The [Scary] Elements of Writing

I’m horribly embarrassed to admit this, but I’ll do it anyway: I rarely actually start writing my stories. I have a hard time making the preliminary decisions in order to logically begin. I will brainstorm and outline an idea to within an inch of its life, but when it comes down to writing that first sentence, I just….can’t do it.

The epitome of my problem can be expressed in one word: Commitment.

There are just too many options to choose from when you’re writing fiction. You can make literally anything happen. An infinity of decisions to make. As soon as you make one decision, a door slams shut, and then the next decision closes another, and then another and another, until eventually you’re standing in a hallway of closed doors with only one path to move forward through and you just hope to Hades you closed the right doors because otherwise your story will be crap and an embarrassment and you’ll never live down the humiliation that yes, that rubbish came out of your brain.

My indecision when confronted with each metaphorical ‘door’ almost always eventually throws me into a panic: ‘Oh my god I can’t do this, I can’t be a writer, this is too hard! I should give up and leave it to the professionals.’

Even when I am able to whittle down my options enough to tentatively choose something to move forward with, it seems I’m back in that hallway, peeking behind one of those doors I just closed to see what it might lead to, which forces all the doors in the hall to open again, and I’m back where I started…a hallway full of open doors, leading to other hallways with more doors to confront, on into infinity.

Alright, so I’m exaggerating a little bit. Most story ideas come with a vague idea of how they want to be told and where they’d like to end up, which leaves us in a smaller hallway with fewer doors, but that doesn’t make the closing of each one less scary. As writers we are the architects of our character’s destinies; we don’t want to botch it because we picked the wrong POV or started the book in the wrong place. Even that first little sentence, however many or few words, closes many doors all on its own. It’s a tough job, and I don’t think it’s acknowledged enough how difficult it can be to wade through some of these decisions.

I guess the most important thing is to not let yourself turn around in that hallway and run back the way you came. You have to start, and you have to keep going. You’re going to choose some of the wrong doors to close along the way, but the bottom line is you have to start somewhere, and you can’t let that intimidating hallway stop you in your tracks and second guess yourself. Go with what feels natural, and edit from there.

Now, I hope you’ll excuse me while I take a bit of my own advice and finally get those first words down. I’ll be navigating my way through a literary Labyrinth, if you need me.

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What I’m Reading | Fall 2014

Today is the official beginning of my favorite season, Autumn. As such, I thought it would be appropriate to let you guys know what is on my To-Read List for the next few months.

I’ve always felt that there are certain books that were meant to be read in the cooler months, which is what has inspired all of the books on this list (although I’m always open to impulsive reads too!).

My Cousin Rachel

The first ‘autumn’ read I’ve chosen is My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne DuMaurier. Last year I read Rebecca, and I loved it so much I wanted to reread it this year, until I found My Cousin Rachel at the bookstore last month (how did I not know this existed before?!). What I loved about Rebecca was the suspense, the mystery/plot twists, the writing style, and the gothic elements of the story, and so far I’ve not been disappointed by this book either. DuMaurier seems to have a thing for beginnings that make you beg for more, while maintaining stylistic perfection. I’m hooked, and I can’t wait to sit down with it this weekend and read as much as I can.

Dracula

I’ve also started Dracula, by Bram Stoker. I have to admit, I was not looking forward to reading this and simply chose it because it is ‘classic Halloween’, but even after only the first few pages, I knew my pre-conceived notions about this novel were dead wrong. This is a prime example of why you should not judge a book by its reputation! More about this to come in the ‘official’ review.

The Woman in White The Haunting of Hill House

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two other books I have on order and should be here this week: The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson, and The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins. I don’t know much about either of these books, but they both sound interesting and I think they’ll fit right into my autumn/spooky theme.

I’m hoping to finish these four novels before Halloween, so I’ve got a lot of reading ahead of me, but I’m up for the challenge!

In case you’re looking for some ideas for fall reading, here are some other seasonal favorites I’ve read in years past::

Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier

Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier

Out Stealing Horses

Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

The Loch, by Steve Alten

The Loch, by Steve Alten

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë

 

Thanks for reading,
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Bookshelf Organization, September 2014

Hey guys,

Along with getting back into blogging, I’ve decided to start uploading youtube videos again as well. This weekend I re-organized my bookshelves, and thought some of you might be interested to see how I’ve organized them. The video is below if you’d like to see it.

