Apparently reading begets more reading, because rather than read the one new book I promised this month, I've read three: A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing, all part of the same trilogy by Libba Bray. Before I get to what I thought about the books, here are a few things I've realized since beginning this challenge of mine:
- I can definitely make time to read one book a month.
- Not only can I make time to read one book a month, but if I set my mind to it I can make time to read three books in a week.
- I can also make time during that week for writing, as I wrote more in the days after I read these books than I have in a long while. Reading does in fact inspire writing! Who knew? ;)
Now back to the books themselves. Here's the synopsis of A Great and Terrible Beauty from www.libbabray.com:
It’s 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma’s reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she’s been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence’s most powerful girls—and their foray into the spiritual world—lead to?
First of all, I actually did not realize these were young adult books before I read them. A Great and Terrible Beauty was recommended to me, and I simply procured a copy from the library before doing any research on the content. That being said, though I intended to try to read books geared towards my age range, the genre doesn’t bother me. I may be a 25 year old woman with two kids, but I’ve always enjoyed the YA genre, and will probably continue to do so for the rest of my life. Call me young at heart.
Like any work, this trilogy has its likable side and its unlikable side (at least in my opinion). We'll start with the latter, just so we can end on a positive note.
- Poor Reliability of Characters. I understand that people don't work in black and white. Nobody is all good or all bad, but some mixture of the two. I have no problem with this being displayed in writing because it reflects reality. However, I do take issue when the characters are so back and forth that you have no idea who to trust. There was an air of mystery throughout this series, particularly in the second and third books. The identity of certain villains in these two remain unknown until the very end--another element that I didn't mind. But as I read, I found myself wishing that there was one person--just ONE--that I knew for certain was on the main character's (MC's) side. Perhaps this was intentional on the author's part, but to me, that got old pretty quickly. When reading a book, we should be able to learn which characters to trust, rather than just being told who to trust. Imagine if, in the Harry Potter series, every character had been as difficult to figure out as Severus Snape (to a milder degree if course, because there can be only one Severus Snape). That's what this trilogy was like.
- Stagnancy of Supporting Characters. The MC is the most affected by internal change throughout the books. However, while the reader does see changes occur in the other characters, these changes all seem lumped together in the last few chapters of the trilogy. Apart from this, the friends and family of the MC stay largely the same. I would have preferred to have seen a gradual growth process throughout the whole of the trilogy.
- Unnecessary Sexualization. Get ready; I'm about to reveal what a "prude" I am. These books aren't even close to being erotica. There are probably 6-8 scenes in the entire trilogy that include sexual ideas and language: mostly little fantasies or visions taking place in the MC's head. I'll be 100% honest and say that any type of sex in books usually makes me uncomfortable, so my perspective may be skewed. But the problem that I had here wasn't that sexual content existed, but rather that it was unnecessary. Typically I see authors use sex as a way to show characters growing closer romantically instead of showing that growth through nonsexual interaction (which is a whole 'nother issue), but in this case there wasn't even a lack of closeness apart from sex. The characters' attraction to one another and their increasing closeness was apparent without any help from the sexual fantasy department. In my opinion, the books themselves benefited very little from the inclusion of these scenes, and the scenes added virtually nothing to the plot, the characters or the reader's understanding of those characters. If you want to include sexually charged scenes in your books, then feel free to do it. But like any other element, make it have purpose. Make it mean something or affect something. Otherwise, it's unnecessary.
- Well-written. In spite of the fact that there were aspects of these books that I didn't like, they were all well-written. Libba Bray has a unique style that captures the reader's attention and holds interest. Also, so much of her figurative language was on point. She made comparisons I never would have thought of, but were accurate and beautiful all at once. I give her props for that!
- Themes of Women's Rights and Disadvantages. Taking place from the viewpoint of a young woman in the late 1800's, this trilogy includes several allusions towards suffragettes and issues facing women in that time period, including (low) cultural expectations, lack of basic freedoms, and oppression by a patriarchal system. Many of these issues still resonate in the modern world, making these allusions even more thought-provoking. Libba Bray executed this seamlessly and artfully, driving home the point without seeming like she was trying to preach. She tackled a heavy issue without once standing on a soapbox or turning her writings into political drivel, which I appreciate and applaud.
- Believable Characters: Yes, as I said earlier, I did not like that the characters seemed unreliable and untrustworthy. That being said, however, I do feel the characters were realistic, even if I wasn't sure what to make of them. No character was one-note. From the heroine to the villains, every person had good and bad notes, which reflects reality.
- Unique. I've read a lot of books, but I've never read one quite like this one. I don't want to give too much away to people who haven't read it and may want to. All I'll say is that I appreciated Bray's unique take on magic, friendship, and the time period.
