Tuesday, May 31, 2016

All About The Books

It's been an interesting writing week. I'm not sure if I should consider it a success, though, since I didn't actually write anything to share. I did warn you about that, though. This week was mostly dedicated to reading and structuring the next session for D&D. There was some creativity in the later part, so that counts, right?

Tuesday went more-or-less the way it always does at Writing Group. I went, I socialized, I gently critiqued others so that they might improve, and then I read my writing. As per usual, I had a pleasant response to my sibling dialogue piece. People enjoyed it. You could tell which sibling was talking because their voices were well defined. They were believably twelve and seven. You could tell what actions were being taken based on their dialogue, and even the passage of time didn't seem awkward while each sibling waited for the other. Good notes. Yay, me! Still, we spend so much time with everyone else, and then when it comes to me it's almost like they're patting me on the head. "Good, good. Well, done. Scurry along now..." Perhaps it's because they legitimately can't find anything to critique. Maybe they want to focus more on people's ongoing manuscripts than improving generic writing skills via oneshots. Maybe they're pandering to me. It's hard for me to tell which it is.

After the meeting, our newest member Brooklyn stopped me to chat. He commented about how he enjoyed my writing, mostly because it reminded him of his own. I stated that I felt the same way about other authors; mainly Rick Riordan. It was flattering to hear Brooklyn speak so highly of my writing, especially since he introduced himself at the meeting by stating that he has never been published, but he does have four completed manuscripts waiting to be picked up by someone. He also stated that he has tons of published-author friends back in New York City that have been trying to find him an agent. Encouraging stuff for this man's writing career, and yet he was impressed with my writing? Now my ego got a bit stroked, not even gonna lie. He trusted my writing eye well enough that he asked if I would mind beta reading a small chunk of his most recent story. I agreed - why not, I seem to be everyone's beta reader - and he handed me twelve random pages: presumably most of his third chapter, and the first two pages of his fourth.

Work again being as slow as commissions sales tend to be, I had plenty of time to read through Brooklyn's writing. I'm not entirely sure if he wrote the story the way he did because his main character, who is also the story narrator, has the mentality of a twelve-year-old, much like the writing style in Flowers for Algernon, or if the narration is simple because it's intended to be an elementary/middle-grade chapter book. I'm leaning towards the later, if no other reason than the subject of his story. Brooklyn's book is about Spike the Christmas Elf. Spike decides that he's tired of only knowing of the North Pole, and wishes to be more Worldly. So, Spike sets off on a journey, and finds himself in the United States. He's befriended by a traveling lounge musician named Ian, and a waitress named Jill. Where I last left Spike's wanderings, the trio left wherever Ian was originally performing - it was probably addressed in the first 34 pages that I didn't have - and went on what seemed to be a two-day drive to Las Vegas, Nevada for Ian's next big gig.

I have to say, that's one of the things I enjoy about my new job. Since it's commission sales, I could have a day like yesterday, where I'm twiddling my thumbs for about six out of the eight hours I'm working, have a fantastic sale by the end of the day, and still average out as making about $50 per hour! Not too shabby! Especially when I can spend those boring six hours of waiting doing things for my writing career. I could beta read. I could world build. I could actually write. I could focus on the pillar of writing I tend to neglect: reading published novels.

Which is precisely what I also did last week. I plowed through the last of Speaker for the Dead. For the three women that I am doing this reading challenge with, you've already read my thoughts on the matter, so excuse my repeating myself.

In all honesty, reading "Speaker for the Dead" was a trying race, and I thought I wasn't going to make it to the finish, just as I was concerned last month when I hadn't even picked up a book the first 20-some days of April. My biggest concern was that I didn't even really get into reading SftD until the fifteenth or so. Nearly 400 pages in fifteen days felt like too much of an undertaking. Especially when I still had about 100 pages left this past Wednesday, and then I forget to bring the book home while I had Thursday off.... Thankfully, even with the store having a Memorial Day special, it was almost painfully slow. Thanks to road work outside the store, I had enough down-time to charge through about 72% of the novel in a little over one week!

So, what was my reaction to "Speaker for the Dead"? Well.... it's a VERY grinding read. Orson Scott Card wanted to deviate from Europeans as main characters, and English as the primary language for this book. Breaking up the monotonous White Washing of Sci-Fi - at least, at the time it was written - Card had the residents of the new-found planet of Lusitania be decedents from Brazil. Which meant a LOT of Portuguese that I struggled to mentally pronounce, and a great deal of it was not actually translated. The meaning was supposed to be interpreted by the other character's reactions and responses.

