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Literary Gimmick or Legitimate Device?-The One-Sentence Novel

The only reason I know about this book is because a website article billed it as a ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL.  That was a selling point in the headline.  It’s a ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL!!!  I usually don’t ALL CAP stuff, and I don’t usually use a bunch of exclamation points, but I think a ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL is worth both.  I’m talking about a book called Solar Bones by Mike McCormack.   At first, I wasn’t sure that this book would have been taken seriously because of a gimmick like the ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL, but Solar Bones has won a bunch of awards (especially in Ireland), so I guess somebody in the literary community thinks highly of it.

At first glance, Solar Bones looks like poetry to me.  There’s lots of repetition, the lines are uneven but appear as stanzas mixed in with prose-looking paragraphs.  There’s no punctuation or capital letters used to begin clear thoughts.

When I read Solar Bones as a poem, it makes sense.  When I read it as a ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL, then it’s almost gibberish.  I can understand why it was promoted as a ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL.  When you announce that a book is a ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL, curious people will want to read it.  And it worked with me.  I thought, a ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL… I bet that sucks to read.  But I looked at it anyway

I don’t know if Solar Bones is any good or not.  I admit that in certain matters, I can be literal.  There are some nuances I pick up on and others that go way past me.  There’s a part of me that thinks literary authors write borderline gibberish just to see what they can get away with.  I think that with art too.  If enough critics refer to a dot as brilliant artwork, then enough common people might believe it so that the dot becomes valuable.  I’m not saying this happens; I’m just wondering if this happens.

I mean, James Patterson writes garbage novels that become bestsellers because his name on the cover means (to some people) that the book will be worth reading.  This can work the other way too.  If enough literary critics say that the ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL is brilliantly written, then it’s brilliant to a bunch of other people who might not understand they’re being scammed.

Don’t let me try to persuade you.  Here’s an excerpt:

yes, I know this man and I know his sister Eithne and I knew his mother and father before him and all belonging to him

or more intimately

of course I know him-Marcus Conway- he lives across the fields from me, I can see his house from the back door

or more adamantly

why wouldn’t I know him, Marcus Conway the engineer, I went to school with him and played football with him-we wore the black and gold together

What do you think?  Does that look like poetry?  Or can you see that as being part of ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL?

When I read this, I saw a couple logical sentence breaks.  To me, this isn’t a long sentence.  It’s an interesting style, maybe, but it’s not a ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL.  Maybe somebody will claim it’s a run-on sentence, but that’s an incorrectly written sentence, and any uneducated hack can do that (except maybe the part about making an entire novel out of it).

If Solar Bones had been promoted as a 270+ PAGE POEM, I would have thought, I’ve already read The Iliad and The Odyssey… I think I’ll pass.  Therefore, I believe the ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL was a brilliant marketing campaign to turn a long poem into a groundbreaking, world record breaking sentence.  But it’s really a poem.

The ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL isn’t the worst idea I’ve seen for a book.  A long time ago, some guy wrote a novel that didn’t include the letter E.  It was a great gimmick but a lousy book.  I even called it the Worst Book Idea Ever!   I think I hurt somebody’s feelings when I did that.  I didn’t mean to.  I forget sometimes that words can hurt, whether they’re in poetry, a ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL, or an obscure blog post.


What do you think?  Is Solar Bones really a ONE -SENTENCE NOVEL, or is this just poetry promoted as a gimmick, or is it something in between?

Who Can Save the World from Netflix?

(image via wikimedia)

This one is tough to write.  As popular as Netflix is, the binge watching that it’s encouraged has some really bad side effects.  Viewers get bad posture and poor eyesight from staring at their phones.  Viewers are too eager to spoil details, and binge watchers get too angry when something is ruined.

The latest side-effect (and maybe the worst) is that binge watchers end up reading fewer books.  This comes from a German study (discussed here) that might or might not be flawed.  I’m not an expert on these kinds of studies.  I always assume a study is flawed in a major way, unless I agree with its premise, and then I’ll give it a chance.  The results of this study make sense to me.  Plus it’s a German study.  The stereotype is that Germans are efficient (maybe TOO efficient), so if I’m going to believe a study, I’d believe a German study.  Even without the study, I can understand why Netflix would lead to less reading.

There’s been a progression in TV viewing over the last 50 years.  At first, there were only three television stations (PBS didn’t count), and they’d go off the air sometime between 11:30 and 1:00.  In other words, TV was over for the day.  When that happened, kids would either read or go to bed.  Then we got cable, with hundreds of stations, most of which were on 24 hours a day.  You could sit with a remote control and click indefinitely to see what was on.  Then came the internet, and then you could click and scroll indefinitely.  Now with social media, you can click, scroll, comment, and post pics of yourself indefinitely.

