What I’m Reading: On Writing by Stephen King

I loved every page of this book, which I listened to on audiobook. Stephen King generously (those darn adverbs!) shares his insights about and faith in the magic of storytelling, the nuts and bolts of the writer’s toolbox, his own creative process, and the life events that shaped the writer he is today. He does all of this with the combination of compassion, encouragement, and straight dealing from the b.s.-free zone that I adore about this master wordsmith. A thoroughly enjoyable and illuminating read, with excellent narration by the author himself

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Reading for Writers: The Cormoran Strike Series

I’ve always been a voracious reader. I read for pleasure, relaxation, inspiration, and insights. I’ve also discovered that for those of us who are writers, there’s a bonus feature baked into every great book: a master class on writing.

I enjoy exploring an author’s sensory descriptions, seamless transitions, witty dialogue, deft handling of POV, and judicious sprinklings of humor. I’m fascinated by the sleight of hand that plants foreshadowings and the skillful ways in which the writer made me lose sleep for turning pages late into the night. And, perhaps most important, I am always in awe of the keen eye that shines a light on the manifold facets of human nature.

Jane Austen is one of those authors with an unflinching eye for human nature at its best and its worst. So are Nick Hornby, Zadie Smith, J.K. Rowling, and Aurelia Haslboeck, whose debut novel, The Journeys of John and Julia: Genesis, exemplifies why I return to the works of these authors again and again. I re-read them for pleasure, inspiration, and to marvel at the sheer brilliance of their writing.

Recently, within the space of two weeks, I devoured the first three books in J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike detective series, which she writes under the pen name Robert Galbraith. Here’s a brief clip of Rowling talking about the creation of her series:


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What I’m reading: It by Stephen King

I never did trust clowns. Never did understand how anyone could find them amusing. Or fun. When I see a small child crying at the sight of a clown at a birthday party, I’m like, hey, I feel you. Now, after listening to the mega-long-and-worth-every-second-of-it audiobook for Stephen King’s “It” (over 30 hours!), I feel vindicated. About the clown thing.

I also feel inspired. And awestruck. Because King is truly the master. There is so much depth, insight, compassion, and food for contemplation along with the edge-of-your-seat thrills, that I will be pondering this book for a long time.

I’ve always believed that to write well, one must read. A lot. And reading Stephen King is not only engaging, it comes with a brilliant display of particularity and “show, don’t tell,” and best of of, insightful commentaries on human nature in all its flawed, many-faceted, and endlessly intriguing forms.

“It” deals a lot with childhood. The sheer hellishness of it–bullies, clueless and cruel adults, the phenomenal willpower it takes to withstand parents who are bent on crushing every bit of individuality and light from their children. “It” also sings of the magical power of childhood–the ability to see and sense what adults are blind to, the belief in the existence of magic and all the things, good and evil, that adults simply cannot or refuse to acknowledge. And the life-changing, dragon-slaying power that childhood belief can wield.

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Now that I’ve read 11.22.63 and It, I can’t wait to read more. But which one to read next? Thankfully, there is much to choose from; the man is seriously prolific.

I’m thinking maybe Dolores Claiborne, since I saw the movie at least three times and couldn’t stop thinking about it for many reasons, including its echoing of the myth of Persephone, its themes of surviving trauma, and its multi-layered performance by the inimitable Kathy Bates.

What I’m Reading: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

I’ve decided that the definition of “unputdownable” in the OED should now be “11/22/63 by Stephen King.” I have lost sleep and work time racing through yet savoring every word of this masterfully written time-travel, what-if, alternate-reality tale of a man who travels back through a time-warp/rabbit hole in the back of a diner that lands him in 1958, where he must spend the next five years planning how to thwart the assassination of JFK. On the way, there is more of the past to tamper with, survive, and fall in love with–especially because it is where he meets his soulmate. But nothing is ever easy when it comes to changing the past, no sir. The past will do anything it can to stay put. “The obdurate past,” as King puts it. Indeed.

The past is also “harmonic,” according to 11/22/63. In fact, the act of reading 11/22/63 seems to generate its own harmonies, for as I entered the last third of the novel, an ad for the event series based on the work caught my eye on the Hulu home screen. Now I won’t have to feel as sad as I usually would do upon turning the last page of such an enthralling, mind-expanding read. I’ll have eight episodes to look forward to. Am hoping they do this brilliant work justice.

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Surviving the Dreaded 14th: 14 ways to survive Valentine’s Day

Has a holiday ever caused so much unhappiness? I’m not talking about how it was when we were kids. Then it was all about giving everyone in class a paper valentine and those little heart candies. Though kids could get mean about that too if left to their own devices, like leaving out the kids nobody talked to.

As adults, we’re supposed to be more equipped to deal with that stuff, but it takes a stalwart sort to withstand the collective anxiety in the run-up to Valentine’s Day, let alone the day itself.

If you’re not in a relationship, the ads for jewels and bouquets and V-Day menus seem to be mocking your lack of a BF. if you’re in a relationship, it’s sadly easy to get caught up in expectations, and there’s nothing less romantic than thinking, ‘what’s he going to get me, and it had better not be cheap or unromantic.’ Or ‘Is he going to take me out, and somewhere good for a change?’ or even worse, ‘Is he finally going to propose?’

It’s enough to make you want to go underground till February 15.

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But don’t despair: you can get through it. Not by hiding and pretending there’s no such thing as the dreaded V-Day. But by embracing the true message behind the holiday and making Feb. 14 your own, empowering, feel-good holiday, regardless of your relationship status.

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What I’m Reading: Everything by Gayle Forman

Having raced through Gayle Forman’s profoundly moving If I Stay, I immediately devoured the second book in the series, Where She Went. And that was it: I was hooked. My binge continued with Just One Day, Just One Year, and Just One Night, and finished (for now) with her courageous I Was Here.

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There’s a lot that I love about these novels: They are packed with wisdom without a hint of preachiness. They are brimming with love without a drop of sentimentality. And they are refreshingly unpredictable. Instead of relying on those familiar devices one often sees in stories about love–the meet-cute, the hate-at-first-sight that turns into uncontrollable attraction, Forman gives us the messiness of real life, which rarely turns out the way we think it will. (more…)