Review: The Other Wes Moore

7099273

Review for "The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates" by Wes Moore (2010)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Ack…I DNF’d this one.

The idea behind this book is indeed noteworthy, as we’ve all wondered at some time or another about the life of another individual who, by some stroke of fate, happens to have the same name as we do. In this book, the author does just that as he discovers another man with his same name and similar age, also raised in the city of Baltimore. He begins a prison correspondence with the “other” Wes Moore and sets out to explore where their paths in life diverged. The author is a former White House Fellow, a writer, and an Army veteran. The “other” Wes Moore is serving time in prison, has fathered several children, is a convicted drug felon, and had an attempted murder conviction all before the age of 18.

The premise of this book is flawed, however. Moore points to the commonality of absentee fathers and poverty between the two of them, but this is simply not true. While both Moores grew up fatherless, the author’s father died, he was not abandoned. Secondly, Moore’s mother, even though a widow, had a strong support system. The author half-heartedly acknowledges this, as well as his privilege of attending a private school during his formative years to steer him away from bad behavior and negative influences. Also, while the negative behavior that author Wes Moore speaks of (tagging buildings with graffiti, etc) is akin to a middle class teenager’s ideas of rebellion, the “other” Wes Moore’s descent into drug dealing and criminal behavior is not rebelliousness but a necessity, a way of gaining power in a single parent household as the ‘man of the house.’ Even though the “other” Wes Moore’s choice to delve into criminality was his own doing, the lack of a support system and the presence of poverty in his life cannot be understated.

I stopped reading this book about 2/3 of the way through, once the faulty premise became apparent. Perhaps I’ll pick this up in the future, but for right now, I’m good.

Advertisements

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Decided to DNF

Ok, it’s 11:28 pm Eastern Standard Time…and I know where my official Top Ten Tuesday is. A couple of weeks ago I discussed the intricacies of the DNF (book-speak for one that you willfully choose not to finish); this week I’ll list a few books that I’ve DNF’d over the years and the reasons why they ended up that way.

As I’ve explained before, I DNF books quite often for a variety of reasons. If I got over halfway through it and I can put together a somewhat coherent review, I’ll post it here. Often, however, I don’t. I just move on to another book.

So here’s my playlist of skipped books whose reviews I’ve never posted here and I’ve never mentioned to anyone but myself. You always get the latest hits, so here’s:

29chapters.com’s List of Not-So-Famous Misses

  1. Bastard Out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison. This book is actually quite good. I’ve read other books by Dorothy Allison and her work is taught in a lot of Women’s Studies classes, especially at the college level. The reason I DNF’d this book, however, is because of its graphic depictions of the sexual and physical abuse of the main female character by her stepfather. I’ve tried many times to just grit my teeth and read it, but I can’t get past the highly disturbing content here. I just…can’t.
  2. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold. Another wildly popular book whose disturbing content I just couldn’t stomach. The horror comes on very early in the book, around page 12 when the main character is raped, killed, and dismembered by a neighbor. After 3-4 times of pulling it off my shelf, reading it, only getting to page 12, and DNF’ing it, this book sat on my shelf for years until I finally got rid of it in a used book exchange last summer. It’s safe to say that I will probably never attempt to read it again. I also refuse to watch the movie version.
  3. Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, Sunil Yapa. This is a historical fiction novel that examines several sides of the 1999 Seattle WTO protests from different perspectives–a riot cop, a politician, protesters. Somewhat decent, I just couldn’t get into this.
  4. Her Last Death: A Memoir, Susanna Sonnenberg. One of the few nonfiction books here that I’ve quit. Basically this is a book about a very dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship, which morphs into the author largely blaming her mother for many of her poor choices, including becoming promiscuous at an early age, being a pathological liar, her drug use. I got half way through this book before I just said enough already, I can watch this Dr. Phil episode on any given day of the week…
  5. Paint it Black, Janet Fitch. After her first novel “White Oleander,” I thought author Janet Fitch was untouchable. Au contraire. Her second novel was such a snoozefest that I put it down and never looked back.
  6. The Tsar of Love and Techno, Anthony Marra. This book had glowing reviews, but I kept falling asleep on this one. It’s a set of interconnected short stories, all centered around various characters during the history of modern Russia. Perhaps I also hated this because it brought back bad memories; I fell asleep during the Russian section of World History during high school too. Oh welp.
  7. The Dog Stars, Peter Heller. Post-apocalyptic story. About a man and his dog. And a plane. But the writing style. Was such a fucking distraction. That I put it down. (<— The whole book’s written like this, mates. It is an absolute pill to read.)
  8. Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward. First off, I love Jesmyn Ward’s writing. I’ve read another nonfiction book of hers, Men We Reaped, and I absolutely loved it. This book, however, not so much. I found the plot kinda tedious and I just couldn’t get into the characters. I’m not surprised that this book won the National Book Award, because there is something special here, but the specialness is simply not for me.
  9. Severance, Robert Olen Butler. This book has an interesting premise: that human consciousness is maintained for 90 seconds immediately after one is decapitated. Therefore, this book is a collection of the “final thoughts” of many people (some famous, some not) who have ‘lost their heads’ throughout history. It’s a really morbid book, and the premise alone should have been enough to carry me through it, but for some reason the writing here was just plain weird. The friend who suggested it to me told me to read it like poetry, but that didn’t help, because I hate bad poetry. Blech.
  10. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy. I’ve read my fair share of Cormac McCarthy over the years: The Road, Outer Dark, Child of God, No Country for Old Men. His writing is typically very dark and violent in nature, but that’s what makes him so special to me: that he can explore darkness and evil in such meaningful, creative ways. Anyway, Blood Meridian was just sloooooow. It’s also a Western (the other four novels I’ve read by him are not), and Westerns are just not my preferred genre.

