S.G. Browne

10 Books That Matter To Me

Recently I was tagged on Facebook by a friend with the following:

“List 10 books that have stayed with you. Don’t think too hard about it – they just have to be books that touched you.”

She then went on to share her list of 10 books and tagged a handful of friends to see what their lists looked like. While I didn’t tag anyone, I did feel compelled to share the 10 books that came to mind without having to give them too much thought. But then I realized I wanted to share a brief explanation as to WHY the books mattered to me or how they touched me. So here we go:

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Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk
This is the novel that inspired me to write Breathers and sent me down the path of social satire and dark comedy. While several of Pahlaniuk’s early novels could also have made the list, this one stands out for it’s influence on the direction my writing took.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
My favorite of Vonnegut’s novels, it has it all: science fiction, satire, a dwarf, an original Calypso religion, granfallons, pissants, and the end of the world. What’s not to like?

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Lyrical in its prose and poignant in its message about the power of words, this is the one book I recommend and gift to everyone. A Young Adult novel that should be classified as Literary Fiction.

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
I’m a sucker for novels that make social commentary on capitalism and Patrick Bateman’s stream-of-consciousness narration just sucked me in. Along with Slaughterhouse-Five by Vonnegut, American Psycho was one of the inspirations for Big Egos.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
My stranded-on-a-desert-island book (which I coincidentally read as a sophomore in high school while living on an island) and the first book to really stick with me. I’ve got the conch!

The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub
While a number of books by King and Straub are among my favorite reads, this was the first time I ever got so caught up in the story unfolding within the pages that the world outside of the book ceased to exist. And I thought: I want to make people feel this way.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Great opening. Great voice. Great character. Chandler has a way with words that are all his own. This novel set the bar for hard-boiled crime novels and was influential in the writing of my third novel, Lucky Bastard.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
While every book on this list is unique in its own way, I’ve never read another novel that comes close to this one. Dunn’s story of a self-made carnival sideshow freak family is one-of-a-kind awesome.

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal
by Christopher Moore
My favorite of Moore’s novels, all of which are an inspiration to my own writing. Smart, funny, and addictive. If you haven’t read anything by Moore, you should start now. Preferably with this one. You’ll thank me later.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
This one surprised me a bit when it popped into my head, but only for a moment. One of my favorite stories of my childhood and of all time. I can still recite Max’s adventures word-for-word.

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That’s it. That’s my list. If you have your own favorite books that matter to you, feel free to share them in the comments. And as always, thanks for reading.

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Seven Films (2012-2013) No One Saw But Should

Lately it seems like the only movies anyone talks about are the big Hollywood tentpole films where pathos and plot and nuance take a back seat to action and explosions and CGI special effects. Films like World War Z, Pacific Rim, and Fast and Furious 6; not to mention all of the superhero sequels and reboots and remakes.

While popcorn movies are fun to watch on occasion, I tend to prefer films that have a little more going for them than blue screens and action sequences. Below are my seven favorite film I’ve seen over the past two years, at the theater and on Netflix, that garnered little fanfare or box office success.

Why seven films? Why not five or ten? Because these are the first films that came to mind without me having to think twice about them. And I stuck with the last couple of years because otherwise this list would be at least twenty-five films long.

Four of these films earned less than $5,000,000 domestic gross while all of them have earned less than $30,000,000. Many of these are also from first time writers or directors. Or both. If you enjoy smart, funny, or thoughtful films, or a little of all three, then there’s something here for you.

(Oh, and feel free to share your favorite under-appreciated films in the comments.)

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Killer Joe
If you’re a fan of dark comedies and inept seedy characters, this is the film for you. Fun performances turned in by Thomas Haden Church, Juno Temple, and Emile Hirsch. And even if you can’t stand Matthew McConaughey, you’ll love him as the titular character.

Jeff Who Lives at Home
An engaging, amusing, and thoughtful film about relationships, unfulfilled dreams, and destiny, with Jason Segal as a live-at-home stoner searching for his destiny and Ed Helms as his asshole big brother, with Susan Sarandon as their frustrated mom. Written by Jay and Mark Duplass (The League, Cyrus).

Young Adult
While Diablo Cody is best known for her Oscar-winning script for Juno (which I loved), I think this is the best of her three scripts, starring Charlize Theron as an emotionally stunted young adult author who goes back home to recapture her glory days. Great turn by Patton Oswalt as her unlikely romantic interest.

Safety Not Guaranteed
A quirky little film about a team of reporters (Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson) who investigate a classified newspaper ad asking for a time-traveling companion. Mark Duplass plays the author of the ad who seems a little crazy. But then, aren’t all geniuses a little nuts?

Don Jon
Joseph Gordon-Levitt writes, directs, and stars in this in-your-face romantic comedy about a modern-day Don Juan who has a predilection for online porn. Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore are perfectly cast as the women in his life, while Tony Danza as Gordon-Levitt’s father is absolute gold.

The Way, Way Back
A sweet, smart, and funny coming-of-age story about a lost 14-year-old boy who struggles to find himself while on a summer vacation. Good writing and a great ensemble cast with Toni Colette, Robb Cordy, Amanda Peet, Sam Rockwell, and Steve Carell playing against type as an emotionally-abusive future step-father.

In a World…
First-time writer/director Lake Bell (Children’s Hospital) stars as the daughter of a voice-over king in a world where men dominate the theatrical trailer landscape. But when she gets a chance to lend her voice to the upcoming Amazon Games trilogy, the world turns upside down. Smart writing and a cohesive ensemble cast.

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My Favorite Reads of 2012

Well, that year went by fast. It seems like just last March I was getting my first book published. And the summer before that I was graduating from college. And the year before that I was playing with Tinker Toys and Hot Wheels.

