Rank Your Reading: Plot, Style and Character

September 18, 2014 2014, discussion, lists 41

PSC

 

In a recent episode of The Bookrageous Podcast, the group attempted to rank the importance of plot, style and character in the books they read. Obviously, each element plays a critical role in fiction, but most of us do tend to favor one over the others in our reading. The discussion (which begins at roughly 25:30) is quite interesting and definitely worth listening to.

It took about two seconds to pinpoint style as my most important element. I will happily sacrifice plot and characters in order to read well-crafted sentences. I can fall into a great, character-focused or well-plotted novel, but writing will always be my first love. The podcast also had me thinking about recent books that won me over with a specific element, as well as those written with a fantastic combination of all three.

Style

Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky by David Connerley Nahm

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offil

Character

Want Not by Jonathan Miles

Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood

Plot

The Fever by Megan Abbott

Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh

A Delicate Balance

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

 

What’s most important to you in a book? Do you favor stand-out passages, memorable characters or page-turning plots?

 

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Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

September 17, 2014 2014, ARC, reviews 20

Stone Mattress by Margaret AtwoodStone Mattress by Margaret Atwood
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on 9/16/2014
Source: Publisher
Pages: 288
Buy From IndieBoundGoodreads

 

Leave it to Margaret Atwood to take two things I’m quite ambivalent about—short stories and elements of fantasy—and make me fall in love. Though I went into Stone Mattress hesitant, by the collection’s third story I felt a strong connection to the thread linking “Alphinland”, “Revenant” and “Dark Lady”, along with the irresistible pull of Atwood’s prose.

I often find myself struggling with anything that strays too far off the beaten path, but Stone Mattress finds a perfect balance between its solid footing in reality and a sly, twisted nod to mythical elements. Atwood herself describes the story collection as removed “at least slightly from the realm of mundane works and days, as it evokes the world of the folk tale, the wonder tale, and the long-ago teller of tales.” That slight shift takes many forms, like the mind of a science fiction writer or a murderous wife, but consistently serves as a link between the collection’s stories and rather than a distraction.

“There’s only so long you can feel sorry for a person before you come to feel that their affliction is an act of malice committed by them against you.”

The tales are also linked by the looming presence of age, which pushes some characters close to death and simply reminds others of their mortality. But many can’t face the future without a last look at their past. In the darkest of her stories, Atwood ‘s characters use the advantage of age to seek revenge for life’s injustices, often with pointed commentary.

Now part of an absolutely dizzying body of work, Stone Mattress is a testament to Margaret Atwood’s ability to continuously thrill and surprise readers while holding fast to the style and substance we love.

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Give Me Some of That Backlist, Baby

September 16, 2014 2014, Top Ten Tuesday 39

ReadMore

It’s been a while since I jumped in on a Top Ten Tuesday post, but this week was calling to me: authors I’ve only read once, but need to read again. So, here are ten authors that have me itching to jump in their backlists.

Wilton Barnhardt

After falling hard for last year’s hilarious romp, Lookaway, Lookaway, I heard amazing things about Barnhardt’s backlist chunkster Gospel, which I have waiting for me on my bookshelf.

Anthony Doerr

I’m still learning to love short stories, but the short chapters in Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See were like a preview of his ability to write in a short space. Other readers have mentioned how great The Shell Collector is, so I’d love to give it a try.

Jonathan Evison

After I read The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, I needed anything Jonathan Evison had ever written. Even though West of Here has a wide range of reviews, it sounds like it’s right in my wheelhouse.

Tom Franklin

I know, I know. I’m way overdue for Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. But I did read and love The Tilted World.

Laird Hunt

Neverhome totally blew me away, and I had no idea Laird Hunt was hiding so many novels under his belt. Kind One sounds particularly incredible.

Lorrie Moore

After falling head over heels for Anagrams last year, I’m determined to take a deep dive into Lorrie Moore’s classic Birds of America.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I read Americanah earlier this year, but already miss that reading experience. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Half of a Yellow Sun and would love to give it a read.

Wallace Stegner

I guess I was hiding under a rock until I read Crossing to Safety at the end of last year and it totally rocked my world. Now I need Angle of Repose.

Daniel Woodrell

I flew through The Maid’s Version during a recent readathon, but I definitely need to go back and read Woodrell’s infamous Winter’s Bone.

Simon Van Booy

The Illusion of Separateness was so incredibly beautiful that I might have created a bit of a Simon Van Booy stockpile since reading it. I think I’m going to tackle The Secret Lives of People in Love first.

Are there any author backlists you want to dig into?

 

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It’s Monday September 15th, What Are You Reading?

September 15, 2014 2014, it's monday, what are you reading? 29

Monday

It was a weekend full of movie-going (The Drop and Boyhood), but I did get started on a few new books. The cover of Rainey Royal has been calling to me since I first saw it at BEA, so I’m excited to finally pick it up, along with The Way Inn by Will Wiles. Since Brown Girl Dreaming is part of a readalong (through Tumblr’s Reblog Book Club), I’m working at it slowly, which is exactly how it should be read. It’s beautiful.