There’s tons of other books I’ve DNF’d that could discuss here, but these are the ones that stood out most. Stay tuned!

xoxo, Kellan

Top Ten Reasons I DNF Books

Let’s talk about the DNF today, beloveds…

For those that don’t know, DNF is book-speak for a book that you start and, for whatever reasons of your own, decide not to finish. I’ve been rather outspoken about the fact that I DNF and that I do it quite often, with no absolutely no shame and no apologies for it. Some readers are outspoken for the opposite, that they never DNF a book, no matter what the reason. Other readers/book bloggers I encounter do DNF, but don’t speak about it publicly.

To DNF or not to DNF is a complex thing. There are many, many reasons why I stop reading a book, which I’ll explain below. Generally as a rule I give a book 50 pages to capture my interest and if it fails to do so, I’ll stop reading. These days, however, I find that my 50 page rule has gone wayyy down–hell, it’s 40 pages, in some cases, 25. Sometimes I will review the book here if I got past the halfway mark, but I will not give it a rating. I will certainly tell you why I didn’t like it though.

There’s a couple of factors that make me DNF-friendly, which I have to admit here. For one, I rarely buy books. About 85% of the books I read come from the library, so 86’ing it is no big deal, I just take it back and get another. I also find that I tend to DNF fiction much more often than nonfiction. Probably because it’s so author-driven, while non-fiction–not so much. With NF you are welcome to disagree with the author, skip pages and see if they change their mind. I usually don’t DNF memoirs though.

