Book Review – 10:04 by Ben Lerner

After a full year of the blog not having any book reviews on it, I fully planned to have a new review up on the site sometime in January or February of this year. And this post is proof of making good on that promise. This just wasn’t the book I had planned on reviewing. I’ll be sure to get to that book in the not to distant future, however I’ve decided to preempt that review with one about Ben Lerner’s book “10:04” for two reasons.

  1. I have significantly more to say about “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing”1The book linked in the paragraph above. than I do about “10:04”. This is partly because I wholeheartedly loved “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing”, partly because I feel like the messages in that book are much more poignant in today’s society than the average book, and partly because I’m a huge fan of Hank Green. It’s also partly because I have conflicting feelings about “10:04”, which I’ll get into below.
  2. “10:04” is the first book that I’ve read in years that made me actively ask ‘what in the fuck did I just read?’ and not have it be completely in a bad way2I’ve had quite a few of the ‘what in the fuck did I just read?’ in a bad way books over the past few years. This list includes, but is not limited to, “The Red Inn” by Honore de Balzac, “Lucky Us” by Amy Bloom, and “The Iliad” by Homer..

The premise of “10:04” — an author writing about the process of writing a book — is simple enough. Much like Hollywood fetishizes over movies about Hollywood, authors love reading books about other writers and their writing processes, be they fictional or otherwise. That said, “10:04” is not so much about the author’s journey to write a single book as much as it is a journey to write four3At least four. You could make the argument it’s more than that with the different ideas he details, but there’s four solid books discussed. different stories over the course of the book. It is a beautifully relatable tale in that regard. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many story ideas that I’ve had that I’ve started, only to scrap them later for a better idea, or when I tired of writing the initial story. Lerner does a masterful job of grasping with this concept in “10:04”, as well as the many reasons why authors have mental hurdles when it comes to writing works that are intended for future publication.

The various stories detailed with in the book, however, also become its downfall to a certain extent. Though the main storyline flows linearly and coherently, when bits and pieces of the stories that the author is writing are worked into the book, it makes for a confusing read. This was even more noticeable in the audiobook version of “10:04”, where the reader of the story did not clearly delineate when the narrator was switching between telling his own story and telling a story he had written (though there was a notable exception later in the book that was done flawlessly). Instead of having a flowing, coherent read, those who choose to listen to the audiobook may experience minutes at a time where they’re confused whether or not they’re reading the main story itself or a story within a story. From what I’ve seen in a quick skim through the physical book, this is better laid out in the book itself, hence why it is a criticism on my part, though not a chief one.

“10:04” is very much a metafictional look into writing a book from the view of an author within a book. I love this style of writing, particularly when it’s done well. There are several nods to the fact that the author/narrator of this book knows that you, the reader, are consuming his current book. With that said, it’s not intrusive enough to be a distraction from the main story itself. The book has a few interesting subplots, particularly the relationship between the author and his best friend, Alex, in their quest to conceive a child through IVF4There’s a moment in this particular subplot that’s incredibly cringey. It works because the main character is portrayed as flawed and somewhat impulsive, but at the same time doesn’t work because of how much the main character seems to focus on morality in the book. Even after finishing the entire book and understanding how that scene fits into the larger context of the novel, I still don’t understand the need for its inclusion. It just adds an unnecessary reason to hate the main character to the story.. The overarching goal of the author finishing his story — or what that story would eventually become by the end of the book — is molded and changed by the various subplots within the story, which helps them flow quite naturally.

My biggest complaint about “10:04” is how frequently the main character of the story would talk smart just to sound smart. Since the main character is both an author and a professor, it goes without saying that this individual would have an extensive vocabulary and would deploy it regularly, both as the narrator of a metafictional piece and in his day-to-day interactions with other people in the book. With that said, there were several times throughout the book I was left wondering whether the main character was meant to be portrayed as a pompous intellectual or not. I don’t think this was the intent when the character was written, as evidenced by the main character’s interactions with children in the book, as well as most of his time with Alex. But there were enough times where I felt like the narrator was trying to impress someone with his verbosity that it was distracting — arguably the most distracting part of the book as a whole.