Like Ferris Bueller says: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Which brings us to my Favorite Reads of 2012. If you didn’t stop to look around your bookstore once in a while, you might have missed these. Fortunately, if you were remiss, you can still remedy that for 2013.

Sacré Bleu by Christopher Moore
My favorite of the favorites, this is vintage Christopher Moore. And I’m a sucker for Impressionist art. When I finished this, I felt like I had a long way to go to rival the writing acumen of Moore.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
Recommended to me by my friend Bill Breedlove, this tale of two hired guns during the California gold rush is dark and quirky and funny and sad all at the same time.

City of the Lost by Stephen Blackmoore
A zombie noir novel with a nice humorous bite and a visual flair. Every time I turned on my Netflix, I wished this was a TV series so I could watch the next episode.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Harry Potter meets The Narnia Chronicles, with deft writing, compelling characters, and a nice, subtle creepiness lurking just beneath the surface.

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
King’s collection of five dark, unforgiving stories about people who have fallen over the edge into the abyss. There are no happy endings here, only excellent storytelling.

Honorable Mentions
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Farewell My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Feel free to agree or disagree or share your own favorite reads of 2012. And Happy New Year!

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Filed under: Fiction,Fiction Fridays,Movies and Books — S.G. Browne @ 9:18 am

Movie Review Monday: Eight is Enough

No, this isn’t a review of a film adaptation of the late 1970s TV series starring the Bradford family, so if you were hoping for a Willie Aames or a Lani O’Grady sighting, I’m sorry to disappoint you.

Instead, this blog post is an accumulation of brief thoughts about a number of films I’ve seen that were released this year. Eight, to be exact. Since I didn’t bother to mention them individually, I decided to share them all in one place. It costs less that way. More economical. And I’m a stickler for good deals.

So in alphabetical order, here are the eight films I’ve seen over the past couple of months that I thought were worth mentioning:

Argo – I’ve been on the Ben Affleck train for a while now, ever since he directed Gone Baby Gone in 2007, and his latest is not a disappointment. It takes a talented director to take a story about which everyone knows the outcome and make it compelling. Personally, I think The Town (which Affleck directed in 2010) was better, but this is still good stuff.

Flight – A heavy story peppered with humor (mostly in the guise of John Goodman) about an airline pilot in denial about his substance abuse. Good acting and the story seems to hit most of the right notes. Oh, and the crash sequence that sets up the plot is pretty cool.

Life of Pi – I read the book ten years ago and was excited to see what they did with it, so I forgave the first thirty or so minutes of slow back story. Yes, the 3D was visually enjoyable but I don’t think it added much to the tale. Fun to watch but for me, this is definitely one of those “read the book” films.

Lincoln – Starring Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, and Abraham Lincoln. Seriously, where the hell was Daniel Day-Lewis? He was Lincoln, as far as I’m concerned, which helped to make me feel like I was watching history. A bit heavy on the political machinations of mid-19th century but well worth the price of admission.

The Master – I’m a Paul Thomas Anderson fan and loved Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Punch Drunk Love. While this one tends to drag a little and the story (to me) doesn’t really matter, the acting, especially by Joaquin Phoenix, is superb. It’s a shame that Phoenix will likely lose out to Daniel Day-Lewis when it comes to award season, because he deserves to win.

Seven Psychopaths – If you liked In Bruges and/or enjoy dark, twisted comedies, you won’t want to miss this gem from Irish playwright/screenwriter/director Martin McDonagh. Plus it has Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, and Woody Harrelson. Win!

Silver Linings Playbook – While it’s probably not going to win any awards for best picture, it was the best movie I’ve seen this year. Good acting, good script, good story, with lots of emotional pulls in various directions. Now I need to read the book.

Skyfall – Is it just me or are the last few Bond films lacking in any warmth or charm? Unlike with Connery and Brosnan, I don’t have any connection with Daniel Craig’s 007. He’s just so humorless and so are the films. Meh.

Okay, those are my takes on these eight films. If you’ve seen any of them and want to share your thoughts, fire away. Or if you have other films you’ve seen recently that you’d like to recommend, that works, too.

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Filed under: Move Review Monday,Movies and Books — S.G. Browne @ 11:54 am

Movie Review Monday: Dark is Better

Welcome to another edition of Movie Review Monday. What? This is Thursday? How the hell did it get to be Thursday already? Well, let’s just pretend that it’s Monday because the alliteration works better.

Today is a double barrel entry of dark comedies, which is appropriate because they’re both about killing people. And if you know anything about me, you know that the darker the comedy, the more likely I am to enjoy it. Your mileage may vary.

Killer Joe (directed by William Friedkin) is one of those films with a cast of deplorable characters that is just so much fun to watch you can’t look away. Emile Hirsch and Thomas Haden Church are great as the son and ex-husband of a woman they want to kill so they can cash in on her insurance policy, so they hire Matthew McConaughey—a Texas cop who kills people for money on the side. If you’re not a McConaughey fan, don’t let that keep you away. He’s delightfully disturbing as the titular anti-hero. And if you’re a fan of fried chicken, you might not want to eat it for a while after the climactic scene.

God Bless America (directed by Bobcat Goldthwait) stars journeyman actor Joel Murray (currently in Mad Men) as a modern day Clyde who teams up with a teenage Bonnie (Tara Lynne Barr) to rid society of reality television stars, rude talk show hosts, and generally repellent citizens. While it’s pretty heavy on the social commentary, it does make some valid points about the lack of common courtesy and the decline of manners in a society that values celebrity for the sake of celebrity. If you don’t get some pleasure out of the scene where they gun down four rude people in a movie theater who keep talking on their cell phones, then maybe this isn’t your cup of tea.

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Filed under: Movie Review Mondays,Movies and Books — S.G. Browne @ 6:23 am