So here goes…

Top Ten Reasons I DNF (do not finish) a Book

  1. It’s boring. ‘Nuff said. If I wanted to fall asleep, I’d put on my Sleep Sounds playlist on Spotify. Seriously. I steadfastly maintain that if you are reading for pleasure, it should engage you and make you want to pick it up and keep going. If it’s nothing but a chore to read it, then put it down. Pleasure reading does not = boredom.
  2. Not in the mood, dawg. Sometimes I will pick up a book, read a few pages, then gauge my feelings. If it’s a nahhhh, then I’ll put it aside. This is not to say that I will never read it again at some other point in time, it just means that I am simply not feeling it in that current moment, right then. I will usually keep these books in my TBR pile but save them for later.
  3. I don’t get it. I’d rather have bad writing than confusing, incoherent, or just plain weird writing. If I can no longer (or I never did) discern what’s happening, then I’ll leave it in the dust. I don’t have time for code-cracking, it ain’t that deep.
  4. Large amounts of gratuitous, objectionable content. I don’t necessarily mind sex, drugs, and violence–but there is a point (and I’ve posted on this before) where such scenes just become, well…too much. It’s like a cheap horror film–we know the killer kills with an ax, but do we really need the camera to linger on the severed head for 5 minutes? We get it, he’s dead. Cut to the next shot. More of the same? Well, forget it. I have no interest in being “shocked” into reading further. If ultra-violence is the only rabbit they can pull out of their hat, then they’ve lost me.
  5. There is NO plot. None whatsoever. Nada. Zilch. Just pages and pages of no action, no character building, no dialogue, no nothing at all. Or there’s pages and pages of all of the things I just mentioned, but it’s a downward spiral into a yawning, mind-numbing void. I would have left this under the label ‘boring,’ but this is so bad it deserves its own category.
  6. I’m not connecting to the character. This is not the same as not liking a character. There are quite a few book bloggers that say that they will stop reading if they don’t like a character. Nah, I’m not that petty. I can stick through disliking a character’s actions and thoughts, but I can’t stick with one who I don’t find compelling. Strong dislike is a compelling reason to read further, it’s the macaroni to my cheese. It’s kinda like that Morrissey song “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get.” Damn right.
  7. It’s too familiar, I already know what’s going to happen. The girl dumps the boy, but you know they’ll get back together in the end. Nerd boy falls in love with manic pixie dream girl. An abused wife leaves her husband, but you know he’s not dead, so a showdown will occur, somewhere in the last 50 pages. Do I need to go on? Let’s find more plots here…
  8. Writing style is too difficult to follow. No capitalization, no quotation marks, heavy use of parentheses, run on sentences, wordsthatruntogether. I know that some authors employ these devices for artistic reasons, but sometimes I just can’t be bothered with trying to decipher between thought and dialogue, which character is which. GTFOH…
  9. It ain’t gettin read, no matter how hard I try. I tend to read several books at once, so if there is a book lingering in my “currently reading” pile that’s been there for 3 months or more, I will usually extinguish it. It usually means something else has gotten my attention and my own behavior indicates that I’m avoiding it for a reason. Whether or not I come back to it later depends, though if I do, I will usually start the book over again.
  10. Not my cuppa joe. Sometimes I will stop reading because I just don’t believe I’m the right audience that the book was intended for. It’s not a bad book, it’s just not for me. Therefore my reading it won’t matter, the writer probably ain’t talking to me in the first place. I’m ok with that. So rather than reading it, wasting my time, and being pissed off, I’ll just stop reading it. Blah.

So what do ya’ll think? Do you DNF? Why or why not?

Review: Annihilation

17934530

Review for “Annihilation” by Jeff VanderMeer (2014)

Rating: None (DNF)

I DNF’d this at about 50% percent.

I have to admit that this novel did spark my curiosity at first. The setting has a definite creep factor and it fits squarely in the sci-fi genre, two things that I like. As far as the story itself, “Annihilation” is about four women explorers–a biologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and an anthropologist–commissioned by a presumed government agency known as the “Southern Reach.” The team is the 12th expedition to the area, all other efforts to explore the region have failed and ended in the deaths of the explorers. The names for the women are never given, they are only there to work together, explore Area X, and report back to the agency with their findings. The story, however, is told by the biologist, who writes her findings in a journal.

Immediately upon entering Area X you know that things are not what they appear to be. The land is uninhabited, though there is evidence that humans lived there. Upon entering, the team discovers a tower (or is it a tunnel?) that is not on the map, with strange plant-like spores and cryptic writing inside. The mystery of the tower (tunnel?) is obviously the crux of the book (there are pages and pages of descriptions about it, veering dangerously into Big Dumb Object territory) but it all got so boring that it just wasn’t enough to sustain my interest in continuing.

For the first 10%, I was willing to suspend my disbelief long enough to give this a chance but by the middle, it no longer seemed worth it. The characters have no real personality and are so frustratingly neutral that I was disengaged from about the 10% mark onward. For my time invested, I felt like all of the weirdness went nowhere. Hence, I stopped reading.

I probably will see the movie for this one, which is due in theaters in a few days. Though I am in the the “I Didn’t Get It” crowd, I’m still, in some ways, curious about the Area X mystery. I probably won’t read the rest of this series though to find out. I do want to know what it is, I’m not that damn curious. Not by a long-shot.

Review: Green

34927956
Review for "Green" by Sam Graham-Felsen (2018)

Rating: none

No rating. I DNF’d this. I just couldn’t take the main character anymore. And it’s totally not the character’s fault, he’s a 12 year old boy. The tragedy of this one is 100% on the author.