Bonus – I introduce my guinea pigs, Braxton and Beethoven at the end :-)

Thanks for reading (and watching),

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The Scarlet Pimpernel, Emmuska Orczy

The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel, Emmuska Orczy
Classic/Adventure
271 Pages
Published 1905
Goodreads Page
To Buy at Book Depository

I actually read this book back in March of this year, but I wasn’t feeling very motivated to write reviews at that time, so this is quite late! I read it with a group I am a part of on goodreads. Before that, I don’t think I’d ever heard of this novel.

I admit I rushed through this novel a little bit. Since it is so short, I wanted to knock it out quickly and move on to something I wanted to read more, which I slightly regret after the fact. It was an interesting story, and the plot was constantly moving forward, but something about it wasn’t as engaging as I’d hoped for. This novel is widely considered the first of it’s kind, a political spy/rebellious thriller complete with tricks, secret identities, and sidekicks/accomplices.

I remember being a little bit irked that the wife was not ‘allowed’ by the characters or the author to play the role that seemed natural for her to do in the climax of the plot. I felt like there was a lot of lead up to where there was a greater expectation for her part in the adventure, but all she ended up doing was solving the mystery and getting herself in the way. For that reason, it wasn’t my favorite book, but I do appreciate it for what it is, and I’m glad this novel opened the creative door for future works such as Zorro and other political mysteries and thrillers.

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The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory

So here it is, a new start to an old blog…again. I’m going to try not to think about what this means about my basic personality and just get into it: I’m blogging again.

The Other Boleyn Girl

 

I recently read The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. This is the sixth book of hers I’ve read and I find that, generally, I enjoy them very much. What I like about her novels is how interesting they are. The first one I read was The Lady of the Rivers (part of The Cousin’s War series). I remember being skeptical at first, but quickly became completely captivated by it. The same has held true for all of her novels I’ve read so far.

 

The Other Boleyn Girl is about the ‘middle’ of King Henry VIII’s reign; Queen Katherine was getting older and had still not given him a son (which made the King very nervous), and the Boleyn Girls had begun to catch his eye. The book is told in the perspective of Mary Boleyn, of whom little is factually known in the historical record. Mary served as one of Queen Katherine’s ladies in waiting, giving her a close position to the higher ups of the royal court.

 

Mary’s family strategically plots a way for her to get close to the king in order to gain his favor and improve the family’s wealth, influence, and status. To achieve these means, they decide the best thing to do is use Mary as bait for an affair. In the novel, she is quite successful (though morally unsure about it), and her family is modestly rewarded for his affections…but they are hungry for more. Enter Anne Boleyn. While Mary is giving birth to Henry’s illegitimate son, Anne steps in to keep the King’s attention from wandering to another family. When it becomes obvious that he favors Anne over Mary once she is out of confinement, her family quickly changes strategies, and put all their hopes on Anne. Luckily (it seems), Anne has plans of her own, and it isn’t to just be a whore in the King’s bed.

 

There is quite a lot of hate on Philippa Gregory concerning ‘historical accuracy’. I’d like to quickly address this. First of all, I wouldn’t call myself a history buff, although ancient civilization is a passion of mine. But here’s the thing: Philippa Gregory is a novelist; in other words, one who makes things up for a living. I admire her work because she takes the bare bones facts we know, along with rumor and suspicion or events that may have taken place, chooses a narrator who would be able to tell the story she wants to get at, and weaves a story from there that is not only interesting to read, but also inspires readers (like me) to research the time period for themselves. I don’t pick up a Philippa Gregory novel in order to learn about historical facts, I read them to be entertained. There’s nothing wrong with that.

 

This novel is fast paced, emotional, and exciting. I always find Philippa Gregory reliable to ‘pick me up’ when I feel myself falling into a reading slump. Although the book is over 600 pages long, the writing is good enough and compelling enough to make it seem half that length. It’s full of romance, ambition, revenge, and secrecy, I would highly recommend it.

