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Posts Tagged ‘george orwell’

Inspiration and Craft: Entering the Writer’s Life

March 15, 2015 2 comments

I am curious to know which novels and stories inspired authors and which helped hone their craft. It is part of what I am exploring in myself now as I continue to work on a (long-time-coming) novel of my own. Similarly, my short stories, which I have had more practice at writing, need the same reflection.

In college, I wrote a biography about George Orwell for my capstone. Not only was it immensely interesting to explore one of the authors who has had a profound influence on my own writing (thank you, 1984 and Down and Out in Paris and London, among others), but it made sense to understand his own influences. For the most part, it isn’t a story or a novel or an author that sparks the need/desire to write. At least, it doesn’t appear that way. For Orwell, his life in Burma afforded him the spark under his pants to finally get writing (something he enjoyed, but failed at before he writes Burmese Days).

Now, I don’t have a life experience that truly caused me to write. I have always wanted to write (don’t we all). I remember the desire snagging me in 1st grade when my teacher at the time would ask us to write stories based on prompts. Mine were always fantasy, granted, I was a child. My teacher then really pushed me and encouraged me to write. Ever since then, I have wanted to do it, and failed at it miserably. I like to think that part of it has to do with my influence and craft. I have the influence behind my chosen genre, but I don’t explore craft in a way that makes sense to my writing.

Hell, I have an English degree, yes. I have analyzed and broken down many a novel and story. But what has that done for my writing? In all honesty, I wasn’t paying attention to the analysis in a way to make it inform my own writing. I was paying attention to the analysis in a way to make it inform my mind. You can argue that it is one in the same. I disagree.

My reading tastes are unusual, to say the least. Russian classics, SciFi classics, modern SciFi, and a dash of Fantasy makes up my shelves for the most part. I did not read these types of novels and stories in college. These are not the stories and novels I analyzed. These are the stories that influence me daily, that excite me into considering my own plots. However, I have never looked at them as more than a platform from which to jump myself. Instead, I have missed possibly the most important offering these books have to offer me: craft. If only I had paid attention to them in a more serious, critical way before this point. I believe true craft comes from studying what makes your favorite novels great. What symbols did they use? How did they get to the denouement? Did they begin in media res?

Influence and craft is something I am going to begin exploring more in depth–what do my favorite author’s have to say about it?

I also want to know what other writers in the community think about their own experience. Does the simple act of reading inform our craft or do we need to look at what we read with a more critical lens?

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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.

What Is a Book Snob?

September 5, 2012 10 comments

Taken from BN.com

I mentioned in a recent post that I wanted to read The Hunger Games so that I could defend George Orwell. I’ve heard/read too many things declaring the series to be “Orwellian” and since my final semester at college was spend (mostly) studying Orwell enough to write a Dictionary of Literary Biography style bio on the man, I am interested in what makes the novel and the series so “Orwellian,” if anything.

I also mentioned in the same post that I wondered if I was a book snob by wanting to stay away from The Hunger Games as long as I could. I have tended to dislike book snobs. You know the ones: the ones who insist that the only books worth reading are by “true artists” such as Dickens, Melville, Hawthorne, etc.

Now, I got my degree in English and I don’t see what is great about some of the supposed greats, but I do like classics much more than I once did (hell, I’ve spent the summer reading through some of the great Russian classics). My English degree hasn’t made me like science fiction any less, however, and if anything, it has strengthened my love for it. There are positives to genre fiction, and, contrary to what a good book snob will tell you, they CAN be well written.

I started to think about what being a book snob means and if my aversion to The Hunger Games made me one of them. Then I saw this post on One Little Library linking readers to two articles about what type of readers there are. One specifically caught my eye since it’s been on my mind: The Book Snob. Here is the definition as defined by the article:

The Book Snob. You are hard to impress, Little Miss or Mister. You only read books that are well reviewed by critics that you have determined to be of the highest caliber. You would never stoop to read something on a best-seller list, or something sold in a discount department store, or something NOT GOOD. Paperbacks offend you; you only touch hardcover‚ÄĒpreferably, award-winning in some form or fashion.

Okay, so The Hunger Games is on the best-seller list, but that is not why I don’t want to read it. I’m not in the mood to deal with poorly written prose and I fear it will be as bad as Twilight, which I couldn’t even read past page 3. I told my friend Christy about my worries (she’s an English major and she has more wisdom than me since she’s older, so I go to her when I feel like I’m being too stubborn or rash). She told me: “I think when reading certain materials, the reader’s expectations need to be matched [to the material]. I didn’t go into it [The Hunger Games] expecting amazing writing, so I wasn’t paying attention. I do think that the content gives those of us with a critical mind a lot to chew on.” With that, I realized that it isn’t the prose I want to read the book for anyway. I want to read it to defend Orwell, who did have very nice, neat, concise prose.

I am hard to impress, like a book snob, but I don’t think that makes me a book snob. That doesn’t make anyone a book snob. We should be particular about the literature we read. After all, books are being published much more now that anyone can publish. The market is flooded. If we don’t have standards and don’t make it difficult to impress, then authors who don’t deserve to be best-sellers (just getting books sold because they are cheap) will become more standard than society should want. I don’t read books that are well reviewed (maybe I do, but I don’t even pay attention to reviews because I don’t care. If I am interested in a book, I will look at other readers’ testimonies and I will ask my friends). Lastly, I love paperbacks. I love to read them and give them dog-ears. I don’t have any room for hardcovers and I am far too cheap and poor to afford them anyway.

What is a book snob? Not what I am and not what many people are. I’m ready to read The Hunger Games; I am ready to defend Orwell if there are grounds to defend him on. But, mostly, I am ready for this mini break that I hope the first book will give me. I need a little light reading anyway before I tackle some more Russian literature.