Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ten Best Books I Read In 2012

Reading remains one of my two favorite pastimes, which only writing could compete with. Indulging in this pastime, I had the opportunity to read thirty books between the time I was working on my previous list to the time I completed this one. There would likely have been more if it weren't for the roadblock of everyday life, but that isn't going away any time soon. Well, I'll just make the best of what I have here.

When it came to ranking the books that I did read, I was faced was one of my biggest challenges. Putting together a list of which books were the ten best was probably more challenging than it's ever been. The biggest challenge was naming the tenth, because while the upper part of my list just about came down to fitting them in the appropriate space based off of how much I enjoyed them, the lower part of the list was a matter of what was making the list and what wasn't. That is something that could get quite difficult.

Keep in mind that not all of these books, if fact, none of these books, were written in 2012. I did read books that were written this year, but none of them made my list. In my circumstance, it would be too much of an investment to buy books from this year, which are about $20-$30 a piece. While you do have the library, I like to read at my own pace.

I kept you waiting long enough, let's talk about what really matters. Chances are you already scrolled down to where you saw the bold list begin, because my introduction was becoming quite tedious. We shall begin!

#10- 75 Short Masterpieces by Various Authors, edited by Roger Goodman- Put together around 1960, this collection remains relevant to the new-coming literature connoisseurs like myself, who prefer reading from an area of choice (horror) and want to write in a specific area of choice (also horror), but want to know about the complete horizon of fiction. This book provides you with plenty of opportunities in doing so. These are short-short pieces, as none of these stories reaches ten pages. In fact, I think that if a story reached seven pages, that was a lot. I'm sure that you as the reader will quickly be able to pick out your favorites, but mine include, "Charles" by Shirley Jackson, in which a young kindergartner talks about a classmate named Charles who's always causing trouble in class, "A Wicked Boy" by Anton Chekhov, where a boy who spies on his older sister and her boyfriend gets what he deserves in a simply charming piece, "The Lottery Ticket" by Ventura Garcia Calderon, who in a clever piece tells the story of a minorities reaction to winning a lottery, "The Boy Who Drew Cats" by Lafcadio Hearn, in which all people, even if it's just drawing cats, can be useful to society, and the list keeps going on and on.

#9- It Happened In New Jersey by Fran Capo- I first learned about Fran Capo from her appearances on The Weakest Link and Dog Eat Dog, which promoted her as the world's fastest female speaker. She happens to also be an author who has written works such as the nonfictional piece about fascinating things that happened in the Garden State. When I mean fascinating, I mean things that were right in front of you fascinating, but it took further information to confirm that it was actually connected to New Jersey origins. Written with her signature sense of humor, she provides detailed, factual information about the oldest dinosaur being found in Haddonfield, the red-suited Santa Claus originating on an artist's desk in New Jersey during the Civil War, how Thomas Edison actually chased Hollywood out of New Jersey, a secret about Lucy the Elephant in Margate, and the list keeps going on. You will learn a lot about this state and the intriguing things it has to offer and if you're from or live in New Jersey, you will most definitely be interested.

#8- The Running Man by Stephen King- Stephen King wrote this book as Richard Bachman before Bachman's identity was revealed a few years later. This was a novel that I read back in eighth grade and didn't get as much of an understanding of it, as this was the time I wasn't fascinated with reading as I am today. I decided to give this book another read and I am sure glad I did. Ben Richards, the protagonist in the story, goes on to participate in a wild game show, which the title is named for, in order to provide for his wife and sick daughter. In this game, the object is to stay away from hunters that are looking to track you down and kill you. They even ask for viewers to participate and report the contestants to the hunters, thus the cards are against Ben Richards and other contestants like him. This kind of game show paints an incredible picture as to how the future may look, especially on the outlook of game shows (given that one such show includes people with heart problems and in wheelchairs participating on a treadmill-based show). The story remains a roller coaster ride all the way until the end, so you'll be hooked from start to finish.

