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What Your Reading Style Says About You. Take the Quiz!!

Quizzes aren’t so bad if there are no repercussions for wrong answers. It’s even better when there are no wrong answers at all!

Dysfunctional Literacy

The following quiz won't tell you what kind of lover you are, or how you rate as a companion. This quiz is serious! The quiz below is proof that my wife and daughters have brought way too many women’s and girl’s magazines into our house.

Reading habits can explain a lot about your personality.  Take the quiz below, keep track of the points as you go, and see what kind of reader (and human being) you really are!

A.  A friend declares that a book he/she has just read is “THE BEST BOOK EVER!!!!!”  What do you do?

  1. Trust your friend’s judgment and try reading the book.
  2. Tell your friend that you’ll read the book but then never get around to it.
  3. Calmly tell your friend that you know he/she has not read every book ever written so he/she is in no position to judge whether or not a book is the best ever.
  4. Tell your friend about another book that you think is “THE BEST BOOK EVER!!!!” just so he or she knows how…

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Literary Glance: It by Stephen King

Sometimes I read books from decades ago just to see if they’re as good as I remember them.  I’d like to do that with It by Stephen King, but I don’t remember reading it.  I had it in my house for a long time.  I remember looking at it.  I remember some friends talking about how great It was.  But I don’t remember reading It.

I remember enough about The Stand to know that I’ve read it.  I remember enough about The Shining to know that I’ve read it.  But It?  I don’t know.

I think It was the book that ruined clowns.  That’s too bad.  Before It, clowns were still kind of socially acceptable.  They were annoying, but there wasn’t quite the universal hatred for them.

Back then before It, everybody hated mimes instead of clowns.  Mimes were way worse than clowns.  Mimes wore the facial makeup with a weird expression, they got too close to you, they made invisible boxes around themselves and others, and they didn’t talk.  Where I grew up, if somebody looked at you funny, got too close, and didn’t talk, you punched them out.  I’m surprised more mimes didn’t get beat up.

I’d like to read It (maybe for a second time), but when I started, I got distracted by the first sentence:

The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years-if it ever did end- began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.

Is it my imagination, or did that sentence interrupt itself a lot?  By my count, it interrupted itself three times.  If I had written a sentence like that in school, it would have come back with teacher lines through it like this:

The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years-if it ever did end– began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.

The new sentence would read:

The terror began with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.

As much as I mock the strict rules my writing teachers enforced, I think they might have had a point.  If you read that first sentence out loud, it’s all over the place.  And some of the narrator’s uncertainty could have been included in the following sentences.

The terror began with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.  At least, as far as I can tell, it did.  And the terror would not end for another 28 (I was taught to use numerals for anything greater than 10/ten.) years, if it ever did end.

I think that’s a little easier to read, but who am I to criticize Stephen King’s writing?  He’s written almost as many books as James Patterson, and I only have a blog, so there’s not much of a comparison.

Or maybe Stephen King could get away with that sentence because he’s Stephen King.  Maybe Stephen King can write any sentence he wants, and the editor just approves it.  If I were Stephen King’s editor, I wouldn’t want to put a bunch of lines through his first sentence.  That would probably be a career killer.  I’d hate to explain that to my wife, that I got fired for putting a bunch of lines through the first sentence in Stephen King’s epic masterpiece.

It wouldn’t be worth it… or It.

*****

What do you think?  Is the first sentence in It kind of rambling, or is it just me?  Are there any books that you’re not sure whether or not you’ve read?

Literary Glance: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

As soon as I found out that Paula Hawkins had a new book out, I knew that a bunch of people were going to hate it.  It wouldn’t matter if the book were actually good or not; a huge percentage of book buyers were going to hate it on principal.

A couple years ago, Paula Hawkins broke through big time with The Girl on the Train.  Advertised as the next Gone Girl, a lot of readers had high expectations and then were disappointed.  Maybe that wasn’t fair to Paula Hawkins.  Maybe she didn’t ask to be compared to Gillian Flynn, but she was, and that’s what happens when a new author’s book gets compared to a blockbuster bestseller.  The Girl on the Train sold a lot of books and even was made into a movie.

