Friday, August 29, 2014
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
I had such a strange relationship with this book. If you've read much of what I write or tweet or facebook share about writing, you know that my favorite writing book is Stephen King's On Writing, mostly because I found it to be so no-nonsense, practical and not touchy-feely in its approach to the craft.
I'd had many people recommend Lamott's book, and although something gave me the nagging feeling that it was going to be more the touchy-feely kind, I decided to finally give it a shot. The title, in fact, comes from advice Lamott's father gave her brother when the boy procrastinated on an essay about birds and the dad advised him to just start writing and take it "bird by bird." Pretty practical stuff: I like that.
Yet the author does go on and on sometimes about things like lunch menus. I get what she's doing here: write about something, anything, and in there you meet a character or see a scene and a story gets going, maybe one you were not expecting. It's not a bad idea; it's probably a great one. It's just not my thing.
And yet there are moments in this book when a line takes me so unawares and transports me right off the page and back into my own thoughts, reflecting a creative process with such startling clarity that I think, "There! That's it!" and I'm honestly not sure that I ever would have been able to phrase it quite so well on my own. For that reason, I have to recommend Bird by Bird even though it's not my ideal book on writing. It somehow comes eerily close.
The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice
Ah, the incomparable Anne. I write gothic fiction, and I'm currently finishing that series I'm writing about a living house. So when Rice began her story with the description of an old, rich, architecturally wondrous home full of historical treasure and human mystery and sets up her main character to fall in love as much with the house as with the woman living inside it...well, what can I say? I was hooked.
I've written before that the house is often a/the central character in a gothic novel, and Wolves is very much a traditionally gothic tale in this sense. I loved that about it, too. Houses from Rice's novels have stayed with me for years and years: the Mayfair house and the Talamasca haven are the first to come to mind. But this one is special, and I hope there are many books in this series because I want to get to know this house, just as our hero does. I hope some day I write a gothic mansion this well.
Under the Dome by Stephen King
I'm not sure why my copy of this book is actually two books, but I'm picturing the books I picked up at Walmart. There seems to be a one-volume edition of the same story available in paperback, so I'm linking to that above. Maybe the story was just too long for a mass-market paperback form, so it was two of them.
I read these books because we are watching the TV show. The show is good, but I wondered where they were going with the characters, particularly the Rennies. But then I read that King decided the book and the show would tell slightly different stories, and I suspect that the father and son pair at the heart of the evil destroying the town in the novel will not necessarily play the same role on the screen. At any rate, the nature of evil is given more complexity in the screenplay.
The novels weave a complex story and the characters are so well drawn that I almost find them more recognizable than their small-screen counterparts. There are some differences in age and background that I prefer in the novel. But the characters, as much as I love them, are pretty much either good or bad. Maybe there's something true to life there, but the truth is they are a bit one-dimensional. But for what the story does, for what its purpose seems to be, the characters work.
If you're frustrated by the differences between the book(s) and the series, I recommend being patient. We like our TV characters complex; it's true. Any popular show right now has the baddies doing good things and the white-hats getting their hands dirty. I'm not passing judgement, I'm just pointing out that that seems to be the trend. I'm guessing that by the time the series wraps, a great story will have been told, just not the same one I read in these books.
Happy reading, happy writing: they'll both make you happier while living!