They say these are: “10 Books That You Might Have Missed but Shouldn’t.” They are titles that might have flown under the radar for you.
There are capsule reviews of the books to help you decide which to read. Enjoy.
1. ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’
3. ‘A Book of Secrets’
4. ‘Assassins of the Turquoise Palace’
5. ‘What It Is Like to Go to War’
6. ‘Hemingway’s Boat’
7. ‘Anatomy of a Disappearance’
8. ‘Into the Silence’
9. ‘Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness’
10. ‘Keynes Hayek’
One of my first-draft readers of Tesora sent me this note:
“The concept of your story is very promising . . . what draws me in is the promise of adventure. The first chapter reeled me in because it had a nice amount of action but afterward I felt like the story was being “told” rather than “shown” so I had a really hard time getting into the story.”
This was my answer to her:
Yes, I know my novel does not sustain the level of action that Chapter 1 shows: it’s a book with a full range of rhythms. Some are dramatic, of course, but many are psychological or meditative. To me, the thought-process of a main character is important action. The story was never intended to be only an adventure: it concerns slavery and racism and an accurate historical context. Also, the whole conceit of the story is that it’s a book adapted from the journals Ronan (its main character) keeps aboard his boat. After Ronan’s arrival in Puerto Toque (page 50 or so), there is also much dialog—and that is a form of both action and contemplation. For me the best reading is in stories where I learn the depths of a character, in mind and history, as well as action. When I was young I read and re-read books to rediscover not just events in motion, but what Borges calls “emotion in books.” Huckleberry Finn opens with a recitation of the plot of the novel, Tom Sawyer. At the bottom of page one of Mysterious Island by Jules Verne reads an extended weather report. Notes from Underground is 95% internal monologue. I find stories with ceaseless action to be dreary. I’d rather sit and watch Rodin’s Thinker think for ten minutes, than watch 1,000 marathon runners go by. While I don’t think novels have to compete with movies for action, nevertheless, I am reexamining my story to better dramatize the story. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning about writing, nor will I want to stop.
In “Swimming to Cambodia,” the monologue theater piece that became a popular movie, Spalding Gray plays Woody Allen’s oft-portrayed, anxiety-stifled character better than Allen ever could. The audience’s fascination may come from the conviction that Spalding Gray is not acting, but telling the truth, and he is. Although the genesis of his story may be seem spontaneous, the monologue is indeed as well-written as it is truthful.
The deeper fascination for the audience is the realization that we see through the character and the actor into the naked mind of the man called Gray with both dread and sympathy. Though we see that a person who is seriously neurotic or depressed is not us, the fascination grows because his character draws a picture so completely. In “Cambodia” Gray’s acting is equal to his writing ability.
Now, in ‘The Journals of Spalding Gray’ a review by Ron Rosenbaum of Gray’s previously unpublished personal story, we find the truth of it. Rosenbaum says: “It’s distressing to read the way happiness generates sadness and terror in Gray’s psyche, because his work could be the source of so much pleasure to his audiences.” Not that Bob Dylan ever accomplished any success as a poet, but he once said “A poet is a naked man.” I think that applies to Spalding Gray in his journals. See for yourself in this excerpt from the book which is now available for us to read: here.
Tim Gager, the principal of the Dire Reader Series, announces a new literary journal: Printer’s Devil Review (PDR). He’s its Editorial Consultant and he helped find authors to submit to the journal. Thomas Dobson created it along with his staff of editors. It’s is an open-access journal of stories, poems, and visual art. They aim to provide emerging writers and artists with greater access to publishing. For the reader they hope to deliver new voices and visions. The journal has all the contents downloadable on PDF files from the Website. If the story of Kate Racculia is an example, he’s met his promise to showcase good writing. I was once a printer’s devil (a printing assistant) and had my own Red Howl Press when “press” meant paper under my feet and ink under my fingernails.
