Category Archives: Reviews

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith

Because I do not claim to be in any position to deliver a professional literary critique, I reserve the freedom to begin this review by answering the most basic question–did I like it?

I enjoyed this book immensely on so many levels!

::Spoiler alert::

The first aspect of this work that I fixated on was the format. It is primarily written in third-person omniscient, however it has excerpts from Abe’s journals peppered throughout. As I have structured my novel similarly, I appreciate the daunting task of writing directly from your character in the hyper-personal gambit of a journal. In fact, I was experiencing so much anxiety about writing from two of my male characters’ perspective, I was motivated to begin interviewing some of my wonderful man-friends in attempts to gain some legitimate empathy. It was therefore galvanizing to be reading at leisure a book which was directly contributing to my own work. I certainly need more experience with the way an intelligent, articulate man analyzes his own thoughts and emotions.

The introduction was wonderfully imagined and directly involved the author himself as the primary character. Seth is approached by Abe’s primary vampire influence, Henry, and charged with Mr. Lincoln’s notebooks and the directive to disperse the truth by compiling a biography. The plot moves along comfortably, beginning with Abe as a small boy and ending shortly after his assassination. Throughout, the reader finds adept descriptions of Lincoln’s visage, his first love and loss,  his progression through politics, and of course vibrant, violent scenes from his development as a Vampire Hunter. The only quarrel I have with the plot is in the ending (isn’t it always?). Henry makes an executive decision after Lincoln’s death which is shamefully contrary to Abe’s wishes; he inducts him into the world of the undead because “some men are just too interesting to die” (Grahame-Smith 336). However, Abe had many times in life rejected Henry’s offer to resurrect his first love and multiple children which succumbed to an early death. In fact, Abe and Henry had a violent  falling out three-quarters of the way through the book over such an offer and hadn’t spoken since that altercation. However, the reader finds in the last pages Henry and Abe, garbed in dark clothes and glasses, listening to Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his famous address.  It’s a wonderful concept that Abe would hear his own address cited in Rev. King’s opening lines,  but the means to that end didn’t uphold the values and mutual respect built between the man and the vampire throughout the book. In fact, I can imagine that the 98 years between Abe’s death/resurrection and the I Have a Dream speech, Abe would have been attempting to take vengeance on Henry for his trespass. The amicable, picturesque ending seems contrived.

I have two thematic take-aways: one that a speaker is believable because he believes, and two, the inherent loneliness of a human existence.

A member of the audience at one of Abe’s stirring speeches relates ,”I have heard celebrated orators who could start thunders of applause without changing any man’s opinion. Mr. Lincoln’s eloquence was of the higher type, which produced conviction in others because of the conviction of the speaker himself”  (Grahame-Smith 215). This resonates with another quote by Benjamin Zander that I’ve been communing with recently: “One of the characteristics of a leader is that he won’t doubt for one moment about the capacity of the people he’s leading to realize whatever he’s dreaming.” The concept calls for me to know what I believe in, because speaking whether in a public forum or in private, is representing my ability to inspire myself.

“In solitude we are least alone” (Grahame-Smith 160) is the inscription Abe leaves on the coffin of his first love, Anne Rutledge. She has been killed in retaliation by a vampire, and of course Abe endures a deep depression as a result. I love this quote because it so succinctly captures the ineffable individual experience of life, and the paradoxical feelings as a result. It doesn’t indicate that the quality of being alone is essentially negative, and I find that uplifting. My initial interpretation of this quote was the loss of identity in obsessive love. Often one can feel that his or her own identity loses meaning without the input of the object of their affection. I’m sure most people are familiar with the quote “I was more alone with you than without you” (UAL). I think that comes from that sense of insignificance when you elevate someone to the heights of obsession.  However, another paradoxical interpretation of the same quote is that in solitude i find i am surrounded by grief, anger, disappointment…etc, so in fact I am rich in society. Perhaps Abe’s direct meaning, however,  was to indicate the spiritual vacancy of Anne’s body advertises her heavenly communion.

In summary, the writing was tremendous, the characters were  and inspiring, the plot was a spectacular marriage of fact and fiction. I highly recommend this read.

1) Grahame-Smit, Seth. Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. New York, NY, 2010.

2) Zander, Benjamin, ed. Ted: Ideas Worth Spreading Feb 2008. 

3) At Large, Universe. A Fictional Anthology of Depressing Cliches. Everywhere, Earth, Always.

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Reading List

In response to the Writer’s Toolbox post, herein I decide my reading list from now till Aug 30th.

I think I will have to change my reading habits for this venture.

Instead of reading 6 different works at once, I should probably read only one until it’s finished. And then the next one. Then the next. That way, I can do a thorough, focussed review, having immersed myself in a single author’s style.

