Reading in public can be dangerous. Somebody can sneak up behind you and conk you on the head while you’re distracted. You can get plowed into by walkers, runners, bicyclists, or even cars. If you’re reading a James Patterson novel in public, a crazy bald guy might start ranting in your face about how you’re feeding into a scam.
If that was you reading the James Patterson book in the airport over the weekend, I apologize for my bad behavior.
With new technology (well, to a guy my age, it’s relatively new), it’s easier than ever to read in public. We don’t have to lug books around anymore. We can carry our libraries on our phone. We might be reading texts or social media, but it’s still reading. We might even be tempted to write in public. But doing so can be risky, so if we’re determined to read (and write) in public, let’s make sure to follow these basic rules and do it safely.
1. Be stationary.
Sit or stand when you’re reading. This might sound like I’m lecturing, but it’s more than a safety issue. The world loves seeing pedestrians stumble in public, and if you trip over while reading, somebody else with a smart phone will capture it and put it on the internet for the world to mock you. Plus, the person who takes the video gets the hits and the glory. The reader/stumbler gets the mockery. If I’m ever involved with a viral video of a guy stumbling in public, I want to be the one taking/posting the video, not the guy falling down.
So whenever I read in public, I sit or I stand still.
2. Put your back up against a wall or obstacle.
When we’re reading, we don’t pay attention to our surroundings, and that’s when we readers can get conked on the head. I’ve been conked on the head before. It hurts. I don’t want to get conked on the head ever again. Even if getting conked didn’t hurt, it might still knock you out and all your stuff can get stolen, including the book/tablet you’re reading.
To be fair, I wasn’t reading when I got conked on the head, but reading in public with my back vulnerable greatly increases the likelihood of getting conked on the head.
3. Look up a lot.
No matter how caught up you are in your book (or whatever you’re reading), be aware of your surroundings. You might be in your own little utopia while you’re on reading, but in the meantime you are still surrounded by a very dangerous world filled with creeps who prey upon the oblivious. If these creeps know that you’re looking up frequently, they’re less likely to sneak up on you. True, the creep will probably just find another reader lost in oblivion, but you’re still making the creep work harder by looking up.
4. Keep an angry expression on your face.
I don’t like people talking to me while I’m reading, so if I look mad, people are less likely to approach me. Plus, I’m less likely to get conked on the head if the potential predator thinks I’m in a fighting mood. If you’re reading a humorous book, laugh really loudly so everybody around you thinks that you’re nuts. Maybe curse a little bit too, just for the heck of it. Predators like easy victims. They’ll pass over a guy or girl who looks angry/crazy when reading, and they’ll search for easier prey.
5. Don’t read in the car.
You should never read in the car, not even at red lights. Put that book or phone away while you’re driving. Your brain needs a moment to adjust when you go from reading mode to driving mode. It’s too easy to accelerate before your brain has had a chance to process what’s in front of you if you’ve been reading at a red light. When you’re in your car, you are moments away from an injury at any given second. Don’t be the cause of your own accident.
Before technology existed, I used to be self-conscious about reading books in public. I didn’t mind strangers seeing me read a book in public (like a restaurant or movie theater), but there was always a chance of running into somebody I knew. Getting caught reading a book in public was an admission of being anti-social. It was like admitting you didn’t have friends. It was like admitting nobody liked you. It was like admitting you hid from your personal problems behind the pages of a book (which is better than some other vices people use to hide from their problems).
Today, if I’m reading, nobody can tell I’m reading a book. From an outsider’s point of view, I could be checking messages or social media. I can appear to be a popular guy while I’m actually remaining my anti-social self. With phones and tablets, all social stigmas of reading in public have disappeared. But I still don’t want to get conked on the head.
What tips do you have for reading safely in public? Have you ever been conked on the head? Has anybody ever started a conversation with you about what you’re reading in public?
It’s probably pretty arrogant to put together a BEST BOOK EVER list of any kind. For one thing, nobody has read every book ever published, so it’s impossible to know which one is the best. One of the books that an expert hasn’t read might be the best ever. Great Expectations is one example of a book that gets mentioned as BEST EVER, but a bunch of books that never got published could be better and nobody would know because nobody has read them. To be fair, any BEST BOOKS EVER list should say something like BEST BOOKS EVER THAT HAVE BEEN PUBLISHED AND READ BY A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF PEOPLE.
But I don’t think anybody will click on a website with a title like that.
The purpose of a BEST BOOKS EVER list is to promote polite discussions about books and literature. There shouldn’t be any insults or shouting matches between people who disagree over which books are BEST BOOKS EVER. Insults and shouting matches should be reserved for discussions about politics, sports, and religion.
Discussing BEST BOOKS EVER isn’t about being right or wrong. It’s about learning about books, and if we can learn about unfamiliar books without having to actually read them, that’s even better.
Since there are too many books out there to contemplate, it’s best to organize BEST BOOKS EVER contestants into genres and take it from there. That way, War of the Worlds doesn’t get compared to War and Peace. The problem with categorizing BEST BOOKS EVER by genre is that there are too many genres to do at one time. Therefore, I’ll start with a few basic categories, genres that I’m familiar with.
BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL EVER!!!
BEST MYSTERY NOVEL EVER!!!!
