Tag Archives: Books

The Two Book Rule

My friend is much wiser than me. He, you see, brings at least two books with him every place he goes.

I sometimes bring a book, or my kindle, but sometimes I forget and I’ll just leave the house with myself, my keys, my wallet, and my cellphone.

Sometimes I get really, really bored.

He, on the other hand, always has two books with him to read, so he’s generally always got something to do if conversation slows down or if there’s a wait somewhere or something of the like.

The other day I asked him, out of curiosity, “friend, why do you always have two books with you? Why not just bring one?”

He gave the simplest, most elegant answer I could imagine, “Well, what would I do if I finished the first book and didn’t have the second book? Not read?”

So now, personally, I’m implementing a new rule that I’d like to share. I call it the two book rule. The rule is as follows:

Bringing Readers Inside the Bedroom

Writing about sex is hard (no pun intended). While there are plenty of writers who have found their niche writing romance novels filled to the brim with sensual scenes, the majority of us do anything to avoid a sex scene. As my book editing professor has mentioned on more than one occasion, readers don’t need to be taken into the bedroom. In other words, describe your lovers ripping each other’s clothes off and passionately kissing, but let the reader’s imaginations fill in the rest.

But what if you don’t want to stop at the bedroom door? How do you write about sex without causing your reader to roll their eyes, skip ahead, or feel completely awkward (mostly for you). For one, understand that metaphors and sex work–up until a certain point, at which you lose readers. In Slate.com’s recent article “The Worst Sex Writing of the Year Features Statisticians, Superheroes, and Brie Cheese,” Amanda Hess gives readers one example of what she deems a “delusional” metaphor from Manil Suri’s The City of Devi:

We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice.

I have absolutely no idea what’s going on here, but Hess’ astute observation, “Congratulations–you fucked,” pretty much sums it up. When metaphors are too complex, they seem unrealistic. For most of us, sex doesn’t equate to feeling like a superhero diving through atomic nuclei and causing statisticians to rejoice. Hess also offers other examples of “bad” sex writing.

Three Tips to Beat Writer’s Block

It happens to us all – we’re in the middle of a piece of work and it is just inspired. Everything flows. The words fit perfectly. The idea is seamless and flows like the Nile forming an oasis in a desert of blank pages.

And then the phone rights. Or you get an email alert that snaps you out of the zone. Maybe someone knocks on the door. Whatever happens and then the zone is gone.

Writing all of a sudden becomes like pulling teeth – painful and extraordinarily uninspired. Things on the page that were once beautiful now turn to pure dung and nothing you do seems to redeem the words on the page or match the perfection of what came before.

Pictured: What it feels like to write after you’ve lost the flow.

I do advocate having a set time to write and minimizing interruptions during these writing periods, but that doesn’t mean that an inspired state of mind doesn’t help with the workflow, and when that streak is gone, it can seem impossible to begin to write again.

These three tips help me get back into the flow of writing once I’ve lost it, and hopefully they’ll help you too.

Literary Paraphernalia: 10 DIY Projects for Book Lovers

I’m a poor college student. Actually, all of the writers of this blog are college students and fairly broke. While we write these posts about literary paraphernalia and how much we’d love to own some of these great book-related items, we really can’t afford to.

It makes me sad.

That’s why I decided to hijack this column for the week and do a list of DIY projects that range from easy to difficult and aren’t terribly expensive.

We’ll start with the easy DIY projects first. These will require little to no extra crafting gear outside of say, glue, a pen, and maybe some scissors.

DIY Paint Chip Bookmarks

(Credit: BellaCarta.Typepad.Com)

This bookmark is simple, cheap, and versatile. While doodling flowers is one method of decorating this bookmark, another (which I would probably do) would be to write your favorite book quote on draw various literary characters into the different colored boxes.

 

DIY Mini Notebooks

(Image Source: KaleyAnn.Com)
(Credit: KaleyAnn.Com)

These cute little notebooks are a snap to make and great for writers to use! You can also grab some Sharpies and decorate the covers. These would also make cute gifts.

Alan Rickman Reads

When I read, I don’t hear my own voice in my head. Generally, I’ll hear someone with a British accent. Why? Because I like the way it sounds.

And, after watching some of my favorite movies like Sense and Sensibility or, you know, any Harry Potter film, I get Alan Rickman’s voice stuck in my head. For about a week on out, his voice echoes in my head as the voice of every play, poem, and novel I read.

And now I’m going to get Alan Rickman’s voice stuck in your head too. Youtube – beautiful, wonderful Youtube, has entire playlists of Alan Rickman just reading stuff, like poems and excerpts from novels and plays. My favorite reading, because the only thing I love more than Alan Rickman’s voice is Shakespeare’s works, is Alan Rickman’s reading of Sonnet 130.

2015: A Moviegoers Guide to Book-Based Movies in May and June

Rejoice movie and book lovers! May and June are filled with great books-turned movies for you to read then watch, or watch then read.


