Schrödinger’s Author: Is the Writer Dead or Not?

 

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For quite a while now I’ve wanted to write a post about Roland Barthes’ The Death of The Author theory, but I’ve been conflicted on where I stand on the subject.

While it is obvious that a writer’s experiences, biases, and other factors greatly shape a writer’s work, I also believe that it is essential to divorce a writer from their written material.

My reasoning for this is manifold.

For one, if you don’t exercise this practice, you are going to miss out on a lot of good writing. 

This isn’t always the case, of course. I believe talented authors can often be quite charming people. Nevertheless, like is the case with many professions, the ones that are truly phenomenal aren’t always the most humble.

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This goes double for authors of yesteryear who undoubtedly hold (by today’s standards) a whole host of problematic opinions. There are some who believe we should remove books from school curriculum or from the cultural sphere because the person who wrote them is a bigot.

It’s a nice thought that we can wave a magic wand and eradicate all harmful figures and their influence from our past, but in actual execution this isn’t a realistic feat.

If we rid ourselves of every invention, scientific formula, or book, etc because the person who created them suffered from some moral failing, we would all still be painting cave walls by campfire.

The simple truth is that sometimes bad people can create great works of art and sometimes its necessary to concentrate on the product and not necessarily the person who made it.

There is also the issue of gate-keeping that has become prevalent in today’s literary circles. It would seem that writers are being barred from writing about certain topics and creating characters of different races, sexes, or religions simply because the writer isn’t a member of these groups. Or, if they are a member of these groups, they aren’t x enough to be talking about said groups.

While I’m all for encouraging writers of different backgrounds writing about their own experiences being a part of a traditionally marginalized group, I don’t believe shaming people for writing about people and cultures outside their own is going to lead to a positive outcome.

I’m also sure everyone is aware of the new trend amongst author’s to-erhm- “improve” their work by adding unsolicited tidbits that were not in their books in order to make them look more progressive.

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Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.

By killing the author, we don’t have to take these things into account because the author is dead.

However, there is another side of this coin. 

In 2017 Poet Sara Holbrook decided to take a standardized test for middle-schoolers and found herself unable to answer certain questions….about her own poetry.

Apparently one of the questions didn’t even have the correct answer as an option. The test asked why she, Holbrook, chose to write the poem in two stanzas. The reason, Holbrook explained, was because she is a performance poet.

The breaks in the poem were placed there so she could take a breath.

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So does The Death of the Author theory apply here? Is she allowed to call this interpretation of her work b.s?

If you ask me, she is.

She is pointing out the issue with implying authorial intent that doesn’t exist, something I have long argued against. Sometimes the curtains are blue because the author wants to convey sadness, but sometimes the curtains are blue because….they are blue.

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After reading this article, I was forced to confront my previous stance on whether or not a writer’s intention should factor in to the interpretation of their work.

I like the idea of readers being able to derive their own meanings from stories, but occasionally they get what the writer meant so fantastically wrong it seems as though the author has no alternative but to step in and say “no, that’s totally not what I meant, you  idiot.”

Where does that leave us?

I’ve given it quite a bit of thought and I propose a compromise: Authors may give context to their work, expanding on themes and metaphors that may or may not be self-evident within the text….

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if an event did not explicitly take place in the novel (or supplemental materials such as prequels and short-stories within this universe), the event is not cannon. The same can be said for character attributes or relationships.

Think of the work of fiction as a painting in a museum. The artist is allowed to commentate on what they were trying to achieve with the piece. They are not permitted, however, to remove the painting from the wall and begin painting over it, adding bits that were not there before. They can only address what is there and the meaning behind it.

If the author says the character was LGBTQ but gives no evidence to this in the books– Not cannon. 

If the author says the main characters all died in the end but left the book on a cliff-hanger—Not cannon.

If the author says the zombies in the book were meant to represent the impending threat of climate change–Cannon.

If the author says the main character’s killing of the villain was a symbolic representation of them killing a part of themselves–Cannon.

Overall, I still believe it is more important to look at the story itself than it is the author that wrote it, but I realize it’s a much more complicated subject than I previously anticipated when first writing this post.

That being said, I’m interested in hearing about what you guys think.

Thanks for reading! 

Books, Writing, and Other Goals for 2020

Now that we’ve shucked off our ugly Christmas sweaters and vacuumed up all the tinsel, it’s time to create unattainable goals for ourselves!

