Friday, February 27, 2015

Book Review: "Heroes" by Robert Cormier

This is the fourth novel I read by Robert Cormier and the one I felt was the most straightforward in creating a character and a story to which I, the reader, could feel that intense struggle for when it comes to realizing why he is the way he is. I did feel that Adam Farmer in I Am The Cheese was a relatively strong, enigmatic character that had dimension to him, but Francis Cassavant in Heroes was a central character that dealt with a struggle of his time period and it was easier to make the connection of what a World War II veteran would have to go through. I was eager to read this novel since hearing about it through research on Cormier's novels, but since I am working on a senior thesis about the divisions between those that declare war and those that fight in war among the rest of the general population, now was a good time to go over this particular work. Through Goodreads, I came across mixed opinions, but I feel that it deserves much more credit than the general consensus has to say about it.

Francis Cassavant is eighteen years old and returned home from the war due to injury. After landing on a grenade and saving members of his troop, Francis lost much of his face. Specifically speaking, Francis lost his nose, which became two large caves, his lips and gums, and much of the skin on his cheeks that was replaced with skin from his thighs. He conceals this injury by wearing a scarf over much of his face so that all you can see are his eyes. He often keeps his head down as well. Francis lost his parents at a very young age, his mother before his father, as well as his brother. He lived with his Uncle Louis during his teenaged years before joining the military at a very young age. Leading up to his forging his birth certificate in order to get into the military, we learn about his hero that he now wants to murder. Larry LaSalle served as a mentor to Francis and his peers. The two people Larry served the greatest role for were Francis and his talent in table tennis and Nicole Renard and her talent in dancing. Nicole just so happened to be the girl that Francis had a crush, which started to escalate as the novel progressed.

The paragraph below will explore twists that may serve as spoilers. Skip this portion if you do not wish to be spoiled. Read it if you do not mind.

Going into the novel, the information provided in the summary becomes to clear and Francis' desires become more justified, unless you are faithful to the idea that "two wrongs don't make a right." Larry LaSalle was not only a mentor for Francis and his peers at home, but also when he volunteered to join the military immediately and become an instant hero. Unfortunately for Francis and Nicole, he took this honor a bit too far when returning home and creating a strain that changed both of their lives forever. This is where we learn why Francis joined the military and why he wants to kill Larry. We also get an idea of the different forms of pain one has to go through in order during or after their participation in the military. While Francis is dealing with terrible circumstances with the loss of his face, Larry has issues that are both physical and mental, with which he conceals quite well, but yearns for better.

Spoiler over.

I felt that Cormier excelled at those different areas he has continuously succeeded. Cormier is known most for his blunt depictions on life and his protagonists usually end up in a circumstance that is either worse or indifferent from before. He reminds us that life is all always about living happily ever after, but instead it is a learning experience that is not always going to make up happy when all is said and done. This novel had its twists and turns of things that could have been expected, but he did a good job swaying our attention away in order to give us more details to keep the story driving. We knew that something would happen between Francis and Nicole since Nicole was nowhere to be found in town when Francis returned home, but what and how remained the question. As the story progressed, we got a much better understanding with where it was going.

I also liked the idea of how the story moved from present and past according to what we needed to know at what particular time. Instead of going in chronological order, the novel starts in the present before we learn more about who Nicole and Larry are and what kind of role they play in Francis' life. The progression and the character structure is probably what allows this novel to excel. I would not consider it to be absolutely perfect, but it is the Cormier novel that I felt had the most reasonable flow to it. It leaned on a background that could be most realistically tragic, even if there were moments that do not happen every so often. It was also reflective of the World War II era with how Francis told the story, omitting words he felt were not appropriate for this period of time, which was able to stand the test of time for a novel that was written in 1998.

