Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Short Break

Between the holiday week and the end of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I disappeared for the past few days (if you hadn't noticed).  I plan on getting back on schedule next week, once I take the rest of the weekend to celebrate my completion of writing a novel in one month and to breathe before the short holiday break is over.  Thank you for being patient while I celebrate/breathe.

I'll see you again next week, when my normal posting schedule will resume.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

MadLib Monday 8: 11/23/09

It's the beginning of a new week, which means it is time for the weekly edition of MadLib Monday.  At this point, I'm assuming you know what to do, but if you need a refresher, check out past postings of MadLib Monday.

  1. verb
  2. subject (in school)
  3. noun (plural)
  4. noun (plural)
  5. verb (present participle [-ing])
  6. adjective
  7. place
  8. subject (same as #2)
  9. noun
  10. noun (plural)
  11. adjective
  12. adjective
  13. noun (singular)
  14. verb
  15. noun (plural)
  16. adjective
  17. adjective
  18. verb
  19. noun (plural)
  20. noun (plural)
  21. noun (plural)
  22. noun (singular)
  23. location
  24. verb
  25. adjective
  26. verb (present participle)
  27. noun (plural)
  28. noun
  29. adjective
  30. noun
As an interruption in the MadLib fun, please remember to check out the poll question of the week that is located in the left-hand sidebar of the blog; as usual, I will be posting the results of that poll on Wednesday.

I have been told to ___(1)___ the ___(2)___ curriculum relevant to the ___(3)___ of my ___(4)___.  I am ___(5)___, though, that my ___(6)___ girls at ___(7)___ like ___(8)___ precisely because it has no ___(9)___ to their ___(10)___.  They like nothing better than a(n) ___(11)___, ___(12)___ ___(13)___ to ___(14)___.  They write the ___(15)___ on their palms in ___(16)___ ___(17)___ ink and ___(18)___ the ___(19)___ . . . like ___(20)___ counting their ___(21)___.

When it comes time for a(n) ___(22)___ they line up at the ___(23)___ to ___(24)___.  I lean against the ___(25)___ tile wall ___(26)___ them as the ___(27)___ fill with pale blue ___(28)___ and the ___(29)___ words run down the ___(30)___.

Can you guess what book the above picture and passage were taken from?

Answer to last week's MadLib Monday: The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman.

Happy reading!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Ingredients of a Reader

Not too long ago, I overheard a student speaking with a fellow English professor; he said he knew he was meant to be an English major because he could "read a book--any book--in three days or less."  I had to stifle a laugh when I saw he was being serious.  It is interesting to me that students have these misconceptions that to be able to study English successfully, one simply needs to be able to read fast.  Thinking about that misconception started the spinning of my metaphorical hamster wheel, and I began thinking about being a reader in general, specifically about how many of us tend to live under the misconception that reading fast and reading a lot is all it takes to be a reader.  Unfortunately, we tend to forget to ask the important questions like, "Do you interact with the books?" or "What about reading is important?" or "What changed after you read that?"

Lately, I haven't had time to read as much as I would like to.  I barely made it through Something Wicked This Way Comes in time for an evening book group discussion on it.  Now that I've finished that, though, I've only been able to make it through the first three chapters of the next book that was on my reading list.  When life moves too fast, my reading time suffers.  I worried that not reading enough would somehow make me less of a reader.  I worried that I couldn't claim to be a reader if I didn't have time to read.

Yet when I do talk or write about books, a passion blooms inside me and leaves me feeling satisfied yet more open to possibilities.  Reading books fulfills me yet pushes me to start new journeys.  There is a certain inspiration borne from reading that I can't duplicate in any other activity, and that is what makes me a reader.

So I don't count how many books I read in a week, a month, or a year.  I don't care if the person next to me is reading faster than I am (unless that person is reading out loud and spoiling the ending for me).  What I care about is that I spend quality reading time with my books.  I want to know that what I am reading is making a difference in how I think about language or relationships or authors or maybe even life.  I want to know that when I do have the time to curl up with a book, I breathe in the 'joie de lire' that comes with it.

What makes you a reader?

Happy reading!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Weekly Poll 11/18/09: What Attracts Us to Books

Which part of the cover attracts you most to a new book?

1.  The blurb on the back cover.
2.  The picture/design on the front cover.
3.  The font used on the cover.

After a slight decrease in votes (eek!), the results show that 25% of voters are most attracted by the blurb on the back cover while the remaining 75% are most attracted by the picture/design on the front cover.