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We do this pretty much every single year, or– if you’re like me– you’ve pretended to not come up with resolutions so that you aren’t disappointed by your inevitable failure.

However, now that we’re only a few days away from the swinging 20s, I think this year is the best year to get our lives in order.

So what are my goals?

Well, let’s review my previous failures.

This year I wanted to read 100 books!

…….I read 12.

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I mentioned in a previous post that I went through a reading slump where nothing seemed all that intriguing. I’m not sure if it was systematic of where my mental health was at the time, or if it I just couldn’t find anything on offer. Regardless, I hope to read a lot more in 2020.

So instead of  going for something overly ambitious like 100, I think I will dial it down to 20 books. 20 books in 2020. Not a bad idea, right?

As for writing….this year I made a resolution to finish at least 1 draft of my novel!

…..I-er- I almost finished an outline…?

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Yeah, that was terrible.

I think the problem was I gave myself way too much time to complete it. Life is hectic, yes, but I didn’t need 12 months for a first draft. If I had cut that down to three months or less, I might have been persuaded to hustle more….Or at all, really.

Lesson learned. I will give myself time, but not too much.

I will attempt to write at least half an hour everyday and finish the first draft by March.

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As of 2020, I would also like to be more consistent about uploading to this blog. Realistically, I won’t be able to upload everyday like you blog warriors do. Nonetheless, I’m hoping to post at least once every two weeks.

In the past I’ve obsessed over writing the perfect posts when, in reality, it probably doesn’t matter that much. I should do my best, but sometimes you just have to push that Publish button.

Hope you guys did better this year than I did.

Happy Almost New Year!

 

 

Falling Back in Love with the Library

I have a confession to make.

While I consider myself to be a major reader, up until about three weeks ago, I had not frequented a library in almost 2 years.

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Before you judge,I had a good reason (or at least I thought). Life was getting hectic and I have no impulse control. I was checking out 3 to 4 books at a time, only to get through about a quarter of one of them.

Then there came the hassle of remembering to take the damn things back days after their due-dates, scolding myself for  not being a more proactive reader, only to rinse and repeat forever and ever until the end of time.

Eventually, I stopped going altogether.

I would buy my books from now on, I decided. Why would I subject myself to all these steps when I could just cut out the middle man? This way I could keep a book as long as I wanted, treat it in any condition I chose, and discard it at my leisure (or leave it to languish on my bookshelf until I die).

I had some good memories of the library. I recognized its importance not only to readers, but the welfare of their respective communities at large.

But I was over it.

I had Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Half-Price Books, and any number of privately owned bookstores all with books that I could have all to myself.

It wasn’t until the Christmas season encroached that I considered frequenting the old haunts. My desire for reading had not been hampered, but my pocketbook–after buying present upon present for immediate family, in-laws, friends, this Dirty Santa and that Dirty Santa–was crying.

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Actual footage of my wallet after Christmas shopping

And so I went.

I had forgotten what it was like to step into a library.

From the get-go there are just rows upon rows of titles calling out for your attention. Old books, new books, classics, commercial fiction, biographies and histories. There are endless possibilities.

And the best part is you get to enjoy them for free.

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While this sounds like a small consolation, it really adds up. Not only are you able to indulge in your habit, you are free to explore other genres. When you are expected to pay for something it is easy to become miserly. You aren’t sure if you’ll like something and so you tend to stick to what you know. How many of us have gone to restaurants only to order the same meal every time for fear of not liking the newer option?

However, if there is no penalty for branching out, you are more likely to give something new a chance. Even if it isn’t something you would normally chose.

This allows you to discover even more writers and stories and broaden your perspective on whatever subject you choose.

To me this is one of the greatest gifts a library gives: A chance to explore.

As of this writing, I have about four books checked out and I hope to read every one of them.

Happy Holidays!

Sunshine Blogger Award #5

A special thanks to theorangutanlibrarian for nominating me for this award! I’m honored to be receiving it and I enjoyed making this post!

Here goes!

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to their blogging site.
  2. Answer the questions.
  3. Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.
  4. Notify the nominees about it by commenting on one of their blog posts.
  5. List the rules + display the sunshine blogger award logo on your site or on your post.

Where’s the best place you’ve ever been on holiday?