Next comes the binge watching.  The word binge has always had a negative connotation.  If you binged food, you ate too much and sometimes had to purge (and that is really disgusting).  If you binge drank, you intentionally got drunk, and then got into fights, passed out, crashed your car, or slept with somebody else who was drunk.  All of that is bad.  Binge watching is bad too because ten hours straight of almost anything is bad.  Even ten hours of reading is bad (Get up and exercise, you bookworm!).

Of course, all that Netflix binge watching is going to keep people from reading.  According to the study mentioned earlier, the number of people buying books in Germany decreased almost 20% between 2013 and 2017, and a major reason was the binge watchable shows provided by Netflix and other streaming services.  There’s only so much time in a day.  If a person is going to spend three hours a day online (and much of that binge watching shows), then that doesn’t leave much discretionary time for reading books.

Netflix has a weakness, though, which I call Netflix Syndrome, and it applies to a lot of current TV shows.  When you design a TV series around binge watching, individual episodes become meaningless.  I’ve seen a few series where you can fast forward through unnecessary subplots and watch a ten-episode series in less than three hours.  Binge watching turns into speed watching, and you can release spoilers before anybody else has finished watching the whole thing.  My daughter has already started doing this (“Nothing really happens until episode 8, and then OH MY GOD!!”- I’ve overheard her say) With so much dead time in their shows, viewers can become bored very quickly.

This Netflix Syndrome gives books an opportunity to make a comeback.  If my daughter and I are bored by Netflix Syndrome, others will be too and pretty soon.  As much as I hate to say this, famous author James Patterson has a decent model to compete with Netflix users.  Ugh, James F***ing Patterson.  I hate giving James Patterson credit for anything, but he kind of has the right idea; write short, simple books with lots of action.  Unfortunately, Patterson overdoes it with two-page chapters, overuse of clichés and mixed metaphors, bad unrealistic dialogue, and over the top cheesiness.

For example, his Bookshots a couple summers ago had potential, but the writing was so cheesy/crappy that the books couldn’t be taken seriously.  Bookshots was a stupid name too, and I couldn’t tell who the intended audience was.  Even though the books were short (as if intended for YA), the subject matter in some of the books was adult.  If I were a fiction author with clout (and maybe more talent), I’d follow the Patterson model without insulting the readers.  I’d be clear/consistent with the intended audience.  And I wouldn’t call it Bookshots.

Despite all that, James Patterson has a chance to save readers from the addiction of binge watching.  I can’t do it.  I have only a blog.  He has millions of dollars, millions of readers, and relationships with politicians.  If anybody can save the book industry from Netflix, it’s James Patterson.

Who am I kidding?  He’ll probably sign a 50 series deal with Netflix.  Why save books when you can help take over the world?

Literary Glance: The Gray Ghost by Clive Cussler and Robin Burcell

Clive Cussler and who?

When I first saw the cover of The Gray Ghost by Clive Cussler and Robin Burcell, I thought, wow, Clive Cussler’s name on the cover was really huge.  I mean, I used to like Clive Cussler and he’s written a bunch of bestsellers, but he’s not an author whose name should be that big.  Plus, you can barely see the co-author’s name.  Even James Patterson gives his coauthors a larger font!  This one’s almost disrespectful.

When I was a kid, Clive Cussler was a stud.  His novel Raise the Titanic was a mega-bestseller (I don’t remember if we really had mega-bestsellers back then).  I think that was the first novel that I read in one day.  To be honest, we didn’t have cable (and the internet and video games didn’t even exist) at the time and it was raining outside (I liked to read, but I’d rarely finish a book in one day).  The movie Raise the Titanic sucked, and that was disappointing, but I don’t blame the book for a bad movie.

Now Clive Cussler is one of those authors who seems to write two books a year, and they’re just mediocre.  He (and his coauthor) could do better. I know some research goes into Cussler’s books, and that can take some time, but Cussler was writing books like this before the internet existed.  Research is easier now.  Maybe that’s why he’s able to churn out so many novels.  Even though the internet can make research easier, it can’t really turn mediocre writing into mesmerizing prose.  For some authors, that’s what the coauthor is for (or vice-versa).

