8. ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’ by Ursula K. Le Guin

I decided it was time to revisit my childhood. Recently, the world lost one of its greatest writers in the incomparable Ursula K. Le Guin. This book transports me back to my younger days of playing Dungeons and Dragons, reading fantasy and science fiction, and just being an insecure nerd all around. Back then, I thought the types of fiction that I loved could only be written by men. I would quickly discover just how wrong I was. Before Earthsea, I had previously become aware of Le Guin in high school with her fantastic short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.”A friend had loaned me copies of the Earthsea stories, and I remember being completely awestruck. Those books transported me to a world of wizards and dragons that helped me escape my mundane existence. Would the first volume of this trilogy still hold the same magic after all these years?


This is the story of Ged who starts out as a budding sorcerer learning from his aunt. Recognizing his abilities, he is trained under the tutelage of a legendary wizard before entering into a famous school of magic. My description probably sounds similar to another young wizard of particular fame, but please let me stress that this book does not resemble that story in the slightest. Despite showing significant prowess at the magical arts and even saving a village from destruction, Ged’s impatience and arrogance seek to be his undoing. While under the apprenticeship of Ogion, Ged quickly tires of his rather slow approach. His ambition takes him to the wizard academy on Roke where he hopes to finally show off his skills. However, things only get worse from there. During a challenge from another student, Ged attempts to release a spirit from the underworld. Instead, Ged unleashes a dark shadow creature who will now hunt him down for the rest of his life until he is destroyed.

A Wizard of Earthsea is your typical coming-of-age story. Throughout the novel, Ged starts to develop from an arrogant child into the mature man who will one day become the source of legends. Despite being a short book, Le Guin manages to give the novel a very epic feel with lots of traveling and introducing several characters who enter and leave the tale. This book definitely falls into the category of high fantasy, where it can often seem as though large spans of time go by where nothing significant happens. It definitely has a feel of Tolkien about it as Le Guin’s writing is very sophisticated yet easy to follow. The creation of this world is very detailed with lots of maps spread throughout the book.

This story could be considered just as much a philosophy text as a fantasy story. Le Guin studied the Taoist religion during her lifetime, and many of these concepts appear during the lessons Ged must learn. This is not to say that the book is without peril as there are some significant action scenes. The battle with the dragons is one of my favorites. Eventually, Ged learns to not run away from his problems and instead face them directly. I won’t spoil the ending here, but let’s just say you should be able to figure out the shadow’s secret before Ged does.

It was a pleasure to travel to Earthsea again. Like its protagonist, I too have changed a lot over the years. Hopefully in good ways. I plan to return to Earthsea again in the near future. Until then, it was nice to revisit this book that had so much bearing on my love of dreaming.

“But need alone is not enough to set power free: there must be knowledge.”


Have you read this book or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts!



Abandoning Books

As I struggled to come up with a topic for this week, life as always provided the answer. Yesterday, my best friend and I were discussing the right time to abandon a book. Right now, we are both struggling with books we want to quit. So when is the right time to abandon a book? I found an interesting article over at Book Riot regarding this issue. While some would say that stopping after the first 50 or 100 pages is a good idea, perhaps that isn’t a fair assessment of a book’s value. After all, the one I’m currently reading is well over a thousand pages! I liked the author’s argument after struggling with a long book that about one-third seems fair to give up if the sparks just aren’t happening.

Do you ever feel the urge?

Then there’s the fact that our tastes change with age. Now that I’m a sophisticated man in my forties, I definitely enjoy books now that I wouldn’t have liked in my younger days. Some are definitely worthy of a second chance.

Here are some books that I’ve abandoned over the years.

