Author: Ben and Gabs Roman

The Things They Carried

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Hello, fans, listeners, and non-listening readers of this post. This episode of Novel Ideas is about Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, a sort-of-memoir/sort-of-fictional anthology set in and around the Vietnam War. In this episode we discuss classroom books, ambiguity, character archetypes, and unreliable narrators. We also talk about what we carry, lengthy gaps between recording (though maybe not posting? Okay, okay, not ONLY posting) podcasts, all-American girl/sweetheart assassins, and the purpose of second grade girlfriends in a war story.

The music bump is “Memory” by Yoko Kanno because maybe it was like, all dream, MAN.

114 – The Things They Carried – Ambiguous Reality

Our recommendation:

Not a straightforward war story, so you don’t have to like those to read this book. Another one of those obvious in hindsight why it is studied in school books.

Ben: 7/10. It feels like an example of a certain flavor of war story, usually involving Vietnam, that was probably more original/unique once upon a time. That being said, something about this book affected me a bit, something about the idea of being a young person and having to go to war when you have no interest in doing so.

Gabs: First half 5/10, second half 7/10. Why was there a little girl with cancer in this book?

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Banned Books Week 2017

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No new episode this week, just a reminder that it is Banned Books Week 2017. At Novel Ideas we have read several books that are frequently challenged or banned from schools and libraries. Part of this is by intention; neither of us are particularly into censorship. The other part is happenstance; many excellent books have been challenged, and frequently the challenged material is part of what makes the story memorable or compelling.

When you look at the reasons that books are challenged, those reasons seem to me (Ben is writing this post, but Gabs will probably agree with most of this) to be based partly on values that I don’t agree with, and partly on laziness. For example, most of the books from this year’s list have been challenged because they include LGBTQ characters. Other reasons for challenging books from recent years include acknowledging teenage sexuality, or even just including characters that defy authority figures. We don’t need to protect children from these ideas, these are real things that exist in the real world.

The reason I describe these challenges as lazy is because you can always have a conversation with your child about how the content of the book fits into the world. Just because someone is doing something in a book doesn’t mean that the intent of the author is to glorify that thing. And even if it is, that doesn’t mean that you as the reader are required to also glorify that thing. And I would further suggest that if your ideology is so fragile that merely being made aware of the existence of something outside of that worldview will poison your child’s mind, then your ideology probably needs some reform.

Having said my piece, I present you with a non-comprehensive list of episodes we have done featuring banned books.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

Beloved – Toni Morrison

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

The Color Purple – Alice Walker

The Golden Compass (from His Dark Materials trilogy) – Philip Pullman

2017 Hugo Noms

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We interrupt this irregularly scheduled podcast with a special, albeit belated, episode. We decided to sit down and discuss the 2017 Hugo Award Nominees for Best Novel. Extra heavy spoiler alert on this episode, as every book we talk about was published in 2016 at the earliest. In addition to touching on every nominated book, we also discuss diversity, writing styles, identity, and the proliferation of series in the SF/Fantasy world. We also talk about scenes that make you feel, writers who have never met a woman before, the future corporate age of exploration, and the cool factor of space wizards wielding laser swords.

The music bump is “Robots” by Flight of the Conchords because, as discussed in this episode of the podcast, all science fiction is about robots.

113 – 2017 Hugo Noms – Diversity of Ideas

Homegoing

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After a long hiatus, Novel Ideas has returned with an episode about Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Ignore anything we say about timing in this episode as we recorded it back in March. I’d apologize, but by now you’ve been burned so many times by our erratic schedule that you would probably assume that I don’t mean it. In this episode we talk about strong characterization, elements of storytelling, the impact of the past, and history. We also discuss our lack of qualification to discuss this book, rehash the badness of slavery (we’ll stop when you guys finally get it), grudgingly reference Light in August (about which no more needs to be said), and get really uncomfortable trying to discuss racial issues despite being a pair of white idiots.

The music bump is “The Long Way Home” by Joshua Redman.