BEST LORD OF THE RINGS / HOBBIT RIP-OFF EVER!!
BEST YA NOVEL EVER!!
THE BEST CHILDREN’S BOOK EVER!!!!
BEST COMIC BOOK EVER!!
And the best way to end a BEST BOOK EVER list is to have a WORST EVER selection, just for the heck of it.
THE WORST BOOK IDEA EVER!!
When you write about BEST BOOKS EVER, something is going to get left out, including favorite novels and entire genres. I’m just one guy with a full-time job and a family, so I can’t read every book that I want to read. Therefore, I’m open to any suggestions about other genres that I’m not familiar with and books that I completely whiffed on.
Here are some genres I haven’t gotten to yet:
Best Romantic Novel Ever!!
Best Classic Novel Ever!!
Best Humorous novel Ever!!
Best Spy Novel Ever!!!
Best Short Story Ever!!
Stay tuned for BEST BOOKS EVER BY GENRE, PART TWO, coming out in… maybe three years, at the rate I’m going.
What genres are you an expert in? What selections do you disagree (or agree with)? Is there a book that you think truly can be a BEST BOOK EVER? Have you ever insulted anybody else while discussing a book? Have you ever insulted anybody else while discussing politics, sports, or religion? Would you click on a website with the title BEST EVER BOOKS THAT HAVE BEEN PUBLISHED AND READ BY A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF PEOPLE?
When it comes to reading classic literature, there are a lot of challenges. The writing style from novels published generations ago can confuse today’s readers. Some of the books have lots of references that today’s readers don’t understand. And a lot of those classic novels are just too long for our short attention spans. Any one of those challenges can deter people like me from trying a book. But when a novel is challenging on every level, I know I’m screwed.
The worst of all of these classic novels might be Ulysses by James Joyce. I don’t know if Ulysses really is the worst of all the tough classic novels because I haven’t read most of the tough classic novels. I’ve been told it’s not fair to judge a book that you haven’t read, but I disagree. You can judge most books within a few pages, if you can make it that far. I’ve read the first few pages of Ulysses, and I know I don’t want to read it anymore.
I’ve never heard anybody say that they actually liked Ulysses. Supposedly, Vladimir Nabokov said it was brilliant, but he wrote Lolita, so he’s a literary author and his opinion doesn’t count. Besides, I’ve never seen video of Nabokov saying Ulysses was brilliant, so I don’t necessarily believe that he said it.
On the other hand, I can find normal people who claim they enjoyed Moby Dick or War and Peace. I might not believe those people who say they liked Moby Dick or War and Peace or Great Expectations, but they say it. But nobody has ever said that they liked reading Ulysses. The best anybody will say is that they appreciate Ulysses.
Appreciating is different from enjoying. I don’t mind appreciating a brilliant painting or a brilliant sculpture because I can move on quickly to another piece of art that I actually like (but probably isn’t brilliant). I can’t just appreciate a novel like Ulysses because it takes a really long time to appreciate it, and I don’t have that kind of time to learn how to appreciate it. After all, I have a full-time job, and I’m married with kids. If somebody wants to confuse me with an obscure painting, I don’t mind looking at it, but I’m not going to read a 700 page novel just to appreciate it.
Even if I successfully completed Ulysses, I couldn’t brag about reading it. I mean, I could, but very few people would know enough about literature to be impressed. If I read something long and difficult, I want everybody in my social group to know about it. Everybody knows Moby Dick and War and Peace, and most people are even aware of Atlas Shrugged. If you read those novels (or claim to), everybody is impressed. But Ulysses? This might be the most difficult chore of them all, and nobody would care. If people aren’t impressed, then it’s probably not worth the time.
Ulysses even has a misleading title. I had high hopes for Ulysses when I was teenager, believing it was the Roman version of The Odyssey. I had read The Odyssey in junior high, and I was hoping for a more updated version, but I soon learned that updated versions are sometimes too updated. When I first tried reading it, I didn’t get far enough in Ulysses to “get” that it kind of was an updated version of The Odyssey. I just thought the author had written a really long book with an intentionally misleading title to fool readers into believing they were reading about Greek and Roman mythology.
A few months later, I bought Atlas Shrugged. After that, I stopped buying books about Greek/Roman mythology, unless they were written by Bullfinch. Bullfinch had flaws, but at least I knew what I was buying.
One good thing about Ulysses is that it was originally written in English, so I don’t have to slog through a translation. So many of the difficult classics were written in French or Russian, and a lot of the nuances of a novel can’t really be translated. People who read Les Miserables in French will get a lot more out of it than somebody who reads a translation, unless the person reading the French version can’t read French. Maybe Ulysses is better when it’s translated into another language.
Another good thing about Ulysses is that it isn’t as bad as Finnegans Wake. At least I can understand Ulysses when I read it slowly. I have to mouth the words and hold my finger underneath each word as I go, but I can understand it. Finnegans Wake, I have no chance. I think James Joyce liked to confuse readers on purpose. You know you have it made as an author when you can intentionally confuse your readers, and people will still buy your books and critics call you brilliant. If I try to confuse my readers, I’m told my writing is incoherent (and they’re probably right).
