31 January 2006
Author: Joanne Harris
Length: 432 pages
Genre: literary fiction
Plot Basics: Roy Straitley, a long-time teacher at St. Oswald's Grammar School for Boys, loves his school and becomes the foil for an unknown adversary determined to exact revenge on the floundering school.
Banter Points: Harris has written a fantastic book with unbelieavable plot twists at the end. Word Nerd was on the edge of chair for the last pages, shaking her head that the revelations at the end that all added up to what had been hinted at but so wonderfully subterfuged (is that a verb?) for pages. Harris' multiple narrators were great. Read more about that here. The humor is dry and very British and the ending is a twist-a-minute. Harris also artfully weaves a chess metaphor through the book in a way that flows with the plot and isn't overhanded.
Bummer Points: The story's over. This was definitely one of those books where it's almost a shame to finish it because it's been so good.
Word Nerd recommendation: This a smart, sophisticated and scintillating novel, well-worth reading.
30 January 2006
Today. POV (point-of-view, for those of you unfamiliar with the acronym). Generally, Word Nerd despises books that flip between limited-third person POVs. Usually. (Unless it's George R.R. Martin). Worse still, usually, are those that dish up one or more first-person POVs. Because usually it's a tacky trick for letting the reader know something that's going on somewhere else that somehow is going to be important later.
A quick crash course in POV. First-person POV is the "I" narrator. Limited-third person is when the only action/knowledge the reader has is what is experienced by the characters. Omniscient third is when the author sees all and knows all and can write about information that the character has no way of knowing about.
Harris' book is told in two first-person POVs. And it's wonderful. What makes it so good is that the two characters actually sound different. Wickedly different, in fact. And yet both characters are convinced of the rightness of their views of the world, which leaves the reader to untangle the truth from the lies that both characters present.
What also makes this great in Gentlemen & Players is that the reader gets an up-close view of not one, but two, characters' downfalls.
27 January 2006
Yesterday, the author made an appearance on Oprah, where the talk-show host apologized for supporting him recently on Larry King Live and said she felt he had duped and betrayed her and readers.
All the controversy about Frey's book hasn't dampened sales at all. Based on sales through Jan. 22, Frey's book is still second on the best-seller list. The week before (from Jan. 8-15) it was number one. Coincidentally, that was right after the news broke that he had fabricated parts of the memoir. MLP got bumped into the number two spot after Oprah announced her next book club pick, "Night," the Holocaust memoirs of Elie Wiesel.
One post about this Word Nerd found very interesting was Miss Snark's list of questions for Frey's agent.
26 January 2006
This happened today, because Word Nerd got her hands on the new book by Joanne Harris, Gentlemen & Players.
(An aside about word order in sentences: The previous sentence almost read, "Word Nerd got her hands on Gentlemen & Players, the new book by Joanne Harris." Ahem. Clearly, this is why it is important for one to proofread, edit and revise.)
The first sentence was, "If there's one thing I've learned in the past fifteen years, it's this: that murder is really no big deal."
Hooked. Hooked so much in fact that the book bumped four others down on the what-to-read-next list. The what-to-read-next list is generally planned at least four books in advance and is largely unchangeable. Sometimes though change is good.
This year's Newberry Medal went to Criss Cross, by Lynne Rae Perkins. The Newberry honors the most distinguished contribution to American children's literature.
The Caldecott Medal went to The Hello, Goodbye Window illustrated by Chris Raschka, written by Norton Juster. The Caldecott medal recognizes the most distinguished illustrator.
For the full list of ALA medal winners, click here. For a full list of past Newberry winners and runners-up, click here. For the full list of Caldecott winners and runners-up, click here.
In scanning through the list of Newberry winners, Word Nerd found it interesting how many of the titles that either won the medal or were Newberry honor books from years past were the books she loved as a child.
25 January 2006
Title: Ill Wind
Author: Rachel Caine
Length: 337 pages
Genre: urban fantasy/chick lit
Plot Basics: Weather Warden Joanne Baldwin's running for her life after being accused of a crime, but it's not just the Warden's Association that's hunting her, but the weather itself.
Banter Points: Caine has a formula that works. Her heroine is the right amount of nothing-can-stop-me tough chick combined with moments where Jo just wants a hug, or great pair of shoes, or a really sweet car. In this genre of mystical heroines with man problems, Caine delivers something new. Rather than powers over fairy magic or the undead, Joanne Baldwin can control the weather. The book is hard to put down.
