Category Archives: Let’s Talk About…

Let’s Talk About Reading War and Peace

War and Peace is considered one of the greatest pieces of fiction that came out of the 19th century. It is also one the longest pieces of literature that came out of the 19th century. There have been a ton of jokes about War and Peace’s length, especially from Charles Schulz in his Peanuts comic. Who can forget Snoopy saying he’s only on the first page for a week and Charlie Brown carrying the book on a wagon because it weighs a ton.

That’s one of the biggest reasons people have with reading War and Peace: It’s insanely long. Of course, lots of books people love are long. Look at the last three Harry Potter book, the Lord of the Rings and almost every single scifi and fantasy book. People love and read this books all the time. Another reason could be it’s a 19th century book. That can’t be right because look at how many started reading Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights because of (I can’t believe I’m saying this) Twilight. I think I need another drink for saying that.

There has to be another reason, right? After reading 200 pages over the course of six years (yes) I can safely say one reason is the writing. Don’t get me wrong, the writing isn’t bad at all. It’s just that it is really dry with long stretches of people sitting around talking about politics. You see, a lot of the dialogue is foreign to us 21th century folk. The politics of the time is lost to many of us. We do know about Napoleon, but the small details are lost to many of us.

Then there’s the random French and Latin. The first 100 pages of the book is full of it. The problem here is that, unless you’re an avid 19th century literature reader or an English lit major (same thing) this is like driving down the road and then hitting a brick wall that came out of nowhere.

Then there’s the fact that there are a ton of characters. The beginning of many editions show a list of every character and who they are. While normal in the 19th century, modern readers will forgot a lot of these characters characters, especially since they all have Russian names. Of course, you can train yourself to do that, but many people don’t bother.

It’s because of these reasons people generally give up on the book (like I did years ago and started the book up again just recently) and don’t look back. Then there are rabid fans of the book who will defend it as a masterpiece. I knew a college professor who read the book FOUR TIMES! That’s dedication right there.

War and Peace may be a classic and a masterpiece, but many people will give up on it or refuse to read it for one or multiple reasons stated above. Of course, there is one great way to read this and any book: form a reading group. Yes, this works wonders. Not only can you read the book but you and a bunch of people will read it along with you and exchange ideas. This is probably the best way to read these long, hard books. I know I’m not giving up on the book. I’ll finish it even if it kills.

Finishing a book before it kills me? Reminds of another book I just can’t force myself to finish for multiple reasons…

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Let’s Talk About A Christmas Carol

“And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!”

And with that one line, a classic was born. Not mention the modern notion of Christmas. You see, Christmas was pretty different before this book came out. Hell, the US downright banned anyone celebrating it due to it being mostly a drunken wild party.

As pointed out by The Victorian Web Dickens was “the man who invented Christmas.” Practically everything we associate with the “spirit of Christmas” comes from him. Santa Clause and buying lavish presents is thanks to Coke, Macy’s and Corporate America. It’s because of Hollywood that there are dozens of adaptations of the book.

Why so many adaptations of one book besides the usual money and it being the typical Christmas movie?

The biggest reason can be because the themes of the book ring true to what Christmas stands for. Some people think greed is one theme but, according to the introduction in the Barnes and Nobles Classic edition that comes with The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth, Dickens cared little for money. Yes, he was born dirt poor but that was “normal” in his time. He was more concerned with generosity. He didn’t care that you were rich as long as you did the Christian did and gave alms.

Another theme is redemption. Scrooge starts off as an uncaring miser who hates Christmas and treated the poor like dirt to a caring and giving person. At the end he understood that, yes, he’s well off but, as Marley said, “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business.” This is something the common man understands and many wealthy people don’t. This comes back to the whole charity thing mentioned above.

There’s also that famous scene with the Cratchit family. They have very little but are happy. What Dickens is saying is that the poor may not have a lot, but they do have each other and lots of faith.

Put all these themes together and you get what many people consider to be what Christmas is all about.

There are other literary factors to it, too. Mainly the story is very well written. Dickens manages to make every scene memorable and alive, almost as if you’re there yourself. Then there’s the characters. The characters are some of the most memorable characters in literature. They all feel like real people in various different points in life. We all know a Bob Cratchit, a Scrooge and a Fezziwig.

I have a tradition of reading this book every year in December and seeing at least four different adaptations. This has gone on for seven years now. Obsessed maybe, but it’s not as far fetched as watching A Christmas Story marathon every year on Christmas Day. This book and its adaptations have become a tradition around Christmas. It is one of the few escapes from the crazy shoppers at the stores around this time.

