Posts Tagged ‘books’

exhibit A: normal, happy reactions

I’m sad that Crabby Old Fart has folded up his blog on The Problem With Young People, especially since he never covered the topic that’s been bothering me: The problem of non-excited kids these days. I’ve noticed this lack of excitement for years now, but let’s take more recent events like last weekend for example. Halloween being on a Sunday prompted me to throw a Halloween party for my eleven year old and her friends. The party started late afternoon and at dusk they went trick or treating. I asked my daughter the next day after she came home from school if her friends had a good time. “I don’t know, they didn’t mention it.”

Ah ha, same as last month when I threw her birthday party, no one mentioned it then either. No recaps or reenactments, nada. Where’s the enthusiasm? Before you accuse me of throwing uneventful parties, I must inform you that this is an epidemic everywhere. Even Halloween itself is on steroids nowadays in hopes to motivate some excitement, e.g., media hype, commercialism, and costumes—no more plastic Casper masks, no siree.

scratch A., exhibit B is much easier on the eyes

When I was a kid, it was about the candy and how much of it we could get. Decorations were limited to carved pumpkins and costumes were homemade. Not anymore, Now retailers must keep shaking things up to stimulate reaction out of these not-easily-amused kids. Disneyland tries, bless them. But back when they weren’t trying as hard (back when you handed over a ticket for rides. Oh, no. I feel so old), it really was the “Happiest Place On Earth”. It showed on the kids’ faces. Now it’s double-sized, overpriced and overcrowded and kids aren’t talking about it the next day at school.

In fact, it’s like pulling teeth to find out what some kids did over the summer. I usually ask the parents and usually the summer vacations they had were scream worthy: overseas trips, mission trips, etc., heck, they could’ve rocketed to space and back and I’d never get the kid  to confess.

I don’t know what’s gotten into kids these days, but I find it very disturbing their lack of cheer. Like how can I profit from these future readers of my books if they can’t get excited about it enough to spread the joy? (I know. You thought I was actually concerned for the mental state of today’s youth and not about making a buck. Thank you for thinking so highly of me. It makes me warm and tingly and even excites me.)

When I was a kid and finished a book I liked, I’d talk about it for months. I’d shout my love for it from the rooftops. And the books I’d read I’d chosen from the praises of other rooftop criers. But today’s kids are tomorrow’s readers of my book (and yours) and the way they are behaving right now it could be the best damn book they ever read and no one would ever know it.

Have you noticed this trend? What’s wrong? Is word-of-mouth extinct?  Can we fix it? Put it on the endangered lists?

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Last week, I chose 10 books at random from my bookshelves and wrote their first sentences. This week, I selected 10 books whose first sentences hooked me. Like I said last week, some I’d read, some not. Some I liked, some not.

 I’ll deconstruct the first sentences as to why they hooked me. My comments are in italics.

 Regarding the death of James Bradley Stomarti: what first catches my attention is his age.—Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen Now I need to know why the age is of importance.

 I’m in a car park in Leeds when I tell my husband I don’t want to be married to him anymore.—How to be Good by Nick Hornby It’s the passivity of the writing that hooked me, because it’s contrary to the scene.

 I’m thinking of asking the servants to wax my change before placing it in the Chinese tank I keep on my dresser.—Naked by David Sedaris When a humor author grabs you by the throat with humor in the very first sentence, you know it won’t disappoint.

 There was nobody there to meet him.—The Outcast by Sadie Jones Why not? I already care and it’s one sentence into the story

 When I was a little girl I used to dress Barbie up without underpants.—High Five by Janet Evanovich Same reason I gave for David Sedaris. Janet will make me laugh. She just promised in the first sentence.

 I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.—A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving  I love this opening. He’s so casual about mentioning his mother’s death and the boy who caused it, yet it’s huge. In fact, this book is so good, I’ve read it twice—I never do that.

 In the hospital of the orphanage—the boys’ division at St. Cloud’s, Maine—two nurses were in charge of naming the new babies and checking that their little penises were healing from the obligatory circumcision.—Cider House Rules by John Irving  Action and setting: all there in one sentence.

 In nineteen minutes, you can mow the front lawn, color your hair, watch a third of a hockey game.—Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult This is a nice set up. You know something else—not so innocent—will be happening in the span of nineteen minutes.

 The last two below were in last week’s random picks post. I happened to like these two openings so they get another mention.

 They were both working their final shift at Blackjack Pizza that night, although nobody but the two of them realized it was that.—The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb I love the foreshadowing

  I am a cheerful man, even in the dark, and it’s all thanks to a good Lutheran mother.—      Wobegon Boy by Garrison Keillor Again, that thing about humor. This says I’m in for a good time. It’s my favorite opening of all that I have on my bookshelves. It shows you I’m partial to humor.


Do you have any favorites you’d like to share? What of these?

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I have the Telegraph to thank for today’s post. I had an idea for a topic I wanted to address, but this came along, …”Dan Brown’s 20 Worst Sentences,” and I just had to share. http://tinyurl.com/r6tye2 . It seems the two most bashed authors these days are Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer. They are loved or hated as discussed in my last post. Loved by the general reading public and hated by critics in the publishing industry. The more masses to love them, the more the industry will bash them.

I can see both sides of the issue. As a general reader, I read Angels and Demons, and The Da Vinci Code long before the hysteria. No one was complaining as much back then. I read them with the focus on entertainment and never noticed the flaws that are magnified by today’s critics. I aborted my efforts on Twilight only because I saw the movie before I finished the book and that always spoils it for me. You can bet I’ll read it again with a critical eye for what the fuss is about.