To show you what I mean, here’s a scene early in the novel where a boy named Toby is watching some suspicious behavior at night in 1906 England:

As he neared the tracks, he saw a wagon stopped just on the other side, a stack of lumber strewn across the rails.  Stars faded from the predawn sky, still too early for anyone to be out to help the driver who’d spilled the load.  The man seemed unconcerned about moving the wood, instead just sitting there, holding the reins of his team, as the train approached.

Why would someone be moving lumber at this hour…”?

His eyes flew back to the horseman in time to see him lifting a mask over his face.  In the distance, on the other side of the tracks, he saw two other horseman, both masked.


The train squealed to a stop, sparks flying up the rails.  He looked at the men, saw the pistols they held.  Fear coursed through his veins.  He pivoted, about to run off when someone grabbed him from behind, clamped a hand over his mouth, and dragged him beneath the wooden staircase near the corner building.

Technically, this might not be a poorly written scene by the standards of a typical thriller.  There’s a lot going on, and it’s easy for me as a reader to follow/visualize it.  As I was reading these first couple chapters, however, I felt nothing for any of the characters.  There was no sense of suspense.

The sentence “Fear coursed through his veins” probably made the scene even less suspenseful than it could have been.   I felt none of the fear that a reader should feel when empathizing with a character in distress.  It was almost like the authors didn’t know how to describe a person in fear (or were too lazy to do it).

Reading this Clive Cussler novel is like watching a movie with too much CGI; the ideas for a good story might be there, but the storytelling is lifeless.  Most of the pieces were there in The Gray Ghost for a decent story.  The Rolls Royce engine theft was interesting.  The relationship between a couple of the characters could have been interesting.  The orphanage stuff could have been interesting. I don’t know.  Maybe I was just in the wrong mood.

When I review a Clive Cussler book, I usually mention how cool his name is.  Clive Cussler, man!  But after giving The Gray Ghost a literary glance, I don’t even feel like doing that.  On the bright side, it’s still a bestseller!

Old Things That Are Tough To Explain: You Weren’t Supposed to Read in Public

(image via wikimedia)

Decades ago if I read a book in public, people looked at me like I was the crazy one.  Back then, only losers and social outcasts read books in public.  If you were normal, you either talked to others (and not to yourself), listened to your music, or stared blankly.  But you didn’t read.  The exceptions were at airports and… that was about it. If you were in a public place like a restaurant or a movie theater lobby and you brought a book, everybody else thought something was wrong with you.

Some guy 25 years ago called me a loser just for reading a book in public.  I was minding my own business in a movie theater lobby, and this guy tapped me on the shoulder and called me a loser.  I should have gotten mad, but then I saw he was wearing an REO Speedwagon t-shirt.  That took some nerve, I thought, a guy wearing an REO Speedwagon t-shirt calling me a loser.  To be fair, I knew the guy (a friend of a friend), and he could barely read the movie titles on the posters, but he was okay (except for his REO Speedwagon wardrobe).

When I was a kid, I even got yelled at in my own home for reading while the family was watching TV (and I was reading quietly).  I never could figure that one out.  I understood why reading in front of other people was rude because it looked like I was ignoring their company (I was).  But getting mad at me for reading while we were watching TV made no sense.  I was ignoring the TV, not my family.

As an introvert, I have always tried to avoid pointless interaction with others.  I can talk when I need to, but it drains my energy more than exercise.  Even though I can explain it now so that it kind of makes sense, I didn’t understand all of this when I was a kid.  I just knew I wanted to read.  I wanted to read at dinner.  I wanted to read in restaurants.  I wanted to read in the car (but I got nauseous).

Why did my parents want to talk to me anyway?  Most of my responses were kind of mono-syllabic (is it ironic that mono-syllabic has a lot of syllables?)-

Mom: How was your day?

Me: Good.

Mom: How was school?

Me: Fine.

Mom: What did you do?

Me: Nothing.

Mom: What did you learn?

Me: Nothing.

Mom: Why are you giving me one-word answers?

Me: I don’t know.

“I don’t know” isn’t a bad answer coming from a kid.  It’s three words, so it shows that the kid is trying.  Kids use one-word answers because they’re safe.  If I had actually talked about my feelings (“School sucks, it’s boring, everybody’s ugly and they all have bad breath”), I would have been called a whiner.  I would have gotten speeches about how lucky I had it (that was probably true), how kids all around the world wish they could go to school (that’s probably not true), and how rough my parents had it (also maybe true, but my dad embellished his stories a lot).  No kid wants to hear all that.  Awkward silence is better than hearing that.

