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Old 08-20-2007, 12:57 PM   #26
katyseagull
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

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On Writing, by Stephen King


For instance, King hates plotting, he says. He likes to discover the work by writing it. This would go a long way toward explaining why he can do things like let his stories drift haplessly for very long stretches, filling them out with endless detail about cornball, often quite thin characters who aren't doing anything in particular. When he at length snaps to, he can finally march his story along, if anyone is still interested. This kind of writing is on full display in messes like The Stand, which rambles on over a thousand pages, much of which is essentially unfilled with anything particularly lively.

This may be how King likes to write, and it is often recommended as the way writing should be done -- it should be essentially "found." To King's credit, he elsewhere puts aside the culturally much-vaunted role of genius in writing and ascribes writing stuff worth reading primarily to hard work. But in denigrating the need to work on structure and plot even in the sort of workaday fiction he writes, he falls into the same trap he decries. Writing without plotting requires much more of lucky genius and visits from a muse than fully envisioning where you are going and why and how to get there from the start. King may be able to eventually tidy things up into a workable whole that feels somewhat unified and has gone in a direction worth pursuing without plotting, but how many of us are among the best-selling authors in the world, or have dozens of novels behind us that have trained us and honed our skills for decades? In effectively saying, "just do it blind," King is unconsciously promoting the spooky exceptionalism he insists good writing isn't really about.*




I wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading your post on King. I haven't read any of his books (started The Stand but didn't get far) but I found your discussion to be really interesting. Is it obvious when reading his fiction that he is sort of discovering his story and plot as he goes? You mention his hapless rambling in The Stand, and you allude to his thin characters. Is this a typical King trait in his other novels as well?

Also, I am completely confused by how writers find their symbolism. I guess I suspect many find it after they are done writing. I remember back in high school having to write papers about symbolism, usually pertaining to some novel we had just read, and I remember hating it. I have a lot of trouble with symbolism. I find it to be either non-existent or forced.
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Old 08-20-2007, 01:44 PM   #27
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

I think a lot of symbolism is crap too. Especially when it's the supposedly important and telling repetition of minor details that really doesn't amount to much more than tedious cleverness. But it's vital to some works in deeper ways, and can set up resonances in a story that make it much richer. Especially if you've read much of the bible or much Shakespeare, you may find a seemingly innocuous or even indecipherable story suddenly comes to life when you catch how it is playing off of a classic, maybe doing a little twist on it or exploring it in a different way.

I'd very strongly suggest reading Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces to anyone with an interest in literature, or just stories in general, whether religious ones, high-falutin' great classics, or good ole yarns told around the campfire while eating beans and lifting a leg to let a fart out sideways. That book gets at the mythic structural underpinning of even very simple stories, and does a very interesting job of showing how even greatly differing religious traditions have many key themes in common, because they are the key themes to human existence. It's enlightening and for me at least served as a wonderful skeleton key to understanding a lot of symbolism and seeing how and why it can actually work when done right. I wished I had it when I was a kid writing essays in high school and not really understanding what that symbolism crap was about either.

Regarding King specifically, his short stories tend to be pretty tight and great fun. His novels are kind of all over the place in how well they are written, quite apart from how scary they are and somewhat apart from how fun they are, but I admit to only reading like the first ten. Salem's Lot was easily his best among the ones I read. The Shining was wonderful in many places, but the first 50 or 60 pages were dull and rambling, and I've met many people who have put the book down early because of that. I've encouraged them to pick it up again because I felt the same way and still loved the rest of the book, and have found anyone who did so to agree with me and say thanks, I'd never have bothered otherwise.

King might as well have invented the sprawling book. Others, like Clive Barker, have stated that they noted King's success with sprawl and that the public often likes it, and so began writing novels the size of refrigerators after being known for quick, tight, imaginatively vicious little short stories. It's a style that is almost everywhere in light fiction these days, a welcome exception being mysteries. In King, a good indication that he doesn't know where he is going is when he starts yakking up very cornpone characters endlessly, as if they had something to say worth listening to, and following them around on their non-adventures. He gives a sense of place doing this, but it is not necessarily an interesting place, one with interesting people, or one where anything is going to happen that couldn't have happened 25 pages -- or 250 pages -- earlier. I'd recommend his early short stories to everyone, but am not too confident in recommending his long stuff to people.
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Old 08-20-2007, 02:48 PM   #28
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

To continue with your thinking on style. Different writers have different aptitudes. A screenwriter is generally good with quick, snappy dialogue, and a linear story line. An essayists is good at getting to the point. A novelist is better at telling a complex, many times, non-linear story.