I’m not justifying the hate Into the Water was going to get.  I just had a feeling it was going to happen.  A lot of people thought The Girl on the Train was overhyped and nothing like Gone Girl, the novel to which it was most compared.

I like to get my own impression of a book before I read the reviews, so I glanced at Into the Water.  I read a few chapters and got an idea of what the book was like.  And then I went to Amazon to see what the reviews were like.

Holy crap!  That’s a lot of one-star reviews!!!

To be fair, some of the poor reviews are also two-star reviews, but still, it’s quite significant.

I know that Amazon reviews aren’t always fair, especially with its star system.  But if you read the content of each review, you can usually tell who has actually read a book and who is pushing an agenda.

I agree with some of the one-star raters in their criticisms.  There were maybe too many characters crammed into really short chapters.   Some readers said that the characters were tough to keep track of, but I didn’t really have a problem with that.  My issue was that most of the characters sounded the same, and the author seemed to use verb tense changes and 1st and 3rd person variations to make the chapters feel different.  Unless there was a deeper reason for these variations (which I didn’t get to), it seems like cheating.

But one star?  One star seems harsh.  From what I’ve read, Into the Water wasn’t that bad.  I’m not even sure it was bad at all.  It wasn’t my style of book, but I wouldn’t give what I’ve read a one-star.  A book has to be truly crappy material for me to give it one star (even though I don’t use that system).

Then again, a lot of raters give five stars to books that might not deserve them, so maybe the one-star is meant to strategically negate the five-star that somebody else left.  I understand that logic, but if I rated books, I’d want my rating to reflect what I thought, not to negate somebody else’s rating.

Or maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe those raters truly hated this book.

I usually feel bad for authors who get bad reviews.  It’s tough to see your writing get criticized.  I’ve been in some brutal writing groups (before the internet and blogging existed) where writers left in tears because of harsh criticism.  I never caused any of those tears because I was gentle with the criticism, but I was on the receiving end of brutal critiques.  I never cried, but I almost got into a couple fist fights over some brutal comments about my writing (that’s for another blog post).

I don’t feel bad for Paula Hawkins though.  She’s probably made a lot of money from these two books.  Maybe she’ll use the criticism to write better books.  Or maybe she’ll sip wine and shrug it off.  I’m pretty sure she won’t get into any fist fights over it.

*****

What do you think?  What rating do you think Into the Water deserves?  Do you think one-star and five-star ratings on Amazon are overused?

Bad Sentences in Classic Literature: The Great Gatsby

My oldest daughter has several books to choose from on her summer reading lists, and one of them is The Great Gatsby. She’s leaning toward it because it’s short and there’s a recent movie. I would tell her those are lousy reasons to choose a book, but I wouldn’t mind if she reads it, and I’ve chosen books because they were short and there were movies.

Dysfunctional Literacy

This is a library copy with a giant blood(?) stain on page 102. Even a great author can write an occasional bad sentence.

When I first read The Great Gatsby decades ago, I didn’t question anything about it.  Everybody I knew who read books said it was a great book, so I assumed I was reading a great book.  As far as I was concerned, if F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote it, if Hemingway or Steinbeck or Twain or Dickens wrote it, then whatever it was must have been great.  I didn’t question these things.  Who was I to question the writing of a great novelist?

I started reading The Great Gatsby a couple weeks ago, but I had to stop because of some of the sentences.  I don’t know how critical to be of sentences in a great, influential book.  I hesitate commenting on The Great Gatsby because I criticized Holden Caulfield last week, and I don’t want to come across as constantly nit-prickety.  But at…

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Literary Glance: Heroes of the Frontier by David Eggers

If you judge Dave Eggers by the movies based on his books, the last year has been rough.  Both The Circle and Hologram for the King bombed at the theaters.  But that’s not a fair way to judge authors.  Even Stephen King had a rough patch of crappy movies based on his books back in the 1980’s, and he seems to be doing okay.

