Anyone interested in the history and evolution of math and science should pick up this monster tome. It's not a book you're likely to read front-to-baAnyone interested in the history and evolution of math and science should pick up this monster tome. It's not a book you're likely to read front-to-back in order, nor necessarily even be able to follow all of the copious amount of equations presented without a very solid math background. However, Hawking explains the importance of each mathematicians accomplishments, gives a solid biography for each of them, and presents some of their most important work in its original form.
I'm currently working through Laplace's work on probability. I find it challenging and slow-going at times, but highly rewarding and a great way to keep my mind vigorously engaged.
Since I'm writing a novel with a math genius as the protagonist, I find this the singularly most valuable reference in my library. ...more
I've read about a dozen books on writing and almost always end up disappointed by either how obvious the advice is or how little attention given to hoI've read about a dozen books on writing and almost always end up disappointed by either how obvious the advice is or how little attention given to how to implement it in your own writing. This book excels where the others have failed. As I read, I had to fight the urge to open my manuscript and start editing right away.
Nothing about the authors editing principles are leading: they aren't giving techniques to write a particular type of novel, other than a well-crafted, engaging one.
I'll be giving this book as a gift to any friend who finishes a first draft. ...more
As a dedicated urbanist, I've thought about many of the issues Yglesias covers, yet he digs out so many unexpected observations in 80 pages that I felAs a dedicated urbanist, I've thought about many of the issues Yglesias covers, yet he digs out so many unexpected observations in 80 pages that I felt I hadn't even started to think or read about the topic.
After discussing the many ways in which zoning restrictions (including things that aren't usually considered zoning, like parking requirement) not only inhibit people from living where they want, but force them to move to "cheaper" cities where they, on average, will earn less money.
This is not an attack on suburbia or a glossy-eyes tribute to urbanity, but rather an insightful treatise on how zoning restrictions hurt people in almost all sectors of the economy and places in the nation. While Yglesias is a self-identified liberal, libertarians and free-market proponents will recognize the logic in his suggestions. The same is true for those who fear gentrification and new development as a tool for displacing the poor. Yglesias notes that without new development, a newly gentrifying area becomes even more expensive, driving out more lower-income people.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in urban planning, city and suburban economics or just a well-reasoned policy piece....more
This is a book full of passion for art and language. As someone who hasn't formally studied literature, The Art of Subtext gave me a wonderful new wayThis is a book full of passion for art and language. As someone who hasn't formally studied literature, The Art of Subtext gave me a wonderful new way to think about my reading and writing.
While as far from a how-to guide or writing manual as possible and still be a book on writing, I suspect that this book will impact my writing more than most of the writing manuals I've read. Baxter's prose is engaging and his opinions are unflinching (if occasionally stodgy or nostalgic). I find it difficult that many readers will agree with him completely, but it's equally incredulous that readers will find him unengaging or lacking insight. His critique on the disembodied and disconnected nature of modern relationships, where we talk at each other instead of with somebody is contradicted by his examples from 19th century literature, but remains intriguing and worth thinking about.
English majors may find this ground they've covered, but for those who haven't studied literature on a collegiate level and want to get more out of their reading (or film/tv viewing), I'm tempted to call this a must-read. Even for those who have covered this ground before, Baxter's style and willingness to speak his mind give the reader much to deliciate over.
This is the first book in a series on The Art of…, all edited by Baxter. I'm excited read the rest of them.
On a design note, the entire The Art of… series are all unusually sized books. They're about as wide as an iPhone is tall, and around 50% taller than wide. Combined with the slender page counts, these are fantastic books to slip into a coat pocket or small bag. ...more
One of the frustrations when buying instructional books is determining if a book is written for someone of a similar skill level as your——The Review——
One of the frustrations when buying instructional books is determining if a book is written for someone of a similar skill level as yourself. In a break between writing, I spent five years teaching myself an extremely complex 3D program, Autodesk Maya. Once you learn the basics, finding new instructional materials becomes difficult. Much of what is written assumes very little knowledge. Sometimes a book called "Advanced Techniques" targets advanced beginners instead of people who have spent a few years on the material. Yet there are books called "Fundamentals of" or "Basic" that require a substantial basis of knowledge before having any utility.
Writing books rarely fall into the "too advanced" category, but frequently target beginners, placing a great deal of emphasis on things like "show, don't tell," that appear in almost every guide whose spine you've cracked. What makes Mixon's The Art & Craft of Fiction such a joy is that it sidesteps the problem of being too beginner-ish for more studied authors without leaving those just started in writing without the valuable basics.
To start, Mixon is a joy to read. I had started an engaging novel when my order for The Art & Craft of Fiction arrived at the Book Cellar. I had planned on finishing the novel before starting Mixon's book, but made the error of reading a few pages. From that point, I read it like a can't-put-it-down thriller. Like Charles Baxter's The Art of Subtext, the last writing book I read, Mixon's mastery of prose shines on every page. She's been a "professional writer and editor for a bizillion years," and it shows. Even when covering areas that I feel comfortably competent in, I never felt the urge to skim. Moreso, often when writing about topics I have general mastery in, Mixon had something new to add that will enhance my writing.
