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Read What You Want to Write

January 14, 2015 2 comments

Should one read what one wants to write or should one read a variety to further what they want to write?

My initial reaction: variety.

Why? As an English student, I used to be offended by professors who trash talked genre fiction.

I am less offended now.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy genre fiction (a lot), especially science fiction and fantasy. However, I have a weird, loving relationship with literary classics from Nabokov as well as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, etc. I enjoy an occasional recent “literary” read as well.

It comes down to prose. There are great genre prose writers out there, but most genre fiction is mostly great story writing. In contrast, most literary fiction is made up of damn good prose.

I think I will continue to read a little of everything with the hope that it in some way helps my writing.

Thoughts?

My Fears of Even Authoring a Book

February 2, 2014 Leave a comment

I like to write.

So do, I don’t know, hundred of thousands of other people. One of my many struggles with keeping up with my own writing is my doubt. I doubt I am any better than the next “writer”.

Another fear I have is this: promoting myself. So, when I read a post by Kameron Hurley (a good science fiction author who I have tried my best to support by buying her books and following her blog), I was struck by the fact that I am not the only one who worries about this aspect of writing.

Here’s the link: “Surprise! I Have No Idea Your Book is Coming Out”

Kameron admits something I relate to entirely: she is an introvert.

I tend to feel like a lonely introvert in this world because I know very few people who are introverted. It almost appears that I have surrounded myself with extremely extroverted individuals. So, when one of the authors I look up to admitted that she, too, was an introvert, I looked at her words of wisdom just a little closer than normal.

If I am ever good enough to get published, I am going to have to promote myself, no matter how painful a task it is. It comes with the territory.

This got me to thinking about my last post: a book review on Hugh Howey’s Wool.

When I did some preliminary research on Hugh Howey before reading his novel, I found out that he wrote Wool in installments before it became a full novel. People actually read his story and wanted him to write more. They convinced him to put money and time into what he had created.

I wonder, did Hugh Howey in any way promote himself or was he one of the lucky ones Kameron Hurley mentions in her post? I would have to research it further, I am sure, or try to ask Hugh Howey himself.

Here is what I am now wondering: Can I bring myself to play the extroverted game one day and promote myself? How necessary is self-promotion in our every day lives now? Do we live in a world so centered around social media and gossip that we need people following us at every turn to succeed?

I want to here what others think.

 

Wool: A Review

January 25, 2014 Leave a comment

As this is my first review, I decided I would outline how I am going to “grade” what I read. I am sure this method will be tweaked with each review until it is perfected, but one always needs a starting point, right?

There will be a couple grading categories: the prose, the characters, the plot, the setting, the originality, and, the most subjective of all, how great a book it was to read. I will rank each from 1 to 5: 1 being low and 5 being high. Additionally, I will write a small blurb about each to justify my rankings. At the end, I will average all the rankings and give the book an “overall” score.

Quickly, the prose will refer to how well-written the book is. Simple writing will garner a lower score; sophisticated writing will garner a higher score. The characters will refer to how believable the novel’s characters were (again, a 5 indicating very believable and a 1 indicating less-than-believable characters). The plot will refer to the overall story arc (well-crafted plots will score higher and poorly thought out plots will score lower). The setting, of course, will refer to the setting…this will matter more when I review science fiction novels as they tend to have worlds which require, to an extent, well-thought out settings. The originality will refer to how original I find the novel to be: I know everything has been thought of before and there are likely books that could be compared to any of what I choose to read, but I will rank it on what I have read before. I am always willing to hear from other readers why or why not something is “original.” And, finally, how great a read the book is: I will rank this solely on how much I enjoyed reading the book. All categories are fairly subjective and, again, I am excited to hear other opinions. I will try my best to include examples from the novel to justify any of my categories.

So, let’s get to it.

Wool by Hugh Howey

From Hugh Howey's web site

From Hugh Howey’s web site

Background: I read this book for a reading group I will be attending soon. It was the first book on our list of “end of the world” novels, so I was looking forward to a strong start.

