Saturday, September 29, 2012

Lessons from JK Rowling

I have always lived by the philosophy "Learn from what you love." JK Rowling's writing, therefore, encapsulates writing lessons that I desperately need to unveil. I love what she does and, for this, she is one of my distant teachers.

This past Spring I took the "Harry Potter for Writers" online workshop. It was an amazing experience, but I realized that, in one sense I was ill-equipped to fully grasp all the wonder held within the writing JK Rowling offered. You see, when asked what I gleaned from my own reading of Harry Potter as a writer I was always left perplexed. Before the course I had never read the books in that way. I allowed JKR to take me on a fantastic adventure and just hung on for the ride. When I look back on the text it is very difficult for me to separate the technique of JKR's presentation from my fanatical reception. It is not impossible, simply difficult.

However, I am well aware that there is much to be learned from the output of the authors I respect, so I do not want to miss any learning opportunities when they avail themselves. Which brings me to The Casual Vacancy.

I rushed to purchase my copy on day one. I set aside my day to be spent in Barnes and Noble reading until my husband came home. I knew that September 27, 2012 was going to be all about JKR's new book. I almost missed my lesson. Just as I picked my seat in the Barnes and Noble Cafe next to the window, looked down at the cover of my newly purchased book and was about to open to page one a thought occurred to me, I can't wait to see how she sweeps me away this time!


That was the key word. Anyone looking at me sitting there could have seen that I was struck by something: I couldn't hide my reaction. This is my chance! I thought, This time I can really look at HOW she does it, WHAT she does and I can see what I'M MISSING!

So began an incredibly slow read. It is now Sunday, four full days since I purchased the book, and I have only just passed page 150. This is because I am not only being taken away to another of JKR's worlds, but because I am also in JKR's course on writing well.

I've been stopping to take notes, to reflect upon WHY certain passages move me, why certain sentences are so clearly expressive and I've been thinking about what I haven't been doing in my own writing. I have already gleaned a number of basic lessons from JK, that I imagine one can gather from any author they admire, and I thought it might be nice to share the with my readers.

In short, what I have found is that JKR tells A story, she doesn't just tell THE story. This is really the "big lesson" I have gleaned from the experience so far. All the notes I have taken while reading contain all of the techniques required to make that simple distinction.

This lesson is so much clearer in The Casual Vacancy than in the Harry Potter books because, in this novel JKR is writing about ordinary people in an ordinary world. There is no magic or fantasy to spice things up - JKR is telling us about a town that is dealing with some drama, that's all. A man died which opened up an opportunity to shift the political climate in the town (I haven't finished yet, so I don't know how intense it becomes or what the conclusion is), that's THE story, but to tell A story about it, JKR puts on her storyteller hat and immerses us in the environment, the community, the emotions and the feel of the facts.

I plan to write more about this, but for now I just wanted to touch base with everyone, show that my fingers still beat on the keys as my heart beats in my chest, but I'm "in class" right now, so I hope to have lots to share with you soon!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

10 Books That Made Me Think

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. There's a new book-related top ten list every single week and it is a great way to get to know other book-loving bloggers! Everyone is welcome to join in the weekly linky party, even if you can't think of TEN for a certain Tuesday (just think of as many as you can!), just make sure you link back to The Broke and the Bookish if you do!

This week's topic is:
In between my flights of fancy into fictional realms I often seek out non-fiction books with the intent to make me think deeply, so there are many books which yield this result. However, this does not mean that only nonfiction reads have such an effect. All books make me think! This list is limited to the first ten that popped into my head - either fiction or non - perhaps if I wrote this list on another day I would have a completely different list.

1. Hiroshima by John Hershy I challenge anyone to read this book and not be left in a place of deep thought and reflection upon their place in the world and what humanity is capable of. It is a short book and quick read, but it's impact is as great as the horrible weapon it charges us with remembering.

2. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer Long before I was writing here on Rivera Runs Through It, I had a blog called Searching for Sustenance which focused all on the food movement and making the right food choices for a healthy body, environment and society. Reading this book led to many blog posts and reflection upon whether or not I should eat meat at all. It inspired me to take on the challenge of Meatless Mondays among other longer lasting changes in my home. Here's a post I wrote right after finishing the book, just to give you an idea of the things it got me thinking about: Maybe Mom Was Right.

3. Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin If you are unfamiliar with the amazing Temple Grandin, then I highly recommend you take some time to learn about this fantastic role model. Her understanding of animals and how to provide them with stress-free living is just a piece of that which makes people sit up and notice her. The other notable fact is that Temple, in all of her brilliance, is a very successful woman on the autism spectrum. She is fascinating. This book is fascinating. If you are animal lover, this is must-read. If you know anyone on the autism spectrum, then you need to learn about Temple Grandin.

4. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser I blame this book for my obsession with the food industry. Many people have watched the movie that is associated with this book, which shares the same message, but I felt the true impact when I read this book first. The book caused me to question everything in our global society and what kind of impact my country is actually having on the world around us.

5. Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer and After the Bomb by Gloria D. Miklowitz Each of these books caused me to question my own ability to survive after a lifestyle of convenience is somehow ripped from my grasp. I read After the Bomb when I was probably around ten years old and the Cold War was still going strong. The book was the first ever that made me think about how I got my food, water and all the basic things I needed to live my day to day life. Throughout my life I have have always thought it was one of the most important reads of my life as it led me to not take these things for granted in a way nothing else ever did. When I found the Life As We Knew It series more recently, I was happy to see that there was a more current book delivering this same kind of message to kids today. Rather than having the basics ripped away as a result of war, Pfeffer's series brings to light a threat that is more relevant in these days: natural disaster.

6. Magician's Nephew and The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis I enjoyed the entire Narnia series and could not ignore the religious messages embedded throughout, but the first and last books in the series made me think the most. In book one Lewis presents the creation of the universe and in the last we see his interpretation of the Rapture and end of that world. As a catholic myself, it was interesting to see what part of this story I felt uneasy with as they presented to me in this format.

7. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow In this post 9/11 novel I found myself questioning my own feelings about privacy, security and terrorism. In my review of Little Brother on this blog I noted that I was lucky I found this book at the right time. Had I read this book any earlier, I believe I would have been offended by its message and tale. Therefore, this book made me think on many levels - not just about the content within, but also about how fear affected me and perception of the world around me.

8. Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli This book was a brilliant read. It is one of my favorite graphic novels because of its ability to use the media so well in telling its story. Asterios is an interesting, sad character that spends the entire book looking at the duality of life and assessing what is ultimately most important to him.

9. All of my books on the craft of writing. In my current life as a writer and wannabe published author, it probably goes without saying that any book I read about the craft of writing is going to lead to some pretty deep thought on my part. Whether I am reflecting on my own process, my current WIP or my future, whenever I get my hands on a book about the craft of writing it is going to be a serious read.

10. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien My husband actually reminded me about this one. I'm not sure which part of the book it is in specifically, but there is one point in The Lord if the Rings where Gandalf makes a statement calling in to question the idea of the death penalty. Of course, he was not speaking politically, but, instead, reminding a fellow character that death as a punishment was not their responsibility to dole out. At the time I had counted myself as a supporter of the death penalty, but for some reason Gandalf's words, more than any political argument had shown me all I needed to reconsider my stance. 

Which books are on your list? Are they non-fiction, or did you have a character show you the light of your reality within the binds of their fictional universe?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

10 Books I'm Reading This Fall

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. There's a new book-related top ten list every single week and it is a great way to get to know other book-loving bloggers! Everyone is welcome to join in the weekly linky party, even if you can't think of TEN for a certain Tuesday (just think of as many as you can!), just make sure you link back to The Broke and the Bookish if you do!

This week's topic is:

My "to-read" list for this upcoming season contains a bunch of books already on my nightstand! I'm in that mode right now where I want to accomplish what is before me before I make any other future plans - that includes my reading life. In fact, I believe there are only three new releases on my list! Alas, all but one of these books is new to me and isn't that all that matters? Well, enough talk about the list, let's get to it!

1. The Maze Runner I'm in Chapter 23, but I had to return the book to the library (the fees were getting excessive. I have to head back to the library to pick it up to finish it up this Fall. I was finally getting into the book, so I'm looking forward to see what happens next! By the way, for those of you keeping up... YES, this book was on my summer "to read" list!

 2.  The Great Gatsby Another book already started. I am loving this book, but keep getting distracted along the way (plus the book got buried in a book pile where I couldn't find it for a couple of days!). I'd like to finish this book before the movie comes out this winter, so it is a definite Fall read!

3. The Universe In A Nutshell  Maybe this should just be on my 2012-2013 "to read" list. I mean, honestly, am I really  going to be able to finish this book this Fall? It has taken me days to get up to page 20! Either way, it is thoroughly fascinating and, thankfully, I have the illustrated version to help me visualize some of the more complex topics (which would be... well... all of them!).
4. Divergent I've been trying to get this book at my library all summer, but I guess because it made it to some local summer reading lists, it's been a lost cause. I'm hoping that I'll be able to get my hands on a copy this Fall. 

5. The Book Thief I've had this on my TBR list for a long time now. I remember discussing this book with work friends (today marks the beginning of the third year I am not going back to work!). I think it is high time I get these pages behind me.

6. The Hobbit This is a re-read. It has been over a decade since my first read of the book and I'd like to reread before the first part of The Hobbit hits theaters this December. I am really looking forward to that movie, but I also miss reading Tolkien!

7. Ready Player One This book has been recommended to me as a "must read" for my nerd-cred. I'm putting it on my Fall TBR list. I'm looking forward to it, actually!

8. The Rise of Nine  I'm hooked on the I Am Number Four series! I did not like the movie adaptation, but enjoyed the first book. I wasn't as impressed by book #2, so I'm bracing myself for this third one, but still feel the need to find out what happens next.

9. Origin I received a copy of this book at BEA back in June and I've been really excited to get started with it. So far (and I'm not that far into it) I'm already intrigued by the jungle setting and the suspicion I feel at the word "perfect."
10. The Casual Vacancy I'm expecting to find this on a bunch of lists today! Who can resist new words from JK?! Not me! I haven't pre-ordered my copy and, as I'm typing this, I'm wondering why I haven't!! 

That's my list! What's on yours? Also, do you have any notes about the books on my list? Sound off in the comments section!