Novels I’d Like to Call My Own

Although it’s not Friday anymore (sigh), I still love the idea of last week’s Friday Fives by Paper Hangover: What are the five novels you wish you had written? It’s a tough one! There’s a big difference between enjoying or loving a novel and wishing you could call it your own. I’m sure I could add several to this list, but my five wish-novels are:

1. The Giver by Lois Lowry
The first book to really make me think. The writing is fantastic, the characters are engaging, and the plot unfolds in a terrifying but realistic manner. Lowry has dozens of wish-worthy novels, but this one tugs at my heart in a very special way.

2. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
I almost claimed the whole series but figured I’d better stick to one novel instead. The first in the His Dark Materials series is gorgeously written and compelling, and main character Lyra is one of my favorites.

3. The Commitments by Roddy Doyle
Doyle’s novels all have a wonderful lyricism and vibrancy. I think it’s almost impossible to incorporate music well into a novel (usually the lyrics or descriptions of music fall flat), but Doyle really gets the vibe of soul music. The movie is awesome, too.

4. Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty
Even though it’s full of whimsy, when I first read this I thought “Yes, this is exactly what it feels like.” Moriarty handles everything well, from having crushes to losing/gaining friends to family drama, while still maintaining an enormous sense of humor.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A novel that truly stands the test of time. It’s a beautiful look into small-town life, the first encounters with violence and chaos, and how there are still people who refuse to back down to prejudice and hate.

You can check out other people’s lists over at Paper Hangover’s post. I found the challenge through Reading on the F Train–great choices there, too! Feel free to blog about your own choices, or share them in the comments.

Friday Fifteen

Live from New York, it’s the Friday Fifteen! Here’s my weekly review of fifteen books in fifteen words or less.

1. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
They were fools to leave the boxcar. Fools!

2. The Boxcar Children Houseboat Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner
Didn’t know it was a series, then picked up this. Didn’t read the rest.

3. The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
Lovely writing, fun plot, Dickensian feel. Ending didn’t quite hold for me.

4. Circling the Drain by Amanda Davis
Eerie stories with a fantastical feel. Sad to lose Davis so young.

5. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Loved the wild ride in 12th grade; wonder if I’d see it differently now.

6. Ballistics by Billy Collins
Worth it if only for the poem Hippos on Holiday. On holiday from what indeed?

7. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Based on his stories, I was expecting something a little quirkier.

8. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Interesting ideas, but I didn’t much care about the characters. Prefer The Handmaid’s Tale.

9. The Witch Down the Street (Tale from the Care Bears) by Stephanie Morgan
Spoiler alert: the “witch” is a nice old lady. I know. Shocked.

10. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Let’s all get drunk and watch the bull fights, shall we?

11. The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey Into The Land Of The Chemical Elements by P.W. Atkins
I couldn’t even learn chemistry when it came in fantasy form. Good try though.

12. About a Boy by Nick Hornby
Funny, poignant, and real. Maybe it’s not high literary fiction, but I love it.

13. A Raisin in the Sun  by Lorraine Hansberry
The only reading in tenth grade with a moderately happy ending.

14. Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Scotland, witches, murder–what more could you want from the Bard? My favorite tragedy.

15. Intensely Chocolate by Carole Bloom
I love chocolate. Bloom writes fantastic cookbooks. A match made in heaven.

And there you have it! Enjoy the weekend everyone.

Punctuation Fans, Unite!

I’m a punctuation nut. When others argue against the Oxford comma or the semicolon, I get personally offended. So I love this list of 14 punctuation marks you might not have heard of. (If you’re in the writing/editing world, I bet you can pick out at least a couple.)

The Exclamation Comma. Finally, a way for me to express excitement without ending a sentence! The Snark is also wickedly delightful, but I think I’d end up using it too often.

Which punctuation mark is your favorite?

Friday Fifteen

I’m back with the second edition of Friday Fifteen, in which I review fifteen books in fifteen words or less.

1. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
Good, but mostly I remember the puppy.

2. A Sick Day For Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead
One of the cutest, coziest books ever, with lovely art.

3. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Read it obsessively for a while, then found it lacking.

4. The Giver by Lois Lowry
The first book I can remember really making me think. A forever favorite.

5. On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Felt more like a collection of ideas than actual characters or plot.

