Slowing Down the Synapses

Or, Speeding Up the Reviews

Not the primary reason but one of the reasons I decided back in April to take a hiatus from the web was because I wanted to give my brain a break from all the nonsensical chatter that was cluttering it so.

I have been having what I collectively call chemo brain issues for quite some time so I thought it may do me some good to lay off for a while all the hyper-clicking and attention-span deflating skim-reading that the web so sweetly and successfully induces us into doing and which studies have told us is altering our brain and its ability to focus on and process information.

To counter what seemed to me to be my lack of focus and ability to process effectively process information (perhaps less a result from all my web time and more a result from all the chemo and prednisone I used to be strung out on years ago (and, in the case of chemo, which I still take daily dose addiction of)), I decided to turned off the web for a while.

Which, for the most part, I did surprisingly enough.

To fill the time I no longer spent on the web, much of which had been dedicated to this blog, I mobilized the pen and cracked open the books pretty hard.

In other words, I slowed down significantly the inputs into the brain and forced myself to think broader, deeper, and longer on intellectually stimulating topics, specifically topics that did not include the debilitating topic of Trump, which I’m certain is just as harmful to my brain as is all the chemo and all the skittering about on the web.

Since the writing process is still is still in process, I don’t have anything yet of it to share with you (but I may be in need of beta readers soon so if you’re interested please let me know); however, I would like to share with you some of the works I’ve read and listened to since turning off the web back in April.

While I like to write long reviews of the books I’ve read, I usually don’t. What is it they say the path to hell is paved with? Yeah, so instead of wanting to write an in-depth review of one book and never getting around to doing it, I thought I’d try to do occasional quick (read: mindless) reviews of many books at once.

Most books I read/listened to from April until now were from Overdrive* (O), Amazon Kindle First recommendations (K), and Amazon Prime (P). Yes, I’m a cheapskate. The only books I actually purchased are indicated with a $/dollar sign.

Anyway… here are the Flash Reviews, so to speak, of what I’ve read/listened to since April:

Benito Cereno by Herman Melville (O) ★★★★★ – A masterful novella about an adrift at sea Spanish slave ship that speaks volumes of the dangerous and blinding power our stereotypes and prejudices have over us.

Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street by Herman Melville (O) ★★★★★ – I’ve read this fascinating, Kafkaesque novella about a very odd and particular law clerk named Bartleby many times and, to be honest, I’m not sure what it’s is trying to tell me, which has nothing to do with why I continue to reread it and everything to do with the mysterious power this haunting book holds over me.

Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne (O) ★★★★★ – A much more straightforward story than is Bartleby, the Scrivener; however, this Puritan tale of good and evil as manifested by Brown and the Devil respectively is one I keep coming back to due to its equally haunting, fantastical qualities.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (O) ★★★★ – I enjoyed this ghost story quite a bit; however, James gave it way too much literary flourish for my taste, for I found these flourishes would often break me from that magical spell of verisimilitude the story struggled to cast me under.

Tin Men by Christopher Golden (O) ★★★★ – This is a well-written, fast-paced military sci-fi read about the (probably not too distant) future of warfare, where soldiers’ brains are remotely linked up with fighting robots that are nearly indestructible.

The Strain Trilogy by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan (O) ★★★★★ – Vampires that infect humanity like viruses?! Holy crap this is a good series. Beautiful, complex writing. Deeply philosophical and revealing. Rather creepy.

The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum (O) ★★★★★ – This well-written, violent story, a Ketchum trademark I’m coming to understand, is unrelenting with its mental and physical abuse of a young teenage girl by the girl’s aunt and cousins. I came close to giving up on it a few times it was so disturbing to me. What made it even more haunting, and what enabled me to stick it out to the end, was that I listened to an audio version of it narrated by the author himself. Ketchum is one whacked out, creepy dude who also happens to be a helluva narrator.

Execute Authority by Dalton Fury (O) ★★★ – This was a fun book about a stereotypical no-nonsense, tough guy special forces hero rushing off to save the day despite the consequences to him or anyone else. This story is kind of like fast food: tastes great but definitely lacks any nutritional value.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carre (O) ★★★ – I thought I would like this classic Cold War spy thriller more than I did.

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene (O) ★★★★★ – I’m a big fan of Greene’s and this is another reread. If there is any book on this list here that I would want to do a full review of, it would be this one.

The Birds And Other Stories by Daphne Du Maurier (O) ★★★ – I only read “The Birds” out of this collection. I guess I wasn’t a big fan of the writing; consequently, I wasn’t able to get completely through any of the other stories. “The Birds” as a short story has no where near the power that Hitchcock’s film adaptation of it has.

