Tag Archives: Cormac McCarthy

Top Ten Book Covers (and Titles)

I am a firm believer that you can–and should–judge a book by its cover, as well as its title. After working for a book publisher and now as a book reviewer, I have come to the realization that the time spent perfecting a book’s title and cover art is usually a pretty good indication of how successful the publisher thinks it will be.

If they take the time to think about reactions from their intended audience and implement them in the design and promotion of a book, it usually means that they believe the book will do very well. It also often means that the book has clear themes and subjects that translate into attractive titles and covers.

10. The Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Schaffert
The whimsical art on this book contrasts nicely with a darkly intriguing title, setting up the expectation of a book that handles positive and negative elements of a story well–a promise that was delivered in full.

9. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The bleak scenes and sometimes harsh, sometimes lyrical prose within the book are echoed perfectly in the stark simplicity of this book’s title and design.

8. No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
What a fantastic title! There’s something that tugs at me every time I read it. And the cover design does not try to compete with the beauty of the title, though its Post-it-bright colors are an eye-catchingly novel idea.

7. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
More than the title, I loved this cover. The chaos of the different guns arrayed across the dustjacket is offset by their orderly rows. One can’t help but wonder if living safely in a sci-fi universe requires rows of Day-Glo handguns.

6. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
This is the kind of book that you move from side to side for far too long, watching the light illuminate and then hide the shadows of hands grasping for the main character. A fantastic glimpse of what is to come for our heroine!

5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
Between the entrancing title and the creative cut-out cover art, I was hooked by this book. The title reflects the speech and tone of the rest of the book, while the unusual cover alludes to the black-and-white, cut-and-dried worldview of the main character, Christopher John Francis Boone.

4. The Subversive Copy Editor by Carol Fisher Saller
It’s likely that I would’ve bought this book for its clear guidance and unsurpassed wisdom, but such a creative cover sealed the deal. It looks so much like a well-handled (and well-loved) manuscript!

3. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
I simply could not get over the title of this book. It is so sweet, so telling about what kinds of daring, unorthodox animals Sedaris will invent within the pages of this slim book.

2. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
The eerie, mystical feeling that this book imparts–the way the bare branches intertwine like bony fingers to form the letters of the title–I love it! The hauntingly beautiful cover makes up for the fact that I can never say “Her Fearful Symmetry” without stuttering. (But nothing can offset the terrible story itself; this is one of the worst books I’ve ever read.)

1. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
The paperback’s frenetically colorful, startlingly multidimensional cover is a wonderful indication of the well-developed and fascinating characters of Egan’s book. Not to mention the attraction of the heaps of awards and praise that decorate the outside and inside covers!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

Top Ten Required Books for School

This week, I set out to highlight the top ten books that I believe should be required reading for teens. But I think that making something required makes it seem like work, and as a result many kids don’t understand why a required book is so good. So instead, I want to focus upon books I think should be introduced to kids that usually aren’t.

This list was a bit of a challenge for me because I only went to public school for one year, so I had a little help from Jack!

So, to start it off…
10. Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen
Jack: “Few books will shatter expectations and inspire critical thinking than this account of history. You may not agree with everything in the book, but it’s a fascinating and challenging new perspective.”

9. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Jack: “Easily accessible to high school students, this story first seems like a mix of superhero and detective genres. But as the story unfolds, it questions the morality of heroism itself and presents a compelling story in a unique medium.”

8. Daphne’s Book by Mary Downing Hahn
Melody: “This book is technically for middle-school students, but it’s one of my favorite books ever. I recommend it for reluctant female readers who are looking for an unexpected and heartwarming story.”

7. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
Jack: “Based on the disastrous Everest expedition of 1996, this narrative presents human survival in the most extreme conditions on earth.”

6. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
Melody: “This book is about as far from my previous suggestion as you can get. Drugs, sex, madness… this one has it all. Told from the perspective of a teenage girl in the 1960s, Go Ask Alice is heartbreaking and revealing in its depiction of one girl’s rebellion.”

5. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Jack: “One man’s fight to survive in a world overrun by vampires becomes a struggle to remember what it means to be human.”

Melody: “You forgot to mention that is MUCH better than the movie!”

4. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Melody: “This is dystopic literature at its finest. It’s quite gritty and dark, but ultimately hopeful.”

3. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Melody: “I only read this a few years ago, but it was a classic with every boy I knew growing up. Ender’s story is fascinating; you will devour this book very quickly!”

2. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Melody: “Lauren Oliver is now one of my favorite authors; after finishing Delirium, I read Before I Fall, and I highly recommend both to readers of all ages! (Particularly women.)”

1. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Melody: “The Hobbit was nearly my favorite book of 2010. It’s entertaining and funny, and it’s also a good introduction to classics; Tolkien was a student of literature from the Middle Ages, and he does a marvelous job weaving this epic narrative.”

What about you–what were your favorites in school?

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

Top Ten Authors I Would Love to Meet

This week, I’m highlighting the top ten authors (living or dead) I would love to meet. (The original list was “authors I would DIE to meet,” but that sounded a little extreme to me; I’m a book nerd, but I couldn’t think of a single author that I’d die to meet. Does this mean I need to quit reviewing?)

10. Neil Gaiman
I loved Gaiman’s Coraline and The Graveyard Book, and soon I’ll read American Gods as well. And just in time, too; rumor has it that, after the runaway success of “A Game of Thrones,” HBO will be making a series based on American Gods. Plus, I think he’d be really interesting to meet; my sister says he’s the best thing to happen to Minnesota, and she would know.

9. Emma Donoghue
OK, so this is kind of cheating; I’ve already met Emma Donoghue once. But I’d love to meet her again! (I’m compensating by putting her lower on the list than she deserves.) In case you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, Emma Donoghue is one of my favorite authors, and she is, in my humble opinion, one of the best female writers alive. Too-high praise? Read Room.

8. Miranda July
July’s collection of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You, blew me away in 2009, and I think I’m ready for a reread. She is bitingly funny and insightful, and I’d love to see her perform sometime.

7. George R.R. Martin
Whenever I laugh out loud at Tyrion‘s antics, I always wonder: Is George Martin actually funny in person? Or is he one of those geeks who can only express himself on paper? I can’t decide which I’d like better.

6. Tina Fey
Speaking of laugh-out-loud humor, I just finished Tina Fey’s Bossypants on audiobook. I think it’s safe to say I have a new idol. Fey had clearly worked hard to get what she has, in a world notorious for being a boys club.

5. Charles Dickens
I spent 14 months reading and writing about Dickens, and the rest of my life regretting/boasting about it. I deserve to be wooed by his infamous charm and charisma, damn it!

4. Cormac McCarthy
I wonder if Cormac McCarthy speaks with punctuation.

3. Jack Kerouac
I read On the Road when I was 21, and it changed me–more, perhaps, than any other work of literature. It impacted the way I saw life, the way I formed relationships, and the way I wrote. Though a little of the shine has worn off my infatuation with Kerouac (I mean, seriously, has anyone ever finished Desolation Angels?), he is still a man I would LOVE to meet.

2. William Shakespeare
This one should be obvious. I’m not even that much of a Shakespeare nerd, but I can’t imagine having a carte-blanche opportunity to meet any writer and not choosing ol’ Bill!

1. Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway is the author whom I admire the most. I would say he’s what I aspire to be, but that wouldn’t end well. (Too soon?) He has written some of my favorite books of all time, such as The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Farewell to Arms, and The Old Man and the Sea. It’s a good thing he had his obvious flaws, or I would be a drooling fangirl at the mere mention of his name.

What about you–who are your favorite authors?

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

“The Passage” by Justin Cronin

Title: The Passage
Author: Justin Cronin
ISBN: 9780345504968
Pages: 784
Release date: June 8, 2010
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Literary fiction (among others)
Format: Hardcover
Source: Millie’s collection
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

I read this book because it was highly recommended on the internet as a vampire apocalypse novel good enough to be called literary fiction. I enjoy post-apocalyptic tales like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and World War Z by Max Brooks. And while I generally find vampires tiresome, I loved Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, so I figured Justin Cronin could make it work. But overall, I thought The Passage was uneven, inconsistent and overwrought.

The first chapter seemed designed to establish the book’s literary credentials, with a heartfelt story of the origins of the girl who lived a thousands years, born Amy Bellafonte. And while it is effective in introducing Amy and her mother, it also begins the troubling pattern of abrupt shifts in the narrative which often disrupt the story. Chapter 2 begins 17 pages later, with a creepy expedition into the jungle that uncovers something terrible and serves to establish the story’s horror bona fides.

The third chapter is another shift in location, characters, and so forth, this time to a proto-fascist near-future America. These characters at least stick around for a while. The story centers around Special Agent Wolgast, who has the unsettling job of interviewing death row inmates and convincing them to sign away all rights in exchange for their lives. What fate befalls them when they get to Colorado isn’t anything Wolgast wants to know.

