Thursday, March 24, 2016

Happy Four Years of MatthewGordonBooks!

Image from Julia Kovach - posted in June 2012, just like two of my Smashwords stories
It's hard to believe. Four years ago, in the midst of the venerable Book a Week (not even started on this blog!), I brought this blog into the world. It was on the heels of setting up my account. It was in a kinder era, one when I lived in the United States, making American literature something of a priority for me. Sometimes, I wonder whether that's changed.

Oddly, since this blog started in March 2012, my recent Leap Day post was the first I ever had a chance to make here. I've been good about most other holidays, though, usually with either a natural disaster or cute animals to show for them.

Early on, I celebrated Canada Day in entries so brief they barely qualify as entries. My 25th birthday was apparently quite the event! I've been serious and I've been goofy.

Here's the post that started them all:

Saturday, March 24, 2012


For those who aren't familiar with me (and I imagine most of you aren't), hi! I'm Matt. I love books. I read them. I write them. I keep them beside my bed. I have way too much to say about them and have resorted to blogging in order to keep my thoughts straight.

A few things to expect from this blog:

-Book a Week. I'm reading a book every week of 2012, finishing each Saturday. I've been posting my entries on my RateYourMusic page since the start of the year but I'll also be posting them here now. To see my earlier entries, go here:

-Thoughts on books. This will likely be lists of my favourite books and/or new books I think are wonderful and that people should read.

-Thoughts on oddball news stories. I love any kind of news story that comes out of nowhere to remind us just how amazing our world is. I may not have much to say about it but I'll provide an impression and a link.

-Links to my stories and books. I write fiction and invite you to read it! I typically write shorter, easily digestible pieces that I will be making available free for laptops and e-readers everywhere via the technological innovation that is Smashwords. Other vehicles may get involved as well but Smashwords will be the first one.

-Administrative details. Yes, you'll be able to find a link to my Twitter account on here, for example.
I like to think I've followed through on... most of these. I'll have to recover my Twitter password soon. The rest should be here. If nothing else, I deliver.

Here's the longest. Here's the one with the most footnotes. Here's the only one written by an author I've actually met in person. Here's the only one the author signed for me. Here's the day with the most posts (June 26, 2012 - three of them!).

Hope you've enjoyed the ride so far. I assure you, 2016 will continue to be a year in which I not only post the most times, on average, per month, but also expand in new and exciting directions.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Gwen Stefani on Creativity: Reality, Purity and "Truth"

This past Friday, Gwen Stefani released a casual 560-word ramble on creativity for LinkedIn Pulse. (For those opposed to the age-old high school tradition of the five-paragraph essay, Stefani's is six, with the last being a short conclusion.) In it, she discusses No Doubt, her solo work and her clothing line; in all, she espouses these three ideals:

Throughout my life, three constants are: I remain real to myself, pure about the project and true to my whole aesthetic.

The rest of the article aside, much of which deals with her issues launching her personal brands, these are interesting precepts. Here are how I see them playing out:

  • Remaining real to myself
    • This is something I value in every author and especially in myself. I make a point of avoiding extruded book product. (Note: That article discusses looking forward to A Dance with Dragons. How time passes...) As I always say, someone trying to sell something couldn't pick a worse product than art. Art has to be worth something even if it never sells a single copy, much to the consternation of people who have nothing but ideas for sale.
  • Being pure about the project
    • Trying to make a project something it isn't can result in a lack of internal knowledge of the thing the project wasn't but could be. Adapting a clothing line to a fragrance line, for example, invites the obvious question "How much do you know about fragrances?" A certain level of focus makes the project feel more cohesive.
  • Being true to my whole aesthetic
    • Stefani's explanation is that "By staying true to yourself and your beliefs through work, the overall process can be very therapeutic." Everything I write comes from the same place, whether it's drama, thriller, outsider fantasy, speculative, or thoughts on someone else's work. Maintaining a consistent identity regardless of genre or project is crucial. It's what makes something off the wall like Into the Unknown Bad Religion's prog rock album and not any other. More happily, it makes any artist's foray into a project grounded in that person's experiences, which gives that project its identity in the first place. Works don't pop up by themselves; people need to make them.
It's good advice, if vague and somewhat tautological. (How could someone who's being true to his/her whole aesthetic not be real to him/herself?) By the way, I think this is Stefani's best song.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

March's Book: Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Literature (1899 - 130 pp.)

Heart of Darkness is yet another entry for the "he hadn't already read that?!" category. It's been covered by so many scholars I don't need to summarize the views on Europe and Africa it advances. How I look at it, instead, is from the perspective of a fellow author. Therefore, I am going to focus most on Conrad's structure, from the way he structures his paragraphs down to his witticisms and turns of phrase.

The book provides more great insights into human life that appear, scattershot, throughout Marlow's story. The travel through Africa is not all that exciting in itself, but the observations Conrad makes resonate 117 years later.

Heart of Darkness's main flaw is its tendency toward run-on paragraphs. After a few pages of the same paragraph, the reader can forget who is speaking, as Conrad uses personal pronouns frequently. Minor plot points are blurs. Some egregiously long paragraphs occur on pages 11-12 (419 words, which I thought notable when I was that early in the book), 32-34 (526 words) and 58-60 (700 words, or longer than a typical high-school five-paragraph essay). The worst offender, however, is a 1750-word paragraph that is longer than every entry in the history of this blog except one. (65-69) Many of these passages border on unreadable

I am, of course, a devotee of the one-liner. Conrad is brilliant at these, in stark contrast to his long paragraphs. Here are some of my favourites.