I’m not sure if Dave Eggers’s latest novel Heroes of the Frontier would make a good movie or not.  So far it has a lot of driving, a lot of descriptions of Alaska, and a lot of thinking.

Sometimes too much thinking is bad.  During a stream of consciousness moment, characters might have a thought that’s meant to be universal but it only applies to that character (or the author).  In this case, early in Chapter I, the narrator is with her family at a zoo and thinks:

“This was not so bad.  But it was sad like any zoo is sad, a place where no one really wants to be.  The humans feel guilty about being there at all, crushed by thoughts of capture and captivity and bad food and drugs and fences.  And the animals barely move.”

This is what I call a false observation.  I like zoos, and I know other people like zoos as well.  It’s relaxing to walk around a bunch of loafing animals.  On a nice day, I’d rather walk around a zoo than watch a nature show where animals tear each other apart.  On the other hand, I worry a little bit about people who are too fascinated by animals devouring each other on television.  When you break the thought down, the observation becomes more false (for me).

“But it was sad like any zoo is sad, a place where no one really wants to be.”

I don’t recall seeing a bunch of sad faces at the zoo (except at the gift store, where kids throw fits when parents say no).  Kids run around, laughing and pointing; parents get mad, but it’s usually temporary.  Maybe it’s sad for some of the animals and for people who are opposed to the concept of zoos.

“The humans feel guilty about being there at all, crushed by thoughts of capture and captivity…”

“Crushed” might be overdoing it a little bit.  The thought might occur to us, but the animals are also being spared the fate of the average Discovery Channel subject.

“…bad food and drugs and fences.”

That sounds like the average professional sporting event.

“And the animals barely move.”

You just have to get there at the right time.

A false observation like this excerpt makes me distrust either the narrator or the author, but I haven’t read far enough into the novel to decide which one.  The narrator might not be trustworthy because she’s driving around Alaska with her young kids in a run-down RV.  Whatever her reasons behind this situation, her decision-making skills might not be the best.  She might not like zoos, but she is in not in the frame of mind to decide whether or not everybody dislikes zoos.

Maybe the narrator is supposed to be reliable and it’s the author who is at fault.  Maybe the author truly believes everybody hates zoos and he’s falsely projecting his own feelings on characters.  Maybe I’ll figure that out as I read further into the book.

If you like the kind of stream of consciousness writing from this example, you’ll probably enjoy Heroes of the Frontier.  If you think that this writing style makes a book dull and plodding, maybe this novel won’t be your thing.  Either way, if they make a movie out of it, I hope they do a better job with it than they’ve done with Dave Eggers’s previous books.

Literary Glance: Foreign Agent by Brad Thor

Brad Thor? That can’t be his real name!

For a long time, I was pretty sure that Brad Thor wasn’t Brad Thor’s real name.  Brad Thor had to have given himself that name, I thought.  Nobody is lucky enough to have a name as cool as Brad Thor.  I got stuck with Jimmy and a boring last name.  A guy named Brad Thor has it made.

Brad Thor was smart enough to start writing military thrillers.  If your last name is Thor, you should write war books (or meteorology manuals, but there’s probably not as much money in that).  25 years ago, Tom Clancy owned the military thriller genre.  But then his novels started getting too long, and military readers clamored for shorter thrillers.  Clancy started co-writing shorter novels, and authors like Vince Flynn and Brad Thor helped fill the need with novels of their own.

Vince Flynn was a good, tough name for a military thriller guy.  Maybe not as tough as Brad Thor, but pretty good.

To be honest, I’m not interested in military thrillers anymore.  With the ways that technology and current events (public affairs) change, most novels in that genre feel outdated within a few years.  But out of curiosity, I picked up Foreign Agent by Brad Thor just to see what a Brad Thor novel was like.

