Category Archives: story structure

I give up!

I’ve agonised over this, but I’m just not enjoying this book!  So I’m giving up on it.  In my earlier life I would never have done this, I used to have to read a book to the end no matter what.  Now, for some reason, it seems unnecessary to put myself through something I’m just not enjoying (I’ve got the dentist and performance related pay for that kind of thing).

100man

How did I arrive at this decision?  It’s not a bad book, it’s a bit quirky and interesting.  It seems to be going somewhere in a meandering kind of way.  If I continued, and this is what kept me going this long, it might be a great book, but I don’t hold out much hope.  The final reason, and probably the single most common reason why I give up reading a book, is I just don’t like any of the characters.  Which is surprising, because I will quite happily read novels about murders and terrible acts by one person to another, but the author normally includes one person who you like, or have sympathy for, or identify with.  I wonder if you have to like at least one character in a book to enjoy it?  In this book I’m not sure I found the characters particularly believable and certainly not likeable.  I didn’t dislike them, I am just indifferent to them.   Or perhaps you don’t have to like them but you have to feel strongly about them, like or dislike, you want to see them win or lose, to get a reward or their comeuppance.

“So what?” I found myself thinking as I was trying to concentrate and failing.

I’d describe the book as Forest Gump meets Thelma and Louise meets The Old Devils.  That sounds quite interesting but  it’s told in a kind of Grimms Fairy Tale style.

Other books I can remember bailing out on for this reason are Before They Are HangedJoe Abercrombie, and Catch 22Joseph Heller.  Both are well regarded books, but not for me.  There are others, but I’ve forgotten them.

Catch-22

Catch-22 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cover of "Before They are Hanged (First L...

Cover of Before They are Hanged (First Law)

Anyway, I’m off now to read Gone GirlGillian Flynn, which I am assured is fantastic.  Not a BIB I’m afraid, I chose it.  But so far I seem to be enjoying BIBs more than my chosen books.

I’m also considering treating myself to the entire current list from Richard and Judy’s Book Club, as a Christmas present as I have found some fantastic books on there in the past, in preparation as BIBs I’m avoiding them in book shops!

I almost missed my stop!

 

 

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It’s been a long time since I nearly missed my bus stop because of a book!  But it happened today with I Am Pilgrim.  And yesterday, on the way home, I got off a stop later because I had to know the outcome.  It was very exciting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I read on the bus, with my head down and being partially sighted I need to pay attention to what I’m reading.  You would think that this causes me to nearly miss my stop a lot.  However, I have learnt that I have a subconscious awareness of where I am on the journey.  I expect I am monitoring the turns subconscously and, when I look up I know where we are before I’ve seen.  It works very well.  Except on a few notable occassions where I have been so engrossed in my book that only a fortuitous glance, moments before the stop, has prevented me from missing it entirely.  I think if I did I’d just carry on reading and have a day out!

 

English: Agatha Christie Bus Tour bus (reg. AH...

English: Agatha Christie Bus Tour bus (reg. AHL 694), a 1947 Leyland Tiger PS1/1 single-decker with Barnaby bodywork. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

But this morning was one of those mornings.  This is a special book indeed.  It is very well paced, with the author dropping breadcrumbs, leaving you to gather them up at a satisfying pace.  None of your Agatha Christie “I want everyone in the library where I shall reveal the murderer” here, where all the breadcrumbs are gathered in an overwhelming handful.  If I had any criticism, and I think this is an anti-criticism (like “My only fault is I’m too hard working”) it would be that everything, although chaotic, is a bit too perfect.  Our hero’s hunches pay off.  But perhaps I’m being a bit harsh and just caught up in the story and not noticing the blind alleys he runs up.

 

 

 

The other great thing about this great book is that it’s long and well paced.  So you can keep reading in great swathes without worrying about running out of story.  Like your favourite biscuits coming in a big enough packet that you can’t eat them in one sitting.

So read it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Am Pilgrim – Early thoughts as a BIB

So far I’ve been unable to do much of a book review about a BIB (Blissfully Ignorant Book) and keeping within The Rules, without robbing you of the chance of reading it Blissfully Ignorantly too.

However, with I Am Pilgrim – Terry Hayes I do have something I can say.

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As you can see I’ve been busy, for me anyway, reading.  This is a big book (700 paper pages apparently – I’m reading the e-book version).  I am thoroughly enjoying it.  Not just as a book, but as a BIB.

It starts well.  I thought I had it pegged, a good book of its genre.  But it quickly changed into something else.  I think that is the key to a good BIB; surprise,  changing genre, unexpectedly finding yourself in a situation alongside the characters and wondering how you’re going to get back.

Now 15% of the way through I’m not sure what I’m reading!  Brilliant! The author is laying out a series of questions like a trail of breadcrumbs for me, which I hope lead along a path where they are all answered or consumed!  The books I love best are like that as I’ve blogged about before.  There’s plenty of swapping between story lines, not sure how they are going to come together, but it looks pretty massive in scope from here.  Can the author pull it off I wonder?

I would probably have ignored this book in a bookshop as too serious.  I’m very glad I was recommended this book.  I wonder if the author will sustain my interest and recommendation as a BIB.  This is the first BIB since starting this blog that I would highly recommend.