I’m told James Joyce wrote some good short stories. Maybe it’s better to read James Joyce short stories because, even if they’re confusing, they’ll be short.
It takes a lot to get me to change my mind. I’m pretty sure I’ll never read Ulysses, no matter what anybody says. Call me stubborn, call me closed-minded. But I still enjoy reading opinions that are different from mine. If you disagree with me, I won’t tell you to shut up or call you stupid or try to get you fired from your job. Every once in a while, I actually change my mind because somebody who disagrees with me persuades me. But I’m pretty sure I can’t be convinced to read Ulysses by James Joyce.
But enough about me. What do you think? Is there any good reason for a guy like me to read Ulysses? What other books would you refuse to read? What other novels have you given up on? Other than Finnegans Wake, are there any novels even more challenging than Ulysses? Have you ever been persuaded by somebody with whom you originally disagreed? Have you ever gotten somebody fired for disagreeing with you?
Besides a similarity in titles, there’s not a whole lot in common between A Time to Kill by John Grisham and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. First of all, both books have great titles. It’s tough to mess up a book title when you put the words “To Kill” in it. Adding the words “To Kill” will improve almost any book title. If Gone Girl had been Gone To Kill the Girl, the novel might have won a Pulitzer. If The Goldfinch had been To Kill The Goldfinch, it might have won a Pulitzer AND the Nobel Prize.
If you’ve got a book and you’re not sure what to title it, just throw in the words “To Kill,” and you’re set. The only catch is that you can only use that trick once. If Harper Lee had titled her sequel/prequel To Kill a Watchman, it would have set off a bunch of literary alarms.
Even without the words “to kill” in the title, Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee is a bestseller before it’s even come out. I don’t buy books before they come out, no matter how much I’m looking forward to them. I don’t like paying for something before I’ve had a chance to check out the quality of it. I don’t give contractors money before they do work. I don’t pay for a car until I’ve inspected and test driven it. I’m not going to buy a book until I’ve read a few pages of it myself. It’s not that I don’t trust Harper Lee; I don’t trust her estate.
John Grisham is almost the opposite of Harper Lee. Unlike Harper Lee, John Grisham writes a lot of books. The books don’t win (m)any awards, but they sell a lot of copies. I read several John Grisham books in the 1990s, but other than The Firm and A Time To Kill, I don’t remember anything about them, except there was one where a lawyer took on a corrupt corporation about something. And I think there was another one where the guy on Death Row was innocent, but that might have been a different author. There are a bunch of legal thrillers where the guy on Death Row is innocent.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I remember reading (and hating) a lot of books in junior high and high school. Students universally hated A Light in the Forest, A Separate Peace, The Odyssey, and even Brave New World. It’s not that they were bad books. It’s that as teenagers, we had to work to read them, and teenagers hate(d) it when reading is (was) work.
The one book that was universally thought of to be an exception (at my school anyway) was To Kill a Mockingbird. I’m not saying everybody liked To Kill a Mockingbird, but everybody at least respected To Kill a Mockingbird. And this was at a time when kids weren’t allowed to watch movies in school. We liked (and respected) it without having seen the movie. I’ve never heard anybody complain that To Kill a Mockingbird sucked, and in middle/high school I was surrounded by friends who were happy to declare that books sucked.
A Time to Kill by John Grisham
A Time To Kill hadn’t been written yet when I was in school, but I’ve still heard several people claim that it sucks.
According to literary legends early in the 1990s, A Time to Kill was John Grisham’s first novel, but no publishers would buy it. It was only after The Firm became a monster hit (kind of deservedly so… it was a pretty good book) that A Time to Kill was published and a bunch of critics and readers were fooled into thinking it had been a travesty that the publishing world had passed over such an inspired first time effort.
I think the truth (not the legend) was that A Time to Kill was published a couple years before The Firm, but so few copies were printed that it was like not being published at all.
Either way, the publishers had it right the first time. A Time to Kill was just okay, an easy-to-read novel with a bunch of one-dimensional characters and blatantly manipulative melodrama. It was a brilliant public relations campaign to convince the reading public otherwise.
HARPER LEE vs. JOHN GRISHAM
Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, and that was it, as far as we knew for 50+ years. Even though an adoring public wished for more, Harper Lee left us (she hasn’t “left” us, if you think that’s what I meant) hanging for a long time before publishing her sequel/prequel Go Set a Watchman. Maybe the sequel will be worth it
John Grisham followed up The Firm (a pretty good book) with a bunch of mediocre novels, but almost everything he writes turns into a best-seller.
To Kill a Mockingbird: An American classic.
A Time to Kill: Some of the lower tier cable companies still occasionally show it.
GREGORY PECK vs. MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY
A couple decades ago when Hollywood declared Mathew McConaughey as the next great leading man, A Time to Kill was one of his early starring roles, but hardly anybody remembers the lead character’s name. Gregory Peck was Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Everybody remembers Atticus Finch.
Gregory Peck: one of the greatest American actors of all time!
Mathew McConaughey: decent actor who looks great with his shirt off. I don’t remember if he took his shirt off in A Time to Kill.
Maybe, just maybe, Mathew McConaughey had better pecks than Gregory Peck. I don’t think I’ve seen Gregory Peck’s pecks, but they were probably s(peck)tacular.
