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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

My Reviews of Alex Cross, Run; Mockingjay; Catching Fire; The Hunger Games; and 11-22-63

I’m not a voracious reader, but I joined a while back to put up an author page for the books I’ve written. However, the site is really about offering book reviews, so I decided to join in with my two cents whenever I complete a book that I like. “When in Rome . . .” as they say.

Being on the receiving end of reviews nowadays—at least once in a while—I feel like I should add all kinds of disclaimers. Suffice it to say, I certainly don’t mean to compare myself to the published, often bestselling authors that I’ll likely “review.” seems to be the online version of asking a friend, “Have you read any good books lately?” And that is the vein in which I plan to post.

My entry into blogging was actually as a book reviewer more than a decade ago. (Can’t believe it was that long ago!) My brother had read an article about some kid who made a bunch of money using AdSense, and that eventually lead to me writing reviews to feature books through Amazon affiliate links. Among the many lessons learned from what grew into an effort to create a full-fledged .com as a member of numerous affiliate programs—not a great business model—was that writing professional reviews is harder than it looks.

This is not my attempt to return to trying to write professional reviews. A couple weeks ago, I posted my review of James Patterson’s Honeymoon, and it dawned on me that I might as well post my reviews right here on my blog. As I suggested, these “reviews” are intended along the lines of a casual suggestion about a good book to a friend. I’ve also been attempting to take a break from engaging with social media this summer for various reasons, not the least of which is to get away from some of the Twitter “noise” and to figure out what’s next for me, and I have just begun thinking about doing some more blogging in the future. This might become a bridge to that path, the occasional post on my blog to add a little more content, or a one-shot deal. 

So, at the risk of proving how little I read, here are the other reviews I’ve posted on so far:

Alex Cross, Run (Alex Cross, #20)Alex Cross, Run by James Patterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Patterson kept me reading, which isnt always easy. This was an easy, enjoyable read with a familiar character. Ive read a couple books from the series, and will probably read more.

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I finally finished the Hunger Games trilogy. I loved the original, Hunger Games; its uniqueness was enthralling and shocking at the same time. Im a methodical reader, but read the first book very quickly. It carried me through Catching Fire, which I didnt read right after finishing the first book in the series. Catching Fire was good, but nowhere near as good as the original. Obviously, the shock value was gone. I struggled with Mockingjay. I never know if its me or the book in situations like this, but I never really connected with it. I started it right after finishing the second, which left open many questions and I wanted to find out what happened. In fact, Catching Fire really didn’t feel like it had an ending, it just lead readers to the third book. I guess that was the point, but I wasnt prepared for it and felt cheated in someway. (The lack of an ending, or perhaps the cliffhanger ending, reminded me of the second Back to the Future movie, which gave me the same feeling. Perhaps its just how trilogies work?) I dont know if that threw me off, but once I found out what was going on, I wasn't ready for an adventure with Katniss. That said, the ending of the book (and series) made the effort worth it. 

For the record, I feel a little strange adding any sort of negative review to a public forum now that I have a self-published novel “out there.” I’m sure Ms. Collins and other successful authors aren’t concerned about negative reviews, but posting for the first time since receiving my own negative comments, I felt compelled to mention it.

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Maybe nothing could have measured up to the original Hunger Games, but I didnt quite fly through this one as quickly as I read the first one. Its still worth reading.

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was absolutely great. I read this as quickly as Ive read anything of this length. The shock of what was going on, which was incredibly original (at least in terms of anything Ive read), would not let me stop reading.

11/22/6311/22/63 by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Normally, I wouldnt even consider a book this longIm just not a very diligent reader, especially if the book doesnt “grab me right away, and I typically wouldnt make it through something of this length. But my mom read it and kept telling me about it, and it sounded interesting. She bought it for me for Christmas in 2013 (I think; Im posting a few books all at once), and I went through it at lightning speed for me. I think I finished in early February. I couldnt get enough of it and actually would have kept reading. Im far from a history buff, but King brings the reader along quite well. It was really a fascinating story. Im very disappointed the TV series is on Hulu, which I dont subscribe to. I had been waiting for the movie or TV show since finishing the book. Hoping for a blu-ray release at some point.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Deciding for Myself on Me Before You

I felt like I was crossing the virtual picket lines when I went to see Me Before You. After seeing so many people with disabilities protesting the movie as an affront to our “community,” I decided to see it for myself.