Different forms for the writer to work out of his or her comfort level. Unfortunately the results aren't always good. Garrison Keilor, for example is great at telling a story on the radio. He is good at spoken-word writing. His novels are terrible. Stephen King was probably better in his early years than his middle years. I think that his later stuff is better, but I'm not a huge fan, either. Didn't he put out an unabridged version of The Stand? I remember reading the intro and he said that the original was terrible because it was edited. I think that he is best when he is writing essays. These are engrossing, thoughtful, and funny. His conversational style fits well.

As for poetry. I was never a large fan of poetry. In my opinion, it is at it's best when it is written from deep emotions. In school, we are given the shallower poetry, that has no deep meaning. Just at face value, there is nothing to explore. e. e. cummings was crammed down out throats the most. He was part of the impressionistic art movement, which means that there is not meaning beyond the face of what you see. Poe opitomizes the pain part of poetry. Songwriters are great poets in my opinion. Check out Henry Rollins, for example.

I only read three books this year:
Collapse -- about the end of civilizations
Portrait of Myself -- Auto-biography of Sandra Burke-White
Meeting the Shadow -- A Jungian psycho-analyst book. Very thick with material and hard to get through.

There is one book that I am searching for. It is written by a Chinese interviewer. He interviews all sorts of criminals, and Barbara Walters he is not. He ends up telling some of the criminals what pigs and evil people they are, while empathizing with others.

I read an excerpt of this book in a Paris Review. This was shocking by any standards. The interview featured was one of the most disturbing things I ever read in my life, but I found there were parts that I was laughing at the befuddlement of the interviewer, as he is cursing the very being of the criminal. Sadly, part of the agreement was that he would not turn anyone in. I don't know he could keep that promise. The book is banned in China.
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Old 08-20-2007, 03:13 PM   #29
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

I should finish Chris Moore's Bloodsucking Fiends tonight. It's okay, not his best. It's a vampire story.

I'm also almost done with Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone - the first full-length detective novel in the English language. It's written from three perspectives in a victorian style and since the three perspectives share facts it's a little slow in parts. Numerous red herrings keep the reader on his/her toes though. Collins rips off Poe, but references to EAP are dropped throughout. Collins uses books that the characters are reading to provide backstory and insight, which is a pretty cool device.

Been trying to get into DK Goodwin's Lincoln book, but it's tedious and very, very long.

Next up is a bio on Stonewall Jackson.
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Old 08-20-2007, 03:14 PM   #30
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

Quote:
I also tend to read a lot of books at the same time. Lately, though, I can't seem to finish any of them.

Reading:
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
No Limit Hold 'Em by Sklansky and Miller
PADI Divemaster Manual
My Silent War by Kim Philby

Tonight, I'll be reading Enriched Air Diving: PADI Specialty Series


I've just ordered a heap of books from England (they don't sell good books where I live), so my list will change considerably in the next couple of weeks.

To the guy reading Cryptonomicon: it's fantastic. May seem a bit slow at first, but keep going. It's well worth it.
How are you finding Master and Margarita? I think that's probably my favourite book ever.
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Old 08-20-2007, 03:55 PM   #31
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

I'm reading "A Death in Belmont," by Sebastian Junger, the guy who wrote "The Perfect Storm." It's a pretty good true crime story, revolving around the Boston Strangler.
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Old 08-20-2007, 06:24 PM   #32
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

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Been trying to get into DK Goodwin's Lincoln book, but it's tedious and very, very long.
In my experience, yours is a typical reaction to Goodwin's work.
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Old 08-21-2007, 03:16 AM   #33
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

I'm halfway through Gulliver's Travels (Part III). Part III is not as interesting as I-II. The irony in part III borders on heavy-handed and the Laputans, etc don't capture my imagination the way Lilliput(especially) and Brobdingnag did.
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Old 08-21-2007, 03:17 AM   #34
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

I'm currently reading "Justine" by Marquis de Sade, and am also lightly perusing a collection of prose from Robert Lowell. I just finished a short collection of Kafka and "Notes from the Underground" by Dostoevsky.

