There are some controversial titles on this list but I read some controversial titles as a young girl as well. What do you think? Would you want to keep any of these titles away from your children?
- White Teeth by Zadie Smith
- Life of Pi by Yann Martel
- Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
- The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
- A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
- Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
- Dear Life by Alice Munro
- Tenth of December by George Sauders
Do you think Arts.Mic missed any books?
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin follows the story of (you’ll never guess) A.J. Fikry, who owns and manages a bookstore on a small island off the cost of Connecticut. Readers first meet A.J. a year after his wife’s death when he is bordering on being an alcoholic. When a child is left in A.J.’s bookstore with a note saying the mother can no longer take care of her, A.J.’s life begins to change.
What I liked about The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry:
A.J.’s comments on short stories. Each chapter begins with a short description and/or A.J.’s thoughts on a specific short story. These snippets are in first person, unlike the rest of the book, which gives the reader a more direct connection to A.J. At the end of the book, we realize when and why A.J. is writing down his comments on these short stories and it is a great way to tie the book together.
The full-circle narrative. As this novel is the story of an individual’s life, I appreciated the full-circle effect that the first and last chapters of the books connect.
The first chapter. As stated above, I enjoyed the full-circle effect that the first and last chapter created but before I got to that end, I disliked the beginning very much. Because the title makes it so clear that A.J. Fikry is the main character, its strange that the book begins with A.J. acting like a side character, while the main focus is on someone who at the time seems insignificant.
The objective 3rd person narration. The narration felt imbalanced. At times the narrator felt like a typical objective narrator that only describes the visible facts of a story, but there were times when the narrator jumped into multiple character’s thoughts. Jumping in and out of characters’ thoughts felt jarring to me. There were times when a paragraph would start off in one character’s perspective and halfway through the paragraph, we would suddenly be seeing things from a different character’s perspective.
I wanted A.J. to narrate his story. There is one clear reason why Zevin didn’t write the story from A.J.’s perspective but I still feel the urge that writing it from A.J.’s perspective (or maybe 3rd person limited on A.J.) would have allowed the readers to connect to the story much more.
This book should have made me cry but it didn’t. Even though all the characters in this novel LOVED books and I LOVE books, I did not feel a great connection with them. A lot of it was due to the awkward perspectives described above but the characters seemed somewhat mundane. No one had a really strong characteristic that made me latch on to the.
It felt like a YA novel. The plot went by very quick, the language was simple, and everything was tied up perfectly at the end. These are not necessarily bad things, but it gave the novel a very Young Adult feel that I didn’t enjoy.
2 Stars. As you can see above, my dislikes of this book outweighed the likes. The writing did not read smoothly and I did not connect with the characters when I felt I should have.
Its a little late but still a fun article from Bustle.
Write an internal dialogue of someone who is so superstitious they can’t leave their house on Friday the 13th.
Write a story about a character who does not believe in Friday the 13th superstitions but a lot of freaky coincidences begin to happen around him/her. Do they start believing? Do they ignore them completely?
Write a quick scene of dialogue between office workers discussing Friday the 13th.
Write a scene where an adult is explaining Friday the 13th superstitions to a child. Is the adult a believer or a sceptic?
Write a scene about a couple on a Valentine’s date on Friday the 13th and then (insert bad superstition here) happens. How do they react?
“Elegies is the literary equivalent of a hand grenade: brisk and unsparing, fueled by anger, laced with caustic wit and composed in long, cartwheeling sentences that expose the bleakest of truths.” -New York Times Book Review
Elegies of the Brokenhearted is broken into five sections, each one centering around an individual that influenced the main character, Mary Murphy, in a significant way. These characters include Mary’s favorite uncle who was the drunken failure of the family, a high school outcast, her overly-eccentric college roommate who tells fortunes, an aging musician composing a life-long composition, and her mother who is no less interesting than all the previous combined. Through these detailed looks at others, we get a gradual picture of Mary’s life.
Elegies takes a close look at how even the smallest characters in our lives can have a huge effect on us. Although that theme has certainly been beat into the ground, Christie Hodgen spins it into a unique and entertaining tale you will not quickly forget.