There was also a lot of scientific jargon thrown in, most of which was probably created by Card for this novel. I mean, Speaker was set around 5270AD - it spans nearly thirty years throughout the course of the novel - that's a lot of technological advancements to think up....

The beginning of each chapter had a semi-unrelated text that, together, created the subplot backstory of an impending war, and why it was coming about. My issue here, however, is that while they made sense the further into the book you got, they seemed disruptive in the starting chapters, especially since you couldn't tell which bit of information came when since it was all essentially written in different stardate forms. To be fair, this may be something that would only irritate me.

Now, as I started off saying, the story was indeed very grindy. Even when I was completely immersed into the story, enjoying every page I read, I still found myself stopping to count how many pages I had left, and moaning about how long-winded the book was. And that's saying something, coming from me. Since I enjoyed it so much, I honestly couldn't tell where Card could cut. It was all very well done, and all needed material. It was just So. Slow. Paced. You'd enjoy the twenty-page chapter, only to realize that in the grand scheme of things, twenty-pages barely puts a dent in the book. I felt like I wasn't making any ground at all. The fact that the end of May was fast approaching probably didn't help the slow-paced nature of the story.... All in all though, I did, I truly did, greatly enjoy the novel. I completely understand why Hubby has tried for so many years to get me to read it, even if he himself isn't up to the task of REreading it. Again: slow read.

While "Ender's Game" was more fast-paced and gripping due to its action and concern for Ender, "Speaker for the Dead" presented a whole family - about a dozen characters, at least - that I fell in love with. To me, that more than makes up for the slow pacing. There were a few characters that only made relatively short appearances in the book - only about two chapters out of eighteen - and yet I still yearned for more about them; mourned for them. Each time another character's heart is ripped open, mine did too. Ender's great gift/terrible curse of empathy translates so well that I had the same love for these people in just as short a time with them. I yearned to know them just as he did.

The real, kicker, though, was the underlining mystery of it all: Why did the Piggies - the book's alien species - do what they did? The mystery called out to me, and I just NEEDED to know the answer. I won't speak more on that topic since it would create spoilers, but I was proud to know that my semi-analytical mind was able to figure it out after only a few chapters. I just needed to get to the ending to confirm my deduction. Go, me!

Speaking of spoilers and my ability to figure the Great Mystery out, Hubby's copy is the "Author's Definitive Edition." Probably part of my problem with making my way through this book was that, before even page 1 of the story, there are thirteen pages of introduction by Card, two pages listing the key players on the new planet of Lusitania, one page listing the family trees of the two main families in the book, and two pages explaining how to pronounce Portuguese names. Since Brazilian - and perhaps all Portuguese? - names are usually about five long, Card thankfully abbreviated everyone's name, even their given names which were typically at least three syllables long, to a short, generally two syllable nickname. The trick was when these characters would use or were addressed by their proper names; that was when I was grateful for the listing of players at the front of the book. My mistake, however, was attempting to read the introduction before reading the book for the first time, as well as checking out the family trees while wondering why I cared about the family histories. Was I about to embark on some Sci-Fi version of Lord of the Rings, where every character is introduced by whose child, and grandchild, and great-grandchild they are?

In both cases, there were MAJOR spoilers for the story. The introduction was Card explaining how he went from inspiration to publication of Speaker, in which he essentially gave away the "Why" of what the Piggies do. The family trees gave me a heads up of who would die when, and who would be paired up. That knowledge softened the blow a couple of times, but ruined the real impact. While I did frequent the family trees page multiple times to keep track of who was whose kid, and how old everyone was - space travel and Catholic families are tricky things - I would have much rather it be buried in the back as an appendixed reference point. That way clueless readers like myself wouldn't accidentally stumble into spoilers. That all being said, I caution you, if you're gonna give this book a try, and also have the Author's Definitive Edition, do yourself a favor and ignore everything before the official first Prologue page, at least, until you get about 100pgs in, then you're safe to refer to the family trees if need be.

