Monthly Archives: February 2015

11 Modern Books Our Kids Will Read in School

Kite_runnerMy new goal is to read every book on this list in the next two years. Ironically, the day before I saw this list, I started reading The Kite Runner, so I’m already on my way! 🙂

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?

11 Twenty-First Century Books Our Kids Will Be Taught in School

  1. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
  2. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  3. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  4. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  5. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
  6. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  7. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  8. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  9. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
  10. Dear Life by Alice Munro
  11. Tenth of December by George Sauders

Do you think Arts.Mic missed any books? 

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry: Book Review

a.j. fikrySummary:

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.

3272821791_1557117accWhat I disliked about The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry:

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.

Overall:

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.

14 Books to Give As Valentine’s Day Gifts

Its a little late but still a fun article from Bustle. 

14 Books to Give As Valentine’s Day Gifts This Year

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5 Friday the 13th Writing Prompts

  1. Write an internal dialogue of someone who is so superstitious they can’t leave their house on Friday the 13th. 7615995_8acea413fa_q

  2. 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? 3419078073_298553bfc7_q

  3. Write a quick scene of dialogue between office workers discussing Friday the 13th. 15418233667_8460782013

  4. Write a scene where an adult is explaining Friday the 13th superstitions to a child. Is the adult a believer or a sceptic?3066834233_37f21c6ab9

  5.  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 for the Brokenhearted by Christie Hodgen

“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 brokenheartedSummary

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.

Characterization

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.

silhouette distored in water

Writing Prompt: Brainstorm other ideas/plots/settings that would make a passive main character interesting. 

 Overall

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.

What Makes a Great Opening Line?

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.

7462160886_5fe0633a2b_bIntrigue reader to go on

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

115564627_06f61afdb6_bReflect 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?

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