Bird by Bird is more of a writing pep-talk than a how to write book, but as such I think Anne Lamott does a brilliant job. In short chapters filled wi...moreBird by Bird is more of a writing pep-talk than a how to write book, but as such I think Anne Lamott does a brilliant job. In short chapters filled with stories and anecdotes she tells us about her writing process, the various neurosis that get in the way of that process and her techniques for dealing with them. Anne reassures us that it's OK to be neurotic about your work, it's OK to write a shitty first draft, it's OK to be jealous of other writers, and that publication is not a golden plateau that will make everything right in your life.
She also talks a lot about taking dictation from the unconscious. How material is handed up to you from a kid playing in the cellar and your job is to just to write down that material. You are just a typist in this scenario and a good typist listens. This metaphor feels a bit Fritzl to me, but I got the general point of it. You have to get your conscious mind out of the way of the process so that fresh and less cliched ideas come to you - and even if the ideas that come to you are cliches, don't worry, because this is the first draft and you can always fix them later.
Here is a similar sentiment on writing characters: ‘I feel as if my characters know who they are, and what happens to them and where they have been and where they will go, and what they’re capable of doing , but they need me to write it down for them because their handwriting is so bad.’ (less)
The plot is meandering with none of the juicy detail of Dickens. The hero Dodger is a diamond in the rough: known and loved by everybody he meets. Who...moreThe plot is meandering with none of the juicy detail of Dickens. The hero Dodger is a diamond in the rough: known and loved by everybody he meets. Who, if he's not beating up villains, and saving damsels in distress, is buying soup for abandoned orphans, helping protect poor flower girls from rotters, stopping by neighbourhood houses to give money to the poor etc. And generally being a fine upstanding moral citizen - despite the fact that we're told that he is a little bit scruffy round the edges.
In the course of his adventure Dodger meets the biggest historical characters of the age, and a few fictional ones as well. There is not a sophisticate gent that he can't talk round nor a hardened criminal or assassin that he can't lay out with a swift blow and consequently I didn't feel he was ever in real peril. His heart of gold, his romantic view of life, and the upstanding moral reasoning he applies to situations also rang false for the tough London street kid he was meant to be. In fact everything about him is just to good to be true. He has no doubts to face because he never doubts himself and never fails in his physical endeavours and he never fails emotionally either, never makes a wrong choice or a bad judgement. In short he has nothing to learn about anything. He's a good, upstanding, talented, much-loved, chivalrous, friendly guy at the beginning and by the end he is exactly the same man.
Apart from a couple of easily disposed of villains all the characters in the story are friendly and understanding - all the cockneys are cheeky and bawdy and all the toffs are just and game for going along with Dodgers ruses. We are definitely more in the Lionel Bart version of Dodger's world rather than the Dickensian one. It's a shame because a more fallible and nuanced Dodger could potentially be a great character. And Pratchett's version of Fagin - Solomon is interesting too. As for the love interest, Simplicity, she is flatter and more characterless than many a Dickensian young lady and that is saying something! I struggled to get to the end and even then didn't really feel like the story upped the ante much. I think for a modern Y.A. take on a Victorian action adventure Sally Lockhart is a much better bet, but if you want to read a story about Dodger and a bunch of street urchins and prostitutes, living on the edge their lives threatened by a villainous criminal, then I would suggest you could not do better than Oliver Twist.(less)
A series of very interesting essays addressing a wide range of techniques and writing concerns. There's lots of great advice and ideas in the book par...moreA series of very interesting essays addressing a wide range of techniques and writing concerns. There's lots of great advice and ideas in the book particularly with relevance to trying to write short stories.(less)
As yet I have only read about ten stories from this massive volume, but what strikes me about them is the way he shows character through such original...moreAs yet I have only read about ten stories from this massive volume, but what strikes me about them is the way he shows character through such original descriptions and exactingly observed gestures - it's somehow like watching a virtuoso actor.(less)
Although it aims for the gothic darkness and rich detail of the Victorian writers that it’s constantly name dropping, The Clockwork Angel is a campy a...moreAlthough it aims for the gothic darkness and rich detail of the Victorian writers that it’s constantly name dropping, The Clockwork Angel is a campy and modern paranormal romance with a pinch of Steampunk. It reads a little like a less frothy version of the Parasol Protectorate. It's the sort of book I should really hate but for some reason I actually quite enjoyed it.
The opening where Tessa arrives in London and meets the Dark Sisters is great and I had high hopes for the rest of the story, what with the mystery of the missing brother and the suggestion that the world of magic involved gambling, opium dens and brothels. Unfortunately it doesnt. And Clare’s book does little to capture the Victorian underworld or high society or to locate us in a Dickensian London. The characters are so modern and the setting so genric that we might as well be anywhere in the now.
