Novellas in November (Event Intro)

I’m here today to announce a blogger/vlogger event for November called Novellas in November, a humble celebration of the underappreciated short novel.

The challenge is pretty much what it sounds like: an entire month dedicated to reading novellas. In the kickoff video below, I talk a bit about the event itself and then I go over about a dozen books that I’m planning to read during the month.

If you’ve got a few novellas on your shelves that you’d like to tackle, please join us! Plus, it’s a great way to work towards your Goodreads goal.

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

Last week, I started an ambitious new project where I’m reading the Top 125 Books of All-Time.

The list is my attempt to read through a “consensus” Top X Books list, considering how different each of these lists seem to be. So what I did was take six of the most popular ones and consolidated them to see which books these lists had in common.

The lists I used were:

  • The Guardian
  • The Observer
  • The Telegraph
  • Le Monde
  • Modern Library
  • Time Magazine

I learned that 125 books appear on more than one list in this set. So I compiled them here and plan to read them over the next … however many years. I don’t like reading timeframes, so that’s the best you’re going to get.

The first of these Top 125 Reads was An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Continue reading “An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro”

Classics Club Spin #18

You probably know the drill at this point. But for those of you who may not…

What is the Classics Spin? Essentially, folks in the Classics Club choose 20 books from their classics club reading list and post them by the due date (in this case, Aug 1).

Another name for the due date is “spin day,” when a random number between 1-20 is revealed. You’re then required to read the book on your 20-book list (mine is posted below) that corresponds with this number.

You can choose your books randomly, divide them by categories, or whatever. Part of the challenge, though, is to choose at least a few that you know you’re dreading, just in case this is the opportunity to nudge you toward it.

Here’s my list…

Continue reading “Classics Club Spin #18”

Book vs Book: Ready Player One and A Hundred Thousand Worlds

In 2012 I wrote what would become my most popular book review on Goodreads: a skewering of Ernest Cline’s (somehow) beloved heap of geek porn, Ready Player One. Despite a six-year cool down period, it remains the most disappointing reading experience of my life. I still hate it with every fiber of my being, and I’ve yet to understand how someone can pay for this book, read all 370+ pages, and then feel anything but embarrassed and sad.

If the point is to re-enact sections of D&D modules and 80s cult classics, then your readers are just getting third-hand retreads of things that aren’t even important to begin with. It’s sort of like when your socially-awkward friend resolutely recounts a super-sweet TV show for you, word for word, and all you can do is just sit there and wait until he’s finished. Pay $20 for that experience and you get Ready Player One.

And what’s worst—no, I haven’t even gotten to the worst part yet—is how the entire thing reeks of elitism. Yes, you read that correctly. This is a book about an overweight, unattractive, lazy, delusional, uber-geek elitist, who believes—truly believes—that his knowledge of 80s trivia makes him superior. And Cline basically affirms this! Some guys buy cars, others put socks down their pants, Cline writes 80s trivia novels.

– from my Goodreads review of Ready Player One

That review is probably the most tactless piece of writing I’ve ever produced. It was pure, unadulterated venom. It felt like Cline had injected me with a poison, and the only way to save myself was to regurgitate it back onto the page. It became something of a passion project for me, saving others from similar afflictions.

But at the same time I was conflicted: was there any virtue in a purely negative review?

Continue reading “Book vs Book: Ready Player One and A Hundred Thousand Worlds”

Every Blade of Grass by Thomas Wharton

everybladeA couple of years ago I took Aaron Sorkin’s online masterclass on screenwriting. I’m not a screenwriter, I’m just a huge fan of his and a firm believer that, by and large, writing is writing, regardless of the medium. The course mostly focused on things like storytelling, dialogue, and character development, but the most impactful lesson, for me, was about how to approach story structure.

Sorkin asks his students to visualize their story as a clothesline. At either end of that clothesline is an intention and an obstacle.

For any story to work, there needs to be a character that wants something (the intention) and there has to be something that gets in the way (the obstacle). If both of these are interesting enough, then the clothesline is pulled taut. At this point, the writer can hang as many things from it as they want: conversations, side stories, plot twists, intellectual tangents, you name it. But if the intention and the obstacle aren’t interesting enough, if they don’t keep the viewer  wanting more, then the clothesline has too much slack, and those aforementioned things–conversations, side stories, what have you–start to weigh the clothesline (i.e. the story) down.

In other words, if the driving action of a story is compelling, the writer is freed up to add in as many colorful touches as he or she wants without losing the viewer’s interest. That’s when you have them.

“I worship at the altar of intention and obstacle,” Sorkin says.

If Every Blade of Grass is any indication, so does Thomas Wharton.

Continue reading “Every Blade of Grass by Thomas Wharton”