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A Writing Style Comparison: Tobias Wolff and Dean Koontz

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.

Opening Lines

Here are a few sentences that begin chapters in Wolff’s This Boy’s Life and Koontz’s By the Light of the Moon.

Wolff

  • 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.

Koontz

  • 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?

 time-pass-by

Time

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. 

This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff

Tobias Wolff captures his childhood in a pool of childhood adventures written in quick, smooth prose. 

TobiasWolff_ThisBoysLifeBold Writing

Wolff wastes no time with his writing. He knows exactly where he’s going and jumps directly into the scene. Wolff’s opening sentences widen your eyes and narrow your vision. He jumps time swiftly, skipping weeks, months, even years in single sentences without jarring the reader.

First sentences of chapters: 

  • The sheriff came to the house one night and told the Bolgers that Chuck was about to be charged with statutory rape.
  • Our car boiled over again just after my mother and I crossed the Continental Divide.
  • 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.
  • I kept outgrowing my shoes, two pairs in the seventh grade alone.

A Memoir Point of View

The distant, introspective nature of memoirs always strikes me as curious. Wolff writes in the first person, but I felt disconnected to the story, as if Wolff is writing the memoir in order to discard the old memories instead of capture their timelessness. His rebellious youth, disjointed family life, and lack of respect seem like a distant life, even for the reader.

Fear

This Boy’s Life leaves a trail of breadcrumbs that seems certain to lead to destruction. If I didn’t know the main character went on to live a long life filled with writing, I would have guessed the book to end with his death or imprisonment. He was surrounded by dangerous people and cared very little for his well being. At times, I felt shivers go up my spine.

A Memorable Quote

“Like anyone else, she must have wanted different things at the same time. The human heart is a dark forest.” 

3.5 Stars

Although Tobias Wolff is one of my favorite short story authors, I didn’t enjoy his memoir as much. He’s certainly a fantastic writer and his childhood was filled with smirking adventures, but the story did not capture me.

Thanks for sharing, Augusten Burroughs — Dry Book Review

Truthdry cover

Creative nonfiction, even more than fiction, is forced to speak the truth about human nature. There are no futuristic apocalypses, zombie attacks, superpowers, or otherworldly beings to distract us. Rarely is there constant-page-turning suspense or a mansion with secret rooms behind the bookshelf.

This is why I admire authors of nonfiction that capture my complete interest with their unnatural insight of the real world and twist it into beautiful prose.

This is why I admire Augusten Burroughs.

“I have four hours to kill before dinner. In the past, this would have been just barely enough time to obtain a comfortable buzz and establish my relationship with the bartender. Now it seems like more than enough time to perhaps write a screenplay. Alcohol time is very different from sober time. Alcohol time is slippery whereas sober time is like cat hair. You just can’t get rid of it.”

Laughter

Dry is a memoir of Augusten Burroughs’ struggle with alcoholism. It follows Burroughs though his early 20’s when he works in advertising during the day and drinks all night, every night. When his coworkers pressure him into rehab, he begins to see what he has been blind to for years.

Its a beautiful, heart-felt struggle filled with lots of laughs! Burroughs has the uncanny knack to make the reader laugh out loud even when the material is dark and heartbreaking. His over-the-top dramatic comparisons and downright hilarious.

“The problem is, I’m a slob to begin with. So when you combine alcohol with a slob, you just end up with something that would appall any self-respecting heroin-addicted vagrant.”

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Beauty

“Augustin Burroughs is a wickedly good writer…” -Chicago Sun-Times

His balance of description, action, insight, and humor kept me interested until the very end.

My test for a great writer? They leave me wanting more. The following quote ends a chapter, and left me wanting to go on and on and on.

“Tonight the speaker is talking about how people in recovery are always looking for these big, dramatic miracles. How we want the glass of water to magically rise up off the table. How we overlook the miracle that there is a glass at all in the first place. And given the universe, isn’t the real miracle that the glass doesn’t just float up and away?”

5 Stars

After reading Dry, every existing Burroughs book has been added to my reading list. There are endless lessons I could learn from his writing and it doesn’t hurt to be entertained along the way!

Life of Pi Quotes

This entire novel is a good quote but here are a few I picked out that specifically pleased me. Enjoy! 

2002 Yann Martel Life of Pi“I wish I could convey the perfection of a seal slipping into water or a spider monkey swinging from point to point or a lion merely turning its head. But language founders in such seas. Better to picture it in your head if you want to feel it.”

“When you’ve suffered a great deal in life, each additional pain is both unbearable and trifling.”

“…Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat-wearing Muslims.”

“Ten thousand trumpets and twenty thousand drums could not have made as much noise as that bolt of lightning; it was positively deafening.”

“I cannot think of a better way to spread the faith [than leaving sacred writings like the Bible where weary travelers might rest their heads]. No thundering from a pulpit, no condemnation from bad churches, no peer pressure, just a book of scripture quietly waiting to say hello, as gentle and powerful as a little girl’s kiss on your cheek.”

“It was as unbelievable as the moon catching fire.”

“At moments of wonder, it is easy to avoid small thinking, to entertain thoughts that span the universe, that capture both thunder and tinkle, thick and thin, the near and the far.”

arunrajagopal.com

Beautiful photo taken from arunrajagopal.com.

“There were many seas. The sea roared like a tiger. The sea whispered in your ear like a friend telling you secrets. The sea clinked like small change in a pocket. The sea thundered like avalanches. The sea hissed like sandpaper working on wood. The sea sounded like someone vomiting. The sea was dead silent.” 