With that all said, there is something that “10:04” does better than most any book I’ve read5Definitely in recent memory, possibly ever.. The way that Lerner planted small pieces of the story at the beginning of the book and then integrated them throughout the story as it moved along was superb. From the repetition of the poem “High Flight” to discussion on the ethics (and weirdness) of eating baby octopuses at fancy restaurants6As well as several other running items., the whole book felt like it tied together beautifully because of how much every little thing discussed mattered. Some authors7Hello! will go on long tangents aside as a method to world building or moving a subplot along. Lerner did this, but he took it a step further by using these tangents to create an environment for the story where you, as the reader, could latch on to these small details spread throughout the book. They’d draw you back into whatever was going on in the story, no matter how lost you were.

Initially after ending “10:04”, I had no idea what to think of the book. I texted Megan of the book review site Soul Meets Books and said the following:

Today in books I have no idea what to think of: “10:04” by Ben Lerner. It’s the first book I’ve read in a while that made me think ‘what in the fuck did I just read?’

After a bit of time for reflection, I think I know what in the fuck I just read. “10:04” does what it is intended to do in a great way — to provide a first person examination into the process of writing a book, along with all of the influences that go into it, all in a metafictional way. It is limited by intertwining stories within the story that make the story unnecessarily complex, as well as a narrator who inconsistently deploys complex vocabulary in such a way that can be a put off to some readers. With that said, I think I find myself more intrigued by “10:04” after reading the book than I was during my read of the book. That’s not a small feat to achieve when writing a book about the process of writing a book. “10:04” has made me think about the process to writing a book — as well as the various intricate details involved that make a book truly exceptional — more than the vast majority of books I’ve read. I don’t know that I’d recommend “10:04” to everyone. If you’re not engaged with the main point of the story, it can be hard to get invested in the characters aside from the narrator. But if you’re a writer in any capacity, I do think “10:04” is worth your time.

Book Review – The Shadows (Dark Sentinels, Book One)

You know what I haven’t done in a while? A book review.

Tim, you did one in April.

Huh. So I did. Well I haven’t done many of them.

This will be your sixth.

Uh…well it’s not like I’ve done any other revi…

What about this one?

Goddammit. Am I becoming a reviewer?

Not yet, but you’re on your way.

 

…also, if you’re looking for an update on the book charity drive, that’ll come later this week or early next week. Anyway, on with the review.


Full disclosure on this review — I received an advanced reader copy of The Shadows. While I’m not receiving any sort of compensation for writing this review, I am quite shamelessly helping the author promote this book as I can on Twitter. This is partly because she’s been a writer/creator I’ve held a lot of respect for for quite some time now8Yes, I know there’s a double for there. It’s also grammatically correct.. It’s also partly because The Shadows is a damn good book.

Oh…uh…review spoilers in that previous paragraph9Since people get all bent out of shape for spoilers. Which…stop that..

As a reader, I have a decently wide range of books I like to read. With that said, one of the original book genres that I really got into when I started caring about reading was the Young Adult genre. In particular, I tended to prefer Young Adult dystopian novels10Think “Feed” by M.T. Anderson., however I wasn’t opposed to reading pretty much anything in the genre, aside from heavy romance11Still can’t stand heavy romance novels now, regardless of if they’re young adult books or not. For whatever reason, many romance writers struggle to write good plot..

That said, it’s been quite some time since I’ve really sat down and read a YA novel. The only one I’ve read in the past three years was Mila 2.0 which, while a good book, wasn’t one that I actively went out of my way to recommend to others to read. On top of that, when the book’s concept was original ran by me, it was stated to be a young adult paranormal sci-fi book. The closest I’ve come to caring about paranormal things is my love for Chandelure and Froslass in the Pokemon games. Needless to say the book had a chance of being outside of my wheelhouse.