On May 1st, Far From the Madding Crowd

Bathsheba Everdene has three men fall in love with her within this novel by Tomas Hardy – a devoted shepherd, an obsessed farmer, and a dashing solider. Who does this strong minded heroine choose? You’ll have to read the book or watch the movie to find out.


On May 15th, Every Secret Thing

Birthday parties are supposed to be fun, but Alice Manning and Ronnie Fuller find an abandoned baby after being kicked out of the birthday party. What follows leaves three families devastated. Alice and Ronnie, seven years later, try to continue on with their lives but can’t leave the past behind them, especially when another child goes missing. Laura Lippman’s novel explores innocence, guilt, love, redemption, and murder in this tale of mystery and suspense.

Throwback Thursday: YA Novels: What’s the Point?

Last Friday, a few students and professors from my graduate program got together at a local bar on campus and began drunkenly discussing trips taken over the summer, upcoming classes, and books over a glass of beer.

“Technically that’s mead,” a classmate corrected me.

“Even better,” I told her. “I feel like a hobbit.”

My mention of the hobbit, of course, began a rousing talk about Young Adult literature–pieces like Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Rowling’s Harry Potter.

“I took a YA class last quarter,” a MFA student named Hannah tells us. “After we read Harry Potter, another student tells the teacher, I don’t get what the point is.

Which gained a lot of outrage, a lot of “And this from our children’s future teachers?!” and “What’s the point?!”. In the midst of our mutual outrage, I never heard one person say what the point of books like Harry Potter actually was, however. The answer to that question depends on who you ask.

Roald Dahl once said:

“The prime function of the children’s book writer is to write a book that is so absorbing, exciting, funny, fast and beautiful that the child will fall in love with it. And that first love affair between the young child and the young book will lead hopefully to other loves for other books and when that happens the battle is probably won. The child will have found a crock of gold. He will also have gained something that will help to carry him most marvelously through the tangles of his later years.”

R.L. Stine’s view is a bit more simple:

“Many adults feel that every children’s book has to teach them something. My theory is a children’s book can be just for fun.”

I think both authors are correct. On the most basic level, the point of Young Adult books is that they get children reading. Yet personally, I think the greatest point of a YA novel is that they generally tackle large issues, like war, racism, death, or even rape, in a way that is accessible to young readers. The Hunger Games, for instance, causes its readers to think about war, poverty, death, and power, and according to author Suzanne Collins, this is important:

Stories: A Love Affair

I fell in love with stories at a very young age. I wasn’t raised by people – I was raised by books and television. When I was in grade school I’d come home to an empty house. I would get a snack and turn on the T.V., stashing my backpack full of homework in my room for later in the evening.

What I ended up watching never really mattered – I loved the structure and the telling of the story. I loved how everything would be neatly wrapped up in a half hour, or, if it was an after school special, it would take a full hour. I loved it when little clues and hints were dropped in the beginning of an episode that would bloom later and become completely relevant to the story, and sometimes be the thing that gets the main character out of whatever trouble the episode had in store for them.

I always had a library book, from my grade school’s library, in my backpack. By the fourth grade, I had finished every book in its walls, with the exception of the Babysitter’s Club books because, well, I couldn’t relate to the upper-class white affluent girly protagonists. Instead, I read and reread the Choose Your Own Adventure series and, admittedly, made sure I got to read every plot line and ending before turning the books back in.

And then I started writing too.

Literary Paraphernalia: Necklaces That Look Like Books

When I chose the theme of this week’s literary paraphernalia—necklaces that look like books—I was reminded of those memes of the host of Pimp My Ride. Book lovers showing their love of books with a necklace that looks like books. Books on books on books.

But in all seriousness, Etsy is a place for vintage finds and some beautiful, handcrafted pieces from shop owners with a very eclectic range of tastes—and we’re just lucky books are one of them.

1940s Gold Locket Book with Engraved Flowers

Jane Austen Book Charm Necklace

Mini Brown Leather Book Necklace with Rose

Silver Flower Book Necklace with Turquoise

Book Necklace with Vintage Book Pages

Polka Dot Book Locket

Dan Hogan: Why I Hate Biopics and Love Raccoons…or Musings on the Oscar-Nominated Literary Adaptations of 2015

Dan Hogan teaches English at Fullerton College, UCI, and Norco College. I’ve known Dan for years, and one thing I look forward to every year is Dan’s Oscar predictions. This year, I’ve asked him to share his opinion on book-based movie adaptations that have been nominated in this year’s Oscars and he was more than happy to oblige.


The Online Free Dictionary defines “biopic” as a “biographical film, often with fictionalized scenes.” And therein lies my issue with such films: the word often. If I were writing the definition, I might opt for the word always. And that’s, more or less, why I hate biopics. In my graduate thesis, I examined how the concept of Collective Memory influences our understanding of phenomena around us. And in my freshman composition classes, I give a lecture on selective representation, specifically as it pertains to art. Simply put, the difficulty with biopics is that regardless of how hard a movie tries to give an honest, unbiased take on a subject—particularly a historical one—there is always some fictitious coloring and choices of representation. Even when movies do a really darn good job at being as vérité as possible, like Paul Greengrass’s United 93, it’s literally unavoidable that what’s on the screen will differ substantially from the “thing that happened,” to borrow the phraseology of one of my lit professors.