Point of View and Structure
Mary Murphy makes herself a side character in her own story. She narrates each elegy in the second person, focusing the bulk of the narrative on side characters and away from herself. We learn about Mary–her tendencies, her desires, her fears–as she focuses on the traits of others. Each elegy (section) is a very distinct story from the next, each section could be considered a short story in itself, but the thing that ties them all together is Mary’s narrative and the stretched timeline of her life.
The story reads like a memoir. The timeline is structured by the individual stories, freeing it from a linear structure and often revealing plot points early on that will be discussed in depth late in the novel. It might sound confusing, but its written seamlessly. Because the novel covers 20+ years of Mary’s life, there are obvious time markers (like Mary attending college) that make the timeline very easy to follow.
Mary is as passive a main character as you will find. Not only does she focus the narration away from herself and onto others but seems to live through these people. She admires their quirks, their adventures, their bravery, their confidence, but has none of these things herself. She is very content (to the point that she’s okay washing dishes at a restaurant after earning a college degree) and accepts whatever happens to her. She allows the people around her to direct her life (she chooses French as a college major simply because an adviser suggests it and she doesn’t know what else to do).
Hodgen balances her main character’s passivity and uneventful nature by surrounding her with characters that are the exact opposite, characters that have aspirations and take risks, characters that do not settle. Its a beautiful balance.
Writing Prompt: Brainstorm other ideas/plots/settings that would make a passive main character interesting.
5 stars! I loved Elegies of the Brokenhearted. It touched me emotional and intellectually and I will look forward to rereading it a few years from now when I’m sure to find even more magic within the pages.
There are many opinions and ideas of what an opening line should include/accomplish but there is one thing everyone can agree on; an opening line should intrigue the reader enough that they want to continue reading. Trying to figure out how to do that is where the opinions come in.
Here are a few things to consider when drafting that first line of your story.
The opening line should leave the reader with questions and those questions. Who is this character? Why are they in this predicament? Where are they going? What just happened? Of course an outstanding story can follow a poor opening line (or a poor story follow an outstanding first line) but as a writer, you want to hook your reader as soon as possible.
Example: “I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” —Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex
Set up voice
Have you ever absolutely loved a book but can’t exactly explain why? The plot was mediocre, the characters were relatable but there was just something extra special about the book you can’t pin down. It was probably the voice, the personality of the writing. Without exception, that personality should begin in the very first sentence and carry a similar feel throughout the entire piece.
Example: “You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.” —Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Set up (writing) style
If a novel is a facts-based story with minimal details, the first line should reflect that. If a novel has a lot of description and wandering narration, then a long-winded description of a farm landscape and the sound of the character’s boots crunching gravel. The length of the sentence can have a big effect on this. Also, the POV should become clear in the first sentence.
Example of straight forward writing style: “Mother died today.” —Albert Camus, The Stranger
Example of stylistic writing style: “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.” —James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Reflect the novel as a whole
This encompasses the two previous suggestions but also every other aspect of the writing and story itself. If the story is set in the 1800’s you don’t want to use 21st century slang. If its realistic fiction, don’t begin with a science-fiction metaphor. If you want to create a reliable narrator, avoid an opening sentence like Slaughterhouse Five‘s, “All this happened, more or less.” Whatever a piece of writing is about should be reflected in the opening line.
Example: “It is a fact universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Make a bold statement
An option but not a requirement.
Example: “I am an invisible man.” —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man.
Set the (action) scene
Some common advice you might have heard is to begin writing a story in the middle of a compelling scene. This can be an attention-grabbing option but (considering the above) if the story is not based around tons of action, this might not be the best option.
Example: “They shoot the white girl first.” —Toni Morrison, Paradise
Introduce a character/setting
This is present in most first sentences but is rarely the main point of interest or focus.
Example: “My name is Odd Thomas, though in this age when fame is the altar at which most people worship, I am not sure why you should care who I am or that I exist.” —Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas
What great advice have you heard about writing an opening line?
What is one of your own favorite opening lines?
Hey TV lovers! Looking for a change of pace? A way to strengthen the brain, empower the imagination, settle the chaos of life? Read a book! Here’s a great list to get you to help you find a novel you’ll enjoy based on your TV tastes. Thanks to BuzzFeed for putting this list together!