 

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Book Review:: Dreamlander, KM Weiland

Dreamlander, KM WeilandDreamlander, K.M. Weiland
Fantasy
544 Pages
Published: November 2012
Goodreads Page
Buy on Amazon.com

Summary::
Chris Redston has always had strangely realistic dreams, but when he went to sleep one night in one world and woke up in another, he began to realize that his dreams were much more than they seemed. In Chicago, Chris is just an ordinary guy, but in Lael, he’s a Gifted. Generally Gifteds, or worldwalkers, only pop up in Lael once a generation, but Chris has the misfortune to be the second Gifted to come to Lael in 20 years. Unfortunately, Chris’ predecessor used the respect and power he had as a Gifted for personal gain and threw the delicate political balance of Lael into war, ruining the Gifted’s reputation and making Chris’ welcome chilly at best.

In Chicago, there are a few who know about Lael (who don’t have the best intentions), and they’re all seeking out for Chris, who is the only one with the power to walk between the worlds. In Lael, Chris finds himself in a world where his very presence is resented and enemies and spies are at every turn. Clumsily, and still in denial, Chris makes the one bad decision that could ruin everything on his first night of world travel. His only ally in Lael is the Searcher, whose life is dedicated to keeping the Gifted safe, and even she is reluctant to trust him. In Chicago, Chris’ friends try to help him, but have no idea the truth of what’s really going on. Chris’ task quickly becomes keeping those he cares about safe, resolving all the problems the Gifted have caused in Lael…and to stop creating new ones.

Review::
I have been a follower of K.M. Weiland’s blog HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.com for several years, but I’d never read any of her fiction until now. Needless to say, I was very curious to see how she put her writing advice to practice in her own work, and I was not disappointed. Not only is this book written skillfully, the writing is so good you hardly even notice how good it is. Some may consider that a bad thing, but I consider it the best thing in the action/adventure/thriller genres, where the focus should be 100% on the plot, keeping readers so engaged they can’t bear to put down the book.

The initial idea of the book is intriguing in itself, and the dream-world that Weiland creates is quite dimensional and well thought out. In an epic novel such as this, with conflicts affecting two entire worlds, it can be a challenge to reveal information to readers in a comprehensive way that doesn’t pull from the immediate action of the plot, but in my opinion Weiland was able to do just that in Dreamlander. Another thing epic novels tend to ‘have’ to have, are a whole lot of characters, which is also true of Weiland’s novel. There is the main cast for both worlds, both good and bad guys, and in Lael, there are a LOT of secondary characters and insignificant characters needed to advance the plot. The variety of characters was refreshing; most of them were not strictly good or strictly bad. I’m thinking of Orias as a great example of this. He is the Keeper, who is in charge of delivering an artifact to the Gifted which allows him or her to carry things with them through the worlds. Orias appears to be a morally steadfast character when he is confronted with a scenario he just can’t accept and makes unexpected decisions. Through time, Orias is in a constant internal struggle with guilt, consequence, and fear of what is to come, which become the motivators for his actions. As readers, we are constantly confronted with the question of what choice Orias will make. Will he make the ‘right’ decisions? Are his actions worth it? Will he ever be brave enough to make things right? In his unexpected transformations, Orias is a standout character in the novel. The main character is also a little unexpected. Having him unknowingly make the worst decision possible before he is even aware of what is going on was a clever move. The one character I wasn’t sure about through most of the novel was Eroll, but in the end I understood his role in the story. His role could probably have been tightened up in some way throughout the majority of the novel, but as he’s written it’s not too bad. In fact, that’s the only complaint about the whole book that even comes to mind!

I couldn’t put this book down. I started reading it on my phone when I had a spare moment with nothing to do and didn’t have a physical book around (I got it for free during a promotion on Amazon – kindle version – which I found out about through KM Weiland’s monthly newsletter, which you can sign up for here). When I couldn’t find where my actual kindle was, it didn’t matter – I read the whole thing from the screen of my smart phone. That’s how compelling it was. I couldn’t even pause in my free time long enough to locate the reading device necessary to read it comfortably (I actually still haven’t found it, but that’s beside the point). I read much of it lying across the bed so my phone could charge while I continued to read. I skipped meals and I neglected my husband. It’s that good.

