Tattoos by the book

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I have often thought of getting a tattoo but never have because I couldn’t find something that I thought I would love for always. But after seeing some of these literary tattoos featured on Buzzfeed, I think maybe I’ve just been looking in the wrong place.

I still would be terrified of having a typo.

What words mean enough to you to permanently add them to your body?

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It’s not me, it’s you

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After completing a cull of my personal library several months ago, I had a laugh over the results of the reorganization as highly regarded literature sat beside beach-read romance (see my post and photo here).

As a result I’ve decided to start a new reading series called Why Haven’t I Read This Yet? and finally read all those books that I’ve meant to read but just never found the time (some of those books may or may not be from courses I’ve already completed, cough cough).

So welcome to my inaugural post in the series!

As this book inspired the series idea, I decided to start with One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.

In the small world of coincidences, Márquez passed away this April, at the age of 87, just as I finished reading his widely adored novel.

One Hundred Years of Solitude, first published in 1967 in Spanish, tells the story of seven generations of the Buendía family. This novel has been in my to-read pile for years as one of those novels I thought I should read in order to consider myself well read. I had started reading it a couple of times before but never finished it.

I felt a pressure to read (and enjoy) this book. I could never get a good rhythm when reading it, which I chalked up to bad timing and not a bad book. A lot of people list One Hundred Years of Solitude as their favourite book or an influential or important book in their lives (Bill Clinton, Oprah, Emma Thompson). It is credited as one of the reasons Márquez won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. And I can not think of higher praise than that from William Kennedy of the New York Times Book Review, who said One Hundred Years of Solitude should be “required reading for the entire human race.” With so much acclaim, I figured I just needed to make the time to really take in the voice of the novel and I, too, would be swept away.

Having finally finished it, I think I now know why I never made it through before: I don’t like magical realism, which is my polite way of saying, I didn’t like this book.

Magical realism is a genre of literature in which magical experiences occur in a natural or realistic setting. For example, in One Hundred Years, considered one of the seminal examples of the genre, the characters live impossibly long lives. Which doesn’t sound so bad, but it is one of a thousand tiny and large instances in which the everyday becomes imbued with the fantastic throughout the novel, which makes the pace of the story is as long as the lives of the protagonists – For. Ever.

Admittedly, I do not have any detailed understanding of the history of Latin America, which largely informs the novel’s plot. Perhaps if I did I would have anticipated more and felt the narrative pull more strongly.

The blips of interest for me came with the truly inexplicable moments, such as the blood of a Buendía winding its way through the town and the family home so that the matriarch, Úrsula, could discover his death. Or the ascension of Remedios the Beauty in to the sky instead of meeting a natural death.

One point I did appreciate relates to the massacre of thousands of striking workers that is covered up by the company that enacted the violence. Only José Arcadio Segundo, who witnesses the removal of the bodies and is subsequently driven mad by the knowledge of their deaths, believes the massacre occurred. The rest of the town accepts the official story of the strikers returning to their families but accuse José Arcadio Segundo of dreaming or misunderstanding the experience. In the midst of other fantastical events, the terrible truth is the one thing that is unbelievable for the characters, which makes the event all the more terrifying.

Despite my feelings about this novel, I will try another book from this genre just to see if I need to develop a reading palette for magical realism. But I will say this: while Márquez was writing One Hundred Years he had to sell his car and get food and rent on credit in order to finish it.

I don’t plan on selling items off while I write my novel, but the belief in his own work is something I envy. There is no room for self-doubt if you’re putting yourself in debt to get it done.

I could use some of that magic.

 

 

Deadline extensions are the best

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Last month I discovered that a publishing house was accepting unagented submissions in June and tasked myself with preparing my first 50 pages for consideration. I worked on getting that ready (more on that process in a moment) but, of course, I wasn’t content with what I accomplished as the deadline loomed. But I promised myself that I wouldn’t chicken out and I would send in my work for review.

So you can imagine my relief when I learned that the deadline for submission is actually the end of June not the beginning. Yay! Additional days to smooth the scene transitions and rewrite clunky dialogue.

I’ve been reading more historical fiction with the idea that reading great examples of the genre in which I am writing will force me to up my game. And it is, but it is also showing me how much work I have yet to do.

My biggest fears in writing historical fiction are that I will be historically inaccurate or shallow and that the writing will be immature. I am 35 years old and, while there is great writing for every age group, my aim is to write a book for adults, not YA, not New Adult, but for actual, can’t-deny-it adults. To me that means the story is more than just the experience of the characters, it is the experience of that time and place and expresses an idea larger than the situation, which is no small feat to accomplish. Most of the time I’m not even sure that I’m up for it.

But I won’t know until I get the bloody thing done.

So with that in mind, I printed out the first 50 pages of my book and read them straight through with a pink pen in hand (much more friendly looking than red). By the end of my read, I had removed four pages of text, the equivalent of around 1,300 words.

