Posts Tagged ‘Reading’

Surround yourself with art

Posted: January 30, 2014 in Art
Tags: , , , , ,

SplatterAs a creative person, it is so incredibly important to immerse yourself in a creative world. Surround yourself with other people’s creativity — whether it’s their writing, their drawings, their music, or something else entirely. Living in an artistic environment will transfer some of their energy and creativity into your personal space, guaranteed.

I experience this all the time. I track down artists that I enjoy and like them on Facebook, follow their Tumblr, or add them on Twitter. Most of them time they’re just freelance artists. Sometimes they have regular jobs, and sometimes they have made it enough to turn their hobby into a full-time gig.

If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what it.

My favorite artist is Karen Hallion, who creates incredible works of art, my favorite of which are her Doctor Who/Disney mash-ups. It reminds me to think outside the box (pun intended) and to maybe try to put two things together that might at first seem as though they don’t work. You might be surprised by what you discover.

Looking at art gives me the same sort of feeling that reading a good book does. You get those goosebumps and that swelling feeling in the pit of your stomach. That’s what inspiration feels like for me, and it’s such a great feeling to have. It reminds you that other people are doing exactly what you want to do, that it is possible, and if you can just put in enough effort and enough hours, you’ll be able to have what they have.

Who knows, maybe you’ll be the one doing the inspiring some day.

This all comes down to feeding your muse. Do it in whatever way works best for you, whatever form of art gets her excited and ready to create. I prefer looking at art and reading books, but others enjoy writing to music or watching a good movie. Whatever you choose, do it often.

What do you choose to surround yourself with in order to inspire you? Do you have a favorite artist, writer, or musician that you usually turn to?

The best books I read in 2013

Posted: December 31, 2013 in Books & Reading
Tags: ,

My goal for 2013 was to read 25 books, and I happily surpassed that. At the time of writing this, I’m currently at 38 and counting, and although I’ve read a lot more than this in past years, this was still a great goal considering how busy I’ve been recently. Yay, books!

So, which were my favorites? Well, an early favorite was definitely The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken. It had this cool dystopian premise that reminded me a lot of X-Men, which I’ve always been a huge fan of. It comes kids with special powers and scary detention camps. It’s definitely worth the read!

A quick followup to that was 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma, which was different from a lot of other books I’d read previously. It has a creepy storyline and a great twist at the end. It’s also a standalone book, which I know can be hard to come by.

I also read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley this year, which really needs no introduction. I was surprised by how much I liked it, even to the point that I’d love to read it again. If you’re not usually into the classics (like me), I would still highly recommend this book. It’s interesting and smart and makes you think about Frankenstein’s monster in a way you probably never have before.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green was another great book, and definitely left a few tears in my eyes. I’ll have to pick up his other novels now because I really like his writing style. The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider reminded me a lot of his writing as well, and that’s another book I’d highly recommend. It may have also left a few tears in my eyes.

Burn for Burn and Fire with Fire by Jenny Han were complete surprises. I read them to review on Hypable and didn’t imagine I’d find them all that interesting, but they were a huge surprise — and in the best possible way. They combine some truly awesome female characters with some great romance and even a touch of the supernatural. These also had a great twist to them.

House of Hades by Rick Riordan was my favorite book this year for so many reasons. It had a great storyline, and it was wonderful to see characters that we’ve been so involved in for so many years finally mature and come to learn a lot more about life. If you’ve been thinking about getting into the Percy Jackson series, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Lastly, I read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. This book was difficult to read because so much of my life is reflected onto the pages. Between Cath’s involvement in fandom and her anxiety, I sometimes felt like I was reading a story about myself. This also has a wonderful romantic thread throughout the book that is really genuine and organic. I’d recommend this to anyone, but particularly to those who are introverts and would rather spend time in front of their computer than interacting with other human beings.

I read a lot of other books this year, but these were certainly my favorites. Have you read any of them? If so, which ones and what did you think? What were some of your favorite books from this year?

1fun
noun \ˈfən\

: someone or something that is amusing or enjoyable : an enjoyable experience or person

: an enjoyable or amusing time

: the feeling of being amused or entertained

I should preface this blog post by saying two of the other girls and I had a fantastic discussion on Book Hype yesterday about the merit of Young Adult fiction. The episode won’t be out until tomorrow, but be sure to check my Facebook page or the Book Hype Twitter for the link when it goes live.