Because this novel gets into issues like terrorism and U.S. foreign policy, your political beliefs will probably affect your opinion of this book, and I’m not that kind of blogger, so I’m not writing about that aspect of the book.  Instead, I’m interested in the quality of writing, and you get everything you need to know about the novel Foreign Agent from the following sentence in Chapter 4.

Her tight dress clung to her stunning body as a faint breeze moved her long, brown hair.

Like I said, that pretty much tells you what you need to know about this book.  Some authors might describe what the dress looked like (other than tight).  Some authors might describe what her body looked like (other than stunning).  As far as hair goes, the description “long , brown” is probably enough.  The world doesn’t need more descriptions of hair.

I don’t believe in judging a book by one sentence, so here are a couple others.

WARNING!! This sentence from Chapter 3 is kind of violent.

Even though the Beretta was suppressed, the shot was still audible, and the man’s brains splattered across the café window were extremely visible.

The brains weren’t just “visible” or “noticeable”; they were “extremely visible”.

I know I miss the obvious a lot (like when my wife changes her hair style), but it’s tough to miss splattered brains on a café window.  Even if you don’t know what it is, it’s still visible.

Here’s another sentence from Chapter 3:

It was dark.

I like this sentence because if it’s dark, then you can’t really see anything anyways, and it’s pointless to write more.  Sometimes authors will spend hundreds of words describing how dark it is when all they have to say is that it’s dark.  Everybody understands what dark means.

Even though I’m not jealous of his writing style, I’m jealous of Brad Thor because of his name.  Brad Thor.  I’ve never been jealous of a name before.  I don’t even want to write military thrillers, but I’m still jealous of Brad Thor.

The Writing Prompt- Memorable Teacher Names

It’s only 99 cents on Amazon!

When I was growing up, I had some teachers with unfortunate last names.  In junior high I had a math teacher named Mrs. Butte.  She insisted her name was pronounced “Bee-Yute” like the word “beauty,” but she wasn’t attractive at all.  If she had been a hot chick with cleavage, we might have pronounced her name correctly.  But she wasn’t, so we didn’t.

There was also a social studies teacher named Mr. Dick (and his name was pronounced exactly like it was spelled).  Nobody made fun of Mr. Dick.  You would think a guy named Mr. Dick would stay out of teaching because of his last name, but nobody ever made fun of him.

Mr. Dick was an old man who had cool tattoos on his arm (none of the tattoos looked anything like his name).  He had been teaching for decades, and everybody in town had grown up knowing Mr. Dick (or knowing about him), so nobody thought anything about his name anymore.  He was just an old man named Mr. Dick.

There’s no way to prove this, but my junior high school was probably the only one that had a Mrs. Butte and a Mr. Dick.

Then in high school I had an English teacher named Mr. Faggins.  Mr. Faggins announced on the first day of school that his name was to be pronounced as “Fay-guns.”  I knew my rules of pronunciation and how the double consonant causes the vowel in front of it to have the soft sound, but I was also polite enough not to argue with an adult about how to pronounce the adult’s last name.  I’ve always believed that a person should be able to choose how to pronounce his or her name.

Of course, somebody would have to test Mr. Fay-guns…

*****

This is an excerpt from one of my ebooks  The Writing Prompt .  I wrote it as part of a blog serial a few years ago, converted it to an ebook, and then forgot about it off and on for a while.  Looking back on it, I probably should have promoted it more.

But it brings up an interesting question with summer just starting.   What memorable last names do you remember from school?

Curse of the Summer Reading List

It just happened, the annual gripe session at the beginning of June when students find out they have a summer reading list. This year, I ignored my daughters’ complaints and quietly drove them to Brick & Mortar Booksellers. Two years ago when they complained, I wrote a blog post about their gripe session. It sounded pretty similar to this year’s, just with different books.