The Art & Craft of Fiction covers a broad swath. I'm tempted to call it a complete book on the topic, but she has a second book (that I haven't read), expanding further on the subject. However, even if Mixon has yet more to say, it's unlikely a beginning writer will be left wanting. She covers planning and development, character, plot, scenes, dialogue, prose, grammar, and just about everything else; and she covers it poignantly with insight.
In short, this is a book anyone who hasn't published a bunch of novels and worked with a good editor for years will benefit from and enjoy.
There is, however, a significant problem with the book, and it's name is Chapter 21. I'm not rescinding even a quarter-star for it, nor changing my must-read recommendation, but Chapter 21, you and I have some issues.
Let me talk about the subject to debate issue of the ellipses first. The Chicago Manual of Style (Twelfth ed.—alas mine is quite out of date) doesn't mention them in any context except for deletion in quoted text. E.g., "Use three dots…[t]wo look silly" could be used if you didn't value the entirety of "Use three dots, no more, no less. Anything more than three is wasteful. Two looks silly." Within the context of non-fiction, that is the only proper use of the ellipses. But Mixon isn't writing about non-fiction and we fictionistas get to flout some rules or hew to a somewhat different set of regulations. So when Mixon says one shouldn't use an ellipses with a period, she isn't incorrect in a technical sense. However, the ellipses used in fiction indicates a pause or interruption and, in the case of an interruption, may occur at the end of the sentence. In such a case, The Chicago Manual of Style leaves no doubt about the propriety of an ellipses followed by a period. Moreso, under the influence of Emily Brontë, Mixon opposes ellipses in favor of em-dashes. In five paragraphs, I would hope that she mentions the great utility of using ellipses and em-dashes to represent different kinds of interruptions. In Browne and King's equally vital volume on writing, Self-editing for Fiction Writers, the authors suggest using ellipses to indicate a self-interruption: a pause or trailing off. The em-dash is reserved for external-interruptions, such as in this exchange:
"But didn't you promise…" Jessie said. "I did nothing of the sort," Tyrone said. "Now, look, you two—" Dudley said. "You stay out of this," Tyrone said.
In that exchange, we understand that Jessie has spoken without the confidence to finish her accusation against Tyrone, while Tyrone interrupts Dudley. The ellipsis has use. (I should note that The Chicago Manual of Style does call for em-dashes to indicate breaks in speech or thought, but, you know, Browne and King had it right.)
You might conclude this is nit-picking and I just wasted a bunch of words on a nit. Fair enough. My next complaint with my nemesis, Chapter 21, is more substantive. It is a matter of fact, not opinion and I am correct. Mixon may edit books, but I design them (amoung many other things) and know the fundamentals of typography. Trust me when I tell you that the en-dash is not a hyphen and is not used for hyphenation. That's the hyphen (this guy: - ). The en-dash, as Mixon correctly points out, is the width of an en (it looks like this: – ). It has two uses, one of which is extremely rare, the other largely ignored. The primary use of the en-dash is to replace the words "to" or "through" in ranges, such as "1997–2001" or "2001-". A rare secondary use is the join compound adjectives, such as post–Civil War (although not non-English Speaking).
Okay, I'm a typography nut. I'll spare you the other typographical misinformation contained in Chapter 21. The section on the period is quite good, so you might as well read it. Just expect that if you mess up with en-dashes, whomever lays out your book will be at pains, because nobody expects that.
——The Book as a physical object——
As one might expect from somebody who gets worked up over typographical misinformation, the design of a physical book matters to me, and here, Mixon's husband (who not only formatted the book but put the typefaces on the copyright page—swoon!) did a bang-up job. The cover design feels comfortable and inviting, suggesting a safe, calming space for writing. The typeface choice was dead-on, and the archaic choice of pen lines gives the cover a sense of gravitas. (There is one error that makes a designer grind teeth: the subtitle's font is stretched. Most readers won't notice, but I had to search to find out if there was a badly done extended version of Poor Richard, the typeface. There isn't. When you spend your days being hyper-careful about type layout, once you notice an error like this, it takes over the page.)
However, what truly makes this book a physical treasure is it's soft matte coating. This is a relatively new finish that I've yet to see on a book. Apple uses it on some of their packaging, so it's going to get broad use, but for now, it's a smart, cutting-edge choice with enormous tactile rewards. The soft matte finish gives the cover a silky/rubbery feel that is entirely caressable. It also prevents fingerprints and smudges from showing. I'm pretty sure The Art & Craft of Fiction is print-on-demand. Prior to seeing this, I didn't think it was possible to get even a decent standard matte finish from the POD printers*. If you're self-publishing and can get a soft-matte finish, ante up a bit more for it if your book will appear anyplace where the reader will pick it up pre-purchase. The sense of luxury will make the price of the book seem more reasonable.