Awkward silence is an oxymoron anyway.  Silence isn’t awkward.  It’s what was said or what happened before the silence that makes it awkward.  People should stop blaming silence.  In some ways, the world would be better with more silence.  If people didn’t talk so much and say inappropriate stuff, there wouldn’t be awkward silence.  There would just be silence, and that would be awesome!

Speaking of silence, that’s what I see (or hear) a lot now.  When I see families in a public place like a restaurant, they often aren’t interacting; they’re staring at their phones.  Couples sit at booths and tables, staring at their phones.  Even the restaurant employees stare at their phones between taking orders, bringing out food, and cleaning tables. I think, this is good.  This is how life should be.

Yeah, I know, just because people are staring at their phones doesn’t mean they’re reading.  They could be watching videos.  Or they could be spreading gossip (which means they’re reading).  Or they might actually be reading.  Truthfully, it doesn’t matter to me.  I can read, and nobody else cares.  Now when people see me staring at my phone in public… they’re not actually seeing me stare at my phone because they’re staring at their own phones.  The only people who’ll notice me are the traditional holdouts who don’t believe in technology or the criminals who want to conk me on the head (I always keep my back to the wall when I read in public).

The ironic part now is that when my own family eats out, I’m the one who talks the most.  My wife and daughters stare at their phones, and I go into Dad mode, watching the entrances for weirdos and keeping an eye out for suspicious behavior.  I have to protect my family.  I can’t allow them to get conked on their heads while they’re staring at their phones.  If reading in public is accepted now, somebody has to be vigilant.  That’s okay.  It’s my job, to provide my family with the childhood I wish I’d had.  All that time when I was kid, I wished that I could read in public.  Now my wish has come true.  Technology has created the world I’ve always dreamed about.

But growing up in a world where people were expected to talk to each other in public and NOT read?  That’s getting really tough to explain today.

Literary Glance: The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware has a much more interesting opening than Ware’s previous novel, The Lying Game.  I thought last year that The Lying Game was a bad title for a novel because it sounded like YA fiction. The Death of Mrs. Westaway is a much better title.  I wasn’t sure who Mrs. Westaway was when I started reading, and I often don’t like books with character’s names in the title because that leaves the reader with no frame of reference, but the word death always makes a title better.

Putting the word death in a book title will always make a certain percentage of readers pick up the book.  They might not read it, but they’ll at least look at it.  Just title the book DEATH (and all-cap it), get a picture of the Grim Reaper and a hot chick in skimpy clothes on the cover, and people will give the book a quick glance, no matter how bad the writing is.

But the writing in The Death of Mr. Westaway isn’t bad.  It’s pretty good, even for a nitprickety guy like me.  It’s much better than The Lying Game.  One improvement is how the author handles the narrator’s thought progressions to build tension.

Here, the protagonist/narrator Hal is opening her mail when she opens a suspicious envelope:

Inside there was just one sheet of paper, with only a couple sentences on it.

 Sorry to have missed you.  We would like to discuss you’re (note writer’s mistake, not mine) financial situation.  We will call again.

Hal’s stomach flipped and she felt in her pocket for the piece of paper that had turned up at her work this afternoon.  They were identical, save for the crumples and a splash of tea that she had spilled over the first one when she opened it.

The message was not news to Hal.  She had been ignoring calls and texts to that effect for months.

It was the message behind the notes that made her hands shake as she placed them carefully on the coffee table, side by side.

Hal was used to reading between the lines, deciphering the importance of what people didn’t say, as much as what they did.  It was her job, in a way.  But the unspoken words here required no decoding at all.

They said, We know where you work.

We know where you live.

And we will come back.

I’m not saying that this is the perfect scene.  There are a couple sentences that I would rewrite.  But the progression of thought in this excerpt (and the paragraphs that surround it) builds up the suspense.  And this isn’t even the entire set up.  Another situation comes up a couple pages later, a situation that makes the book even more intriguing (but I won’t get into that because that’s what every other book reviewer does).

A lot of authors mess up thought progression.  Literary authors turn thought progression into stream of consciousness and (sometimes) make the whole thing unreadable to an average reader.  Some best-selling authors use minimal (or no) thought progression, leading curious readers to wonder why characters are doing what they’re doing.  I don’t know what the rest of the book is like, but so far thought progression isn’t an issue in The Death of Mrs. Westaway.

Actually, I don’t have any real issues yet with The Death of Mrs. Westaway, except for a couple examples of questionable wording which makes people say I nitpick too much.   I don’t feel like being nitprickety right now.  I think I’m going to keep reading The Death of Mrs. Westaway, at least for a few more pages.