Part of my motivation for asking this question is that I wanted to make sure I wasn't alone in defying the whole "don't judge a book by its cover" warning.  First impressions are huge for me, though, which is something I think authors need to be hyper-aware of when it comes to choosing designs for their book covers.  I am, in fact, not alone because other readers are also attracted (or repelled) by the book cover (*sigh of relief*).  The blurb on the back does help, but it is typically the cover that initially draws me in.

The first time I saw the cover of The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman, I wanted to buy it.  In fact, I loved the design of the cover so much (and the title helped, too, since I am infatuated by dead languages) that I bought the other book the store had on its shelves of Carol Goodman's: The Seduction of Water.  After I bought the books, they sat on my shelves at home for nearly a year before I read them, but when I did, I was delighted to find that the stories held between both books' covers outshined the covers themselves.

You may not be able to tell from the picture above, but the water on the cover creates a shiny surface.  Between the dark color scheme and the shiny surface, I wanted to buy the book if for no other reason to decorate my shelves.

Another cover that attracted me to the book is the cover of Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen.  Again, once I got the book, it sat on my shelf for a while before I picked it up to read (a sad side-effect of having too many books, I suppose); however, when I did read it, I fell in love.

The girl hugging her knees in the middle of a fantastical garden is what grabbed my eye on this cover.  She looked so lonely, yet I wanted to be her.

Throughout my postings, you may have noticed that I tend to gravitate toward certain authors; I know I do, but I am not ashamed of my bias.  As a reader who only has so much free time to devote to reading new books, I am grateful to my list of favorite authors, who I can count on to produce books worth the time it takes to read them.  Because of that, I shamelessly plug for them every chance I get.

What books' covers have attracted you the most?

As a side note, the new poll question is in the left-hand sidebar and will be there until next Wednesday at noon.  In preparing for doing my first ever blog giveaway, I want your feedback on what type of prize you would most like to win on a blog giveaway.  This could affect you if you are the winner, so please make sure you vote!

Monday, November 16, 2009

MadLib Monday 7: 11/16/09

Is it already Monday again?  My calendar says it is, which means it is time for another installment of MadLib Monday!

  1. adjective
  2. adjective
  3. verb
  4. verb
  5. verb
  6. verb
  7. verb
  8. noun
  9. number
  10. noun
  11. adjective
  12. noun
  13. adjective
  14. adjective
  15. noun
  16. verb (+ -s)
  17. noun
  18. verb (+ -s)
  19. noun
  20. verb (same as #4)
  21. adjective
  22. adjective (same as #21)
  23. noun (plural)
  24. verb (past tense)
  25. adjective
  26. adjective
  27. verb (past tense)
  28. adjective
  29. number (same as #9)
  30. noun

As usual, the poll question is in the left-hand sidebar; on Wednesday I will be posting a new poll question and the summary of the results for this week's poll.  Be sure you head over there to place your vote.

Be careful what you wish for.  I know that for a fact.  Wishes are __(1)__, ___(2)___ things.  They ___(3)___ your tongue the moment they're spoken and you can never ___(4)___ them back.  They ___(5)___ and ___(6)___ and come back to ___(7)___ you.  I've made far too many wishes in my ___(8)___, the first when I was ___(9)___ years old.  Not the sort of wish for ___(10)___ or a(n) ___(11)___ ___(12)___ or ___(13)___ ___(14)___ ___(15)___; no.  The other sort, the kind that ___(16)___ your bones, then sits in the back of your ___(17)___, a greedy red toad that ___(18)___ you until you say it aloud.  The kind that could change your ___(19)___ in an instant, before you have time to wish you could ___(20)___ it back.

I was in the ___(21)___ place at the ___(22)___ time, but don't all ___(23)___ begin this way?  I was the child who ___(24)___ her feet and made a(n) ___(25)___ wish and in so doing ended the ___(26)___ world -- my world, at any rate.  The only thing that ___(27)___.  Of course I was ___(28)___, but don't most ___(29)___-year-old girls think they're the queen of the ___(30)___?

Can you guess the book that the picture and passage were taken from?

Answer from last week's MadLib Monday: The Devil Wears Prada. Kudos to Angie for guessing that one correctly.