But when he is charged with picking up the orphan Amy, currently the ward of a group of nuns, he knows he is crossing a line from which he cannot return. The first third of the book is a breakneck thriller, as various people try to get their hands on Amy. But the tension is muted because you know something extraordinary has to happen to her so she can become the Millennial Girl.

And then, once this situation is resolved, the novel skips forward ninety years to a post-apocalyptic compound in California. A whole new cast of characters is introduced, along with the rules of this new vampire-fearing reality. The vampires hate light, so floodlights keep the compound safe. But the batteries, charged by nearby wind turbines, are wearing out; without any way to make new ones, an expedition is needed to find a replacement. Thus, a band of intrepid young explorers must venture outside the safety of the lights to save civilization.

These shifts in setting, character and tone weighed down the momentum of the novel. This was the story’s central weakness. It is hard to reinvest yourself in new characters halfway through a story. And the problem isn’t just characters. At various times, this story attempts to be the following genres:

  • Thriller
  • Supernatural suspense
  • Post-apocalyptic horror
  • Military fiction
  • Fantasy
  • Literary fiction

And it doesn’t just borrow elements of these different genres; the novel always dives in headfirst, with jarring results. I couldn’t really commit to the story because it kept trying to be something new.

I’ve heard they are making a movie of this story, and I wish them luck–I have no idea how they are going to pull it off. This novel contains half a dozen different stories at least.

By the end, I really didn’t care about this novel. The plot twists and stunning coincidences seemed simply trite. And while individual pieces of the story could be great (strong prose, some interesting characters, a few vivid images of suspense and horror), overall, nothing comes together. The book asks too much of the reader to connect the many mismatched parts of this nearly 800-page story. And it’s a trilogy, so don’t expect too much closure at the end.

Top Ten Rebels in Literature

This week, I’m highlighting our top ten rebels in literature. This one was pretty tough for me, and I’m sure I’ll think of brilliant examples tomorrow. Please weigh in below!

10. Tom Sawyer
Tom is the original bad boy who is still able to charm his way into old ladies’ hearts. His ability to persuade everyone to play along with his cockamamie schemes makes him an unforgettable rebel.

9. Joe Abercrombie
Abercrombie has written one fantasy trilogy and two similar stand-alone novels. His books often feature stock fantasy characters, but they are anything but ordinary; Abercrombie turns stereotypes on their heads to great effect. His stories are entertaining, suspenseful, and very accessible, especially to fantasy newbs.

8. Cormac McCarthy
McCarthy’s signature writing style is rebellious in an anti-punctuation kind of way. I mean, really, who needs quotation marks? I’m told it’s really just a James Joyce thing, but I haven’t read enough Joyce to call him a rebel.

7. Jack Kerouac
Who suddenly packs up everything he owns in a dilapidated old car to drive cross-country with a few druggie friends in the 1940s? Dean Moriarty, of course. And Jack Kerouac, who records the whole adventure in one long scroll while on a bender.

6. Emma Donoghue
With bright red hair and a perky Irish accent, Emma Donoghue may not seem like much of a rebel. But her feminist retellings of fairy tales–both in her collection of interlaced short stories and sprinkled more subtly throughout her other novels–have breathed spunky new life into the genre.

5. Holden Caulfield
Holden Caulfield is the classic American teen rebel in literature. He smokes, he curses, he even wanders around after curfew in search of girls. (In fact, he should probably be higher on this list, but I’m a rebel too.) I wonder if J.D. Salinger knew that he was forming a mold for the entire genre of American Bildungsroman when he created Holden.

4. Rorschach
Superheroes are usually very different from other characters, but rarely have they been rebellious. Often they just stop at saving the day and garnering fame. Rorschach is a bit different. His world is as black and white as his shifting mask; he rejects the rules of society and refuses to compromise on any issue–which sometimes makes him seems like kind of a jerk. Watchmen is a fascinating and groundbreaking novel, and Alan Moore is really just a genius.

3. Tyrion Lannister
Tyrion is arguably the main character of famed fantasy author George R.R. Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire, recently made more popular by the HBO adaptation “Game of Thrones.” Tyrion is wily, smart, endearing, off-putting, and deeply human. His penchant for witty comments and a surprising self-sufficiency are overshadowed only by his love for wine and women, but a more nuanced literary character I have yet to find.

2. Lisbeth Salander
Lisbeth Salander is kickass. She’s a phenomenal heroine who could care less about societal conventions, which means she breaks literary conventions as well. She is intriguing and sharp, in both mind and speech; in creating Salander, Stieg Larsson single-handedly revolutionized female protagonists.