Recommendation::
The pages of this book are riddled with action and conflict; I can’t think of even one moment that could be considered ‘boring’ but it’s more than that. It’s not just an exciting plot line, it’s just plain good writing. For that reason, I think this book would appeal to a large audience, including young readers. I would recommend this book for anyone looking for a fast-paced entertaining adventure to get completely immersed into – regardless of if they’ve enjoyed ‘fantasy’ novels in the past. If you’re looking for something engaging to read to re-fire your passion and get back into reading, I think this book could do it. 544 pages may seem like a lot, but it goes so fast you’ll be halfway through before you know it!

Your Turn::
Have you read this book?
Let me know what you thought, post a comment!

The Neverending Story, Michael Ende

The Neverending Story is one of the few movies I have strong memories of as a kid. It’s a wonderful story about an awkward, self-conscious kid who finds his confidence through the magic of a book.

Firstly, if you’re a parent, this is a fantastic book for your children to read. I’d say age 8 is probably old enough to read it, though I don’t have kids of my own, so it’s hard for me to judge maturity by age. I think it would be a fun adventure to read together.

The story is about a little boy, Bastian, who is bullied by some kids around his town. When he is running from them before school in the opening, he takes refuge in an old book shop. Inside is a grumpy old man with a large leather-bound book. When the old man runs to answer a phone call in the other room, Bastian does something against his character and steals the book, leaving the shop before the owner returns. When Bastian gets to school, he can’t bear to go to his classes, so instead he runs up to the attic to read his new treasure.

The text is broken up by italics, where Bastian’s story is italicized and the story in Fantastica is in regular type.
The book is about a grand adventure in the land of Fantastica, which is ruled by the childlike Empress. She is deathly ill and in dire need of help, so she sends out her beloved medallion to a young boy named Atreyu, so that he may be able to find her cure. Atreyu is met with many friends and foes on his journey, and Bastian is as invested in the story as any young kid possibly could be.

Halfway through the book the tone changes entirely; it almost seemed like there were two books, the first half Atreyu’s adventure, and the second half, Bastian’s (once he is transported into Fantastica). Honestly though, Bastian’s part of the story dragged and it took me forever to finish it.

The ending, however, was very good. The adventure solved all of Bastian’s confidence problems, and mended the boy’s relationship with his father, and even made him a new friend, in the form of the book shop owner, who we find out had also travelled to Fantastica once, a long time ago.
I would call this story an epic adventure. Fantastica stretches literally as far as imagination will allow.

Ende does a fantastic job revealing the themes in this book naturally and beautifully. Using his story within a story we are able to see Basitan realize truths about himself and find his own importance in the world, which causes the reader to re-evaluate their own self-worth and confidence. This book also celebrates a child-like imagination by creating the (biggest) villain of Fantastica to symbolize the idea that lack of imagination and adventure is what brings negativity into our lives. I also think these virtures come into full fruition within the first half of the book, and that the second half could have been severely edited or left out entirely, honestly.

I like this book because it sends all the right messages without being too obvious or too ‘kiddie’. I love that over all, The Neverending Story is about how a book can change your life. I can see this book becoming beloved by a child reading it for the first time, especially one who had not yet seen the movie (which stops at the halfway point in the book).

The first half exceeded my expectations, but the second half really never seemed to end. Never End. Get it?

Emma.