If you are looking for an opinion as to whether or not you should check this novel out, I say check it out. My previous Cormier reads include The Chocolate War, I Am The Cheese, and The Rag & Bone Shop, the first two novels were perhaps his most notable, while the last one was his final novel and an insane way to end such a magnificent career. I have rated all of Cormier's novels were a four-star rating, because I feel that they are just one step below perfection (in my mind). At large, however, I see Cormier as being a five-star writer who should garner more YA fans. His works are not reflective of the dystopian or fantasy novels that crowd this particular genre in this modern day and age, but instead a more realist view of the struggles that high school students may have to endure. While 20th century writers from S.E. Hinton (The Outsiders) and Lois Lowry (The Giver) are still studied, Robert Cormier seems to fade from the high school curriculum (no pun intended). I highly suggest the novels of Cormier and if you are looking for something quick, easy, but powerful, then Heroes is a fine place to begin!

Verdict: 9/10

Literary Gladiators: Episode 22- "Daddy" by Sylvia Plath

This is one of the three episodes to which Jim and I are the only participants, but at the same time, our three episodes seemed to develop that particular spark and continue a magnificent flow in the way that it did when there was a panel of four. If you have read my blog post that I submitted in July about "Daddy" by Sylvia Plath, you will be aware of how I feel about the overdramatic personality of the confessional poet that is most attached to this particular movement. After the Holocaust, which was an era of great tragedy, it was Plath that had the fortitude to develop feelings of self-pity and put herself in the position of a "Jew" and declare that her father was a "Nazi." Of course, my emotions are beginning to take a reflection of what I say on the show, so I will just use this post to introduce the episode.

Among the episodes that we released during the second season, I would say this was where it got the most intense. Of course, this is going to be an episode that takes on a flow similar to the rest, but there is a clear divide between what Jim and I think about Sylvia Plath. I will stick with Anne Sexton.

I will leave the 22nd episode of Literary Gladiators and a link to my original post that I wrote back in July for Plath's poem.

Episode 22- "Daddy" by Sylvia Plath

Poem Review: "Daddy" by Sylvia Plath

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Literary Gladiators: Episode 21- Valentine's Day Special

For the second season of Literary Gladiators, we completed three holiday specials: the Halloween episode, the Christmas episode, and the Valentine's Day episode. This particular episode was actually the first of the holiday specials we actually filmed, since this was Jim's idea and we wanted him to have the ability to participate in this episode. Unfortunately, this was the session where Jim and I were the only ones that were present. However, in order to be a successful show, you have to make the best out of what you have. Jim and I completed three episodes in that particular session and they are quite notable for the series. One of these episodes is arguably the most heated episode of the season, where there is a divide between the two of us.

I feel that everybody can get something out of this episode of Literary Gladiators. We are appealing to those that are married, those that are in relationships, and those that are single. Most importantly, we are appealing to those who love to read, because a book can just as likely be a valentine as a significant or loved one can become. The only curveball to this particular idea is that our love for reading extends beyond Valentine's Day.

Without further due, here is the 21st episode of Literary Gladiators to which we celebrate Valentine's Day. Have an excellent day and keep reading!

Episode 21- Valentine's Day Special

Friday, February 13, 2015

Book Review: "Redeployment" by Phil Klay

Nobody knows the feeling of war until they have seen and have been through it. People can make the remarks that they want about what they feel about a particular war, but war is a term that remains ongoing and refers to the fighting of men and women that are just entering adulthood and put themselves on the line for both the safety of their country, but in more unfortunate circumstances, to capitalize a statement made by a leader and their beliefs. Herbert Hoover once said that, "Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die." While the reason for war varies, it is true that the experience of war is always laid upon the feet of those looking for experience. Things would look so much different if wars were fought between the leaders that make these decisions in the first place. Phil Klay's Redeployment is a collection of short stories that was released in 2014 and won the National Book Award. They are all first person accounts of people who fought in the Iraq War and, in many cases, feature men that came into the war feeling like most men their age felt about the experience and ended up being in for something completely different. The stories make an attempt to capture what it is to be someone that has experienced the Iraq War and that it is the little details, not the massive moments that we all view as being the major parts of war, that stay with the soldiers most.