I didn't realize how much Sade influenced the latter two until looking.

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Old 08-21-2007, 05:01 AM   #35
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

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Crime and Punishment is one that's going to be hard to finish if you don't just submerge yourself in it and read it through as quick as you can. I loved the book, but the business with all the names and the different nicknames different people call the same guy is very cumbersome and can be discouraging. Plus it's just a deep book, not the type to hop in and out of.
I agree. I think I'm going to end up putting it aside until I finish a couple other things, then start from the beginning again. I was enjoying it very much when I started, so I won't be giving up on it.

I really like Bulgakov. This is my third or fourth reading of The Master and Margarita. I'm also a fan of his Heart of a Dog, which is excellent, if not as well known.
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Old 08-21-2007, 06:46 AM   #36
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

I loved it, but I also like postmodern lit. The novel is patterned after the form of Wittgenstein's Tractatus--although the paragraphs aren't numbered. It's also a surprisingly affective novel about the narrator's mental deterioration as she gets lost in language and a number a "facts" that keep popping into her head.

Be on your toes reading it: the narrator will mention one thing, which may reoccur a hundred pages later in an expanded or altered form.

If you like it, I'd suggest Steelwork by Gilbert Sorrentino as a complement.
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Old 08-21-2007, 01:59 PM   #37
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

yeah, i'm really into postmodern lit as well. the description of the book on wikipedia says the style is reminiscent of beckett, which means it'll probably be really interesting/infuriating. i remember you mentioned you're an english professor. what other philosophical novels could you recommend?

also, this is way off topic, how do you define post-modern lit? for example, my favorite contemporary writer is j.m. coetzee and although many of his peers could be described as post-modernists, i don't find much in his writing style that would distinguish him from, say, Camus. Thanks!
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Old 08-21-2007, 02:35 PM   #38
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

Just finished "Cat Among the Pigeons" by Agatha Christie

Currently reading "Moving Pictures" by Terry Pratchett (of course!)
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Old 08-21-2007, 03:03 PM   #39
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

Why of course?
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Old 08-21-2007, 04:01 PM   #40
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

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Why of course?
Captain Sam Vimes is a character in other Terry Pratchett books. Pratchett, for those who have never heard of him, is a lot like Douglas Adams. Very good at word play and satire and dry Brit Humor.
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Old 08-21-2007, 04:19 PM   #41
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

I'll be reading Scarlett Thomas' "The end of Mr Y" this evening. It's probably the prettiest looking book I've ever bought - red and gold gilt cover with black edged pages, but unfortunately that's where the positive stuff ends.

It has props from Philip Pullman and Douglas Coupland on the sleeve, but tbh reviews from Elle/Cosmo would be more appropriate, as (admittedly only 60 pages through), it's reading like a slice of high end chick lit so far.

Also, the characters are ludicrously 2-dimensional. And the novel's theme? Metaphysics and the 4th dimension. Oh, the irony...
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Old 08-21-2007, 07:32 PM   #42
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

Trying to work my way back into involvement here. Time to reply to threads, duh.

I will be rereading Catcher in the Rye over the next few days. I read it a couple years ago, but have forgotten most details of it. Unfortunately, it was assigned for my Adolescence Lit class, so I will be going through it again.

I definitely need to get into the swing of school with reading more and interneting less (all while Loungeing more)!
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Old 08-21-2007, 09:35 PM   #43
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

Heh yeah you definitely need to operate at a higher level when school's in session.

