callistahogan: (Books)
Book: Burn This Book, compiled by Toni Morrison
GenreNonfiction (writing)
Length: 112 pp.
Progress (pages)323/20,000 pp. (2%)

Amazon Summary: In 11 short essays by some of the world's premier novelists, this volume explores a simple question: why write? Contributor Paul Auster may put the query best: "Surely it is an odd way to spend your life -- sitting alone in a room with a pen in your hand, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, struggling to put words on pieces of paper." In response, Pico Iyer delivers a moving account of a Burmese trishaw driver living under political oppression, who for years composed (by candlelight) letters to the author, many of which were censored. Orhan Pamuk also explores this intense human hunger for stories and creative freedom with an anecdote from his March 1985 tour of Turkey, on which he introduced Arthur Miller and Harold Pinter to Turkish writers who had suffered "repression, cruelty and outright evil" in a military coup. Francine Prose, on the other hand, makes a lively attempt to separate literature from politics (in which she cops to her own political biases in her choice of examples). The disparate voices produce a complex of reasons that drive writers, though all agree that, as observed by Morrison (wearing both editor and contributor caps), it's a "bleak, unlivable, insufferable existence... when we are deprived of artwork."

My Thoughts: I was searching for a book like this -- something light, easy, that I could finish in an evening -- and this book delivered. My weakness in nonfiction is books about writing, and this was a perfect treat for me. I especially like to read compilations from authors, so I can see various authors' perspectives on writing, getting an insight into how they got started. It makes me realize that I am at once completely typical in the writing world and yet I feel pride that I can feel a kinship with these amazing authors.

This compilation puts together the writing of the following eleven authors: Toni Morrison, John Updike, David Grossman, Francine Prose, Pico Iyer, Russell Banks, Paul Auster, Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie, Ed Park, and Nadine Gordimer. I had previously heard of most of these authors, but I have not yet read any of their writings. That is a fact that I am going to have to remedy very shortly, because there were some outstanding essays in this compilation.

While there were some that I did not quite like, as per usual in compilations, I found that some particularly touched me. In particular, I enjoyed Paul Auster's essay, "Talking to Strangers," because it expressed in a mere three pages why I write. It expresses that writers often write because they have to, because they have no choice. Nothing else explains it better than that. I don't know who I would be if I couldn't write, if I didn't want to write. I have a feeling I'd be entirely mediocre, going through life, sliding along without any discernible goal. But writing has given me that drive and ambition to strive to be better, which is precisely why I love losing myself in a story.

I appreciated the vast array of essays in this book. There were the typical "Why I Write" essays, but there was a particularly amusing essay by Ed Park that made me smile, because it was just so different. Toni Morrison's essay was the shortest of the bunch, heading up the collection, but it served as a backbone for the book. I enjoyed the stories Orhan Pamuk and Pico Iyer shared; it shows that the urge to read and write without fear of censorship is a universal desire. And last but not least, Nadine Gordimer's essay was a particularly pointed look at the writer's job to serve as a witness to world events, and brought up issues of race and the Western/Eastern division effectively.

This book would probably not interest anyone who is not a writer, though, and that is why I didn't give it a higher grade. I was hoping it would say more about censorship, but only a couple essays explored that issue in any depth. If you're a writer, I'd recommend this book, because as said, there are some amazing essays, but if you're not? This book wouldn't interest you all that much, unless you were interested in the writing process and what makes certain authors "tick."

Currently Reading: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (and I'm loving it. A vampire novel that goes back to the legends! Who woulda thunk we'd find one of those in the era of Twilight? Not that I hate Twilight, because I actually love it. *hides*)
callistahogan: (Default)
Before I start, let me just say that I am counting the 400 pages of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell I read during the last three weeks, because I am not about to just throw those pages away. They count. In my book, anyway. So there's an extra 400 pages tacked to the page count.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare )

Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama )

Currently Reading:
Airhead by Meg Cabot
The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
callistahogan: (Default)
I know, shocking, but I am actually going to write those book reviews now. They're shorter than they usually are, though, because there are five of them.

58. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (Grade: A)
Reread, for school. I have a feeling this is one of those books that I will just keep going back to. It is one of the first classics I've ever read in my life and, in my first read-through, I adored it. This time, I caught so many more little things that made me love it even more.

Jane Eyre grew throughout this story, I found, and it struck me how much she changed, both in her views of love and how she chooses to act in the face of difficulty. Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester also just had this chemistry that leaped off the page, and I loved how it wasn't too sickly sweet, just sweet enough to make you go aww but not in a saccharine way. Also, there was mystery in this novel, which makes me appreciate how effortlessly Charlotte Bronte (and, indeed, other classic novelists!) can meld numerous layers together.

59. All the Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear (Grade: A)
My first Elizabeth Bear novel, which I enjoyed immensely. Even though I know nothing about Norse myths, I find it interesting how she incorporated those elements into the story. This was one of those books that I couldn't put down. The action was just enough to add to the story, the characters often did things I didn't expect while remaining true to themselves, and the entire thing was just different than I thought it would be, but I enjoyed it. I am looking forward to the next book, although it probably wouldn't come out for a looong time.

60. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (Grade: B)
As soon as I finished The Handmaid's Tale, I knew that I had to pick this book up. Apparently it is one of Atwood's best books, according to opinions I have heard, and I have to say that I wasn't disappointed. The writing was marvelous, and the novel within a novel aspect of the book just drew me in, as that is one of those techniques that pretty much make me guaranteed to LOVE a book. The characters were also well-drawn.  I found myself finishing this book quickly and then yearning for the chance to read Oryx and Crake. Which I'll probably do in February sometime.

61. Red: Teenage Girls in America Write On What Fires Up Their Lives Today, edited by Amy Goldwasser (Grade: A+)
I finished this book in one day, and found it uplifting, well-written, and a book that just completely blew me away. One minute, I would be laughing aloud at something someone was communicating, and the next, I would almost be in tears at the beautiful aspects of the writing and the complete empathy I share with the author. A terrific, terrific book, and one that I foresee going back to many times.

62. The Portable Atheist, selected and with an introduction by Christopher Hitchens (Grade: A)
I am not an atheist by any possible stretch of the imagination, but I found this book very informative. I have gotten most of my information about atheism from Christian apologetic books, so it was nice to get it from the "lips" of actual atheists. Of course, that doesn't change my views in the slightest. I found many atheists use numerous generalizations, and this book really confirmed that to me.

However, I found it interesting, mostly as a history of atheism throughout the years. I also didn't know that Ian McEwan was an atheist, or that there were so many quotes pertaining to Albert Einstein's beliefs regarding a God. (That section was probably one of my favorites, actually!)

Currently Reading:
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Am enjoying it so far, and it makes me realize one thing: that if [ profile] kiwiria likes it, odds are I will too, as our tastes in books are eerily similar. :)
callistahogan: (Books)

It took me a while to get around to this; I finished this book Tuesday or Wednesday but never had the desire to write a book review on it until now.

Book: Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
Genre: Nonfiction (Economics)
Length: 208 pp.
Grade: A