The Final Verdict:
All of the above are just my opinions of course, which is why I've labeled the sections "The Unlikable" and "The Likable" rather than "Bad" and "Good." For my conclusion, I look to Oscar Wilde. His assertion in today's quote is that only a book you'd read over and over again is worth reading at all. Would I read this trilogy again? In all honesty, probably not. But does that mean I felt reading it was a waste of time? No! I enjoyed the books and I'm glad I read them. They spurred me to write and offered inspiration, plus they made me think. Though I wouldn't say I loved them, I did like them and I appreciated them for what they were. If you enjoy YA and fantasy, I would certainly recommend the Gemma Doyle Trilogy to you. And keep reading! Read books even if you might never read them again. You can almost always learn something. Sorry, Mister Wilde, but I think you're a bit off on this one.
Today's Prompt: Write a short story based on a book you've read over and over again. Use the same characters and setting, but create your own adventure.
Guilty. Between writing, blogging, graphic design, household duties, raising two kids and the vague hope of a social life, my hands and schedule are decidedly full. Reading tries to climb up the priority list, but usually gets knocked down by the multitude of other responsibilities that require attention. And yet, reading is something I love--something I hate to go without. When I don't read, the impact on my creativity is tangible. My efficiency as a writer obviously shifts, and I think I know why: There exists a connectedness between we who work in words. It's as if we're all sharing our creativity: reading others' pieces to spark our imaginations, and then in turn producing material that will stir some other writer's thoughts. We require inspiration to inspire--like we must take in a breath in order to breathe one out. Unfortunately, the business of life often gets in the way and we're left wanting for air, wheezing out our lines and pages.
I've decided to make an initiative for myself and anyone else who needs to take a breath: It may be a small step, but I'll be reading one new book a month. The emphasis is on "new" because I have a funny habit of reading the same few books repeatedly. Why, I couldn't say, but my husband teases me mercilessly over this quirk of mine. Hopefully, exposure to some new material will inspire me even more than (or at least as much as) the books I've come to know as old friends. If you're having trouble finding time to read, and especially if you're also finding your work to be lagging (as I have been), try jumping in on this challenge with me. I'll let you know what I plan to read before I begin, and it'd be awesome to have a discussion about the book when the month is up. Feel free to join me.
As for the month of September, I'm open to suggestions. What've you got?
Today's Prompt: Write a short story set in a world in which people only communicate through the exchange of written fiction (books, poetry, short stories, etc.)
Today's quote is simple and sweet. Write the book you want to read. If there's a story you've thought of and wished existed, the burden falls to you alone. No one else can tell your story. Until you write it down, the only place it exists is in your head--and it's not doing anyone any good in there, is it? So get it out on paper and share it with the rest of us. ;)
Today's Prompt: Write a story from first person perspective, with other characters, but absolutely no external dialogue. The entire story must be told strictly from within the character's mind.
Funny to think that we today could have so much in common with a dead ex-president, huh? I love books. But Thomas Jefferson was next-level hardcore in his book obsession, I have to admit. His library at Monticello has been described as having "several thousand volumes classed according to subject and language..." (Sir Augustus John Foster). THOUSANDS Of books. Cue my jealousy. I wish I had the space and money for that; I wish I had a whole room to devote to a growing library, complete with a Beauty-and-the-Beast-style rolling ladder. Life would be utterly complete (though my library never would)! So does anyone else have the same Disney-inspired life goal? What kind of books would you put in your library? Maybe you'll give me some ideas. ;)
Today's Prompt: Write a short story that takes place in a public library.
Once, my backyard was Narnia. The trees had minds of their own; resident pets spoke in voices only I could hear. In my hot-and-cold Louisiana winter, snow never came because I had defeated the White Witch, the Pevensie children by my side. And in the fall, when our bonfire pile grew high with sticks and scraps, it wasn't just a pile. No, it was the Lonely Mountain, and my charge was to defend it from dragonfire. From the ground, Smaug looked like a harmless sparrow in the sky, but I knew better. The fate of the Lonely Mountain—even of Middle Earth—was in my hands. I wouldn't let it burn.
That was my creative reading, manifested in the veritable wonderland behind my one-story suburban house. Now that I'm older, I can't go scrambling up piles of sticks or whispering to the trees. I can't pass off pebbles as the dwarf-king's gold, but my mind still builds around the words I read, even if my body is at rest. When immersed in a book, I imagine the scene, the characters—even myself included in the pages.
I am a creative reader, through and through. And that exercise of my imagination makes me a better writer. Creativity is like a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it gets. So when you read, don't resign yourself to being an outsider. Instead, take part in the story by accessing your imagination. Let yourself be transported to a different world and see if it doesn't make a difference in the world to which you belong. You might just find that the next world you create is just a little better than the one before.