I’m not sure if this counts as a holiday since this was part of a study tour for college, but I would have to say the best place I have ever gone to was Ireland. There was so much natural and ancient beauty there it bewitched me from the moment we landed. My favorite place out of the trip had to be Tollymore Forest on our Game of Thrones tour where they shot a bit of the first episode. And they gave us cloaks!

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Do you have any favorite fictional (or non fictional) libraries?

Hmmmm I suppose I would have to say the first library I ever went to. There’s nothing special about it in terms of aesthetic or book choices (apart from the modest aquarium), but it’s the first ever library I’ve ever gone to which helped foster my love of books so it will always hold a place in my heart.

What is your guiltiest pleasure read?

I suppose that would be Twilight. I haven’t read it in over ten years so I don’t know if I would still like it or not, but I still remember it fondly. I maintain to this day that it’s the most over-hated book in existence. I think I will write a post about this eventually.

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What’s your most unpopular bookish opinion?

I found The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern incredibly boring.

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I know! I know! Dozens of friends have told me they love it, but I…I just don’t get it.

I’ve attempted to read it twice and each time I’ve been disappointed. The premise is intriguing and I liked the atmosphere, but there was too little happening for too long. I made it slightly over halfway through the second time before I gave up.

I don’t begrudge others for liking it, though.

Do you have a bookish pet peeve?

I have a few, but a deal-breaker for me is unnatural dialogue. I can deal with slow pacing, Maguffins and the like but if the characters sound like AIs that can’t pass the Turing Test I’m out. This is the reason I stopped reading The Man in The High Castle. I loved the idea behind it and was interested in where the story was going, nevertheless, the characters sounded so unrealistic and stilted that I couldn’t go on.

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Dialogue is one of the most important tools a writer has in their arsenal to convey a character’s personality and if you screw that up you might as well pack your bags and go home.

What book character gets on your last nerve?

Zoe Redbird from The House of Night series. When I read the first book in high school, I thought she was a pretty cool chick. She was nerdy (allegedly, the only evidence we have for this is her Spock hoodie), she liked Enya, she had a kick-ass name.

But then she started doing shady shit and her character took a turn for the worst around book three.

In essence, she became a Mary-Sue of the highest order; the girl literally every guy wanted to be with. People give Twilight a hard time for being a love triangle when this chick was in a frigging love pentagram.

EVERYONE IN THE BOOKS WANTED TO RIDE HER.

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Not to mention, no matter how many horrible things she did, she was always portrayed as the victim. She cheated on her boyfriend with a teacher, and when said teacher turned out to be a villain (imagine my shock), her friends berated her ex-boyfriend for giving her a hard time… for cheating on him!

Silly boy!

Everything Zoe does is right.

Everyone loves Zoe.

She’s naturally gifted in literally everything.

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It’s a shame because, from what I remember, the rest of the series was enjoyable. I just couldn’t deal with the main character anymore.

If you could wear any item of clothing from a book-what would it be?

Jamie Fraser’s kilt. No more questions.

Who could you rather kiss/marry/kill when the choices are Lord Voldemort, Sauron, and Iago?

I would kill Voldemort because there’s no way I’m waking up to that every morning. I would kiss Iago because he actually has lips and I would marry Sauron because he is the OP villain all others aspire to be.

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Sexy.

Who’s the best bookish baddie you’ve read about lately?

Most books I read don’t necessarily have a mustache twirling villain, but I suppose it would be Drood from Dan Simmon’s Drood. He’s the mysterious character which Dicken’s wrote his unfinished novel about before his death. If you’re interested in reading it, here’s a link.

Would you rather be the villain in a story of the hero? Why?

Conventional wisdom says I should choose hero because they are the victors in most stories. However, I think it might be fun to be a bad guy. Being a good person is exhausting and it’s so much easier to be an asshole. Plus villains usually equate to more complex characterizations and I’m about me some complex characters.

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Do you have any exciting reading plans?

I’m excited to be reading Love and Ruin by Paula McLain. I love, love, love The Paris Wife and her writing style so I’m pumped about this one. I also plan to tuck into My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante in the near future.

My questions:

  1. What was the most transformative reading experience you have ever had?
  2. What is a book you wish someone would write?
  3. Where is somewhere you really want to go, but have only read about in a book?
  4. If you could have a book re-written, which book would it be?
  5. What is a book you dislike that everyone else loves?
  6. If you had the power to bring any mythical creature to life, which creature would it be?
  7. Where is your ideal reading spot?
  8. What is the most disappointing book you have ever read and why?
  9. What is your favorite genre of book and why?
  10. If you could make one book required reading, which book would it be and why?
  11. What is your favorite bookish ship? (noncanonical and crack-ships are acceptable answers)

I’m interested in seeing what you guys come up with!