Amazon Summary: Economics is not widely considered to be one of the sexier sciences. The annual Nobel Prize winner in that field never receives as much publicity as his or her compatriots in peace, literature, or physics. But if such slights are based on the notion that economics is dull, or that economists are concerned only with finance itself, Steven D. Levitt will change some minds. In Freakonomics (written with Stephen J. Dubner), Levitt argues that many apparent mysteries of everyday life don't need to be so mysterious: they could be illuminated and made even more fascinating by asking the right questions and drawing connections. For example, Levitt traces the drop in violent crime rates to a drop in violent criminals and, digging further, to the Roe v. Wade decision that preempted the existence of some people who would be born to poverty and hardship. Elsewhere, by analyzing data gathered from inner-city Chicago drug-dealing gangs, Levitt outlines a corporate structure much like McDonald's, where the top bosses make great money while scores of underlings make something below minimum wage. And in a section that may alarm or relieve worried parents, Levitt argues that parenting methods don't really matter much and that a backyard swimming pool is much more dangerous than a gun. These enlightening chapters are separated by effusive passages from Dubner's 2003 profile of Levitt in The New York Times Magazine, which led to the book being written. In a book filled with bold logic, such back-patting veers Freakonomics, however briefly, away from what Levitt actually has to say. Although maybe there's a good economic reason for that too, and we're just not getting it yet.

My Thoughts: After reading past posts from [ profile] 50bookchallenge, this book was added to the top of my TBR list. Last year it seemed as though everyone and their mothers was reading this book, and for good reason: it's informative, easy-to-understand, and I found it might have slightly changed my views on some things.

My favorite part of this book was probably the "What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common?" chapter, although all of it kept my attention. I just found this chapter the most interesting: after all, how many people would have thought to compare schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers? It was just so innovative, and that's part of the reason why it was my favorite chapter. It was also interesting because I want to be a teacher when I get older (preferrably an English teacher), and the thought of "teachers cheating" is something that never, or at least very rarely, crosses my mind, even though I know it definitely does happen.

As for the other chapters, I found those informative as well. The ones on parenting aren't too relevant for me now, but it's true that it encouraged me to try and give my children (if I have any) the best environment I possibly can. And the section on the difference between "white" baby names and "black" baby names was intriguing, although I can't quite see how it's relevant.

Now. About the abortion chapter.

It was certainly interesting how the crime rate dropped so dramatically once the unborn children—the ones that would have been born had Roe v. Wade not passed or ever occurred in the first place—would have reached an age where they would begin to commit crimes. That bit of information was surprising to me, although it makes sense. Of course, me being pro-choice-life (I support a woman's right to choose, but I wish that they would choose life if at all possible to do so), I can't condone the death of all those lives. A better solution to the "too many babies being born in low-income homes without the support they need" would be to increase sex ed in schools, but I digress.

Oh, it would just be easier to say that I found the entire book interesting, and I learned a lot. Now I want to get ahold of the revised and updated edition, just to see what they added.

I'd definitely recommend this book. Even though most everyone has already read it, it might be worth a reread if you haven't read it in a while.

Currently Reading:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (reread - for school)
Dust by Elizabeth Bear
All The Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
callistahogan: (Book Addict)
It's been so long since I've done a book review (twenty-four days), and I've only finished four books since then. That is kind of pathetic. Hopefully my reading speed will pick up after NaNo (or at least after I get my 50K, which will be in the next week for sure), and I'll keep up better.

Until then, though, these will be rather few and far between. In fact, these ones will probably be the last for a while, although I could be wrong.

Oh, and these'll be short. I don't feel like writing long ones at the moment, unfortunately. But anyway. Enough rambling.


Book #52 -- Chris Baty, No Plot, No Problem!, 176 pp.
Grade: A

If I wasn't already psyched up for NaNo, this book would have been perfect in succeeding in getting me that way. Chris Baty is perhaps the most enthusiastic person about NaNo I have ever seen (for good reason), and that enthusiasm just leaps off the page. Although the advice in this book was nothing new, and I didn't particularly need it, it was an entertaining read. I'd recommend it to anyone NaNoer.

Book #53 -- Christopher Paolini, Brisingr, 784 pp.
Grade: C+

The last fifty pages of this book blew me away. The female characters were stronger than they are in most other fantasy novels. Eragon and Roran grew during the story. Other than those good things, the rest of the book dragged on and on and on and on and on... you get the picture. It could have been cut in half and I would have enjoyed it so much more. Unfortunately, it was just blah, although the last fifty pages redeemed it in my eyes.

