That feeling when you still have half the book left

One thing about audiobooks, is you can’t tell how far into the story you are while listening. A paper book, you can see the thickness of the pages in your hand. A kindle book has that little percentage on the bottom as you turn the pages. But an audiobook, who knows?

I’m still listening to My Name is Red, and I had thought that the narrative was drawing to a crescendo, and that the story would soon be over. Maybe it’s because I’m used to listening to books that are ~10 hours long, and I sort of felt this time approaching, but I actually am just reaching he halfway mark.

It’s a fun feeling to find out that a story you are enjoying is suddenly going to keep going for a lot longer than you thought!

 

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Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders

Love, death, ghosts, and history. What a sad, funny, interesting and heart-squeezing novel.

From Wikipedia:

Many years ago, during a visit to Washington DC, my wife’s cousin pointed out to us a crypt on a hill and mentioned that, in 1862, while Abraham Lincoln was president, his beloved son, Willie, died, and was temporarily interred in that crypt, and that the grief-stricken Lincoln had, according to the newspapers of the day, entered the crypt “on several occasions” to hold the boy’s body. An image spontaneously leapt into my mind – a melding of the Lincoln Memorial and the Pietà. I carried that image around for the next 20-odd years, too scared to try something that seemed so profound, and then finally, in 2012, noticing that I wasn’t getting any younger, not wanting to be the guy whose own gravestone would read “Afraid to Embark on Scary Artistic Project He Desperately Longed to Attempt”, decided to take a run at it, in exploratory fashion, no commitments. My novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, is the result of that attempt […].[10]

What must that feel like… to not only finally complete a project you’ve been thinking about for decades, but to also have it be so acclaimed?

I hope he feels proud, because it is great. I never would have though a book written in such a strange way could evoke such strong feelings, but it does. After a few pages of it, you don’t notice the strangeness as much. Or, you do, but it is no longer a hindrance. It blends into the feeling of it. The idea of dozens or hundreds of viewpoints coalescing into a single story of a single night.

I think anyone with an open mind could enjoy this book. The only people I’ve seen saying bad things about it are just complaining about the way it’s written, not what’s written.

The only minor complaint I had was how short it was. The 360 or so pages it claims would actually be probably half that, if each page were covered with words instead of having them spread out as it is formatted.

Read if you want something fresh and interesting and heartfelt!

Don’t tell me what I already know

There are two ways to reveal a surprise or secret you’ve been hinting at in a story. Well, I’m sure there’s more than two but let’s be black and white for a minute.

There’s a good way, and a bad way.

There’s a way that makes your reader smile and say ‘ah, yes I suspected that’ and feel good about themselves for being so clever to notice what the writer was doing. And there’s a way that makes them sigh exasperatedly and shout I KNOW at the page.

Showing is better than telling, yes, but what’s worse than telling, in my opinion, is when you show very nicely, then tell anyway.

Here are two examples, one from an irritating book, and one from an amazing book that I’m in love with. Both contain spoilers so be warned.

Let’s start with the bad way.

The first example is from Borne, a book I’ve recently read and posted about here. At this point in the story, we have already been shown multiple times that Borne is able to change his shape. In one scene, one of the characters, Wick, enter’s the viewpoint character, Rachel’s, room. We are told that he’s looking odd, sickly and kind of green / purple in color. These are Borne’s colors, so I think–as I’m sure the author intended–‘oh, Borne can impersonate a human? This is interesting.’ So far so good. The character doesn’t guess it, and that’s okay. I know, and her not knowing makes it a bit creepier. She goes about her day unsuspecting, but then later goes into Wick’s room and witnesses herself talking to Wick. Creepier still! However, the author then feels the need to turn to the camera and say ‘It was Borne!’ as a dramatic way to end the chapter. Cue me shouting I KNOW at the page (or in my case at the dashboard of my car). All the impact was taken from the scene, and the whole thing became ridiculous as I’m thinking to myself ‘was that supposed to be a surprise?’ I was surprised he could take human shape, but really, what else could it possibly be talking to Wick? It was obviously not Rachel, who was standing there watching…

Now a good example, from The Crimson Petal and the White. One of the main characters is a prostitute early in the story, and has much unprotected sex as a consequence (it’s the  1870’s.) She has a concoction she mixes up to pour into herself after each encounter. Later in the story she’s moved to a new location, without her things, and doesn’t have her mixture, and is still having sex. I’m thinking ‘uh oh, she’s going to get pregnant’. It isn’t mentioned or hinted at for a long time, and I’ve almost forgotten about it. Then we start hearing how tight her clothes are–why do people keep getting her size wrong? She’s feeling sick randomly. She feels like her chest is getting bigger. ‘Oh no,’ I think, ‘she is pregnant after all! I was right!’ The character doesn’t suspect yet, but I know. Later, with no dramatic reveal, no ‘gasp, I’m pregnant! Oh no!’ or the narrator saying ‘she was pregnant!’ to end a chapter–the character simply starts trying to take care of her problem through various ways (one of them, throwing herself down a staircase D: ) There is no point where we’re told she’s pregnant, until much later when the character thinks something like ‘such and such hasn’t happened since I’ve been pregnant’. It is not a dramatic surprise reveal, because we already know. And the author knows we know, because he knows we aren’t a daft, mouth-breathing set of brainless eyes that needs every word explained to them.

So, there you have it. More examples of why you shouldn’t tell your readers what’s going on as if they are an idiot. It’s very annoying, and makes you seem like an idiot and a bad writer.

Be the best you can be

I recently started reading The Crimson Petal and the White,  by Michel Faber, in my attempt to read instead of browse the internet and social media on my devices. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so impressed by prose, if ever.

The story follows a young prostitute in 1870’s London–a subject I have close to zero interest in. But since I enjoyed his other books so much, I went so far as to read the preview on Amazon. The first pages were all it took to convince me to buy.

Have you ever read something so rich and potent that it makes your favorites seem pale and thin in comparison? I have no interest in this story’s subject matter, but the writing is so deliciously good that I can’t stop thinking about it, can’t stop popping it open for a few paragraphs whenever I can.

I keep making food metaphors because, it really is like food for my mind.

And it makes me want to be a better writer. It makes me want to stretch to my limits to make my writing so enjoyable that the subject doesn’t matter cause you love the words so much.

I feel the odds of getting as good as Faber are low, but it’s something to aspire to.