Sofi@ A Book. A Thought. Jennifer of OutofBabel.com dysfunctionalliteracy  TheInnerWorkings TheBookRaven  Anna @ My Bookish Dreams  By Hook or By Book Nut Free Nerd Bionic Book Nerd Jedi By Knight Adventures of a Bibliophile

Spoiler-Free Thoughts on “Drood” by Dan Simmons

Summary: On June 9, 1865, while traveling by train to London with his secret mistress, 53-year-old Charles Dickens–at the height of his powers and popularity, the most famous and successful novelist in the world and perhaps in the history of the world–hurtled into a disaster that changed his life forever.

Did Dickens begin living a dark double life after the accident? Were his nightly forays into the worst slums of London and his deepening obsession with corpses, crypts, murder, opium dens, the use of lime pits to dissolve bodies, and a hidden subterranean London mere research . . . or something more terrifying?

I love Dan Simmons’ The Terror and consider it one of my favorite novels of all time so  I thought I would give this novel about Charles Dickens and the mysterious vampiric figure named Drood a stab.

To sum up my thoughts:

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Based on the summary, you would think the focal point of this novel would be Dickens and his relationship with Drood.

Well….you’d be wrong.

To start, the main character of the novel is not Charles Dickens, but rather Wilkie Collins, real-life writer, contemporary of Dickens and full-time toss-pot.

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This bitch

I love flawed characters but Collins is the most tedious narrator I have ever had to sit through. And coming from someone who used to read a lot of YA, that is saying something.

It’s not enough he’s sexist even for the time period, he’s also a baby and hypocrite with virtually no positive attributes.

Scarlett O’Hara had her indomitable spirit, Holden Caulfield his relatable loneliness. But this guy? There’s nothing worth gravitating towards. When he isn’t suffering from undiagnosed schizophrenia no doubt exasperated by his rampant drug-use, he’s a boring douche-bag.

Did I mention he’s a total mama’s boy?

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As for the novel itself, it begins on a hight note when Dickens describes the train accident at Staplehurst that left dozens of people dead and Dickens alive but shaken.

The titular character of Drood, a vampiric figure with horribly mangled features and ambiguous dark powers, is brought into the picture and from there we are left to wonder who (or what) he could possibly be. Is he a vampire? Is he a human with arcane abilities? This is the perfect introduction to such a frighting figure so mired in mystery.

The problem is for a great chunk of the novel Drood is not only absent from appearance but conversation as well.

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me for half the book

The narrator abandons the hunt for Drood for long stretches at a time in favor of going through his and Dickens’ life and their respective professional careers.

While I enjoy historical fiction and learning about famous people of the past, there was at least 100 pages worth of material that should have been cut from the story.

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When the focus is on Drood and his origins, the story flourishes. When it isn’t it’s a mixed bag of mild curiosities and abject boredom.

I, personally, think the novel could have benefited from a split perspective, one following Dickens and the other Collins. That way we could have had the benefit of viewing both characters from the other’s perspective as well as thrown in a red-herring or too.

In Drood‘s defense, there is a pretty satisfying twist at the end. I had a hunch about the direction the story was going, but that didn’t stop me from being impressed by it. That being said, the drama of it was undercut by the main character’s anti-climactic response which, in turn, soured my enjoyment of it.

I guess you can’t have everything.

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I’ve been sitting on this review for a couple of weeks now because I’ve been indecisive about whether or not I like this book. While I was engrossed most of the time, there are just as many parts to this story that I don’t like.

The atmosphere is haunting and visceral as any Victorian drama should be, yet the numerous digressions and pit-stops in the plot tempted me to put it down for good.

I suppose if you twisted my arm, I would give this book at 6/10.

It wasn’t a horrible read, but I think it could have been a lot better if an editor had taken the red pen of death to it.

If you are more interested in the life of Charles Dickens (and Wilkie Collins) than the supernatural, then you will likely enjoy this book more than I did. However, if you find yourself more interested in Drood, I would suggest reading something else.

Overall I don’t regret reading Drood, nevertheless, I am hoping my next Dan Simmons book will be a bit more on-point.