Happy reading and MadLibbing!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Complexities in Bradbury's SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES

Back in October, Angiegirl (of the Angieville blog) wrote a post called "The Parents of YA"; in it, she talks about how a lot of young adult (YA) books feature crappy parenting (often a necessity for the main character to end up on his/her own to struggle through the world) but then goes on to feature some YA books that offer good parenting (or at least parents who are trying their best).  I thought it was a brilliant post, but I didn't think of continuing the discussion on my own blog because I didn't have much more to add to what she had already said (outside the short comment I wrote on her blog).

But then I started reading Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury for the upcoming Good Books Club discussion this weekend and was inspired to write about three types of complexities in the book, starting with one of the parent/child relationships portrayed in the book.

Looking at the title and cover of this book, it seems odd that I'd be using this book as an example of good parent/child relationships, and yet Bradbury beautifully writes the complex relationship between one of the main characters, 13-year-old Will Halloway, and his parents.  As a disclaimer, in my following discussion, I am speaking from the experience of having a prototypical parent experience (i.e., my parents weren't perfect but they also weren't "crappy").

One of the first scenes that touched me is when Will walked in one night to see his parents sitting together in the family room; his mom was happily knitting and humming while his father sat there broodily contemplating a book.  He stood in the entryway, unable to take his eyes off them and came to a realization:

He wanted to be near and not near them, he saw them close, he saw them far.  Suddenly they were awfully small in too large a room in too big a town and much too huge a world.  In this unlocked place they seemed at the mercy of anything that might break in from the night. ... Suddenly he loved them more for their smallness than he ever had when they seemed tall.

Bradbury uses this simple passage to reflect a complex moment in a kid's life: learning that parents are not impenetrable giants but vulnerable people.  Kids reach this knowledge at different stages in life, yet it is an integral moment for any child.  Or maybe I should say "person" because I know adults who still struggle with seeing their parents for who they are--they look at their parents, expecting them to have all the answers, expecting them to save the day, expecting them to live forever.  And here, a 13-year-old boy sums up what people who experience this change in relationship try to say but often can't: you're able to love your parents more deeply when you realize how small they really are.

Later on in the scene, Will is lying awake listening to the sound of his father's voice through the walls.

And the odd thing in Dad's voice was the sound truth makes being said.  The sound of truth, in a wild roving land of city or plain country lies, will spell any boy.  Many nights Will drowsed this way, his senses like stopped clocks long before that half-singing voice was still.  Dad's voice was a midnight school, teaching deep fathom hours, and the subject was life.

I love that portrayal.  Earlier Will had already come to the realization that his father was "small" and yet he still listened for his father's voice, wanting to hold on to his father's words.  Will is on the verge of growing up in this book and has a hard time letting go of childhood behaviors; his father can relate to what his son is going through but finds he cannot communicate well with his son.  Bradbury has a talent for taking horribly complex ideas and expressing them in beautifully constructed snapshots of the characters' lives.

The parent/child relationships are not the only complex relationships tackled in the book; Bradbury also explores the friendship between Will and his best friend Jim:

So there they go, Jim running slower to stay with Will, Will running faster to stay with Jim, Jim breaking two windows in a haunted house because Will's along, Will breaking one window instead of none, because Jim's watching.  God, how we get our fingers in each other's clay.  That's friendship, each playing the potter to see what shapes we can make of the other.

Will and Jim are opposites in every way--including their looks.  That opposite-ness keeps the relationship strong while at the same time breaks it down.  The way he describes friendship as each involved person playing the potter is beautiful yet frightening (perhaps that makes it hauntingly beautiful).  It provides a visual representation that we leave our marks on our friends but also reminds us that who we choose to be our friends will influence who we turn out to be.

Furthermore, the language itself is complex.  I am not quite finished with the book because, at times, I am finding it difficult to concentrate on the plot as I get lost in the language.  My inner linguist is being a jackanapes, interrupting my reading flow by wanting to analyze the language because Bradbury's style is simplistic yet otherworldly.  For instance, instead of writing something like "he paused," he writes things like "he waited until his heart beat twice."  My inner linguist rejoices at the literary freedoms taken with the language, but my inner reader shakes her fist at the linguist, wanting to finish the book to see how the story unfolds.

In case you were wondering, I am proud of myself for being able to use "jackanapes" in a sentence after watching it scroll across my computer screen earlier as one of the words of the day on my screensaver.  At least my inner linguist wasn't wearing galligaskins.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Weekly Poll 11/11/09: Reading style


Which best describes how you typically read a novel?