"Redeployment," which is the title story, immediately presents an idea that would be controversial to most people that approach the text, but contains justification in Sergeant Price's case: shooting dogs. Of course, I find this to be quite disturbing on the surface as well. However, in Sgt. Price's case, he is trained to bring down any obstacle that may be in his way of reaching what he needs to do. If the obstacle is a living being that is preventing him from bringing down a dangerous subject, then their only option would be to shoot it. This act, known as "Operation Scooby," hurt Sgt. Price just as much as it would hurt anyone else in his position. In war, however, those in combat develop an instinct that keeps them on their toes at all times, questioning whether or not something dangerous is on the other side and will this obstacle try to annihilate them??? Sgt. Price is finally able to go home to his wife and his own dog, Vicar, who is reaching the end of his life. Vicar has tumors, can barely get around, and has just about lost his appetite. Sgt. Price struggles to adjust to life outside of war, explaining that among a color system, he is at the "orange" level, where his attention is focused on everything around him, but he still has an ability (though it will take time) to move himself downward to the "white" level that most civilians that have not been through war have achieved. Someone on the distant "red" level is one that tends to be permanently in the military life mindset and in many cases spend their life getting help, in or our of a facility. The tragic part of this story is when the time comes to euthanize Vicar and Sgt. Price feels that he needs to take it into his own hands instead of that of the veterinary clinic, which charges money. This decision leads Sgt. Price to believing that there is justification in what he has done in the military, plus an idea that it should be left to HIM to end the life of something that was HIS.

I would say that "Redeployment" was the strongest story in this collection, because it dealt with someone who was presented with a struggle and had to conquer it in the way that someone in his position could. One may think that his mindset was boggled to make such a decision, but only someone that has been in his position can really tell why he did things the way he did them. The other stories in this collection deal with the ideas that stick out in the minds of those who participate in the military and how they can be as simple as the almost standard routine of having cobbler and ice cream on Sundays in the military, just as the subjects in this work look forward to in "Frago." "After Action Report" deals with a speaker named Suba who is asked to take the credit... and burden... of murdering a teenage Hajji, because Timhead does not want to feel as if he is living with the burden of murdering someone who was underage. This story presents us with how it feels to actually kill a civilian and the aftermath of how it feels to take a life.

"Money as a Weapons System" brings into account the idea that there is a strong divide between the leaders that declare war and the fighters that die in them, just as Herbert Hoover mentions. The subject, a fighter named Nathan, is constantly agitated by the fact that leaders make so many of these calls without really knowing what is truly going on. The leaders make steps toward improving affairs with one another by teaching those in the country they plan to rebuild how to play baseball. It starts off a bit ridiculous, but they see success (probably temporary) by the end of the story. This is a country, however, where there is a great divide. There is especially a divide in how women are treated. There is always that question in mind that it is the fighter that is present in the country and how they know more about the citizens of Iraq than the leaders making the calls. A citizen known as "The Professor" mentions that he was actually a professor until the American takeover that began the war. It shows that in invasions like these, it is more than the bad guys that are affected.

"Psychological Operations" is one of those works that feature two stubborn college students. Waguih was of Arab descent, but fought on the American side of the military, while Zara was a student that has set her ways on what she believed and had the attraction to keep Waguih constantly coming back. Waguih entered the military with the same intent that others had, the mixture of boosting his impression and doing his country proud. Zara, on the other hand, believed that soldiers fighting in war were just "pawns on a chessboard" and that they were weapons for those that were governing. Eventually, she converted to Islam, which bothered Waguih. Though Zara reported Waguih for presenting himself inappropriately, he still invited her over to discuss the topic a bit more. This story even goes to the point of exploring the place of one that has fought in the military; the question at hand being whether or not those that fought should be respected for their service or frowned upon for participating in something against one's belief. This sparks an unfair spark for someone that put themselves on the line, just because they wanted to protect their country in any which way they could. This is what a soldier possesses, even if they may have an alternate train of thought regarding why they are in war.

Phil Klay does a nice job creating questions at hand when it comes to what one should think about the Iraq War and its place in society. I felt that this was his strong point. My criticism would be directed toward the nature of the subjects in this work. I have a great level of respect for the men and women that fight for our country for what ever reason they choose to and I feel that while perhaps these characters were just human in the eyes of Klay, there were not many characters that I felt that sense of personal gratitude toward. I have come across veterans in college and there are a good handful of students in the English department that are in relationships or engaged to those in the military. I get a sense that there is something special beyond belief about these men and women as to their emotions about war and life in general. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but the development of characters within the text could have been a bit better. Even if there was something like The Hurt Locker that concentrated on war as being a drug and how the regular life becomes so difficult once one returns home. Perhaps "Redeployment" is the closest we get to that particular struggle.

