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Book review: Less Than Zero

BookI hated this book, and I gave it five stars on Goodreads.

Less Than Zero, the debut novel from Bret Easton Ellis, is probably one of the most hopeless, lifeless, plotless stories I have ever read. It’s about a group of rich kids in LA wasting their lives away on drugs, crime and excess. There’s no remorse, no development, no consequences. No one to root for. No one to be redeemed. No judgement or message from the author. No feeling of hope or even a hint of resolution at the end.

And that’s where the horror kicks in: none of the characters seem to care at all. They have nothing to live for, nothing to aim for.

The last time I read a story that was (nearly) this depressing, it was Hubert Selby’s Requiem for a Dream. While that book was incredibly tough to go through, my heart ached for the characters because they all had the best intentions and ambitions and dreams, but they were crushed in their pursuit of those dreams. In Less Than Zero, there are no dreams, no aspirations. Whereas Requiem for a Dream was a cautionary tale about the means used to pursue dreams, Less Than Zero is a brutal showcase of apathy’s effect on the soul.

It takes a talented storyteller to make a lifeless story have such a powerful effect, and Ellis is to be applauded for that – especially as he was only 21 at the time of publication.

I felt sad and empty after reading this book. Maybe that was the author’s goal, to show the lifelessness of a careless life.

Blair: “It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who doesn’t care.”

Clay: “I don’t want to care. If I care about things, it’ll just be worse, it’ll just be another thing to worry about. It’s less painful if I don’t care.”

The first impulse comes from emotion.

“I think the first impulse comes from some deep emotion. It may be anger, it may be some sort of excitement. I recognize in the real world around me something that triggers such an emotion, and then the emotion seems to cast up pictures in my mind that lead me towards a story.”

~John Hershey


Why I’m rooting for Steve McQueen at the Oscars.

One of the most important part of a story is if it sticks with me after a reading or viewing. Whether it moved me to tears, brought a smile to my face or just made me incredibly uncomfortable, the “after” effect is what I really look for. Read the rest of this entry »

2013: A year of immersion.

I could sum up 2013 in a number of ways: Switched careers; travelled the Pacific coast; published my second book; learned I was going to become a father [!].

Another way would be this: I read. I read a lot. Read the rest of this entry »

Book review: Push

Brutal, ugly, horrific. Eloquent, beautiful, inspiring. Those are the conflicting emotions conjured up while reading this novel. Sapphire’s thoughtful and innovative prose brings Precious Jones – an illiterate 16-year-old with two children from her father – to life, draws you into her tragic world and carries you through her journey of making her life her own for the first time.

Here’s the premise: “Relentless, remorseless, and inspirational, this “horrific, hope-filled story” (Newsday) is certain to haunt a generation of readers. Precious Jones, 16 years old and pregnant by her father with her second child, meets a determined and highly radical teacher who takes her on a journey of transformation and redemption.”

Similar to Hubert Selby Jr.’s Requiem for a Dream, Push ignores conventional grammar and spelling rules so as to give the reader a first-hand account of Harlem life through the eyes of Precious. This approach is extremely effective, and I highly recommend this novel. The story is grim and real, but incredibly hopeful. Certainly not for the faint-hearted, but a powerful testimony to the life-changing power of language.

News flash: Book release!

Last November, I received an email from two friends: Dave Lukas and Andrew Zahn.

“What if . . .

- What if three guys that never met in person collaborated?
- What if they all found something they were mutually passionate about and felt compelled to share with others?
- What if they wrote together online and created something hilarious . . . or poignant . . . or terrible . . . or amazing . . . or devastating? Or none of those things. Or all of them.
- What if we talked more about what it might or might not be?”
There was a catch: We had never met in person, and had no idea if we could even work together. Still, we gave it a whirl. Nearly a year later, we’re proud to present the fruit of our labor:

Man Speak Final

Man Speak is a sometimes-serious/sometimes-funny discussion of what it means to be a man today – written by three guys in three different time zones, all at three very different stages of life. It truly was an honor collaborating with these guys and am very proud of our work. We put in many, may hours of Google hangouts, writing assignments, revisions and subsequent meetings, and I hope you enjoy the resulting conversations.

Advice to writers: Write, don’t guess.

Don’t try to guess what sort of thing editors want to publish or what you think the country is in a mood to read. Editors and readers don’t know what they want to read until they read it. Besides, they’re always looking for something new.

- William Zinsser

Book Review: A Clockwork Orange

What else is there to say when so much has already been written about this work? Very violent, but Burgess’ use of language through his invented “nadsat” slang is an excellent use of the “show, don’t tell” rule. I constantly segued between feeling horrified by what I was reading and compelled by the poetic prose.

All in all, an extraordinary story about good, evil and how human will is an irreplaceable component in the battle between good and evil. Alex is a brilliant anti-hero, and you can’t help loving him despite his crimes.
This version had the previously unpublished 21st final chapter; I loved the haunting, ambiguous, open-ended ending of the 20th chapter (from which the Stanley Kubrick film is based), but found the 21st chapter really brought the story full-circle and offered more resolution. I’d recommend reading the full version with the 21st chapter so that you can form your own conclusion.

“Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.”

Advice to writers: Read ceaselessly.

Hello, world. I’ve missed you.

I’ve definitely neglected this blog lately, and for that I am sorry. However, I have a (somewhat) decent excuse: I’ve been reading far too much!

Novels have taken up the majority of my time, but I also love reading up on advice from other writers. Today, I stumbled across this gem from David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker: Read the rest of this entry »

Book review: 101 Secrets for Your Twenties

I’m normally not a fan of non-fiction, self-help books. Yes, they can contain helpful information, but I prefer getting lost in the world of fiction. However, when I do happen to stumble across a book that resonates with me, I know it’s special for one of two reasons: 1) I’m encountering something I wish I had read about 10 years ago, or 2) I feel like I could be great friends with the author.

101 Secrets for Your Twenties, the debut book from author/speaker Paul Angone, fits both bills. Read the rest of this entry »


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