The Paris Wife, Paula McLain

After distancing myself for a few days from The Paris Wife, I decided that I’d like to write up a proper review for it, as it really was an outstanding book.
In short, it’s about Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage, told from his wife’s perspective (Hadley Richardson). It begins just as they met in Chicago 1921, through their  mutual friend Kate and her brother, who Ernest and Hadley are both staying with (my feeling is it was some kind of large house with rooms for let, they weren’t sleeping on the couch or anything). Hadley, 28 at the time (to Ernest’s 21), had just lost her mother and desperately needed a vacation, which is what brought her there. Obviously, they fall in love and get married, yada yada ;-)
I think what touched me so much about this book is how real the relationship and the marriage felt. There were mistakes, there were awkward times, there were times of self-doubt and of loneliness. The entire arc of the relationship is covered in this book – from the first words they spoke to each other up to the last phone call they ever share, years after their divorce (if you read through to the epilogue). As a reader, you fall in love with them, you ache with them, you share their frustrations, and when you just begin to sense that things are starting to not go quite as well as they had been, you’re just as surprised to see that the problems had been brewing for a long time, and just as hearbroken about it. They were the couple their friends thought would never break up. This is the story of a real happy couple, and how their marriage crumpled despite, or perhaps because of, their passion.
Paula McLain’s writing struck me right away. It was descriptive and emotional, and conveyed the tone and style of the novel perfectly in every sentence. I’m actually not sure exactly how many of the events and conversations in this novel are true, but I imagine quite a bit of it must be (Hemingway was quite autobiographical in his novels, and he has multiple volumes of published letters – and an otherwise highly public life). What I loved the most was how much The Paris Wife felt like Hemingway’s novels. A big part of the book was dedicated to Pampalona and three different years they attended the running of the bulls and the festivities afterward, which is exactly what happens: fishing trip, toreros, characters and all, in The Sun Also Rises. Her writing didn’t exactly mimic Hemingway’s, but the same tone was there…agh, it’s hard to explain. It is perfect for what it is really:  the supposed recounting of the events through the perspective of his wife, who would sound similar to him, wouldn’t she? It’s really a wonderful novel.
I think Hadley’s voice from the 1920s is similar to many voices of modern women: a little bit insecure, a little bit lonely, completely dependant on her husband (emotionally, as in, she has few friends), and hopelessly in love. I found it easy to connect with, and I think many readers of historical fiction, or admirers of Hemingway’s work, would enjoy it.
As for Paris, well, I can’t speak for that. Hem and Hadley encountered many others we know well today who were featured in the novel: F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein the most prominent of those. I’m not very familiar with any of those, but I’d be curious to see if they’re really anything like how McLain paints them in this novel. I have Z, the Zelda Fitzgerald novel that came out recently, so I may have to get that out in the next few days…
This novel is also funny. The dialogue establishes the personality of whole parties instead of individuals, it seems, and everyone has multiple nicknames and drinks entirely too much (sound like any novels you’ve heard of?). It was a time to be social and to drink and to laugh and to love, and a time of great friends. And there was poverty and grime and beauty and madness that came of the time.
It’s really a wonderful book – you should read it.
Emma.

Thoughts on The Paris Wife

The following post isn’t a review, exactly. More like an immediate reaction to the novel.

I’ve just finished reading The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain. Let me tell you, even though I knew how this book would inevitably end, I find myself crushed by this one.

It begins in Chicago in 1921, Hemingway a strapping 21 year old, and ends in a plethora of places, because marriages don’t end all at once, do they? Perhaps I’m writing this too soon after finishing the book, but this is a literary journal, is it not? I fell in love with this book at the Prologue. The writing enchanted me, and I couldn’t wait to read about how the first girl snagged Ernest Hemingway – it’s quite romantic. It’s delightful to read about falling in love, but who can take reading passage after passage of failing love, of a crumpling marriage – especially when both parties are still very much in love? Especially when they see their peers failing in the same ways…

Young people should read this novel to learn that giving into temptation doesn’t ultimately make anyone happy, does it? Even decades later Ernest Hemingway (at least in the book) realizes that in the grand scheme of his life, his betrayal of Hadley only four years into their marriage, was one of the biggest mistakes he’d ever made.

Hemingway is my favorite classic novelist, A Farewell To Arms & The Sun Also Rises are two of my favorite books ever. I own many of his works, and yet haven’t read them because they’re on ration throughout my lifetime, so there will always be something new. I love his writing, and I like to picture him working, writing, someone who was so dedicated and masterful at his craft…reading this ‘interpretation’ of his first marriage, and perhaps only true love brought me to my knees. This feeling I have after reading the last third of the book is really an emotional blow.

I actually love this book. The writing is very good, and I obviously love the subject. Paula McLain did such a good job, in fact, that I’m quite upset with Mr. Hemingway at the moment. I’m torn between wanting to read one of his books right now, or whether to put them all somewhere I can’t see them for awhile, the bastard.

Emma.