Homegoing – A Book Without Happy Endings

Our recommendations: It’s probably been too long since we read this to assign a realistic numerical rating, but it’s the kind of book that you read and think that everyone should read it regardless of their level of enjoyment. So I guess 10/10 for relevance and 0/10 if you hate it on principle because we’re telling you that you have to read it.

A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend

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This week on Novel Ideas, we are discussing a listener suggested book, A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner. In this episode, we have a bit of a role reversal at the top of the episode due to an attempted technical workaround that didn’t end up working. Or perhaps it’s better if we don’t explain these things and you just chalk up it up to Ben’s idiocy. In fact, from now on assume that all issues you have with the show are related to Ben’s idiocy. Issues like repeatedly referencing The Hunger Games even though it has nothing to do with this book, or not knowing the proper terminology for bike riders cyclists. In this episode we will also delve into the YA teen death genre, shy survivor types, unusual treatments of sexuality, and shallow characterization. We also discuss why teen writing sucks, the dead girl is annoyingly perfect, the badassery of Quakers, and causes of YA death. We’ll also cover, though not specifically (nor in detail) what the acronym in the episode title stands for (it’s also in the tags.)

Administrative note: We said a bunch of stuff about the next episode that is not correct. For example, Cursed Child has already been posted. Next episode will be Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.

The music bump is “Ninjas of the Night” from an Youtube video of ancient vintage, but is nonetheless perfectly in line with the depiction of ninjas in this book.

A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend (AFBAADT)

Our Recommendation: Meh. It’s kind of two books trying to be one book.

Ben: 5/10. At various points I was pretty sure I disliked this book. And then when it was over, I still didn’t like it. But I didn’t dislike it enough to argue for or against. So it has that going for it.

Gabs: 8/10 for could have been with the bike trip story. 5/10 for what actually happened with mediocre ninjas.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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Novel Ideas, in a completionist turn, brings you Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling (but really by Jack Thorne and John Tiffany). In this episode we discuss insane bestselling sales, the nature of long delayed sequels, time travel plots, and how plays differ from novels. We also talk about the influence of cocaine (probably none), that Voldemort is likely a virgin, alternate Ron, and the inadequacy of riddle based security measures. And much, much more.

The music bump is “Sybilla Delphica” by Orlando di Lassus in honor of <spoiler of gobsmackingly stupid plot twist redacted>, Delphi.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – A Thing That Doesn’t Need To Exist

Our recommendation: This sequel was a smashing (financial) success. Otherwise, it doesn’t really feel that much like Harry Potter.

Ben: 4/10. I’ve never been a fan of unnecessary sequels. This falls into that category for me.

Gabs: 4/10 faulty Time Turners. Because it failed to turn back the clock and recapture the magic.

Also, if you have suggestions for future episodes, please share them with us! We’re trying to be a bit more responsive to our six or so listeners this year.

Little Women

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Happy New Year! We’re back with a classic in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, a book that many would call a quintessential American girl’s tale. Do we agree with this assessment? You’ll find out if you listen to this episode. You’ll also discover what we think about feminism in historical context, question certain self-improvements, agree with the narrator’s opinion on spinsters, and discuss the lack of passion in this story. We also talk about ladies who don’t like ladies, the creation of shipping, obnoxious children, and (perhaps oddly) lobsters.

The music bump is Chopin’s Mazurka in A minor, op. 17 due to period appropriateness. Feel free to imagine Beth playing it in heaven if that makes you feel better about it.

109 – Little Women – Marmee is the Worst

Our recommendation: Short version is that it doesn’t really hold up that well.

Ben: 5/10. Didn’t love it, didn’t hate it. I liked that there were a lot of things to discuss, as there usually are with classics.

Gabs: 5/10. 6/10 for part 1, 4/10 for part 2.

Quick administrative note: We’re hoping to post more often this year, though of course we guarantee nothing. As part of this “do more stuff” plan, we would like to be a little more responsive to our listeners. Please leave some requests/recommendations/suggestions for books for future episodes either in the comments for this episode or on our suggestions page.