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Story and Literature

I recently read this noxious and silly article in Slate, about how adults who enjoy popular fiction that is billed as Young-Adult should be embarrassed that they read and enjoy it.

The article is easily dismissible pretentious crap.  The author comes off as someone who is bitter over her inability to write books that people want to read.  Rather than accepting that she’ll never be more than a niche author, or learning how to be a better writer so she can appeal to a larger audience, she blames the world in general for not recognizing her brilliance.

Plenty of other people have already criticized or mocked the piece.  (If you were aware of it at all before reading this blog post, it was probably because one of your Facebook friends was ripping it apart.)  I’m writing about it because the piece inadvertently brings up a key point about story, and how it relates to both popular/young-adult novels and “classic”/sophisticated/pretentious literature.

At its basic level, a story is about a sympathetic character pursuing a difficult and meaningful goal.  The story is the vehicle through which a movie or book conveys emotion to its audience.  It’s what ties a book/movie together.  Without that central story, it’s just a bunch of stuff that happens.

Story isn’t the only aspect of a book.  There are many others, such as character development, style of writing, literary allusions, symbolism, theme, mood, atmosphere, morals, metaphors, point of view, interesting ideas, moral ambiguity, and probably fifty more that you can think of.

The key difference between “literature” novels and popular or YA novels is that the literature novels incorporate a lot more of these aspects into the writing.  To the extent that these aspects are done well, they improve the book.  That’s a good thing.

But the problem is that many of these “literature” type novels focus so much on the other aspects of writing that they don’t bother with an actual story.  So the book ends up being just a bunch of stuff that happens, or even worse, a whole lot of nothing happening.

Without the story, most people aren’t able to truly engage with the book.  And without that engagement, they’ll be too bored to appreciate any of the other literary qualities.

This doesn’t apply to everyone, of course.  There are people who are capable of enjoying literary qualities without a story.  But people who enjoy story-free literature will always be a small niche compared to the broader public.

(To be clear, I’m not saying this applies to all literature-style novels.  There are plenty of pieces of classic literature with very strong stories.  Brilliant works like To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, Huckleberry Finn, or most of Shakespeare’s plays. These are works most people can enjoy.)

By contrast, YA books tend to lack these literary qualities.  Without flowery language and symbolism to hide behind, all they have left is story.  If they have a strong enough story, they’ll be enjoyable to the general audience.  (Excluding pretentious twits who want to look down on books that normal people like.)

Going back to that silly article in Slate, it seems to revel in how superior it is for a book to *not* have a story.  Praising some of the author’s favorite books explicitly because they have unlikable characters and a complete lack of a coherent ending.

That’s not to say she’s somehow wrong for liking those books.  Her tastes are her tastes.  Though I pity her inability to enjoy books most people like, I envy her ability to enjoy books most people would find boring.  I also envy people with the ability to enjoy televised golf.  In both cases, they have options for entertainment that would not be enjoyable to me, so they’re better off.  Life is more amusing when you’re easily amused.

But having personal tastes that allow you to enjoy storyless literature, like having person tastes that allow you to enjoy televised golf, does not give someone any sort of moral superiority.  And anyone that suggests it does deserves to be mocked.

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Fast Food Review – Taco Bell Breakfast Menu

Let me say right off the bat that I’m not one of those food snobs who looks down on the idea of Taco Bell breakfast.  It seems that most of the commentary I’ve seen on the subject comes from a place of complete contempt for the concept and for the type of person that would even consider eating there.

This isn’t that sort of review.  I like fast food.  I especially like innovative and novelty fast foods, that cheaply and conveniently bring me taste sensations that I’ve never had before.  So I was excited for Taco Bell’s breakfast menu, and I really wanted it to be good.  But unfortunately, it just wasn’t.

Waffle Taco

This is the item that people were most intrigued about.  I feel like most people expected it to be either awesome or horrible, or possibly both at once.  But the reality is neither.  It’s just bland and tasteless.  Here’s a picture:

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The biggest problem is that, despite it being called a waffle taco, there’s no waffle there.  A waffle is sweet, crispy on the outside, and fluffy in the middle.  Instead, the taco is on a vaguely waffle-shaped piece of soggy spongy flatbread with no flavor whatsoever.  The sausage is also very bland.  The eggs, cheese, and bacon are about what you would expect from fast food, but there are plenty of much better ways to eat fast food eggs/cheese/bacon.

If you’re really interested in the concept of combining sweet and savory breakfast foods, you’d be much better off with the McDonalds McGriddle.  Personally I’m not a fan of that, but at least the pancake buns taste like pancake and the sausage tastes like sausage.