Louisa “Lou” Clark (played by Emilia Clarke) is hired as a companion for Will (Sam Clafin), who became almost completely paralyzed from the neck down except for some use of his hands after being hit by a motor scooter. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to add that Lou is devastated when she learns Will has planned to kill himself.

Without considering the disability issues in the film, Me Before You just wasn’t very good. It wasn’t my type of film, but I tried to accept the movie on its own terms as a love story, and I didn’t buy that the two main characters were in love. Lou is in love with the idea of being Will’s savior, and never truly crosses over into love. And I think it’s very clear that Will feels some affection for her, but not much more.

At the risk of taking my life in my hands—at least my life writing about disability issues—I think there’s been a overreaction from people with disabilities to Me Before You.

The biggest complaint about the film—and this may qualify as a spoiler—seems to be that Will goes through with his plans for Lou. He wants her to “live boldly,” and he removes himself to allow her to do that.

Well . . . no, he doesn’t.

Will makes the decision to end his life before ever meeting Lou. In order for the assertion that Will chooses to die for Lou to have any validity, we’d need to see Will so happy that he wants to forgo his plans and pursue a life with Lou, and then decide to kill himself so that she wouldn’t be burdened by him. That never happens.

There are a few scenes in which Lou and Will might appear to be falling in love. They attend a wedding together, Lou rushes to his side when Will is hospitalized, and they take a trip that becomes somewhat romantic. But at the end of the wedding evening, Will wants to hold on to the moment before going back to dealing with his reality as a disabled person as if the two things are separate. The hospital sequence centers on Lou’s emotion, not Will’s. Even on the trip, there’s no sense that Will is falling in love. At best, he’s again wistful for a life with a woman as an able-bodied man.

Lou’s feelings are driven by her naïveté, which is clear throughout the film. She’s a woman who bounced from job to job. She would have taken a job as a clerk as fast as she took the job with Will. She has no experience with disability, but she almost instantly begins researching things like adaptive sports as if all Will needs is a little fresh air.

Me Before You is Lou’s story. Had it been Will’s story, we could demand more of the insight into him that we never get. Instead, Lou and the viewer are told about him waking up screaming and the pain he’s in, but we never really see it. I don’t think she ever really understands what he feels.

However, there’s enough of a depiction of Will that I agree with the filmmakers that this is one person’s choice, and in no way makes a statement about the value of the lives of disabled people. Will’s a fairly classic “rich kid” with the world at his feet when he has his accident. After his accident, Will lives with his parents an isolated existence in what Lou describes as a castle. They travel on a private airplane to the vacation spot she and Will eventually go to. And Will never interacts with other people with disabilities.

When we first meet Will . . . to put it really, really nicely . . . he acts like a jerk. Will imitates someone with a severe speech disability (there’s no hint of Will actually having difficulty speaking in the film). I don’t know if it was meant to scare Lou off, be funny, or something else, and I don’t care. It was disgusting.

But if we really want to see more characters with disabilities, we have to be willing to accept that we’re not always going to like everything they do.

Will is depressed. He’s totally unhappy with the prospect of living the rest of his life with a disability. It’s not a message about the value of the lives of people living with disabilities. It’s the story of one fairly ill-equipped guy, who’s likely never faced anything close to adversity, dealing with his new circumstances in ways that don’t seem unheard of.

I’m not endorsing what Will ultimately chooses to do. But his emotion and desires can’t be rejected because we disagree with them.

In fact, it’s possible to make the argument that Will going through with his plans shows respect for someone with a disability guiding their own life choice. The unhappy disabled guy finding meaning in life despite his disability because his friend-for-hire—a fairly condescending concept—falls for him, wouldn’t exactly have been a boon for the disability movement.

Of course, it would have been very nice if the one disabled character that we have in a major motion picture at the moment didn’t want to off himself. But the lack of other movies with disabled characters shouldn’t be a burden to this film, or any other, which actually attempts to portray a character with a disability. Me Before You should be evaluated on its own merits.

Overall, those merits don’t add up to much. I have to believe that the overreaction to Me Before You has only heightened interest in a movie that deserves very little.
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