Posting writing-focused book reviews is the most beneficial thing I did in 2014 to improve my personal writing (yes, even more so than completing NaNoWriMo in November. Check out my post on 10 Things I Learned from NaNoWriMo) It forces me to be critical and attentive to everything I read. I uncover tricks the writer incorporates, I pick apart the structure, characterization and voice the author uses and determine how they strengthen the work as a whole. I also figure out what specifically makes me like or dislike a book.
When I started this blog last January, I thought it was going to be a way to share what I already knew about books and writing but I turned out to be the student, not the teacher.
So often when I sit down to write a book review, I’m still unsure what I want to write about or what I took away from the book but the process of putting my vague thoughts into words and paragraphs reveals characteristics about the story and the writing that otherwise would have dwindled away in my unconscious, never to be learned from.
All of these things help me understand my own writing and provide constant ideas to improve it. Understanding my likes and dislikes of the things I read has helped me understand what I want my own stories to be and what I need to include to ensure they would be a story I would enjoy reading.
I also love the fact that this blog has connected me to a wider writing world than I have ever been a part of. Big thanks to everyone who liked and/or commented on my posts!
If you don’t mind, I’ll reminisce on few special blogs from the past year:
My First Blog Post:
Blending Boundaries on a New Time-Travel Twist This book review on Stephen King’s 11/22/63 reads more like a college essay than a blog, but hey, I had to start somewhere. Thankfully I’ve adapted a more simple, sparse, and easier-to-read format.
The Maze Runner: A Deep Look into a Weak First-person Perspective Okay, so I didn’t cause a national uproar but this book review held very strong opinions and I was actually pleased that someone disagreed with me in the comments. I recently watch the Maze Runner movie (because my boyfriend insisted) and did enjoy it more than the book.
Also check out a few of my favorite posts from the year on the right hand side of my homepage!
Gone Girl will have you debating one question to the last page, and maybe even longer… who’s the hero and who’s the victim?
Amy Elliot Dunne disappears on the morning of her 5th wedding anniversary to Nick Dunne. The combination of strange circumstances surrounding her disappearance as well as his odd–almost casual–attitude, Nick becomes the main suspect of the investigation. Learning about Nick and Amy’s history through Amy’s journal entries and never-ending plot twists in the present time.
**There are slight SPOILERS throughout this review, but I will never give away the ending!***
The novel alternates perspective every chapter between Nick’s and Amy’s first-person point of view. Amy’s entries begin as journal entries, which provide the reader with backstory on the couple as well as a direct connection with Amy, who is missing during the present time of the novel. These journal entries have a lot of personality, flair, and intimate details. As the reader is falling in love with the precious, carefree Amy, more and more nasty secrets are surfacing about Nick in the present time.
First-person narratives typically have a reveal-all standard where the reader knows and sees everything the main character sees. That’s not the case with Gone Girl, where both characters keep secrets hidden even from the reader. Flynn cleverly informs readers that secrets are being kept without revealing what the secrets are, increasing suspense and curiosity to an extreme. One of my favorite lines in the novel is the perfect example of this, occurring about 15 minutes into Nick’s initial conversation with the detectives investigating his wife’s disappearance. He admits to the reader that he is lying but we have no idea what he has lied about. It made me want to immediately reread the section!
“It was my fifth lie to the police. I was just starting.” -Nick Dunne
Another single line in this novel inspired my to write an entire blog post around it! Check it out here: Side Characters are People Too
My favorite part about Gone Girl was that there were not one but two main characters yet neither of them were likable.
Because the novel alternates between Nick’s and Amy’s perspectives, we find ourselves with two main characters competing against one another for our trust. Although Nick’s situation initially makes the reader sympathize with him, we become suspicious as the cops continue to unravel his story. **SPOILER AHEAD** Trying not to give too much away, I will say that the huge plot twist halfway through the novel is perfectly timed and executed. As soon as Flynn has every reader ready to put Nick in handcuffs, a shocking twist reveals he may not be as guilty as the cops believe.
Be sure to read the novel before watching the movie (even more so than normal). Both are excellent, but watching the movie first will ruin the suspicion and suspense Flynn has so beautifully written. I wonder if I would have awarded this book 5 stars had I read it before watching the movie, but because I cannot reverse time and I knew what was coming the entire read, I will give it 4 stars.
Overall, its an excellent read that even the most casual readers will enjoy!