The Prose: 3 of 5
I almost feel bad ranking any part of this book lower than a 4 because I enjoyed it so much, but, if I am honest with myself, the writing was not exactly “sophisticated” by any means. However, I would not go so far as to say it was “simple.” Especially when I am going to rank this book higher in other areas. The author’s writing is the vessel for the characters, plot, and setting. If I follow this logic, then if the writing were “poor,” the other areas could not be held in high esteem.

The writing was not sophisticated, but it was not too simple either. I would consider it pretty average in terms of how well it flowed. It was not poetic, but it worked well enough to convey the characters and the story. The more important piece of the book, truly, is the characters.

The Characters: I liked most of the characters in the book. They were believable people. I don’t want to give much away, but the “primary” characters in each part were human. They had flaws, they had histories, they had life. Juliette grew on me (as I was a little unhappy with the shift in characters near the beginning of the book. Again, I don’t want to give anything away). There were a couple secondary characters that were slightly bland, in my eyes. Especially a character named Shirly. She sort of became important near the end of the novel and I was actually a little bored by her. She lacked some depth the other characters did. She had a recent history that the reader witnesses, but for some reason this history does not translate into any sort of empathy/sympathy from the reader. What saved these parts of the novel were other characters like Walker. He was also a secondary character who could have used some more depth, but he was interesting enough for me to wish I had more information about him. Even Solo, a character from other silo (explained below) made me want more, but when all is said and done, Hugh Howey did a great job crafting characters I cared to follow through an unfamiliar world.

The Plot: 4 of 5
Hugh Howey does a good job of crafting a believable story. In considering the plot, I am considering the crafting of the plot. How does Hugh Howey move the story along? Both effortlessly and frighteningly. At one point in the novel, I actually became afraid that I would not get to follow a certain set of characters for any length of time. But, somehow, Hugh Howey made me forget this fear almost effortlessly by introducing new, engaging characters as well as new layers of the story each time. I gave the plot a 4 because I felt the story moved along well. I was never bored. The story was always evolving in some way: the reader learned something new every chapter or so. When a writer can keep a story interesting at each turn of the plot, that writer should get a kudos.

The Setting: 4 of 5
I gave the setting a 4 as well because of the author’s story crafting. Any time a reader begins a new science fiction novel, the reader has to become acclimated to the new setting. A setting has to be immediately somewhat believable or it is harder to invest the time and attention to the story. Hugh Howey introduces his readers to the silo immediately by showing Holston, a main character, ascending the spiraling stairs inside the silo. In Wool, a silo is a large, underground city of people. There are numerous levels, each with housing and hydroponic farms. At the bottom of the silo, the mechanics work to keep the city running: power. At the top of the silo, the mayor works to keep the silo working in a different way. At the top of the silo is the door to the outside. Hugh Howey slowly introduces parts of the setting at each chapter and part, slowly fleshing out his unique world….

The Originality: 4 of 5
…Which leads me to originality. I gave the book a 4 once more because the setting is so good. I kept telling my dad while I read the book that it was so interesting. Hugh Howey truly conceives an “end of the world” scenario (which is revealed slowly) that is completely believable. As long as you can suspend your disbelief at the beginning that an underground silo can exist as a city, you can enjoy an incredibly engaging world. The silo is simply a large bunker.

Good Read: 5 of 5
You have probably already guessed that I enjoyed the book. It was one of the better science fiction books I have read in a while. I read it quickly. I found excuses to read it. I found extra time to read it. I wanted to read it all the time. I had minor issues with certain characters and certain shifts (near the beginning), but I found myself devouring the book (something that I find happening less and less the more I read).

Overall:

Although the writing was pretty average, the story was engaging. The setting was especially believable and entertaining (very important for any science fiction novel). The silos and the inner workings of the silos were well explained and conceived. The characters were believable and properly enraged/confused/unaware of their past (oh, they were very unaware of how humans got to be in silos).

