What I’m Reading

Here’s a couple of book reviews (the Department 19 series) I wrote for Blogomatic.

I’ve been listening to Stephen King’s On Writing (read by the man himself, who’s unsurprisingly quite the orator) over the last week or so, and one of the things – among many – that struck a chord with me was his notion that the best thing you can do as someone who needs to concentrate on their writing is to blow up your TV set.

I’m sure this is an opinion held by a great plenty, and it’s not like I haven’t heard it before, but being reminded of that maxim alerted me to the fact that I’m being pretty slothful right now, wasting away in front of the myriad movies that are available to me at the touch of a button thanks to my parents’ Sky+ box (an invention I’m certain will be the ultimate doom of mankind; see Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror for more).

I’ve justified this to myself that, because I’m not only a writer but also a filmmaker, this is all good research – how can I make movies if I don’t first understand them? This is pretty flimsy upon further inspection; you learn a hell of a lot more from doing than from watching, and to be frank I don’t think I’m going to learn all that much from Death Wish.

With that in mind, I figured I’d let you all know what I’m reading at the moment in the hopes that it’ll spur me to a) pick the books up and actually keep reading them, away from the hedonistic altar of the idiot box and b) inspire me to do some storytelling of my own.

The current novel I’m reading is Child of God by Cormac McCarthy, the man responsible for No Country For Old Men and The Road, and one of my favourite authors. Pretty slim but not lacking in atmosphere or character, the book finds ex-con Lester Ballard lurking in the hills of Tennessee, perpetrating weird crimes, finding strange pleasures and keeping himself to his himself. I’m over halfway through now and although Ballard has committed some morally questionable acts thus far, McCarthy allows you to sympathise with (or at least pity) him in a way that no author can, by stating his case plainly and nonjudgementally in simple but beautiful prose.

I always have a few comics on the go, due to their serial nature (one of their best qualities, I’d argue), but the collected edition that’s currently got my attention is The Other Side, writer and current Marvel ‘architect’ Jason Aaron’s first major work with artist Cameron Stewart that got the attention of The Big Two and propelled Aaron to his current standing.

The book’s concept is simple but extraordinarily effective: the Vietnam War, told from the perspectives of a young U.S. Marine and a North Vietnamese recruit, both dragged in to fight a war neither fully understands. Incidentally, Aaron’s cousin wrote the book that would become Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket and the influence can clearly be seen in the American’s drill training and the horrors perpetrated in the name of ‘justice’, but it’s not merely a retelling of that story. It runs deeper into both the soldiers’ different experiences, showing the destabilisation of the marine’s psyche (he sees dead soldiers and his rifle regularly tells him to kill himself) and the NVA’s loss of faith.

I’m not quite half way through this one yet but it’s already startling affecting, and should be put in the hands of anyone who thinks that war is either faceless or one-sided. In fact, I don’t think it’d be much of a stretch to suggest that it be made recommended reading in schools; a full-page spread of a man getting his legs blown off by a shell could well be a better deterrent than 50 pages of prose.

Hope that was informative or even slightly interesting to y’all. Back to the usual drivel tomorrow.

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