I’m super excited to be heading to the SIBA Trade Show this Friday and Saturday, but will be missing Bloggiesta while I’m gone. I’d definitely recommend checking it out if you haven’t participated before! Hopefully I can at least pop in on Thursday’s Twitter chat.

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

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Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott

September 12, 2014 2014, ARC, non-fiction, reviews, Richmond 23

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen AbbottLiar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott
Published by Harper Collins on 9/2/2014
Source: Publisher
Pages: 528
Buy From IndieBoundGoodreads

 

As the former capital of the Confederacy, my city of Richmond, Virginia has a history that I’m very interested in, even if it didn’t always take the stance I agree with. I’ve done my fair share of historical tours, usually when I have family visiting from out of town, which have made me feel quite knowledgeable of my adopted little city and its past. Cue Karen Abbott with her ability to throw me off!

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is Karen Abbott’s newest non-fiction book, which focuses on four women who risked their lives to take part in the Civil War as spies. Abbott’s women came from both sides of the war and worked in various ways; undercover as a Union soldier, as a Confederate courier, and deeply engaged in Northern affairs to gather information for the South. Then there was Elizabeth Van Lew, a member of Richmond’s high society with the heart of her Northern bloodline.

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I was already thrilled to be reading familiar street names, but stopped dead in my tracks at the mention of Church Hill. Elizabeth Van Lew lived in my neighborhood. I nearly had my shoes on with determination to find that mansion, but figured I should probably do a bit more reading first. Even without the Richmond connection, Elizabeth’s story was easy to get lost in as she seemed to cross so many lines we tend to see as solidly drawn. Though she was born in Richmond, her father sent her to Philadelphia to be taught in a Quaker school, which solidified her liberal upbringing. Back in Richmond by the time the Civil War broke out, Elizabeth was destined to take part in aiding the Union, despite her Confederate surroundings.

Sadly, the Van Lew house was demolished by the City of Richmond in the early 1900’s along with the Ballard House Hotel, which was also featured in the book. Though Elizabeth’s house is gone, a historical marker now stands outside the school that took it place just a few blocks from my house. Without Karen Abbott’s book, it’s likely I would have never noticed the sign or heard of Elizabeth’s amazing story. Along with being a well-researched, interesting look at several women involved in the Civil War, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy allowed me to get a closer look at the history right in my backyard.

van lew

 

Have you ever discovered a connection to a book while reading?

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Let’s Shake Things Up: Reading, Reviews and Creative Content

September 10, 2014 2014, book blogging, discussion 45

BOOK BLOGGER (1)

 

What did summer do to us, my dear book bloggers? I think 97.5% of us have hit a reading or blogging slump that we’re struggling to get out of, and while slumping is nothing new this seems pretty widespread. Earlier, Andi from Estella’s Revenge posted about Blogging Differently and received tons of responses that echoed her feelings about the struggle to keep reviews fresh.

My blog is still under two years old, but I feel like we’ve been talking about this slow decline in book reviews since I started blogging (and probably long before that). The conversations around dwindling pageviews and comments on review posts? I remember noting them in my first few months of blogging. I haven’t abandoned book reviews but, honestly, they’re the posts I feel most uncomfortable with. They’re the posts that feel the least “me” and I know I need to focus on talking about books in more creative ways.

I know some of you are rocking and rolling with great reviews and actually enjoy writing them. By all means, keep on. But for those of us slumping in Slumpland because we’re bored or uncomfortable, maybe we need to shake things up. Like Andi mentioned, coming up with unique content feels nearly impossible with all the book bloggers out there, but aren’t there dozens of bloggers posting reviews for the books we read? I think we just need a shift in perspective.

Rather than this fast-paced cycle of reading and reviewing, maybe we need to throw a bit more thinking in the middle. Michele from Reader’s Respite just wrote two fantastic posts On Essays, Slowing Down and Reading Purposefully that seem to drive this home. Even if deep literary analysis isn’t your thing, I think taking the time to slow down and do more thinking about our reading can be beneficial for all of us, especially in terms of post ideas. It’s hard to be creative if we’re constantly set on finishing one book to review it and move on to the next.

It’s likely going to take a little time, but I’m aiming for more discussion based posts and non-traditional reviews—even on new books!—or reviews that take a deeper look at the text, while still maintaining my voice. Some of my favorite (and most viewed posts) have been those that prompted discussion between readers and I would love to have those be a regular thing. Ashley from Nose Graze just wrote a great post on incorporating discussions that I’ll definitely be referring to.

This wasn’t meant to be a big announcement about changing my own blog, I was just whipped up by posts from the past few days and think we’re long overdue for a shift as book bloggers in general. We can’t all be feeling this way for this long—there are still too many books to be read.

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