This collection seems to concentrate on the political end of things, which I feel it does well at addressing. I felt a sense of what war was when I read this work, which when all is said and done a solution that we have just not moved away from. On the other hand, the people that participate are far from being the reason to this decision of not moving away, they are just doing anything and everything they can to give back to their country and for those that they care most for. If there is any message that comes out of this, THAT would be it. This is beginning to get called for Iraq War what The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien has been for Vietnam. I will likely read The Things They Carried very soon when I feel that this would contribute to what I am trying to convey for a senior thesis I am trying to construct.

As for whether or not one should read it? That is a very vague question, because I feel it would need to be your call. It is quite mind boggling and there are stories much stronger than others, but the sensitive, touchy readers would be better off staying away. This is a bowl of nails that need be eaten without milk, but by the end of the collection, you will definitely have a sense of the train of thought about what one will have about being in the Iraq War. Regardless, I will stand by my idea that the ones that know most about being in war are the ones that were actually in war. The ones that know the second most are those who were connected to someone who was actually in war. These are the people that are qualified to make direct judgments.

Verdict: 7/10

If you want to give back to those who have fought for our country, I will leave behind some organizations that help those that were injured and want as to live the best possible life they can live; and they most definitely deserve it. Even if you are unable to give, it is something to learn more about:

Disabled American Veterans:
Wounded Warrior Project:

Friday, February 6, 2015

Literary Gladiators: Episode 20- The Works of Walt Whitman

We have reached our 20th episode of Literary Gladiators. In this case, we are doing another overview of a particular writer who in this case happens to be Walt Whitman. Whitman was one of American literature's pioneers in giving the United States a face in what it means to be an American voice. Whitman also represented the New Jersey that reflects the more rural, country-like image instead of the urban, chemical plant, Bennie visited picture that has been painted time and time again. In this episode, Jim, Brianna, Charlie, and I discuss Whitman's contributions to literature and we each name our favorite Whitman poems. Works that are mentioned include "A Song of Myself," "Native Moments," "A Song of Rolling Earth," "O Captain! My Captain," "Drum-Taps," and "Patrolling Barnegat."

I should mention that I am include a link to another blog post of mine to which I discuss Tinky Winky's sexual orientation in a post I submitted in March 2013, because it was mentioned as a topic point during the episode. I felt that since this was an episode about Whitman and that the Teletubbies was only an example that would have created an unnecessary tangent, I did not use that in my argument to which Whitman could have been classified as being a pedophile had he written today. The question at hand would be this: if Whitman were living in the 20th or 21st century, would he be dating men that were fifteen years of age? Edgar Allan Poe married his teenaged cousin, Lewis Carroll was attracted to girls that were ten years of age, and though he was never a writer, but instead a subject, John Proctor was a sixty-year-old man having an affair with an eleven-year-old prostitute when his wife of about forty years of age was pregnant. The question at hand, though, is whether or not this idea was reflected in their writings, which could taint their image. Anyway, you can check out my post about Tinky Winky on this blog under March 2013 or as a link among the rest of the commentary that is found on YouTube.

Moving right along... there are nine more episodes that I hope to have up completely by the end of March. From there, I plan to begin getting ready for season three. I plan to release updates on what to expect for this particular season and POSSIBLY hold a giveaway, but we shall see how things look come April. It also looks like a fourth season will be taking place, so by mid-2016, we should have close to 90 episodes. This does not include a special that was filmed during the third season sessions and a very special episode we plan to release at the time of the Summer Olympics being held in Rio de Janeiro. These are not confirmed, but are plans we are working to move forward with. A third season, though, can be guaranteed.

Here is the 20th episode of Literary Gladiators. Hope you enjoy!