Romance Author Trademarks ‘Cocky’

(image via wikimedia)

Most literary lawsuits are boring, but this one has the word cocky and it involves romance novels, so it has the potential to be interesting.  In this case, an indie author got the trademark for the word cocky for her Cocky Brother series ( more details here ) but now has requested an injunction to keep other authors from using cocky in their own romance titles.

I’m not a lawyer.  When a federal judge or the Supreme Court makes a ruling that puzzles me, I don’t automatically call the judges stupid.  I understand that I have giant gaps in my knowledge.  I’m not sure I’m even explaining this current situation correctly.  At any rate, the judge in the cocky case has denied the injunction, but the case itself is still being heard.  For now, any romance author can use the word cocky in a book title.  But beware!!!!

I’m not including the author’s name because you can find it in the article I linked and I don’t want to reward her bad behavior by using her name.  Even if she trademarked cocky and has some legal recourse, it’s a dick move for her to litigate the word cocky.  Most authors don’t make much money from writing, and lawsuits can get expensive.  The trademark might be nice if it holds up, but suing over cocky (even if she has a legal point) is worse than breaking the trademark by using the word cocky in a title.

The cocky writer seems like a relatively successful self-published author, and that’s a tough business.  There are already 19 Cocky Brother novels out there, and their star rating on Amazon seems pretty high, though the books have received a bunch of one-stars in the last few weeks, probably because of the litigation.  I guess that’s one way to show your disapproval of an author’s legal maneuvers.  I’m not a fan of one-starring a book that isn’t one star, unless maybe it’s a James Patterson novel.  Maybe this cocky author has a point and the rest of us are too ignorant to know it.  I’d hate to one-star a book out of spite because of a lawsuit and then find out later the hated author was right.

A lot of writers are mad at this author, and I understand why, but I have to give her credit because she created an interesting news story.  Most book news is boring.  JK Rowling tweets something, Stephen King tweets something, James Patterson publishes something, and some book wins an award.  Yeah, authors are getting accused of sexual harassment now, and that’s interesting, but it’s not fun to write about because that stuff is serious.  But the word cockyCocky is a funny word.  I’ll write about cocky whenever I get the chance.

Decades ago, a coach trademarked the word three-peat when his team was on the verge of winning three consecutive NBA championships.  That was a dick move too, but three-peat was at least a new word, and if the coach hadn’t done it, somebody else would have.  That coach just beat somebody else to the dick move.  If this cocky author hadn’t trademarked cocky, I’m not sure anybody else would have.  Cocky has been around for generations and (as far as I know), nobody had trademarked it before.

You have to be careful who’s around you when you say the word cocky.  A lot of people don’t know what cocky means, and they might think you’re being vulgar.  I’ll say it anyway, despite the possible misunderstandings.  It’s not my fault other people don’t know what cocky means.  If I don’t say cocky, a bunch of people might forever be ignorant of its true meaning.  Therefore, I have a responsibility to use the word cocky correctly.  Refusing to do so dumbs down the public.  So for now, I’ll use the word cocky whenever I get the chance.  But I might not put it in any of my book titles.

Literary Glance: The President Is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

When the novel The President Is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson was announced over a year ago, I wondered how much effort Patterson would really put into it.  His novels are usually sloppy and filled with clichés.  The chapters are usually really short and the characters are one-dimensional, if that.  I figured Patterson would be more careful when working with an ex-President of the United States.  Bill Clinton is known for being precise with words.  He once argued over the meaning of the word is.  When you write a book with a guy who argues about the meaning of the word is, you had better use precise language.

The President Is Missing isn’t the worst collection of chapters that James Patterson has attached his name to, but it’s still pretty bland.  The first scene is two chapters long with lots of long dialogue and almost no sense of place.  All the characters talk the same way.  When the opening scene turns out to be a fake out, I was mildly surprised at the set-up, but I didn’t care because the scene itself had been so dull.

Even though this book doesn’t seem to have as many cringe-inducing phrases, there are still a couple Pattersonisms that stand out:

Mike Kearns is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and Lester Rhodes’s protégé.  He likes to wear bow ties so we’ll all know how intelligent he is.  Personally, I’ve seen Post-it notes with more depth.

Sick burn.  But the same thing can be said about James Patterson’s writing… I’ve seen Post-it notes with more depth.

Yeah, it really doesn’t work either way.  Here’s another insult, this time in dialogue, where the President of the United States responds to a question from the previously-mentioned Mike Kearns:

“What’s the toughest decision you’ve made this week, Mr. Kearns?  Which bow tie to wear to the hearing?  Which side to part your hair for that ridiculous comb-over that isn’t fooling anybody?”