#7- The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury- To honor the late and great Ray Bradbury, a genius in the science fiction field (and plenty of other fields to go along with this), I had to read something from his library. Since I have read Fahrenheit 451 (which I may consider reading again), Dandelion Wine, and Farewell Summer, I felt it was time to give this classic a read. In this brilliant novel, Bradbury explores different stories that are connected in the way that all concentrate on the Earthling's interest in discovering life on Mars. On top of that, it explores how it's quite likely that we will only screw things up on Mars as oppose to make things better when we get there. My favorite chapter in this book is "The Taxpayer," which tells the story of a man that believes he should have the right to participate in an early mission to Mars because he paid the taxes to fund it. As expected, he's left out. This segment explores how we are expected to pay taxes to plans we are prohibited from taking any part in. Bradbury will definitely be missed for his clever exploration into the unknown.

#6- Dracula by Bram Stoker- The suave, handsome-looking vampire who is known for sleeping in a coffin and longing to "suck your blood" originated in the 1890s tale by Stoker. Ironically, the most accurate version of this Dracula happens to be the one featured in Nosferatu, the 1922 German film in which Max Schreck portrayed an ugly, bald, frail looking creature, plus the story is most identical. In the novel, Jonathan Harker is assigned to sell a home to Dracula, who happens to be a blood hungry vampire. What's great about this novel is the "on your toes" tension and the clear point of view. Since this novel was written in diary submissions from different characters, you could easily tell who was contributing to the story. As for its horror element, it is one of the original, top of the line franchises. I just so happened to read it this year and I encourage any reader, horror fiction fan or literature enthusiast, to do the same.

#5- The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson- One of the greatest writers of the psychological horror fiction writers has to be Richard Matheson, whom to those of the current age would be familiar with one of his notable works, I Am Legend (the film, not necessarily the book). However, one of his scarier, adventurous works has to be The Shrinking Man, which anyone with a fear of drastically shrinking would draw fear into their minds. In this particular piece, Scott Carey is exposed to a radioactive spray while on a trip with his brother. This causes him to slowly shrink, becoming smaller than his wife, then his daughter, then the cat, and eventually so small that a sponge is his bed and he's trying to escape a spider. Matheson is known for writing in the notion that's featured in Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone, which Matheson himself has contributed to, in the way that it ends in a twist. I will not point out the twist, but I will point out that this is something to check out. Not only does this novel provide an element of horror and science fiction, but it also provides the mental destruction of a man who is facing an incredible crisis and how as he shrinks physically, so is his impression in society. This is quite a tragic element to the story and a reason that you have to think outside the box with regard to the concept of a man shrinking due to exposure from a chemical-based fume. This is an under-looked gem in several genres.

#4- Maus by Art Spiegelman- So I included a graphic novel on my list. Well... I didn't count anything out and what I read is what I read. The only rule I make is that I completed it thoroughly enough to provide a good quality review. Maus is more than a good quality piece, it's brilliant! Maus tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, Art's father, and his struggles as a Jew living in Poland and coming across the Holocaust. To make things clearer and more clever, Spiegelman uses animals to represent each group of countries. Most importantly, the Jews are mice and the Germans are cats, which plays on the "cat and mouse" term. The story behind what Vladek Spiegelman had to go through was incredibly raw and he held back absolutely no punches as to what really happened to the Jews in Europe during the most tragic times in their history. Better yet, Spiegelman was able to appropriately add humor in ways such as the true interactions that he had with his father. He made no effort to hide the extra details that went along with his father telling the story. If you would rather read a graphic novel over one that is filled with words, then I urge you to check out Maus.

#3- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins- I am speaking of the first in the series and ONLY the first in the series. It's so incredible how a writer for shows on Nick Jr. like Little Bear can go on to create one of the darkest, most gruesome franchises in literature. The concept to The Hunger Games is that of a future North America that is separated into twelve (used to be thirteen) districts known as Panem. After a rebellion against the authorities, it was instated that one male and female teenager from each district would compete in a competition where they would have to kill their competitors and avoid being killed by their competitors. The last person standing would be deemed the champion, their prize being appropriate supplies of food and support, for themselves AND their district. Katniss Everdeen, an adventurous caretaker of her home, is forced into competing in the place of her sister. Here, she builds relationships and avoids not coming out of the game. The concept to this story is just incredible. The fact that society is holding a sadistic stance tells you the fascination that people have with reality-based events and getting involved in such. This is especially seen in how the competitors receive celebrity treatment and are expected to satisfy their viewers, only facing a little more than a 4% chance of coming out of this event alive. This is only young adult fiction, because it features young adults. This is a dark, gruesome, and ruthless book, and has no fear in killing characters off as they wish. I, for one, believe that this is one of young adult fiction's finest.

