Ode to Unfinished Books

The other day I happened to stumble upon an article in The Atlantic in which the author maintains that if you start a book, you must, by all means, finish it. She goes on to chide those (like myself) who are so uninspired after 50 pages that we give up on reading the book altogether:

To drop a novel after a few chapters is, then, to disregard what makes it a formal work of art rather than a heap of papers that reside in a desk drawer. Today, books and authors need all the help they can get; if you care about literature as an artistic endeavor and the people who create it, then you should do so fully. If you consider yourself a literary person, you shouldn’t just embrace the intellectual cachet that starting books gives you. 

I completely disagree with this. If you are reading for pleasure (reading that is completely outside of a class assignment, and I’ll assume that you are) then the reading experience should be, in some way, pleasurable to you. If you aren’t having fun, you shouldn’t be reading it. 

When I was younger I used to follow this policy, finishing every single book I picked up whether I wanted to or not. Then I stopped my nightly ritual of pleasure reading for over a year, because it just became another tedious chore. After slogging my way through many an unimpressive chick lit novel, I began to ask myself: why am I doing this? To prove something to myself? There is nothing I have to prove to myself as a reader, I do this activity simply because I want to. If the reading experience isn’t entertaining for you, as in, inspiring your life, or doesn’t prompt you to put your pencil to paper in any kind of thoughtful response–then why waste your time on books you don’t like? Books are like people, and life is far too short for crap.

There are plenty of reasons I’ve abandoned my intentions of finishing a book. Bad writing is one. Uninspiring character narration (think: Ferris Bueller’s history teacher), slow plot development is another. No plot at all, or gaping plot holes. Plot twists that lack any credibility and refuse to allow me to suspend disbelief. Too much going on in the plot, or a plot with too many “blank” spaces. If I have to read a paragraph three and four times to “get” it, reading it will get old really quick. Sometimes I can’t finish a book because the character’s behavior is so objectionable that I simply do not care to muck my brain up to read it any further. Sapphire’s novel The Kid comes to mind here, if anyone cares to read 300+ pages of graphic descriptions of rape scenes and the thoughts of an adolescent sex offender, please be my guest…

We all know some books start off slow, then pick up steam later in the reading. While this may be true, if the “steam” doesn’t begin in the first 50-75 pages, I reserve the right to put it down. I’ve left many books unfinished in my lifetime and before I leave this earth I’m sure I will leave many more in this fashion. It’s fine. I owe no one any apologies for my act and you don’t owe anyone (or yourself) any apologies, either.

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Now Accepting Review Requests!

So I’ve decided to complicate my life here and start taking review requests. If you’re truly interested I’d encourage you to email first to discuss what your book is about, what stage of the publishing process it is in, and what kind of review you are looking for. When I read I take detailed notes and I usually begin writing the review right after I read it. I have no patience for underdeveloped characters and plot holes. Often times I find that when people give me something to critique they will claim that they want an “honest” opinion, but when detailed, constructive criticism is given, they don’t want it. Or the opposite scenario: they’ll listen to what you have to say and later on give you a published copy with the same questionable content still in there, flashing like a neon sign. Almost as if you wasted your time to begin with critiquing it in the first place. Personally I welcome all criticism if I ask for it; I would much rather a reviewer tell me what was wrong with my book before it went to print then have people post ridiculous things on Amazon.com about it, you know?

The details of my review policy are on the appropriate page.

My Top 20 Favorite Short Stories

I’ve always maintained that if you really want to learn how to write fiction, you gotta start with short stories. You only have a couple of pages to grab a reader’s attention and establish the basics before your audience completely loses their patience and stops reading. It’s the first litmus test of whether or not you’re truly mastering your craft as a writer. If a particular writer has decent short stories, chances are you’ll eventually read their novel. 

My first writing experiences when I began writing at age 7 were short stories: fanciful little numbers that were inspired mostly by the 80s movies I grew up watching (“The Goonies,” “The Never Ending Story,” etc). Later on in my literature classes in school a whole new world was opened (Edgar Allan Poe, Hawthorne, etc) and they never left my heart. As a teacher I always used them in my instruction to engage students. Today I came across an article on Buzzfeed entitled “23 Short Stories You’ll Want to Read Over and Over Again” and some of my MAJOR faves got left out, so I made my own list. Enjoy!