  1. I skim the pages, usually only focusing on dialogue.
  2. I read it all quickly.
  3. I read it all and slow down on parts I want to digest.
  4. I read, re-read, take notes, underline, and re-read again.

After a week of voting, the results are in: the majority of my blog readers fall into category #3: "I read it all and slow down on parts I want to digest."

I originally became interested in the topic when I was speaking with a friend who went through books at what I can only describe as lightning fast speed; I was amazed at how much she could read in a single weekend while still managing to get other tasks done.  When I asked her how she did it, she said, "I'm a fast reader."  I nodded, thinking, "Gee, and I thought I was above average on reading speed."  We started talking about a book we had both read, moving on with the conversation, when she finished her answer to my question: "Oh, and I usually only read the dialogue."

My exact reaction was, "Wha?"  Yes, I was so shocked I couldn't even get the t out on the what.  And yet, the more readers I speak with, the more I hear about people who utilize this technique of skimming (or completely skipping) the descriptions, the background information, the "fluff" in some people's minds to get to the heart of the story: the dialogue.  My first point of interest is that I would assume that would limit the types of books those readers can enjoy.  I know some of my favorite books have entire chapters with no dialogue, which makes me question whether interaction-driven readers would tend to stay away from those kinds of books or if they bend their own rules if there is no dialogue for a number of pages.  This also points to something authors need to think about: there is a possibility that readers are picking up their books and judging the content based solely on the quality of the dialogue.  I hear the whir of computers firing up as authors frantically revise any awkward dialogue.

Beyond dialogue-divers, there is another subset of readers that skim everything.  I call it "skimming" because reading quickly is, in essence, skimming.  My husband is a skimmer to such a degree that I will hand him something to read, and he'll look up at me not even a minute later claiming he's read the entire five-page document I handed him.  Once I start questioning him, though, the reliability of the skimming method is severely called into question.  I've found, as a reader, that I've leaned the art of selective skimming for reading academic materials.  When it comes to novels, though, I fall--along with the majority of my voters--in the third category.

I can't skim books because I want to make sure I get every detail.  If I forget a name or think I remember something similar happening before, I can't just shrug my shoulders and go on--I have to go back and find out what that name was or what that similar thing was.  If I come to a sentence that is beautifully written, I slow down and read it a few times and close my eyes to let it sink in.  If a paragraph is complicated, I can't rush through it--I have to slow down and work my way through it.

As you can imagine, sometimes I also fall into the fourth category because sometimes I go so slowly through a book that I end up re-reading parts so much that I begin thinking more deeply and trying to find other connections--even ones outside the book--which in turn makes me want to take notes and underline and re-read sections.  A book has to really speak to me for me to fall into this category, and the odd thing is that I can never predict when I'll become this type of reader.

Because we all have our own reading styles, I wonder if we think they are "better" than someone else's.  I tend to think that the dialogue-only camp is missing the 'joie de lire' while the reading-quickly camp is also likely to miss the deeper meaning or subtle connections.  On the other hand, though, readers in those camps just might think readers like me waste time fretting over the smaller details and end up missing the broader picture.  It makes me want to do a study on reading styles to find out what determines reading style; the first possibilities that come to my mind are the end goals for the reading session (e.g., reading for a test, for fun, or for a specific amount of time), the ways we originally learned how to read, and length of attention spans.

Sometimes I wish I could skim--when I'm in a hurry and trying to finish the last few pages before I can do something else, I wish I could turn off that internal voice of mine and go full speed through the material.  But I just can't.  And even if I do, I end up going back later to re-read it to see if I skipped over anything important.  Maybe I'm just too anal retentive...

As a last note, the new poll question for the week is in the left-hand sidebar.  This week I want to know what attracts you most about the cover of a new book--what makes you want to read a book you had never heard of before?  Is it the blurb on the back cover?  The picture or design on the front?  The font used for the title/author's name?  Make sure you cast your vote by Wednesday, November 18, when I will post about the results.

Happy reading--whatever your reading style may be!

Monday, November 9, 2009

MadLib Monday 6: 11/9/09

It is once again time for MadLib Monday!  If you need a refresher on the "rules," refer to the original posting here.