I have 7 months, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t go ahead and read 7 books. A book per month isn’t too crazy, in addition to having a full time job, Crossfit 3 times a week, and trying to finish a manuscript. Right? Right. It sounds easy without friends, sleeping, cleaning, and feeding myself mentioned in that lineup. My relationship with my cat may suffer.

I admit having serious anxiety about choosing one title to sustain me for a whole month. All by itself. I tend to balance serious novels and nonfiction with young adult fun stuff. I suppose I need to choose books in some middle ground, then. I’ll limit myself further. WIth respect to my bank account, I shall pull only from my pile of books that I already own, but haven’t yet read. I will  exclude my (small) rare and old book collection, as I’d like to annotate and jot notes in margins per my custom for this directive.

Observe my stock.20130125_205054    

My choices (phew was that a tough exercise!):

  1. For fun: Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Seth Grahame-Smith
  2. From an influence of mine: Hard Times, Charles Dickens
  3.  Directly pertaining to my manuscript: The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis
  4. A new experience: Captain America: Marvel Masterworks by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (the world of comics is utterly unknown to me)
  5. Easy reading: Choke, Chuck Palahniuk
  6. Personally challenging: Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, Elizabeth Gilbert
  7. A global phenomenon: Girls of Riyadh, Rajaa Alsanea

There you have it! I’ve overcome some serious anxiety and produced….a list. I’ve come so far.

I’ll update about this venture in posts categorized “Review”. I’ll probably do a few check-ins with each book before the final review.

Feel free to follow along in your books. 🙂

A Writer’s Toolbox: Ghost Story with a Wrench vs. Light for the Underworld

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ~Stephen King

I take the above quote to heart because it rings so true, in fact it resonates. Inasmuch, I should probably start getting more bang for my buck by embellishing my existing reading habit. Therefore, I’ll start doing two things:

1) I’ll come up with a reading list for myself from now till August

2) I’ll provide some commentary and reviews for those works as I go through them.

Because 1) seems so daunting, I’ll jump right into 2) for the moment.

We’ll start easy. I drive a lot, and instead of music for company, I often opt for audio productions of young adult fiction. This is a habit developed from  adolescence. All family road trips were accompanied by audio-books  It sets the tone, infuses the trip with amusing character references, and keeps the driver awake. I’ve discovered that if you try to listen to audio performances of novels, the innate maturity and temporal development cadences lull the driver to sleep. Also, it destroys the rapport at roadside meals because everyone is contemplative instead of enterprising.

I just finished listening to the audio recording of two works that I think have wonderful capacities for the compare/contrast breed of review.

A] The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau; narrated by Wendy Dillon

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B] The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman; narrated by the author

disney-neil-gaiman-graveyard-book-movie

City of Ember is a work of children’s fiction. The setting is futuristic-in an underground city meant to preserve humanity from some assumed end. The city is running out of supplies and it’s experiencing increasingly alarming blackouts. Its people, generations beyond the first settlers, do not know that they live beneath the ground–in fact only the mayors were entrusted with that secret and even they were obliged to pass it down in a time-sealed box, not privy to the information they protected. The protagonist is a plucky young girl, however, the story is really propelled along by the influence of her radical best friend.

In contrast, The Graveyard Book is set, as one might expect, in a graveyard. The main character is named Nobody Owens, “Bod” for short. I love that name because Bod is orphaned in the first chapter and his name sounds like “Nobody Owns”. Bod is fostered by the ghosts of the graveyard’s tenants, and protected by its sanctions. The plot is propelled by his learning process about the differences in life and death via the mystery of his parents’ murder.

Both works are coming of age stories, but I would rank Graveyard as quite a bit more mature. I do admit a bias here, because Neil Gaiman is not only one of my favorite authors, but he’s an extraordinary and prolific one–a modern classic.

Both works are community-centered, and in both, the protagonists are motivated to mobilize away from their home. The plots illustrate the decision process for the main characters. They are not epic sagas with one great travel followed by the next. Instead, the plots demonstrate the internal process influenced by one’s community, and the inevitable, immutable propulsion into adulthood.

Graveyard was an especial treat because it was narrated by the author, therefore privy to more warmth and innate connection to the characters and prose than one finds in the production of Ember. My favorite  aspect of Graveyard was the development of Bod from an infant to a young man. Gaiman articulately illustrates the naiveté and energy of youth, the flustered brooding of adolescence, the grappling for independence of the teen years, and finally the conscious step into adulthood after one has bravely chosen to live boldly, though conscious of grave dangers

My favorite aspect of Ember was the author’s keen description of that heady rush one feels as a buyer–that moment you realize you are besotted with something you merely had a fancy for before–and the rush that comes when you’ve completed the transaction. The author completes the cycle later in the story, with the inevitable shame and question of worth, especially if the buyer was unfortunate enough to purchase beyond their means.

Unknown to me until JUST THIS SECOND, The City of Ember was made into a movie back in 2008. Even more exciting, The Graveyard Book is in the making, to be directed by Ron Howard! Definitely something to look forward to.