#2- The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson- Last year, I named The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo as my second favorite novel. This year, I'm naming this book as my second favorite novel, only the first of the series was great and this one was fantastic. What I liked more about this novel was that it excelled on the building blocks the original novel had to offer. In Dragon Tattoo, we are introduced to the characters and what they could do. In Played With Fire, we see them take their actions a step further and learn about the inspiration behind these actions. What is most special about this novel is that we learn about Lisbeth Salander's back story and what made her the person she was. We also come across a key antagonist of hers from the first book, Nils Bjurman, who used his position as guardian to squeeze out some sexual favors from Lisbeth. To say the very least, this is a roller coaster ride like no other. We learn about Lisbeth's sister and her father, who is going to play a key role throughout the remainder of the series. Her father is important in the way that his relationship with his daughter is what ignites much of her fury. With that connection, we learn about her institutional experience and how her therapist contributed to her struggles, plus a female that she exchanged in sexual relations with. If you enjoyed The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, you'll enjoy The Girl Who Played With Fire ten times more. Don't expect The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest to pop up on next year's list, because I read it this year and didn't find it as fascinating. It was more about preparing for the main event. However, since Swedish author Stieg Larsson intended to make this series ten novels instead of three before eventually dying prematurely, this is the way things work.

#1- Aesop's Fables translated by V.S. Vernon Jones as part of the Barnes & Noble Collection- While this is one of those selections you may be puzzled that I picked, the fact of the matter is, Aesop's fables are absolutely brilliant and they are a landmark with regard to literature and storytelling. While Aesop may be more than one person or simply a title used to categorize these fables, these fables use animals, people, gods and goddesses, among other things to create stories that carry a moral. This is where you find tales such as "The Tortoise and the Hare" and "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," the latter being known as "The Shepherd's Boy and the Wolf," where morals such as "slow and steady wins the race" and "a liar cannot be believed even when telling the truth" are expressed. I, for one, prefer some of the lesser known pieces, such as "The Wolf and the Crane," "The Fox and the Crow," "The Ass and the Lapdog," among other incredibly clever tales. These fables were intended to be comedic in that they were meant to make people laugh. Some of these are so true that they even make me let out a laugh and some chuckles. Whether it was Aesop or not, these fables were incredibly well put together and very hard to top when it comes to good storytelling. Whether you want to use a cliche, such as "good things come in small packages" or that it was "short, sweet, and to the point," this novel is the equivalent to a top of the line cheese platter of the literary world. If you've missed out on Aesop's fables, regardless who the editor was, you've missed out of a large percentage of what literature has to offer. As for this collection, it was very well organized and indeed an encouraging element to what made this subject excellent.

2012 seemed to be the year that I began to explore the many gifts that literature has to offer. I've dug deeper into my interest in the subject after making the decision to trek in the direction of wanting to write fiction. I created a literature club and exchanged literary brain food with those who are part of the club. Whether it be their suggestions or the things I got out of the new experience into literary exploration, that's what the year had to offer. Much of this, combined with my already present reading habits, is the direction I went with regard to reading.

Next year should be quite interesting as well. While my time may be limited with a busy schedule, I definitely intend to use open time to read. I already plan to read some horror fiction, bestseller fiction, and much of what the field has to offer, but I also intend to explore what foreign literature has to offer (of course, written in the English language). I have always held interest in exploring a world of no boundaries, which is a key trait of literature.

As for this list, these are gems I have come across and encourage that you take the time to explore. It's a wide variety, so I'm putting my wagers on the fact that at least one (if not, more, most, or all) will be something you thoroughly enjoy. Hopefully, this list will encourage you to shut down the laptop or computer and head on over to the bookstore, but at the very least, I hope this list has simply created sparks on your "to-read" list.