Today's Prompt: Read a chapter in another author's book or a short story. Now imagine yourself as a key player in that story, and write it again from your perspective. How is the story different now that you're there?
I've been writing sluggishly lately. Most of the time, it feels like I'm running through my story, but recently it's been more like slogging through molasses with cinder blocks tied to my feet. Yes, it is as unpleasant as it sounds. The good (and bad) news is, I'm not alone. Everyone goes through periods like this. And if you don't, you're some kind of super-writer and don't need to be reading writing blogs anyway!
When I go through these tough times, I have a go to solution—I read. Like Pinter said, good writing excites me. In a good book, I find more than entertainment. There's inspiration, knowledge, and encouragement. Sometimes reading a few chapters of someone else's work does more for my creative process than sitting at a computer staring at my own.
If you're going through a hard time with your writing, take a step back. Walk away from the keyboard and into someone else's world for a little while. You might just find that reading their words motivates you to write your own.
Needless to say, I'm open to book recommendations. Any suggestions, readers?
Today's Prompt: Write a short sci-fi story that includes visitors from another planet.
I grew up considering literature to be the kind of works I read in English class: Romeo and Juliet, The Scarlet Letter, Catcher in the Rye. Even In my free time, I enjoyed similar works (and still do). My taste has always been broad, however, so I also liked other things. More "commercial" things, like Pendragon, Harry Potter, and pretty much anything else I could get my book-loving hands on. I loved to read. I would read toilet paper packages if there was nothing else around. Instruction manuals. Nutrition facts. And in my mind, I knew these things were "literature," but they weren't… Literature. Please read that last word in a snobby-sounding, accented voice, because that's totally how I said it.
Merriam-Webster appears to agree with Growing-Up Me on that:
So there's literature, and then there's less-than-literature. We even make a distinction between "literary" and "commercial" fiction, as though one is related to literature and the other is simply business-based, somehow; as though their intrinsic value relates to different things.
Well. Since leaving the academic world, I've learned a thing or two, and I have to say to Merriam-Webster, Growing-Up Me, and most of my English teachers/professors:
Literature (snobby accent again) is not the only literature out there. It's not the only type of writing with literary value. I've seen blog posts more beautiful than some canonized works. There have been advertisements that made me cry. There's even been—yes—graffiti that made me think more intensely than Dickens or Hemingway could (not that I don't dig those two, because I do).
Don't get me wrong; I'm not one who thinks all art is created equal. Obviously there are some works that are better than others. But who decides that? And who decided that means that only the "best" are literature and the rest are tossed into the not-quite-literature-but-almost pile? The truth is that anything written can be beautiful and worthwhile, because language in itself is beautiful and worthwhile—no matter the format.
Today's Prompt (if you're brave enough): Go graffiti something. If you're not brave enough or have other constraints: Write a story in which someone graffitis something.
I've always said one reason I write is because I hope to one day make someone else feel what other writers and books have made me feel. I think that's the gift Amy Tan is talking about here. That feeling—that caught up, swept away, drowning, but totally invincible feeling—that comes when reading a good book is something only an author can give. To me, a story is priceless. After all, how can you measure the worth of something that was built out of someone's heart? Something that allows you to see the world through someone else's eyes, or to see another world altogether? Stories are magic incarnate; there's no better gift you could receive.
And to be able to provide that magic for someone? Well, as far as gifts go, it's a close second.
Today's Prompt: You arrive home to find a mysterious box on your doorstep, a card attached with your name on it. The card also says, "Open immediately or not at all." What do you do?
Today's Prompt: Read a short piece of fiction you wrote in the past and respond to these questions.
- What are the lies in this story?
- What are the truths?
- How do the truths impact the lies?
- If you were to remove the element of truth, would the story still be believable?
I was about four years old when I learned to read, and I haven't stopped since. There's no limit--from one of the great classics to a shampoo bottle while I'm in the shower, I read anything I can get my hands on. My appetite for written words is unsatisfiable (and can I get an amen on the shampoo bottle thing? Because I know I'm not the only one who does that).
Sadly, it seems that the number of people who share that appetite is dwindling. I keep seeing articles about the decline of reading, and I have to wonder: what is the world coming to?
We need to teach our young people to love literature as much as we do, folks. If not, the literary world as we know it will change for good. If this quote is true (and I believe it is), an absence of good readers will result in fewer good writers, which will then lead to even less readers. It's a vicious cycle that we can stop. Teach your children to read, not as a chore or some kind of homework, but as a wonderful, irreplaceable way of life.