Book #54 -- Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones, 224 pp.
Grade: A

What an unique way to look at writing! The masterful way she combined her love for writing and Zen Buddhism was truly inspiring. Her "writing noteboook" idea was so good, in fact, that I snabbed it. I now have a red writing notebook to write in daily—as soon as NaNo ends, that is. A wonderful book; recommended to any lover of writing.

Book #55 -- Elie Wiesel, Night, 108 pp.
Grade: A

For school. This book was a touching, heartbreaking tale of what went on during the Holocaust. It nearly made me cry, and made me wonder how anyone could ever deny such a great horror ever happened. I can't believe the horrors other human beings can inflict on others. It's just unbelievable, and this book reveals the worst of humanity. I can't say I "enjoyed" this book, but it was incredibly well-written. Definitely recommended.

Currently ReadingGod's Politics by Jim Wallis
callistahogan: (Books)
Look at that—I'm on a roll! Maybe I'll reach 55 books before NaNo starts... although I desperately, desperately need to start planning. My procrastination is really starting to make me angry...

But anyway. Here be the review!

BookPlot and Structure by James Scott Bell
Genre: Writing reference / Nonfiction
Length: 231 pp.
Grade: B

Amazon Summary: The second book in the Write Great Fiction series, Plot & Structure offers clear and concise information on creating a believable and engaging plot that readers can't resist. Written by award-winning thriller and suspense author James Scott Bell, this handy instruction guide provides:

  •  Easy-to-understand techniques on every aspect of plotting and structure, from brainstorming story ideas to building scenes, and from using subplots to crafting knock-out endings
  •  Engaging exercises, perfect for writers at any level and at any stage in their novel
  •  Practical and encouraging guidance from one of the most respected writers publishing today
Full of diagrams, plot brainstormers, and examples from popular novels, mastering plot and structure has never been so simple.

My Thoughts: Getting ready for NaNo, I've been trying to work out Yulian a bit better than I have my previous two attempts, just because I don't want to have too much nonsense in my novel that I'll have to go through and edit out again. Because of this, I requested four books from the library (well, five now) and bought this one via my local bookstore.

So far, I'm wondering how any of the other books can be as useful as this one was. Going into this book, I wasn't sure how to start my novel, but after reading, I figured out where I want to start, including a preface and a fairly good (I hope) opening sentence for my first chapter. The first chapter is falling into place now, aand so is my main character, though my second main character is being a (excuse my immaturity for a moment) butthead.

James Scott Bell has got a secure grasp on plot and structure, that's for sure. I learned how to put my plot together, how to ratchet up intensity in scenes and how to keep it close to a 5 on the intensity scale if the scene doesn't have to be too intense, and all that information. The thing I was having the most trouble with was the beginning, and I think I am just going to entirely cut out all of the excess crud from my first starting ideas, starting right in the middle of the action.

This book honestly has everything you'd ever need to know about plotting a book and structuring it in a way that makes readers want to read on. He talks about the ideas in a very understandable way, supplying little exercises at the end to further help writers along in their writing. Not only that, but he also goes in depth on character arcs, beginnings, middles, ends, and revision.

The Revision and Character Arcs chapters were particularly useful. The revision chapter helped me realize that rewriting can be fun, so long as you go into it with the right attitude (which I will try to do once I'm done writing Yulian). The character arcs chapter also inspired me to think more about my characters, especially Ellie.

I could find something useful in every single chapter of this book, and I can't wait to start writing now. Most of the examples he used to illustrate his points came from the thriller/suspense/horror categories, but it applied to all genres as well.

So, all in all, I liked this book. If you're a NaNoer and want help plotting and/or structuring your novel, I'd recommend picking this one up.

Currently Reading:
Brisingr by Christopher Paolini

Next Up:
Um, depends on which of the four (maybe five) books I want to dig into once I get them from the library today.


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