What I’m Reading – Early January

I haven’t really decided how I’m going to do the titles of my posts yet. I really don’t want to do anything like, “What I’m Reading #1, #2, #3, etc.” or even “Anna Karenina Discussion/Thoughts/Summary/Review”…because I think I will probably do more posts like this one, where I talk about all the books I’m reading. Maybe ‘What I’m Reading’ will work. We’ll see!

Anyway –

The four books I’m currently reading are Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, On The Map, by Simon Garfield, and Reading In the Dark, by Seamus Deane.

Anna Karenina and Reading in the Dark are the fiction novels I am reading so far this month. I’ve never been especially inclined to read Anna Karenina, and frankly, I’m not really sure what intrigued me about it this time. ‘An old Russian classic about a family,’ does not really sound interesting to me. I did happen to have a copy (I think I bought it at the thrift store a year or two ago), and it just happened to be the same translation that one of my goodreads groups were starting in the new year, so I dug it out of the box it had been in, and before my inspiration had left me, I began to read.

The most surprising thing, at first, was how easy it was to read. I mean, the book is 800 pages written in 1877 by one of the Great Russian Writers and is argued to be the best novel of all time. In a word, I was intimidated. As it turns out though, that the Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky translation is extraordinarily effortless to read. I found myself immediately engaged in the story (as was Tolstoy’s goal), and loving the characters. I was sort of curious how an entire door stop of a book could be about one family and still be interesting, but I’ve soon found out! This isn’t a family like I’m used to (I grew up with my family of 5, states away from our nearest extended family), but something much bigger and complex. Without giving away anything about the plot, I will run through most of the characters we encounter (almost in order of appearance):

Stepan Arkadyich Oblonsky (Stiva) is married to Dolly (Darya, and they have many children, six maybe?) , whose sister is Kitty (Ekaterina), who was being courted by Alexei Vronsky and Konstanin Demitrich Levin (whose two brothers Sergei Ivanovich, and Nikolai Dimitrich both appear in the story). Levin, is also Stiva’s best childhood friend, and had been friends with Dolly & Kitty’s older brother. Stiva’s sister, Anna Karenina, is married to Alexei Alexandrovich and has a son, Seryozha (Sergei). Dolly & Kitty’s parents, Prince and Princess Shcherbatsky also play roles in the story, as well as Betsy, who is Vronsky’s cousin (Vronsky’s mother, brother, and sister-in law also appear) – and we are also introduced to a few of the people employed by the estates mentioned above, like Agafya Mikhailovna, who is Levin’s housekeeper.

As you can see, though it may be the ‘story of a family’, it is packed with characters who all have different meaningful connections with one another. For example, Levin is Dolly’s husband’s (Stiva’s) good friend, but is also courting her sister…therefore Levin & Dolly’s relationship is more complex than it originally appears.

I actually can’t believe how easy that list was to come up with – which says a lot about how well this novel is laid out for the reader (an attribute to Tolstoy). It’s easy to remember who everyone is, and what it is they’re going through at any given time. The plot weaves so beautifully and naturally, and the characters have both strengths and weaknesses, they’re so real. It’s so much easier to enjoy a story when the characters are realistic, for me as a reader, it is easier to care about them, and over time you start to feel close to them. Stiva is the first character we meet, and we stay with him quite awhile before we meet more characters and are on to another subplot. When Stiva appears again, I actually got excited because I remembered who he was by the sight of his name (which I wasn’t expecting because everyone is always so concerned with the character names in Russian Literature – and if you’re wary because of that – I promise it’s not that bad!).

I have to say, I’m glad I took the plunge to read it. I just finished part 5 of 8, and have participated in a few different online discussions, and I’m really pleased with the whole experience. I don’t often read books with my goodreads groups. Usually I get anxious about time lines, or I’m reading another book, or the books they’re reading don’t interest me. It’s great to see what other people notice as they read the same book at the same time. So many things that didn’t necessarily pop out at you, or things that you bring up that others had never thought about. It can be really fun (I will have some examples in my next Anna K post, which will be FULL of spoilers).

