I think my favorite part of this book was learning about the lengths that historical reinactors will go to for an authentic experience. In particular...moreI think my favorite part of this book was learning about the lengths that historical reinactors will go to for an authentic experience. In particular the one who had been featured in Hollywood movies because he was skilled at pretending to be bloated like a corpse. That takes dedication.(less)
I recall this was equally fascinating and the driest, most boring thing I have ever read in my life. That's quite an impressive achievement, and one I...moreI recall this was equally fascinating and the driest, most boring thing I have ever read in my life. That's quite an impressive achievement, and one I felt worth noting.(less)
I read this some years ago, so I'm not going to write much except to mention that while this a great travelogue, which covers a diverse selection of p...moreI read this some years ago, so I'm not going to write much except to mention that while this a great travelogue, which covers a diverse selection of places in China, I also read Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang immediately after this, and I wanted to recommend that you check it out too as a companion piece to this one.
Troost covers a lot of ground for a tourist, but Chang actually interviews some of the young female workers in China that an outside observer probably wouldn't have the chance to speak with in any depth. Together, they do a really good job of acquainting the reader with a picture of the country in modern day.
I also recommend the documentary Last Train Home for something similar to Factory Girls in film format.(less)
I've been reading this with my recent attempts at catching up on Victorian classics, and it has been a marvelous companion piece so far. Most of the w...moreI've been reading this with my recent attempts at catching up on Victorian classics, and it has been a marvelous companion piece so far. Most of the webpages out there which provide notes for Victorian classics tend to focus more on themes or symbolism, which might be useful for people who are being tested in a class on the material, but doesn't help at all when the sort of questions I'm having about the material as a casual reader are more along the lines of "What sort of courtship/marriage system did they have in Victorian England? How did the court system Dickens keeps referencing really work?"
This provides a very organized and useful overview of Victorian society, subject by subject, which is a big help in grasping why the characters in the books I've been reading react they way they do to their surroundings, and in answering my questions about government, available technologies in the time period, and social expectations.
It's definitely not comprehensive enough to explain every individual situation in each novel I'm reading (for that I would need an extensively annotated version of the novel itself), and I suspect someone who wanted to write accurate historical fiction would mostly find this a good starting point in their research, because all that I've learned here only makes me wish to find out more from other sources.
However, for a reader who plans to read a number of Victorian novels in the near future, reading this a bit at time alongside the novels themselves is really helpful. I was unable to sit down and read it at one go, because there is too much dry information to absorb at once, but reading a bit at a time while reading the books themselves, I was eventually able to get through the main text section, and I will probably go back and look through the ample glossary of terms at the end as necessary to remind myself of information.(less)
Very interesting first half. I honestly did not realize that Buster Keaton's The General was based on a real event until I read this. So many things w...moreVery interesting first half. I honestly did not realize that Buster Keaton's The General was based on a real event until I read this. So many things went wrong with the undertaking of this raid that I found myself thinking that if this were not a real event, I would have believed the author was deliberately making the characters do foolish things, but this just goes to show that in real life, you don't always plan for every possible problem until it is too late, and sometimes you just have to improvise.
The information presented is very thorough and would give a very nice level of information to someone writing about a train trip in the period (which is why I checked it out).
However, the second half of the book bogs down a bit under this attention to detail. Every letter, every newspaper debate, and every bit of information of what happened to the men and to the train itself afterwards, up to the present day, just made the end seem farther away which the start of each new topic.
While I suppose it was worthwhile to read the various opinions of E.M. Forster on the old great authors of English literature, I don't really feel tha...moreWhile I suppose it was worthwhile to read the various opinions of E.M. Forster on the old great authors of English literature, I don't really feel that he had very much unique to say about the actual aspects of novel writing.
I think that the most unique, interesting statement in the entire book was in the introduction at Ch 1. Forster feels that authors should not be judged by the chronological categorization of literature over time, but rather be viewed as though they were all simultaneously creating their works at the same time in one big room. As I have been spending a lot of time lately skipping around within the literary canon, filling in books on my list that I have not yet read but not really sticking to the timeline of when the works were created, I can appreciate this idea. I can see how the English language has changed over time, but change in the usage of words aside, the art of storytelling itself really has not changed very much.