My ten favorite rules for writing fiction
(Partly derived from: this Guardian article which includes the “Top Ten” lists
the authors: Elmore Leonard, Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Helen Dunmore, Geoff Dyer, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Esther Freud, Neil Gaiman, David Hare, PD James, AL Kennedy)
1. The most important thing in fiction is sincerity: don’t fake it.
2. If it sounds like writing, read it out loud, then rewrite it.
3. Feel your anxiety—it’s an important part of the process.
4. Keep a grip on reality with a good meditation practice.
5. Read. Read all the best books: look them up.
6. Most writers don’t know how to use an em-dash: look that up.
7. Spend most of your time not writing. Readers don’t care about words,
they want to hear your imagination speak.
8. Don’t be afraid to change your mind. Kill good ideas with better ones.
9. Never fall in love with your own writing.
10. Write a book you’d love to read.
Here is a excerpt from an interview with Roddy Doyle given by The Guardian. The interview details an in-depth portrayal of the life of his novel, Paula Spencer. This shows a fearless writer at the top of his game as he struggled to create a character far from himself, yet he created a character who needed to emerge. This character is also perhaps his greatest achievement.
“. . . the most difficult thing he’d ever attempted. The Woman Who Walked Into Doors took the character of Paula Spencer – alcoholic, careening, desperate but still stubbornly clinging to her life – and produced a bleak, brave book that is widely held to be his finest creation. “Writing an alcoholic woman was hard,” he says. “Biology and circumstances put me a long way from her. It was a very slow piece of work at first. It took me a long time to get the register. Then in the second year, it began to click. Chapter 25, the longest one, the emotional heart of the book – it took just two days to write; it flowed out of me. By that point, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”
“In chapter 25, Paula recalls the first time Charlo hit her, when she was pregnant with their first child. “I fell,” Paula says, “He felled me. I’m looking at it now. Twenty years later. I wouldn’t do what he wanted, he was in his moods, I was being smart, he hated me being pregnant, I wasn’t his little Paula anymore – and he drew his fist back and he hit me. He hit me. Before he knew it? He drew his own fist back, not me. He aimed at me. He let go. He hit me. He wanted to hurt me. And he did. And he did more than that.” The stiff, fractured sentences and hammering repetitions convey the brutality of Paula’s marriage, and the mental excisions she has had to perform to survive it. “It is the triumph of the novel,” Mary Gordon wrote in the New York Times Book Review, “that Mr Doyle – entirely without condescension – shows the inner life of this battered housecleaner to be the same stuff as that of the heroes of the great novels of Europe.”
—Roddy Doyle: A life in writing, by Sarah Crown.
Coming to any conclusion regarding the value of any particular literary work or group of literary works against any other standard, whether it be an educational, political, or economic one, is simplistic and ludicrous. It’s as intelligent as rating the quality of paintings by the total number of brush strokes.
Let’s see, that’s Rembrandt with 11,534 strokes versus Jackson Pollock with 0. Or to make a literary comparison: it’s Tolstoy with 450,000 words versus Emily Dickinson with 3,250. Now, how fun is that? But if you want to keep warm during a Boston winter while avoiding news of American deaths in Afghanistan, read War and Peace and feel smug against the comparison with Moscow and Napoleon. If you want your brain to toy with the many times your feelings have reacted to a snake in the grass, read Dickinson’s poem about it. The joy Tolstoy and Dickinson had it creating those writings is there for all to read again and again. There is no way to create a definite product from that, but readers do keep coming back to it.
Ultimately, art cannot be put into any box besides its own creation. It is profoundly anti-establishment, anti-ideological and of course, anti-narrow-minded. Marjorie Garber says: “Literature is a process rather than a product, and if it progresses, it does so in a way that often involves doubling back upon a track or meandering by the wayside rather than forging ahead, relentlessly and single-mindedly, toward some imagined goal or solution.”
Here’s an excellent interview from Poets & Writers with the agent, Molly Friedrich. It’s an in-depth view of the world from one of the best agents in the publishing business. Enjoy.
On Michael Silverblatt’s Bookworm radio show (KCRW) there’s a fine interview with Mario Vargas Llosa. They discuss how realist stories have supplanted magicalism in Latin American literature and the use of humor. They talk much about writing itself, and the point-of-view of a donkey. The link is: http://www.kcrw.com/etc/mario-vargas-llosa