David Greenfeld is a white, middle class kid living in Boston in 1992. His Jewish, hippie parents are gentrifiers, living comfortably on the borders of a mostly Black housing project. They decide that Dave should go to the local middle school instead of a private school to be exposed to all of life’s “perspectives.” Dave explains all of this in the first few pages of the book, and I admit that his POV interested me immediately.

As far as Dave himself goes, he is socially inept, attempting to survive in a school environment where he is an outsider. His younger brother does not talk (there’s a strong suggestion that he’s on the autism spectrum) and his parents refuse to buy him the latest clothes. He succeeds in getting his Mom to buy him a trendy Charlotte Hornets tracksuit, only to get robbed near his neighborhood. He’s teased about the robbery at school. He eventually takes up with a black student named Marlon, and they bond over their nerdiness and love of the Boston Celtics. Both want to get into prep school. Dave learns, however, that race and class are far more powerful forces in his friend and his own life than he imagined.

So let’s get to why I DNF’d this. THE LANGUAGE. Dave speaks with a over the top, 90’s hip hop slang that’s reminiscent of corny minstrel movies such as “Malibu’s Most Wanted.” Clothes are “gear,” items are “rocked,” shit is “wack,” girls are “shorties,” and so on. It’s all over the book, even Dave’s thoughts are presented this way. It has no authenticity whatsoever. I was in the 8th grade in ’92 and I don’t remember the slang we used being as pervasive as this book makes it out to be, to the point to where it was in every. single. line. of our speech. I can certainly understand what the author was TRYING to do by showing us that Dave is trying too hard by performing what he thinks is a display of “blackness,” if you will, but it’s just too much. At first I skimmed, then I stopped reading after 200 pages. Plus it wasn’t like there was anything happening anyway (plotwise, that is) to compel me to read any further.

Also, even though this book is about a 12-year-old boy, it is not a YA book. You’ve been forewarned.

This could have been one of the most important books of 2018 had it not been for technicalities, namely, its language execution. Read at your own risk.

Review: Theft By Finding: Diaries 1977-2002

32498038

Review for "Theft by Finding: Diaries, 1977-2002" by David Sedaris (2017)

Rating: none

DNF around page 200 or so, hence no rating.

I like David Sedaris. I’ve read numerous books he’s written over the years (When You Are Engulfed in Flames, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Naked) but this one I just didn’t care for. Perhaps I am just the wrong audience for the kind of minutiae that makes up his journals. I simply don’t find details about insects from 1982 or diatribes on an unpaid phone bill the least bit entertaining. I’ll still read Sedaris, but I realize now that I’m one of the rare people on this earth who is not at all interested in how his mind works.

Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing

32920226
Review for "Sing, Unburied, Sing" by Jesmyn Ward (2017)

Rating: none

DNF, right around 54%.

I simply couldn’t get into this book. Not that it wasn’t good, or that Jesmyn Ward isn’t a sensational writer (she is), but I just don’t think that this book is quite for me at this time. I go through phases with my reading, sometimes I can endure what I’m not into and sometimes I find it so unbearable I can’t finish. This one of those times.

Despite what the reviews say, I found this to be a very depressing novel from the outset. Preteen Jojo and his sister are from an impoverished family near the Mississippi border, living with (and pardon my French) the most fucked-up parents imaginable. Michael, his father, is a former convict, and Leonie, his mother, is a drug addict who gets high on the regular and talks to her dead brother. Despite his parents’ waywardness, Jojo is a good kid who manages to take on a parental role to his sister Kayla. He is wise beyond his years in a way that a child should not have to be, which made my anger toward his parents all the more apparent. Pop, Jojo’s grandfather, is also a kind man, who seemed to add a bit of tenderness to the story.

There is a lot of magical realism in this novel (ghosts that are very much real, etc.) and even though I’ve read plenty of stories with it, I found this element to be kind of confusing. As the story went on, I felt farther and farther away from it, which is pretty much why I stopped reading it.

I see myself coming back to this book, probably in the near future. For now though, I won’t rate it, other than to say that it wasn’t quite for me.

[Thanks to NetGalley and Scribner for a free digital copy of this book.]