6. Kate’s Camp-Out (Sleepover Friends #6) by Susan Saunders
90s tween series about sleepovers. I think this one was a kind of ghost story?

7. The Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System by Joanna Cole
This book taught me about mass vs. weight. Miss Frizzle’s class meets the universe.

8. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
The novelization of the history of philosophy. Awesome, but the end got really weird.

9. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
The second book to make me cry. More sadness about puppies.

10. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald
The first in a series. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle helps parents manage their obnoxious kids, hilarity ensues.

11. The Ghost in the Attic (Haunting with Louisa #1) by Emily Cates
Non-scary ghost tale with a historical fiction twist. The only one I read in the series.

12. The Food You Want to Eat: 100 Smart, Simple Recipes by Ted Allen
Impressed my family with Allen’s recipes. Not too hard, but not too basic either.

13. Jacob I Have Loved by Katherine Paterson
Read this a lot, but I wanted to shake Louise and punch Caroline. Patterns understands isolation.

14. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Chilling and captivating. I liked this way better than Capote’s short fiction.

15. The Best American Travel Writing 2006 by Tim Cahill and Jason Wilson
First foray into travel writing. Now terrified to sail alone (not that I planned to).

I didn’t get to finish The Fault in Our Stars for the Friday Fifteen, but I might end up giving that a full review instead. Or I’ll save it for next week. Either way, feel free to share your own fifteen-word reviews in the comments.

First Friday Fifteen

Although I appreciate them, I don’t tend to write a lot of book reviews. I have some on Amazon, maybe one on Goodreads, and probably none on my various blogs. So I figured I’d try something a little different here. Instead of trying to craft thoughtful, well-worded reviews of recently read books, I’m going to write about every book I’ve ever read. In 15 words or less.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Friday Fifteen.

I figure this will be a fun way to share thought about books without too much pressure. There’s no particular order to this; it’s mostly just whatever books I remember in the moment. Plus I get to share all the embarrassing tween novels I read back in the day.

Onto the reviews!

1. Watership Down by Richard Adams
Lovely writing, compelling plot. And it’s about rabbits. Love!

2. Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
History humor at its best. My jury duty book.

3. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
My long-distance relationship novel. The new Gone with the Wind?

4. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Probably read this ninety times in eighth grade. Still breaks my heart.

5. Watchmen by Alan Moore
Engaging twist on the classic superhero, plus the apocalypse. The movie was terrible.

6. Mountain Man Dance Moves: The McSweeney’s Book of Lists by McSweeney’s Publishing
Not all winners. but I cry with laughter at some of these.

7. Will You Please Be Quiet, Please by Raymond Carver
Read this for class. I’m sure we had a nice discussion about craft.

8. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
This is probably what it feels like when you’re the cute girl in ninth grade.

9. Letters from Amelia, 1901-1937 by Jean L. Backus
Research for a certain YA novel. Lots of thoughtful correspondence.

10. Angels in America by Tony Kushner
You can do a lot on stage, apparently. And a hopeful ending.

11. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Probably my favorite of the series, with a fantastic twist.

12. Mary Anne Misses Logan (The Baby-sitters Club #46) by Ann M. Martin
My first BSC book. I didn’t realize it was a series at first.

13. Help! My Apartment Has a Dining Room Cookbook: How to Have People Over Without Stressing Out by Kevin Mills, Nancy Mills
How to prepare a meal, with a side of humor and common sense.

14. The Hours by Michael Cunningham
Not as depressing as everyone said. Stunning writing.

15. Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business by Esphyr Slobodkina
We read this a lot when I was little. Still love hats, don’t trust monkeys.

And there you have it! Feel free to share your own fifteen-word reviews as well.

A Shot of Inspiration…and a Giant Bear

This post by Chuck Wendig has been making the rounds, and for good reason. It’s a good kick-in-the-pants approach to a new year’s writing resolutions. A few of my favorite points:

Stop Thinking It Should Be Easier
It’s not going to get any easier, and why should it? Anything truly worth doing requires hella hard work. If climbing to the top of Kilimanjaro meant packing a light lunch and hopping in a climate-controlled elevator, it wouldn’t really be that big a fucking deal, would it? You want to do This Writing Thing, then don’t just expect hard work — be happy that it’s a hard row to hoe and that you’re just the, er, hoer to hoe it? I dunno. Don’t look at me like that. AVERT YOUR GAZE, SCRUTINIZER. And get back to work.