Hope you all have a happy, healthy, and safe 2013!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Let's Be Brutally Honest: The Term "Genre Fiction" Is Inaccurate

Literary experts have sorted fiction in the story or novel form into two categories: literary and genre. In essence, "literary fiction" is what you learn in school, as "genre fiction" is what you buy and enjoy during your off time. Shakespeare would be literary, while Harry Potter would be genre. My take on this: there are better terms that could be used to define both categories. I hold a grasp on the fact that what we learn in high school and college and what wins the Nobel Prize in Literature versus what we read for pleasure and brings in the money or media recognition is incredibly different. I know that two terms can be used to describe these, but I don't see literary and genre fiction being the two.

Literary and genre both make up each and every element in the creation of fiction. Literature is the art of written work. There is no specification as to what the written work be about, but it needs to be of strong enough quality that you could paint a picture into the reader's mind. Of course, some literature is of better quality than other literature. It all comes down to the elements that are included in the story.

A genre is a category. Categories in fiction can fall in categories such as horror, science fiction, mystery, romance, young adult, children's, historical, among plenty of others I did not mention. There are more general categories such as drama, in which many of the literary works would go. Though there are plenty of literary works that can be categorized. Nobody goes away without a label, it's just like high school, where cliques are basically labels that you are given based off of your train of thought and the path you wish to pursue in your little society.

There are plenty of authors that are deemed "literary fiction" that could easily be placed in categories. We learn about Edgar Allan Poe in school, even going as far as having a unit named for him. He happens to be a well-known pioneer in horror fiction, a lesser known pioneer in science fiction, and with "The Murders In The Rue Morgue," the father of mystery. He is, without a doubt, one of the most important figures in literature, but his writing can be categorized. Stephen King writes in the same genre of horror, though he does stray to other categories such as fantasy. There is only one difference between the way Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King write and that difference is time. Perhaps, by 2050, Stephen King's work will be taught in English classes. It is indeed literature, just literature that's more current.

I believe a more appropriate term for what is deemed as "genre fiction" would be "pop fiction." The inspiration for this term has much to do with how we consider the music we listen to on the radio is pop or contemporary. However, "pop fiction" would be difficult to categorize, unless you want to use the Barnes & Noble arrangement as an example. Plenty of books are categorized as "Fiction and Literature," while the pieces that are slightly more dedicated to their genre are found in their appropriate section. However, in a section like science fiction and fantasy, what you will find is everything that fits the category. You won't only find "pop-based" science fiction and fantasy that is deemed "genre fiction," but instead anything that fits the category. You will find Frank Herbert and Jim Butcher, but you will also find Ray Bradbury, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells. You'll even find H.P. Lovecraft, and he has been declared by plenty of lists the greatest horror fiction writer of all time.

I really believe there should not be such a thing as "genre fiction," because everything could be categorized in its own genre. Sure, it's easier, but once we dissect what is deemed as "literary fiction," then two categories no longer exist. I could start with how much of ancient world literature was adventure or mythological, such as Homer's epics or the Oedipus pieces by Sophocles. Robinson Crusoe, the first ever novel written in prose format, has to be an adventure. Plenty of the pieces deemed as "literary" are simply dramas, like Jane Eyre. Stephen Crane wrote military or Western fiction, Toni Morrison writes race fiction, and Shakespeare writes plays, primarily comedy or tragedy depending on the ending, but can also be deemed as romances, because the story is typically one subject falling in love with another. He holds no concern in the subject of prose.

I would argue that just because something sits in a specific category doesn't mean that it cannot be deemed as literature. Everything that's written is literature. Even if I dislike the work, the work is still literature. It's not very good literature, but it's literature nonetheless. Of course, there is a difference between what wins the Nobel Prize in Literature and what becomes a bestseller, but everything can easily be categorized with the necessary time and tools.

Friday, December 21, 2012

RIP Brodny Schoolhouse Rocketman (RIP Link)

It's with great misfortune that I create this post about the recent passing of my smooth Dachshund, Link. Link was a notable show dog, a Westminster alumni, and an excellent companion that holds plenty of precious memories. This makes it much harder to imagine that his life was cut short due to cardiomyopathy, a heart disease that interferes with the flow of blood through the arteries and veins and in affect causes other physical issues. Due to an inability to let him continue to live in pain, we let Link go after nine excellent years with us.