Here’s the thing though…I loved the book.

The main character of this book, Roz, is a very relatable character in my mind. Anyone who has gone through the challenges of living as a child in a single parent household will have some level of empathy for Roz’s situation, particularly the frustrations of her mother not being around. The other major characters of the story also seem to jump off of the page — in particular Derek, who is more of a secondary character in the book, but has a very distinct way of speaking, to the point where I feel like I know exactly what his voice sounds like in my head.

The characters themselves form a diverse, multicultural cast, which is always a pleasure to see in a book. It’s something I know from personal experience can be a struggle for writers, so seeing someone handle it successfully is always a positive. The paranormal entities in the book also stick around in your mind for a while, particularly Diego and the book’s main antagonist12It’s hard to explain exactly what this specter is without spoiling, so that’s all you’re getting..

The Shadows is definitely a setup book. You can tell the book is doing its best to introduce you to the main characters of the story, the intricacies of the world around them, the gravity of the challenges they’re facing, and the relationships between the characters themselves. You can also tell that there’s going to be more books in this series coming down the line. And yet, even though you can, as a reader, surmise that as the book is winding down, the only feeling you’re left with is sadness that the book is ending and you don’t get to know what happens next. Having a preview of the second book at the end was particular cruel — not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because I wanted to know more.

I was able to get through The Shadows in a single evening, though I was a bit distracted, so quick readers might be able to finish it in just a few hours. It’s not that The Shadows is a particularly short read — the ebook version I had was around 290 pages — it’s that it’s a captivating read that you won’t want to put down. I cannot recommend The Shadows highly enough. Not only would I encourage those of you reading this interview to buy the book, I would also say that many of you, like me, will find it to be one of your favorite books you’ll read this year.

Book Review – Always a Bridesmaid (For Hire) by Jen Glantz

Before I start reviewing this book, I have a pair of disclaimers to give. First and foremost, hearing Jen’s story about getting her previous book, All My Friends are Engaged, from idea to self-published work helped inspire me to take my short stories and turn them into a book. It was a significant enough of an inspiration that I felt like a complete asshole when I forgot to put her in my thank yous section of the book, even though I’ve never met her in person. She wrote a guest post for my blog, I wrote one for hers, and we would occasionally chat on Twitter/20SB. But I still felt terrible. The second disclaimer is that I don’t like weddings. Or stories about weddings. Or pretty much anything wedding related. Weddings are (generally) long, boring affairs with similarly long and boring receptions. They’re expensive and frequently cause the newly married couple financial problems because you want to throw a good party for your friends and family13Or something. I personally don’t see the need for weddings to be opulent affairs, but I get why people might feel it’s necessary..

Now to begin…

Even when taking into consideration my dislike for wedding-related subject matter, there’s not a ton I have to complain about in Always a Bridesmaid (For Hire). If anything, the first quarter of the book reads a bit slower than the rest of the book, though I think that’s natural as Jen is setting up the context for the rest of the book to make sense. Considering how much she talked about her family early on, I expected her to mention them more as the book went on. Other than her mom, most other family members are only mentioned occasionally after the first 60 or so pages. Which is totally fine, as you get into more of Jen’s personal experiences — just a bit unexpected.

My wife actually stole this book from me right after I got it, meaning she got the chance to read it before I had even opened it up. She mentioned that she expected it to be more about wedding and bridesmaid stories, particularly from the title of the book and the summary blurb on the back. If you’re reading Always a Bridesmaid (For Hire) for an abundance of wedding stories, you’re likely going to be let down a bit. I remember reading a review of the book saying that Jen should have waited until later in life to write this so she’d have more wedding stories, however I think that such a point of view misses the entire point of the book.

