I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

AKA James Frey… the twat.

2/5 stars.
Paperback, 440 pages.
Read from January 4, 2018 to January 9, 2018

This book was a reluctant read. I received this book as a gift and it had been sitting on my shelf for a few years. I picked it up when I was in a reading slump and it left no surprises, this is book was exactly as I thought it would be. I can’t say I hated it as much as others but I can’t sing its praises either.

The remaining Loriens are hiding away on planet Earth after their own was destroyed by the Mogadorians. John Smith, not his real name, is one of these remaining Lorien. He is number four out of nine Lorien’s with legacy powers. They are protected by a charm that will keep them alive as long as they stay apart from each other, though it can be broken if they are killed the corresponding order. Despite the Lorien’s efforts in hiding, the Mogdorians are on a death mission to hunt them down and number three has just died, meaning that John is next. John’s sci-fi story in intermingled with an attempt to appear and lead a normal human life as he and his guardian Henry, move from town to town trying to stay safe.  John falls for the most cliche high school girl, Sarah, and as his powers develop has to learn to keep them under control and not bring attention to himself. Even if the lame high school jock is bullying his friend and pestering his new love interest, which of course John can’t resist and makes a bunch of bad decisions going forward.

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The story felt flat and the characters were massively stereotypical, especially Sarah. It’s so bad it is near degrading in a way. She was a cheerleader who dated the main jock and bully in the school but magically gave it all up to pursue photography and now she is just a nice person who falls in love with alien and needs to be saved and protected. It is just such a shallow and very male-centric way to describe her and didn’t feel necessary.  On top of that, the writing quality is poor. To take an ounce of enjoyment out of this novel you have to find a way to get past that.

Also if you know anything about who this Pittacus Lore guy is, you might feel less inclined to read anything by him. Pittacus Lore is a collective pen name for James Frey, Jobie Hughes, and Greg Boose. While you may not recognize the last two names, you likely recognize infamous liar and businessman, James Frey. Jame wrote a ‘memoir’ about his struggles with drugs and alcohol. quite a few years back. There was massive controversy surrounding the book as it came out in an interview with Oprah, that not all of it was true. Frey has since gone on to create a publishing factory of shitty writing by hiring a bunch of ambitious writers by luring them with the promise of success and fame. This book and the following series is a result of one his business efforts.  You can read more in-depth about it in New York Books.  Frey seems very comfortable with his shady writing methods, provide it brings him fame and fortune, which of course it has.

If you consider all this together it is all pretty off-putting, but many readers are not interested in Frey’s misfit writing endeavours and just want a cool story, which is ultimately what keeps Frey’s success going. I for one, don’t care enough about this mediocre novel to pursue it further and would not recommend that any read or support the man behind it.

 

Human Acts by Han Kang

A historical-fiction on a vicious event in South Korean history.

4/5 stars.
Read from December 27, 2017 to December 31, 2017.
ebook, 171 pages.

After loving The Vegetarian by the same author, I was excited to read this book, especially after learning of its historical significance.

 “I still remember the moment when my gaze fell upon the mutilated face of a young woman, her features slashed through with a bayonet. Soundlessly, and without fuss, some tender thing deep inside me broke. Something that, until then, I hadn’t realised was there.”

In 1979 South Korea’s dictator, Park Chung-hee, was assassinated. Park’s successor, Choi Kyu-hah, and major general, Chun Doo-hwan, noting that the country was now unstable, seized power through a military coup d’état on December 12, 1979, and enforced martial law. After years of suppression under Park’s regime, this shift in power allowed for a revival in the democratic movement.  The Gwangju Uprising took place between May 18-27th, 1980.  On the morning of May 18th, around 200 students gathered in protest at the Chonnam National University in protest of its closing under martial law. By that afternoon the uprising and conflict broadened to 2000 participants where they were met with a staggering military force. Soldiers were reported to have beaten protestors and eventually opened fire on them, initiating a week-long bloody battle. On May 27th, the military regained control.

A paratrooper clubs a man arrested during anti-government demonstrations in Gwangju on 20 May 1980.
A para-trooper beating a man, 1980. From The Korean Times – May 19, 2015

An estimated 606 people died in the clashings but there is no generally accepted number or statistic on the exact amount.  While the movement failed in making an immediate change over South Korea’s oppressive regime at the time it, the event has been contributed as a major factor in South Korea’s move to democracy in June 1987.

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Photo from Hankyoreh – Aug 25, 2017.

This book follows a cast of revolving characters that are in Gwangju during this tumultuous time. Opening with a boy searching for the body of his lost friend through the mass of dead bodies from the recent student uprising. Rows upon rows of bodies in makeshift coffins line a school gymnasium. The bodies are rotting as they have not yet been claimed by family members.  Another character is a dead soul looking for its body and unravelling the moments that led up to its death.

“Is it true that human beings are fundamentally cruel? Is the experience of cruelty the only thing we share as a species? Is the dignity that we cling to nothing but self-delusion, masking from ourselves the single truth: that each one of us is capable of being reduced to an insect, a ravening beast, a lump of meat? To be degraded, slaughtered – is this the essential of humankind, one which history has confirmed as inevitable?”