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The Tragic Tale of My Reading Slump

The other day I went to Barnes and Noble and the unthinkable happened…

I didn’t buy a book.

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No, really.

I went to the bookstore and I didn’t purchase any books. Not even one that I thought looked cool but knew deep in my soul I would never read….a.k.a a quarter of the books currently in my possession.

I went home with nothing.

Nada.

Zilch.

Once or twice my attention was stolen by an intriguing premise but ultimately I would place them back on the shelf, forgotten.

I couldn’t figure it out.

I have been a reader my whole life. Why was I suddenly feeling so indifferent to literature. Why couldn’t I experience the same level of excitement that I normally feel while lurking around a bookstore? Why did I feel so apathetic about the whole enterprise?

I’ve given it some thought and I think I have come up with a semi-rational explanation for my sudden reading slump.

This will seem like a shallow and potentially absurd complaint but…it felt like every book I came across was trying too hard to change my life.

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When I read the dust jacket of all these lovingly crafted tales, most of them were imploring me to let them teach me about the human condition or understanding life and love and….I wasn’t interested.

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That was it. That was the problem.

I didn’t want to be molded into a better human being.

I didn’t want to have my world-view reshaped. I didn’t want to have all the ills of the world revealed to me or have some nihilistic hippies wax poetic about the futility of existence.

I wanted to have fun reading.

That’s not to say I never like a transformative reading experience or that books with poignant messages don’t have their place, but every so often I just want to read. 

I want to retreat into a fictional world for a couple of hours and have it not mean anything. 

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I want to laugh and cheer and get excited purely for the sake of it and not because it “starts a conversation” or “it’s bringing awareness to something” but because it brings me joy. Maybe I will forget about it later on in life since it gave me no permanent message to cling to, but it will have brightened my day, or week, or even month.

Is that so wrong?

Am I a pleb for having a desire to escape from the intellectual questions of our time in favor of placing a metaphorical ice-pack upon my throbbing nerves?

If it is, maybe I don’t want to be right.

Hell, I didn’t become a reader because I was interested in changing the world. I did it because it allowed me access to worlds I would otherwise have no entrance to, meet people I normally couldn’t.

Not every reading experience has to be meaningful.

Sometimes all I need is a vacation from reality.

If any of you have recommendations for a good read I am all ears.

 

 

Why Books Are Better Than People

It could be my experience in customer service that has inspired me to write this post, however, this is something I’ve always believed to some degree:

Books are better than people.

Don’t believe me? You will soon.

Books are always available. If you are up in the middle of the night, you can just roll over and pick it up. A book won’t care that it’s late. Conversely, if you want to put the book down and come back to it later in a few weeks/months/years, the book won’t be offended. It will be more than happy to let you enjoy its wordy-goodness some other time.

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You don’t have to make small talk with a book. A book does all the talking for you. That’s literally it’s job. You just comb over the pages with your eyes and let the words transport you to another time and place. There is no horrifying pause as it waits for you to comment on something it’s said, or exchange vapid pleasantries. It’s so undemanding.

It’s portable. If you have a small bag, the sky is the limit. You can take them on your commute to work, to a party, to your grandparent’s house, to your backyard, on vacation. Taking a human everywhere you go is just impractical. And why would you want to? They make so much noise.

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If it annoys you, you can get rid of it. Unlike humans, if a book annoys you, you can simply dispose of it. You can force it on your enemies. You can write a strongly-worded blog post. You can leave it in a stranger’s mailbox. You can light it on fire and burry it in the woods. All without fear of receiving a lawsuit.

They smell better than people. Old or new, books have an amazing smell. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of walking into an old library, the beautiful vanilla fragrance of forgotten pages is enough to make you drunk with lust for the written word. I could honestly smell books all day, but, you know, I need to work a day job to buy food or whatever. People on the other hand…..well, anyone who has ridden public transport knows that humans don’t boast such a pleasing odor. I bet you’re wrinkling your nose just thinking about all those unwashed bodies you encounter on a daily basis.

Now stick your head in a book.

See? Isn’t that better?

Ssssssssh.

There are many wonderful books to read. There are so many imaginative, energizing, inspirational, magical, excellent, titillating, colorful books to read. Somewhere out there is a book about any subject you could possibly imagine.  You could spend hours– days even–exploring a library and reading and never want for anything besides food.