  1. adverb
  2. adjective
  3. adjective
  4. noun
  5. verb
  6. adjective
  7. verb (past tense)
  8. noun
  9. noun
  10. noun
  11. adjective
  12. verb (past tense)
  13. verb (past tense)
  14. noun
  15. noun
  16. verb (present participle)
  17. noun
  18. noun (same as #17)
  19. verb (past tense)
  20. adverb
  21. noun
  22. adjective
  23. verb
  24. noun (singular)
  25. noun
  26. number
  27. noun (plural)
  28. noun
  29. verb (past tense)
  30. amount of time

The poll for this week is in the left-hand sidebar, like usual, and is about reading styles: Are you a skimmer?  A note-taker?  Some interesting conversations have been floating around Twitter about how closely people read texts, which got me thinking about the different types of readers out there.  Vote on the poll by Wednesday, when I will post about the results.

Also, a monumental MadLib Monday is coming up in a month: my 10th MadLib Monday!  I think that calls for a celebration, and my form of celebration is to turn that MadLib Monday into a contest (and contests are not complete without a prize for the winner).  I will announce the details during that posting.

As a suggestion, a fun way to share the MadLibs you complete would be to include your MadLibbed version of the passage below in a comment.  I'd like to see what my readers are coming up with.

The picture to go with this week's passage is here:

The light hadn't even ___(1)___ turned ___(2)___ at the intersection of 17th and Broadway before an army of ___(3)___ yellow cabs roared past the tiny ___(4)___ I was attempting to ___(5)___ around the ___(6)___ streets.  Clutch, gas, shift (neutral to first? Or first to second?), release clutch, I ___(7)___ over and over in my ___(8)___, the mantra offering little ___(9)___ and even less ___(10)___ amid the ___(11)___ midday traffic.  The little car ___(12)___ wildly twice before it ___(13)___ forward through the ___(14)___.  My ___(15)___ flip-flopped in my chest.  Without ___(16)___, the lurching evened out and I began to pick up ___(17)___.  Lots of ___(18)___.  I ___(19)___ down to confirm ___(20)___ that I was only in second ___(21)___, but the rear end of a cab loomed so ___(22)___ in the windshield that I could do nothing but ___(23)___ my foot on the brake pedal so hard that my ___(24)___ snapped off.  ___(25)___!  Another pair of ___(26)___-dollar ___(27)___ sacrificed to my complete and utter lack of ___(28)___ under pressure: this ___(29)___ as my third such breakage this ___(30)___.

Can you guess which book the picture and passage are taken from?

Last week's MadLib answer: Bitter Sweets by Roopa Farooki, which no one guessed.

Please let me know if you are interested in seeing the original passages that I've used for MadLib Monday; I can begin posting the originals after the guessing period is over if people are interested in reading them.

Happy reading and MadLibbing!

Friday, November 6, 2009

It's All in the Name... Or is it?

The other week I was participating in a Twitter conversation (in the #YAlitchat, which takes place every Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. EST); the topic was how writers choose to name their characters.  I won't get into my own naming practices here; I've started yet another blog to track my writing journey, Jessie's Writing, so check there for a future posting on my own personal naming habits.  The talk of how we choose to name characters, though, made me start thinking about the names of characters in some of my favorite books.

I remember when I was younger reading an interview with R.L. Stine; he said that some of his characters had their names because his kids had started their own business at school, "selling" other kids the ability to have their names appear in one of their dad's future books.  I'm not sure how serious he was about that, but I think the philosophy behind it represents one type of naming practice: books that have character names that don't necessarily "mean" anything beyond, "Well, a character has to have a name, right?"  Quite honestly, as I'm reading, usually the names don't speak to me unless I have prior attachments to the name.  As shallow as it makes me sound as a reader, I'll try out any book that has a character named Lucy simply because I'm infatuated with I Love Lucy.  And so for most books, I don't think too deeply about why the author chose a particular name for a particular character, and I'm not sure a lot of books actually have significant reasons.  In saying that, though, I don't mean that I ignore names altogether; in fact, some of my favorite books do have rather significant meanings behind the names, and I revel in that as a reader.

In the book Bitter Sweets (by Roopa Farooki), a character sums up the inspiration for the rest of this post quite nicely (taken from page 60):

Ricky-Rashid had an unconscious Dickensian belief that the name unveiled the soul; no man named Uriah Heep would ever be a romantic hero, no boy named Twist could expect a straightforward life.

Ricky-Rashid's thoughts continued, letting readers know that for him, "a rose by any other name" would not in fact still be a rose.  And so, it's all in the name.  Or is it?

