Book Review: 11/22/63

“Life turns on a dime. Sometimes towards us, but more often it spins away, flirting and flashing as it goes: so long, honey, it was good while it lasted, wasn’t it?”

It’s been said before, and it’ll no doubt be said again – but just because Stephen King has dedicated so much of his career to writing books about the macabre he’s considered as a lesser writer by many critics. Which is a real shame because, as King once said when asked why he writes that genre, – “you assume I have a choice…”

But then, suddenly, from nowhere a book like this lands. A book that King has wanted to write since 1972 but was initially put off by the amount of research he’d have to put into it (he was still full-time as a teacher back then).

“I know life is hard, I think everyone knows that in their hearts, but why does it have to be cruel, as well? Why does it have to bite?”

I could tell you the plot in a nutshell – a lonely high school teacher discovers a doorway into the year 1958 and decides to stop JFK’s assassination in 1963. But that would be too easy and, for lack of a better term, way too simple. This is far more than a time travel novel. At it’s heart it’s an absorbing love story – a love story so strong that everything else (such as stopping that fateful shooting) almost filters into the background.

When this was released the critics initially gave it some stick for hopping genres – but, as long as you can make it work, why not slip between thriller, romance and historical period piece? King does make it work. I’m sure of that. I enjoyed this book immensely, and towards the end I woke up two hours earlier than usual to read just a few more chapters. It has that formula you just can’t bottle, the formula only bestsellers have…that mysterious elixir that sucks you into the story and makes one page turn after the other, as if by magic.

“For a moment everything was clear, and when that happens you see that the world is barely there at all. Don’t we all secretly know this? It’s a perfectly balanced mechanism of shouts and echoes pretending to be wheels and cogs, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life. Behind it? Below it and around it? Chaos, storms. Men with hammers, men with knives, men with guns. Women who twist what they cannot dominate and belittle what they cannot understand. A universe of horror and loss surrounding a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.”

The only negatives were the same problem that I have with a lot of King’s work…you probably know where I’m going with this…but, it was just that bit too over descriptive. But then again, maybe that’s actually a positive – perhaps it brings you further into the story? I also feel that this perhaps went on for a hundred pages longer than it should have, this might have put some readers off.

I also have to comment on the main character, Jake Epping, I couldn’t help but think that he was pretty much 30 year old Stephen King himself. With just a few things switched around. 6’4, not thin but not fat, English teacher, wants to write books – I mean, I know that sums up a lot of King’s characters in general, but there was something extra about Jake. Something so genuine, that I felt as if King was simply describing what he’d done if he were in that situation and how he’d look to stop the notorious Lee Harvey Oswald – who is one of the other main characters here, but always watched at a distance – almost like an evil zoo animal.

“On the subject of love at first sight, I’m with the Beatles: I believe that it happens all the time.”

The scene where Jake races against time to rescue his girlfriend from danger is so well-written that I felt hairs stand up on my arms and I’ll be damned if some of the climatic pages toward the end didn’t nearly draw a tear from my usually dry eyes.
The research here is simply incredible too. He does mention it in the afterword, but wow! The hours (days) King must have put in…I can only imagine. I actually feel like I’ve been to early 1960s Dallas…and I’ve never even set foot in Texas!

“I can love you if you’re a man, and I can love you if you’re a hero- I guess, although for some reason that seems a lot harder- but I don’t think I can love a vigilante.”

The way that time is explained here is also something else, it almost becomes a character – often the villain of the piece. You’d have to read this to fully understand, which I hope you do. But time doesn’t like being changed, and what’s more time is full of coincidences and repeats where the details have been slightly changed…and, unless you’re a time traveller, you’d never notice them.

I implore you to pick this up so you too can enjoy a tense, endearing genre mash-up that will sit on the shelves of your mind for long after you’ve taken in the final words.

“Dancing is life.”

 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

“I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Outliers – book review

Outliers: the story of success

There’s something fascinating about success isn’t there?

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t chase it. Some secretly, some openly. Whether it be raising a happy family, gaining a promotion or making millions after finding a niche in the market.

“In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.” 

It’s also easy for those of us who are still waiting for success, to look at people like Bill Gates and co with jealousy. Assuming that they bought their way to the top, or that they got ‘lucky’.

But Gladwell’s book blows the top off that, and leaves the reader with some fascinating insights into how situations and circumstances affect the success of your journey through life. Sometimes it really is as simple as being born in the right place at the right time…although, it’s often a little more complicated than that.

“No one who can rise before dawn three hundred sixty days a year fails to make his family rich.” 

After reading Matthew Syed’s ‘Black Box Thinking‘ and ‘Bounce‘ I was intrigued by Gladwell’s work – which is referenced by Syed many times. So I sought this one out, and was instantly drawn in by the flow of Gladwell’s prose. It’s easy to digest, but informative at the same time. A trait that many non-fiction writers lack in this day and age.

I devoured the first three quarters of the book in a frenzy of information and head-nodding ‘wow’ moments. The last part dragged a little for me and I’m not really sure why, as the tempo of the book was consistent. I had a few other books lined up to read and perhaps this made me hurry the reading process along.

My attention pricked back up by the last chapter, which recounts Gladwell’s own mother/grandmother’s story, and it was a welcome touch. I like it when non-fiction authors involve themselves in their works, it becomes easier to relate to.

“Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities.” 

Overall a 4/5 for me – one of those books that’s fairly quick to read and full of interesting anecdotes and characters. All of them true. I’ll be reading Gladwell’s ‘Tipping Point’ in the near future. Consider me a fan.

P.S Check out Gladwell’s podcast ‘Revisionist History‘ if you’re into that kind of thing.

Learn stuff from someone who knows stuff.

Ever find a website that you just can’t stop reading through?

Yeah, me too.

I bought a book recently called Predatory Thinking, written by copywriter and creative director, Dave Trott.

I happened to stumble across his blog shortly afterwards, and I suggest you have a look.

Dave Trott’s blog

A great example of how to fit creativity and information into a succinct post. Below I’ve decided to quote Trott’s description of what a story should entail:

“EVEN A NON-STORY IS A STORY

What are the universal structural elements of all stories?

1) Hook.

2) Build.

3) Payoff.

This is the shape any story must take.

1) A beginning that grabs the listener.

2) A middle that escalates in tension, suspense, stakes, and excitement.

3) An ending that brings it all home with a bang.

That’s a novel, that’s a play, that’s a movie, that’s a joke, that’s a seduction, that’s a military campaign.

It’s also your TED talk, your sales pitch, your Master’s thesis, and the 890-page true saga of your great-great-grandmother’s life.”

(source: http://davetrott.co.uk/2016/07/storytelling-v-verbosity/)

If you’re interested in Dave’s books you can find them below:

Dave’s books.

Life is but a…

…great chance to learn.

Well, the older I get the more it feels like it. At high school I was never much of a student, and things didn’t really pick up until I got to university.

But as a graduate it seems most of my spare time is now dedicated to learning.

As I said in an earlier post, the more ideas and schools of thought that you cram into your brain the more inspiration you’ll get yourself. 

The featured image is tonight’s offering – I’ll let you know my thoughts. 

Today I’m not writing because I’m learning.