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People? Nah. I think there are, like, three wonderful people in the world and all of them are dogs.

Books are free (at the library). People demand more than long stretches of time sitting in silence. They require “fun” activities to ensure a working relationship. Want to go to the movies? Money. Want to catch up with a friend at the coffee shop? Money. Want to entertain yourself for hours by reading the latest best-seller? Library. Boom. Take that, other humans.

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Happy reading!

TL;DR: The Problem With Big Books

This may make me sound like a traitor to readers everywhere, but I am generally not a fan of big books, specifically ones that exceed 450 pages in length.

That’s not to say I don’t like any large books. One of my favorite books of all time, Gone With The Wind, is nearly 1,000 pages long. However, in recent years, it seems to me most of the thicker novels I’ve suffered through have been long purely for the sake of being long.

Unfortunately, I believe I know the reason for this.

Across the literary community, there is this presumption that if a book is large and takes ages to read then said book is deep and important and the reader should take it seriously. After all, so many classical works of literature boast a heavy word count.

“Why use one word when you can use twenty, my good man?” say the classic writers, smoking their pipes and not raising their ten plus children. “Why not add in a stock character and detail their entire lives even though they will ultimately have no baring on the plot whatsoever?”

I’m not saying I’m incapable of being patient and waiting it out, but you got to give me something book.

Don’t string me along for 300 plus pages just because I’ve become invested enough in the plot and characters to wait.

Don’t put in pages worth of padding just so you can disappoint me with a predictable twist and cardboard villains.

One of the most aggravating reads I’ve ever sat through was The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma, a hefty 720 page monster that took me over a month to finish. I stayed with it for so long because it had an excellent premise which the author got to…eventually. But in the meantime the reader had to slog through hundreds of pages of extraneous material that had no impact on the story at all.

Honestly, I have no idea how it got past an editor’s red pen of doom. The main character doesn’t even show up until the novel is almost halfway over. How do you even get away with that?!

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Then there was The Magus by John Fowles which was the most dense, pretentious, and mind-numbingly dull book I’ve ever read. Getting past the annoyingly self-congratulating attitudes of the main characters, the readers is subjected to page upon page of backstory that can be summed up in a paragraph or two.

(Sidenote: If you’re having difficulty sleeping, listen to the audiobook for The Magus on Youtube. I haven’t slept this heavily in years.)

That’s not to say a story should never be long, but there has to be some criteria, wouldn’t you agree?

I’ll answer my own rhetorical question with a non-rhetorical yes.

Here are a handful of justifications for writing a large novel:

  1. It takes place over the course of many years/months.
  2. There are multiple characters whose prospectives help increase the depth and overall quality of the story.
  3.  The story requires time devoted to explaining the world and how it operates to further engross the reader and create a feeling of realness.
  4. Extra time is needed to tie up loose ends.
  5. It is creating an atmosphere that will help with the climax’s pay-off.

If none of the reasons above are applicable, then I have no interest in reading it. I’m sorry, but there are hundreds of books out there that I could be enjoying and I don’t want to waste my time with a story that just wants to meander on forever.

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Annoying Clichés Writers Use (Featuring Adorable Cats)

Women having hair that is waist length. 

Most women I know don’t have hair that is waist length. Do you know how hard it is to brush a monster that long, or keep it from getting caught in everything? Mine only went down to my shoulder blades and I had to chop it all off because I kept getting it stuck in doorways. There’s also the grooming and upkeep you have to take into consideration. Who has the time to blow dry and style that much hair? Not most people.

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Hooman bed is best bed 

People with gray eyes. 

In my twenty plus years of existence, I have met maybe two people that have gray eyes. It’s an even rarer eye color than green. So why do I keep coming across people in books with gray eyes? It seems like every other character in books these days have them. It’s like some writers can’t find a more creative way to describe their characters. I don’t know. Give them a beauty mark or something, a scar, anything else but gray eyes.

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Rawr

People biting their lips/digging their nails into their palm so hard they bleed. 

Out of all the clichés I’ve mentioned thus far, this is one of the most annoying. Particularly because nobody does thisEVER. I’ve even tried to do this myself. Whenever I come across a passage like this, I purposely dig my fingernails (which are long and kind of sharp) into the palm of my hand as hard as I can. It leaves an imprint, but it  has never come close to breaking the skin. Same goes with my lips. Nothing. Even if your lips are the consistency of rice paper, they probably won’t bleed. So why does this cliché even exist?