The Wheel of Time Series by Robert Jordan

I have a feeling that I would totally love this epic fantasy series that spans many years as well as many pages. Sadly, I made it less than a quarter of the way due to being frightened away by its sheer length. This year, the first book has made it on my list for the 2018 TBR Pile Challenge. Here’s hoping I can tackle it the second time around.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyoder Doystoevsky

Last year, this was my original choice for a Russian classic. I was totally pumped to tackle one of the most celebrated novels of all time. Doystoevsky is certainly a master at creating believable characters and dialogue. His pages are so rich with characterization that I was about 100 pages in when I got sick of nothing significant happening. I ended up reading a shorter work, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Although I loved my second choice, I hope to someday return to the saga of the family Karamazov.

Something Happened by Joseph Heller

Catch-22 was easily one of my favorite novels in college. I loved it so much, I wrote an awesome paper about it. Heller had become a hero to me. Years later, I read Something Happened. I take back my praise of Heller. This novel was like a long trip to the dentist to have multiple root canals done. The narrator was completely unlikeable, and I quickly tired of his bitching. Maybe I missed the point by not sticking to it, but I have no plans to ever return to this one.

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Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

My first experience with David Mitchell ended with me abandoning this book about halfway. It didn’t have anything to do with the writing; my head just wasn’t in the right place to appreciate it. I attempted it again the following year, and now I rate Cloud Atlas as one of my top ten favorite books of all time. What a difference a second chance can make! For me, Cloud Atlas revolutionized fiction. I’ve been a huge David Mitchell fan ever since and highly recommend both his first novel Ghostwritten as well as his horror novel Slade House. I’m looking forward to reading The Bone Clocks later this year.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Anyone who has read my blog for awhile knows that I’m a massive lover of all things Murakami. Since reading The Windup-Bird Chronicle, I’ve devoured so many of his works. Particularly, I recommend his massive novel 1Q84 and his short story collection The Elephant Vanishes.

Then came Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, where I only made it halfway. It was horrendous! It was like seeing all of Murakami’s at his worst. Granted, this is one of his earliest works but come on. I hated all the technology talk. The narrator was so bland (as many of Murakami’s narrators are) that I just got annoyed by him. Then, there’s the love interest who the narrator wants to sleep with and constantly talks about her being “fat-sexy.” Done.

The Shannara Series by Terry Brooks

Since my bestie gave me the idea for this particular blog, I thought I would end it with one of his favorite authors. Ever since he introduced me to the worlds of Terry Brooks, I’ve been in love. The Sword of Shannara nearly holds the record for the fantasy novel I’ve read the most (it falls just behind Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon). As great as the first three books are, there are sooooooo many more. Then there’s the train wreck of the TV series based on one of the books. One day, I hope to say that I’ve read the entire series. I fear that day is far away.

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Stop giving me that disappointed look Allanon!

What books have you abandoned? Would you consider tackling them again? I would love to know your thoughts!

7. ‘Every Day’ by David Levithan

Whenever a writer takes on the trials of penning a romance, you can be sure that there will be obstacles in the path to love. Maybe the families don’t get along or perhaps one of the pair is dying of some incurable disease. However, nothing comes close to the challenges between the two title characters in David Levithan’s novel Every Day. The premise on the cover sounded too intriguing to pass up, plus the book has received a lot of favorable reviews over the past few years. After reading the first page in the bookstore, I knew I had to get it. I finished Every Day fairly quickly, and I’m pleased to say that I really liked it for the most part. For a work of young adult fiction, Levithan manages to make the book intriguing enough to keep going. He also raises some good questions in regards to gender and the value we place on outside appearances.


Here’s the beginning that got me hooked:

I wake up.

Immediately I have to figure out who I am. It’s not just the body-opening my eyes and  discovering whether the skin on my arm is light or dark, whether my hair is long or short, whether I’m fat or thin, boy or girl, scarred or smooth. The body is the easiest thing to adjust to, if you’re used to waking up in a new one each morning. It’s the life, the context of the body, that can be hard to grasp. 

Every day I am someone else. I am myself-I know I am myself-but I am also someone else. 

It has always been like this. 

This is the story of a being who simply goes by the name “A.” Every day, A wakes up in a new body, and it has been this way for his entire life. While in the body of a boy named Justin, A begins to develop feelings for Justin’s girlfriend Rhiannon. Although A has always done his best not to interfere with the lives of his many hosts, meeting Rhiannon has sparked a longing for something long-term. Thus begins, a rather unconventional romance.

