September 16, 2010

Good Books I've Been Avoiding

Participation in real life has kept me from writing or blogging lately, but I have found time for reading. I'm working my way through two books right now, and as it happens, they're both books that I didn't think I wanted to read.

For ages, I've been meaning to read Stephen King's ON WRITING, and I finally got around to buying it (there's a new tenth anniversary edition). But I haven't read that yet, because it occurred to me that I've never read anything by King and it might make sense to have an idea what his fiction is like before I start on his writing advice.

I'd never read any Stephen King because I don't like horror. Now, I am well aware of two problems with that statement. First, King doesn't only write horror. Second, I have throughly enjoyed some works of horror (the movie 28 Days Later comes to mind), and I wish I would stop pre-judging books based on genre. There are certain things in fiction that appeal to me more than other things, but mostly I like a good story, and King is known above all for being a great storyteller. It was silly of me to not read Stephen King because I think I don't like horror.

I asked for recommendations on Facebook and started with DIFFERENT SEASONS, a collection of four novellas, none of them traditional horror. Maybe I should have challenged myself more and tried a horror book, but several friends praised this collection. So far I've read the first two stories.

I was sucked into "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption", as fast as I was into the excellent movie made from it, which I saw only a few years ago. I was a little sad as I read that I couldn't be surprised by what happens, but I did appreciate how knowing the ending allowed me the pleasure of picking up on the hints and foreshadowing as the story unfolds.

I hadn't seen the movie based on "Apt Pupil" and didn't know anything about the story. I would categorize this novella as horror of the psychological type; it's all about the horrific ways people treat each other. I didn't enjoy reading it, but it's not really a story for enjoying. Somewhere in the long middle (this is the longest novella in the collection) I considered giving up, but by the end, I was impressed by the story's effectiveness and glad I pushed on to see where it went.

I'll read the other two stories soon, but last week I remembered that I'd bought the Conversational Reading fall read and that I'd better start it before the discussion begins on September 19. The book is THE LAST SAMURAI by Helen DeWitt, I'd never heard of it before the selection was announced, and all I knew about it was what appeared in the blog post. All of which I'd forgotten by last week, so I found myself staring at this intimidatingly large book with a samurai sword on the cover and thinking, "I don't care about samurai. I don't want to read this." (More silliness, as I'm sure I could enjoy a good story about samurai.)

As it turns out, though, this is not a book about samurai. This is a book about a distractable classics scholar and her genius five-year-old, it's full of discussions of ancient languages, the text is riddled with typographic tricks, and why did nobody tell me about this book before? I devoured the first reading assignment over a couple of days. We'll see if I can manage to hold back and read along with the six-week schedule or if I'll rush on ahead. In the meantime, I guess I'd better go back and finish the other book I didn't want to read.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ James Forrester at the Guardian Books Blogs says, "In creating good historical fiction, it is essential to tell lies." (Thanks, Pimp My Novel!)

→ Relatedly, K.M. Weiland posts Research: When in Doubt, Make It Up.

→ On the Book Lady's Blog, Frederick Reiken discusses books that jump around in time. (Thanks, PWxyz!)

1 comment:

Anna Scott Graham said...

King is wonderful, The Stand one of my all time favorite novels. I've been meaning to read On Writing, should really do that one of these days...

Am working through The Italian Girl by Iris Murdoch right now, short but very intriguing!

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