Category Archives: Reading
I have a pretty fair selection of writing books, some that are good, some that are bad and many that are ‘meh’. I like to have one on the go most of the time, it’s a good motivator and you never know what new tips or ideas will strike your fancy.
In one writing book I was reading, it mentioned another writing book, described something like, old, but still extremely useful. Well, I enjoy things that are old but extremely useful, so I ordered it and guess what, it’s old, but extremely useful!
The book is Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by the crime and mystery writer Lawrence Block, originally published in 1981 or so, but still in print. I must declare here that I have never actually read any of Lawrence Block’s books, (I know, I know) but he’s got a whole whack of them under his belt.
There’s a few things I really enjoyed about Telling Lies for Fun and Profit. The first was the tone of the book, funny and full of self-deprecating humour that writers will understand all too well. The other was that for every point or theory or whatever he brings up, he gives an example from his own work or experience and I am a girl who loves a frigging example. Show, don’t tell, right? I have no problem with the odd book about writing and creativity as a spiritual practice full of lofty ideals and vague, ill-defined aspirations, but this book is not that book. This book is about the day to day grind of the writer and the many foibles and pitfalls said writer will undoubtedly stumble into. If you have read a lot of books about writing, taken a bunch of courses and been at it for years, this book will probably not blow your mind. However, it will take a bunch of things you have already learned at some point and lay them out in a funny and easy to digest manner. It will remind you of things that it’s extremely easy to forget and nudge you to take action without making you feel guilty about all the ways in which you suck as a writer. I think all writers should own this book and reread it every few years to have a little chuckle at themselves and the very stupid profession they have chosen to pursue.
Lawrence Block has managed to pile a bunch of useful advice, information and practices for writers to consider without being preachy. At no point do you feel that he is suggesting that his advice is the only advice, or even that it is the best advice, but as he walks you through what has worked and not worked over a long career, you can see more clearly what works and doesn’t work for you. So if your writing life could use a little kick in the pants and you could use a gentle reminder of what the hell you are trying to do and why, pick up Telling Lies for Fun and Profit. We may act alone as writers, but we’re all in this together.
I was recently asked by a new acquaintance what I like to read. I find this an exciting and slightly ominous question, because the truth, unhelpful as it is, is that I like to read mostly everything with words, a plot and interesting characters are a bonus. Yay for story! Part of my answer to this question is inevitably classics, those tried and true books that are bastions of the castle that is the written word. She expressed some surprise that I do this of my own volition and not because I have to for some course I’m taking. She is not the only one with this reaction over the years.
I love reading classics. Not because they’re all good, because some of them suck, but to explore the world of the classic. Why is something a classic, who decides? Mostly I like to witness the trickledown effect in reverse. When you read a classic, a lot of other random pieces snap into place. You understand references and asides in a whole new way, you see previously mysterious influences in books and movies, see how one writer’s words can launch an entire genre, world, or punchline. Some of my favorite books are classics. In what will no doubt be many highly unpopular opinions, I will randomly post reviews of them here. I’ll start with the last classic I read:
When I purchased this book, the dude checking me out let me know that the first part is narrated by a mentally handicapped man. GOOD TO KNOW. And thank you, book store guy, for telling me this, because William Faulkner doesn’t bother to until long after the book has landed in a frustrated heap on the floor. Thanks, bro!
The Sound and the Fury is about the Compson family, a southern aristocratic family in serious decline and spiralling into all kinds of tragedy. It’s told in a few different parts by a few different members of the family, all of whom are not really good or likeable people.
My biggest beef with this book is that you have no real idea what’s going on until you’re so far into the book that you’ve ceased to care. Stream of consciousness with no context. I get this book is all about ‘form’ and ‘style’ but to me, if I can’t figure out what’s going on, that’s a big fat writing fail. And before you’re like, “dude, it’s stream of consciousness, you’re just too stupid to know how to read that,” I would say, “but I’m not too stupid to know how to read that. Take Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, also stream of consciousness, also multiple perspectives, also all over the damn place, but you can figure out what’s going on.”
Once I googled it and read a detailed summary of what the book is about, I had a much easier time reading it. The part I did like was the last section from Dilsey’s perspective, who is the Compson’s aging servant. I found Dilsey the most well-rounded character in the whole book, unfortunately she’s last, and not first. Putting Dilsey first to set the scene would have made a huge difference, in my opinion, but hey, it’s a classic, right? What the hell do I know? I give The Sound and the Fury a resounding “meh.” If you do want to read it, do yourself a big favour and go through the Cliff’s Notes first.
An unintended theme of this blog seems to be that I, as a human being, a woman, wife, writer, employee, dog owner, et cetera, have no idea what I’m doing. Thankfully that seems to amuse people, because that’s pretty much how I feel most of the time and I am really, really bad at hiding it.
I hope, and hope springs eternal, that this is true, but sometimes it doesn’t feel true, now does it? And those are times of low motivation and general feelings of malaise. But let’s leave that unpleasantness behind us and move on to greater, more fulfilling things, shall we? Without further adieu, I present three writing related things that are awesome!
- I tweaked my query letter! I continue to query agents about my novel and even though I haven’t sent out very many, oddly enough, they are not yet beating down my door. Weird, right? So I tweaked my letter a bit and now feel that surely it cannot be improved upon and the storming of my home by literary agents should commence momentarily.
- I wrote, and completed a short story! Since I have given up my life to my novel, I stopped writing short stories a few years ago. But, I got this idea a few weeks ago while I was staring blankly out my office window pretending to work. Then, I did something weird. Instead of just shrugging at what might have been an okay idea, I turned to my computer and started to write the story that I had just thought of. Basically, it was like a miracle occurred right there in my office. As if that isn’t mind-blowing enough, this morning I finished the short story. That means I wrote an applicable ending. The weirdest thing is, it doesn’t suck…
- I listened to this podcast! (Henry and Heidi Podcast, episode 14) Because my husband is awesome, he passed this along to me. It’s Henry Rollins talking about the writer Hubert Selby, Jr. (Last Exit to Brooklyn, Requiem for a Dream). They were good friends and it’s about writing, mentors and getting the hell out of the way. Enjoy!