*If you are fanatical about design, self-publishing is frustrating. You can't control the paper the cover is printed on, have no embossing options, forget about a foil or metallic finish, and don't even dream of spot varnishes. Go into a real bookstore sometime and pick up Francisco X. Strork's Marcello in the Real World. Hold it up to the light and look at how the spot varnish on the black surfaces shine while the blue sky remains without reflection. Run your fingers across the cover and feel the differences in texture between the varnish and the unvarnished paper. Ironically, the interior paper isn't as nice as The Art & Craft of Fiction nor the handful of prints I made of the first draft of my current novel through Lulu.com. But that cover is a joy. It's almost as much of a tactile thrill as Mixon's book....more
Put Victoria Mixon's books on the top of your writing craft to-read list.
Mixon's second Art & Craft> of Writing manual takes the outstanding coPut Victoria Mixon's books on the top of your writing craft to-read list.
Mixon's second Art & Craft> of Writing manual takes the outstanding content of the first and brings it to a formidably high level. Simply put, the two books together would easily serve as brilliant texts for a university intermediate or advanced writing class. Indeed, I urge other writers approaching them to do so when they can take a month or more to read them several times, give close readings to the works she references (especially the three novels and two short stories she uses to show structure in Story).
Unfortunately for me, I read both novels when working on revisions for my own novel and don't feel I have the time to study them to reap their full reward. I suspect when I get my current draft finished and letting it "go cold" for a while, I'll revisit both books and give them the time their due.
Mixon's focus in Story is on structure. Most of the books and articles I've read on structure are essentially books on plot. Mixon doesn't short-change plot. If you don't pay attention to her examples and the lessons she draws from them, one might even find her plot rules to be rigid. There's a hook sentence, a hook, a conflict, a faux resolution, then a resolution—repeated for the hook, conflict and resolution. Oh, don't forget the fulcrum. With a heavy hand, it's the to-do list for a generic (if quick moving) genre piece. But if you pay attention to the examples, let your mind dance a bit to Mixon's song, she will force you to think carefully about all of the elements of story.
This is particularly true when Mixon talks about character. Most of the plot and structure books and articles shuffle character off to the side. Mixon doesn't let you slide by on plotting alone. She demands that you understand how your characters' conflicting needs drive and complicate the plot. In the end, she asks you to know why this character?
Even for people like me—rushing too much to get their draft done to give the book the time it deserves—The Art & Craft of Story asks questions that bring clarity to your writing. ...more
Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland—the improviser review
[Disclaimer: I’ve hosted Ms. Weiland on my blog several times, we’re friendly on Twitter,Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland—the improviser review
[Disclaimer: I’ve hosted Ms. Weiland on my blog several times, we’re friendly on Twitter, and she’s one of my beta readers. However, having her read my manuscript may be an advantage for this review, as it’s allowed me to see all of these ideas put into editorial practice. Her comments significantly improved my novel.]
I am not a structure person. The only time I outline is after the fact and whatever sketch I come up with gets ignored a few bullet points in. Yet, books like Ms. Weiland’s “Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story” are invaluable.
When you swing from inspiration to inspiration, you need an innate sense of structure to avoid a complete muddle. Some people have this innately, but most of us need to learn it. Aside from reading as much fiction as you have time for, taking advantage of studied structuralists is your best start. Of course, even after absorbing all of these lessons, you may still find yourself with a verby mess. At that point, guides to structure are your map and flashlight.
“Structuring Your Novel” is particularly well-suited towards the first need, although by no means poor at the second. Weiland examines structure from big to small, starting with the overall story arch and gradually switching instruments until she’s using a microscope on sentences. At each level of detail, she offers both sound advice and well-chosen examples.
If you own any other writing books that touch on story arch, the beginning material is probably not new to you. With 10-15 other writing books worked into my writerly thinking, this is ground I could skim. Yet Weiland’s explanations were as good as the best of her competition. If you’re looking for a book to get you started, this is definitely a top-contender.
If you feel you already have a mastery of story arc, “Structuring Your Novel” still has much to offer. In fact, I would almost go as far as to say story arc is the introduction of Ms. Weiland’s approach. Where this book starts to accelerate from others is when she begins discussing scenes. Much like how plot is boring without character, story arc (e.g., the big plot) can’t exist without scenes. Weiland helps the reader understand how scenes function. Her in-depth examination of scenes alone would make this a worthy addition to any writer’s book shelf.
She finishes with sentences. While this section if relatively brief, it was something that benefited my writing more than others. Sentences are the proteins of a novel. You can survive a few poor ones, but your readers will feel something is off if you don’t master the basics.
Is this the ideal book on story structure? I’m not sure such a thing exists—each reader/writer has their own needs and no one book will satisfy them all. I wasn’t fond of the bullets Ms. Weiland uses for her examples, but I know of one other reviewer who found them a virtue. Are the two novels and two movies Ms. Weiland uses as examples good ones? They are well chosen for genre diversity (an important aspect for structure—too often, I’ve felt a book on structure I’m reading is aimed at thriller writers, not people who focus on character). But their value will increase if you’ve read and watched them.
My quibbles aside, this is a worthy addition to any novelist’s shelf. Even where it covers ground you’re familiar, it’s likely you’ll find a useful twist. When Ms. Weiland is covering material you’re unfamiliar with, you’ll find many ideas and tools to improve your manuscript and even approach to thinking about your work....more