On uncertainty: "He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable." (7)

Marlow's description of a Roman citizen inspecting an inland post, as an analogy to his own journey, shows just how much people hate uncertainty. This is the most poetic I've ever seen risk-aversion described.

On colonialism: "We called at some more places with farcical names, where the merry dance of death and trade goes on in a still and earthy atmosphere as of an overheated catacomb..." (20-21)

This is a chilling quotation because of how realistic it is. The Congo Free State, which is widely considered to be the book's setting, was not a pleasant place. Leopold II of Belgium had stated economic motives for ruling it, linking the human rights abuses and the resource production. Conrad's phrase "the merry dance of death and trade" shows how casually many Europeans of the day considered the Scramble for Africa, although Leopold was vilified even then.

On work: "I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work— the chance to find yourself. Your own reality—for yourself, not for others—what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means." (45-46)

As some say, work is identity (see "D. Policy Considerations"). Work can consume an inordinate amount of time, but it can also represent taking advantage of a special opportunity. Being able to introspect based on the completion of often difficult tasks, finding "your own reality", can make you different from anyone else or part of a greater whole. The connection between doing something and being something is all that keeps Marlow going on the improbable voyage down the Congo. This connection can make an arduous job with a good reputation workable, or a fun job with a bad reputation unworkable.

On learning: "‘But when one is young one must see things, gather experience, ideas; enlarge the mind.’" (88)

This should be on posters on classroom walls, determined cat-style. The only think I'd change is that I think it should be done at all ages. I certainly try my best.

On death: "I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine." (117)

Conrad's bleakness here is something of a thesis for the entire book, and for Conrad's riverboat journeys that inspired it. Reality is often far less glamorous than the news, human rights abuses included.

Reading is an opportunity to learn, and I learned something here. An ulster (108) is apparently a long, loose, heavy overcoat, as per I'll have to look for them next time I take the train.

Ease of Reading: 3
Educational Content: 4

Monday, March 7, 2016

Zootopia: It's Explosive!

Zootopia came out on Friday, which, of course, meant I had to go see it on Saturday. You can read my review here (WARNING: spoilers in there). I thought it was a fantastic movie, and I was pleasantly surprised at how much room there was in the theatre. I didn't notice any improvement from the Ultimate AVX Experience, but I did enjoy the unique opportunity to recline my chair while watching.

A lot has been made of Zootopia already. Current issues? Check. Awkward quasi-romance between species? Check. Salesman is a hero? Check.

Wait, though. Zootopia does something that is, as far as I recall, a first in Disney.

There's an explosion.

(from Disney Wikia - Judy and Nick being constantly adorable together)

Things just don't explode in the Disney world. Perhaps it's the historical settings. Maybe it's the lack of technological capability. Maybe everything's so cold it doesn't seem like things even can explode.

I don't know what it is, and this isn't proper review fodder anyway, but someone needed to mention this. The innovative decision to combine family-oriented animated comedy with the cop buddy genre opened a lot of new options for the screenwriters and directors. Unconfined by the usual fantasy or animal tropes, Disney was able to have, say, Judy buy Nick a Jumbo Pop. (Simba, for example, would struggle to handle currency due to his lack of opposable thumbs.) Beyond the animal-run city, the dashingly James Bond-like water buffalo, and the use of medical labs in a non-Secret of NIMH way...

Well, there was a newfound opportunity to blow something up. Specifically a rail car. Well played, Disney. I enjoyed it. KA-BOOM indeed.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Chuck Wendig Tells the Truth about Novel Writing in Two Sentences

People like sound bytes. There's something comforting in being able to take a complex, or even frightening topic, and sum it up in a short, witty way that makes you smile. Novel writing, unfortunately, doesn't typically have this luxury. How many times have you, awkwardly on the spot, said something like "Well, there's this guy (a character!), who lives in this place (a setting!), and does this thing (a plot point!)..."? If you're like me, very few, but you didn't need many times doing that to realize novels are more than their component parts. They're solitary* pursuits that push authors** to explore the deepest reaches of their minds, to expand upon literary traditions in ways that haven't been done before... I picture novel writing like this:

(image from
It's the opening of the mind combined with a flash of light for every idea. It's taking advantage of your brain to any extent you desire. It's something you can only do yourself, to absorb all the credit and all the blame. It's, to quote Chuck Wendig, this:

Nobody can do this shit for you. When it all comes down to it, you’re the one motherfucker who can slay this dragon and make a hat from his skull, a coat from his scales, and a tale from his tongue.

If there's one thing above all else that can make someone work all hours of the day and night on a project that, statistically, probably won't pay a cent, this is it. Why write a novel? Because only you can write this novel.*** One of the reasons many jobs are undesirable or uninspiring is because of how fungible the workers are. Although bookstores' shelves burst with novels in every genre, they aren't bursting with a thousand variations on your novel. If you're aiming for something loftier than a stock romance novel, if it isn't there, it just isn't there.

Oddly, the above quotation comes from Thing #22 in an old post about NaNoWriMo. I refuse to endorse NaNoWriMo, but I think Wendig's post is useful for considering any sort of novel writing, especially on a timeline.

Write, then, and write you.

*I love writing groups dearly, but when it comes down to it... read the next paragraph.
**Good authors, at least.
***I'm breaking my rule against starting sentences with conjunctions here. I think it adds effect in this situation.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


Every so often, *gasp* I've given life advice. Today on Quora, I did just that.

College can be tough. There are tons of courses (it was five per semester for me), new experiences (I finally learned to cook when I moved away from home), and a lot of pressure to succeed. I've done it. I encourage it. I'm a huge proponent of higher education, so I always like to see people succeed in it.

Someone had the energy to ask what it takes to be relentless in college. I like that.