This is typical Patterson, taking what might have been a decent quip and then writing it in a way that nobody would really say in real life.  The proper insult would be:

“What’s the toughest decision you’ve made this week, Mr. Kearns?  Which side to part your comb-over?”

The word ridiculous is implied with the comb-over, and you don’t have to mention that it isn’t fooling anybody because you’ve just burned the guy over it.  Patterson should know, you keep your insults short.  Too many words can ruin it.

For a fiction author, it has to be risky teaming up with a politician to write a book.  I’m sure liberals a couple years ago didn’t want to give their kids a children’s book coauthored by James Patterson and Bill O’Reilly (who’s considered by some to be conservative and by almost everybody as a blowhard/ sexual harasser).  Conservatives won’t want to read a political thriller coauthored by Bill Clinton and James Patterson.  If one political side decides to boycott an author, that author can take that as a badge of honor to make money from the other political side.

The problem is that a bunch of reviewers from the opposing side will spam the book with really bad online reviews.  I think these political charades are misguided.  I wouldn’t leave a one-star review for James Patterson just because he teamed up with Bill Clinton (or any politician); I’d leave a one-star review for James Patterson because he’s James Patterson.  You don’t have to read a James Patterson book to know it’s one-star.  The James Patterson book is assumed to be one-star, just like a comb-over is assumed to be ridiculous.

Seriously, I don’t condone haphazardly leaving one-star reviews for books, not even for novels written by James Patterson.  However, if I were to leave an automatic one-star review, it would be for James Patterson.  But I wouldn’t want an ex-president to suffer because of my bias, especially an ex-president who’s never been accused of having a comb-over.

Literary Glance: Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje has a good thing going for a while.  It tells a decent story.  It is well-written. It had me interested.  I won’t do a synopsis because you can get that in every other review.  But a few pages into the story, the author threw in this paragraph that disrupted everything:

So we began a new life.  I did not quite believe it then.  And I am still uncertain whether the period that followed disfigured or energized my life.  I was to lose the pattern and restraint of family habits during that time, and as a result, later on, there would be a hesitancy in me, as if I had too quickly exhausted my freedoms.  In any case, I am now at an age where I can talk about it, of how we grew up protected by the arms of strangers.  And it is like clarifying a fable, about our parents, about Rachel and myself, and The Moth, as well as the others who joined us later.  I suppose there are traditions and tropes in stories like this.  Someone is given a test to carry out.  No one knows who the truth bearer is.  People are not who we think they are.  And there is someone who watches from an unknown location.  I remember how my mother loved to speak of those ambivalent tasks given to loyal knights in Arthurian legends, and how she told those stories to us, sometimes setting them in a specific small village in the Balkans or in Italy, which she claimed she had been to and found for us on a map.

This is where some people claim that I’m too critical of books.  To me, the second half of this paragraph is overwritten a bit.  This explanation to the readers that there is going to be more to the story than what it might seem was silly to establish because this is literature and most stories are meant to not be exactly what they appear to be.  If a story is exactly what the reader expects it to be, then it might not be a very good story.  Or maybe I’m reading too much into this paragraph.  Anyway, I thought a bit of it was unnecessary.

What I just wrote might not make much sense without more context from Warlight, but there’s only so much that I can excerpt in a blog post.

To be fair, this author knows more about writing than I do.  Michael Ondatje also wrote The English Patient over 25 years ago  This might lead some critics to compare Warlight to it.  The English Patient won the Man Booker Award in 1992, but that doesn’t make as much news in the United States.  Most Americans will read a book from England and watch a movie from England, but most Americans don’t pay attention to awards in England.  The English Patient was a huge movie over 20 years ago, so huge that it won an Oscar, and that’s what Americans pay attention to.  Even more impressive, an episode of Seinfeld mocked the popularity of the movie.  Back in the 1990’s, I would have taken being mocked by Seinfeld over winning an Oscar, and The English Patient got both.

Now The English Patient is one of five Man Booker Award winners up for the Golden Man Booker award, which is kind of like the ULTIMATE MAN BOOKER AWARD!!!!  I don’t know if this was intentional on Ondaatje’s part, releasing a new novel while an older novel is being judged.  If Warlight approaches the quality or popularity of The English Patient, does it take away from the greatness of The English Patient?  If Warlight isn’t anywhere near the quality or popularity of The English Patient, does it hurt Ondaatje’s reputation as a writer and therefore affect how The English Patient is treated in the vote?

