Annnnd here’s the rest of the stuff I read over the summer. I don’t write reviews for poetry, because I have less than no idea what I’m talking about when it comes to verse – I either like it or I don’t, or I liked some of it but not all of it (which is what three stars means for everyone, right?). Poetry: the cilantro of literature. YMMV.
Quiet by Susan Cain
Daily Rituals by Mason Currey
Short Story Collections
Tenth of December by George Saunders
Origami Dove by Susan Musgrave
Under the Keel by Michael Crummey
Sometimes (most of the time) life and death get in the way of reading and writing and updating blogs that nobody reads; this is unfortunate, but it’s also great fodder for fiction. In theory. In practice it mostly sucks balls.
Since Goodreads is auto-playing loud ads about grass-stains on review pages lately, I’ve provided the reviews below. How vintage. For extra procrastinaty fun, most of the authors I read last month also have charming online presences, which I’ve linked to with their names.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
A nice (more or less) contemporary YA/crossover romance. Rowell brings both titular characters to life in compelling, if unsurprising, detail, and seems to love the things they talk about (comics, 80’s music, boys in eyeliner) as much as they do.
Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
A cool urban fantasy concept that is frequently waylaid by “interlude” chapters that don’t add much to the plot and chop up the otherwise break-neck pacing. Mariam’s voice sometimes crosses the line from edgy to contrived (think first-season Buffy: teen dialogue written by thirty-somethings), and some of the supporting characters lack more than the flimsiest motivations (I’m looking at you, Frankie). Still, the second book in the series might be worth reading now that all the world-building and character-explaining is done and most of those flimsy supporting characters have been, ahem, dealt with.
Sandman, Vol 3-11 by Neil Gaiman
Awesome through and through. Was sad to see it end, and glad I wasn’t reading it in real time as the issues were released. Patience is not one of my virtues. That being said, Gaiman and his team of illustrators provided ample reward for what little waiting I had to do.
Prodigy by Marie Lu
The world of the series is a lot more interesting now that June and Day have left California and are learning more about the history of the Republic and the Colonies. The plot does not offer much in the way of surprises, but it seems like there might be a payoff worth reading for in the final book of the series. Hopefully in Champion, Lu will continue to develop the differences between June and Day’s POVs, which are more distinct here than in Legend, but still similar enough that the alternating perspectives feel unnecessary, and at times, gimmicky.
The Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger
Since the story was initially conceived as a ballet, I was disappointed that the book didn’t rely as heavily on the visual as a vehicle for story. The illustrations are what really shine, but they merely serve to accompany the text, rather than to act as parts of the story proper.
Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
It works better as a slideshow/blog post than as a book, but Kleon continues to do amazing work and give it away all over the internet, so this is not a half-bad way to throw the guy some dollars.
So I only abandoned one book this month! Beautiful Creatures was just not doing it for me. When I read I can’t help but edit in my head, and this novel just gave me too much work to do. I could never put down my mental red-pen long enough to enjoy myself. I gave it my customary 50 pages (which starts to seem more and more generous every book I give up on), but when still nothing interesting happened, I decided I’d just watch the movie instead. Emmy Rossum in crazy big accessories can save any narrative train wreck, if you ask me. (Or if you’d prefer, ask the Phantom).
But enough about books I didn’t read this month –here’s a list of the ones I actually made it through, and enjoyed to varying degrees. As usual, click through to goodreads for the review.
When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams
Just One Day by Gail Forman
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Daring Greatly by Brené Brown*
From Hell by Alan Moore (Illustrated by Eddie Campbell)
Picture This by Lynda Barry
Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman (Illustrated by Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg, Malcome Jones III)
All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks
Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House by Neil Gaiman (Illustrated by Steve Parkerhouse, Chris Bachalo, Mike Dringenberg, Malcome Jones III)
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
*and yeah, I had to purposely misspell resumé as resumay, right-click to autocorrect, and then delete everything except the é i needed to spell her name properly. You’re welcome.
This month, I also began and gave up on Lolita and The Orphan Master’s Son. Early March is not a good time to force-feed yourself satire, let me tell you. Now that spring is sprung for real, maybe I’ll be able to handle pedophile narrators and political symbolism. It was a decidedly meh month for reading, though I’ve been brushing up on plot structure lately, so a lot of how I judged the novels I read had to do with how well-plotted they were (which is so boring I’m going to stop talking about immediately).
