Archive for the ‘Dual Reviews’ Category
Kim: Karen Russell is somewhat of a literary celebrity in the fact that she was one of the youngest writers to be chosen for the New Yorker’s Best 20 under 40. Her most recent novel, Swamplandia! is an extension of the first story we see in her book of short stories, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, about a family that makes their living wrestling alligators in a Florida Everglade theme park. If the premise of that story is any indication, Russell is clearly an authority on the strange and weird.
One of the things I liked best about Russell was the sheer inventiveness with which she writes. The setting of her stories are often other-wordly, or towing the line, and she does an excellent job of harnessing interest while keeping within her literary merits. My three favorite stories were: Z.Z.’s Sleep-Away Camp for Disordered Dreamers, The Star-Gazer’s Log of Summer-Time Crime, and St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. Within these, is some of my favorite writing: they’re stories I like to read, the sort that ooze with talent, and the kind I wish I could write myself. There were others, equally as well written, that I struggled through, or simply lost interest in, and there were a handful I skipped almost entirely. I think any reader who appreciates stories that are constructed outside of the standard literary box would love this book. It certainly has me curious and eager to pick up the already popular, Swamplandia!
Kelly: Like Kim, I also enjoyed this short story collection. I loved the quirky characters, sometimes otherworldly or magical situations, and literary quality. Amongst my favorite stories are “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves” and “Haunting Olivia.”
I’m definitely curious about Swamplandia!
Title: St. Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised By Wolves
Author: Karen Russell
Read: February 2011
Source: Powell’s Bookstore / Annie Bloom’s Books
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.