If you haven’t read this book yet, give it a shot. It’s only about 80-100 pages depending on the edition and is a quick read despite being written in the 19th century. Also check out some good adaptations of it like Mickey’s Christmas Carol, Muppet Christmas Carol or even Scrooged with Bill Murray.



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Let’s Talk About Thanksgiving Fiction

If there’s one thing that we have a total lack of it’s any type of fiction about Thanksgiving. Oh, there’s plenty of stuff on the first Thanksgiving and plenty of shows that take place on Thanksgiving (with plenty of “hilarity”) but not about Thanksgiving.

The reason for the only form of Thanksgiving being hilarity at the dinner table is because, unlike Christmas or Halloween, this is based on an historical event. Not to mention very little is known about the first thanksgiving. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a ton of historical fiction out there with varying degrees of quality. It’s just that the first Thanksgiving is about as interesting as watching paint dry.

Yes, I said it. That story may be about finding a new way of life in a new world, but the details are just so boring and reek of something you hear from a droning history teacher. I just answered my own question, huh?

That doesn’t mean there aren’t any good Thanksgiving stories out there. Look at A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. It’s been aired on TV since 1973 because not only is it Peanuts but IT’S FUNNY AS HELL AND WELL WRITTEN! Yes, Nostalgia Critic, Peanuts cartoons are well written. That is why so many people watch this special every year without fail. And guess what? It gets better every single time you see it and no it’s not because of all that turkey in your stomach.

The only other Thanksgiving story that’s worth mentioning is Tobias Turkey. For those of you who don’t know, this is a story about a turkey who is determined to be the best turkey on the farm. So he tries everything to make himself be the best turkey on the farm. It’s actually pretty clever when you read it. Better yet, if you’re in NY in November you can go to the Shadow Box Theater and watch a puppet show about it. I remember seeing it when I was ten and enjoying it. Haven’t touched the book in decades but for some strange reason it came back to me a few days ago.

So with that, there needs to be more Thanksgiving stories that are clever and not have to do with the first Thanksgiving. What we have how is pretty mediocre and that needs to stop. Beyond that, happy Thanksgiving all. Make sure you spend it with family and not out buying useless crap you can get for the same price in February.


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Let’s Talk About V for Vendetta

My fellow Americans,

Today we have voted in a very democratic election that would greatly alter this country’s future. Now, look at the date. Today’s the 4th and tomorrow’s the fifth, right? You know what means, right? No? Well, let me remind you:

“Remember remember the fifth of November

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

I see no reason why gunpowder, treason

Should ever be forgot”

That’s right, Guy Fawkes Day is the day after our election day. From democracy to anarchy, huh? And there’s no safer and legal way to celebrate that day than to read or watch V for Vendetta.

When people try to tell the plot of this story they always start with V or Evey. I say the real protagonist here is London. Now wait a second and just listen to me for a few minutes. Right, look at the story, especially the comic version (preferably, by the way.) We don’t follow just one character, we follow multiple characters. V, Evey and the people who work for the government. So the story is not about one person, but many. Also, all their decisions impact what happens to London. So, in a way, this is a story about how badly can we destroy London.

We also need to take a look at V’s famous television speech. He is pretty much daring London to destroy itself. He wants anarchy, rioting in the streets. Pretty that entire Sex Pistols song come to life. V even destroys a statue of Madam Justice in the comic. Of course, that can be interpreted as there is no longer justice in the, so destroying justice is no big deal.

What makes the comic a beloved masterpiece is that is that this can take place in any time period and the events can ring true. In fact, this story can take place in any country and it can ring true. Alan Moore was showing what he feared London was becoming, but plenty of Americans can say they see America becoming like this. I can even name some Italians I know who think Italy is becoming like this.

The characters are also very identifiable. There’s V who represents the anti-government anarchist, Evey who represents the lost soul who turns to the extremist for guidance, the widow who gets screwed by the government and people who are in power who are only looking for ways to screw everybody and make themselves the top dog. If you don’t relate to any of these characters you, sir/madam/ are living in the perfect society.

Of course, Guy Fawkes Day can just be an excuse to blow shit up and that V for Vendetta is a non-traditional comic that non-comic readers like because it doesn’t read like a regular comic. Whichever you believe, Happy Guy Fawkes Day, all.



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Let’s Talk About Manga

Let’s Talk About Manga.

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Let’s Talk About Manga

Ah, manga. Or Japanese comics or whatever you want to call them. Love them or hate them, they have taken the West by storm in the late nineties and there seems like there’s no stopping them.

