After reading Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life, I wanted my next read to be lighthearted and plot based. So, I picked up an old Dean Koontz novel, By the Light of the Moon. The two books could not be more different. Of course genre plays a big part, but the difference in writing styles is striking.
Koontz’s writing style is heavy in description and his plot moves forward minute by minute. Wolff puts the bare bones on paper, jumping right to the action and cutting all unnecessary description, plot, characterization, ect. I don’t think This Boy’s Life contains a single wordy sentence. Koontz, on the other hand, loves lengthy metaphors and diving deep into characters’ thoughts, even during heated action scenes.
Koontz and Wolff are two of my favorite writers but their styles could not be more different. Reading their books back-to-back really opened my eyes to those differences. Let me show you some specific examples.
Here are a few sentences that begin chapters in Wolff’s This Boy’s Life and Koontz’s By the Light of the Moon.
- The sheriff came to the house one night and told the Bolgers that Chuck was about to be charged with statutory rape.
- My father took off for Las Vegas with his girlfriend the day after I arrived in California.
- When I was alone in the house I went through everyone’s private things.
- Shortly before being knocked unconscious and bound to a chair, before being injected with an unknown substance against his will, and before discovering that the world was deeply mysterious in ways he’d never before imagined, Dylan O’Conner left his motel room and walked across the highway to a brightly lighted fast-food franchise to buy cheeseburgers, French fries, pocket pies with apple filling, and a vanilla milkshake.
- These were extraordinary times, peopled by ranting maniacs in love with violence and with a violent god, infested with apologists for wickedness, who blamed victims for their suffering and excused murderers in the name of justice.
What difference do you notice? Length? Who is more action-oriented? Who is more introspective?
By the Light of the Moon: 140 pages into the novel less than three hours have passed in the plot with very little background/flashbacks. A high-speed car chase (not really a chase but a mission) that lasts approximately 10 minutes in real time, stretches 15 pages in the book. At times, I forget the chase was even happening because the side tangents and in-depth character thoughts were so dense.
This Boy’s Life: the plot skips large chunks of time, covering approximately eight years in total. In the following sentence Wolff captures the entire time frame of 7th grade (aka puberty): “I kept outgrowing my shoes, two pairs in the seventh grade alone.” Of course Wolff does go into normal-speed scenes in his memoir, but they are strongly action-based with little filler.
Which writing style do you enjoy more?
Does one style draw you in more than the other? Why do you think that is? I personally enjoy both. Certain months I relish the bare bones of Wolff, Carver, and the like. Other months I crave the second-by-second, in-the-mind-of-the-character stories of Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and others.
Comment with two writers who are very different, yet you love them both.
Here are a few books I would highly recommend to keep you relaxed and entertained over the long weekend.
My number one recommendation! This collection of fictional short stories about the Iraq War is perfect for whatever amount of time you want to spend reading. Read a few stories (see my favorites on the full book review) or get sucked into the entire collection like I did. Redeployment is my favorite book of 2015 (so far)!
Even if you’re not a reader, you’ve probably heard this title, and the suspense is excellent! I also enjoyed the film adaptation, if you’re looking for more of a screen buzz this weekend!
A short, beautiful book about life, love, and one extraordinary dog. Dean Koontz shares his personal story through the memoir of this dog. A great book for any dog lover!
A story that needs to be heard. Alice, a mother and respected Harvard professor, is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. A close-up look at a struggle of love, identity, health, and family, Still Alice is a must-read.
Lost, broken down, alone? This book is a great read for anyone feeling a little bit down in the dumps. No matter how pointless and cruel life seems, there is always light to be found.
I’ve been planning this post in my head for a long time. Why? Because I love sharing great books!!! I’ve read a lot of good books this year, check out all my Book Reviews here, but the books that made this list were exceptional!
The link on each title will take you to my previous post about the book.
My new favorite book! After dozens and dozens of published novels, Dean Koontz still pushed his limits and tried something new with The City. With the smallest amount of “science fiction” I have seen in a Koontz novel, The City was all about humanity, and the everyday courage, strength, and goodness of everyday people that typically get lost in the background.
The story, the writing, and the real-life insight this book possessed was unmatched.
It’s not too often I read children’s chapter books (let alone enjoy them), but I got lost in this fun, sic-fi tale. The main character, Nobody Owens (Bod for short), is raised by 18th century ghosts that linger in a local graveyard. Although the plot is quite dark (Bod lives with the ghosts because his entire family was murdered by people who are now after him), Gaiman keeps the mood very light and entertaining. Infused with ancient traditions and twists of sic-fi, The Graveyard Book is story all ages will enjoy!
This novel is a story of 100 teenage boys who are chosen to partake in the annual Long Walk, where they walk until they literally cannot take another step. The kicker? When they stop walking, they are shot on site.