Why not try it?  Read along with me.  But don’t look at reviews etc.  I can tell you that Amazon has lots of ratings and they’re all around 4-5 stars!

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Listless? Not I #4 Completed

The finished list in the spirit of #1 nine is enough.

English: Six year old boy reading "Diary ...

English: Six year old boy reading “Diary of a wimpy kid” License on Flickr (2011-01-07): CC-BY-2.0 Flickr tags: diary, wimpy, kid, book, read, bed, boy, hold (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.  Don’t impose too many rules on yourself!

2.  Read widely.  Books are about expanding your view of the world so don’t give yourself too small a window.

3.  Read the classics when you’re younger.  Then you’ll know about them.

4.  If you’re not enjoying it then stop.  It’s okay to give up on books, you don’t have to like them all.

5.  Don’t skip bits.  That poor author thought it was important, so read it, my friend skipped a whole section of Holes – Loius Sacher and to my mind missed the symmetrical beauty of the book!

6.  Think about what you are reading.  It’s not wallpaper you know.  Take notice of the books that stay with you, think about why.  These are important and tell you something about yourself.

7.  Don’t be a snob.  Classics, popular, pulp fiction – so what?  If you enjoyed it then good, don’t be afraid to own up to it.

8.  Stockpile books, but don’t be afraid to ignore them for something that catches your attention.  I always have a pile of books in waiting, but I never read them all.

9.  Take recommendations of books, take notice of where you got a good recommendation from and go back there for more.  Seek out more obscure book awards as recommendations (e.g.  Commonwealth Book Prize is a favourite of mine discovered from an early BIB GaloreMichael Crummey)

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Going well – The threads of the story are coming together in a predictable but not obvious way.

Listless? Not I #3

books

books (Photo credit: brody4)

A few more  rules for readers added .   I don’t know how many I’ll come up with, I’ll add to them as I work them out. (I’m aiming for 10 but I may run out of sense before then!)

1.  Don’t impose too many rules on yourself!

2.  Read widely.  Books are about expanding your view of the world so don’t give yourself too small a window.

3.  Read the classics when you’re younger.  Then you’ll know about them.

4.  If you’re not enjoying it then stop.  It’s okay to give up on books, you don’t have to like them all.

5.  Don’t skip bits.  That poor author thought it was important, so read it, my friend skipped a whole section of Holes – Loius Sacher and to my mind missed the symmetrical beauty of the book!

6.  Think about what you are reading.  It’s not wallpaper you know.  Take notice of the books that stay with you, think about why.  These are important and tell you something about yourself.

7.  Don’t be a snob.  Classics, popular, pulp fiction – so what?  If you enjoyed it then good, don’t be afraid to own up to it.

Collaborator010913

Going well – The threads of the story are coming together in a predictable but not obvious way.

Listless? Not I #2

holes

A few more  rules for readers added .   I don’t know how many I’ll come up with, I’ll add to them as I work them out. (I’m aiming for 10 but I may run out of sense before then!)

1.  Don’t impose too many rules on yourself!

2.  Read widely.  Books are about expanding your view of the world so don’t give yourself too small a window.

3.  Read the classics when you’re younger.  Then you’ll know about them.

4.  If you’re not enjoying it then stop.  It’s okay to give up on books, you don’t have to like them all.

5.  Don’t skip bits.  That poor author thought it was important, so read it, my friend skipped a whole section of Holes – Loius Sacher and to my mind missed the symmetrical beauty of the book!

Collaborator010913

Going well – The threads of the story are coming together in a predictable but not obvious way.

Listless? Not I #1

 

Matt Gemmell

Matt Gemmell (Photo credit: hellogeri)

 

 

I was really interested to see this post Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules for Writing and heard an interview on BBC Radio 4 with his son as Elmore has died.  I’d never encountered the list and found it thought provoking, amusing and little annoying in places.  So I considered writing my own list, I was then sent this post Writing Tips by Matt Gemmell – which I think says it all, I don’t think you could improve on the sense, humanity, humility and tone of this, and the links in this to the Guardian article are worth looking at too.  It seems that Elmore’s list has started a bit of a buzz in the media.

 

So I thought I’d have a go at list of rules for readers.   I don’t know how many I’ll come up with, I’ll add to them as I work them out.

 

1.  Don’t impose too many rules on yourself!

 

2.  Read widely.  Books are about expanding your view of the world so don’t give yourself too small a window.

3.  Read the classics when you’re younger.  Then you’ll know about them.

 

Collaborator010913

 

Going well – The threads of the story are coming together in a predictable but not obvious way.

Do You Have A Recovery Period?

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New BIB The CollaboratorGerald Seymour (recommended by my friend on the bus)

 

What is your time between books?  I find when I have a stack to get through that I am anticipating I will read them back to back.  Which is great if they’re all good.