The Blumhouse Book of Nightmares: The Haunted City by Jason Blum (O) ★★★★ – You probably are familiar with Blum and Blumhouse from his horror films: most notably, and most recently, Get Out. But this collection, with stories written by various filmmakers and writers, intrigued me because one of the stories was written by Ethan Hawke and I’ve always wanted to read his work. While all the stories were pretty good, including Hawke’s, only one story out of all of them has really stuck with me, and that was “Eyes” by George Gallo. Creepy stuff.

Throttle by Joe Hill and Stephen King (P) ★★★★★ – I’m not sure if father King or son Hill did most of the writing on this but this little illustrated novella of a story frikkin’ rocks. It’s about an outlaw biker gang dealing not only with a recently committed crime, but having to deal with it while also dealing with father/son leadership/succession issues. Loved every bit of it, especially the illustrations.

Beach Lawyer by Avery Duff (K) ★★★ – Another fun, fast food kind of read. As I read this, I saw the protagonist as Billy Bob Thorton, the star of the awesome Amazon series Goliath. Not because the stories are similar, but because they both are set in Los Angeles and they both are lawyers. Now, if I were reviewing Goliath, it would def get 5 stars! But I digress.

The Book Case by Nelson DeMille (P) ★★★ – This detective novella is a quite the trope but still a fun read.

Five or Six Harry Bosch novels by Michael Connelly (O) ★★★★★ – I can’t remember which ones they were but I listened to them and I give them all five stars because they were narrated by Titus Welliver (who rocks!), and who plays the lead character, Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch, in the Amazon series adapted from the novels (and which rocks!).

Deadly Stillwater by Roger Stelljes (P) ★★★ – A fun, fast food detective thriller.

Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg ($) ★★★★ – You may not recognize this novel, but you just may recognize Angel Heart, the movie which was adapted from the novel starring Mickey Rourke, et al. This might be one of those rare instances where the movie is better than the book. The movie is pretty true to the novel except that the novel is set completely in New York City. I think bringing it down to New Orleans in the movie was key.

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder ($) ★★★★ – If you’re looking to learn how to write a screenplay formulaically in what is becoming the Hollywood standard, then this book is for you. I actually used the approach to outline a story…which I then decided not to write. I hope to get back to it some day.

The Shining by Stephen King ★★★★ – I like King but I think he’s overrated. What impresses me most is how much he puts into a story; but in the end, it’s the sheer volume of words and tangential tales within a tale that weighs me down and turns my reading of his work into tedium.

Finders Keepers by Stephen King ★★★ – Ditto.

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Stephen King (O) ★★ – Ditto plus it was poorly written, which even King admitted to in his preface.

Salem’s Lot by Stephen King (O) ★★★★ – Ditto. I liked this one best (out of those on the list here; The Stand is my favorite all time so far).

The Box by Jack Ketchum (P) ★★★★★ – While not as graphic and violent as The Girl Next Door, this story about a family wasting away from starvation is quite unsettling. A great short story.

Whiskey Sour by J.A. Konrath (P) ★★★★ – This was a fun read. The story’s protagonist, Jaqueline, Jack, Daniels is just as hard-boiled as any hard-boiled male detectives you will find within the genre. Some of the killer’s scenes were a bit brutal, if I remember correctly. It’s impressive how Konrath can crank out his stories and continue to receive pretty amazing reviews for the most part.

Beacon 23 by Hugh Howey (P) ★★★★★ – This is a beautifully sad, strange tale about loneliness and post traumatic stress and love lost and love hoped for all while floating in a beacon in outer space as ships pass by at warp speed. Howey is an amazing writer.

Currently reading:

The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (O) – I’ve always have been wanting to read this classic but I was finally motivated to do so when after finishing Benito Cereno and reading several critiques of the story I learned that Ellison used the following quote from Melville’s story as an epigraph for his:

“You are saved,” cried captain Delano, more and more astonished and pained;
“you are saved: what has cast such a shadow upon you?

You need to read Benito Cereno for the answer.

Will soon be reading:

Baltimore, or the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden ($) – I came across Mike Mignola’s work after reading up on Guillermo Del Toro, the author of The Strained Trilogy, as well as the director of many movies, including Hell Boy, and learning that Mignola was the creator of Hell Boy, which led me to Baltimore.

And this post has become way too long.



*I just discovered that the history on my Overdrive app only goes back to August, which means I’ll have to rely mostly on my memory, which means, as all the above chemo brain whining attests to, we’re screwed so this will be far from inclusive, which probably isn’t a bad thing seeing how long this mindless beast has become


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