Yes, Always a Bridesmaid (For Hire) is a book that talks about weddings and talks about the experience of being a bridesmaid. That much is definitely true. But this book is not a wedding book. It’s a business book masquerading in a wedding book’s body14Much in the same way every member of a wedding party is a complex human masquerading as part of the theatre that is a wedding.. In this book, you’re going to get great advice about risk-taking and failure, about determination and effort, about openness and learning from your mistakes. The concept of learning how to fail like a hero stuck with me far more than the stories of chasing down a lost bridesmaid’s dress.

There was one line in the book that stuck out to me far more than any other, not just because of its profound nature, but also because of the truth it’s held in my life.

Maybe that’s the strange thing about strangers: they have just as much control over how your story ends.

-Jen Glantz, Always a Bridesmaid (For Hire)

Recently I found myself contemplating how people can change our lives for better and worse just be being in our lives. It’s kind of interesting to think how one day you could meet someone who has never been part of your life before, only for them to become the person who changes your life — either positively or negatively — for good. Or that stranger could just be a person you pass on the street who you’ll never see or interact with ever again. But you don’t know. And you don’t know the impact each person will make until well after that impact has been made.

I’d recommend Always a Bridesmaid (For Hire), particular as a book that tells the story of a young woman looking to make her own impact on the world, while also trying to find who and what in the world will make an impact on her. It’s not a business or philosophy book in a traditional sense, however if you’re looking for thoughts on either, I think you’ll find this book surprisingly helpful.

Book Review – Lucky Us by Amy Bloom

Author’s Note: The following book review was previously published on my old blog on June 9th, 2014. The majority of the content of this post has remained the same from the review at that time, however references to a giveaway associated with said review have been amended accordingly.

 

Disclaimer: The following book review is part of Random House’s book review campaign for the novel “Lucky Us” by Amy Bloom. All opinions in this post remain my own, as no one else could be paid to claim them.

So in writing this review, I find myself in a first time situation on a couple of different fronts. While this isn’t the first time I’ve done a book review, this is the first novel I’ve had the opportunity to review pre-release. Likewise, the is the first book review I’ve done that is any sort of promotion for someone else’s writing. As such, I’m working to find a balance between the objective/promotional side of my writing and the cynical/sarcastic/general buffoonery of my normal writing. I might as well get used to it though — there’s a chance someone could be doing this for me some day.

There’s an old saying that states you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. From a metaphorical standpoint, the idiom is reminding you that just because someone or something looks a certain way, it doesn’t mean that’s their inner personality. Apparently, that cliché applies to actual books too. Who knew?

Lucky Us by Amy BloomThe back cover of Lucky Us made the novel sound like a cheap mashup between The Great Gatsby and The Grapes of Wrath, combining the low points of both novels to create a cheesy coming of age story about two girls seeking adventure. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), the actual story of the book didn’t give off that vibe at all.

Lucky Us focuses on the story of a young woman, Eva, and her struggle to truly find a group of people she can call her family. Along the way, she has various people in her life who are family in the literal sense — a con artist father whose fake Britishness is second only to Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, a mother who abandoned her so that she could live out her lifelong dream of becoming the female Joel Osteen, and a lesbian half-sister, Iris, who, despite being the most relatable and believable character in the book, was largely absent due to her own pursuits for fame, fortune, and love.

While she spent much of the book looking for the stability of a family, it wasn’t until Eva realized that she could be a self-sufficient person (albeit while caring for Iris’ adopted/stolen son, Danny) that Eva began to find a family. While acting as the mother she never had to Danny, Eva found a father figure in one of Iris’ former makeup artists, and a lover/husband in a German man (Gus) who had been deported under false pretenses during World War II. Oh, did I mention said man was also the ex-husband of Iris’ lesbian lover with whom she adopted Danny?

At least Bugs could follow which way everyone went. Image credit: storiesspace.com

I actually have very few criticisms of the book, however that final sentence highlights my biggest concern. The majority of the characters throughout the book intertwine in rather convoluted ways. At times, keeping track of who is who, who likes/hates who, and who wants who is a bit difficult. Not quite Grey’s Anatomy pre-Lexi Gray’s death difficult, but still pretty damn confusing.