As for the other chapters, however, the idea he was trying to express can be summed up neatly in just a sentence or two, if the meaning of the chapter is to be understood at all.
Ch 2 & 5 (Story and Plot): A story is a sequence of events which runs through time, from points A to B and onwards. You do not need to relate the events to each other to have a story. A plot is a series of events which tie together to express cause and effect, and the events should all tie together in resolution. Ch 3 & 4 (People): A story contains flat, undeveloped characters which are most useful to add comedy. Well-rounded characters are needed to express serious drama, but a plot works well when using a combination of both. Ch 6 & 7 (Fantasy and Prophecy): I'm still not entirely certain what he was trying to express here. His idea of "fantasy" seems to correspond to the postmodern idea of "magical realism", and his idea of "prophecy" seems to indicate a greater moral message that is learned by the protagonist but can be appreciated by the audience as well, but I'm not entirely certain about this. I think these chapters could have been better clarified by more than just the examples he chose. Ch 8 (Pattern and Rhythm): The change that takes place within a well-written novel has a certain symmetry from beginning to end, but sticking too closely to that framework can make a work dull. Rhythm refers to items or lines of text that reappear within the story which tie unrelated events together.
I can't help but feel like I know most of this information already, and Forster is difficult to read at times, so I felt like I really had to tease out what little information there was by rereading paragraphs at times. Obviously, I still don't understand what he was trying to say with the chapter on Prophecy and just barely understood the one on Fantasy. What is left after the main points are examples of various (mostly English) authors and his opinions as to whether one author is good at accomplishing his point or another is bad at doing so. However, I have yet to read a number of the books he references, so I can only follow along from the descriptions he gives of what the plot is about. Perhaps I would enjoy this book more after a course of reading all the authors and works he mentions and becoming less of a "psuedoscholar."(less)
I was recommended this book, and I'm glad that I checked it out, as it was much more helpful and easier on the brain than Aspects of the Novel, a book...moreI was recommended this book, and I'm glad that I checked it out, as it was much more helpful and easier on the brain than Aspects of the Novel, a book by E.M. Forster which I read at the same time as this one. I have already started to take the advice given within the first chapters of this book on writing something every morning, and I am eager to see just how I will progress by following Brande's advice.
This is not really a book about developing a plot or characters, nor is it a primer on the mechanics of grammar or punctuation. It's more of a How To for getting an aspiring author to sit their butt down in front of a writing device everyday and get the words and ideas out onto the page without the process feeling like extracting wisdom teeth.
This is precisely the sort of advice I've needed for some time now. I've written a good deal of words as part of one writing challenge or another (National Novel Writing Month, Script Frenzy, etc.) as a way of forcing myself into overcoming my squeamishness about what my thoughts look like on paper. The strange thing is that I'm not even aspiring for formal publication. I would like to write stories because I find the process of creating stories to be fun, yet the actual act of putting them down onto paper is still a horrendous chore. Lately, even the writing challenges haven't been enough to get me to finish anything, and I have two novels sitting around half-written and another that barely got out of initial planning. I like the ideas that went into them well enough. I don't think I actually hate writing or storytelling, I just need to find a way to make it less unpleasant when the initial steam and excitement of starting off on a new journey is over and coming up with what happens next actually becomes real work.
Brande describes not only how to go about making writing into a comfortable habit but also how to regain your unconscious creativity by learning how to be still and concentrate. I really liked her advice about avoiding describing your story before you actually write it, because I know I've come up with ideas which I worked out word for word in my head, only to feel no enthusiasm for the idea anymore when I actually sat down to recreate it in writing. She also talks about the dangers of getting into a rut creatively, the problems inherent to apeishly copying other authors, and how to avoid doing both by learning to observe the world around you and gather ideas of your own.
As I write this, I've managed to write over 1K words for today, and I feel a sense of accomplishment which will hopefully carry me into writing more tomorrow. I've already decided to buy a copy of this book for myself, so that when I return the copy I read to the library, I can use my own for a pick-me-up pep talk again whenever I need it. Because I suspect I will need it.(less)