Tessa is an intriguing character with her shape changing powers and her potential as a fish out of water New Yorker, but both these story possibilities are underused. As to the Shadowhunters - they could be interesting too, especially Will, Jem, Charlotte and Sophie, but Clare settles for making them stock types rather than giving them any uniqueness. None of them have much quirk to them, and no one exists outside the little world of the institute and the adventure and love plot. The one scene that stepped outside this story was where Jessamine took Tessa shopping in town, and I thought it might give a flavour of the world of Victorian London but it doesn’t really.
I have not read Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instrument books or her Draco fan fiction so I cannot comment on her recycling of plot and characters,but for a YA book I think the writing stands up okay. It’s better written than Mockingjay, still that’s not saying much! People here mention the overuse of metaphors, but far more distracting for me was the stock gestures and physical descriptions. Jaws are constantly set or hard, lips quirking and quivering, grey/brown/green eyes darkening with rage/ or alight/or brilliant as jewels/ silvery in the moonlight. In fact,by the middle of the book I was counting how many mentions of eyes there were per page and if there wasn’t at least two I was sorely disappointed! There are many scenes and concepts that reminded me of Harry Potter or Interview with a Vampire but all lamer versions of these ideas because the details of the world are of no interest and the villains lack any bite. Or maybe it’s just Tessa’s reaction to things the way she blithely accepts the carnage around her as normal and then gets back to talking about Will’s eyes.(less)
For Esme - with Love and Squalor is a near faultless collection of short stories that all take place in J. D. Salinger world. A world that depicts you...moreFor Esme - with Love and Squalor is a near faultless collection of short stories that all take place in J. D. Salinger world. A world that depicts young people before they were properly teenagers, precocious genius children who speak like adults, rich New Yorkers who take cruise ship and seaside holidays, play little league in Central Park or tennis at the country club. A world of WASPs and angst. A world of the genius, perfect, flawless Glass family and the creeping empty malaise at the centre of their lives.
My favourite stories in the collection are the two about the Glass clan. 'A Perfect Day for Bananafish', which I have read many times, concerns Seymour Glass. 'Down at the Dinghy' concerns his sister - Boo Boo Tennenbaum nee Glass, her young son Lionel, and a conversation they have about sailing and the help. Boo Boo's married name bears witness to the amount of influence the characters in these short stories have had on Wes Anderson and his film characters. After all nobody writes precocious deadpan children and maudlin twenty-somethings like J.D. Salinger - except maybe Wes Anderson.
Also fantastic is Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut. A brilliant story about a housewife named Eloise whose drunk tales of college, recounted to a neighbour, are interrupted by the arrival of her young daughter and an imaginary friend. And 'Just before the War with the Eskimos' where Ginnie visits her classmate Selena's Upper East side apartment after they play tennis and meets Selena's brother and his buddy. The other stories I liked too, not quite as much but they are all consistently brilliant. Salinger has an amazing eye for gesture and body language of his characters and each short is slice of life. A single event with the illusion of naturalness and realtime flow, told with beautiful dialogue and gestures that bats back and forth between the characters like a tennis match.(less)
A great collection of short stories, each one very different in form and style. I particularly loved FISH and THE RED CEMENT TRUCK, A CASE OF VERTIGO,...moreA great collection of short stories, each one very different in form and style. I particularly loved FISH and THE RED CEMENT TRUCK, A CASE OF VERTIGO, and also MISS FATTE AND MISS THINNE - whose theme of eating and bodies reminded me of elements of both the Faber novels I've read: THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE and UNDER THE SKIN. The stand out story for me was TOY STORY. About a little boy called God who finds an abandoned planet in the trash round the back of a factory down the road and then hangs is on a string from the light in his bedroom like a mobile. At night, just as he is drifting off to sleep he hears voices from the planet, but he cannot make out what they are saying.(less)
99 hilarious short plays. Each one a two or three page conversation between different characters from around Great Britain. A quick read. The bitter a...more99 hilarious short plays. Each one a two or three page conversation between different characters from around Great Britain. A quick read. The bitter and pithy quality of the plays and the quintessentially modern Britishness of them reminded me a little of the Modern Toss cartoons. A great book to study how to write this kind of understated but funny dialogue. Craig Taylor seems especially good at suggesting with just a few words the way people don't listen to each other or deliberately misinterpret or ignore the words of the person they're talking to. How people only hear what they want to hear and how often this is what makes conversations funny.(less)
The Crimson Petal and the White is an intimate, sprawling (830pgs) modern take on a Victorian novel. A subversion of the archetypal Dickens rags-to-ri...moreThe Crimson Petal and the White is an intimate, sprawling (830pgs) modern take on a Victorian novel. A subversion of the archetypal Dickens rags-to-riches story. Our heroine, a young prostitute named Sugar, lives by her wits and longs to break free of her poverty and her ogress mother and madame, Mrs Castaway. In William Rackham - heir to a perfume and soap fortune - she think she's found her saviour. He is infatuated with her and makes her his mistress and then his daughter's governess, but as she moves into a higher social strata she finds herself stifled and controlled in different ways by William and male Victorian society.
