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Dual Review: Stephen King’s On Writing

January 25th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Dual Reviews, Kelly, Kim, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing

Kim: The first thing I noticed in reading Stephen King’s On Writing is the underlying and impenetrable truth behind every word in the book: a good writer can make anything fun to read and Stephen King proves exactly that. To put it simply, anyone—whether they’re a teacher, engineer, artist, or simply just a Stephen King fan—will enjoy this book. If you’re a writer, you’ll love it.

The book is separated into several parts, the first a resume of sorts, tracing moments in King’s life from childhood to best-selling author. From the get go you’re eager to seek out clues, perhaps a life changing event hidden within an anectdote that turned Stephen King into the writer he is today. You’ll find none, with the exception of his marriage, which King credits again and again as the foundation of  his personal and professional success. You quickly learn, and King continues this sentiment throughout, that there is no special formula for success, but that it simply takes all the practice in the world.  What you do learn about writing specifically in this first part,  is that practice is paramount and no amount of thinking about writing, or wondering about writing will make you a good writer. You simply need to be writing.

Next we get down to the nuts and bolts; what it takes to be a good writer (good grammar, strong narratives, characters with depth) as well as some interesting ideas about language and how stories are put together. As a writer, it’s great to peek into the world as Stephen King sees it, but at some point you come away with another complete and impenetrable truth about the book: writing is unique for each of us, there is no secret to making yours successful (other than practice and as King puts it, a little God-given talent), and that you need to carve out your own experience with the craft. A lot of what you read in the book (omit needless words, avoid adverbs, cut your first draft down by 10%) all serves as valuable advice, but the greatest advice of all is in the example of Stephen King himself. That life can be a bitch, and if you love to write, well, keep on writing.

This book resonated with me a great deal and part of the fun is in watching King put it all together. The most unnerving part of the book is his staunch belief that you can either write or you can’t. At some point in the book you’re either shying away from the pages wondering if you can or can’t be a writer, or, you’re stepping up the challenge to prove that you can. I can’t help but feel that Stephen King would support the latter and ultimately, this is what I loved most about the book.

Kelly: Like Kim, I thoroughly enjoyed On Writing. One of the first things I appreciated about the book was the cover. I have the tenth anniversary edition, and it shows Stephen King sitting at his desk with his feet up. A dog–maybe a corgi–stands beneath him looking towards the camera. The photo humanizes King, and makes him seem accessible. The content of his book does the same thing. King’s personal journey is interesting, and I appreciated that he wrote it in a series of small stories instead of writing a grandiose, sweeping, “this was my childhood and it made me what I am today,” flowery section. Instead it was funny and effective. He clearly knew he wanted to a writer from an early age, and he tackled the world of submissions bravely.

Kim did a great job summing up King’s take on writing, and so I’ll just add this. King wrote part of On Writing while recovering from being hit by a van. Nearly dying didn’t stop him from writing, and in fact seemed to be a major component in his recovery (not to downplay the help of his clearly devoted wife). I’ve heard many people say “oh, if I only had time to write.” If someone who can only write for an hour due to pain can carve out time, anyone who truly wants to can.

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The Graveyard Book

January 13th, 2011    Posted in Fiction, Kim, Middle Grade, Uncategorized

Neil Gaiman is and will continue to be one of my favorite writers. So after setting down my last book (The Magus by John Fowles) I was more than ready for something like The Graveyard Book. Light, airy, and a Newbery Medal winner. Simply put, this book seemed like a slam dunk.

The book begins when a small child, our protagonist Bod, whether by luck or by fate, wanders into a graveyard. In doing so, he avoids suffering the same fate as his family: killed by a man named Jack. In the graveyard he is taken in by a community of ghosts, primarily the Owens and given the name Nobody Owens. You know him throughout the story as Bod. Over eight chapters Gaiman outlines Bod’s life in the graveyard, formatting each chapter like a  short story, each one providing a glimpse of Bod at a different age.

My favorite chapter was Chapter 4, when Bod leaves the graveyard for the first time. Although he is trying to do a good deed for a new friend, he unknowingly puts himself in great danger and almost back into the hands of Jack. As the story unfolds so does Gaiman’s wonderful world, where we learn exactly why Bod is so important and what he must do to survive.

This book is classic Gaiman and I love him for it. Expertly written, endlessly creative and heartfelt, I would recommend The Graveyard Book to adults and children alike. If you’re unfamiliar with Gaiman, I would suggest perhaps one of my favorite short story collections of all time, Smoke in Mirrors.

Reviewed by: Kim

Novel: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Read: January 2011
Source: Local book store (Powell’s)

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The Magus, by John Fowles

January 5th, 2011    Posted in Fiction, Literary Fiction, Uncategorized

The Magus, by John Fowles, is the sort of book that draws a strong reaction: you either love it, or hate it. (A quick flip through its Amazon book reviews will show you exactly what I mean.) There’s really no middle ground when it comes to this book, where, in nearly 700 pages you’re taken on one hell of a journey, for better or for worse.

The Magus starts off with great promise and is undeniably well-written throughout. Fowles proves to his readers early on that he is well-versed in his craft and that his characters are worth our attention. The plot surrounds the life of Nicholas Urfe, an aspiring poet who takes a teaching position on the remote Greek island of Phraxos. With little to do on the island but ponder his own inadequacies and roam the barren landscape, Nicholas becomes involved with the eccentric and reclusive, Maurice Conchis. The nature of Nicholas and Conchis’ relationship is mysterious from the get go, which serves as excellent bait for readers. Other mysterious characters and relationships emerge early on as well, so it’s easy to keep the pages turning. Soon, Nicholas is taking part in a psychological game, where it becomes increasingly difficult to determine if he is playing the role of willing subject, or unknowing victim.

My feeling is that the largest payoff for readers in this book is Fowles’ examination of reality vs. perception. Often times what you think you know isn’t what you know at all. A number of supporting characters in the book switch from protagonist to antagonist and back again, all to the dismay of Nicholas, who does his best to desperately make sense of the maze. Truth be told, Fowles does this flawlessly. The problem for me, however, began after about page 400. I found myself wondering if a book such as this would have come out of the editing room today with the same page count. The book becomes an all too monotonous back and forth—predictably unpredictable. Although incredibly smart, the heavy literary references and psychology make you wonder if Fowles wrote this book to prove a point or to simply prove how educated he is; an irritating sentiment to have creep into your mind around page 550. When you know halfway through a scene that what you’ve learned as a reader will only turn itself upside down a chapter later, the foundation of what you’re reading becomes unreliable and, consequently, uninteresting. For me, this book landed too closely to the line of, “it was all a dream” to really enjoy, or believe in, what the characters were experiencing.

Reviewed By: Kim

Book: The Magus
Author: John Fowles
Read: December 2010
Source: Borrowed from a friend

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First review coming soon!

December 28th, 2010    Posted in Uncategorized
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