Levithan does a great job of establishing the rules to A’s very unconventional life. Since A has been alive for sixteen years, all the hosts have to be approximately that age. Also, A can only travel short distances between bodies, so the only way to end up in a different part of the world would be for the host to have traveled that particular day. A is able to access memories in order to get around that day and also to implant a general set of memories to the hosts to account for the missing day. He prefers to be asleep at midnight because otherwise, there is the painful feeling of being ripped from the body. So every morning A wakes up as someone else only to be that someone for the day. Although I’m referring to A with the masculine pronoun, the truth is that A does not identify himself as either gender as he can inhabit the bodies of a male or female host.

“In my experience, desire is desire, love is love. I have never fallen in love with a gender. I have fallen for individuals. I know this is hard for people to do, but I don’t understand why it’s so hard, when it’s so obvious.”

What I liked best about this story was the exploration into the ideas of gender and outside appearances. Rhiannon struggles due to the fact that every time she sees A it’s a different body. I mean wouldn’t you? There’s one day where A is the body of a very obese person, and Rhiannon struggles with hiding her disgust. Also, Rhiannon is more uncomfortable when A is in the body of a girl. A doesn’t see love that way. Over the years, A has had feelings for both boys and girls and sees the person rather than the gender. I loved this idea of just seeing the inner person free of labels. If you woke up one morning to find the person you loved had changed bodies, could you still feel the same way?

I also loved how living so many lives has affected A’s perception of life, particularly in appreciating the little details.

“It’s so hard when you’re in one body to get a sense of what life is really like. You’re so grounded in who you are. But when who you are changes every day-you get to touch the universal more. Even the most mundane details. You see how cherries taste different to different people. Blue looks different. You see all the strange rituals boys have to show affection without admitting it. You learn that if a parent reads to you at the end of the day, it’s a good sign that it’s a good parent, because you’ve seen so many other parents who don’t make the time. You learn how much a day is truly worth, because they’re all so different. If you ask most people what the difference was between Monday and Tuesday, they might tell you what they had for dinner each night. Not me. By seeing the world from so many angles, I get more of a sense of its dimensionality.”

I love that quote! How often do the days just bleed together? Do we always remember to stop and appreciate all the little joys of life? It just really felt good to see that point-of-view. However, can love really work when the person you love can never be the same person on the outside? Rhiannon can never tell anyone about A, or introduce him to her friends, or even wake up next to him the next morning. I really liked the character of Rhiannon. She’s a kind-hearted girl with a boyfriend who ignores her. Meeting A has opening her eyes to the possibilities of so much more. Can there be a happy ending for these two? Well, I’ll never tell. I will say the ending is very emotional, and I’m excited to see how this translates in the upcoming film version.

Rhiannon impacts A in several ways. At the beginning of the book, he makes it a policy to never interfere with his hosts. However, A realizes that sometimes action is necessary. One day, he inhabits the body of a girl suffering from depression and planning to kill herself. A manages to convince the girl’s father to get her help. Another interesting chapter involves A having to spend the day inside a body of someone addicted to drugs. I really liked how the character started to realize that some good can come out of this torturous life. Levithan also does a great job of allowing us to share in A’s suffering. He doesn’t get to have family or loved ones. As he describes it, he is visible yet invisible because nobody knows that he exists inside.

There’s a side story in Every Day where A learns there may be others. Unfortunately, this is just a small part of the book, but I think it would be interesting to see this explored more in a follow-up if that ever happens. For a young adult novel, Every Day had a lot of depth. It’s simple to read, but has some important messages there at its heart.

“I want love to conquer all. But love can’t conquer anything. It can’t do anything on it’s own. It relies on us to do the conquering on its behalf.”