From what I’ve read so far, Warlight tells a good story, but The English Patient tells a great story.  That’s not an insult to Warlight or its author.  An author is lucky if he/she can get one great story told in a lifetime.  Most authors would be happy with one novel like The English Patient.  If I had written The English Patient, I’d brag about it.

“You know The English Patient?” I’d say to complete strangers.  “That was mine.  I wrote it.”

That might make some people hate my one great book, but it would still be tempting.

I wouldn’t be able to do that with Warlight.  Maybe it’s better than I think it is, but hardly anybody has read it yet.

Literary Conspiracy Theory-The Great American Read Poll

To be clear, I usually don’t believe in conspiracy theories, but I might talk myself into believing this one, if only because I came up with this theory myself.  The Great American Read  is a PBS (Public Broadcasting System) sponsored vote, listing the most popular 100 novels, chosen in the United States.  It’s a great idea, letting readers choose their favorite novels, with some conditions, such as only one book per author, and a popular series will get consolidated to its first book.

That’s not the conspiracy part.

One of the books/series listed is the Alex Cross series by James Patterson.  If this Great American Read is based on quantity, I could see why Alex Cross might be included.  James Patterson has written a lot of books.  Any list involving quantity has to include James Patterson.  If we’re talking quality, however, Patterson shouldn’t even be sniffing this list.

Here’s the conspiracy (that nobody is talking about).  I don’t believe anybody really chose a James Patterson book as a favorite.  I think (with no evidence to support me) that the original voting for the top 100 books was rigged in some way.  According to the PBS website, YouGov conducted the original poll with a sample of 7200 people and asked what their “most-loved” novel was.

I’m not suggesting that James Patterson had people voting for him in the YouGov poll.  I would never make an accusation like that.  I have no proof, and I don’t care enough to research it.  If he’s secretly having employees (coauthors) vote for his Alex Cross books, that would be pretty funny (and sneaky).  If he’s openly courting his fans to vote, that’s almost unfair.  Most authors (especially the dead ones) won’t lobby.  I’m not sure I can trust a poll that would say that anybody’s most-loved book is a James Patterson novel.

Why would anybody choose a James Patterson book as his/her favorite?  I’m trying to comprehend this; out of all the great novels/series out there, somebody out there likes the Alex Cross series more than anything else.  At best, an Alex Cross book is okay.  It’s great for the airport when your mind is mush waiting for the legal drugs to kick in before the flight.  It’s great when you’re a blogger with writer’s block and need a topic; you can always fall back on the crappy writing in the new James Patterson book.  But a favorite?  I don’t get it.

Even worse, the Alex Cross series starts wit the letter A (for Alex), so everybody who goes to the Great American Read website will see Alex Cross by James Patterson as one of the top books/series on the list.  It might not help the book in its next round of voting, but it probably boosts Patterson’s ego.  Yeah, he’s really pulled a fast one on the publishing industry.

To PBS’s credit, there is a section (Share Your Story) where readers can post about their favorite books.  A lot of websites wouldn’t allow readers to express their views today.  I’ve seen a bunch of BOOKS YOU MUST READ lists on websites that don’t have a comments section.  But this Great American Read has a place to comment (and it’s NOT a gallery either).  Out of all the books shared in the Share Your Story section, not one has mentioned a James Patterson novel.  I admit, it’s early, but I’ve read hundreds of selections on that page so far, and from what I’ve seen, Patterson is getting shut out.  He needs to step up his game and get a student from his Masterclass to write up an Alex Cross novel and say how it changed his/her life.

Maybe my conspiracy theory is lame.  The only evidence is my belief that nobody would choose a James Patterson novel as a most loved.  Patterson is like Arby’s, the fast-food place that comedians love to make fun of; it’s nobody’s most-loved, but it’s okay if you’re desperate.  In fact, I believe that more people would choose Arby’s as their favorite fast food place than would choose a Patterson novel as their most-loved.  I’m not sure I can afford a YouGov poll to prove this, so I’ll just yell it with enough confidence and repeat myself at least one time for every book that James Patterson has written.

If I do that, my conspiracy theory will be taken seriously.  Or people will think I’m crazy.


What do you think?  Is it plausible that a James Patterson novel would be anybody’s “most loved” book?  Does my first conspiracy theory have merit, or am I quickly descending into madness?

University Library: Almost Cute

(image via wikimedia)

I should have been glad a female in my dorm was interested in me.  The first couple months of my college life, what I thought was going to be a crazy college sex comedy, were just new chapters of my unintentional young adult celibacy farce.  You’d think I would have jumped at the chance to have a girlfriend like Brenda.  She had spiky hair and walked around in a trench coat.  To some guys (mostly socially awkward ones in the mid-1980’s), she oozed sarcastic cool.  Instead, I found her annoying.