Bummer Points: There is a twist at the end. Word Nerd can't say more without revealing too much plot, but it was a shocker that will impact the next books in the series. Oh, and this is the book with David, the djinn. For more on the disappointment with this character, read this post.
Word Nerd recommendation: Remember in eighth-grade science when you learned about the weather and the atmosphere? Rachel Caine apparently did because the science part is on target. This makes it way more interesting.
24 January 2006
Harder, but well worth the practice because it forces a writer to be direct, to pick only the best words, to find a tight plot.
Writer's Digest has recently posted the guidelines for its newest "Your Assignment" contest. Word limit -- 75.
One of the best short stories Word Nerd has ever read is, in fact, is only 55 words long. What can a writer cram into 55 words you ask? In this particular story --an affair, betrayal, revenge and murder. Wonderful plot in one concise package that also gets in the elements of a short story -- characters, rising action, climax, resolution.
The Writer's Digest contest entry is due on Feb. 10. That's only 4.16 words a day; 5 a day if keep the last three days for editing.
Better get to it.
23 January 2006
David. Word Nerd's thinking David, as in the guy who took down Goliath and became king, or David, as in the statue. Name a guy after a Biblical king or a famous piece of art, there are lots of expectations that readers bring to the character. This particular David, however, turns out to be a djinn. Djinn, as in genie, as in kind that poofs out of a bottle to do the master's bidding, as in a little more grown up version of the big-blue-voiced-by-Robin-Williams character from Aladdin.
David the Djinn just isn't working for Word Nerd. There's something not powerful enough about it.
Naming characters is hard, no doubt about it, because readers bring perceptions about the name to the character, often because of people they know with that name, or history, or just how the name sounds.
Think about it. Is a character named Schuyler Monroe a senator or a gumshoe or just a regular joe but had parents who were obsessed with names of presidents and obscure VPs? (If it's the latter, does he have a sibling named Spiro?)
Silly as it sounds, those name-the-baby books and websites are great resources for finding names that fit.
For djinn and everyone else.
20 January 2006
Author: Garth Nix
Length: 361 pages
Genre: YA/children's urban fantasy
Plot Basics: Middle-schooler Arthur Penhaglion should have died, had Mister Monday not given him a Key that looks eerily like the minute hand of a clock, which sets Arthur on a mystical adventure to save the world.
Banter Points: "Mister Monday" is like "Neverwhere"- and "House of Leaves"-lite. Nix creates an amazing world just over the line dividing natural from supernatural that is accessible and creepy at the same time. Word Nerd thought the bibliophages (creatures that devour letters, words and any kind of writing) were especially creative. The struggle that Nix sets up in the House (when it's capitalized, you know it's not normal and likely dangerous) with Mister Monday, the Morrow Days and the Architect is clever, particularly as he weaves the idea of time and use of clocks, etc., throughout the plot.
Bummer Points: The story, at points, is more about what happens to Arthur than about Arthur. In that, the characters feel a bit flat, which is disappointing given what could be done with a character like Monday's Noon or Suzy Blue.
Word Nerd recommendation: This is good reading material for kids and/or adults who are waiting for the last Harry Potter book to come out. One caveat though, Keys to the Kingdom will be seven books long and so far, Nix has only released titles up through "Drowned Wednesday."
19 January 2006
I took some advice from a writing friend -- change the scenery. Instead of sitting at home, staring at the same computer screen and the same paragraph where I've been stuck, I packed up pencil and paper and went to a coffeeshop. That was a good move since there was no TV, or computer games or dishes that I really should do at the coffeeshop to pull me from the writing.
What I wrote last night probably won't win any awards. It wasn't anything new either, but part of an on-going "exercise" to rewrite something I wrote in high school and see how it changes. (Lots, is the answer.) The important thing was I got all those Brussels sprouts down... I mean, all those words on paper.
18 January 2006
Today, Joel Achenbach at the Washington Post announced a new rule for commenting on his blog:
..., this blog takes a giant leap and hereby announces a new and
incontrovertible rule. We will not permit comments that employ the following
words: is, are, am, was, were, be, have been, being, and any
and all permutations, conjugations and excitations of the verb "to be."
Surely, he jests. Or surely not.
This idea of getting rid of forms of "be" recently came up in a discussion at the Oshkosh Area Writer's Club as a trick for making writing more interesting. There are places where these words are needed, no doubt. But they can also slow down the pace and flow of a piece and just clutter up otherwise good sentences.
One technique for revision that a Writer's Club member suggested was to go through a piece and circle every use of the word "be." Then try to rewrite it to get rid of it. Unless you're Shakespeare, writing Hamlet. "To Exist or not to exist" just doesn't have the same ring to it.