A.M. Cruncwrap

This is basically a large breakfast burrito that’s shaped differently.  You already know what a breakfast burrito tastes like.  This is like that.  In terms of premium fast food breakfast burritos (or burrito-like items), it’s okay.  I prefer the Carl’s Jr. Big Country Burrito, which has chicken gravy in it, or the McDonalds McSkillet which has roasted vegetables.  But the A.M. Crunchwrap gives you what you expect, and if you order it you won’t be disappointed.

Breakfast Burrito

I hadn’t intended to review this, because a small breakfast burrito is a small breakfast burrito.  But my wife ordered it, and discovered this:

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Notice how little actual stuff there is in that burrito, compared to how much tortilla there is.  So I definitely would not order this again.  You’re much better off with the McDonalds Sausage Burrito, which is cheaper and has more filling in it.

Cinnabon Delight

Holy crap these are good. They’re basically deep-fried cinnamon donut holes filled with delicious goo. I would say this is the best desserty item offered at *any* major fast-food chain. I feel sorry for all the parts of the country that haven’t been able to enjoy these for the last few years. (They aren’t quite as good as actual Cinnabons, but they’re also only 260 calories, compared to a Cinnabon which is… holy crap! 880 calories! Yeah, I knew there was a reason I rarely eat at Cinnabon despite it being delicious.)  Note that these are available all day – not just at breakfast.

Conclusion

Speaking as a fast food fan who normally likes this sort of thing, I would not return to Taco Bell for breakfast.  The only good item is the Cinnabon Delights, which are available all day.  If you’re hungry and no other fast food places are convenient, the A.M. Crunchwrap isn’t a bad choice.  But it isn’t worth a special trip.

(Let me know in the comments if there are any other weird fast food items you would like me to review.)

Films Re-imagined as Ottoman Art

This slideshow is pretty entertaining.  Try to look at the pictures without reading the captions, and see how many you can identify.

Note that despite the title of the slideshow, these aren’t cult films.  They’re all well-known famous films, several of which I’ve already written about in the Movies We Still Care About series.

Fast Food Review – Domino’s Specialty Chicken

In addition to being a movie lover, I am also a connoisseur of fast food.  So I was excited to learn about Domino’s new “Specialty Chicken.”

I first heard about it in this Buzzfeed article, written by someone who hadn’t tried it and erroneously called it “fried chicken crust.”  And I realized I had to try it myself.

First off, they have nothing to do with pizza.  Get that notion right out of your head.  They’re chicken tenders covered in toppings, which include a bit of cheese.  They’re available in four flavors: Classic Hot Buffalo, Sweet BBQ Bacon, Spicy Jalapeno-Pineapple, and Crispy Bacon & Tomato.

I tried the Sweet BBQ Bacon and Spicy Jalapeno-Pineapple.  I figured that Classic Hot Buffalo would just be the same as boneless buffalo wings.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you already know if you’ll like that. I wanted to try something novel.  And I’m personally not a big fan of tomato, so I didn’t try the Crispy Bacon & Tomato flavor.

Appearance:

Here’s the picture that Domino’s food stylists are using:

Here’s an actual picture I took:

That's the BBQ Bacon on the left, Jalapeno-Pineapple on the right.
That’s the BBQ Bacon on the left, Jalapeno-Pineapple on the right.

So appearance wise they don’t look that great, and they were slightly burnt on the bottom.  I don’t know if that’s just something that happened with my order, or if the way they prepare these necessarily leaves burnt bits on the bottom. To clarify, it wasn’t the actual food that was burnt.  It was just some burnt bits (most likely cheese) that were stuck on.

But you don’t order Domino’s for its visual aesthetics.  You care about the taste.

Taste

The BBQ-Bacon version is pretty tasty.  Domino’s chicken tenders (which they refer to as “Boneless Chicken”) are already decent.  When you add cheese, sweet barbecue sauce, and bacon, that improves them enormously.  We had ordered ranch sauce on the side, but ended up not using it because the chicken, cheese, barbecue sauce, and bacon already combined their flavors perfectly, and the ranch would only upset the balance. I would definitely order this again.

The Jalapeno-Pineapple was amazing.  I would say that this is by far the best item on Domino’s menu.  You can’t see it from either of the photos above, but in addition to pieces of actual pineapple and jalapeno, it’s covered in some sort of pineapple-jalapeno jelly that’s incredible.

One word of warning: When they call it the Spicy Jalapeno-Pineapple Specialty Chicken, they aren’t kidding about the spicy part.  It was fine for me, but my wife found it too hot for her to keep eating.  (And that was after her first words upon tasting it were “Holy crap this is good!”)  So if you’re sensitive to spicy foods, you should stay away from this.  Which is a shame, because you’re missing out.

In conclusion, Domino’s has hit this one out of the park, and I will eagerly order these in the future.

(Until Domino’s decides to discontinue it, because they always seem to have an unfortunate tendency to mess with everything good on their menu.)