On one end of the spectrum is Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier.  When I picked up the book, I assumed the main character's name was Rebecca; after all, it would make sense that the name on the cover of the book matched the name of the main character.  As I read, though, I found out that Rebecca was the name of the main character's husband's first wife (in other words, Rebecca was the first Mrs. de Winter while the main character is the second Mrs. de Winter).  I was nearly finished with the book before I realized the main character wasn't named.  She was called "Mrs. de Winter," but her first name is never provided.  I delighted in the mystery having no name presented--it only let me know so much about the main character even though I was able to read her thoughts and interactions with other people.  There was something about not knowing her name that kept part of her character a secret from me, and I liked that secrecy--that intrigue.  The primary significance of the names in this book is represented by the lack of a name for the main character.  That raises the question of whether it can really be all about the name if not all characters even receive names.

On another end of the spectrum is the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.  In her books, names reflect the characters but do so in such a way that readers may not be able to recognize the relationship on the surface.  If you take the time to look up the origins of the names, though, they are the character in word form.  The names are characters all by themselves.  I found a website that provides meanings of the names for all the primary characters (and even some not-so-primary characters) in the books.  I have to admit that the first time I read the Harry Potter books, I didn't think too hard about the names--I just let myself get lost in the story.  It wasn't until I was teaching a Study of Words course that I began to realize just how many Latinate roots the unique words in Harry Potter had (e.g., the names of spells).  Then I started researching more about the names of characters in the books and found just how intricately J.K. Rowling had worked to shape the names of all her characters.  For example, the following is taken from the website provided above for the names of the Harry Potter characters:

Headmaster Albus Dumbledore: His first name is from the Latin word alba, "white." His last name, according to Rowling interviews, is Old English for "bumblebee." In color symbolism, white often stands for purity, so the headmaster's name suggests honor and a hard-working nature ("busy as a bee").

I don't have the type of reading habits that make me take into account all the details and ask what they might be symbolic of; instead, I tend to read for the pure enjoyment of reading.  And yet, names really are fascinating when authors integrate them so well into the plot that readers don't feel the strain from the struggles the author must have gone through to get all the names "just so."

In comparing the two differing styles of naming characters, I am not sure which author had a more difficult task: J.K. Rowling, who hand-crafted all her characters' names, or Daphne duMaurier, who hand-crafted the story in such a way that the lack of a first name for her main character would not be a glaring distraction to the novel.

What books come to mind for you when you think of memorable character names?  Which authors, in your opinion, use interesting character names?

Happy reading and analyzing character names!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Weekly Poll 11/4/09

The poll question from last week was...

As a reader, is writing style or plot more important to keep you hooked on a book?

  • style
  • plot
The results were that 67% feel writing style is more important while the remaining 33% feel plot is more important.

My first reaction was that I wasn't sure which I would answer--good style without a plot driving it feels kind of pointless while good plot with no style is just downright painful.  Luckily, I had a week to figure out which I felt, in the end, was more important in my own 'joie de lire.'

In this entry, I'm defining style as including word choice and sentence structure, which then affect dialogue, character development, and descriptions.  Plot, on the other hand, includes the basic plot (i.e., what happens), including the chosen characters and settings.

First, I want to backtrack to what I said in Monday's MadLib post about the MadLib feature making me slow down and analyze writing style more thoroughly.  I had a difficult time using Rebecca for the passage for my MadLibs feature because as I was picking out words to delete, I noticed that Daphne duMaurier has little to no adverbs in her writing.  Noticing that reminded me of writing guides (e.g., Stephen King's On Writing) that warn writers against using too many adverbs (or other modifiers, for that matter).

Compare the feel of Rebecca's opening lines to those of Twilight, and you might start seeing why writing guides would warn authors of becoming too attached to modifiers if those authors want to achieve literary status (versus Blockbuster-type status).  Not only did duMaurier not use an abundance of modifiers, but she also used sentence structures that don't lend themselves to deleting words to insert new words.  In other words, her sentence structures are unique and beg to remain in their original form.  Again, thinking about style got me questioning whether I thought style or plot was more important.

Books that become part of my "favorites" list are those that have both style and plot working for them: Rebecca, Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, Harry Potter (all seven of them), and The Help by Kathryn Stockett, just to name a few.  If, though, I had to choose between reading bad plot/good style and good plot/bad style, I think I would rather read the book with a questionable plot but good writing style.