17 January 2006
Why not, you ask? Cuz, I say.
Part of the not-writing comes from writers' block. I did what I'm not supposed to do, leaving a scene when I don't know what comes next. The rest of it comes from really lame excuses about time.
There's an old Muppet sketch in which Miss Piggy asks Kermit the Frog when she gets to sing something. Kermit replies that she will when there's time. Miss Piggy replies, "Make time." Kermit looks rattled and shaken in his froggy way, knowing Miss Piggy's karate-chopping prowess. Later in the sketch, he relents and she sings.
I'm not saying that a karate-chopping pig puppet is the solution for me to get going on the writing. Then again, maybe it is.
"Make time," is not bad advice. Writer Joe Konrath says the same thing:
If you want to succeed in this biz, be prepared to make sacrifices and find the time to get things done.
Here's a handy list of some things you can sacrifice:
The harder you work, the better your
chance at success. This is a business about persistence, not talent.
Several orders of time coming up.
16 January 2006
Title: Fool's Fate
Author: Robin Hobb
Length: 631 pages
Banter Points: This is the last installment in Hobb's Tawny Man Trilogy, which follows up on her earlier series -- the Farseer Trilogy and the Liveship Trilogy. Fool's Fate picks up directly where Golden Fool left readers, with FitzChivalry Farseer getting ready to accompany Prince Dutiful on his quest to slay a dragon to form an alliance between his kingdom and the OutIslands. All his life, FitzChivalry has set aside his life in service to the Farseer throne, but as the quest for the dragon unfolds,the dangerous fate of his boyhood the Fool prompts Fitz to wrest control of his own life back from those that would run it for him.
Bummer Points: Hobb's fantasy rises above so much of what's in the market, that it's a shame that this series of trilogies is finally over.
Word Nerd recommendation: Go back to the beginning and read it all. Fans of Tolkein or George R. R. Martin or Stephen Donaldson will likely enjoy Hobb.
13 January 2006
In honor of this suspicious day, Word Nerd is reading Nathaniel Lachenmeyer's 13: The Story of the World's Most Popular Superstition. For the record, Word Nerd is neither a triskaidekaphobe or a triskaidekaphile.
From the start, Lachenmeyer digs for the origins of the 13 superstition. "The two main contenders," he writes, "other than 13 at a table, are the general belief that 13 is an unlucky number and the belief that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day." Lachenmeyer claims that the fear of Friday the 13th is the most common 13 superstition today.
The specific Friday the 13th superstition, Lachenmeyer traces back to The New York Times. Sometime between 1906 and 1906, The Times left out a comma, turning "Friday, the 13th," into "Friday the 13th" Lachenmeyer says this dropped comma was not a typographical error.
Lachenmeyer cleverly debates the superstitions about the number 13 in, of course, 13 chapters.
12 January 2006
So -- being a good sport instead of grousing about getting tagged in an unknown game, I will comply. Being the Word Nerd, mine are all connected to words, writing and/or books.
Random Fact #5 -- I share a birthday with Thomas Hardy. (Just the day, not the date, obviously. He was born in 1840.) Of all the novelists in the world who I could have the same birthday as, it's unfortunate that it's Hardy. Hardy wrote "The Mayor of Casterbridge," and "Tess of the D'Urbervilles," two exceptionally depressing books.
Random Fact #4 -- In college, I watched the movie version of "Pride and Prejudice" instead of reading the novel. No disrespect to Jane Austen, but really, after that first line, the book really is nothing but dancing and talking. If I was going to slog through it all, six hours of Colin Firth dancing and talking in the A&E version made it much more bearable. (And Dr. Borders, if you're out here in the blogosphere, well, now you know. Sorry.)
Random Fact #3 -- As best I can figure, I've read "Watership Down" more times than any other novel. It's possible that as a kid, there was some other book that I read more, but for the sake of argument, I'll go with Watership Down for most read novel. My roommates in college at one point called it "that rabbit book," but while the characters are indeed rabbits, it's not really about rabbits. I think the count stands at five.
Random Fact #2 -- I've never read "Lord of the Flies," "To Kill a Mockingbird" or "Catcher in the Rye." In preparation for doing my random facts, I googled "most famous novel." While that didn't garner a definitive answer for the most famous novel these three came up several times. Blame my struggle with classics or my English teachers. Admittedly, in my quest to read more classics in 2006, none of these is on the list.
Random Fact #1 -- I hate playing word games. Scrabble, UpWords, Boggle. They should really be called letter games, not word games, because what you get is the letters, not the words. You have to make the words. And get high point letters on triple word scores. The pressure is too much.