“Life on a lifeboat isn’t much of a life. It is like an end game in chess, a game with few pieces. The elements couldn’t be more simple, nor the stakes higher.”

“If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.” -from the Author’s Note

The Devil in the White City book review

DWCity

“Murder, magic, and madness at the fair that changed America.” That is the slogan on the cover of this outstanding piece of historical non-fiction.

This New York Times quote explains it well, “A dynamic, enveloping book…Relentlessly fuses history and entertainment to give this nonfiction book the dramatic effect of a novel…It doesn’t hurt that this truth is stranger than fiction.” 

Summary

The “Devil” refereed to in the title is Dr. H. H. Holmes, a serial killer active in America in the late 1800’s. Holmes used Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair, aka the White City, to lure young women into his life whom he charmed, often building long-term romantic relationships with, then murdered. Not only did Holmes use his charming persuasion, and vicious cunning to murder quietly, he also used it to build a small empire, with a small fortune. His story is certainly intriguing, but its only a small force in the attraction of this entire book.

Although the two men never met, Holmes shares the spotlight of the novel with a great architect of the time, Daniel H. Burnham. Burnham was the lead designer of the World’s Fair, an event “largely fallen from modern recollection but that in its time was considered to possess a transformative power nearly equal to that of the Civil War.”

Photo taken from clintonhs.org.

Photo taken from clintonhs.org.

Larson paints a vivid picture of the World’s Fair from more viewpoints than you’d perceive possible. From the main attractions to the (many) near downfalls, you will close this book knowing the World’s Fair of 1893 was one of the most spectacular events in history. 

Writing

While so many historical nonfiction authors are not, Erik Larson is a story teller. The story drops teasers like a suspense novel, builds character like literary fiction, and weaves multiple story lines better than most novels in any genre. Quotes are woven in with ease, building the plot and strengthening historical accuracy with each appearance.

chicago's world's fair

Photo taken from clintonhs.org.

5 stars!

The Devil in the White City is by far the best piece of historical nonfiction I have ever read. I recommend it to anyone who 1) loves history, 2) loves a murder mystery, 3) is interested in American history or the history of Chicago, 4) is fascinated by architecture, 5) who knows nothings about the World’s Fair, and 6) anyone who simply loves a good story.

Write a Letter

Wednesday Writing Prompt:  Write a letter to one of the following people.

  1. Your favorite author
  2. A fictional character you love
  3. A long-lost childhood friend
  4. A stranger that left an impact on you
  5. Your loved ones, with the knowledge you will be leaving them soon

You never know, your letter may turn into the next great novel like Gilead or The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Check out my letter to Dean Koontz here! 

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Best Books of 2014!

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.

Photo taken from DeanKoontz.com

Photo taken from DeanKoontz.com

The City by Dean Koontz

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.

Photo taken from BarnesandNobles.com

Photo taken from BarnesandNobles.com

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

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!

The long walk

The Long Walk by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King)

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.

Perksofbeingwallflower1

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephan Chbosky

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.

a-big-little-life

a big little life by Dean Koontz

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.

prestige

The Prestige by Christopher Priest 

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.

california novel

California by Edan Lepucki

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. 🙂 

A book that might just change your life… a big little life by Dean Koontz

Trixie Koontz 2

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.

Trixie Koontz

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.

Trixie Koontz 3

 

**All photos taken from DeanKoontz.com/Trixie 

Writing Prompt based on Grace (eventually)

I hope you enjoy this nonfiction writing prompt based on Grace (eventually) by Anne Lamott.

Think of a situation when you had no choice but to relinquish control. Write about it. In whose hands did you leave the power and why? Were you reluctant to do so? How did you feel and what did you do immediately after?

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After you’ve written about your no-control situation, think about a time you escaped from your daily routine or a busy/stressful day. What did you think about or realize during this time away? Weave this moment into your original piece of writing. How does it affect the mood/theme of the piece? Do you like the changes? Are the moments related? If not, what makes them work well together?

*Please share your writing with me if you complete the prompt! 🙂

Grace (eventually): Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamont

grace

Anne Lamott has a way of letting her thoughts unravel in a way that initially seems scattered and shallow but by the end you wonder how she could tie together such different ends of a spectrum so seamlessly. Her nonfiction essays in Grace (eventually) are real and relatable. She willing admits she is not a saint yet she faces her challenges head on, drawing from the strength she does have. Like all humans, she slips, but unlike most of us, she shares her mistakes with the world to spread a little hope and strength.

**Check in tomorrow for a writing prompt based on Grace (eventually)!! 

Lamott does not beautify faith or grace. She shows her readers that it is a struggle, a struggle that needs the support from the outside. She draws this strength from her friends, her family, and her religion.

I would not place this collection of essays in the religious section of a bookstore. Lamott expands the parameters of faith. She does not solely discuss religion or even her faith in a higher power that will make everything lovely if only you ask. She talks about faith of all the kinds; faith in oneself, faith in humanity, faith in goodness and internal beauty, faith in one’s support system. It makes me wish that the word “faith” did not have such strong religious connotations, because it really is as vast as you believe it is.

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Recommendation:

I recommend this book to anyone who, like myself, immediately associates the word “faith” with religion. Lamott’s essays expanded the word’s meaning for me and I think it can for you, too. Also, all nonfiction lovers will appreciate the excellent writing and depth of Grace (eventually).

Have you read any nonfiction essays lately?

If that’s out of the ordinary for you, did you like the change?

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