Saturday, June 30, 2012

The charm of book reviews

 Each book has a life of its own in each reader. Writing a review means sharing that unique view with the world to invite a collective dialogue.
 When we write a review because a book has touched our inner self, we set in motion a set of thoughts, ideas and interpretations. We are inspired to share something that awakened after the read.
  Books can be sources of new ideas; they can ignite our imagination in unpredictable ways and enrich our views on different matters. Reviews allow us to share our unique perspectives. They can  conjure up disagreements and elicit thought-provoking questions. They can become the roots of interesting discussions.They can also help us to fathom that despite our differences we can also have something in common.
  If nobody wrote or read book reviews, we wouldn't have the possibility of sharing our fascination and the enrichment of our minds after the reading experience.
 Writing, reading and discussing book reviews is about celebrating our diversity.

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The wonder of beginnings

  In today's fast-paced world our stories compete with a huge variety of entertainments. Hence, our beginnings have an important role in hooking the reader. The words of a first paragraph may determine whether you captivate a certain reader; they may increase your chances of reaching a wider audience or convince an editor to get to the gist of your story. (On the other hand, a first paragraph that is not captivating is not an indicator that the story is not worth reading).
   Powerful beginnings are those that set an emotion or make an interesting statement that kindles our curiosity. They may set a specific situation or a conflict that intrigues the reader. They may throw us into a vivid setting that we want to explore further.
  In my case, writing a compelling first paragraph can become the force that pushes me to write the whole story. It can be the key to unblock the rest of it.
  Let's examine the beginnings of some short stories by well-known writers.

"Thomas withdrew to the side of the window and with his head between the wall and the curtain he looked down on the driveway where the car had stopped. His mother and the little slut were getting out of it. His mother emerged slowly, stolid and awkward, and then the little slut's long slightly bowed legs slid out, the dress pulled above the knees. With a shriek of laughter she ran to meet the dog, who bounded, overjoyed, shaking with pleasure, to welcome her. Rage gathered throughout Thomas's large frame with a silent ominous intensity, like a mob assembling."
Wow. This is a very strong beginning.We see a clear scene and there is conflict. Thomas does not like the woman getting out of the car with his mother. The narrator calls her a "slut" and the tension is intense right from the start because he is very upset, but the slut does not seem to care. What's going on here? We are compelled to read on. This is the first paragraph of the short story  "The Comforts of Home" by Flannery O'Connor.

"My husband gave me a broom one Christmas. This wasn't right. No one can tell me it was meant kindly."

Brief and funny. A woman received a broom as a Christmas gift and, not surprisingly, is offended. We all wonder why her husband did that to her. What was behind his action? Would you keep reading? This is the first paragraph of the short story "An Interest in Life" by Grace Paley


"Miss Adela Strangeworth came daintily along Main Street on her way to the grocery. The sun was shining, the air was fresh and clear after the night's heavy rain, and everything in Miss Strangeworth's little town looked washed and bright. Miss Strangeworth took deep breaths and thought that there was nothing in the world like a fragrant summer day."
 I like this first paragraph because it describes a vivid scene with simple words (sun shining, fresh air, little town, fragrant summer) and it transmits a strong emotion about the character. This is the first paragraph of the short story "The Possibility of Evil" by Shirley Jackson. It won the Edgar Allan Poe Award and was first published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1965.

"There must be some approach to this, a method, a technique, that's the word I want, it kills germs. Some technique then, a way of thinking about it that would be bloodless and therefore painless; devotion recollected in tranquility. I try to conjure up an image of myself at that time, also one of you, but it's like conjuring the dead. How do I know I'm not inventing both of us, and if I'm not inventing then it really is like conjuring the dead, a dangerous game. Why should I disturb those sleepers, sleepwalkers as they make their automaton rounds through the streets where we once lived, fading from year to year, their voices thinning to the sound of a thumb drawn across a wet window: an insect squeak, transparent as glass, no words. You can never tell with the dead whether it is they who wish to return or the living who want them to. The usual explanation is that they have something to tells us. I'm not sure I believe it; in this case, it's more likely that I have something to tell them."
This beginning enthralls me.The narrator wonders something about those who have died. Do they need to tell us something? The narrator is evoking a memory, an image of herself set in the past. I feel intrigued because I  would like to know how  this matter about those who died connects to her recollection. Her voice is strong too and compels me to read on. This is the first paragraph of the short story "Hair Jewellery" by Margaret Atwood.

What do you think about these beginnings? Let me know about your experience when you write the first paragraphs of your stories.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Down and Out in Paris and London

 Writing about being homeless and poor is not easy for somebody who has never been in that situation. George Orwell, however, wrote about these subjects from his own personal experience. He had to suffer the consequences of starvation and social ostracism when he was homeless in the early thirties, during the aftermath of the 1929 Wall Street crash. Orwell's Down and Out in London and Paris delves into this theme with honesty and interesting facts. I wrote about this book here:
Down and Out in Paris and London

Not surprisingly, Orwell died of tuberculosis when he was only 46 years old. (It's his 109th birthday in June, so reviewing some of his books is a good way of remembering him).