If you have some time to kill, don’t read A Time to Kill; read To Kill a Mockingbird. If you don’t have time to read it, then watch the movie.
What do you think? What book would you like to add the words “To Kill” to? Have you bought a copy of Go Set a Watchman yet? Do you ever preorder books? Are you the one person who thinks To Kill a Mockingbird sucks? Do you think A Time to Kill is better than To Kill A Mockingbird?
A few years ago, I wrote about the exact same topic. Most of the words are the same, but I took a slightly different approach to the topic. I’m not proud of it.
It’s difficult to make the case that Jane Austen wrote bad sentences in her novels, especially in Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen was known for many qualities: her wit, her sarcasm, movie adaptations that put guys like me to sleep (but that’s not her fault). One thing that Jane Austen is NOT known for is writing bad sentences.
Since writing is so subjective, it’s tough to define what makes a bad sentence. The lazy approach would be to treat a bad sentence like pornography; you can’t define it, but you know it when you see it. Unlike a certain former United States Supreme Court judge whose name I can’t remember, I can define pornography (if certain body parts are involved and mix in with other body parts, it’s pornography).
The same applies to bad writing (having the standard, not the body parts). Once you have a set standard, it’s simple to determine if a classic sentence is bad or not. Here’s my standard for a bad sentence in classic literature:
If my writing instructors would have red-marked me for writing the same sentence, then it’s a bad sentence.
Using this standard, Jane Austen’ popular novel Pride and Prejudice is full of bad sentences.
DISCLAIMER: I am not saying Jane Austen wrote bad sentences. I have learned from experience not to criticize Jane Austen books. I am saying that my writing instructors would have considered Jane Austen sentences to be bad if I had written them. I like Jane Austen. She was a great author. Even so…
BAD SENTENCE #1-from Pride and Prejudice Volume I, Chapter Three, at the end of the fifth paragraph:
The gentlemen pronounced him (Mr. Darcy) to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding countenance, and being unworthy to be compared to his friend.
WHY IS THIS A BAD SENTENCE?
1. Massive Run-on- Six independent clauses with two dependent clauses. A decent writer could get at least three sentences out of that (my writing instructors would say).
2. “…his manners gave a disgust…” –What did Mr. Darcy do? Fart loudly? Chew with his mouth open? I want to know what Mr. Darcy did to offend everybody, especially if it involved farting loudly.
3. “…he was discovered to be proud…” How was his pride discovered? What did Mr. Darcy do to show he was proud? Did he boast? What did he boast about?
4. “…a most forbidding countenance…” Who felt this most forbidding countenance? What made his countenance forbidding?
In that single sentence, Jane Austen did a lot of telling and no showing. If I had written something like that, my writing instructors would have filled the page with red question marks. Therefore, it’s a bad sentence.
Sometimes a bad sentence needs context from another sentence (which also might be a bad sentence)
CONTEXT FOR BAD SENTENCE #2- from Pride and Prejudice Volume I, Chapter Twenty:
Mr. Collins was not left long to the silent contemplation of his successful love; for Mrs. Bennet, having dawdled about in the vestibule to watch for the end of the conference, no sooner saw Elizabeth open the door and with quick step pass her towards the staircase, than she entered the breakfast-room and congratulated both him and herself in warm terms on the happy prospect of their nearer connection.
Remember, that was merely the context.
BAD SENTENCE #2- from Pride and Prejudice Volume I, Chapter Twenty
Mr. Collins received and returned these felicitations with equal pleasure, and then proceeded to relate the particulars of their interview with the result of which he trusted he had every reason to be satisfied, since the refusal which his cousin had steadfastly given him would naturally flow from her bashful modesty and the genuine delicacy of her character.
WHY IS THIS A BAD SENTENCE?
1. Wordiness- “proceeded to relate” should just be “related”
2. Wordiness- “with the result of which” is clumsy. The sentence could end with “interview,” and the next sentence could start with “He had every reason to be satisfied…”
3. Wordiness- “since the refusal which his cousin had steadfastly given him” should be “since his cousin’s steadfast refusal.”
4. Wordiness- “Bashful modesty” should just be “modesty.”
5. Wordiness- “genuine delicacy” should just be “delicacy.”
In other words, my writing instructors would have accused Jane Austen of wordiness.
A sentence doesn’t have to be long to be a bad sentence. Below is proof that even a short Jane Austen sentence could be a bad sentence (according to my writing instructors)
Example #3- the third paragraph of Pride and Prejudice Volume II, Chapter Eight third paragraph:
Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed really glad to see them; anything was a welcome relief to him at Rosings; and Mrs. Collins’s pretty friend had moreover caught his fancy very much.
WHY IS THIS A BAD SENTENCE?
1. The word “really” is used. “Really” is worse than “very,” and “very” is bad enough. Jane Austen used “really”? Really, Jane Austen? Really?
2. The adjective “pretty” is also lazy. Get a thesaurus (my writing instructors would have said).
3. The word “very” is used. Again, it’s lazy writing (my writing instructors would say). For decades, authors like Stephen King and Mark Twain have warned writers not to use the word “very.” True, Jane Austen was writing before Stephen King and Mark Twain were born, but she still should have known better. Or maybe Stephen King and Mark Twain are wrong about “very.”
In one sentence, Jane Austen uses “really, “pretty,” and “very.” My writing instructors would have been disappointed in me if I had done that. They might have even been really very disappointed.
What do you think? Are the above sentences bad sentences? What standard do you have for bad sentences? Should great authors use words like “really” and “very”? What other great classic author wrote bad sentences? Which is worse, using “very” or using “really”?
It’s not easy being a book snob and a television binge-watcher. There’s not enough time to be both, and to make things worse, a bunch of books like House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, and Game of Thrones have been turned into pretty good television shows.
Unless you have more than 24 hours in your day, it would be impossible to watch all of the television shows AND read all of the books AND watch the binge-worthy shows that AREN’T based on books.
Since there isn’t enough time to read and watch everything, we book-reading binge-watchers have to make some rules about what to read and what to watch. And if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s making rules.
THE HOUSE OF CARDS RULE
House of Cards by Michael Dobbs
If the television series is based on a single book, then read the book. For example, House of Cards is based on a single book by Michael Dobbs. Since the book is less than 400 pages, we book snobs can easily read it, and then we can brag that we don’t need to watch the television series. When we go into book snob mode, we can point out that literature is superior to television. Yeah, we might be missing out on a great show, but we’re still better for having read the book. Plus, we don’t have to order Netflix just to binge-watch a show.
Be careful when you say that you’re superior to everybody else just because you’ve read the book. Sometimes people think we’re not kidding. I’ve lost friends that way. Of course, they’re the friends who don’t read books, but still…
THE GAME OF THRONES RULE
Game of Thrones by George RRRRR Martin
People who have read A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) are great examples of book snobs (That’s not an insult; I’m a book snob too). They like to point out which characters have died on the show but didn’t die in the books or which characters on the show are composite characters of which characters in the book. They like to be outraged when the show does something vastly different from the book.
Game of Thrones book snobs think they’re superior to the rest of us because they’ve read the books, and we haven’t. The rest of us believe we are superior to the Game of Thrones book snobs because we haven’t wasted our time reading thousands of pages of a convoluted story that might never get finished. I’m not sure who is superior to whom, so if you’re reading this and you’ve read the Games of Thrones books, you might be superior to me and I just wouldn’t know it. I want to feel superior, but if I ever read A Game of Thrones, I’ll read it when/if George RR Martin finishes writing the series.
THE HOUSE OF CARDS/GAME OF THRONES RULE- RECAP
1. If the television show is based on a long book series, watch the show.
2. If the television series is based on a single book, then read the book.
Follow these rules, and you’ll save a lot of time and still be knowledgeable about pop culture. You will even have more time to binge-watch worthy shows that aren’t based on books. Most importantly, you will be superior to those who haven’t read the books because reading books is always better than watching television.
Following The House of Cards/Game of Thrones Rule, here is a list of popular shows/books and what to do:
House of Cards- Read the book (of course).
Game of Thrones- Watch the show (of course).
Orange is The New Black– Read the book.
Bosch– Watch the show.
The Musketeers– Read the book The Three Musketeers.
Elementary (or any Sherlock Holmes series) – Read a Sherlock Holmes novel or a couple short stories.
Dexter– Watch the show.
Sex and the City– Read the book.
Friday Night Lights– Read the book.
Under the Dome– Read the book.
True Blood– Watch the show.
Boardwalk Empire– Read the book.
Of course, these rules aren’t perfect. Quality isn’t taken into consideration, and quality does matter. But quality is subjective, so I can’t make an objective rule for it. In other words, if you think the show sucks, don’t watch it. If you think the book sucks, don’t read it. If you really want to read the books AND watch the television shows, go ahead. But be warned; doing both will be very time-consuming.
What do you think? Which of the above books are worth reading? Which of the above shows are worth watching? What other books/shows could be included? Have you ever felt superior because you read a book before it got turned into a television series?
It’s easy for most writers to be negative. It’s tough to make enough money to earn a living. We’re never satisfied with what we’ve written. No matter how many people read and respond to our work, it’s never enough. But even with these challenges, it’s better to be a writer today than it’s ever been.
1. Writing is physically easier than it’s ever been.
Authors used to have to physically hold a pencil or a pen and physically write out each word on a sheet of paper. Even worse, back in the really old days, writers had to dip quills into ink and then got beaten by monks if they made a mistake.
I’m not sure that ever really happened because there’s no ancient video footage of monks beating writers who made mistakes. If there’s no video footage of an event, I’m skeptical that it ever happened. Then again, back in the 1970s I saw nuns rap student knuckles with rulers, so if nuns in the 1970s were doing that, I’m pretty sure in the really old days monks did much worse to young writers who made errors on their parchments. After all, nothing inspires perfection like the threat of violence.
Even when writers didn’t have to worry about hyper-critical monks and nuns, using a typewriter could be frustrating. If you weren’t a good typist, you spent more time making corrections than actually writing. The most frustrating weekend I ever had was during my senior year in high school when I had to type out my own term paper for English class. An entire Saturday was spent making corrections with white-out or retyping pages altogether. My mom, who typed 70 words a minute, said it taught me a valuable lesson, to always have a few spare bucks lying around to pay somebody to type my essays in college.
Writing with a computer/tablet is much easier than using a typewriter, pencil, or quill, and we don’t get beaten by monks when we make mistakes.
2. Writers can get an instant audience.
20 years ago, if I wanted an audience, I had to join a writer’s group, and even then, I had to wait until the next meeting (which could have been a week, two weeks, or even a month away, depending on the group) before I received any feedback for my writing.
Now, writers can get instant feedback. With blogs, Twitters, Instagrams, ebooks, and much more, writers have a bunch of choices of how they want to write. As long as writers are patient, we can eventually get an audience.
To be honest, when I started Dysfunctional Literacy, I didn’t get any feedback for about six months, but that was probably because I didn’t deserve any feedback. When I received my first “You suck!” comment, I knew I was finally doing something right. When a writer hasn’t gotten any feedback for 20 years, “You suck!” is exhilarating.
3. Writers can be anonymous.
Some people complain about anonymity on the internet and how it allows people (usually trolls) to misbehave without any real repercussion. To me, anonymity is essential because it keeps me from getting fired. Most people who get fired for online writing lose their jobs for posting/writing/tweeting comments that are on the “wrong” side of political issues or hot topics of the day. My problem is a little different.
I can’t let my boss find out I write for Dysfunctional Literacy because I’m on the “wrong” side of the literary James Franco debate. My current boss claims he knew James Franco in college (though I still haven’t seen any proof yet). If he ever finds out that I’ve criticized James Franco’s books, I’ll get fired. I like my job, and I even like my boss; I just didn’t like James Franco’s writing. Since I’m anonymous on Dysfunctional Literacy, my boss won’t find out that I’ve panned James Franco’s books.
For all you know, I could be James Franco. This is the internet, after all. But to be clear, I’m not James Franco. If I were going to claim to be another author, I’d claim to be JK Rowling. It worked for Robert Galbraith.
Anyway, I’m glad I live in a time where I can pan James Franco books without fear of being fired.
4. Writers don’t have to deal with people.
Even though a lot of writers are borderline anti-social, we usually have to deal with others to get published. Before the internet, if we wanted to get our work out to the public, we had to get past literary agents and publishers. It was frustrating to writers. Even if we thought we had something publishable, too much was out of the writer’s control. Unless we had connections or were willing to network to make those connections, we were most likely never going to be published.
Now, the anti-social author doesn’t have to deal with anybody. I published my own ebook on Amazon, and I didn’t have to talk to anybody during the entire process. True, hardly anybody has read my ebook, but I didn’t have to talk to any literary agents or publishers to get it out there. That has to count for something.
5. Writers can take advantage of friends.
I’m not a fan of network marketing. I don’t like the idea of using my friends to make money. Since I’m borderline anti-social, I don’t have many friends anyway, and I don’t want to alienate them by having them buy my stuff, even if it’s a cheap ebook. Knowing my friends, most would gladly help me out, but I don’t want to put them in that position, at least not yet. I’m not opposed to ever asking my friends for help, but that’s a tactic that should be used only once, and I’m not ready to take that step yet.
Even though I haven’t used my friends to buy books yet, I’m glad I live in a time when I can use them if I want to.
What do you think? Why are you glad that you are a writer right now? Have you ever had to use a typewriter? Have you ever been beaten by a monk/nun for making a mistake while writing? Have you ever used your friends to buy books? Have you been fired for something you wrote? Has anybody ever told you that “You suck!” on your blog (or writing format of choice)?
If I had written this story 20 years ago, nobody would have had the chance to read it.
Reading should be a pleasurable experience. Most of us work really hard throughout the day, looking forward to that spare moment when we can relax and lose ourselves in a good book. Honestly, I’m proud to be an avid reader. Book readers tend to be of above-average intelligence. And reading is supposed to make us smarter. But some books have made me feel the opposite of intelligent. There are some books that I haven’t understood. There are some books that I didn’t “get.” And then there are some books that just made me feel stupid.
Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce
First of all, I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I believe the United States actually put astronauts on the moon. I don’t think FDR knew about Pearl Harbor ahead of time. But I believe Finnegan’s Wake is a cruel literary joke. Personally, I believe James Joyce intentionally wrote a bunch of gibberish just to see who would pretend to understand it. Anybody who claims to understand Finnegan’s Wake would then unintentionally expose himself/herself as a literary fraud. I have to believe in that because otherwise, I have to admit that I’m not that smart. I mean, I’d like to be intelligent enough to at least understand a little bit of Finnegan’s Wake, but I couldn’t get past the first sentence.
Therefore, it has to be a conspiracy. And James Joyce laughs (or laughed) himself silly every time somebody pretended to understand Finnegan’s Wake. It has to be that kind of conspiracy because otherwise, I would have to feel really stupid.
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
This one makes me feel stupid because I think I don’t “get it.” I don’t like it when I don’t “get it,” especially when other people whom I know aren’t much smarter than me claim to “get it.” It reminds me of high school, when a bunch of guys claimed to “get it” all the time. Most of them were probably lying, but it still ticked me off. Yeah, the “get it” was something different, but it still ticked me off.
At least I understood what was going on in The Sound and the Fury. But I didn’t see anything special in it. I didn’t think it was especially insightful. The writing was okay but nothing that I remembered afterward. I was actually bored. To tell the truth, I didn’t finish it, I was so bored. I was downright ambivalent about the book.
As a writer, I don’t want readers to be ambivalent. I’d rather they hate something I write than be bored by it. But I was bored. Maybe it’s a reflection of me as a reader rather than of Faulkner as a writer. I’d say it was a little of both, but that’s a cop-out, and I don’t like cop-outs. I’d rather be wrong than take a cop-out position. But I felt like I should have finished The Sound and the Fury because it was short and was so supposed to be so great. It makes me wonder what I was missing. And that makes me feel really stupid.
The Corrections– by Jonathan Franzen
A lot of people hate The Corrections. I understand why. A lot of people love The Corrections. I understand that too. I wanted to hate The Corrections when it came out in 2001. I had just given up on writing after ten years of several projects, one coming kind of close to getting published (“kind of close to” probably meant “never had a chance of,” but I was at least told I was “kind of close”) and I was bitter that some guy who wasn’t much older than me was getting published, getting publicized, and then almost winning a Pulitzer, while I had nothing to show for my own efforts. I read The Corrections just so that I could be justified in hating it.
I also remember thinking that Jonathan Franzen looked like a prick in his publicity photos. Again, that was my bitterness. Even though I’m usually hard on myself for my faults, I don’t blame me for my attitude back then. Every unsuccessful writer should be allowed to go through a bitter stage, and 2001-2003 was mine. But I’ve gotten over it. Blogging helps. And if I ever got nominated for a Pulitzer, I’d probably look like a prick in my publicity photos too. I don’t think that Jonathan Franzen looks like a prick anymore (and if I did, I wouldn’t admit it).
I’m still glad that The Corrections didn’t win the Pulitzer. I’d never before cared about whether or not a book won a prize or not, but I was filled with joy when I learned that The Corrections didn’t get a Pulitzer. I know I shouldn’t get emotionally connected to situations that are out of my control like that, but I couldn’t help it. Maybe The Corrections made me feel worthless, but the author didn’t win a Pulitzer. Yeah, Franzen got nominated, but he still lost. What a loser. Ha!
Okay, that was really stupid of me.
What do you think? What books have made you feel stupid? Or are you such a good reader that no books make you feel stupid? Have you ever gone through a bitter phase as a writer? What do you do when you don’t “get” books that other readers claim to “get”?
Wow, James Patterson has written a lot of books! Even without his co-authors, James Patterson has written more best-sellers than the average writer. It takes a lot of talent (and other traits) to “write” around 12 books a year. Since very few authors have matched James Patterson’s achievements (I wasn’t sure whether or not to put quotation marks around “achievements”), no other author deserves to be honored with humor (or good-natured mockery) like James Patterson .
The following James Patterson jokes might not be funny, but they are the only James Patterson jokes around (that I know of). So by default, these are the BEST JAMES PATTERSON JOKES EVER!!!
JAMES PATTERSON’S LOYAL READERS
Stephen King, John Grisham, and James Patterson were hanging out at a coffee shop bragging about how loyal their readers were.
“I could write five novels a year,” Stephen King said, “and my readers would purchase every book, no matter how poorly they were written.”
“Oh yeah?” John Grisham proclaimed. “I could write ten novels a year, and my loyal readers would purchase every single one of them.”
“That’s nothing,” James Patterson scoffed. “I already write 12 novels a year, and my loyal readers spend their money on all of them.”
Tom Wolfe overheard the conversation and became upset. “You are doing your readers a disservice with your hackery,” he said. “I took five years to write Back to Blood because I believe in giving my loyal readers my best effort.”
And with that, Tom Wolfe stormed away.
“I hate to say this,” Stephen King said, “but I didn’t think Back to Blood was very good.”
“I hate to say this,” John Grisham said, “but I spend so much time writing all my books that I don’t have time to read anybody else’s writing.”
“I hate to say this,” James Patterson said quietly, staring at Stephen King and John Grisham, “but you guys actually write all your own books?”
JAMES PATTERSON MEETS HIS BIGGEST FAN
James Patterson was in a public place (but not a book store) when he was approached by a fan. Even though James Patterson was a best-selling writer, most people don’t recognize authors, so James Patterson was surprised at the stranger interrupting him
“Excuse me,” the fan said. “Aren’t you James Patterson?”
When Patterson admitted that he was indeed James Patterson, the fan gushed, “I’m a huge fan of yours!”
The fan was very loud and shook Patterson’s hand too hard. Patterson really wanted to move on, but he was gracious and said, “Thank you.”
Even though Patterson was in a hurry, the fan seemed oblivious and just stood in his path and kept talking.
“Your Alex Cross series, it’s great,” the fan continued. “And I can’t wait for your Zoo series on television. And my kids love your YA books.”
Patterson was a bit uncomfortable, but he appreciated that a fan would be emotionally connected to his series. Still, the fan kept rambling, and Patterson had places to go.
“All that money you’re giving to indie booksellers, I really really admire that kind of philanthropy,” the fan said.
Patterson was in a hurry. His patience was running out, but he couldn’t be rude to a fan, especially one who was so complimentary. To make it worse, the fan kept talking and wouldn’t budge.
