Thursday, July 28, 2011

Now This is Promising

After dwelling on books I feel compelled to put down in the last few posts, I thought I'd switch to the other side.

I started reading People of The Book by Geraldine Brooks this morning and I like everything about it so far: the voice, the characters, the tone, the pace, the subject matter, the book cover. Look. Isn't this gorgeous?

Anyone reading a book they're enjoying very much right now?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Beloved Character With No Soul, Paddington Bears,and Geek Love, or What Happens When You Throw A Question Out On Your Blog

My follow-up post yesterday to this one brought about some interesting outcomes. First, Domey Malasarn has been dared to write about a character he loves, one that is without a soul.

Second, F. Scott Bailey shares his antidote to reading books that are too grim.

And those are just the outward consequences. In responding to
the insightful comments, I have been thinking and re-thinking about how I feel about difficult books. Reading The Solitude of Prime Numbers allowed me to discover a few things and now I am toying with the idea of doing another experiment.

But first, a bit of backstory.

Sometime last year, Jim McCarthy offered to give book suggestions to readers who told him the last three books they enjoyed. The book he recommended to me was Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. After reading about it, I decided to wait and chose to read some suggestions he offered other readers. I found Purple Hibiscus and This Is Where I Leave You this way.

One of the reason I shied away from Geek Love is its subject matter. From what I've read about it, the book is populated with people who do things that are difficult to understand. One character willingly ingested unsafe chemicals while pregnant in hopes of producing children who will be deformed. Just this bit of information alone gives me chills.

Yet I'd heard good things about Geek Love from different sources. And since I am exploring why I don't want to continue books that are bleak and depressing in which people do nasty things to others for unfathomable reasons, this book seems like a prime candidate to test that premise.

But I am not sure if I really want to.

Have any of you read it? Or if not, what do you think you would do if you were me?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Hope, promise, and tenderness

Thank you, to those of you who commented on my last post. You've brought up a number of ideas that are new to me. Best reason for maintaining a blog, I say, not marketing or platform, but I digress.

To recap, this was the question I asked:

Why are some books difficult to read on?

I am excluding obvious reasons such as poor writing or dull story.

I kept this question front and center as I read The Solitude of Prime Numbers, which I finished over the weekend. I had wanted to put it down after the initial chapters but decided to use this reading experience as an experiment to see if I can figure out possible reasons for why I feel compelled to put down books.

And I did come away with a few observations.

I mentioned in the earlier post that I find it hard to stomach reading about young people suffering, yet that alone doesn't stop me. Room is about a very young, innocent, and vulnerable child, yet I was able to read it to the end.

The difference is this: hope. This young boy and his mother speak of their environment not as their destiny but keep hope alive in their minds about how life can be. In Solitude of Prime Numbers, the young people who are affected and those around them are portrayed as having surrendered to their lot. There is no hint that there may be changes in the future. Their days, their interactions, their outlook: they're all shrouded in despair.

In Okay For Now, Doug doesn't come across as someone who is hopeful for change either. In fact, he seems to be following in exactly the type of behavior--channeling his nasty brother, Lucas-- that will seal his fate in its current manifestation. Yet, Gary Schmidt managed to infuse an uncertainty in Doug's behavior when he acts in -self-destructive ways. We feel that underneath the bravado, he is still holding out hope for a different, a better outcome that he seems destined for.

Hope, that's a big difference in why I will or will not read on.

The second reason I discovered is this: how characters treat one another makes a huge different to me. When people treat another with nastiness and contempt continuously, it gives me a bad taste in my mouth. In Prime Numbers, the moment when I didn't have to push myself to finish the book was when the characters started feeling empathy and treating others with tenderness. In Okay For Now, even when Doug was being mean outwardly, a few key people treated him with respect and understanding. In Room, mom and son loved each other fiercely.

I'm not sure why this issue have such a strong impact on me, People treating one another badly isn't uncommon.Again, I believe it's the sentiment underlying the behavior that affects me. I need a smidgen of suggestion that these people have some respect or understanding or acceptance of the people they mistreat to not make me despair. People being nasty to people just because: it's not something I can handle a lot of.

So hope and understanding between people: these are the ingredients necessary for me to read about people going through horrible circumstances.