Have you read this book or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Strange Love

Last week, I shared some of my favorite modern love stories. For this week, I thought I would go in a completely different direction. Let’s face it, love makes us do dumb things. I mean really dumb head-shaking things. But did you know that some of the most insane acts in the name of love have occurred in books?

So allow me to share some of the most insane ways to declare those three little words. Perhaps flowers and chocolates aren’t getting the job done. In that case, try some of these less conventional methods. Hey, they all won the girl in the end!

Insult her mercilessly-Pride and Prejudice

Although he is one of the biggest heart throbs in classic literature, Darcy’s first impression on Elizabeth did not go so well. Here’s what she overhears him say to his best friend Mr. Bingley:

“She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”

Damn Darcy! You came to play! Back then, that would be the equivalent of telling a girl “hey you’re ugly get out of my face.” Guess there’s something to be said about taking the asshole approach.

“Just give me a reason!”

Perfect that creepy stare-Twilight

If the “I don’t care for you” card isn’t working, you can always try the opposite approach. Edward Cullen was comfortable enough with himself to basically stalk and stare his way into Bella’s affections. I’ve watched most of these movies. Seriously, those damn films would be 15 minutes each if they cut out all the staring scenes.

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Edward Cullen laughs at your futile restraining orders!

Hide your first wife in the attic-Jane Eyre

Edward Rochester was madly in love with Jane, but he had one little problem. He neglected to let her know that he was already married, and that his first wife was quite insane. Rochester decided to take the simple approach-just lock the first wife up in the attic and hope wife number two never finds out. His elegant solution would not be successful. Things work out in the end, and Rochester does have some karma bite him on the butt. For another interesting take on Edward Rochester and his first wife, read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.

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“One more word, and I’m locking you up there too!”

….or just go insane-Wuthering Heights

Has there truly been a more insane character than Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights? I actually feel for this one as he had a pretty rough go of it. Plus despite his madness, you have to admire the man’s passion. He definitely had style.

I think the couple of Heathcliff and Catherine is intriguing because of their mutual obsession with each other. They really are male and female versions of each other. When Heathcliff loses Catherine, he really goes off the rails, punishing everyone in his path.

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“Edward Cullen has nothing on my ability to stare down.”

Fuel a blood feud then off yourself-Romeo and Juliet

Young love. This is one of the few Shakespeare plays that I could actually quote verbatim back in the day (thanks to the Leonardo DiCaprio film). It’s too bad things couldn’t have been resolved. Maybe if they had therapists back then, the families could have resolved their differences. I guess it wouldn’t be a classic though had everything worked out in the end.

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Make her the town pariah-The Scarlet Letter

After getting Hester Prynne knocked up, Arthur Dimmesdale finds he doesn’t have the courage to take a stand and admit his actions. The unconfessed guilt comes to haunt him in some major ways. Hester Prynne is definitely one of the strongest women I’ve encountered in literature. If you weren’t forced to read it in high school, you should do so now.

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Take her captive-The Phantom of the Opera

This one should work no matter how hideous you look. Just lock her up, profess your love, and tell her that if she doesn’t marry you, you’re going to blow everyone up. The best part is that while you are doing it, you get to wear a cool mask!

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Well I hope this post brought a few smiles if nothing else. I will be reviewing the love story Every Day this weekend. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Have you read any of these books? What other insane romances would you include on this list. I’d love to know your thoughts!


6. ‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison

In honor of Black History Month, I decided to read a book that had been sitting on my shelves for years. While researching Ralph Ellison’s sole novel Invisible Man, I came across this powerful reenactment from the first chapter courtesy of “Ralph Ellison: An American Story” produced by Avon Kirkland. I should warn you that is is gut-wrenching:

Once in a long while a book comes along that moves me so intensely that I feel like I have reached another plane of existence. Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man is not an easy read, as it is sometimes slow moving and filled with countless images of symbolism. Each page contains something worth remembering. Perhaps it is fitting that Ellison only completed one novel in his lifetime because you can tell that he literally poured his heart and soul into Invisible Man. While reading it, I was bombarded with so many thoughts and feelings that I often felt overwhelmed with how I was going to complete this review. As I analyzed my notes on this one, I realized that the themes of Invisible Man are just as relevant today as they were over sixty years ago.