Link, known as Brodny Schoolhouse Rocketman in the ring and according to the AKC, was born on January 2, 2003. He began showing in the ring a year later, with the help of his breeders and handlers. He saw plenty of success in the ring and easily garnered his fifteen points and two majors needed to "finish," which he accomplished within four months. Link returned home following this break to remain a companion, before returning to the road in 2006. He stayed on the road for two years, appearing twice in Westminster. He won the Award of Merit in 2007 and Best of Breed in 2008, the latter of which meant he would appear at the annual televised event. While he would lose the group to Uno the Beagle (who would go on to win the show), the fact he won the breed at Westminster was an accomplishment unto itself. He was a common resident of the top spots of the list of top smooth Dachshunds in the country during this time as well.

Link's showing career ended in 2008 following back surgery due to an invertebral disk. It was around this time that he would be diagnosed with cardiomyopathy as well, which limits a dog with two years to live (at the most). So at this point in time, he retired and became a companion. He did, however, show a more casual way of life. During Thanksgiving of 2008, Link got a hold of a box of pumpkin pie at the kitchen table, yanking it onto the ground and then he tried opening up the box in order to get his prize. He simply left the pie dented and came out with the nickname "Pumpkin Pie Link," which would often be substituted with "*insert the name of the food he wanted to eat* Link." His daughter, Dixie, won the breed at Westminster in 2010, which we both watched together while I had a bowl of popcorn on my lap. He was glad to be able to watch with us... but he held more of his concentration on the popcorn.

The most painful part of living with someone (in this instance, a dog) that has cardiomyopathy is that there are days you think they're struggling to live and others that they are perfectly fine. In July, we thought that this would be it, but he quickly got back to form. Just this Tuesday, he was hopping around and looking to pick up some "samples" at the kitchen table. Unfortunately, he saw his third major episode and this one was beyond painful for him and the rest of us. Now he's no longer in pain.

Someone who watches dog shows sees a dog and looks at them as "a handsome or beautiful looking representative of their favorite breed." In reality, these dogs are like everyday dogs that live a life like any other dog. They have owners that love them just as much as any other. Link was not an exception to this rule. Most people are going to see Link as the cute little Dachshund that's great to the ring. I see Link as a happy, jumpy, funny companion who loved to eat what ever you would give him and cuddle up in his Snuggie. This Thanksgiving, at a time where we believed anything could happen, I did, in fact, buy him a small pumpkin pie for him to devour. He ate the entire pie in one bite and it was indeed a memory that tells me, and will likely tell you, who Link is.

While his life was cut short, Link was a wonderful time to own. It's beyond an honor to have a dog that could make it to Westminster, but better yet, have a dog that is a compassionate companion. That's how I remember Link.

RIP Link (Brodny Schoolhouse Rocketman) (January 2, 2003-December 20, 2012). I hope that Thanksgiving is everyday for you up in Heaven!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Big Cheeses: Hoffman's Extra Sharp Cheddar AND Roasted Garlic Cheddar (Double Dose)

The perks about working at a supermarket is the fact that you are surrounded by a boat load of food no matter which way you look. While you cannot actually "sample" the food yourself, you are fortunately able to keep your appetite under control... that is until break rolls around and you run right over to buy that same, scrumptious item the first opportunity you get. One of the product's I learned about from working at a supermarket was the line of Hoffman's specialty cheese. They primarily create flavors for Cheddar, in the fashion that Cabot creates flavors of their own. Hoffman's is definitely able to make a statement with their cheese and provide top quality creation as their release their cheese for the buyer.

Since I couldn't decide which flavor to go ahead with and name my "big cheese," I decided "why not go with both?" It's been awhile since I have submitted anything for this segment of my blog, there should be two big cheeses that I convince you to go searching for in your grocery store. The brand is Hoffman's and the flavors are Roasted Garlic and Extra Sharp. I fell in love with both flavors from the moment I met them and I had to "adopt" two blocks of my own when they were roughly 33% off. Both of them are incredibly unique, especially for our typical, favorite cheese in America, but quality is what matters most for this cheese. Cheddar can easily be a rip off by a rip off of a company. This is not such an occasion.