I don’t discount the critics, either. As a writer hoping to be published, I know how hard it is—all of it: writing, re-writing, the query, finding an agent—so it won’t go unnoticed when someone puts forth less effort with an undeserved bestselling result. However, when I read the Telegraph’s article on Dan Brown’s 20 worst sentences, I realized that those are simple mistakes that a critique group and an editor could’ve easily solved. I pictured making some of those mistakes and I’m pretty confident my critique group would have called me on them. That’s all he needed. It’s all Ms. Meyer needed, too. They are great storytellers in need of beta readers and editors. And in some cases just left alone. Take for example number 20, of the 20 worst sentences. I’m currently reading a novel right now by a famous and respected author who does many such “offenses” as the one below.

20. Angels and Demons, chapter 1: Although not overly handsome in a classical sense, the forty-year-old Langdon had what his female colleagues referred to as an ‘erudite’ appeal — wisp of gray in his thick brown hair, probing blue eyes, an arrestingly deep voice, and the strong, carefree smile of a collegiate athlete.

They say the first rule of fiction is “show, don’t tell”. This fails that rule.

And then there’s this one.

15. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: As a boy, Langdon had fallen down an abandoned well shaft and almost died treading water in the narrow space for hours before being rescued. Since then, he’d suffered a haunting phobia of enclosed spaces – elevators, subways, squash courts.

Other enclosed spaces include toilet cubicles, phone boxes and dog kennels.

 What did they want him to do, name every single enclosed place there is?

I see some of the other points critics noted and I cringe at most of them, especially number one. But by the looks of it, he’s clearly, and unfairly, picked on. These aren’t mistakes made on one book, but four. Approximately 2000 pages and those are the worst they came up with? He should be commended, not condemned. Surely if we look hard enough we can find mistakes in all the novels we read. If not mistakes, then poor word choices or a misplaced thought

I didn’t read all 691 comments on the article. In fact, I only read the first five. My favorite was the comment that pointed out all the grammar errors in the article itself—errors, I believe, that are worse than those that were criticized. Way to go stephen-comment from Oct. 26,  10:04am. Check it out.

I appreciate flawless writing as much as the next guy/gal, but tell me, would you rather read a gripping story with some clumsy sentences, or a masterpiece of prose that’s a cure for insomnia? (That masterpiece, btw, may have a poor word choice or two, but nobody talks about those.)



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I’m getting into the good habit of writing a brief review for books I’ve read on my Goodreads (see side bar). I’m getting into the bad habit of taking a bad book personally, as if its inability to woo me is a personal insult. I think part of that behavior stems from having so many books on my “to read” list that I get pissed off if I waste time on one I don’t like.

I started a new shelf on Goodreads called “aborted efforts.” I hope to utilize that shelf more in the future instead of wasting my time on something that doesn’t float my boat. There is only one problem with aborted efforts and that is hurt feelings. Worse than seeing a bad review of your work is seeing someone couldn’t stomach to finish it. Yikes.

After I post my review, I read what others had to say and I’m starting to see a pattern. Those books I’m most emotional about—good or bad—have the widest ranging views. For instance, if I loved a book and gave it five stars, I then notice about half the other reviewers also gave it five stars and the other half one star. Sure there would be a trickle or two in the three star range but the pendulum pretty much swings to the far sides. The books I give three star ratings also have abundance of three stars from other reviewers.

This lends the question of if ever I am fortunate to have my book read and reviewed, which would I like more: to be liked by all? Or be loved, cherished, and praised by as many people who hated, banished, and ridiculed it? I know that bad publicity sells as many books as good publicity. In fact, I admit to reading books just because of the emotional outcry of its horribleness more than its wonderfulness. I want to see what the fuss is about and why so many feel so strongly about its awfulness. (My overuse of –ness is not lost on me. I’m aware of it and feel like breaking a rule. Let’s just be thankful I’m not making up new words today.)

Would the fanfare of love be worth the hate I must endure? But in answer to my earlier question I think I’d choose the strong emotions one-star/five-star response over the safe three-star. Which would you choose?

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Nathan Bransford asked a few posts ago, “If you could be a character in any book, who would it be?”

He had a lot of responses, some I was close to wishing for, but to this day, I still can’t think of who I would want to be. It seemed most responses leaned to fantasy, entering a netherworld of some sort. The closest I could imagine would be a character in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. But that was chocolate inspired—not character,

I also thought I’d want to be Garrison Keillor, but he’s a real person. And the more I thought, the more “real” people I came up with. I also came up with characters that I identified with, but still I wouldn’t want to be them. I identify with Forrest Gump (in the book more than the movie) because of the mishaps he creates (see last post), and when I do something stupid, I say to myself, “I is just an idiot.”  But I would not want to be him.

What about you? Is there a character you would want to be? Identify with?

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In reference to my last post, Bookshelves, I have this question: How on God’s green earth can I even have a bookshelf if the world is going Kindle on me? If I were the type to read a book then store it away in a box in the attic then I might be a candidate for Kindle. I get how they could be great for travel: finish a book on the plane then buy a new one and begin a new story—cool. Same with itunes—great for travel. But I know where it’s headed: the same direction albums went. And photo albums. Nowadays everything is downloaded and stored in invisible places that require usernames and passwords to assess. Photographs on computers, books on Kindle, and music on ipod.

In the old days (like just a few years ago) you could walk into someone’s house and have conversation pieces displayed everywhere. Guest looking at gigantic album sleeve: “Aw, I see you like The Bay City Rollers, too.” Now, looking at a picture on the mantle: “And who is this cute little cat? He looks just like you.” Now looking at bookshelf: “Oh, you have an autographed first edition of Phyllis Diller’s Guide to Housecleaning, too? My goodness we have so much in common”

Technology has now made snooping into other’s lives that much more challenging—and I don’t like it.

And worse, technology requires more sitting tying to learn it all, thus causing extra, irreversable poundage of thy hips and thighs.

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