Monday, October 28, 2013

Book Review: On Writing by Stephen King (10th Anniversary Edition)

On a recent Facebook thread on books about writing, On Writing by Stephen King kept coming up. I agree -- it's the Fred Meyer of writing books, a one-stop shop for everything from getting ideas to getting an agent (with wonderfully specific advice on that last one that I may try out some day ... ). It is as much about Stephen King as it is about writing, and that's all right with me. The one mistake I made was starting it on an airplane after I had some sushi and we hit some turbulence. Some of King's formative experiences are vividly medical in nature and ... let's just say I put the book down for the rest of the flight and the rest of the summer. Then I came back to it and found a practical guide for the intuitive writer. Simple and effective advice. Worth the time.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Book Review: Gone Girl

It's hard to review this book, because the reason you read it is to find out what happens at the end. Might as well start where it starts. Nick Dunne starts the narration, and soon his wife Amy goes missing -- not just not-there missing, but door-wide-open iron-left-on missing. Nick is not a reliable narrator, he leaves things out and outright lies to you when he wants. Soon after, Amy is narrating, through diary entries that were left behind. The mystery of what will happen next is sustained very nicely, although if you're one-third of the way through the book and wondering if it will be worth it -- trust me, you'll want to get halfway through because that's when it really starts to get intricate.

This book reminds me about how Stephen King is still my favorite. This plot is more intricate, and these characters are probably more interesting than King's, but they aren't as warm, and it isn't ultimately as satisfying. This plot was carefully contructed, but in the end, though it tries, it's cold as clockwork gears. Read it for the plot, and for the surprises, including some of the best twist moments I've come across. It does end up being less than the sum of its parts, but its parts alone are absorbing.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Another Chemistry Recruiting Scandal

Most of the sites that try to imitate The Onion are hit and miss. I think this one is a hit, although it might just be my chemistry bias showing through. (Title: "Chemistry Major On Probation After Allegations of Improper Benefits from Big Pharma Recruiters")

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Book Review: Joyland by Stephen King

Another good historical novel by Stephen King (if something set in 1973 can be considered historical, which I think it is). It's about being 21, having a broken heart, and working at an amusement park. It's about death, injustice, and forgiveness. It's only incidentally about a ghost and a serial killer. It's also short (for King) at about 1/5 the length of 11-22-63, for example. It's not big on the surprises, really, but it's got a nice little plot. King's skill at foreshadowing comes through in this one, and he even directly addresses his views on the soul (obliquely, but it's there). All with a beautiful, simple last scene. What's impressive is that this is an average book for King. I don't know how he does it.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Biochemistry Lectures (2013)

Another year of lectures has begun. I always like to link to the lectures from here, so here's the link for this year. Pass it along and enjoy!

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is my favorite author that I can remember the least about his books after they're done. Perhaps it's the mythic elements and the simple, powerful, but common language he tends to use. In The Ocean at the End of the Lane, forgetting the story is actually part of the story, so I have to assume part of this is what Gaiman is about. What's different about Ocean is its perspective, told as memory: it's remembered by a 40-ish year old from an experience when he was 7. Gaiman uses this perspective to enhance the mystery of what's going on and to introduce some dark, adult undercurrents very gently (for the most part, with one shocking scene that stands out all the more for that). No one can do this like Gaiman does. This may be the most nostalgic of his works, and possibly one of the most personal. It feels like a short story (and it started life as a short story that outgrew its own pages), but I can't imagine it being any shorter than it is. Gaiman's own stories contain the magic he talks about, magic of universal myth, the power of words, and the ultimate mysterious but good structure of the universe. (No wonder he keeps returning to Lewis and Chesterton!) That's why I'll read anything he puts out and remember enjoying it even after I've forgotten the details of the plot. Those details are not what matters with Gaiman, and what does matter, matters a lot.