Hope you enjoy your reread of Catcher in the Rye. I read it twice too, and really loved it both times, but it's been a long time. I'd be surprised if I didn't get a real kick out of it the next time I read it too.
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Old 08-21-2007, 10:04 PM   #44
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

This is one of the resources I often turn to for looking at some of the basic assumptions of postmodern lit:

John Lye's Explanation



Foremost, I think, is the notion that postmodern lit is self-relexive, that is, lit. that's aware of itself as a construct, a work of fiction rather than as a mirror of reality or an imitation of reality. A good example of this in short form is John Barth's story "Lost in the Funhouse" from his collection by the same name. And, believe it or not, its fun to read.

Here's a link to the story. The first two paragraphs will give you the general idea.

Lost
If you get through part of the story, you will also notice the references to Joyce's Ulysses along with Barth's parody of Joyce's style, another feature of postmodern texts.
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Old 08-22-2007, 09:01 AM   #45
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

Catcher in the Rye is among my favorite books. I should dig up my well-worn copy (the pages fall out from time to time). Now that I'm older and a true phony I should have a very different perspective.
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Old 08-22-2007, 07:40 PM   #46
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

Quote:
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson last week and I loved it. It was very funny and I enjoyed the tales of the Appalachian Trail.
I also read this recently and enjoyed it. I think it may well be his best work - I liked In A Sunburned Country, thought I'm a Stranger Here Myself was meh and considered his African Diary largely a waste of time.

Today's random selection is David Shalleck's Mediterranean Summer: A Season on France's Cote d'Azur and Italy's Costa Bella. Since I've already read the collected works of Peter Mayle, I have to broaden my horizons...

I read a lot. Thank goodness for the interlibrary loan system!
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Old 08-22-2007, 08:24 PM   #47
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

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Catcher in the Rye is among my favorite books. I should dig up my well-worn copy (the pages fall out from time to time). Now that I'm older and a true phony I should have a very different perspective.
Heheh, that reminds me of a great article once I read called "The Dog is Us." It was about how so many of this gal's friends gave up smoking dope as they got older. It said that when you're young and first start smoking dope, you see things in a new light. You see how artificial and absurd and phony everything is, and that makes everything funny. You see how high a stake people have in nonsense and how scared and uptight we are about having everything just exactly our way. You see how contrived, constrained, arbitrary and therefore basically funny so many of those preconceptions, ideas and ways of behaving we valued so highly and unquestioningly are, and even the dog just walking into the room is funny. The whole room can sit around sharing a laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of the dog. Then we grow older, and start making choices of our own that we may not like that much and that can last a lifetime, make moral compromises that at least some part of us knows aren't all that great, and lock ourselves into lifestyles that may not really suit us, and into ever-tighter habits and routines that we cling to as if we had a great stake in them despite their absurdity, as if they were saving us from drowning.

And then we realize that the dog is us ... AND IT'S NOT FUNNY. And that's when nobody smokes dope anymore.
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Old 08-23-2007, 08:16 AM   #48
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

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I'm With the Band. -- I don't know what it is about, it has a star on my list.
This is a autobiography by Pam Des Barres, who was a groupie in the 60's-70's and made infamous in the song "We're an American Band" ("..these fine ladies, they had a plan, they were out to meet the boys in the band") by Grand Funk RR. It isn't as titillating as I'd hoped but still a good read.

I'm reading "Don't Try This at Home" by Dave Navarro and Neil Strauss. It covers a year in the life of Dave Navarro (guitarist extraordinaire in Jane's Addiction), a year he is shooting coke and heroin almost non-stop. It's a sad and wild story, and he bags Carmen Electra at the end of the book FTW!
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Old 08-23-2007, 03:26 PM   #49
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

I just picked up IV by Klosterman. So far I've only read a couple of essays, but I'm not that impressed. It just seems like he's trying to hard to find meaning in issues/events that are meaningless. I'll finish it though.

I finished Little Green Men by Christopher Buckley a couple days ago and I loved it. Really witty and well-written.
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Old 08-23-2007, 05:21 PM   #50
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

Reading Nine Stories by Salinger right now and it's wonderful.

Also Koontz's Forever Odd (out of sequence). I'm finding it meh...good but not great.

I am not very well read at all. I am lazy and tend towards short stories- Hawthorne being my favorite. Steinbeck's The Winter Of Our Discontent was the last novel I read and thoroughly enjoyed.
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