I especially enjoyed the title of the book, Wool, which relates to the wool that “cleaners” use when they leave the silo and wash the camera lenses. This is pretty important: those who wish to leave the silo are taken out to clean. At the top of the silo is the entrance to the silo from outside. There are cameras looking out across a grey landscape. It is these cameras that need a nice cleaning every now and then. And those who choose to see the outside never come back. They go out to clean with wool…effectively pulling wool over the eyes of those inside (and, in turn, the wool is pulled over the cleaner’s eyes as it turns out).

Anyway, try the book out if you like end of the world stories. I welcome opinions.

Back Again

January 19, 2014 1 comment

It has been far too long since I blogged. I would like to give excuses (which would mostly include work), but it comes down to me not motivating myself. I have myself to blame. But, I am back.

I graduated almost two years ago, so it is time to move away from the musings of a recent English undergrad and toward musings on my favorite things: books, writing, and learning.

In the past year, I have read many books (Russian literature and science fiction alike). I have written a good amount of a potential novel. I have also began to teach myself Russian (a whole new adventure that I am enjoying as much as reading new novels).

This year, I want to share my writing experiences (the frustrations, the questions, the (hopefully) successes), my reading experiences (which means trying my hand at writing reviews), and my learning experiences (the difficulties of learning a language on my own). I hope anyone who still reads my blog and the new people who begin to read, find the above to be entertaining and interesting.

My first post (after this one) will be a review on Hugh Howley’s Wool, which I read for a reading group I will attend later in the month. Let me preface that post by saying that it was one of the more interesting science fiction novels I have read in the past year.

Where Are All the Book Clubs?

December 12, 2012 2 comments

I miss talking about literature in class, with my friends, and with my professors. I expressed this to my boyfriend and he suggested joining a book club.

At first, I scoffed. Book clubs are for housewives who want to gossip and read poorly written and poorly thought out novels. This, of course, is an unfair judgement to make.

So, I looked for some book clubs in my area and (not surprisingly) there are not that many. Really, we barely have any book stores around here, so people reading books is stretching it at best. And certainly few are reading books that I want to talk about: sci fi classics, Russian classics, modern sci fi, German classics, short stories, etc.

I looked around the web, briefly, hoping for something to stick out to me.

Nothing.

So, where are all the book clubs? Do they exist? And would they help give me some of the intellectual contact I want?

A Continuing Education Compromise

September 26, 2012 2 comments

When I graduated in May, I assumed I was about to be away from school for at least a year. In fact, I talked about my 1+ year plan extensively with my professors pre-graduation. Most of them supported the idea, telling me a break would be good for me, especially since I was in a major that didn’t need immediate continuation (I wouldn’t lose science knowledge or math skills with time off).

However, about two weeks after graduation, I realized I would miss school and class and learning far too much to just walk away. I started to think about grad school, as many of you know. In fact, I have applied for grad school (just waiting on one transcript and two letters of recommendation…plus the GREs). My thought process behind grad school is not the same thought process I had pre-graduation.

Before I graduated, I thought I would take a year to get the feel of the working world, then plunge myself into school fully once more. Now, I don’t like that idea. I like the idea of class, yes, but I don’t like the idea of school being my life once more. Instead, part-time grad school is more agreeable. However, I really couldn’t wait until spring to learn something new and to be stimulated. Thus, through my local continuing education program through the board of education, I am taking a seven week Russian I course.

It’s great so far (I have only had one class, though). It seems like the continuing education courses tend to be attended by older people, which makes me feel like an odd ball. I convinced my friend to join me though, so we are the only “under 50” members of the class, except for the teacher, who is a younger Russian woman (accent and all)!

I like the class because there is no pressure of a grade (which makes me more comfortable trying to actually pronounce things–an issue in high school). The teacher seemed impressed that I wanted to learn Russian because of my interest in Russian literature. “Have you read The Idiot yet?” she asked me. “No, but I am reading The Brothers Karamazov at the moment. I like Dostoevsky. Did I say that right?” “Dostoevsky, yes, that’s correct.”