Reading In the Dark by Seamus Deane is the other fiction book I’m reading right now. I’d never heard of it before, I just ran across it as I perused the shelves of my library (which I was avoiding because I knew when I went I’d pick up tons of books, and I did!). Seamus Deane is from Ireland and has been a professor of Irish studies in various colleges through the years, and is also a co-editor of Field Day Review, which is an annual Irish literary Journal. Reading in the Dark is his first novel, which was published in 1996. The book won The Irish Times International Fiction Prize and The Irish Literature Prize, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, though I did not know this when I picked it up. It isn’t very long, at 256 pages, so I started reading it first, out of the pile of books I’d brought home.

The chapters are varied in length, and they don’t seem to have much to do with one another. I’ve only read a handful so far, but it seems to be going in somewhat chronological order through a young Irish boy’s life. Each chapter, as I said, is disjointed from the one before. It’s sort of like skimming a book. It seemed like the author let us read the first three pages, and then skimmed ahead skipping 15 pages or so to read another three pages, and skipping 15 pages again; just little glimpses into the boy’s life. I’ve mainly been reading Anna Karenina, so I haven’t really become invested in the book yet. It’s a little abstract – I may pick it back up once I finish Anna.

I’m also reading two non-fiction books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, and On The Map by Simon Garfield. Something strange is happening as I read these two books in conjunction with one another…although I am more interested in the subject of On The Map than The Omnivore’s Dilemma, as a book and a reading experience, I’m more partial to The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by far. I don’t want to necessarily say that Garfield isn’t as good of writer or researcher, or even that it’s a worse book (as I’m only half through Dilemma and 80 pages in to Map) – but there are vastly different tones to each. Pollan is like Mary Roach minus most of the humor, and Garfield is like Mary Roach minus most of the research. I think most of the problem with On The Map is the subject. Cartography is something that fascinates me (anything to do with the development of man and culture, really), but since so little is really known about the first maps, I can see how it’d be hard to say much more than, “And this is the map he drew: obviously wrong, but neat, huh?” Also I think On the Map is trying too hard to be the ‘cool kid’, where Dilemma is the kid who is cool because he’s passionate about what he does. Does that make sense? I will try to pin point the feeling I’m getting at here and elaborate later on, because I think the comparison of the two is really interesting.

I’m also a little disappointed in On the Map in general. There was a section talking about the Library of Alexandria, which I really didn’t know anything about, and I was just enamored with the idea of collecting the world’s knowledge, and I wanted to know more about it. So after a simple google search, I found that the section I’d read of On the Map had misled me to believe that Alexander the Great had founded the library with specific instruction and intent…It’s true that as a reader I assumed where the writing wasn’t clear, but shouldn’t that never have been an issue – especially with a non-fiction book? It’s also true that On The Map is not a book about the Library of Alexandria – but if he mentions it at all, shouldn’t it be clear and accurate for people like me who don’t know anything about it? I’m not sure how I feel about it right now, but I’m only about 80 pages in (of 443). I’m afraid the research quality won’t improve once it moves into modern history…but I’m hoping it does! My hopes were high for this one.

And on the other hand I am fascinated by The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I think I first heard of it on Goodreads (I’m on goodreads a lot!), along with another of Pollan’s books, The Botany of Desire, which also sounds interesting. He got me with the introduction, and I mean, right away. Of course we all want to know where our food comes from. I’ve actually become more an more aware of it in recent years, and have become more and more disgusted with it (although I still eat like most other Americans. If you’ve read this book, you understand). Basically what Michael Pollan does, is walk us through four different food chains – from the fast-food restraint/supermarket/farm to the meal on your dinner plate. It is meticulously researched. Pollan literally gets down to the roots of the grass, and the bio-engineering of corn all the way to the world market in grain trading/consumption. It’s amazing. I first checked this book out as an audiobook from the library. After listening to it for about 10 minutes I logged in to my library’s website and reserved a copy in paperback so I could extract exact quotes, and the more I think about it, the more I think I need this book for my collection. So fascinating, I’m totally enthralled.

So that’s what I’ve been reading this week, I hope to finish at least one book by next week (and will hopefully have my computer back then). The review will probably take me a little while to come up with – I really want to put more meaning into the reviews I do here, so I plan on putting much more time into them to really polish them up before publishing. You all understand :-)

Until next time,
-Emma