So what does this all have to do with the Oscars? It’s simple: most of the literary adaptations this year, particularly the ones nominated for Best Picture, are forms of selective representation. Not only that, they are based on biographies and autobiographies—so they are twice removed from the “thing that happened.”

Why does this upset me? It’s not that I can’t enjoy a movie on its own merits without fussing over the history—I can (which is why The Social Network was so enjoyable to me). It’s that it depresses me that most people look at the “movie version” of history, and it therefore enters the collective consciousness of the masses. When people will remember Chris Kyle, they will remember him going head-to-head against a Syrian Olympian rival sniper, even though that never really happened. When people will remember Alan Turing, they will remember Benedict Cumberbatch whispering to his giant machine, called “Christopher” after his childhood friend (which it wasn’t).

So when musing on the literary adaptations, I will not be judging them as works of history, but rather works of literature – fiction, if you will – because to a certain extent, that’s exactly what they are.

So let’s get started?

Gone Girl

The first literary adaptation I will mention is the one for which I have actually read the book. David Fincher and Gillian Flynn did something that I thought was impossible – they made a great movie out of a great book with the full cooperation of the original author. When I heard stories of E.L. James fighting for creative control of the abominable 50 Shades of Grey, I laughed hysterically at the darlings she was trying to save. Movies and films are very different media, and it’s hard to make a decent adaptation of a book. But Flynn did it better than I thought was possible. She killed her darlings, and she did it remarkably well. When I heard her interviewed, she said something to the effect that she stripped the entire novel down to its bare essentials and then started to add things back in – often at the behest of David Fincher. Gone Girl, with its unorthodox structure and convoluted plot, could have been utterly un-filmable. That same problem nearly sunk Fincher’s earlier Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which clung to the anvil that was the source material. The cuts Flynn made to her own masterpiece were smart, smooth, and efficient. Only a handful were ones that I—a lover of the book—even noticed, much less missed. While the phenomenal Rosamund Pike stands as the sole representation of this film on Oscar night, I feel that Flynn’s snub in Best Adapted Screenplay is one of the biggest of the whole ceremony.

The Imitation Game

This movie falls into most of the traps that typical Hollywood biopics do, and that’s the fact that I could tell that the movie was Hollywoodized—big time. While this film won the prize for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Writer’s Guild, I was baffled because I felt the writing was forced, contrived, and way too visible. What do I mean by this? While the subject matter of this film is fascinating – a brilliant outcast cracks an uncrackable Nazi code and wins the war for a country who would later betray him over his homosexuality. But I could tell when the writing was intentionally trying to make me feel things and squeezing history into its most pithy, quotable form. For instance, the aforementioned “Christopher,” the hulking machine that Turing creates is, in the film, named after his childhood friend and crush. Sure, that makes a thematic through line, tying Turing’s alienation to his work and also to his eventual fate, but I could tell it was a thematic through line, trying to tie a complicated story into a neat little bow. That example on top of oft-repeated lines, howling coincidences, and scenes seemingly written more for Sherlock than for Turing, annoyed me. In a way, the movie was too well-written, meaning I could see the strings, and it took me out of the film. I wasn’t convinced that half of the movie really happened, and when I did my research, I was annoyed that it hadn’t. I wish the movie had felt more real. Here’s hoping a fiction like Whiplash takes Best-Adapted-Screenplay over this Hollywood schlock.

American Sniper

Oh boy. I have found that the reaction to this film has more to do with the person reacting to it than to the movie itself. It’s like a political and cinematic Rorschach test – the right loves it, the left hates it, and much of the middle gets lost in the social media firefight that has raged since the movie hit screens. For that reason, I don’t wish to comment on the morality of the Iraq war or the personal character of Chris Kyle. Rather, I’d like to look at the movie itself. While Sniper suffers from biopic syndrome as well, as I mentioned earlier, manufacturing a villain out of a glorified footnote in Kyle’s memoir, it made for some compelling cinema (even though I could see the strings there too). What I appreciated about the film, however, was its characterization of Kyle. The film paints Kyle as a man who absolutely—100%–so-help-him-God—believed in what he was doing. Perhaps that’s why it opens itself up to so much controversy. For instance, some changes from the book to film, from what I have read, include adding more anti-war sentiment than the memoir had. For instance, loading up for a tour, Kyle meets his brother, who seems very disillusioned with the idea of war. In the scene, Kyle comes off as naïve for seeing the issue as black-and-white as he does (a simple “the enemy is trying to kill Americans, so I will kill them first” approach). Apparently that was a movie-only addition, and I think the film as a whole adds way more grey areas to the situation once the viewers can set aside their preconceived political beliefs.

Still Alice