With regard to the Roasted Garlic Cheddar, I enjoy the flavor of garlic. There is garlic bread, garlic knots, garlic on pasta, which means that garlic mixed with cheese should be just as scrumptious. The best way to eat this cheese is in lesser quantity. This is a cheese where "less is more" rings true. If you eat a single sample of this cheese, it's a satisfying taste right then and there. The texture is incredibly buttery and the flavor in your mouth is that of creamy garlic, which is an obvious orchestra for such a cheese. Is there any accompaniment that would make this cheese better? I say no. While it would be up to you to find a partner for this cheese to dance with, I think this cheese can stand on its own and be just as delicious.

If you have heard of the game "this or that," an appropriate question referring to cheese could be "sharp or mild?" To me, it all depends, and sometimes the answer is both. With regard to typical, plain Cheddar, I like it sharp. Unfortunately, I have realized that the mild version of Cheddar is just not a statement maker when it comes to eating the grand sample. I enjoy the mild Cheddar when it plays a part in Cabot's Sun-dried Tomato and Basil, but other, sharp it is. After eating Hoffman's version of the extra sharp version, my satisfaction had been restored. It is by far a grand statement maker that, like the Roasted Garlic, does not need a pairing. It's perfectly fine on the platter as is, unless you feel it would work with something sweet, such as an apple. This is my new favorite brand when it comes to typical, yellow Cheddar. A bit more costly than other brands such as Cracker Barrel, Helluva, Kraft, or the store brand, but definitely worth the extra buck or two.

If for some reason you need a late minute cheese to include on your platter with the holiday season in motion and Christmas Eve and day right around the corner, go to your store and search for Hoffman's cheese. They also make a Horseradish and Swisson Rye, among plenty of others. Those might suit your interest if these two do not. If you're making your way around the supermarket, check out the import cheese section for a change before looking in the dairy department. Chances are this is going to be where you find the Hoffman's line, just as I did. Then all you have to do is make your selections, buy, prepare, eat, and enjoy!

Have a great holiday, everyone!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Don't Worry, I Didn't Forget You

I wanted to make mention to the fact that this blog is, in fact, still active. I deeply apologize for not submitting as often as I was in the past, though between college and work, I have been over my head in stuff, stuff, and more stuff. I have not been able to visit this blog as often as I have in the past, but I will surely do my best to submit more blog posts toward the end of this month.

I have plenty in store. This includes a Shark Tank review of sorts, as it has become the only show I tend to watch regularly and that is if I have the time to do so. I will, however, check out Howie Mandel's Take It All in order to provide a review of the newest game show on the block. Who's Still Standing proved to be a dud in the long run in a world where Jeopardy!, Wheel Of Fortune, and a few circulating shows on GSN have become the only game shows that are able to stand on their own. We'll just have to see how this prize centered version of Prisoner's Dilemma works out. Interesting how NBC has created their own versions of both Russian Roulette AND Friend or Foe within back-to-back years.

I also have a cheese review in store, a response to my NFL predictions after the fact, the annual ten best books I read throughout the year, AND if that wasn't enough, I will be revealing my list of the ten worst books I ever read. These aren't the only things I will be going over. I intend to post about what ever I feel is worthy of a blog post. I was tempted to respond to Obama being reelected (oh where should I begin!), but have not gotten to that point.

Caponomics is still up for business. I wrote far more in 2011 than I did in 2012, but I had far more open time in 2011 than I do in this present year. March 9, 2013 will be my second anniversary and I highly intend to make it to 200 posts (maybe even 250 posts) within the upcoming year. I will also continue posting on Amazon. So if you're interested in reading what I have to say about the various books I have read, feel free to take a look at my reviews. I'm under the name "Caponomics." At the moment we speak, a comment of mine has been featured on the page for Irvine Welsh's If You Liked School, You'll Love Work.

More posts will be on their way later in the month.