In his introduction, Ellison discusses how he arrived at the concept for the novel:

“For a while I had structured my short stories out of familiar experiences and possessed concrete images of my characters and their backgrounds, now I was confronted by nothing more substantial than a taunting, disembodied voice.”

The novel starts with an unnamed protagonist, referring to himself as an “invisible man,” growing up in the middle of a racist society. Interestingly, we never learn a lot about the narrator’s childhood in order to keep up that image of being invisible. As he begins to recount the past few years from his life, we learn that he literally lives underground siphoning off electricity illegally from the city.

ELLISONThe narrator talks about his life beginning with going to college. In order to earn a scholarship, he has to participate in a cage match with other black men while blindfolded. The participants then have to crawl around on an electrified carpet fetching coins for the amusement of the white audience. This scene is one of the most powerful yet disturbing scenes I have ever read in a book.

The story continues with the narrator getting kicked out of college for driving one of the white trustees to some of the bad parts of town where they interact with several of the town’s black residents. After a series of failed jobs in New York, he eventually falls into the Brotherhood, a group of white communist men who use him as a speaker to support their cause. The narrator eventually learns that he is merely a puppet in their game of power and plans to use his “invisibility” as a strength to destroy them.

The ideas of invisibility and blindness run throughout the novel with several characters and images representing how often we don’t truly “see” what is in front of us. There’s a preacher who gives an impassioned speech supporting the phony founders of the college who we learn later is actually blind. Jack, one of the leaders of the Brotherhood, has a fake glass eye much to the disgust of the narrator. From the blindfolds used in the above fight to the narrator being mistaken for someone else, the idea of distorted vision runs throughout Invisible Man. 

Perhaps the most important conversation in the novel takes place in the prologue. The narrator recalls advice his grandfather gave him as a child about how to deal with white people:

“Live with your head in the lion’s mouth. I want you to overcome ‘em with yeses, undermine ‘em with grins, agree ‘em to death and destruction, let ‘em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open.”

This brief exchange amounts to the only family background we actually get about the invisible man, but it sets the tone for the novel perfectly. Appearance does not equal reality and that change can only come from within. Initially, the narrator refuses to admit this but comes to terms with it several years later.

This is a novel about stereotypes. As the narrator puts it, everyone sees everything but him. Often, I noticed that characters interacted with him as if he was a reflection of themselves or that he’s the image of what they want to attain. There’s a disturbing scene late in the book when the narrator attempts to seduce the girlfriend of a member of the Brotherhood in order to gain more information on them. The woman wants to have a rape fantasy and thinks it will work with the narrator since he’s black. There’s another scene involving a black farmer admitting to a rich white man about his inappropriate encounter with his daughter, but we discover that the rich white man also has one with his daughter too. Ellison has us question our own stereotypes in how we see people only to discover that really skin color does not define the types of people that we are.

At times the narrator becomes the stereotype that he’s trying ti fight against. In one scene, he attacks someone who he believes was just looking at him the wrong way. To others, the invisible man represents different people. To the old white guys, he can be thrown into a boxing ring and heckled. To the college president, he’s just a lowly student who doesn’t know how to appropriately interact with the rich white people. To the Brotherhood, he’s just a puppet they can use for their own means. In the end, the narrator begins to look inward and says:

“What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do?”

I cannot even begin to imagine how powerful this novel was upon publication. However, I think it still stands in today’s world. Sadly, stereotypes are still present. Because of our own misconceptions about others, we often don’t see the individual person in front of us.

In my research, I learned some interesting facts about Ralph Ellison. I was excited to learn he was born in my home state of Oklahoma. It was also interesting to read about his aspirations to be a composer of classical music. Sadly, Invisible Man would be his only novel. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing as this novel accomplished what a true classic should. It serves as a product of its time as well as being relevant today.

“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”

Have you read this book or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts!