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Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey Reveals Shocking Secret!

Fans of famous actor Matthew McConaughey have a few reasons to buy his memoir Greenlights . Matthew McConaughey seems like a cool guy. I’d rather read a book written by a cool guy than one by a guy who comes across as a dick. McConaughey has photos of him going shirtless, so some of his fans will like that.

Plus, he tells a bunch of stories from his childhood. Everybody likes reading about childhood stories, as long as they’re funny and not too preachy.

McConaughey mentions that he used to get his mouth washed out with soap. I don’t think parents do that to kids anymore, but it was common back in the 1970s when McConaughey and I were growing up. When I mention getting my mouth washed out with soap, my daughter doesn’t believe me. She would be shocked that this happened to a celebrity like Matthew McConaughey too.

People will believe Matthew McConaughey, even though he has the word Con in his name. He even has the word Hey in his name. It’s almost like his last name is warning everybody that he’s a con. That’s not hiding in plain sight; that’s actually plain sight. But people will believe him anyway.

Anyway, here’s the mouth washing out excerpt from Greenlights:

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I got my mouth washed out for saying “shit,” “damn,” and “fuck,” but I only ever got into real trouble for the using or doing of the words that could harm me. Words that hurt. The words that helped engineer who I am because they were more than just words; they were expectations and consequences. They were values.

My parents taught me that I was named my name for a reason.

They taught me not to hate.

To never say I can’t.

To never lie.

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If you like that kind of writing, you’ll probably like Greenlights. If you don’t like that kind of writing but still like shirtless pics of shirtless Matthew McConaughey, you don’t need to read Greenlights as long as you have the internet.

And here’s an excerpt from my own ebook Crap Is NOT a Bad Word, where I also mention getting my mouth washed out with soap (But I don’t have pictures of me shirtless).

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Getting your mouth washed out with soap is a lot worse than it sounds. It happened to me a few times when I was a kid, and I don’t have the words to describe it. It was just pretty bad.

It started when I said the crap in front of my mom. When she told me not to say the word crap, I said it again. Then she warned me that if I said crap one more time, she’d wash my mouth out with soap. I weighed my options. How bad could soap be? I liked saying the word crap. So I got in my mom’s face and said the word crap, and she dragged me to the bathroom and shoved a lathery bar of soap into my mouth. After I sputtered and gagged and spit, I vowed that I would never say the word crap again, at least not in front of my mom.

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If you like that kind of writing, you’ll probably like Crap Is NOT a Bad Word.

But enough about me! What do you think? What childhood punishments from the past seem really weird today? Would you read Matthew McConaughey’s book if it hadn’t been written by Matthew McConaughey? Would you read Matthew McConaughey’s book even if it didn’t have pictures of him going shirtless?

Tolkien and Another Book of Middle-earth World Building

It’s amazing how many books dead people can get published. 25 years ago, I used to resent L. Ron Hubbard because he was dead and still seeming to get a new book published every year. I was resentful because I was trying to get a book deal and couldn’t, and I saw this dead guy getting new books published all the time.

Being resentful was stupid, I know; at least I was still alive (and still am).

J.R.R. Tolkien has been dead for a while too, but now he has a new book coming out. It’s been a while since Tolkien has had a new book out, and I appreciate Tolkien more than I do Hubbard, so I’m not resentful at all.

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After all these years, there’s still more to learn about Middle-earth. On Thursday, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced they will be publishing what they describe as a “previously unseen” collection of writings by The Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien. This new volume will be titled The Nature of Middle-earth.

HMH VP and publisher Deb Brody describes The Nature of Middle-earth as “a veritable treasure-trove offering readers a chance to peer over Professor Tolkien’s shoulder at the very moment of discovery.”

“For him, Middle-earth was part of an entire world to be explored, and the writings in The Nature of Middle-earth reveal the journeys that he took as he sought to better understand his unique creation,” Brody said in a statement. 

Read more at New collection of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing coming next year.

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There’s a part of me that thinks an obsession with world building is a waste of time. I’m not talking about a story or a book series about a fantasy world. I’m talking about volume after volume of fake history.

There’s a lot about real history that I don’t know. Before I spend hours learning about a fantasy world, I’d rather learn about a real culture that I know nothing about. To be honest, I rarely go out of my way to learn about new cultures, but I never go out of my way to learn about fake histories.

The thing is, I don’t even trust our own history books. I’m pretty sure history books on Earth are filled with distortions and outright lies. If the Tolkien estate found a Middle-earth history book buried in the attic that claimed The Lord of the Rings was a lie, that the Hobbits created Bilbo and Frodo to give Hobbits undeserved credit in the war against Sauron, then I’d read that book. I might even pay full hardcover price for that book.

Who would you believe? The Lord of the Rings? Or Tolkien’s newly-found manuscript that claimed The Lord of the Rings was a lie? That would be a Middle-earth history book worth reading!!

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What do you think? Am I being a little harsh with world building? What fake world would you be most willing to learn about?

Who the heck is…? Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stewart

Most Americans don’t know much about the Booker Award. That’s okay because most Americans don’t know much about American literary awards either.

When I heard that Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stewart won the 2020 Booker Award, I didn’t ask “What is the Booker Award?”

I asked, “Who is Shuggie Bain? Or what is a Shuggie Bain?”

That’s the problem with novels titled after their main characters. If readers aren’t interested in the name, they might not be curious enough to read the book. I didn’t read Emma by Jane Austen because I didn’t care who Emma was. The same with Jane Eyre by some woman who was not Jane Austen. I cared about Dracula by Bram Stoker and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley because I already knew who they were.

But Shuggie Bain? Yeah, I didn’t care.

But since I’m a book blogger (kind of), I try to keep up with stuff pertaining to literature, so I began reading a sample of Shuggie Bain: Here, in the first couple pages, the narrator describes his relationship with three co-workers when he was around 16 years old early in the first chapter:

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In truth, the girls were three middle-aged Glasgow women. Ena, the ringleader, was a rake-thin, poker-faced woman with greasy hair. She had no eyebrows to speak of, but she did have a faint mustache, which seemed unfair to Shuggie. Ena was rough even for this end of Glasgow, but she was also kind and generous in the way hard-done-to people often are. Nora, the youngest of the three, wore her hair scraped tightly back and held in place with an elastic band. Her eyes, like Ena’s, were small and sharp, and at thirty-three she was mother of five already. The last of the group was Jackie. She was different to these other two in that she very much resembled a woman. Jackie was a riotous gossip, a big, bosomy sofa of a woman. It was her that Shuggie liked best.

He sat down near them and caught the ending to the saga of Jackie’s latest man. It was guaranteed that the women were always full of good-hearted patter. Twice now they had taken him along on their bingo nights, and as the women drank and howled with laughter, he sat amongst them like a teenager who couldn’t be trusted to stay home alone. He had liked the way they sat easily together. How their bulk surrounded him and the softness of their flash pressed to his side. He liked how they fussed with him, and although he protested, how they pushed his hair from his eyes and licked their thumbs to wipe the corners from his mouth. For the women, Shuggie offered some form of male attention, and it did not matter that he was only sixteen and three months. Under the La Scala bingo tables they had each tried at least once to brush against his…

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WHAT? I try to keep this blog family-friendly, so… let’s just say they weren’t still brushing his hair. It seemed a bit out of place, and I thought maybe the narrator would drop the subject, but…

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The strokes were too long, too searching…

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And I stopped there. I’m no prude; I wrote Best Porn Jokes Ever!! But I’ll stop there.

I’ll admit that Shuggie Bain seems to be well-written, but that was a little too much for me at the beginning of the book. I wasn’t invested enough in the character to read about stuff like that yet.

I guess that’s the problem with books named after the main character; it’s probably going to be exclusively about that character, and I just didn’t want to keep reading about that kid.

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Enough about me! What do you think? Would you use your main character’s name for your book title? At what point do you stop reading a novel that won a prestigious award?

Famous Literary Gimmicks: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange has a reputation of being a disturbing movie, but the novel by Anthony Burgess is controversial for a different reason: the United States version of the novel is missing the final chapter.

I haven’t read A Clockwork Orange, not because it’s disturbing, not because it’s missing a 21st chapter, but because the novel relies on a fake slang language (called Nadsat) throughout. Too much fake slang language can be distracting to me.

Creating a fictional language is a cool gimmick for a novel or short story, but I’m not a fan of learning a new language just to read a book. If I’m going to put the time and effort into learning a language, I want to apply it after I’ve learned it. Yeah, I’m interested in the 21st chapter of A Clockwork Orange, but I don’t want to slog through 20 chapters of a slang language just to get to it.

Below is an excerpt from the first page of A Clockwork Orange. Maybe somebody will write a translated non-slang version:

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“What’s it going to be then, eh?”

There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry. The Korova Milkbar was a milk-plus mesto, and you may, O my brothers, have forgotten what these mestos were like, things changing so skorry these days and everybody quick to forget, newspapers not being read much neither. Well, what they sold there was milk plus something else. They had no license for selling liquor, but there was no law yet against prodding some of the new veshches which they used to put into the old moloko, so you could peet it with vellocet or synthemesc or drencom or one or two other veshches which would give you a nice quiet horrorshow fifteen minutes admiring Bog and All His Holy Angels And Saints in your left shoe with lights bursting all over your mozg. Or you could peet milk with knives in it, as we used to say, and this would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of dirty twenty-to-one, and that was what we were peeting this evening I’m starting off the story with.

*****

What do you think? Does A Clockwork Orange rely too much on its fake language? Am I a lazy reader for not wanting to check an appendix to translate a fake language while reading one (and only one) novel?

Will this sequel suck? Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

Most sequels suck for a variety of reasons. Some sequels are too much like the original book and seem pointless. On the other hand, some sequels deviate too far from the original and piss off the fans. Some sequels are rushed because the author wants to publish it while the original is still in the public’s mind, and the sequel comes out poorly written. Some sequels ruin beloved characters established in the first book.

At any rate, it’s tough to write a good sequel.

Now famous author Ernest Cline is writing a sequel to his best selling novel Ready Player One. So far, the title seems to be… Ready Player Two.

The gimmick in Ready Player One was the bombardment of references to 1980s pop culture. I enjoyed the first chapter of Ready Player One because it focused on Robotron, my favorite video game of the early 1980s.

Even though I like Robotron, I didn’t finish reading Ready Player One. And I didn’t see the movie either. I heard the movie didn’t mention Robotron at all.

Despite my distrust of sequels, the writer in me is interested in an author’s perspective in writing one. Below is an excerpt where Ernest Cline discusses writing a sequel to Ready Player One::

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The sequel picks up a little over a week after the first book ends. Then there’s a gap of time, but it all kind of flows out of the first story. It’s that trick of a sequel where you don’t want to tell the same exact story again, but you want to give fans similar elements that made the first story a success. I think I successfully did that in a very different story that takes place over a different time span than the first book, but it has all the same characters, and some new characters and I also built on the characters’ backstories, and it also builds on the technology and the world.

Read more at ‘Ready Player Two’ author Ernest Cline on returning to the Oasis .

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Now that I think about it, I’m not sure the title Ready Player Two reflects what the sequel will be like. The term ready player two usually means the guy competing with whoever is ready player one. A book titled Ready Player Two would logically be about Ready Player One’s competition. Instead, Ready Player Two seems to have the same protagonist as Ready Player One.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m overthinking it.

What do you think? What makes a good sequel? What makes a bad sequel? Does the title Ready Player Two make sense if the it has the same protagonist as Ready Player One playing a different game?

What was the deal with… Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney?

When Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney came out in the 1980s, it was a big deal because the author was a young New Yorker who wrote a novel in the second person point-of-view. Plus, it was a novel about drugs and New York and debauchery, and maybe the author knew what he was talking about, so his book was a literary hit.

This book has always rubbed me the wrong way. When I wrote a short story in second person for my fiction class in the 1980s, the professor mocked me for the attempt, saying it should never be done. A few months later, this Jay McInerney guy got applauded for doing the same thing I did, except in novel form. I wanted to take a copy of Bright Lights, Big City and rub it in the professor’s face, except the semester was over.

To be fair, my short story might have sucked. Bright Lights, Big City might have sucked too. Here’s an excerpt from the first paragraph:

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You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head. The club is either Heartbreak or the Lizard Lounge. All might come clear if you could just slip into the bathroom and do a little more Bolivian Marching Powder. Then again, it might not. A small voice inside you insists that this epidemic lack of clarity is a result of too much of that already. The night has already turned on that imperceptible pivot where two A.M. changes to six A.M. You know this moment has come and gone, but you are not yet willing to concede that you have crossed the line beyond which all gratuitous damage and the palsy of unraveled nerve endings. Somewhere back there you could have cut your losses, but you rode past that moment on a comet trail of white powder and now you are trying to hang on to the rush. Your brain at this moment is composed of brigades of tiny Bolivian soldiers. They are tired and muddy from their long march through the night. There are holes in their boots and they are hungry. They need to be fed. They need the Bolivian Marching Powder.

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Yeah, this could get old really quickly. Plus, the spell can get broken with one moment of reader denial.

Book: “Your brain at this moment is composed of brigades of tiny Bolivian soldiers.

Reader: “No, it isn’t. This is stupid. (Reader slams book shut and places it back on shelf.)

I don’t remember much about my second person point-of-view short story in the 1980s, but I know my paragraphs were shorter, and I got straight to the point. Maybe my short story didn’t suck after all.

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What do you think? Does second person point-of-view work for you in fiction? How many books about New York debauchery can you read before it gets old?

Battle of the Translations: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Reading a novel like War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy can be tough for a couple reasons. First of all, the novel is really long. Even more important, it’s in Russian, so having a good translation is very important.

If I ever decide to read War and Peace, I own a used paperback copy from 1968 translated by Ann Dunnigan (thank you, Ann Dunnigan).

Meanwhile, Amazon has a version translated by Louise and Aylemer Maude. Before I commit to reading, I want to compare translations and see if one is obviously more readable than the other. Below is an excerpt from War and Peace Chapter Two (translated by Ann Dunnigan) describing the aunt that nobody wants to talk to.

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“Have you seen my aunt?” or, “You’re not acquainted with ma tante?” Ana Pavlona said to each new arrival, very gravely leading him to a little old lady with towering bows on her cap, who had emerged from another room as soon as the guests began to arrive, and slowly turning her gaze from the visitor to ma tante, she would pronounce their names and withdraw.

Every guest performed the ceremony of greeting this unknown, uninteresting, and unnecessary aunt. Anna Pavlovna followed these greetings with solemn, melancholy attention, silently approving them. Ma tante repeated exactly the same phrases to each of them concerning his health, her own, and that of Her Majesty, who, thank God, was better today. Out of politeness, the guests concealed their impatience, but it was with a feeling of relief at having performed an arduous duty that they left the old lady, not once to return to her the entire evening.

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Below is an excerpt from the same two paragraphs, this time translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude (but I’ve that Louise did all the work):

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To each new arrival Anna Pavlovna said, “You have not yet seen my aunt,” or, “You do not know my aunt?” and very gravely conducted him or her to a little old lady, wearing large bows of ribbon in her cap, who had come sailing in from another room as soon as the guests began to arrive; and slowly turning her eyes from the visitor to her aunt, Anna Pavlovna mentioned each one’s name and left.

Each visitor performed the ceremony of greeting this old aunt whom not one of them knew, not one of them wanted to know, and not one of them cared about; Anna Pavlovna observed these greetings with mournful and solemn interest and silent approval. The aunt spoke to each of them in the same words, about their health and her own, and the health of Her Majesty, “who, thank God, was better today.” And each visitor, though politeness prevented his showing impatience, left the old woman with a sense of relief at having performed a vexatious duty and did not return to her the whole evening.

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Maybe these excerpts aren’t long enough to come to a conclusive conclusion, but I get the feeling that a translator can take a previous translation, move a few prepositional phrases around and throw in a few synonyms, and then claim he or she has created a new version.

Neither translator above could write a truly coherent sentence in the first paragraph. Whoever “emerged” or “sailed” into the room, I had to read both versions twice to figure it out.

I think the second translation is written a bit more dramatically, especially the first sentence in the second paragraph. So far, though, I haven’t seen enough differences to switch versions, so I’ll probably stick with the Ann Dunnigan version (if I continue reading at all).

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What do you think? What differences did you notice in the two excerpts? What translation of War and Peace is reputed to be the best? Does it even matter?

The Shipping News Book with the Movie Cover

The Shipping News by Annie Prouix is supposed to be a really good book. It received a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1994. Several bloggers have mentioned it to me in comments recently.

I tried reading The Shipping News over 20 years ago because a guy in my writer’s group at the time was always raving about it. Despite my respect for the Pulitzer Prize and the guy in my writer’s group, I couldn’t get into The Shipping News back then.

Since The Shipping News has so much going for it, I figured I’d buy my own copy and try again. I found a paperback for $3.99 at a used book store. I’m a cheapskate bastard, so I was immediately attracted by the price, but then I inspected the cover.

Ugh! It was a movie poster cover, with actor Kevin Spacey staring wistfully in the upper left corner. I’ve been told that Kevin Spacey was miscast in the movie. I don’t want to imagine a miscast actor when I’m reading a book.

Plus, I pride myself on buying pre-movie copies of novels. Unfortunately, it was this copy or nothing. If I didn’t purchase this copy, I’d have to pay $10-$15 for a brand new paperback copy at B&M Booksellers.

The cheapskate in me said buy the book. The purist in me said put it back.

I compromised. I bought the book and tore off the cover. I’d rather have a coverless book than a post-movie copy.

Now I don’t have to look at Kevin Spacey whenever I pick up The Shipping News. Still, I need time to let the Kevin Spacey image fade from my memory before I begin reading. I spent my own money on this book. I’ve committed to giving it a fair chance now.

Just so you know, I ripped the cover off the book AFTER I left the book store. You never know how other book collectors will react to such aggression.

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What do you think? Did I make the right choice? Is a pre-movie copy inherently better than a post-movie copy of a novel?

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: Replacing the N-Words with Another N-Word

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a great American novel, but a lot of people are uncomfortable reading it because of the preponderance of N-Words.

Of course, Huckleberry Finn doesn’t actually use the term N-Word; it uses the original version that rhymes with the word trigger. It uses the word that rhymes with trigger a lot. Not just once or twice, but a lot.

Replacing the word that rhymes with trigger with N-Word is ineffective because everybody knows what N-Word means and then the audience automatically thinks of the word that rhymes with trigger.

Some sensitivity readers might suggest that the word that rhymes with trigger in Huckleberry Finn be replaced by the word slave, but slave doesn’t start with the letter N, so it can’t be an N-Word.

A great replacement N-Word would be nice guy. Yeah, it’s two words instead of one, but it starts with the letter N, and it has a positive connotation. Everybody likes nice guys (even though nice guys get taken advantage of a lot).

And if you’re uncomfortable using the word that rhymes with trigger when chanting lyrics from a certain pop genre, the term nice guy can usually work (but that’s an experiment for another time) as a replacement.

In this excerpt, Jim (the nice guy that Huck hangs out with) is bragging about being possessed by witches:

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Jim was monstrous proud of it (being possessed by witches), and he got so he wouldn’t hardly notice the other nice guys. Nice guys would come miles to hear Jim tell about it, and he was more looked up to than any other nice guy in the country. Strange nice guys would stand with their mouths open and look him all over as if he was a wonder. Nice guys is always talking about witches in the dark by the kitchen fire, but whenever one was talking and letting on to know about all such things, Jim would happen in and say, “Hm! What do you know about witches?” and that nice guy was corked up and had to take a back seat.(p. 14)

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I don’t know, maybe my solution doesn’t really help that much. Maybe I’ll leave Huckleberry Finn as it is. Sometimes my literary experiments don’t work out.

The End of a 43-Year Rip-Off Book Series

Rip-off! Rip-off! Rip-off!

I bought The Sword of Shannara when I was in 7th grade and knew right away it was a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings. That doesn’t mean it was bad.

The Sword of Shannara was actually okay for a rip-off. At the time, it was a self-contained novel. The author wrapped everything up in one book. At least, I thought he did.

Somewhere along the way, the author wrote a bunch more Sword of Shannara books, and somebody who was not me (or I) bought them. Over the next 43 years, the author Terry Brooks made a bunch of money from his Tolkien rip-offs.

The writer side of me is interested in what Terry Brooks has to say about being an author. The reader part of me thinks… RIP OFF!!

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I wrote Sword (of Shannara) with no expectations. It was a first novel, so I didn’t know if I could get published, I didn’t know if anyone would read it, I didn’t know anything. So when it was successful, this led automatically to thinking about what I could do next, because there at least was a future here. I wrote a sequel, and then I decided to make it a trilogy, because even then, trilogies were in, and then I wanted to wrap the whole thing up.

Read more at… As the Shannara Saga Ends, Terry Brooks Looks Back…and Forward.

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On a side note, George R.R. Martin might look at Terry Brooks and think “43 years? That gives me 20 more years to finish Game of Thrones.”

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What do you think? Are rip-offs inherently bad? What is your favorite rip-off?