1. Jesus
He ran away from home at the age of 12 to tell the smartest rabbis he could find how wrong they are. He was known to go on a rampage at the sight of a temple-marketplace, he walked on water when everyone else rowed around like idiots, and he turned water into wine at all of his parties. I mean, this dude didn’t even bother to be born like anyone else! If only Jesus hadn’t listened to his dad about that whole crucifixion thing.

What about you–who are your favorite literary rebels?

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

48-Hour Book Challenge

Friday, June 3

11:03 a.m.
I’m looking forward to a weekend of reading on the beach! For this reading challenge, I’m hoping to finish several books that I’m in the middle of right now. In no particular order:

  • The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy
  • A pretty diverse collection! I have no idea much time I’ll have to myself this weekend, but I’m sure I’ll finish at least one or two.

    12:36 p.m.
    I’ve made some progress on Fellowship, but Jack’s here now so we’re headed to the beach!

    Sunday, June 5

    11:03 p.m.
    Whew, my weekend was even busier than planned! I had a great time on the beach, but I didn’t accomplish nearly as much reading as I’d hoped. But I’m not too upset–after all, the reason I read is to have fun, not to work!

    Maybe I’ll have more luck with reading challenges in the fall, when there are fewer temptations outdoors!

    Spring Readathon!

    With the arrival of the cherry blossoms in D.C., it is officially spring. And I can think of no better way to celebrate than everyone’s favorite seasonal event: a 24-hour readathon!

    Though I will be house-shopping on Saturday afternoon, I plan to devote the majority of my weekend to reading. I’d like to finish up a few books I’m in the middle of right now, including:
    The Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie
    The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy
    Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home by Ilona Bray, Alayna Schroeder, and Marcia Stewart
    The Book of Photography by John Hedgecoe
    The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

    In addition, I’ve been itching to begin a few novels, including:
    Skipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanen
    Great House by Nicole Krauss

    I’ll be updating here as much as possible, and I’ll also be tweeting and facebooking—follow me and join in the fun!

    Top 5 Books of 2010

    2010 has been a good year in reading for me. I’ve begun taking my book reviews more seriously, and I’m reading and writing more often than ever before.

    One of the reasons I began this blog is to keep track of what I’ve read and what I thought about each book. Many of my friends ask me what I’m reading or what I would recommend, and this is a great outlet for me to make recommendations—I hope you enjoy reading what I have to say nearly as much as I enjoy saying it!

    Though I’ve read and reviewed many good books this year, there are several that stood out for me, so I’ve decided to compile a list of my top five books of 2010—enjoy!

    5. Lost and Found
    This was the first book I read by Carolyn Parkhurst, and I’ve since become a total fangirl. Parkhurst creates compelling stories that easily bring me into the characters’ world, and she has become one of my favorite authors. Lost and Found has been dismissed (unfairly, I think) as casual chick-lit. But I connected with all of the characters, even if I disliked them, and Parkhurst does an amazing job of conveying emotion through her prose while still abiding by my number-one rule of writing: show, don’t tell.

    4. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears
    Though my initial gushings about this book have been tempered somewhat by my lukewarm reaction to Mengestu’s follow-up, How to Read the Air, I enjoyed this book thoroughly. I loved the prominence of D.C. in the story, and I also loved how it was in turns a uniquely African, American, and Washingtonian story. Mengestu (a fellow alum of Georgetown—Go Hoyas!!!) is a talented writer, and I hope to enjoy more from him as he evolves as a storyteller.

    3. All the Pretty Horses
    I LOVE Cormac McCarthy. The Road was my favorite book in 2008, and I was worried that All the Pretty Horses—described as a more “romantic” book—would disappoint. I shouldn’t have worried! I loved the cadences of McCarthy’s prose as it circumscribed his characters and their world. Even though the genre of western is nothing new to me, I felt completely transported to an entirely new world. I can’t wait to finish the trilogy!

    2. The Hobbit
    I was surprised by how much I enjoyed The Hobbit. Though many trusted friends assured me that it was one of their favorite books, I thought it would be too fantastical to connect with, or too childish to truly impress me. Boy, was I wrong! And stupid to wait so long. Tolkien is a master of his art, and his Lord of the Rings trilogy now tempts me every time I look at my bookshelf!

    1. Room
    I can’t say enough good things about this book. I think Emma Donoghue is an amazing storyteller who is able to build suspense and empathy simultaneously. She manages to tell this story entirely through the eyes of a five-year-old boy, and very rarely does it ever feel false. As I’m sure you already know, I love her use of fairy tales and folktales to make the story feel familiar, even as her subject matter veers into territory few have entered. I recommend this book to everyone; though it can be dark, it can also be warm and optimistic.

