As a writer, editor and publisher I am still a reader. So, here’s another sample of reviews you will find on my Goodreads author page, some with very slight editorial revisions. You can’t be much of a writer if you aren’t also a reader. I’ve always been a big reader.
Books can entertain. They can educate or inspire. Books can challenge one’s beliefs. Or they can be a starting point for more research. The reviews included here do one or more of those things. I don’t give a five star rating to all the books I read–many get 3, some four, some even less. But all of these got five stars.
Some are ones we read long ago, while others are recent additions. The older ones are likely to be accessible in libraries or online. The newest are not likely found for free.
We think all of them are worthy of your consideration, even if their point of view may differ from your own. An open mind is one that can learn and develop. Such divergence can foster dialogue and an exchange of perspectives that may surprise you.
Some have appeared in past quarterlies or on the Views from Eagle Peak blog. So why are they here again? For relevance to current events, for one thing. For another, you may have missed them, and they are still of value—as are most good books.
Let’s begin with The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It’s in the inspirational category. Not new, but only recently read by me. The review I posted on Goodreads says all I need to say.
This is one of those books that once I read it, I had to wonder–how did I overlook it? It takes me back to a whole host of other books which share the inspirational aspects as well as some elements of style. Mostly, it shares profundity. Books like Candide–to which this book’s main similarity is an innocent on a journey of discovery. Candide is a savage satirical attack on philosophical foibles of the time it was written. In the end, he dismisses “best of all possible words” view of suffering offered by Pangloss with the realistic perspective “That’s well said,” . . .”but we must cultivate our garden.”
It also reminds me of both Cervantes and Lewis Carroll. As with the Alchemist, (more so than Candide), it is quite useful for youth. Alice and Through the Looking Glass offer much in wordplay to the writer and clearer understanding for anyone in communicating–“Say what you mean,” says the March Hare to Alice. “I mean what I say,” Alice replies. Clearly, she doesn’t understand. I used to read those books every several years. It’s been decades now. Perhaps it’s time again.
As for Cervantes, Don Quixote is on a quest like Santiago, the Andalusian shepherd in the Alchemist. Quixote, the dreamer, is counterbalanced by his realist companion Sancho Panza. Eventually, they come to exchange perspectives. Santiago does a bit of that as well with the various people he meets. Like Candide, he too suffers losses–not quite as severe but nearly as surreal as Voltaire’s protagonist.
Finally, I found a lot of Buddhism in the Alchemist. Seeing and understanding omens for one. A capacity that anyone can acquire but few have. For the Catholic Coelho, it perhaps came from a pilgrimage he made two years before the publication of this book. He explains the realizations that Santiago comes to through his experiences and through the interaction with the various teachers, of sorts, that he encounters. It reinforces my faith and determination that following dreams is essential, but happiness lies as much in the process as the result. It’s all there in the effort–remaining undeterred by the obstacles one confronts.
Next, another inspirational book—along a very different dimension, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning (1946; many millions of copies sold). I first read Frankl’s book while in college in the 70s. I reread it to burnish my recollections while working on Waiting for Westmoreland, the memoir I published in 2007.
Frankl survived years in Nazi concentration camps. During those years he endured witnessed unimaginable suffering. Starvation, torture, and death were all commonplace. Through it all he maintained his humanity, didn’t collaborate with his captors (although some of them attended lectures he gave) and counseled fellow prisoners.
Upon his release as allied forces freed prisoners, he published the book you see above both chronicling his time in captivity and establishing the basis for his existential logotherapy–a striking advance in psychiatry departing from Freud. His captors could not defeat him. While his body was confined, his mind remained free. Thoughts of his beloved wife sustained him in part. Beyond that, he concluded that finding meaning, even in suffering, is essential.
Quoting Dostoevsky, “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings,” Frankl goes on to explain that even in a concentration camp, a man has a choice on how to respond to his predicament. Frankl says, “It is this spiritual freedom—which cannot be taken away—that makes life meaningful and purposeful.” He had not the “will to power” of Nietzsche or Adler nor the “will to pleasure” of Freud. His was the will to meaning. I found the book immensely moving and motivating in both how to live and how to face death.