Dysfunctional Literacy

He wondered why there was no Ernest Hemingway on the summer reading list (image via wikimedia) He wondered why there was no Ernest Hemingway on the summer reading list (image via wikimedia)

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…

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Literary Glance: Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

This was a heckuva way to start a book:

When the destruction of Israel commenced, Isaac Bloch was weighing whether to kill himself or move to the Jewish home.

Not that.  That was actually a decent first sentence.

I meant this:

He had lived in an apartment with books touching the ceiling, and rugs thick enough to hide dice; then in a room and a half with dirt floors; on forest floors, under unconcerned stars; under the floorboards of a Christian who, half a world and three-quarters of a century away, would have a tree planted to commemorate his righteousness; in a hole for so many days his knees would never wholly unbend; among Gypsies and partisans and half-decent Poles; in transit, refugee, and displaced person camps; on a boat with a bottle with a boat that an insomniac agnostic had miraculously constructed inside it; on the other side of an ocean he would never wholly cross; above half a dozen grocery stores he killed himself fixing up and selling for small profits; beside a woman who rechecked the locks until she broke them, and died of old age at forty-two without a syllable of praise in her throat but the cells of her murdered mother still dividing in her brain; and finally, for the last quarter century, in a snow-globe quiet Silver Spring split-level: ten pounds of Roman Vishniac bleaching on the coffee table; Enemies, A Love Story demagnetizing in the world’s last functional VCR; egg salad becoming bird flu in a refrigerator mummified with photographs of gorgeous, genius, tumorless great-grandchildren.

I’m not a fan of huge block paragraphs, but I really don’t like long sentences.  Despite this, I kept reading (my wife quit) Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer, and I started to enjoy the story until there was another huge block sentence a few pages later.  It killed the momentum of the scene (I thought).

As far as huge block sentences go, the opening sentence wasn’t horrible.  When… I… reread (past tense)… it… slowly… I noticed a lot of the details that I had missed when I just skimmed it.  But I didn’t reread the second huge block sentence; I was too tired from the first one.  I can handle only one huge block sentence at a time.  I’m still reading Here I Am, but I’m cautiously waiting for the next huge block sentence to slow me down.

There might be reasons for starting a book off with a huge block sentence.  Maybe the character Isaac Bloch had lived an interesting life, but the way to kill an interesting life is to write about it in a huge block paragraph.

*****

What do you think?  Does a huge block sentence help the opening of a book or hurt it?  If you take huge blocks on a case-by-case basis, what do you think of this huge block?  Will you stop reading a book if it has huge block sentences?

Literary Glance: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

When it comes to American Gods by Neil Gaiman, everybody knows about the “worship” scene.  I mean, everybody who’s read (part of) the novel knows about it.  It’s within the first few pages of the book, and if you’ve never read American Gods, I’m not going to explain it to you, but the scene stands out.

My youngest daughter walked in on my wife while she was watching the first episode of American Gods on television, and of course it was during the “worship” scene.  My youngest daughter usually walks around the house staring at her phone while wearing headphones, but this time she was well aware of her surroundings and saw exactly what was going on in the worship scene on the TV.  Now she’s traumatized.

When I checked out the novel American Gods from the library and opened the book, the pages turned right away to the “worship” scene.  That told me everything I needed to know about the book’s popularity.  Maybe American Gods is well-written.  Maybe it has a fascinating blend of old mythology with today’s culture.  Maybe the unique plot holds readers’ attentions.  But a lot of people like the “worship” scene and probably hope there’s more scenes like that.

A couple years ago, one of my daughters had to read The Graveyard Book, also by Neil Gaiman.  She liked it but not enough to go out and read more of his books.  I’m glad because she might have grabbed American Gods without me knowing about it and turned straight to the “worship” scene.

There’s a lot more to American Gods than just the “worship” scene, but even if you don’t read the whole book (or watch the whole television series), at least the “worship” scene is memorable.  Nobody forgets the “worship” scene.

*****

What do you think?  Were you traumatized by the “worship” scene, or do you know anybody who has been?  What else is great about American Gods?