Book Reviews

Random Thoughts

I. According to a 2013 study done by the Pew Research Center, the average American adult reads (or listens to) 12 books a year. I’ve read 11 so far, and that number seems so puny. I’m currently in the middle of The Veins of the Ocean, The Paper Magician, The Drawing of the Three, and I just started Crafting Novels & Short Stories: The Complete Guide to Writing Great Fiction. So, I know that number is on the rise, but I wish I hadn’t wasted so  much of this year NOT reading.

II. Speaking of Crafting Novels & Short Stories, I’ve started writing. Aside from keeping up this blog, I’ve also been jotting ideas down for fiction. I’ve never been a good writer, I don’t think. I’ve received minor praise in the past for some class assignments – a short story or a poem here and there, but if we’re being honest, my attempts are often remedial and mundane. But the summer I turned 30, we went to the beach, and one night I sat on the back porch and wrote an entire story about one of the most important relationships of my life. And I’m actually very proud of it. Since then, I’ve had other ideas here and there, and I feel like now is the time to start writing them down. I want to see where they can go with a little guidance, direction and editing. I’m excited. I hope I don’t suck.

III. I said before that I don’t want too much structure to this blog, but I do want to make a goal to write enough to have a post every weekday. I’m pretty far behind in my Book Reviews, and there a few projects I’m planning for around the house that I’d like to share. I’m praying that my summer slows down enough so that I can sit down with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, and really commit to this. Not for any outward plans, but just because writing a little bit every day help you become a better writer, a better communicator.

I have a terrible memory, and I make jokes all the time that I’m losing words, but as I get older, the jokes become less funny and take on a slightly serious, slightly scary tone. I don’t want to lose words anymore. I want to keep them, hold them, cherish them, use them.

So I want to use this little corner of the Internet to keep my words from leaving me. I hope that’s okay. I hope it works.

Book Reviews · DNF · Random Thoughts

Random Thoughts III and My First DNF: Beautiful Creatures

Become a Better Writer by Learning to Become a Skilled Reader First

I came across this surprisingly poignant article on reading and writing. The first section, “Skip Sections”, struck a cord with me. The images of the eye-tracking study are particularly familiar, as I am regularly guilty of reading only bolded and bulleted information in long blog/web entries.

Then came the “Quit Altogether” section. I’ll get to that in a moment.

The remainder of the article, which I did actually read in detail, was very smart with helpful tips and inspiring quotes. I’m sure I’ll go back and read it again (see: Nabokov, Vladimir), and perhaps take notes (see: Parrish, Shane). I love the idea of reading material outside of one’s comfort zone, which is partially what this little project of mine is all about. Sure I have some favorites authors in here, but memoirs and essays? Historically, those have not been my bag, baby.

Anyway, I definitely recommend the article, so have at it.

DNF: Beautiful Creatures

I can’t remember the first time I saw the trailer for Beautiful Creatures, but I do remember that I was very excited. Southern Gothic? Check. Supernatural? Check. Decent Acting Talent? Check.

Because the movie was based on a YA novel, and because YA novels are notoriously “easy” reads, I decided to check out the book first. I downloaded a sample chapter onto my Kindle and, within 3 pages, decided not to finish it in that medium.

I thought perhaps listening to it would be better, the reader potentially giving it more depth with his performance. I purchased it through Audible, and listened to about 45 minutes (one commute to work) before deciding that, no, the narrator added nothing.

So I caved and rented the movie the other day, thinking perhaps it would give me more insight, and I could go back to the audiobook afterward. But unfortunately, the plot and dialogue were just too convoluted and stunted, respectively, to warrant any more time. It’s unfortunate, really.

So. I quit altogether. “Reading is meant to be a fun activity. Your brain doesn’t want to slog through something it finds boring.” Or offensive. There’s too much good stuff out there that I haven’t read yet to spend anymore time on something so dreadfully, depressingly boring.

Firstly, I know that I am not Shakespeare, or Faulkner, or Gaiman. I write this little blog for fun, to improve my skills, and if I raise a decent amount of money, I’m happy. So, please know that I am fully self-aware when I give this next criticism.

The writing is bad. Like SO bad. Like O.M.G. bad. The Stereotypes. And Tropes. Are bad.*

The dialogue, the names, everything just smacks of my first attempts at writing short stories in high school. Any southerner, teenager, or black person who reads it should be offended. You have to hide your NYT so your town doesn’t judge you? Everyone still calls the Civil War the War of Northern Aggression or the War Between the States? A mammy magical negro? REALLY?

No thank you. So for the first time in a long time, I Did Not Finish. I highly recommend skipping all iterations of this trashy attempt at cashing in on the Twilight craze.

*Game of Thrones Season 3 Spoilers

Random Thoughts

Here I am, Back Home Again

I bet you thought I’d forgotten you. I did not. I’ve finished about 6 books in the past 4 months. Admittedly, that puts me very far behind on this project, but I’m working hard to catch up. You’ll be seeing reviews of the following over the next few days:

In between my Mad Men rewatch and recovery from my wisdom teeth extractions, I promise to catch up. Somehow. I’m about 16 books behind, but that’s why God created audiobooks, amirite?

Random Thoughts

Random Thoughts II

+ I have officially read as many books this year as I did last year. I don’t feel like that means much, other than the fact that I’m reading more. I don’t feel terribly accomplished or smarter. I have, however, been enjoying the challenge more than I expected I would. Reading doesn’t ever feel like homework. I guess that’s because I’ve chosen books I know I’ll like. Of course, there are a few books that continue to hang out in my “Currently Reading” list ::cough::Great Gatsby::cough::Devil In the White City::cough:: because I lose interest and pick up something shinier and newer ::cough::The Night Circus::cough. But even the lingering books manage to win me back eventually. 