“I’ve read every single book you’ve ever written,” the fan bragged.
With that, James Patterson had had enough.
“Just stop right there,” James Patterson said with sudden authority. “Now you’re going too far. Even I haven’t read every single book I’ve ever written.”
THE WRITING CONTEST
James Patterson, Stephen King, John Grisham, Janet Evanovich, Danielle Steel, and an unknown author were competing to see who could write a 300-page novel in the fastest time. The six authors gathered at a coffee shop, pulled out their laptops, tablets, and other assorted writing devices, and began composing furiously.
While the other authors stared at screens and tapped at keyboards, James Patterson sat back on a couch, smoked a cigar, and drank coffee. He occasionally checked his tablet/smart phone, and then went back to smoking and drinking coffee.
After a few hours of writing, the unknown author finally stopped and took a deep breath. The other authors (except James Patterson) continued writing.
“Done!” James Patterson suddenly declared. He printed out hundreds of pages of text and handed a manuscript to each of the competing authors. James Patterson then left to take a break while the other authors judged his work.
“This manuscript is full of half-page chapters,” Stephen King said. “That’s typical James Patterson.”
“The plot is far-fetched, and the dialogue is atrocious,” Janet Evanovich said. “That’s typical James Patterson.”
“I can barely see my name because his takes up all the space,” the unknown author complained, squinting at the cover of the manuscript. “That’s typical James Patterson.”
What do you think? Which James Patterson books have you read? When we talk about James Patterson’s achievements, should “achievements” be put in quotation marks? What other best-selling authors should hire co-authors so that they could write more books?
My oldest daughter received her school’s summer reading list yesterday, and she was not happy about it. Her idea of summer is sitting around the house doing nothing until we take our vacation. I don’t blame her. I had lots of summer vacations where I sat around and did nothing, and that was before cable and the internet. It’s a lot more fun to sit around and do nothing than it was 35 years ago. But this summer, my daughter has another reading list.
“It’s my summer break,” she fumed. “What is it about ‘break’ that they don’t understand?”
I laughed, not at her words, but at her level of outrage. She has to read and complete book reports for a grand total of… two books. Students are supposed to choose one from a list of classics that include Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. The other list consists of more contemporary stuff like The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, or The Lightning Thief. My daughter has read most of the contemporary books, so she plans on doing her “contemporary” project on a book that she has already read.
I have mixed feelings about this. Part of me thinks she should read a book she hasn’t read before because she has almost three months to do it and it never hurts to read a new book, even if it’s assigned. On the other hand, if she already has read most of those books willingly, she should reap the benefits of reading on her own. I’m a believer in taking advantage of your advantages. But if she chooses a book she’s already read, I’ll require her to reread the book rather than going from memory. There’s nothing wrong with reading a book more than once.
My daughter is acting like this summer reading list will ruin her summer. I can think of other things that would ruin a summer, more serious things, but I don’t want to jinx anybody. Her reaction is pretty typical of people who don’t want to do things they have to do. If anything, I’ve been a bad role model for how to handle unpleasant tasks. When I get a surprise list of activities I don’t want to do, I can overreact too, as if a couple chores will ruin a day. But I’m not sure a reading list can ruin a summer, unless the list is really long. Two books? Not really long.
Last summer, when my daughter had a reading list, we bought the books in June, and she read them in August. My wife was annoyed she waited so long. I was just glad my daughter didn’t lose them between June and August. A lot of stuff happened (we moved… that was the “lot of stuff”) where she could have lost them.
I’ve never been a fan of summer reading lists for adults either, even when the lists are optional. Summer is that time of year when magazines and websites come up with their own lists of what people should read. I used to check out the lists to see what I’ve read and what I haven’t read, but after a while, most of the lists seemed a lot alike. Almost everything had To Kill a Mockingbird on it. I don’t know why summer reading is such a big deal. Most of us have to work just as much in the summer as we do during the rest of the year. At least, I do. I’ll take a week-long vacation with my family, but I won’t get much reading done, except in the airport before the (legal) drugs kick in.
I don’t have a pre-planned summer reading list anymore. Years ago when I did, I’d quit most of the books and feel like a failure (except when I lied and told everybody that I’d actually finished them, and their admiration temporarily made me feel better). It was as if every book I put on the list was cursed. Now, I don’t make my summer reading list until September, when I go back and chronicle all the books I read over the summer. This time, I only include books that I finished. The others go on the NON-reading list. I hope the reading list is longer than the NON-reading list, but it doesn’t really matter. You usually know after a few pages if you’re going to like a book or not.
My daughter also has to complete a math packet over the summer, but this doesn’t bug her as much, even though she likes reading more than she likes math. The math is more like a refresher to keep students from forgetting the basics. Between reading the books and completing the reports, the reading list will take much longer. Even as I write this, she’s cursing the summer reading list (but she doesn’t know I can hear her). I don’t blame her. I don’t like summer reading lists either.
What do you think? Should my daughter read a book she hasn’t read? Or should she be allowed to select a book she’s already read? Should I tell my daughter to watch her language in the house, even when she doesn’t think I can hear her? Do you (or your children) have to complete a summer reading list? How do you (or your kids) react to a summer reading list?