Cheese and Die by R.L. Stine.  I was 7 or 8 at the time.  As a kid I loved the horror genre.  Unfortunately, I grew out of that series and wanted to read R.L. Stine’s more mature horror stories.  The first book I read in Stine’s YA category talked about black magic, and I asked my mom what it was, and she banned me from reading it because she said it was witch craft.  That rule was applied to all of Stine’s YA books.  I haven’t read any horror books since.  I have a few Stephen King novels that I bought but haven’t read yet.

Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die

3. Find a book that you want to reread.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy.  I’ve read it like 3-4 times, but I want to read it again already XD  I’ve already gone into lengthy details about why I love this book so much.  If you’d like to read my opinion on it here is a link to that post: Book Review of The Road.

The Road

4. Is there a book series you read but wish that you hadn’t?

If I don’t like a book I stop reading, but there was one book I hated and was forced to read for high school English, Lord of the Flies.  I really did not like that book.  I would have stopped if I was reading it of my own volition.  Even if I don’t like a book, I try to find some redeeming quality about it, but I couldn’t with this one.  Maybe as an adult I could, but 15-year old me did not enjoy it.
Lord of the Flies

I guess the other one is Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five.  I think the problem is that I went in with the mindset that it would be a fun read.  This was during my sci-fi phase, and I had read one of his famous short stories “Harrison Bergeron,” and so I expected Slaughterhouse Five to be similar.  Slaughterhouse Five was very dark and anti-war.   It’s also told with non-linear narrative, so it was confusing.  It made me hate humanity for a few days.  I didn’t want to talk to anyone because all humans including myself were disgusting.  I just wanted to curl up in my bed and wake up once that feeling had passed.  Part of me wonders if I would get more out of it as an adult.  I read it at 17 years old.  But the other part of me is scared that I’ll start hating humanity again if I read it.  From what I remember, the point of the book was to showcase humankind’s repugnant nature as it relates to war, and Vonnegut succeeded in that aspect.

Slaughterhouse Five

5. If your house was burning down and all of your family and pets were safe, which book would you go back inside to save?

Okay, this is going to make me sound really old.  I’m pretty sure if a fire was raging in my house I would not run back in to get anything but a pet or family member.  I’m a really cautious person, and I don’t like taking chances.  Hypothetically, if I were to go back inside the house I would run in and grab my old photo albums.  The ones that were created before digital cameras.

6. Is there one book on your bookshelf that brings back fond memories?

The Last Unicorn brings back fond memories.  I watched the movie many times as a kid, and then read the book as a teenager.  It reminds me of the little girl I was back when I thought unicorns really existed.  Then as a teen I thought perhaps I was a unicorn in another life XD  I’m Christian, so I don’t believe in reincarnation, but for a few months it was a fun idea to play around with.

The Last Unicorn

Also, the Chronicles of Narnia brings back fond memories.  I had the whole set as a kid, but I don’t have it now :/  Many of my books went into storage, and it was flooded so they were all destroyed ;_____;

7. Find a book that has inspired you the most.

In regards to writing inspiration, The Road changed my perspective on fiction and elevated it to an art form.  I had never read anything so lyrical and haunting.  I knew I wanted to write just like Cormac McCarthy after reading it.  Unfortunately, I will never be Cormac McCarthy, no one will.  He reminds me in many ways of a modern day Faulkner.

I really love Timothy Findley’s novel, Headhunter, because the line between reality and psychosis was blurred.  That book had a strong effect on me as well.  I think I was trying to accomplish something similar with the suicide story I wrote.  My character doesn’t have schizophrenia, but he’s dying so his thoughts get stranger, and I wanted to create this feeling where the reader isn’t quite sure what’s happening.  Not sure if I succeeded, but that was my intent XD

Margaret Atwood is also an inspiration as she writes lyrical prose and also manages to create really engaging stories.  The first book of hers that I read was Cat’s Eye.  I think the most common complaint people have about literature is that it’s boring.  Atwood goes against the literature stereotype.  She also creates really awesome female protagonists.  I feel inspired by her stories because I want to write entertaining literature and/or fantasy with poetic prose.

8. Do you have any autographed books?

Nope.

9. Find the book that you have owned the longest. 

Okay, I’m too old for this XD  My mom has most of my childhood books.  I took a few of my favorites.  I think the Tooth Fairy might be the one I remember the most.