Episode 20- The Works of Walt Whitman

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The 300th Post

After close to four years of blogging here on Blogger, I have reached my 300th post here on Caponomics. This is quite incredible given the many stops that this column has made before making its way onto Blogger on March 9, 2011. Almost four years and 300 posts later, we are averaging over 1,000 page views per month and I have since expanded on my projects that include a short story that has been published in an anthology and Literary Gladiators, a web show that made its premiere last February and is slowly but surely making its way into the community of viewers that enjoy comedic literary enthusiasm. My original intent was to conduct a Q&A for this post as I did for the 200th post, but since I did not garner questions, I will be discussing goals that I have for the upcoming year and for the next 100 posts and beyond. There is so much in store and I have no intent of stopping anytime soon.

Last year, I decided to make it so that the majority of my posts were about books, literature, and writing, since these are areas I plan to see myself as the years go by. That does not mean that occasional reviews and commentary is other areas will be found, but that the realm of written work is where I plan to concentrate. Posts that may go off this beaten path include the annual NFL predictions. I may also throw in some film reviews that will serve as both a review and analysis, which most of my reviews seem to do. I enjoy evaluating Presidential debates, but they do not garner so much attention. I also enjoy the nostalgic areas, such as the "Let's Be Brutally Honest" segment and a Big Cheese post all in one, that will include ten types of cheese you should definitely eat.

I am also trying to connect with the BookTube community and get to know different people from across the globe that share my passion for books, literature, reading, writing, and the written work. I have become very well acquainted with these individuals and hope to some day collaborate with them in either a blog post or have them on as a guest in an episode of Literary Gladiators. The former may be able to work, while the latter will mean they are interested in coming to visit the Tri-State area in the United States. I hold a great admiration for all of those who conduct channels and entertain me with their intelligent, entertaining, and witty vlogs. It is just fantastic that many of them are so approachable and eager to meet like-minded individuals on Goodreads, in addition to keep in touch with YouTube viewers. It would be quite an honor to have at least one BookTuber, book vlogger, or book blogger as a guest blogger, where we will discuss and debate (which does not mean we disagree on what we think) a written work just as I had John Freda on this blog to discuss and debate the NFL Playoffs.

Speaking of those NFL Playoff predictions, the Patriots beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. After all was said and done, I beat John by one point in our predictions (Hooray!). On a system that rewards one point for wildcard, two for divisional, four for championship, and eight for Super Bowl, the final score would be Josh: 12, John 11, with the best possible score being 20. John is quite an intelligent mind when it comes to collecting informed data for the National Football League and it is an accomplishment that both of us got more than half of our predictions correct. The competition will continue and I will perhaps have him (and maybe a few others) onto my blog for a Great Debate when March Madness begins sometime in March. For the record, I am not a great expert when it comes to this area, but I will do my best when it comes to making predictions and I will garner individuals that should definitely bring some expertise to this kind of post.

I could not thank everyone that has paid a visit to Caponomics enough for what they have done to keep this blog rolling. I especially appreciate those that follow this blog and have been active in keeping the discussion alive and comment when they are able. You motivate me to keep writing and continue working toward the great goals that writing has to offer: the cheese at the end of the maze. I plan to have a lot more material within the upcoming months and beyond, including new episodes of Literary Gladiators and definitely some more fiction works that I will be looking to publish. If anything gets published (which will always be wait and see), I will definitely keep you informed. As I say at the end of each Literary Gladiators episode: Keep reading!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Short Story Review: "Thank You, Ma'am" by Langston Hughes

I want to start off by saying that as I am closing in to my fourth year here on Blogger, I have surpassed 40,000 page views, am approaching my 300th post, and for the last twelve months, I have had at least 1,000 page views (the last month under 1,000 was January 2014 and barely so). I want to thank everyone that has come here to Caponomics and has read what I had to say. Since posting more about literature, I have seen a strength in viewership for some select reviews of mine, especially for the short stories and poems. To celebrate the fact that some of my more popular posts are for the reviews/analysis' of short stories and poems, I will be reviewing a short story by a poet.