So, now that I've been tagged, I guess that makes it my turn to tag back. My victims? (Victims? Did I say victims? I meant choices.) Streetwise and The Fox Valley Geeks. The clock is ticking, gentlemen.
11 January 2006
Title: Finding Serenity: Anti-heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon's Firefly.
Author: Jane Espenson, ed.
Length: 227 pages
Genre: television criticism
Banter Points: First, it's about Firefly. Word Nerd is an unabashed fan of this short-lived space western, so it was logical to pick up this book that takes a more critical look at the show and the characters. For sci-fi geeks (dare Word Nerd out herself in this category) a few of the essays were hilarious, comparing the rough-and-tumble Firefly crew to the stiff and proper crew of any of the Star Treks. Not everyone writing is a die-hard Firefly fan either, and that's a good thing to have that voice represented in the collection as well. One of the best parts of the book is the unofficial Chinese glossary at the back. (For those not familiar with the show, the characters routinely swear in Chinese. No translation is ever given in the show.)
Bummer Points: It's a book of essays, and because of that, the quality varied a little among writers. Sometimes, the writers seemed to forget that Firefly was just a TV show. A few of the essays were overboard, particularly Lyle Zinda's "We're All just Floating in Space," a look at philosophy in the Fireflyverse. Anytime Albert Camus comes up, Word Nerd tends to think it's like school. Also, the book makes passing references to other sci-fi shows, movies and books and if you're not a true geek, some of the comparisons are not done well enough for a reader not familiar with the other show/book/movie to really understand the difference.
Word Nerd recommendation: If you haven't watched Firefly, this book is not for you. If you've perchance only seen the movie Serenity, this book is also not for you. If you have done both, read on. If you are just getting into the series, wait until you've watched it all before reading.
10 January 2006
In a story first appearing on theSmokingGun.com, and now picked up by other media outlets, doubts were raised as to the veracity of some of the events Frey recounted in his best-selling memoir, "A Million Little Pieces." Frey's book, the TODAY show on NBC reported, was the second best-selling book in 2005, just after "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." It was also one of Oprah's Book Club selections.
What the TSG investigation and other probes like in USAToday say is that Frey may have wildly embellished what happened to him.
So the question is, if it's Frey's life story, what room is there for, shall we say, improving on the details to make a better story? Certainly, as in Frey's case, having a melee with cops after getting arrested is more thrilling and captivating than going quietly, which is what the arresting officer says happened.
I would propose that line is where the non-fiction is no longer true, that the story has been so improved upon that it didn't really happen. For example, if I were talking about my early adventures in journalism, I might recount a tale about interviewing the FBI and CIA agents in my hometown. Does it matter if the chair in the CIA agent's office was cracked red plastic or cracked black plastic, or wasn't plastic at all? Probably not. What would matter would be if I claimed that the CIA agent gave me a great news tip about the big case going on and I scooped the local paper. That wasn't the way of it at all.
Creative non-fiction is about presenting true events in a creative way, using the techniques of fiction -- plot, dialogue, foreshadowing. It's not about writing fiction and passing it off as true.
09 January 2006
What interests the Word Nerd is the caption that says Kennedy's book will be 56 pages.
That's 24 more pages than most children's book authors get. The info Word Nerd has gleaned from authors is that children's picture books are 32 pages. It's all about how the big printing machines print and fold and cut the pages. If you write a kid's book, what Word Nerd has been advised is make darn sure it fits on 32 pages.
Some authors, like Neil Gaiman, get more pages per picture book, like in his delightful "The Day I Swapped my Dad for 2 Goldfish." But Gaiman has a proven track record of writing good books.
Kennedy, on the other hand, has a proven track record of being a member of the Democratic Party.
Word Nerd just wonders if there is a double-standard for authors with or without a famous last name, regardless of whether their story merits the extra pages.
Wait. Essays? Yep. There was one that even reminded me of being in school.
I've been finding it interesting, not just for content, but for the form. Essay writing seems like it is perhaps a dying art, a written form that lives only now in the English class.
Somebody, and I wish I could remember who, said something once that writing is thinking on paper. Anybody who thinks clearly then can write clearly.
This makes me think that teaching essay writing (and reading good, well-constructed essays) is important and not just to infuriate high school students. Essays have to be laid out clearly and concisely, with thought-out examples to back-up the main idea. For a reader, a good essay is easy to follow because one point flows to the next, and you can see the evolution of the writer's thinking.