    What were your favorite books of the year?

    “All the Pretty Horses” by Cormac McCarthy

    Title: All the Pretty Horses
    Series: Border Trilogy: 1
    Author: Cormac McCarthy
    ISBN: 9780679744399
    Pages: 320
    Release date: June 29, 1993
    Publisher: Vintage
    Genres: Fiction; western
    Format: Paperback
    Source: Personal collection
    Rating: 4.5 out of 5

    Summary

    Sixteen-year-old John Grady Cole has grown up on his grandfather’s ranch in San Angelo, West Texas. His connection to the land—and to its horses—runs deep in his blood; his family has raised and ridden horses for decades.

    But the customs of the land are changing, even as the land itself remains the same. It is 1949, and the days of the ranging cowboy are drawing to a close. After the death of John Grady’s grandfather, the family ranch is to be sold, and John Grady will be forced from the ranch.

    John Grady is too old to become anything other than a cowboy and too young to give up his dreams. He chooses to ride for the next wild frontier: Mexico. His decision is reckless and spontaneous in a way that level-headed and practical John Grady is normally not. As the book comments,

    It was good that God kept the truths of life from the young as they were starting out or else they’d have no heart to start at all.

    He persuades his best friend, Lacey Rawlins, to accompany him. In their travels on horseback, they encounter a young, blustering boy, Jimmy Blevins, who seems a great deal more trouble than he is worth.

    In the Bolsón de Cuatro Ciénegas, they find work as hands at a large ranch. The owner immediately glimpses John Grady’s talent with horses and promotes him to breeder. Everything is going well for him until John Grady falls in love with the ranch owner’s beautiful daughter, Alejandra.

    Blevins impetuously decides to return to a village they had passed through and becomes embroiled in a crime with consequences he could not have imagined. The consequences reach to his unwitting companions as well; the Mexican authorities begin hunting Rawlins and John Grady under the assumption that they had helped Blevins. At first, the ranch owner protects both boys, but when he finds out about John Grady’s relationship with Alejandra, he turns them over to the police.

    Rawlins and John Grady are imprisoned in a violently lawless Mexican penitentiary. The only way to escape will be through the boys’ tenuous connections to Alejandra’s family; but their freedom will come at a cost.

    Analysis

    The first of Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, All the Pretty Horses captures the magnificence and poetry of a now-disappeared American frontier.

    The prose itself imparts the characters’ emotions even as their speech is spare; the sheer amount of attention, the carefully recorded detail, placed on the boys’ surroundings shows the love both of them have for the horses and the land. John Grady relates to horses as well as (and probably better than) any other creature:

    What he loved in horses was what he loved in men, the blood and the heat of the blood that ran them. All his reverence and all his fondness and all the leanings of his life were for the ardent-hearted and they would always be so and never be otherwise.

    Without punctuation such as quotation marks, the dialogue and the descriptions blend together like the earth and sky at the farthest horizon. The book is slow-moving at times, but that only serves to make you feel like you are trotting along with the characters for the many miles they cover. The reader can’t help but be drawn into John Grady’s world and to feel a fraction of his sense of belonging in and to a majestic land.

    Much like Mark Twain, McCarthy captures the easy, effortless dialect of a fading class of people. The cowboys refuse to be confined to convention and modern norms, and their speech reflects their nonconformity. Their dialogue is rife with run-on sentences and spelling that reflect spoken words, making it truly believable and captivating:

    She looked up at him and her face was pale and austere in the uplight and her eyes lost in their darkly shadowed hollows save only for the glint of them and he could see her throat move in the light and he saw in her face and in her figure something he’d not seen before and the name of that thing was sorrow.

    This book has received great critical acclaim, including the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and I can see why. There are countless beautiful and moving passages I could quote, but the following in particular had a great effect on me:

    [A]ll courage was a form of constancy. [I]t is always himself that the coward abandoned first. After this all other betrayals come easily.

    Though I can’t recommend this book to everyone—the slow, steady pace that pervades much of the beginning will be a turn-off to readers looking for plenty of action—I would recommend it to readers of genres spanning literary fiction and westerns, as well as to anyone looking for a good, solid read.

    Interested? Read it for yourself! Buy All the Pretty Horses from an independent bookstore or Amazon (Kindle version).

    I receive a very, very small commission when you purchase the book through the above links. Thank you for helping to support my site–and my book addiction!