For fun, she wrote our names in the Russian alphabet. Since there is no “H” in Russian, and no “Samantha” in Russian, the best she could come up with was “Samanta.” I’m fond of it.

I’m hoping this little education compromise for these seven weeks will blossom into a strong interest in the Russian language. Maybe I will be able to start reading some basic Russian sentences.

Here’s to a stimulated mind!

Again, more to come. I have so much to update after being away from my blog for far too long.

The Hunger Games: First Impressions

September 6, 2012 Leave a comment

I finished The Hunger Games. I’m not really sure what I think about it. It isn’t one of the books on my top 5 list, but it wasn’t dreadful. It wasn’t even bad. It was so-so, in my opinion at least. It wasn’t can’t-put-this-down worthy until about 60% through, when I finally caught the fire (a little like Katniss, maybe?) and devoured the rest of the novel. Although, I can’t say I did this because I loved it. I did it because, as someone said in a comment to my preceding post, the book has a good narrative. And, when you have a good narrative, with an interesting character, you can make your readers want to devour the book (don’t worry, I didn’t chew on my Nook).

What did the book have that was good? Like I said, it has a nice narrative and I think Collins did a good job of weaving in past events from Katniss’ life before the Hunger Games into the book without slowing down the action. On that note, Collins also does a good job of characterization. The characters that readers do become acquainted with (mostly Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch) seem at least slightly well-defined, although I can’t say that I know too much about the last two. However, our heroine is very much defined, which really is the most important. The book was also entertaining, which is important considering this was a bestseller.

What did the book not do well? Well, for one, as I’ve mentioned a few times in other posts, the prose is not good, but it’s at the level I would expect a young adult book to be at. And, well, it didn’t make me want to walk away three pages in (thanks, Twilight). Another thing the book didn’t do well, at least in my opinion, was be a dystopian novel. Boo at me if you wish, but the novel wasn’t dark enough, in my opinion, to be ranked along with The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, etc. Here is the issue I had: too many nice things happened to help the character out. When I think of my favorite dystopian tales, like the ones above, the main character isn’t given gifts to help them along. Hell, there isn’t even a slightly positive ending. Granted, The Hunger Games didn’t end with a happy, cheery ending, but it did appear to focus more on the fallout of a relationship (Katniss and Peeta, which is pretty young adult, which makes sense since that’s what it is) than it did on the possible impending doom from the Capitol, if there is any doom at all. Yes, I know that kids killed each other throughout the book….talking about dystopian literature and how this didn’t quite sate my thirst for it could be another post entirely, but I welcome thoughts. It is dystopian…ish. My idea is subjective however, and plenty of people say that this book is part of that genre, so I will stop whining about it.

I’ve read a few things about the second book in the series since I haven’t decided whether I will read it or not yet. It appears it is supposed to be darker than this novel (maybe), so perhaps it will have a stronger dystopic feel. I’m still undecided.

Reading The Hunger Games did allow me to feel at ease about Orwell. The book isn’t Orwellian. Yes, it has Orwellian-like themes (people being controlled, forced, watched, etc), but isn’t Orwellian in that it doesn’t feel like Orwell and it doesn’t feel influenced by him. The prose doesn’t match. The overall dark feel isn’t there as strongly (Katniss at least came out on top. The same can’t be said for Orwell’s characters in most cases).

At the very least, reading the novel has allowed me to get over any odd fear I had of reading a trendy book. I should have known better from my Harry Potter experience (aversion turned into absolute obsession), but now I know that reading a young adult book with not-so-great prose won’t kill me and I am happy to think that I am definitely no book snob.

What to read next, though? The next in The Hunger Games series? A Russian novel? A nice sci fi read? I’m not sure.

P.S. Thanks to all who commented on my last post about book snobs. I have much to chew on.