Tooth Fairy

10. Is there a book by an author that you never imagined you would read or enjoy? 

I’m having a hard time with this one. . .  I don’t usually read a book if I don’t think I would enjoy it XD  Actually the book I’m reading now, October Light, is one that I tried to read 4 years ago.  The same friend that recommended The Road also suggested this book.  This friend is an amazing writer, so I trusted her judgement and still do.  Years ago, I read a few pages and was not interested.  Then I went on to buy more of McCarthy’s books and read them instead XD  No, I don’t have an unhealthy obsession with McCarthy’s stories, why do you ask? :$

This year I decided to broaden my horizons and try it again.  I’m actually enjoying it now.  I think the biggest problem for me was that I didn’t like the characters.  It’s about a brother and sister that are in their 70s, and they get into a fight.  Now that I’m over 200 pages into the book I kind of like the characters.  They have some redeeming qualities, and I find myself rooting for both of them.  I enjoy his prose as well.  It’s not as poetic as McCarthy’s, but it’s beautiful in it’s own way.  I have another book of Gardner’s, Grendel, that I would like to read.

October Light

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The people I nominate for the Bookshelf Tag are:

1. Silver Linings and Dust Bunnies

2. Storiform

3. Silent Spells

4. Writes and Responsibilities

5. Justina Luther

 

The Road aka The Greatest Book In Existence

The Road

I think anyone that knows me knows about my obsession with Cormac McCarthy XD  It started 5 years ago when a fanfic friend of mine (that is an amazing writer) recommended, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and October Light by John Gardner.  It’s hard to put into words the feeling that I got when I first read The Road.  It was one of the most magical and inspirational events of my adult life.  It completely changed the way I thought about writing.  If I was limited to one book for the rest of my life, I would pick this one.  I just finished my 4th read-through of it, so I thought I’d share my thoughts.

I’ll preface this review by saying that McCarthy writes poetic prose, and if you aren’t into it, you might not like it.  I’ve read several of his books, and his style is characterized by long passages of poetic prose interspersed with very sparse prose.  The Road is different than the others because instead of going into these long passages of poetic prose, he interweaves it through the fabric of the novel.  I think that is part of what makes it more accessible than his other works.  I just looked on Amazon, and they actually posted the whole thing (with the exception of the final few pages) as an excerpt.  If you click on the picture to look inside you can read the whole thing for free.  I’m a firm believer in supporting artists, so if you like the book I would buy it anyway to support McCarthy.  This book was made into a movie, which was awesome, but the book is so much better.

Summary: Amidst the bleak and dreary setting of a post-apocalyptic world, a father and son are struggling to survive.  Starvation is rampant and rules the land while cannibals lurk around every corner.  At the forefront of this story is the love between a father and son as they struggle to survive, heading south on “the road,” in search of food and a better life.

Pros: The prose is lyrical and fitting of the barren landscape of the novel.  It’s a compelling story, and the first time I read it, I couldn’t get through it fast enough.  The love that the father has for his son is so much more powerful than the grief he faces on a daily basis.  Their devotion is endearing and will tug at your heartstrings.  The father is forced to make some difficult decisions, but he’s always trying to do what is best for his son.  They never succumb to the evil that has consumed humanity because they carry the fire, which is a theme mentioned several times in the book.   Despite everything that they go through, they never give up hope, a testament to the resilience of mankind.

Cons: For me there aren’t any cons.  But for some people I think they might be a bit turned off by McCarthy’s stylized dialogue.  He gets rid of all the “he said,” “she said,” and associated innuendo.  The dialogue is written like this. . .

I like ice cream

I like ice cream too

Why don’t we get some ice cream

Sure, I’m feeling really hungry

It can get confusing in long passages because you don’t know who’s saying what.  There are never more than two participants in the dialogue, but even still, it can be a bit difficult to read and understand.  But it fits the bleak atmosphere of the story, and it contributes to his writing style.  It’s also filled with angst.  My sister could not get past the first few pages because it was too depressing.  Also, this could be considered a pro or con depending on your tastes, but there are some very disturbing elements of horror in here.

Recommendation: I would recommend this book to everyone because it’s such a beautiful yet haunting story.

I’ll review other books as I read them.  Probably one a month.  I read slowly so I can absorb the prose and reflect upon the story as I go.