Click a title to read my review on goodreads. Or don’t, whatever. But really, do.
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Dear Life by Alice Munro
Legend by Marie Lu
Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
Welcome, March! I love you if for no other reason than that you are NOT FEBRUARY (seriously, February’s sole redeeming feature is its brevity). This year I’ve got something else to be excited about: March Madness! I know this is also a. . . football? basketball? term, but the world of organized sports is far enough removed from my daily life that everyone should be able to figure out that I’m talking about March Madness for writers, also known as #WIPmadness on twitter. And man, my goals are heavy on the WIP (“Works-in-Progress”, not the tasty dairy-based topping of a hand-crafted hot beverage). Without further ado, here are my. . .
. . .Writing Goals for March!
1. Finish the short story I’ve been working on for the last couple weeks. And by finish, I mean type from hand-written draft, edit, establish a timeline of plot events, inter-splice the three different POV’s at relevant junctures, and polish up.
I have a problem with short fiction where I get the first kernel of an idea and start writing what I THINK the story is before I’ve let the idea germinate into anything that can really be sustained for more than a few pages. I was more careful with this idea, letting it sit in the back of my mind for a few months after the initial spark (which came along with a pair of ballet tickets my very-not-dancy-husband and I won). And boy, am I glad I did. On the skytrain a few weeks ago, while I was reading Bird By Bird, no less, the whole thing just came to me, idea following idea, like rain. I was so absorbed in my note-taking that I almost missed my stop and ended up in Surrey. I’ve spent a lot of time lately (too long, I can see now) trying to edit old stories that I am no longer interested in, that don’t particularly work, and that are probably better being filed away in the “learning experiences” folder than being sent out for publication. It feels great to be working on something I’m excited to write again, to have those moments when I lift my pen from the page or my fingers from the keys, look over the last line, and think “Damn! Did I just write that!?”
2. Revise the first 30,000 words of my YA historical novel, which has been on the back-burner since my final push to the end in November. I need to make some substantial changes, like the Point-of-View. I also just realized that I made possibly the most boring, fuddy-duddy character in the whole book the protagonist. Seriously, nearly ANY other character would be a better protagonist than the one I’ve got. Finally, I’m planning on a trans-atlantic setting change (weeee, research) so I can bring out the themes I actually care about, instead of the themes that look shiny and marketable. So I’m not kidding when I say SUBSTANTIAL rewrites. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I’m excited to see where it takes me. Which leads me to . . .
3. Write a minimum of ten hours a week. This doesn’t seem like a lot, but my best time for writing is the afternoon/early evening. . . which happens to coincide with this little thing called my work schedule. I see a lot of clandestine note-taking happening under my desk in the near future.
I guess there’s no time to get started like the present. Let’s do this thing!
As most fellow NaNoWriMo participants in the Lower Mainland know, there is a great facebook group for year-round writing related activities and encouragement called The Other 11 Months. Though my evening/weekend work schedule prohibits me from participating in any of the write-ins, the groups is still a good resource for keeping up with what’s going on in the writing world, in Vancouver and online. This preamble brings me to March Madness, which I landed upon after falling through a rabbit-hole of links that started at The Other 11 Months and ended up at Denise Jaden’s blog post on the subject.
The general idea is that during March, writers (and readers) of all stripes set public goals and encourage each other to complete them, checking in with their progress on a daily basis. It is not unlike NaNo in that way, but the main difference seems to be that everybody will have different goals, instead of all participants plugging away to 50K.
Now, I’ve got a novel draft in serious need of revision (like change-the-protagonist-POV-setting serious), a short story I’m half-way through writing (but for which I have a very clear vision), and a bunch of other ideas for novels and stories kicking around my skull.While I historically don’t do so great with word-count based challenges, I’m thinking that if I can narrow down my goals, March Madness might be just the thing for me. Unless I convince myself otherwise sometime between now and, uh, tomorrow, I’m in.
If it sounds like something that might help you, too, head on over to Denise Jaden’s blog on March 1st to publicly declare your goals and find out more details about where to check in along the way. There’s also a hashtag, #WIPmadness (it took me longer than I’d like to admit to realize that WIP= work in progress!), so you can follow along on twitter as well, if that’s your preferred method of internet procrastination.