Any of these resonate with you?

Friday, July 22, 2011

It's difficult to keep reading

At the DGLM blog, Jim McCarthy asked if anyone has thrown a book after reading it. The post elicited quite a number of responses. Not surprising, since most of the readers of that blog are likely people passionate about books.

Thinking about readers being frustrated enough to want to throw a book makes me wonder about the reasons. I usually stop reading when I find the stories boring or the writing intentionally coy or pretentious, incoherent, or otherwise not engaging. But the most recent book I wanted to stop reading was extremely well-written by an author whose work I enjoy very much.

When I started Gary Schmidt's Okay For Now, I almost couldn't finish it. Not because I disliked the writing or the story but because what was happening to the protagonist was difficult to read about.

[minor spoiler alert}

This kid, Doug, has a father who's uncaring and cruel. His older brothers take after his father, and his mother stands aside, helpless. As an adult, a parent, and a teacher, I was deeply affected by the ordeals of this young man. But knowing that most juvenile fiction is essentially hopeful and contains ideas of redemption and change, I read on. And by the end, the fate of the protagonist isn't as bleak as the beginning suggests. The solutions are satisfying, though some of it rather rosy, but I was glad it ended the way it did.

I just started another book that I am tempted to stop. I decided to read Paolo Giordano's The Solitude of Prime Numbers because of the title. (Don't tell me you don't pick
up books for quirky reasons! Why people read what they read: an interesting topic to explore and one for a future blog post.)

I have only read 5 or 6 chapters of this book and I am again so disturbed by what's happening to the protagonists, both young people, that I don't feel like reading on. The ugliness within human nature
that the events in this book touches on is disturbing. I am not disgusted so much as overwhelmed by the darkness that is possible in this world.

Maybe I'm a light weight when it comes to confronting the dark and the horrid. Maybe there's enough sadness in the real world that I don't have the energy to take much more in the fictional world. Maybe I don't have the gumption to read about young people affected by depravity.

But why is it that I have no trouble reading other books in which people face evil? Katniss's fate in Hunger Games is worse than bleak. Several people attempt suicide in A Long Way Down. The narrator in The Lovely Bones is dead. I had no trouble reading any of it.

So I don't know. Your thoughts?

Do you have books you can't read? I know people who won't read books in which children are tortured. Many have a limit for the degree of violence or gore. What are the books that are difficult for you to read?

Edited to add: I just remember another book, Room, in which the small child has to face an unimaginable life. I liked the book and had no trouble reading, even though I was immersed in his world and felt the horror of his life but didn't stop reading. So what is it?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The obvious next step

A thought has been niggling at me for a very long time with regards to my middle grade novel. And I am finally surrendering to its rightness.

You see, the book takes place in Malaysia. But as I have been primarily targeting American audiences, I've written it using American English instead of the way English would be spoken in Malaysia. I've also made sure that I explained, subtly, of course, cultural etiquettes and norms.

But for a while now, I've been thinking that I need to write a version of it that targets Asian audience. Several things have happened recently, including being shortlisted for the Scholastic Asian Book Award and talking to some authors I met at the Asian Festival of Chilldren's Content, that have convinced me that it is an excellent idea.

Except now I am pushing through my YA novel, trying to get a first draft finished before too long and the mere thought of going back to a work I had revised about 1700 times just makes me reach for the closest bar of chocolate.

But I know it has to be done. I just need to prioritize and be more organized about my time. My forte. Right.

*Heads to pantry to secret stash of chocolate*

Monday, July 11, 2011

Or maybe a lox party

I though
t the pox party mentioned in M. T. Anderson's The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing book was scary. But that was before I heard about botox parties.

Next spring, you should come to my backyard and look at the flox. They're quite pretty.

[That's right, Yat Yee. Stay silent for weeks, then come back with a fluff post.]

I promise that
substantive posts will be forthcoming, right after I get out of the enchanting and at times overwhelming forest filled with intriguing plants, blinding colors, and promising paths that is my life right now.

The YA novel is being revamped, the kids are at home, things are still being unpacked from three back-to-back trips, and thoughts provoked by recent TKD events are swirling around, attempting to become coherent.

But then it's summer. What did I expect, really?