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I can haz milk, hipster hooman? 

Author/character filibuster. 

What’s more fascinating than a writer/character stopping the novel to tell us what the moral of the story is? Literally anything else. I get that dialogue in a book can’t always sound perfectly natural, but it takes a reader out of the moment when you give a character a speech that goes on forever. Nobody can give a speech that detailed on the fly. It doesn’t flow well with the rest of the story either.

Book Review: “My Salinger Year” by Joanna Rakoff

WARNING: CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS FOR THE AFOREMENTIONED MEMOIR. 

A synopsis taken from the writer’s website:

At 23, after leaving graduate school to pursue her dreams of becoming a poet, Joanna Rakoff moves to New York City and takes a job as assistant to the storied literary agent of J. D. Salinger. She spends her days in the plush, wood-paneled agency, where Dictaphones and typewriters still prevail and old-time agents doze at their desks in the late afternoon, and at night she goes home to the tiny, threadbare Williamsburg apartment she shares with her socialist boyfriend. Precariously balanced between glamour and poverty, surrounded by titanic personalities, and struggling to trust her own artistic talent, Joanna is tasked with responding to Salinger’s voluminous fan mail. But as she reads the deeply candid letters from his fans, she finds herself abandoning the agency’s form letter and writing her own responses. Over the course of the year, she finds her own voice by acting as Salinger’s, on her own dangerous and wonderful terms.

Pros:

The writing style. While the premise intrigued me, what drew me in was the author’s voice. From the first page, Rakoff grabbed my attention and held it tight for the duration of the novel. I’m not much of a non-fiction reader so I was entranced by the novel-like style in which it was written in.

New York City. I loved how she describes New York in all it’s hipster-y splendor. She talked about the shops, the club scene, the restaurants, just the attitude of the city. Admittedly, I think New York tends to be over romanticized (particularly by those that live there), however, she was able to capture my awe and attention. It wasn’t an overblown love, but it was enough to show me why this city is considered so magical to some.

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It’s a story about growing up. I am around the same age Rakoff was when these events took place, so I found myself in her. She addresses many of the drawbacks of growing up such as paying the bills for the first time, growing apart from friends, watching other people make it big and become successful, and the doubt you experience in your own abilities. More than this, however, she accurately describes the loneliness of going through life, feeling as if nobody cares about you. It’s a relatable book, particularly if you’re in (or have recently graduated from) college.

Cons: 

The dust-jacket is misleading. While Rakoff’s job of responding to the Salinger’s fan letters is an important part of the memoir, the description makes it sound like it’s the crux of the story, or that she somehow mislead people into thinking she was Salinger when this is not the case. As I mentioned before, this story is more about growing up and figuring out what you want to do with your life than it is about Salinger or her acting as his mouthpiece.

Why Don?  Rakoff was never able to convincingly explain to the reader  why she stayed with Don, her roommate/boyfriend. From what I’m given to understand, she had a phenomenal boyfriend who went to California for school and….for some reason she didn’t go with him. She then decided to cheat on said boyfriend with Don, a egotist with little regard for Rakoff or her feelings, and even moved into a crappy apartment with him. My question is why? Why did she stay with him if she had a much better option? If Don had been the college boyfriend and she was just reluctant to let him go because of their history, I would be able to understand her thinking. However, that was not the case. I think it would have been important to discuss considering it probably reveals quite a bit about Rakoff as a person.

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Rushed ending. If I had to chose which part of this book was the worst, then I would easily say the ending. Up until this point, everything was well paced and shaping up nicely. However, there is no real emotional pay-off with her boyfriend Don. We don’t see or hear about the death throes of their relationship, the narrative just says she left him at some point for her much more desirable college boyfriend. There’s a jarring jump into the future where she learns about Salinger’s death and…nothing else about her life. We know she had kids and that she’s married to someone (she doesn’t tell us if this is the angelic college boyfriend of yore or not), but she doesn’t go into any detail about her life in the future. I wish we could have seen more since it would have been nice to know how her relationship with Salinger altered her adult life. Otherwise there’s not much point in including it other than to say “wow, sucks that Salinger is dead and stuff.”

Overall opinion: 

While I had a few problems with this book, my overall impression of it was a positive one. I was able to really connect with the writer and her experiences working at The Agency. It’s difficult to put down and I definitely think it was worth the read.

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