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The Books I Read: November – December 2023

It by Stephen King

I can’t remember what inspired me, but one day I just thought “I should re-read It“. It’s a defining book of both an author and a genre. Two two-part movies have been made about it. It’s an intrinsic part of the cultural zeitgeist. It was Halloween time. A good reader re-reads the classics every once in a while.

It’s been about twenty years since my first reading, back when I was just starting as a writer (lowercase w). This time I was able to read it with a more critical eye. The eye of an author, knowing what I know about good writing and about Stephen King’s writing. Looking at each sentence, seeing what it’s doing here.

King writes everything with a microscopic level of detail. Especially during this era when he was coked out of his gourd. I’m not sure if that’s what people were looking for in 1986, but that was when you only had three channels to watch or you could read. I do know that people don’t write like that anymore (I don’t think). They do write big books, but they don’t usually overwrite. It became King’s signature to write doorstoppers.

At a certain point, I was looking at the copyright to see if I’d accidentally picked up the special edition. It just wouldn’t end. And the fact is, there really isn’t much of a story to It. They’re mostly long vignettes about the kids getting scared or fighting their bullies or growing up in the fifties. That’s about 75% of the book. The other 25% is the adults’ storyline where they’re getting ready to return to It’s lair. That’s the actual plot. The other parts, the kids parts, just sort of meander or sit in the book statically, not particularly connected to a goal or event.

So the question is, like the Lord of the Rings, is the medium of cinema a better place for this story? Well, yes and no. You lose the detail and you lose the structure in the movie. In the book, the adult storyline is sprinkled throughout, not segregated between kid years and adult years, and I think that’s an important facet. On the other hand, movies are much better at scaring you.

Short Circuit by Colin Wedgelock

Sorry, I’m not going to be unbiased on this one. Short Circuit is my favorite movie. When I found out there was a novelization of it, combining my two favorite things–books and Short Circuit–I hit the ceiling. I’m sorry, it’s going to have to really try to be horrible to get me to dislike it. Like it’s going to have to have some scene where Number 5 says something anti-semitic.

I really do like novelizations of movies, even if I don’t read them anymore. Yeah, they can be cash tie-ins, but you get to see all the tiny little details you might miss in a 1/2 second shot. Yeah, the emotional impact is lessened but the immersion is increased. Plus novelizations usually include elements from the shooting script, which means deleted scenes (before we had DVDs for that).

For example, the construction of the robot is a little different. Instead of a grasshopper body, it’s stockier like a barrel, with three arms and an antenna. Instead of equalizer lights, it has a grill for its voice. And the faux-Indian guy Ben is called “Chigger”. No idea where that came from. Overall, it’s a fun and fast read, but ironically, the movie is better. It fixes all the problems involving pacing, humor, and likability.

I’m Your Emotional Support Animal: Navigating Our All Woke, No Joke Culture by Adam Carolla

I read this as a palate-cleanser after Stephen King’s It. I needed something short and current and I used to love Adam Carolla–Loveline, The Man Show, The Adam Carolla Morning Show. Then he got older and jaded and more conservative and not so funny. I got especially worried when I saw the blurbs in the front — Tucker Carlson, Dennis Prager, Donald Trump Jr. Is this his audience now? Is this who he’s marketing to? But then there were also blurbs from Jimmy Kimmel and Patton Oswalt, so I waded in cautiously.

Again, these are rants about the “wussification” of America, talking about emotional support animals, helicopter parents. They’re just cute versions of what real pundits are trying to tell you (stuff that usually has titles like “The War on Our Values”, “The Fight from the Right”, “How Our Reason and Morals are Declining”, etc.) but it’s not satire. The theme is that people are too sensitive and not tough enough. It’s essentially “old man yells at cloud”. I mean he’s not necessarily wrong about these things, but none of it takes a single moment to experience empathy, only selfishness.

This is the same guy who said “women aren’t funny” and apparently never heard of Molly Shannon, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, Ali Wong, Jenny Slate, Chelsea Peretti, Vanessa Bayer, Fortune Feimster, Taylor Tomlinson, Jennifer Coolidge, Amy Pohler, Ellie Kemper, Jane Krakowski, Carol Kane, Aubrey Plaza, Kate McKinnon, Jenny Slate, Cristela Alonzo, Tina Friml, Fran Drescher, Melissa Villaseñor and that’s just my personal favorites.

But that’s fine, if Adam Carolla just wants to shout into the wind. But he should be careful about the company he keeps lest he end up on the wrong side of history.

Zoey is Too Drunk for This Dystopia (Zoey Ashe #3) by Jason Pargin

I love all Jason Pargin’s books. They’re a combination of dark comedy and action/adventure. Unlike the “John Dies at the End” series, which is horror-comedy, the “Zoey Ashe” series focuses on futuristic science fiction. More specifically, “what if Las Vegas was turned up to eleven?”. And thus it is an examination of political and social issues, especially when they come into conflict with human nature and desire. This particular book has three central facets. One is an election (and what those parallels are), second is a music festival that reminded me of Woodstock ’99, and a third is a murder mystery.

All this takes place in a blanket of social media and influencer culture, where we are our own Big Brother. In this city, humanity is at its most hedonistic. How do you cultivate an economy of vice? Between events, there are what I call “author has social arguments with himself.” Which is fine–I write the same way. I set one character against each other to examine both sides of an argument and end up solving nothing. But asking questions is the goal, not solving them. Especially when one of the questions is “who is responsible when your followers set a detractor on fire and you didn’t tell them not to.” (Obvious parallel to the Jan. 6 insurrection is obvious) But that’s the point of the book–using science fiction as the lens to examine our present and to ask questions about it. Because our present determines our future. Highly recommended.

Projekt 1065: A Novel of World War II by Alan Gratz

Why is every historical fiction about World War II? You know, there were other wars.

At first, I thought this was going to be a snooze. The writing is straightforward. It could be used as classroom reading (and probably is and was probably written for that exact purpose). It had the earmarks of another schmaltzy obvious message WWII book like Number the Stars or The Book Thief. Nazis are bad, don’t kill Jews, war sucks, etc. etc. But it’s all delivered in such a watered-down Disneyesque way. There’s always a happy ending, there’s never any on-screen violence, no one dies, everyone learns a lesson, etc.

But in the second half, this book really picks up. Some genuine stakes come up, actual character deaths, and some violence. It doesn’t pull its punches like other YA WWII novels have done. In fact, the back half was so good, it upgraded my rating from three to four stars.

Some might say it gets a little bit Hollywood, but that’s what I need right now. WWII was generations ago, it might as well be talking about WWII. The fact that these are kids makes it higher rated for me, in that the author actually chose to take some chances and be entertaining while at the same time sending a message.

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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