And it felt good. Really good.

I learned a lot about my writing in this editing pass, but here are the five key things I took away from experience:

  1. I go too fast. It was like my story was on fast forward. I couldn’t wait to get to the next scene, the next plot twist, the next conversation. I need to give my characters time to take things in and build up the world they live in.
  2. My characters touch each other way. too. much. And not even in a sexual way but just like they have no personal space. I mean, I’m a hugger, but even I was thinking, “back up a little.”
  3. Pick a genre. Ugh, sometimes my writing has too much feels. #melodramaticmuch?
  4. I have more research to do. I read Sarah Dunant’s The Birth of Venus and in the first three pages she presented a master class in historical fiction that really made me see how details can be implemented to help the plot along while grounding the book in its time period. Meanwhile, in my editing pass I actually wrote “kind of bullshit” beside a passage I crossed out
  5. I like my main character, Rosaline. I want to know what happens to her and I hope readers will too.

After I finished my slash and delete editing pass, I headed to the library to pick up a massive stack of books to help build up the work I have already done. The weeks remaining in June will be busy ones but I am glad to have them. There is so much more to come and that is exciting.

BJL

Summer book lovin’

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One way to watch your stats flatline is by not posting for a month.

I spent the month of May celebrating and reading: two birthdays, a wedding, four novels and one non-fiction. Nothing to complain about but I am glad to be back at the keyboard.

It is June, the weather is heating up and people are planning their holidays, all of which points to summer reading. (Summer is just over two weeks away here in Canada!)

Some readers use the summer to mentally relax and pick up so-called beach books, which are largely genre fiction like thrillers or romance, but others like to take all that free time to really dig in to a more difficult read since they have the time to focus.

I like to mix it up a bit, more of a location-based reader, so I thought I would suggest a few summer reads and share some books on my summer reading short list.

Beach Reads

The Bride by Julie Garwood (1989)

One of my all-time favourite romance novels. Set in 12th century Scotland, the story has familiar romance tropes: a feisty heroine is married against her will to a strong, gruff hero but through their banter they fall in love and, ultimately, overcome their challenges. Garwood keeps the plot moving so well and with touches of humour that you can’t help but enjoy what would otherwise be another typical romance novel.

The Red Fox by Anthony Hyde (1985)

Hyde’s debut novel (maybe I will cover it for re: read pages one day), it is the one spy thriller that I keep reading over and over. Set during the Cold War, it follows the search of protagonist Robert Thorne for his former fiancée’s missing father. In true Cold War fashion, what initially seems to be a simple story expands to a larger, more dangerous conspiracy. Spanning the globe from Canada to France to Russia, this story holds up despite some dated references and technological limitations.

Time to Think

The Sybil by Pär Lagerkvist (1956)

In this beautifully written story, a man cursed by Jesus to live until his second coming (known as the Wandering Jew according to medieval legend) meets with a disgraced priestess from Delphi and the two discuss the fallout of their experiences with the divine. This book always gives me shivers.

East of the Mountains by David Guterson (1999)

A man with terminal cancer takes a trip into the American West with the intention of killing himself at the end of his journey. The pace of this novel stayed with me a long time; it feels unrushed despite the limited time accorded to its main character, whatever way he may end up dying. A truly lovely read.

In Real Life

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss

I finished reading this one recently; it is a well-written, well-researched exploration of the processed food industry. I am still talking about it weeks later and it changed the way I viewed the grocery store and nutrition labels.

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan (2013)

This book aims to put the life of Jesus in historical context, to see what we can know by looking at the facts surrounding his life and the writing of the biblical books that describe his life and teachings. Though not without its faults, Aslan presents an interesting and respectful account of the life of Jesus.

As for me, I have a pile of books to get through, but I’m looking forward to spending sometime with these titles:

Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant

I recently discovered that I love Dunant’s writing (I enjoyed three of her novels years apart before I realized that they were all by the same author – check back later this month when I post my thoughts on The Birth of Venus) and am prepared to binge read the rest of her catalogue over the summer starting with this one.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Part of my new Why Haven’t I Read This Yet series (the inaugural post, discussing One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, is coming this Monday!), I am reading this book because it has sat on my shelf for too long and the cute board book for my one year old has sparked my interest.

Jennifer, Gwyneth, and Me: The Pursuit of Happiness, One Celebrity at a Time by Rachel Bertsche.

In a continued attempt to not take non-fiction so seriously that I can’t enjoy it I decided to put this book on hold at the library. Despite the lighthearted topic, I think Bertsche will have some interesting observations about the influence of celebrity lifestyle on expectations for our own lives. As someone who just hosted two children’s birthday parties, I can tell you GOOP would have been disappointed in my execution.

What are your reading plans for the summer?

BJL