All-in-all, I really did enjoy this story. It really made me love these characters, drew me in to their secrets and pain, and made me just as curious about the Piggies as the characters were. Also, while I loved Ender in the first book, he was a scared, isolated little boy who got me to RAGE at "Ender's Game" for being "so mean to him." The way that Ender grew into such a kind, loving, but still bluntly honest man made me love his character more. It IS a slow read, and I DID groan about the length, but, as I already stated, I honestly don't really know where Card could have cut. Besides, the story nags at the back of your mind when you put it down. A soft, slow nag, until you end up spending hours reading to quiet the hunger. So it definitely has THAT going for it. Even now, it still lingers, almost daring me to give it another read. Part of me wants to see if I could do justice to the characters if I wrote out a fanfic of the jumped-over twenty-two years that played in the background of the main story.

My final thoughts on the book? Even if you aren't into Sci-Fi, I'd recommend "Speaker for the Dead". It's more about interspecies/racial interaction and understanding, as well as religious vs humanitarian vs citizen loyalties and morals. The science jargon or Portuguese may weigh some people down, but overall it is such a good read. In fact, it's an almost inspirational read about the necessity to be empathetic towards everyone, and trying to see everything from everyone's point of view. Most things are not what they seem from your vantage point, and sometimes we aren't the heroes we perceive ourselves as, nor are we the villains, contrary to the guilt we feel.

Anyway, go out, and read! Read this book! Do it!

Okay, so I'm now back to trying to decide what I'm going to do for my next book in this reading challenge. Let's go to the chart again, shall we?
Reading Challenge created by Modern Mrs. Darcy
Now, keep in mind, that I can still slide "Life, the Universe, and Everything" to the "published before birth" category in order to open up the "already read at least once" for another book. I could also shift "Coraline" to either "owned but never read" or "meaning to read" in order to fit another book in the "can finish in one day" spot. I'm intending on saving the "published this year" for Riordan's next book in the Magnus Chase Norse Mythology series, or the Apollo series, whichever book we get first. Which means, I should probably also save either "owned but never read" or "meaning to read" for the first Magnus Chase book, since Hubby got it for his birthday or Christmas - one of those two; it was in December - and I didn't want to read his book before he did. He's been slacking, though, so I told him he has until September before I swipe the book and read it regardless of whether or not he's finished it.

So, September and October's categories are already figured out. I still need to TALK to my local librarian for the one category, since I CLEARLY don't need to talk to a book seller; have more than enough books already piled high in my spare room. I'm also still trying to interpret what "should have read in school" could mean for me. Dare I give books like "The Old Man and the Sea" or "Red Badge of Courage" another try now that I'm older, more mature, and more likely to appreciate such works? Or do I trust my high school self that these stories are just NOT my cup of tea, and find something like "The Giver" that is generally in school reading lists, but it wasn't for my school?

Speaking of "The Giver," I was leaning towards a banned book for June, but I can't put my finger on which one I want to read, especially since the ones I own I've already read. I'd prefer to read one I haven't tackled yet, such as "Catch-22" or "1984." I might have to forego my own expansive book collection, and finally set up a library card so that I can track down one of these banned books.

The last category I more-or-less know what I want to do is the "book that intimidates you," in which case, I want to read Dante's Divine Trilogy, or at least Inferno, since it's referenced so much in pop-culture - I even own a computer game called Daria's Inferno where the 90s MTV cartoon character runs through her own version of Dante's hell - plus, Dante's Inferno is just such a classic tale to have read. Thing there, though, is my copy is part of a leather-bound collection my father bought when I was born, and I don't know how I feel about bringing it outside the house to work every day. However, I don't know if I'll have time to read outside of work anymore, except for maybe when Hubby hops on World of Warcraft now that Quarthix talked him into playing.

There is also the possibility of using the "owned but haven't read" category in order to continue the Ender Saga by diving right into "Xenocide." The story conquers the tale of the impending war hinted at throughout "Speaker for the Dead," and reading this book right after Speaker will help me really remember the previous novel; as opposed to reading Speaker about a decade after "Ender's Game." Although, Card did do a fantastic job of reminding the reader - or informing the reader, if the reader didn't read "Ender's Game" - of the key pieces from "Ender's Game," making "Speaker for the Dead" completely capable of standing on its own. In theory, "Xenocide" could have been written the same way, and so waiting a few months, or even a year - if I wait until I'm done with this challenge - may not be that large of a hindrance. Even so, "Xenocide" might be another choice for June's read...

Trying to mentally calculate the second half of the year in regards to reading is hard! Still, I'm fairly bored at work now that I'm not reading for at least a few hours of it, so I'll be sure to find something for June by tomorrow in order to stave off mindless counting of my watch's ticking. I'll let you know what I decided on next week. For now, I'm off to catch up on chores and prepping for D&D this Sunday.

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