Today is what would have been Langston Hughes' 113th birthday, as he was born on February 1, 1902. Hughes is one of my favorite American poets who has written in the 20th century, because his poetry is so honest to the point that he knows what is going on in the world around him and wishes that everyone should just be viewed the same. Being a black poet that was active in the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes' material was reflective of the black struggle. His short poem, "Harlem," is one of his most notable works, which takes a gustatory approach to dreams being deferred. My personal favorite is "Theme From English B," where he tells a story in the poetic format about when he had to write a paper for his white professor. The work that sticks out to me the most, however, is his short story "Thank You, Ma'am." I was introduced to this work when I was in seventh grade (where I got a taste of several fantastic writers and their short stories) and its message has stuck with me ever since.

There are spoilers in this review. If you would like to read the story first, go ahead and do so before coming back to this review.

Luella Bates Washington Jones is a bigger woman walking home when a teenage boy named Roger makes an attempt to snatch her purse and run. His attempt fails and he topples over. Mrs. Jones gets a hold of him (after hitting him around) and confronts him immediately. She makes the decision to take him to her house and do something to him that he will never forget.

When they arrive at her house, one would get the impression that she would whack him a little more until she decided to call the police and take him away. Instead, she insists that he wash his face and then convince him to stay and eat. Roger comes off as being uneasy throughout the story and his nerves convince him to race to the door and run as far away from the situation as possible, but he continues to do as he is told. He also learns that Mrs. Jones (though there is no mention of her husband, we can only assume that one of these names was a maiden name) was not the greatest person with how she admits that there are things she would not even say to God. Of course, this should be viewed metaphorically. After they finish eating, Mrs. Jones gives Roger ten dollars to "buy those blue suede shoes he wanted" and warns him not to steal her or anyone else's purses. As she sees Roger out of the house, he wants to say more than just "thank you, ma'am," but cannot even bring himself to say that.

The reason that this story is so powerful is that it drives home the idea of "killing someone with kindness." When Luella Bates Washington Jones said that Roger would not forget who she was, she meant it. If she were to immediately call the police on him, it is assumed that he would have entered a cycle to which he would continue to do more harm to himself and those around him than good. By giving him what he needed to wash up and food to fill him up, she made him realize that is an element of life behind the strangers you come across, and it could create a feeling of guilt to the fact that stealing your way to what you need is not the right decision. By the end of the story, while Roger did not have to courage to tell her how her actions made him feel, they did stick with him and create a sense of appreciation.

An assumption can be made that the central characters in this piece, Mrs. Jones and Roger, are black by their environment and by the way they talk. This is, however, only an assumption. There is no mention in this novel regarding the race of either Mrs. Jones or Roger, so while it is likely that this is a novel about struggles among black people, this could not be confirmed. In fact, the ideas that come about in this story can be attributed to any individual, regardless of their background. The idea against stealing in order to get what you want or need is never the ideal solution at any point in time and while you may not get caught the first, second, or during the several attempts at doing so, getting caught is inevitable and once one gets caught stealing, the consequences are brutal. For Roger, theft came with a wakeup call from someone who showed him what a victim of attempted theft looked and acted like. These people are just as human as the people that one knows personally.

The idea of "killing one with kindness" is also a moral that could be attributed to everybody, because Langston Hughes did not see issues being directly confined to one race. This is an example to which performing a kind deed to someone who did something scornful is far more powerful than finding a way to punish that person. By doing something kind, there is a good chance that one may second guess what they did, which will develop feelings of guilt, regret, and from there, feelings of empathy. Of course, this is not always the case, but in more cases than not, acts of kindness outweigh acts of justification or seeking revenge. When you feel it is in your interest to seek the latter, it just takes a thought of realizing that in that particular occasion, circumstances will do that instead. The former will often prove effective and create what could be the best possible wakeup call.

Langston Hughes is a writer than has been successful at developing emotions that anyone could relate to. While he is often identified as a poet of black struggles, I see him as a writer and poet that evoked an emotion in a way that very few could. I would highly encourage the reading of one or more of his poems or short stories. "Thank You, Ma'am" is a great place to start, for it is a light read that is not too complicated whatsoever. Nevertheless, it is a very powerful read that will linger through your mind and your soul each time you read it.