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Review: Candide

Candide by Voltaire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wonderful, side-splittingly funny. There are so many quotes here that I need to relook at the book and highlight them, and likely miss most of it.

I’m not intellectually equipped to articulate the social commentary that is Candide, and any remarks I make about the critic that despises everything (one of the funniest parts of the book – the one who ‘finds pleasure in not finding pleasure’) as well as Candide, who delightfully ‘finds everything so surprising’, as remarked by Cacambo, will miss the point. Any attempts I may make about how our circumstances is not really the best end result of some pie-in-the-sky universal causality, will fall flat and sound pretentious and meaningless.

So I will only say what I cannot refute, which is that this work made me laugh out loud so many times I have to give it 4 stars. The missing star is probably because it wasn’t as long as Don Quixote. Which may actually warrant it 6 stars, I don’t know.

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Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes

Something Wicked This Way Comes
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An evil traveling carnival stops in a small town, and proceeds to terrorize two local boys, who learns about balloons and calliope and a chap with tatts called The Illustrated Man (cool name, I have to say), a witch who’s susceptible to cigarette smoke and a supposed dead guy who is powered by high-voltage electricity while strapped onto an electric chair.

And the merry-go-round. A special ride that can shave or add years to your life with every revolution, depending on which way it turns. Apparently people get tricked or tempted to ride in it, and emotions of all sorts powers the evil that is the carnival.

The point is, this book flew past me a little. Bradbury evokes incredible imagery in this book, painting the small town, and the characters and the carnival in great detail. However all that got in the way of the storytelling for me. I didn’t figure out why the carnival was so very very bad, how it affected the folks in the town, what happened to some of the people who got in contract with the carnival, why it was so important for Mr Dark to get his hands on the two boys. I’m sure it was mentioned, but it just flew past for me.

The Illustrated Man is famously the title of another of Bradbury’s books, and now I’m wondering if that’s the same guy.

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Review: Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques

Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques
Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques by James Hynes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not a fountain of ideas, not a generator of plots. Rather catalogue of techniques that can be used to tell a story. It’s obviously not exhaustive, as you simply cannot possible list down every possible trick every single author has used, but it’s a way to inform the would be author on the possibilities.

It wasn’t what I was looking for, if there’s such a thing. I’m specifically for how to plot and how to generate ideas. This course covers this, but not in the depth I was hoping for. I did like the discussion on Freytag’s pyramid, which is a structure for dramatic plays what can be adopted for fiction writing.

It was a good course, overall, but if you’re looking handle plots, this isn’t it.

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Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An astounding, eye-opening book. Against the backdrop of 1960/1970s Afghanistan all the way to the early 21st century, the story charts the lives of two strong Afghan women and their will for survival in a society where social norms are stacked heavily against women. The book is nuanced and paints a very sympathetic view of the traditional middle eastern and Islamic way of life. Struck in particular about how the Taliban’s iron enforcement of Islamic laws upon their takeover of the country affected its citizens, especially women.

I think this is an important book for everyone to read, if only to see a culture drastically different from our own and as a contrast to our own lives. I can think of many people in positions of power in my own nation, sheltered and ever ready to brandish a self-righteous cultural pronouncement or two, who would probably be well served to take a minute or two to think about how it affects people of different racial persuasions, as it does within Afghanistan itself (because the Afghan community is also made up of different racial populations, and they too tell a story about how these racial distinctions are indeed, not distinctions at all). The society painted here is complex, and makes it simpler to discern the difference between religious duty and religious fundamentalism.

Culture is borne out of tradition, which is borne out of necessities of the way of lives of a community, at a particular time and place. In this modern world, I think it bears thinking deeply about some traditions, how and why they grew out from, and whether it’s still something that should be applied wholesale in the context of today.

How would you feel if half of your nation’s population is to immediately stop working? That there’s a clear gender demarcation where there are hospitals just for men or for women, and these facilities are provisioned unfairly? I frequently found myself outraged at some of the things Mariam and Laila went through, and what was done to them. This book is less about politics and national turmoil and war, but more about society and women.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, a work that forces me to feel strongly (and I don’t mean poor prose or ridiculous plots/stories) is automatically a memorable one, and I surely felt a lot reading this. Recommended, on many levels.

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