Today's Prompt: Think of your favorite kids' or young adult book. Now write a compelling paragraph or two describing what this book is and why you love it. Try to convince anyone reading your words that they should read and love this book too.
Yes. This. There's a certain level of detail that, as a writer, I conciously reconcile myself to revealing. For example, I knew that if I was going to write a novel based on a particular experience, I would have to disclose certain things: the fact that I was once committed to a psychiatric ward; what got me there; the things that occurred there; etc. I signed up for those things the moment I decided, "You know what? This is a good basis for a novel." However, there are details that I didn't intend to share, particularly when it comes to my feelings about certain things. In many circumstances, I find I'm not even aware I feel a particular way about something until I write about it.
This passage, which I wrote just a few days ago, comes to mind:
"Alright." Watching me seriously, he leans back and crosses his arms over his chest. "So people have these moments—maybe something good happens; maybe they meet someone they like; I don't know—but for some reason in these moments people just forget. They forget how crappy everything is and life seems okay—until another moment comes along and reminds them of all the crap. That space between the moments? That's what people call happiness."
Looking over his head into the setting sun, I squint my eyes thoughtfully. "Maybe that is happiness, James."
"No, that's delusion. Life can't be—well—life one minute and then great the next. Things don't change that easily."
I keep staring at the sunset, scratching my bitten nails across the iron tabletop. He really believes it: that the spaces between our moments sit there like empty sundae cups, waiting to be filled with something sweet and temporary. Delusion, he calls it. But if it isn't real, what's the point? I guess James would say there is none. For some reason that terrifies me.
For some reason that terrifies me. Strangely enough, that wasn't just my narrator speaking. James holds a perspective that I've encountered in someone before. When I decided to write about it, it was only an element: some strange quirk that makes for an interesting character. But once I actually sat down and started writing, I realized the effect this idea has on me. It terrifies me, simple as that.
So what deeply personal things have you revealed about yourself through writing? Anything you didn't know before?
Today's Prompt: Take any subject of political or social significance (something people generally feel strongly about) and write a short story surrounding this issue. Afterwards, read through it carefully and answer these questions:
- Is your own perspective revealed in this piece?
- Do you share the narrator's feelings, or do you disagree?
- If you disagree, does that show in your story?
- What have you learned about yourself through writing this piece?
Post your answers and any relevant passages/quotes in the comments! Happy Writing!
I chose a quote about love today because this subject is the most difficult for me. Stereotypically, as a woman, I should easily be able to write a great, lovey-dovey, emotion-loaded scene, right? No. Wrong. I would much rather write a scene of someone being literally cut off at the knees than write a kissing scene. Don't worry; I can do it. It's just not quite as easy for me as many other types of writing. Oftentimes I have a hard time suspending my disbelief enough to write someone falling in real-true-honest-to-god-love within a handful of book pages. Realistically, it always seems like it should take longer than it does, which is something I feel while reading as well as writing. Ironic, considering that my husband and I got engaged 1 month after we met...
Anyway, I've decided to take this quote and apply it to my writing. "There is no remedy for (writing about) love but to (write about) love more." Practice makes perfect; isn't that that thing everybody says? So if you're like me and have a hard time writing about love, let's practice together.
Today's Prompt: Write a story in which the main character meets someone completely new and proceeds to fall in love--believably--in ONE PAGE only.
May the Force be with you.
I can sit by myself for hours—days, even—as long as I have a book. To be honest, I'm the kind of person who reads the same books over and over again, so I become well acquainted with these "friends" of mine. Not that I'm not open to making new friends, of course. Each book I've never read before is an opportunity for that, which I welcome. Even the books I write are like friends to me, and I hope that in writing them, I've created a future friend for someone else.
Today's prompt: You have the following main character and/or narrator:
Thomas Bleakley: aged 42, works in technical support, lives alone, has six cats and a prominent display case for his dead mother's ashes.
Write something worth reading about Thomas Bleakley.
I try not to make broad, generalized statements, but here I will: this quote is true for every single person. Not only does reading stimulate your intellect, but also your imagination. It inspires you. It grows your vocabulary. It teaches you about language, culture, human nature. Everyone should read. And if this is true for everyone, it's doubly true for writers. You must read stories in order to learn how to create them! Every time you pick up a book, you hone your writing skills. Simple as that. If you're having a dry writing spell, try reading something instead and see what happens. After all, you wouldn't run a marathon without training or play in a championship game without tossing the ball around a little first, right? Read. It's exercise. It's valuable. Read. Strengthen your mind and skills, and then create something that will help others strengthen their minds and skills. Read!
Today's Prompt: Read a short story or a chapter from your favorite novel. Then write your own short story or work on your current work in progress. How did reading help you write?
Comment below with what you read and the result! Happy writing!