Tonally and stylistically the book really captures the flavour of the Victorian novel, but with an added knowing and arch twist: we are modern readers being guided by our narrator round this alien world. Thus we can go to places the Victorian novel never dared go, and our narrator can buttonhole us, whispering insincerities and highlighting the hypocrisy of the characters: much like Sugar and the prostitutes do in the story.
I love the fact that Sugar is a distinctly un-Dickensian young woman, in a Dickensian story. She is clever, witty, bawdy, sexual, coarse, feminist, takes action - all the things a pure Dicknesian Heroine like Esther Summerson or Florence Dombey would never do. Even Agnes – William's wife and more of a Victorian gothic heroine – crazy and pining away in her upstairs bedroom - is strong willed and unique in her 'craziness' which is undercut by the fact we the readers know something about her that the characters do not.
(view spoiler)[ What I love the most is the gradual mirroring of Agnes and Sugars fates. Despite their different characters their stories take on many parallels as they are both forced to suffer under the control of William Rackham the privileged Victorian male. And it is Sugar's wits and compassion that saves herself and both Agnes and Sophie. At least, that's how I saw the ending. (hide spoiler)]
In the end I thought it was a great take on a Victorian novel, full of interesting women, unique characters trying to survive their imprisoning roles in a man's world.
I think this is my favourite of all the Colm Toibin books I have read. As always his writing is beautiful and simple, not overly dramatic, or contrive...moreI think this is my favourite of all the Colm Toibin books I have read. As always his writing is beautiful and simple, not overly dramatic, or contrived in its plotting, but heartfelt and intimate. I am in awe of how he seems to capture such depth of character and setting with such a simple and non-intrusive style. There are no literary pretensions just a straightforward honesty that reflects his characters. He has a love and respect for them and such a good eye for the subtle nuances of their behaviour that, despite the fact it is a period novel, they feel almost real, as if they might be people you know, and I don't know if there can be any greater writing achievement than that.(less)
My 'big brain' couldn't really get into this one. It didn't have the shock of Slaughter House Five nor the humour of some of the other Vonnegurt stori...moreMy 'big brain' couldn't really get into this one. It didn't have the shock of Slaughter House Five nor the humour of some of the other Vonnegurt stories. But still had some great moments especially towards the end.(less)
I didn't like it quite as much as all The Pretty Horses, the first section with the wolf is absolutely amazing but then the next few sections become m...moreI didn't like it quite as much as all The Pretty Horses, the first section with the wolf is absolutely amazing but then the next few sections become more or a repetitive narrative with Billy returning to Mexico on various different Quixotic quest. The prose is still searingly beautiful as are the descriptions of the landscape and the way the characters tell stories and philosophise. There are also many beautiful little tales that the characters Billy meets tell to him and relate to the the quest he is on as well as the nature of life.(less)
**spoiler alert** Couldn't finish this one. The writing is too awful. From the very beginning I didn't like the set up. I had hoped from the earlier b...more**spoiler alert** Couldn't finish this one. The writing is too awful. From the very beginning I didn't like the set up. I had hoped from the earlier books that Katniss would lead a band of rebels to take on the Capital and that group might develop some kind of alternative philosophy of hope and sanity. But oh no, Suzanne Collins has other ideas.
A little time has passed since the end of the second book and Katniss and co have been dumped in another dystopian regime – the regime of District 13 which is trying to overthrow the Capital. This is strange because District 13 has exactly the same mindless sociopathic philosophy as the Capital, just with a slight more communist flavour. There's all out war in the districts with both sides bombing and killing each other, but Katniss is not involved in any of this, instead she sits about in grey rooms, on the edges, while people come in and give reports on the fighting to Plutarch Havensbee (who for some reason I can only imagine played in the movie by Eugene Levy in a toga). All the war and bloody action is mediated through TV or expositon and then through Katniss's consciousness making it totally boring and removed for the reader. Plutarch and the E-fashion rebels come up with a plan to overthrow the capital by making over Katniss and putting her in TV promos. So once again we get the obligatory makeover scenes and the micromanaged obsession with her behaviour etc. Also, once again, we get the obligatory food-blog description of every meal, even though in District 13 only eat variations of slop. There's some attempt to give depth to the trauma of Hunger Games survivors and the suffering civilians of the districts but all this occurs in the same scenes as dialogue clunkers such as: "You don't impress us we've seen Finnick O'dair in his under ware!" Meanwhile Katniss worries about whether they got a good take of her promo, while behind her the Children's hospital burns down. Eventually the total disconnect of every character from what is going on around them made me give up and throw the book across the room.(less)