Especially for aspiring writers—two books, one an instructional memoir, the other fiction.
Stephen King is a popular bestselling author. As such, he is not highly regarded in literary circles. Nonetheless, his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, won three awards and is a best seller. I never reviewed this book—it has over 17,000 reviews and over 200,000 ratings on Goodreads. It didn’t need mine. Here, for the first time, is my review just for the 2020 Eagle Peak Annual. Had reviewed it elsewhere, I would have given it five stars.
As an aspiring writer, I took the advice of many in the business and read King’s book—despite not being a fan and having read little of his fiction. Why? Because of his success and knowing that he didn’t magically become an overnight sensation. He put years into being a high school English teacher. Point one take away—it helps to have a background in English, especially teaching others.
He offers eminently sensible suggestions on the craft—like, if you’re going to be a writer, you need to read a lot. Not so you can imitate others, but so you can learn elements of style and technique. Which, by way of reference, also means stocking up on books specifically about grammar and style. Without that knowledge, one won’t get far.
King is both encouraging and honest. Anyone can learn to be a writer. Everyone is not cut out to be a great success. It takes some innate talent and a lot of hard work. For an example of what can result, I suggest reading 11/22/63 (reviewed here previously, in February 2016). It’s about a high school teacher (what a coincidence!) who goes back in time to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Here’s just a snippet of that review.
I have read countless books that include or predominantly revolve around time travel. This may not be the best time travel book ever written, but it is very good. Without adding spoilers, it does a decent job of showing, not telling, the complications of traveling through time–clothing, money, time-bound cultural norms, etc. King does a very good and very interesting job of illustrating the resistance to changing events that the warp of time imposes on one who tries to do so.
Fiction—can be both instructive and entertaining. Instructive in terms of how current writing trends permit and encourage multi-genre and multi-format publishing. Entertaining in its content and style as well.
My review of Sally Cronin’s Life’s Rich Tapestry: Woven in Words, is short. We will add a few lines from the book after the review, for your consideration.
The book lives up to its title–indeed, Sally Cronin has woven a rich tapestry of life in words of many kinds. A variety of poetry–in forms unfamiliar in name to me, microfiction and short stories. What’s more, the graphic imagery of the short poems is inspiring to a person like me who has never really found poetry either appealing or easily understood. This time, for a change, the words grabbed me. I found meaningful passages that could be useful as well in prose writing as in poetry. Examples I must return to in settings or other places where showing and not telling is essential.
The microfiction and short stories were equally compelling. [As noted in the promo for the book coming up next from Eagle Peak Press, we will consider a combination of ingredients as Sally Cronin did—and more in this book]. She is a writer worth reading.
Here a poetry excerpt (not necessarily representative of the content of the whole):
“Memories are sharp
and as clear as the blue sky
smiles etched on my heart.”
Or consider this brief excerpt from the intro to a short story titled, “The Junkyard Dog.”
“Charlie was a junkyard dog and had the scars to prove it. He was head of security of this fenced off mass of scrap metal, dotted with mounds of old tyres he called home, and he took his job very seriously.”
For pure escapist entertainment—a sci-fi techno thriller. Again, I’ll add just a bit to the short review for a better understanding of what it entails and whether it might be what you like.
Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch (review previously appeared on Views from Eagle Peak).
Hardly needs another review, but I’ll say this–it was hard to put down. Also, very scary. Makes you wonder if this could happen to you. Not the kind of book you want to read if you have any sort of mental insecurities or disabilities. Do you believe in string theory? Parallel universes or the multiverse? Can you imagine what it would be like traveling between them and not losing your mind? Blake Crouch will help you with that in this book. He’ll also inspire other authors like me to go further in my own writing world. It’s a great book. I don’t give a lot of five stars, but this one deserved it, in my opinion.
Here’s a brief blurb/synopsis of the start: Physics professor Jason Dessen is kidnapped at gunpoint while walking home. He wakes up in a lab, having been injected by the kidnapper with some unknown drug. He learns that in this world, that his wife, home and son are not his—although he as a memory of them. It only gets more complicated from there.