The plot hides intense emotion, psychology, desire, and mental torture beneath an extremely simple plot. It was more than I ever expect any book to be and the simplicity of the plot made the thoughts it unraveled that much more shocking.
The moment I finished listening to this audiobook, I started it over again. I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t want it to stop.
I’ll admit it…I watched the movie before reading the book. But, like always, the book was 10 times better than the movie.
Of all the characters I read this year (hundreds, maybe thousands!), Charlie was far and away the most realistic. I felt like his letters were written to me and by then end, I wanted nothing more than to be his friend and tell him everything was going to be alright.
Koontz dives into non-fiction with this memoir about Trixie, his beloved, intelligent golden retriever. With every chapter introducing a new Trixie story, I was deeply in love with this dog by the end. Its a precious story any dog-lover will cherish.
I hesitated to add The Prestige to this list because I didn’t have the same emotional connection to it as I did with most of the above. The reason I did keep it on here was because the structure of the novel was my favorite of the year! Priest mixed an unlined timeline, journal-entry format, and different characters’ points of view. The twisted structure was the perfect match for the complicated plot and secret-keeping characters.
Once again I was tempted to leave this book off the list but ONLY because I finished reading it about a week ago and don’t know if it will linger with me like the rest have. Still, I think it deserves to be here. Lepucki is a master at keeping suspense high in this low-action plot. Although not a lot happened, the massive amount of mystery and tip-of-the-tongue secrets made me want to ignore the world and snuggle up with a blanket and this book.
Thanks for reading! What were your favorite books of 2014? I love recommendations. 🙂
Theme is not something I try to put into words after I read a novel. Of course there are books when a theme is so central it can’t be ignored, but even then, I prefer to focus on things such as characterization and structure. Its the combination of small scenes, character traits and character’s actions that make the theme something larger than a lesson to be learned. When done to the highest standard, the theme of the book will haunt you for a long time. Contradicting myself, I regularly think about theme when I’m writing my own work. Focusing on the bigger picture I want to get across helps me focus the tone and decipher the characters actions vs. intentions.
Picking out the theme of a book can be tricky. Often there are multiple angles one can look at a single book from, causing the theme to adjust to each reader’s opinion. That is why getting an author’s quick answer on what a book is really about is true magic. And when that account matches your own, you feel like the best reader to ever walk the library’s halls. At least that’s how I felt when I stumbled upon this synopsis about the theme of one of my favorite books, Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz.
Odd Thomas is a novel about perseverance in the face of terrible loss, about holding fast to rational hope in a world of pain, about finding peace–not bitterness–in the memory of love taken by untimely death.
This quote came from Dean Koontz’s memoir of his golden retriever, a big little life, which is another great read!
Have you had such a moment with one of your favorite books/authors?
A big little life is a story of a dog that loved, inspired, entranced and spread joy to everyone close to her. Just as Trixie, the soulful golden retriever, changed the lives of those that loved her, this book has the power to change the lives of its readers. A big little life is so much more than a story about a dog. It’s a story about life, love, and loss.
This memoir highlights not only the wonders of loving a dog, but the wonders and magic of life itself. It opens the reader’s mind to the beautiful complexities of life and how a dog can help us enjoy the simple pleasures that are always around us. Unconditionally loving a dog and receiving that unconditional love in return can soften the heart and open the mind.
When death takes someone whom you love to the very core, whether family, a friend, or a dog, the pain reflects the joy that came before it. The more you loved that soul during their life, the more painful it will be to say goodbye but never will the pain outweigh the previous bliss. Koontz’s enforces this in the book’s dedication, “…the pain was so great because the joy before it was even greater.”
Koontz’s personality shines through in this novel. Not many books make me laugh out loud (and I am quick to laugh) but this book provided me that pleasure. I fell in love with Trixie. She made me laugh, she made me cry and though I never knew her, I love her because I cherish what she left behind; a better world.
Some will say, “She was only a dog.”
Yes, she was dog, but not only a dog. I am a man, but not only a man. Sentiment is not sentimentality, common sense is not common ignorance, and intuition is not superstition. Living with a recognition of the spiritual dimension of the world not only ensures a happier life but also a more honest intellectual life than if we allow no room for wonder and refuse to acknowledge the mystery of existence.
**All photos taken from DeanKoontz.com/Trixie
I am currently reading Dean Koontz’s latest novel, The City, and am absolutely loving it. I do not want it to end. The writing, the story, the characters, the magically dangerous mood, I love it all. If you’re looking for a great read, pick up The City.
Being able to put life’s undeniable, yet simple truths into a novel in a way that does not sound like pretentious rambling is one of my ultimate goals as a writer. Here are a few quotes from The City that I feel do just that.
