bookshelf books

The Books I Read: January – February 2022

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

This is a short collection of beautifully written essays that don’t seem to have a point. Only about a quarter of this book is really about “writing life”. That section is nothing you haven’t heard before. It’s getting your ass in the chair and writing and looking around. Nothing about the publicity tours, the writer’s block, the interactions with an editor, with fans, the relationship changes with a family (i.e. what to say during gatherings where you just want people to buy it)

The rest is about… something else. I guess it’s the things you think about when you should be writing but you’re not. Like how cold your cabin is. Or what that lumberjack is doing over in the distance. Mostly it’s stories that don’t go anywhere, like the time I had to catch the train to Shelbyville and I had to tie an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. There’s something “metaphysical” about the book, that it’s about more life and less writing.

And the problem was I couldn’t follow it. I got the sense this is something the author wrote as an exercise in-between books. In other words, it didn’t meet my expectations. I’m not sure who this book is for but it’s not for writers.

The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby

This guy has such a hard-on for Casablanca and Tootsie he should have been a film critic. The book was written in 2007 but all his examples are from way in the past (we’re talking Four Weddings and a Funeral or The Godfather). These are fine stories, it may not be what you want to write. I know I don’t. You may want to write “Iron Man” or “Nightmare Alley” or some crime thriller book. You can have a story that’s fun and still affects the reader. It doesn’t have to be about social issues or dour “message-driven” plots. This book emphasizes starting with the theme and snowballing out from there. Not about what “well wouldn’t it be fun if…”

For another thing, those works are once-in-a-blue-moon-type stories. I doubt Mario Puzo and Murray Burnett (the guy who wrote the play Casablanca is based on) were thinking about morals, themes, or motifs right from the get-go. They’re what Stephen King calls “geniuses” and you can’t make a genius out of a competent writer. No writing book in the world is going to do that and that is the premise this book seems to be selling. The Godfather and Casablanca were cases of the right story, right writer, and right time & place. Stephen King and Neil Gaiman say they wait until the book is finished, then examine the story to determine the theme that came out of it.

This book was much like Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling by Donald Maass where, if I got 10% out of what I read, that would be enough. But this book is so long, and seems so counter to current stories and best-sellers, I don’t think I can recommend it. Watch another movie besides Tootsie, John.

Swashbucklers by Dan Hanks

I got excited when I read the concept. But then the story got boring because there was no character development. It’s supposed to be like “what happened when the kids from Stranger Things or The Goonies grew up?”

I guess they get real dull is what happened. The story that happened before this would have been far more exciting to read. The author keeps telling, not showing, because the important parts all happened before.

This is like the sequel or fan fiction to a story that never happened. And the content that is there is just tedious adventuring and no character arcs. No one learns anything, they just do fighting. So there’s no way to get invested.

All These Worlds (Bobiverse #3) by Dennis E. Taylor

This is the third book in the “Bobiverse” trilogy. There are other side-spin-off books, but I don’t think I’ll read those because the story ended quite satisfactorily here for me. Far more than The Themis Files.

As with all sequels in a series, you’ll learn more about my recommendations for those if you read my previous reviews. Suffice to say, it ends delightfully and, as aforementioned, satisfactorily. I think it might be better than the second book, which is always a good thing for a trilogy. It’s got a good sense of humor, very Scalzi-esque. But as I’ve said previously, don’t wait too long between each book or you’ll forget everything.

Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

I think this is short enough to be called a novella, so I’d like to know how this got a publisher, because I’ve got some novellas I’d like to submit.

There’s some beautifully written prose in here, but at the cost of narrative flow. The dialogue keeps getting interrupted with some observation, facial tic, or other analysis of the narrative.

That means the story gets no chance to flow. Barry Lyga says “Small, insignificant actions like ‘looking’ or ‘blinking’ or ‘swallowing’ or ‘narrowing eyes’ distract to the reader and make the story unnecessarily longer.” This is coupled with there being too much telling about the characters, not showing, because the narrative is told through a single POV. This means I forgot who they were half the time, even though there are only five.

The more horror I read, the less I like it as a genre/medium. It gets too metafictional. Too self-aware. I guess it’s hard not to have the characters realize they’re in a horror movie when there are so many tropes. But it all comes off like a repeat of Scream. Plus you lose all the timing of the scare and the visuality of the horror.

The Law of Superheroes by James Daily and Ryan Davidson

I picked this up as research for a possible book. I guess if you were going to read any fun “accessible” book about law, this would be it. But be prepared because these guys are lawyers first and writers second. There are times even Batman’s vigilante justice can’t save all the prose (i.e. long paragraphs, high vocabulary, and plenty of adverbs). But how else are you going to find out if Superman has to pay taxes on the coal he squeezes into diamonds?

There’s quite a lot of content here, from constitutional law to criminal to privacy to property. At least everything has a tone of humor, so it’s not a dry legal document. I think if you used to watch The People’s Court (Wapner forever!) and read comic books at the same time, this is for you. It’s for a specific audience, but hey, you might be that audience!

For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

This was gifted to my wife, so of course, it got to my hands first. It didn’t look like my usual fare, but sometimes books find you. And you have to take those opportunities when they come. If you search for good books, understand that they may also be searching for you. Besides, I want to learn how to write a bestseller. Why not read a bestseller?

I really really tried. I made it halfway through–204 pages. But I just did not care about the characters. I did not see a world where I would have been glad I finished this all the way to the end.

First, I hate the style. Everything is written in this dark gothic prose with lots of gaps between dialogue detailing every wisp of hair, every bite of the lip, every taste in the mouth, every visual and audio detail between the lines. It’s wordy, wordy, wordy. There’s basically one thing that happens in each chapter and all the rest is window dressing and filler prose. Is overwriting a plague among bestsellers?

Second, I hate the story. It’s not Little Red Riding Hood. It’s not even close to that as an allegory. There’s not even a grandma to eat. The symbology is vague at best. If it’s close to any fairy tale, it’s Beauty and the Beast. And there is already a metric ton of those. I don’t need to read them again. Look at the facts: the little defenseless girl is forced to live in a castle with a gruff grumpy man (called The Wolf) who acts taciturn and rude to her until they spend some time together. They fall in love by proximity, yadda yadda yadda. You already know how it ends.

It’s got a distinct mood, but why do I need another “tale as old as time”? Why do I need to know every time a character wipes their eyebrow or looks at the floor?

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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