She tried to talk to me at the University Library almost every night.  In response, I’d get to the University Library at different times every day and take a different stairwell and then go to a different level, all just to avoid her.  I chose small tables that were already at full capacity, just so she knew she wouldn’t be able to sit next to me if she saw me.  I even pushed a cushioned chair to a back section of the stacks so that I wouldn’t be found by anybody for hours.  When a student-librarian caught me sleeping, I lied and said the chair had already been placed there when I’d found it.

One night when Brenda cornered me, I lied and said I had to do some research with microfiche (remember, this story happened over 30 years ago).  I thought for sure the microfiche would scare her off.  Nobody wanted to spend time with the microfiche.  It took true love or commitment to help somebody with the microfiche.  But she did it.  And she stayed with me with doing meaningless research with microfiche for two hours.  Brenda and microfiche for two hours.

“She wants you,” Kirk said the morning after the microfiche incident as we were getting ready for class.

“Microfiche didn’t get rid of her,” I said.  “Something’s wrong with her.  I’m okay on a good day, but I’m not good enough to put up with microfiche.”

“Maybe you should give her a chance,” Kirk said.  “She’s almost cute.  I’d do her, two beers with the spike, four beers without.”

Ted Tinkle was sitting at Kirk’s desk, eating a bowl of grapes.  “If she likes you that much, she’ll do anything.”  Then Ted Tinkle started bragging about how much his girlfriend liked him, and what she was willing to do.  Then he told a story about something crazy his girlfriend did because she liked him so much.  It was a good story, but I’m not that kind of blogger, even if this story is supposed to be a college sex comedy.

“I thought you’d like Brenda,” Ted Tinkle said after he finished the story.  He ate his grapes with such confidence that he maintained eye contact with me as he pulled several grapes out of the bowl at a time.   “She’s weird.”

“Jimmy’s not weird,” Kirk said.  Kirk probably thought I was weird, but he had to defend his roommate.  He wouldn’t have been able to handle living with a weird roommate.

“But he gets along with weird people,” Ted replied.

That was true.  I flipped out whenever anybody called me Scooter, but other than that I was okay.  I felt my blood pressure rise as I thought about the nickname Scooter when I noticed that some of the grapes in Ted’s hand were glazed with white.  Not white cream, but…

“Ted, your grapes are moldy,” I said, but it took him too long to process what I’d said and he stuffed them in his mouth and chewed.

“Ted!” I exclaimed.  “Moldy grapes!”

“What the f***?” Ted sputtered with his mouth full.  Then he shrieked and spit the chewed grapes and mold into the dish.  He held up a vine with wilted moldy grapes.  “I f***ing put these in my mouth.  Ugh, and I f***ing swallowed a bunch of them!”

“You’re supposed to look at food when you eat it,” I said.

Kirk shook his head.  “Ted Tinkle, Ted Tinkle.”

“Oh God,” Ted started huffing.  “I ate a bunch of these.  Am I gonna get sick?  Oh God.”

“You might want to force yourself to puke,” I said.  “Just to be safe.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Ted said and started to put his finger down his throat.

“Not here!” I exclaimed again.  “Bathroom, Ted, bathroom!”

Ted Tinkle stumbled out of our room and ran into Brenda who had just turned into the doorway.

“Hey, Spike,” Kirk said.

“Shut up.”

I laughed.  I wanted to tell Kirk to shut up a lot too, but I had to live with him.

“What’s going on with Ted?” Brenda asked, watching him run down the hallway.  I waited for the gurgle/splatt, but it didn’t happen, at least not in the hall.

“He ate some moldy grapes,” I said.

Brenda smirked.  “He’s lucky he’s nice-looking.”  Then she turned to me.  “Hey, are you going to the comic book store?”

No, I thought.  It was Friday, the day the new shipment came in.  I always went to the comic book store after my last class on Friday.  The comic book store was only a few blocks from campus.  I didn’t even have to drive the chevette scooter.  Now Brenda was about to ruin it.

“The comic book store?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said.  “I know you collect.”

And then it happened.  I knew it was coming.  I didn’t want her to say it.  Please don’t say it, I inwardly begged, but she did.

“I collect too.”

And I knew that in order to get rid of Brenda, I was going to have to be brutally honest with her, which was going to be really awkward… or I was going to have to come up with a better plan.


To be continued!  Or you can start at the beginning with University Library: State School .