Now some of these are already on Buzzfeed’s list, but because they’re my faves too, they’re listed again. In no particular order:

  1. “Thank You, Ma’am” – Langston Hughes
  2. “The Story of an Hour” – Kate Chopin
  3. “The Lottery” – Shirley Jackson
  4. “The Tell Tale Heart” – Edgar Allan Poe
  5. “All Summer in a Day” – Ray Bradbury
  6. “Patriotism” – Yukio Mishima
  7. “A Rose for Emily” – William Faulkner
  8. “Young Goodman Brown” – Nathaniel Hawthorne
  9. “The Necklace” – Guy de Maupaussant
  10. “The Cask of Amontillado” – Edgar Allan Poe
  11. “Sweat” – Zora Neale Hurston
  12. “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” – Flannery O’Connor
  13. “Raymond’s Run” – Toni Cade Bambara
  14. “Super Frog Saves Tokyo” – Haruki Murakami
  15. “Eyes of Zapata” – Sandra Cisneros
  16. “Everyday Use” – Alice Walker
  17. “The Pit and the Pendulum” – Edgar Allan Poe 
  18. “Wild Child” – T.C. Boyle
  19. “Cora, Unashamed” – Langston Hughes
  20. “Graveyard Shift” – Stephen King

Say hello to 29chapters.com!

How long has it been? A month? Maybe two?

As far as changes, I’ve recently purchased a nifty domain for this site, 29chapters.com. I had originally meant to do that from the inception but for some reason the action kept getting put on the bottom of my To Do list. Why 29chapters? Well, I was born on November 29th. And since this site is about books, why not? Phases in our lives are chapters, and books are a large part of my life. Brilliant!

I don’t know if I’ve ever told you already, but I’ll be starting on my doctorate full time this fall. I’ll be studying Curriculum and Instruction with a specific concentration in Literacy. My coursework will take at least 2 years, my dissertation will take another year beyond that. This program suits a person like me, who spent nine years as an English teacher in a middle school and now seeks to start a career in academia. The details took a while to pin down, but I can proudly say that I’ll be beginning my coursework in August. I’m excited, but I’m not sure how much time I’ll have left over after a busy day of class for pleasure reading. 

Fortunately, I have tons of book reviews I’ve already written in my Evernote account. If a cut and paste is necessary to get me through the dark days of no 29chapters.com for weeks at a time, I’ll do just that. 

Otherwise, I’m still here. The spring days are hor here, and I can’t wait to share my summer reading with you. I have a few reviews I’ll be posting over the next couple days. Stay posted!

Love, K

On the Invaluable Value of Notebooking

From an essay by Ian Brown on keeping a notebook, as published in the Globe and Mail:

“It’s a neurotic habit, a personal notebook. It can work as a diary, but it’s not intended for publication…A diary is an accounting. A notebook, by contrast, is to record details that reach out as you pass, for reasons not immediately apparent. A notebook is full of moments from days that have yet to become something. “Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether,” Joan Didion wrote in a famous essay about notebooks, “lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.”

I have always kept some kind of notebook from the time I began writing, when I was 10 or 11. All kinds of stuff would go in there, homework assignments, what I wore for school, funny observations about people I was too shy to discuss with anyone (“she wore that sweater yesterday, her hair smells like cheese”), diary entries, ideas for stories. I can’t find a single trace of these notebooks today, but I can tell you that to this day, my notebooking habit endures. There is my trusty red moleskine notebook/planner that I write EVERYTHING in (appointments, meetings, interesting things I watch on TV, books I’d like to read, what bills to pay and when) and my plain brown, Staples composition book that functions more as a diary. Here I do not edit, and write completely without censoring myself. I never intend to publish what is in my diary because I’ve always looked upon it as a playground for exploration, a way to process certain events and understand them. Anyone who is serious about the craft should probably be writing in a notebook, it’s the best (and cheapest) therapies you’ll find.

More of Ian Brown’s article is here