 

However, it depends on what else is going on in my life, as you’d expect (like writing this blog!).  But also, how I felt about the book I’ve just finished.  If it was fantastic and you have another eagerly anticipated book to follow then it’s easy to read them back to back and just enjoy your reading life.  On the other hand, if you have a stack with no particular book chosen (or if it’s a BIB) then I find it difficult to start the next book, like I can’t bring myself to leave the last one, I’m still digesting it and don’t know if I can spend the emotional energy on an untested text.  Am I mourning this finished novel?  Or I don’t want to be disappointed in another reading experience living up to the last one perhaps?

If the finished book was a little disappointing, see ending well, then it’s a struggle to start another potentially disappointing book.

So I think it’s all about anticipation for me.

I think I also go through phases of reading where I am a voracious consumer of any books I can get my hands on, and at other times am more select.  In fact I have gone for long periods without reading or only able to read short stories because I didn’t have the emotional energy to commit to a book or the attention span (this was when I was training as a teacher – I’m not a teacher now by the way).

When I was planning this post I was going to refer to a refractory period – as I’ve been using this regularly in conversations, mistakenly thinking it meant time between activities, but as I researched this post I discovered a rather different meaning in wikipedia.  Similar but not the tone I was looking for, although I do enjoy a good climax in a book!  I think I’ll stop now!  I won’t be using it in the next meeting I’m in (as I have done in the past), I wondered why people sidled away from me over coffee.

 

"Study drawing shows the allegorical figu...

“Study drawing shows the allegorical figure of Romance nude. She bends her head to read a book on her lap. Romance was one figure in a painting, The arts, in the north end lunette of the Southwest Gallery in the Library of Congress’ Jefferson Building.” Graphite drawing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is it wrong to want books to end well?

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Oh dear, that looks pretty damning doesn’t it?  This post isn’t just about The PostmistressSarah Blake, but it is a case in point.  I’ll add a little review at the end of this – it’s okay because I wouldn’t recommend this as a BIB (Blissfully Ignorant Book).

I’m not very proud of this but I like books that are happy; that turn out well.  Where characters get what they generally deserve, justice is seen to be done, that whole thing of “You get what you give”.  I can stand a little challenge to this, I don’t mind if books make me cry ( in fact The Postmistress did make me cry, on the bus, a little).  I don’t want syrupy saccharine sweet; where everything is unrealistically positive either.  I want books to be a bit like life and certainly about the ability of humans to bring something to the world.

G is for George smothered under a rug - Day 16...

G is for George smothered under a rug – Day 167 of Project 365 (Photo credit: purplemattfish)

Things I hate most in books

  • unnecessary killing of a character (doesn’t move the story on, just makes you miserable, especially when they had everything to live for)
  • shoddy, unthought out endings, where the questions laid out in a book are unsatisfactorily answered, or not at all (Surprisingly I find Michael Crichton falls into this category where the scientifically based plot is undermined by some almost “magic” at the end, they have a rushed feel)
  • a lack of justice because that’s what the world is like (unless it’s a true story, and this can be saved by other characters observing this)
  • an ending that is so unexpected (ironically) that you feel stupid for not seeing it coming (Life of Pi – yuck sorry, but yuck, it made me feel really stupid!)

There are plenty of books with sad themes but somehow are uplifting and mean something, they stay with you for days, weeks even years after (like The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold).  So I don’t want jolly, but I do want achieve something!

The Postmistress – short review…

Overall rating 4 for the ending, as you can see by the BiblioGraph above.

Not recommended as a BIB because once you start you know what you’ve got.

I really like the premise, the general story line and the introduction to a US attitude to WWII, the evocation of the blitz in London was fantastic, it contained loads of detail and really achieved a feeling of time and place.  So a big thumbs up for that, which is why I read to the end.  What let it down at the end was that I just didn’t understand what it was getting at, it was a bit too subtle and just fizzled out like an incendiary dropped in the Thames.

There seems to be a bit of theme here:  Am I a bit too thick for these books?

The Tipping Point

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Do you stay up later than you really should reading to finish a book?  Sometimes this is because you’re so near the end that five more minutes isn’t going to make a lot of difference.  However, sometimes and more frequently I find this is because I’ve reached a point in the story where I just can’t put the book down.  I call this the tipping point.  The point at which a change is inevitable and you have a hunch it’s about to occur, in this case the story end is in sight and you just have to know what it’s going to be, you can’t imagine how the author is going to resolve the various plot lines into some coherent whole (they had better or you’re going to be disappointed).

A Golden Retriever going over a teeter-totter ...

A Golden Retriever going over a teeter-totter at an agility competition. Edited (cropped) by Pharaoh Hound (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is normally the mark of a good book.  Unfortunately authors need to assess the proximity of the tipping point to the end of the novel.  If it’s too far then I stay up way too late and suffer the next day at work (although this does feel very indulgent).  If it’s too near the end then you’re left wanting a bit more and not sure how all the pieces got left.

Some books don’t seem to have them at all, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad.  In fact I’d say some of my favourite books discard the usual conventions and make up their own genre and structures (e.g The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold, The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffeneger).  But they provide a different kind of reading experience.

I thought I’d be at the tipping point with The Postmistress – Sarah Blake, but I don’t think it’s got one.  But I think I’ve reached the point where I will stay up late to finish it.  I’ll give it an overall rating then.