There are nights now when I choose not to even touch the TV remote, and these nights constantly surprise me. Usually they are nights when Eric won’t be home until after 9:00 and I know I can get a solid amount of reading done. In the past, I would have chosen to watch TV, because I have several guilty pleasure shows that Eric not only refuses to watch, but will not even stay in the room for. These shows are backlogged now, and that’s fine. I’m sure Elena hasn’t finished choosing between Damon and Stefan, and Emma hasn’t saved Storybrook from Regina yet, so I’m not missing much. And I love rediscovering that passion I had as a kid, when all I wanted to do was sit and read for hours. I mentioned previously that I wasn’t back to that point yet, but I’m feeling closer.

Eric and I took a trip this weekend with some friends and we had a fabulous time. We played board games, watched movies, went shopping – this was all fantastic. But also fantastic was the 45 minutes I spent on Saturday afternoon, curled up in a blanket on the porch, sipping a stout (it’s a new thing I’m doing – I drink stouts now), reading The Night Circus; or the hour I spent in bed on Sunday morning, quiet but for rare soft snores next to me, inching closer to finishing The Night Circus. The Night Circus was a book I hated putting down. It reminded me of when I devoured Lord of the Rings my senior year of high school. Of course I felt that way about The Hunger Games trilogy last Christmas, but this was different. This imaginary pull to finish the book was more satisfying, and I can’t explain why. Maybe I’ll have a better understanding later. I do have 45 more books to go, after all.

+ I purchased Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (WITAWITAR) from Audible on a whim. It was an inexpensive book that I could potentially listen to on my drive to and from the cabin this weekend. I don’t consider myself a runner in practice. I haven’t run since last summer for so many reasons (excuses), and even when I was running, I walked a lot. But when runners talk about running, and when they talk about a shared feeling that only runners feel – I can relate. So I wanted to hear what one of the world’s living literary legends had to say about it. He has a lot to say, and I’m really loving it. It’s quite inspiring. If I have the time before I actually finish the book, I’ll write a proper Notes on Reading post, but until then, I just wanted to jot down my thoughts on it. Murakami is charming and funny, which I suppose shouldn’t be surprising. I thought maybe this book would be a sort of self-help inspirational. It is not, or at least not in the obvious sense. I call it inspiring, of course, but it isn’t forced. WITAWITAR is a very sweet, very personal memoir from an aging runner, and it makes me want to lace up my shoes and hit the pavement again.

Random Thoughts

Random Thoughts I

+ I’ve been at this little project for about a month, and I’m pretty happy with how it’s progressing. Since starting Jen Can Read, I’ve canceled my cable (again), and when I run out of current episodes of my favorite shows on Hulu I find myself choosing to pick up a book rather than find a movie to watch. When I was younger, I used to spend hours devouring every type of fiction, from Wyatt Earp and Johnny Tremaine to The Baby-Sitter’s Club: Kid Sister. The idea of sitting in silence, completely focused on one story for hours and hours was not strange or daunting, but thrilling. I haven’t completely found my way back to that unbridled delight, but I have certainly learned to relish a 30 minute respite from the constant communication and noise that is so very prevalent in my life. So, while this project is aimed at a higher purpose, on a personal level I’m really enjoying it.

+ Gone Girl is still slow going for me, but after talking with a friend who has already read it, I have a renewed sense of purpose. I’d already guessed the twist about a quarter of the way through it, and my friend confirmed my suspicion. I know, SPOILERS! But in doing so, she helped me figure out how to read it – i.e. not the WHAT but the HOW. This will all make more sense once I write the review, I’m sure, so please bear with me. Regardless, I’m trying to finish the book this week.

Actually, most of the other books on my Currently Reading list, including American Gods, are paused for the moment until I finish Gone Girl. I have such a distaste for it at the moment, that I feel if I don’t finish it as quickly as possible, I won’t ever want to. Apparently this is blasphemy to the whole internet, the entire population of which thoroughly enjoyed the novel, and I am broken and crazy because I don’t. But that’s alright – to each his own.

+ I listened to NPR on the radio this morning on my way into work. They did a story on the declining sales of the Barnes & Noble Nook. Apparently the Chairman and chief stockholder, Leonard Riggio, is planning to buy the BN stores, but NOT the Nook. Here’s the article that better explains it. What this means, potentially, is that Microsoft and a company called Pearson can spend their money improving the Nook and making it more competitive in the iPad/Kindle market, while the Riggio can focus on the brick-and-mortar stores and make them more competitive with Amazon, killer of all things brick-and-mortar*.

So today during my lunch break, I decided to go buy a real paper-and-ink book from a real brick-and-mortar store. I realize it would have been far better to shop at an independent book store, but things be as they are and my office being smack dab in the middle of urban sprawl, I did not have that luxury. I bought Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution, a very brief 131 page – is novella the right word? – novella. I’d like to have a little more regular content up, so buying a few shorter books and supporting a real-life book store, massive (dying) conglomerate though it may be, seemed the right route to go. So, I have a teeny tiny book that I plan to read on my lunches this week, and hopefully I’ll have more than one review comin’ atcha soon.

*Like I can really judge. Let’s be honest, I own a Kindle Fire and buy eBooks from them on the reg, and at Christmastime, I use my AmEx points to buy ALLTHEPRESENTS on amazon.com.