The story is shocking and visceral, carrying the same haunting tone as The Vegetarian. This story, however, is less personal as it aims to embody the struggle of not just one person but of an entire nation trying to reshape its identity.  I enjoyed the majority of the characters and the encompassing stories and have since done some research to fully appreciate the scale of this incident. However, this book did not grab me and haunt me the same way The Vegetarian did. Thankfully, the writing is still exquisite, delicate but also brutal, and the story is of paramount importance to South Korean history. Additionally, the translation is exceptional and makes you feel like nothing is emotionally remiss or lost in translation.

The author, Han Kang, was born in Gwangju (both parents are writers as well) and she was 9 years old when, with a stroke of luck, her family left Gwangju for Seoul just 4 months before the uprising. This story is her testament to the event and the place where she grew up.

“That fact became a kind of survivor’s guilt, and troubled my family for a long time. I was twelve when I first saw a photo book produced and circulated in secret to bear witness to the massacre. ” – Han Kang, The White Review, March 2016

If you like historical fiction, fabulous writing, deep characters with a rich story, then you need read this book.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

Straight forward approach, sure, but is the information anything all that revolutionary? And should we be taking advice from someone who has clearly had a pretty charmed life?

2/5 stars.
Paperback,  212 pages.
Read from December 19, 2017 to December 26, 2017.

I decided to give this book a go after reading and enjoying a few of Manson’s articles. However, after enjoying the first few pages the book soon started to unravel and instead of feeling enlightened, I just felt annoyed.

This book has been very successful after having been hailed the anti-self-help novel with Manson’s direct approach and insights intermingled with swearing and a dose of poop jokes, it seems like a self-help book has finally hit the mark in reaching out and understanding the millennial generation. Right? Not exactly. Manson really seemed to enjoy talking about how many girls he use to bang, that he grew up fairly wealthy and about all the great places he has lived abroad. While Manson did put in a ton of work into his writing to be successful, it can’t be denied that he lived a charmed life that does not compare to the average-joe which, is hilarious because while he advocates for people to learn to deal with the trials of life instead of the mantra of “think positively” that many other self-help books advise. It isn’t bad advice in and of itself it’s just entertaining in a way coming from someone who writes about all the great things he has done.

Manson also talks about how social media has changed the meaning of extraordinary to be the new normal, which ends up defeating the purpose of something being extraordinary if everyone can do it. That, I can agree on. I think social media has created a lot of problems for the millennial generation in terms of their self-worth and where they feel they should stack up with others. Issues, that previous generations did not have to face full-blown numerous times a day with no end in sight.

“Our crisis is no longer material; it’s existential, it’s spiritual. We have so much fucking stuff and so many opportunities that we don’t even know what to give a fuck about anymore.”

However, Manson then goes on to explain how we should accept our normalcy and that we would be a lot happier if we accepted that we are not going to achieve everything that we dream about. Again, hilarious coming from the guy who has achieved massive success with his writing and in his personal life. Even though the real point he is trying to make is that we should focus our energy on the things that matter and that will bring us more success and happiness. Again, good advice.

“Not everybody can be extraordinary, there are winners and losers in society, and some of it is not fair or your fault.”

The advice in this book is solid. I can’t deny that, but I would go from agreeing with Manson’s blunt sentiments and thinking about how I could apply to my own life, to rolling my eyes when he alluded to his own life again. I just could not get over feeling annoyed that he was the one giving me this advice. His smug attitude and humour were only amusing for the first twenty pages and there is only so much swearing and joking around that can cover it up.

The book makes reference to some interesting stories and academics and I particularly enjoyed the details Manson included on Willam James, the father of modern psychology. I mean, that is a guy who I would comfortably take life advice from!

Now the irritation that plagued me through this book, is it valid or is it just validating Manson’s points and perspectives on life and is only reflective of my own failures? I am going to say both. It natural to be envious of someone’s success and that can lead to feeling inspired and motivated but the tone of the book is too smug and did nothing but inspired disdain by the time I finished it.

“The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it.”

Additionally, Manson made a terrible choice in alluding to false rape accusations in his section on false memories and beliefs. Yeah, seriously… It’s really distasteful and invalidating to rape victims as so many of them do not report their abuse out of fear or not being believed.

If you can separate the man and the ego away from the advice that he is giving than this book won’t be a complete loss to you if you end up reading it. I do think you could find the poignant advice from someone else however if the tone of the book doesn’t sit well with you.

“You and everyone you know are going to be dead soon. And in the short amount of time between here and there, you have a limited amount of fucks to give. Very few, in fact. And if you go around giving a fuck about everything and everyone without conscious thought or choice—well, then you’re going to get fucked.”

Overall, I am glad that Manson has been successful in his life to the point that he feels the need to share it. Good for him. Truly. But he is far from wise and still has a lot to learn, like the rest of us.

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