My other qualm with the book came from the book’s ending. Initially, I hated the ending. Eva’s estranged sister returns from England, and everyone lives happily ever after. That said, once I began really analyzing the book, the happy ending where Eva gets her family just feels right. That said, the ending felt a bit rushed, particularly Gus’ return and integration within the picture. Even with that in mind, it’s a minor gripe.

Lucky Us will be released on July 29th, 2014. For more information about the author, Amy Bloom, please visit her website. You can also follow her on Twitter at @AmyBloomBooks, and see other posts in this blog tour either by searching #LuckyUs on Twitter, or by going to the list I’ll be compiling at the bottom of this post.

Other reviews of Lucky Us from 20SB writers:

http://www.warmweatherwishes.com/2014/06/review-lucky-us-giveaway.html

http://theflannelflower.blogspot.com/2014/06/lucky-us-review-and-giveaway.html

http://www.poor-unknown.com/luckyus/  Warning: Outbound links from this post don’t appear to work

http://laurenofalltrades.blogspot.com/2014/06/lucky-us-review.html

http://emzrant.blogspot.com/2014/06/lucky-you-another-book-giveaway.html

http://www.thesls.blogspot.com/2014/06/lucky-us-book-review-giveaway.html

http://www.thechannelingboard.com/2014/06/giveaway-lucky-us-by-amy-bloom.html

http://thesaltypretzel.com/2014/06/20/lucky-us-amy-bloom/

Book Review – One Word Says It All by Amanda Osborn

Author’s Note: The following book review was previously published on my old blog on January 22nd, 2014. All content in this post is exactly the same as it was in the original post, except for prices, which have been updated as applicable.

I made an unofficial plan to read more this year than I did last year. To be fair, it wouldn’t be all that hard to read more than the 8 new books than I did last year, however I still set the goal for myself. Since I’m embarking on a journey of my own to become a published writer and write my own ebook, I figured what better place to start than to read a few books from writers I know personally (and by personally, I mean people I know from the internet via blogs/Twitter).

My first finished book of the year (I’m at two so far) was One Word Says It All: Stories From My Year Abroad in China by Amanda Osborn. Amanda is the author at Break the Sky, and occasionally shows up in the comments of various posts of this blog. Upon finishing Amanda’s book, I decided I’d do a book review for her book, along with the other books I finish this year written by people I know. There’s just one minor problem to this — I’ve never written a book review before. Much like the example video below, it’s just not part of my job description.

That said, I figured there’s no better place to try writing my first book review post than with One Word Says It All. The book discusses Amanda’s time in China as part of a study abroad program. I too took part in a study abroad program in college, spending the summer between my first and second years of university in Spain. Because of that, I was drawn to the subject matter of this book, even though China is a country I’ve never been to (or frankly dreamed of travelling to).

One Word Says It All is a very quick read. My Kindle app had it at 51 pages, and I finished reading the book in just over an hour. It’s written in a format very reminiscent of how I told stories about Spain to my own family when I returned from study abroad, though admittedly I didn’t have nearly as interesting of a time abroad as Amanda did.

If I had to pick a specific chapter that anyone interested in buying the book should read, I’d say that the chapter entitled “The Train Ride from Hell (Or, That Time a Baby Peed on Someone’s Pant Leg)”. Public transportation woes are rarely something that cause laughter, however when baby pee and an awkwardly exposed breast are involved, the story quickly becomes amusing in retrospect. The chapter’s content aside, the book’s tone does a fantastic job of illustrating Amanda’s emotions during her time abroad — both the highs and the lows — and truly makes the reader feel as though they’re being told the story by a close friend.

One Word Says It All: Stories From My Year Abroad in China is available for $2.99 on Kindle devices as well as the Kindle App on Android, iOS, and Windows 8. It’s a recommended read for all, though especially for those who have been through study abroad themselves, or those who will be taking the dive and studying abroad themselves in the future.