Unfortunately, most of the books I could come up with for this post were on the other side of the coin: good plot/bad style.  For example, I can't get past Dan Brown's writing style to enjoy his books, yet I am enthralled by his plots (and thus happy that his books have movies made out of them).  I had previously said that I'm not a fan of Mary Higgins Clark's writing style, but I love her books because the plots draw me in.  Her writing style doesn't distract me from the plot--it just doesn't move me, either.

Recently I've read a few books whose plots I didn't think were anything I would've been interested in, but I ended up enjoying the books because the writing style was so amazing.  The plots aren't "bad," but they alone wouldn't have kept me reading the books.  The first is Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut, and the second is Bitter Sweets by Roopa Farooki.  When reading those books, I kept reading not because the plot had sucked me in so much that I just had to know what would happen next but because the style had sucked me in so much that I just had to know what the author would write next.

Another blogger, Livia Blackburne, posted "Genre, writing, and cliche, oh my!" this week, in which she explored the notion of writing within a genre while remaining fresh.  The reason I bring that posting up here is that my thought on it is that authors who write well can get away with using clichés or spotty plots while authors who do not write well better have a bang-up plot to keep readers going.  One of the clichés listed for chick lit is having a fabulous gay friend or witty banter in a coffee shop; my first thought was of Marian Keyes, who writes chick lit and has the fabulous gay friend showing up in her plots.  Yet, she does it so well that I don't notice I'm reading what could, in fact, be an instance of a cliché for her genre.

Thank you to all my voters this week, and the new poll question of the week is up in the left sidebar.  Vote by next Wednesday, when I'll post on the results.

Happy reading, whether you're reading for the book's style, plot, or both!

Monday, November 2, 2009

MadLib Monday 5: 11/2/09

It is once again time for MadLib Monday!  The rules are the same as always, but if you're new to MadLibs or simply want a refresher, you can refer back to the first MadLib Monday post.

  1. adverb
  2. adjective
  3. adjective
  4. noun (plural)
  5. location
  6. verb (past participle)
  7. adjective
  8. noun (plural)
  9. noun
  10. adjective
  11. noun (plural)
  12. location
  13. noun
  14. adverb
  15. verb (present participle)
  16. verb
  17. noun (plural)
  18. noun
  19. location
  20. adjective
  21. verb (past participle)
  22. verb
  23. noun
  24. adjective
  25. adjective
  26. adjective
  27. location (same as the location for #5)
  28. noun (plural)
  29. verb (present participle)
  30. noun (singular)
On Wednesday, I will once again be posting about the poll question, which is situated in the left sidebar; this week's question deals with what keeps you reading a book: content (plot) or style.  I know it's a tough choice for me, and I'm interested in hearing what you have to say about it.  I'll talk more about this on Wednesday, but the MadLibs I've been making were the inspiration for the poll question this week: Doing this MadLib feature is making me analyze the writing style of authors--when you have to pick out words and put part-of-speech labels on them, you start noticing what authors rely on modifiers and which base their sentences almost entirely on nouns and verbs; moreover, you start noticing exactly what words fill those slots for different authors.  Check back on Wednesday for the rest of that thought.

Now that I've sufficiently distracted you, here is the picture that goes along with this week's MadLib feature:

Henna was thirteen when she was __(1)__ married off to the ___(2)___ son of one of the ___(3)___ ___(4)___ in ___(5)___, and her marriage was ___(6)___ by a(n) ___(7)___ network of ___(8)___ as elaborate and brazen as the golden ___(9)___ on her ___(10)___ wedding sari.  Henna's paternal family were ___(11)___ by trade, shopkeepers from ___(12)___ who had made their ___(13)___ by ___(14)___ ___(15)___ powders and pastes of suspect origin, to ___(16)___ the boredom and fatigue of the British __(17)___ serving out their ___(18)___ in local government in ___(19)___.  Those ___(20)___ days had ___(21)___ with the British some ten years previously, but Henna's father was still never one to ___(22)___ a(n) ___(23)___ opportunity--when he heard that the ___(24)___, ___(25)___ and unusually ___(26)___ Karim family from ___(27)___ would be visiting their ___(28)___ around Dhaka, he wasted no time in ___(29)___ an effective ___(30)___.

Can you guess which book the photo and passage were taken from?

Last week's MadLib answer: Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier.  Kudos to Angie for guessing that one correctly (she relied on the photo to get it: the "swoopy" R graces the cover of may versions of Rebecca).