This just begs one question: Why do so many people love manga? Most people will dismiss manga as just some fad Japanophiles (or “weeaboos” as some people call them) love because it’s Japanese. Let’s look at this medium into some detail.

First off, no, manga is not superior to western comics and vice versa. Both are pretty much the same thing: Low-brow entertainment for teenagers. Both share the same type tropes, genres and styles. Both have superhero stories (trust me, Goku and Naruto do qualify and superheros,) horror, girly stories (even though the West mostly has Archie while Japan has, like, a million others) and other genres.

So, what’s so different about manga? The best answer I see is that manga is basically the same stories found in Western comics but with an Eastern feel. You see, Japanese culture has its ideas of how to tell a story and what society is which does come out in plenty of manga. Some people find this fascinating.

Other reasons can be is that manga has more genres that Western comics sorely lack. There’s a lot more slice of life, romance, children and, let’s face it, balls to the walls weird stuff than what we see come out on this side of the Pacific. Please, name me one Western comic about high school kids being high school kids and name me one Female hero that’s not essentially a sidekick for a male hero? (Sorry, Wonder Woman is only famous because of Superman and Red Sonja is relatively unknown.)

One other reason can be because we as a species love, and I mean LOVE, serials. Your average Western comic runs for about seven issues while a manga runs for about four-hundred. Many have a lot more than and are still going. Some people do tire of these series, but many, MANY people continue reading them.

I know what many of you are thinking, “why would anyone want to read the same story that goes on for twenty years?” Does your mom watch soup operas? Yes? How long have Days of Our Lives and General Hospital been on the air? About forty years? and your man has been watching them for twenty years? It’s the same with manga. Many people fall in love with certain characters that they are hell bent to continue reading about them for the rest of their lives. Do you know how many people cry because a thirty chapter ended and they want to see another three-hundred chapters? They’re out there. They’re willing to stick with a certain story for fifty years and they just don’t care.

In the end, manga is just another entertainment medium that a ton of people love. Many people may love it too much, but that’s with every fandom. This may not be your cup of tea and I won’t bash you for it. You like Game of Thrones or Marvel comics, fine. I love manga and will do it for a while now. It fills a need for many non-Japanese and it will continue doing so for a while now.





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Let’s Talk About Dystopias

New series idea: Let’s Talk About… This series, as with my previous post about shlock, will talk about certain topics that deserve serious discussion. The topics will be totally random. This time around, since The Giver is coming out this Friday (expect a rant video if the movie is as bad as it looks) we’ll talk about dystopias.

Dystopian societies aren’t anything new. One of the first dystopian novels is George Orwell’s 1984, which practically every high school kid has read for class or will. If you never had to read this book in class and you live in Canada, America or any of the British countries, you went to a poor school. This book pretty much defines dystopia: a corrupt society where people live in fear and there’s no hope for change.

From this book there have been a ton of dystopian novels. Some of the more prominent ones are The Giver, The Hunger Games, Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451. There are plenty of others, but they’re too many to list.

The big question is why do writers bother writing them and why do us readers bother to read them? It all boils down to fiction imitating life. What that means is that a lot of these books (the good ones anyway) take a scenario that society is afraid of and make it reality. Going back to 1984, that book shows a country where the government is so powerful that all residence is dealt with promptly and easily. Basically, a communist scare. Hell, Animal Farm shows what a communist society looks like. Granted it’s from the point of view of an Englishman living in a parliamentary democracy, but Orwell had plenty of knowledge with “reds.”

The Giver is a different kind of dystopia. This type is where people are ignorant of this fact and accept whatever the government tells them. Hell, here everything is regulated from the clothes people where, what job you have, how many babies are born and what you have for dinner. It’s total control but the masses accept it because they don’t know any better.

As you can tell, many of these book curb off of the idea of living in a repressed society such as communist or a totalitarian state. This fear does not just stem from those two types of governments. People feared succoming to the Roman Empire thousands of years ago. Today there is a fear of sucoming to terrorism or North Korea ( even though the North Korean military is woefully small that they have to rely on China if they start a war.)

As you can see, this genre is there as a warning of what might become. It’s basically telling people “hey, love your freedom? Stand up for it before things get really bad.” Yes, there are plots in them, but the message is the same no matter which book you read. Think of them as books that make you really think about what you have and how easily it is to lose it. Of course, most of the time stuff like this only happens due to people wanting it to happen because they though they were getting a better deal than what they had. I’ll stop right there because I don’t want to get any more political than that. This IS supposed to be a light-hearted blog after all.



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