Some of these essays have revealed interesting factual tidbits that I didn't know before. A few have made me laugh. The one that reminded me of being in school wasn't quite like that. It was philosophical and faluting ', leaving me with that feeling that I wasn't entirely sure what I'd read.
Then again, may be I just wasn't thinking clearly.
05 January 2006
What it seems like it's done to Word Nerd, I mean me, is make for some complicated sentences in trying to talk about myself entirely in the third person. It makes me cringe, even shudder, somewhat internally, hearing the voices of former English teachers telling me never to refer to myself as the "writer" or "the author" in a piece. The Word Nerd-in-place-of-me-or-I trend is just that, I think, and makes me want to go beg forgiveness from my teachers who taught me better than this.
So, Word Nerd is /I am contemplating scrapping this experiment and saying "me" or "I" when I mean "me" or "I" instead of having to redraft sentences multiple times to use "Word Nerd" instead. But, before I do, I'm curious if Streetwise was right?
Do you, the reader, find the Word Nerd references more personable? Cumbersome? Overused? Annoying? Let Word Nerd know. Or me.
04 January 2006
2933 total pages or an average of 94 pages/day.
Books read: Golden Fool, Blue Like Jazz, Dead Witch Walking, Body of Evidence, Seven Up, Peter and the Starcatchers, Al Capone Does My Shirts, The Shame of the Nation.
*one note on the count: Word Nerd counts books by the day finished, not by started, or elapsed time reading. Some books may have been started in the preceding month, but not counted until the month finished.
Since Word Nerd started keeping the list of books read in mid-March 2002, the literary year goes from March to March, rather than January to December. That said, for the calendar year of 2005, Word Nerd read 74 books In that period, the author who showed up most frequently was Janet Evanovich with 7 books, followed by Nick Bantock with 6 books and Robin Hobb and Jack Whyte with 5 books each.
LAST -- Word Nerd needs help coming up with a clever name to call these monthly reading statistical postings. Stacie calls them "Bookworm Reports" which is very shiny. Word Nerd doesn't want to rip off her creativity. So, what should Word Nerd call them? Help, help, help...
03 January 2006
Author: Jonathan Kozol
Length: 317 pages
Genre: social sciences/education
Banter Points: When Word Nerd found out that Kozol has a new book coming out in 2005, there was much excitement. Kozol first garnered a lot of attention with his 1991 book, "Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools," which offered a sharp and poignant look at the plight of children in inner city schools. Kozol contends in his new book that schools are becoming more, rather than less, racially segregated. These racially segregated schools also often have the poorest conditions for students and the lowest test scores in the nation, in direct conflict with the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that separate schools are not equal. Kozol highlights the pressures that teachers and principals in these schools are under to teach students only what they need to know to pass the rigid standardized tests and how students in these schools are often tracked into programs to prepare them only to work in lower-paying job and never informed of options for more rigorous academics or higher education. As Kozol writes, " the general idea that schools in ghettoized communities must settle for a different set of goals than schools that serve the children of middle class and upper middle class has been widely accepted" (98).
What makes Kozol's latest book good is dogged reporting about the state of schools in the nation and how he liberally incoporates the voices of teachers and students in these schools to tell the story.
Bummer Points: "Shame of the Nation" wasn't quite as gripping as "Savage Inequalities," although Word Nerd wonders if that's because for readers who have read both, there's a sense of disbelief that so little has changed for these students in inner city schools in the 14 years between these books.
Word Nerd recommendation: If you have any interest in topics about social justice or education, read it.
01 January 2006
Title: Al Capone Does My Shirts
Author: Gennifer Choldenko
Length: 217 pages
Banter Points: This book was a 2005 Newberry honor book, which is well-deserved. The story follows Matthew "Moose" Flanagan and his sister, Natalie, as they move to Alcatraz in 1935 when their father takes a job as a guard and electrician on the infamous island prison. Moose struggles to make friends with other kids in his school and other kids on Alcatraz, but has no trouble making an enemy in Piper, the daughter of the warden. Moose also struggles with the responsibility of watching Natalie, his older autistic sister. The characters are crisp. The history, while not 100-percent spot on, is close enough to give a definite sense of location and time. The book is also written in present tense which gives the action an immediacy and urgency. Themes of freedom and captivity pervade but are woven seamlessly into the plot so as not to bludgeon the reader.
Bummer Points: It's almost a shame that this is a so-called juvenile book. It's also may be a shame that the title has "Al Capone" in it because some might think it's a crime novel, when it's nothing of the sort.
Word Nerd recommendation: Read it, read it, read it.