Whether you’re writing family memoirs or historical romances or books about chicken feed or paranormal thrills, writing isn’t glamorous. It’s work. It’s easy for people to think it should just require a little time at a computer, maybe a heavy sigh or two, but it’s a lot of though and effort and revision. And then you have to deal with all the rejection. It’s certainly not a job for the faint of heart.

Stop the Shame
Writers are often ashamed at who they are and what they do. Other people are out there fighting wars and fixing cars and destroying our country with poisonous loans — and here we are, sitting around in our footy-pajamas, writing about vampires and unicorns, about broken hearts and shattered jaws. A lot of the time we won’t get much respect, but you know what? Fuck that. Take the respect. Writers and storytellers help make this world go around. We’re just as much a part of the societal ecosystem as anybody else. Craft counts. Art matters. Stories are important. Freeze-frame high-five. Now have a beer and a shot of whisky and shove all your shame in a bag and burn it.

Books save lives. Maybe not in the way that open-heart surgery can, but books and stories and art is essential to the human race. Think about all the great historical figures. At least a quarter of them are artists, right? So there’s no reason for people to scoff when you tell them you want to be a writer.

Stop Caring About What Other Writers Are Doing
They’re going to do what they’re going to do. You’re not them. You don’t want to be them and they don’t want to be you. Why do what everyone else is doing? Let me reiterate: do your own thing.

It’s really easy to compare yourself to your successful friends or that 22-year-old novelist with a huge book deal. I do it all the time. But no one’s career path is the same, just like no one’s ideas are the same. You can be happy that they succeed because it means more art in the world.

Stop Being Afraid
Fear will kill you dead. You’ve nothing to be afraid of that a little preparation and pragmatism cannot kill. Everybody who wanted to be a writer and didn’t become one failed based on one of two critical reasons: one, they were lazy, or two, they were afraid. Let’s take for granted you’re not lazy. That means you’re afraid. Fear is nonsense. What do you think is going to happen? You’re going to be eaten by tigers? Life will afford you lots of reasons to be afraid: bees, kidnappers, terrorism, being chewed apart by an escalator, Republicans, Snooki. But being a writer is nothing worthy of fear. It’s worthy of praise. And triumph. And fireworks. And shotguns. And a box of wine. So shove fear aside — let fear be gnawed upon by escalators and tigers. Step up to the plate. Let this be your year.

This is a hard one. It’s easy to be afraid: of the blank page, of the rejection, of never making it. But there’s no reason you should be afraid of wanting something. Of wanting to be an artist. So get your fireworks, shotguns, boxes of wine, and get to work.

Read the full post here for more ass-kicking inspiration.

I feel like this post should end with something hardcore, like bears on fire fighting old-timey ships. So here’s that too.

The Young and Young at Heart

I love the idea of pairing classic children’s book heroes and their literary adult counterparts, but this list from Flavorwire feels so wrong to me. How in the world can you think Lyra from The Golden Compass could grow up to be Jane Eyre? These are two of my favorite characters in literature, but they’re vastly different people. And Huck Finn growing up to be Dean Moriarty? There’s no evil in Huck the way there is in Moriarty. (Currently watching Sherlock, which only underscores my reaction.)

There are a few good connections (like Eloise and Holly Golightly) but at least half of the pairings don’t add up to me. Granted, it’s a hard concept to work from, but I was hoping for more.

The Secret Life of Writers

Some fun points from Robert McCrum’s Fifty things I’ve learned about the literary life:

6. Christopher Marlowe did not write Shakespeare. Nor did Francis Bacon or the Earl of Oxford. Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. It’s a no-brainer. Just read the First Folio.

11. This is a golden age of reading.

15. You don’t have to read every book you buy, and you certainly don’t have to finish the book you’ve started.

20. Literary fiction is like sci-fi. It’s a genre.

46. Everything is fiction.

A few more I would add:

  • Everyone would tell you “You should write about this/That would make a great story.”  Most of the time you shouldn’t/it wouldn’t.
  • People will try to see themselves/other people you both know in your work.
  • Blogging doesn’t count as actual writing time.
  • The hardest part is sitting down and starting.

What have you learned about the literary life?