“After you have suffered great losses and known much pain, it is not cowardice to wish to live henceforth with minimum of suffering. And one form of heroism, about which few if any films will be made, is having the courage to live without bitterness when bitterness is justified, having the strength to persevere even when perseverance seems unlikely to be rewarded, having the resolution to find profound meaning in life when it seems the most meaningless.” pg. 134
“When you keep a secret from those closest to you, even with the best of motives, there is danger that you will create a smaller life within you main life. The first secret will spin off other secrets that also must be kept, complicated webs of evasion that grow into elaborate architectures of repressed truths and subterfuge, until you discover that you must live two narratives at once. Because deception requires both bold lies of omission, it stains the soul, muddies the conscience, blurs the vision, and puts you at risk of headlong descent into greater darkness.” pg. 141
“After all these years, I occasionally wonder how my life would have been different if in that fateful moment I had followed my first impulse and had run. But I suppose that what we call intuition is just one of the may ways that the still small voice in our souls speaks to us, if we will listen, and that inner companion wants only what is best for us. If I had run, no doubt what might have happened to me would have been far worse than what did happen, my losses even greater than they had been, my story darker than the one I’ve lived. And yet I wonder.” pg. 175
The interesting thing about our favorite books and stories is that the more we read, one of two things happens; our favorites either become more firmly locked into place or they get pushed down and down the list until their titles no longer appear. I was surprised by a few of the titles that ended up on my list, which was compiled after a fellow writing friend (check out Julija’s blog sojustmethen.wordpress.com) encouraged me to do so after she shared her own. Along with the surprises, there are a few that have become as sure as cement. Some have been on the list for many years and others only a few months.
I encourage all avid readers to write down your top 10 favorites. Like me, you may be surprised at what makes the list.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald –I’ve always loved reading, but The Great Gatsby made me fall in love with literature! Although it’s no longer my favorite novel, I will forever be in debt to Mr. Fitzgerald (and my high school English teacher, Mr. Smith, who assigned the reading) for introducing me to another world.
- The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling – J.K. Rowling has given the entire world a gift. She created such an imaginative yet believable world it’s no wonder millions of kids have wrote to her asking for their Hogwarts letters. Harry Potter holds such a high spot on my list not only because I fell in love with the characters, the world and the epic story, but because that story was shared with so many. The community of people around the world that Harry Potter has brought together is in itself magical. Growing up with Harry and his friends through the series was a remarkable journey and one that I, and so many others, will always hold near and dear. The number of young readers who may never have enjoyed reading if it wasn’t for the Harry Potter series is unmatched and will be for a long time.
- The Story of Forgetting by Stefen Merrill Block – Not knowing any idea what I was getting into, I randomly chose The Story of Forgetting audio book off my local library shelf. The novel follows two contrasting storylines, one of a young boy with limitless potential and the other of an old man waiting for the past to find him. A wonderful story but the writing is what hooked me. Block blends worlds; of youth and old age, of imagination and harsh realities, of the past and the future. Block’s novel encompasses so much of what I am aim to achieve with my own written work.
- Delights and Shadows by Ted Kooser – An absolutely wonderful book of poetry that touched my soul in a way nothing else ever has. Images from Kooser’s poetry jump into my consciousness on a regular basis. He sees and describes everyday sights and experiences in such a way that I immediately connect with the writing. Although I understand it’s not my strong suit, I love writing poetry because it makes the mind think in different ways. When I attempt to twist my words into a poetic line or two, Kooser’s ability to turn the simplicities of life into unforgettable moments of beauty is exactly what I strive for.
- Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson – My Hamline writing friends know this one well! Assigned reading in my Senior Seminar for Creative Writing, this is simply a beautiful tale of a man and his memories.
- Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz – My favorite fictional character of all time, Odd Thomas is fun, unpredictable and humble. He accepts his bizarre, chaotic life in order to help others even when it tears his own world apart. The way Koontz presents and stays true to Odd’s character throughout the series earns it a top spot. Though, the entire series (currently six books) is worth reading, the first one is by far my favorite.
- Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff – My favorite short story author! His stories are definitely worth the read. His memoir is patiently waiting to be read on my shelf as well.
- The Shining by Stephen King – Similar to The Story of Forgetting, we are graced with characters both young and old and see the story through varying POVs. We take a nerve-quaking journey with an extraordinary young boy just learning to understand and control his abilities. That small twist of science fiction in an otherwise ordinary world is something I can’t resist! With the amount of fiction King produces, it’s safe to say he will always be on my reading list. The Stand, a King classic and regarded by many as his best novel to date, is the next King title on my list.
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games series doesn’t even come close to Harry Potter, but such a unique story, written in great prose, is hard not to love. The novel is paced beautifully and Katniss is a beautifully rounded character. She always stays true to herself even when she’s not sure who that is.
- I’m going to end my top 10 with all the childhood favorites that got me reading in the first place: Goosebumps, the “Witches Don’t Do Backflips” books, Matt Christopher, Clifford the Big Red Dog, A Wrinkle in Time, The Chronicles of Narnia, and so many more! I’m not sure who I would be today if these children’s and young adult authors had not found a way into my heart.