Although I would like to hear what you have to say about the topic, that’s not what I’m writing about today. I wanted to mention Book Hype because we often have great discussions about a variety of topics that don’t have easy solutions. Talking about matters complexly is something that I love to do, and it’s something that I devote a lot of time doing on behalf of Hypable.

But what about having fun? Have we forgotten about that? If so, I suggest you reread the definition again.

Like I said, I have no problem with really digging in deep when it comes to having an intellectual conversation. That’s something that I think needs to be done. But what about just enjoying a story for the sake of it being a good story?

This has really been brought to my attention lately with the recent 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who, along with conversations taking place about Catching Fire and Teen Wolf, among many, many other things. Fans of these stories seem to be getting more and more critical. They’re forgetting that the main focus of the story is to entertain. Where has the fun gone?

I’m not saying that all stories are meant to be fun. Many of the themes in the Hungers Games trilogy certainly aren’t. But what happened to soaking in the words of a good book or TV show or movie? Why do we have to cut down the authors and writers and directors for some of the smallest details?

Even when those details aren’t so small, why do we have to overthink their meaning and make judgments on those people as human beings? Is that fair? I don’t think it is.

A lot of it harkens back to the fact that we as a species just love to complain. We’re never satisfied. We always want more. That’s great to an extent, but why should there be so much hatred toward your favorite stories? If you spend more time complaining about them than enjoying them, I think you’re doing it wrong.

While I think everything should have an underlying meaning that can spark conversation and action, I also think we can’t forget about how fun a good book or a good television show or a good movie can be.

What do you think?

I’m a sucker for a happy ending, just like the next happy-go-lucky, head-in-the-clouds gal. Nothing makes me more gleeful than turning that final page and releasing a sigh of pure contentedness that tells me I finished another book that I’ll be sad to let go.

But sometimes those books just aren’t realistic. Sometimes an important character needs to die, a couple needs to break up, and the ending needs to leave you crying instead of sighing. Some books I can think of off the top of my head that did this are The Fault in Our Stars, Skin, and Tuesdays with Morrie.

I like happy endings because I think books should reflect an ideal world whenever possible. They’re meant to help us escape, to allow us to believe in hope and love, to make us think that perhaps this world has the potential to be better than it is.

But not every story is meant to be that way. If you looked at stories like The Fault in Our Stars, which deals with a very realistic portrayal of cancer patients, what would it say if the book ended up with everyone happy and cured and living their dream lives? It would feel fake and undermine the whole point of the book.

Then again, to constantly beat up characters and not even allow them to come back triumphant would be tragic – not only to them, but to the reader as well. Who wants to be kicked down so far that they can’t even pick themselves back up?

It really is a balance in any story, and the ending should reflect a lot more than just the author’s whims. It should make sense according to the plot, the characters, and the setting and world. An ending that seems out of place could ruin an entire book.

I like a good mix of realistic endings and happy ones. But if I had to choose, I’d go with happy endings every time. Call me superficial, but I can be a mush sometimes.

If you HAD to choose, would you pick to only read books with happy endings, or realistic ones?

Think whatever you want, I don’t care. I totally judge a book by it’s cover.

I mean, why not? The cover should reflect the book as a whole. If you couldn’t take the time to create a nice image for the front of your story, how do we know that you took the time to craft a nice story for us to read? Something that’s been poorly photoshopped or doesn’t even really represent your book tells us a lot about you.

So, make sure you have a nice cover.

And hey, not every cover is going to speak to every person. And if your book gets enough good reviews, the cover isn’t even going to matter that much.

The cover for Divergent doesn’t really do anything for me, but I picked it up and read it because everyone was saying how amazing it was. (And it IS amazing, FYI.)

Divergent Cover

 

And everyone’s opinions are different. I love highly photoshopped or colorful book covers. They always grab my attention.

Clockwork Princess Cover

 

Incarnate Cover

 

That’s not to say that I won’t read a book with a cover I don’t like. It’s just that when I’m browsing for something new, something I’ve never heard of before, a cover like Incarnate is going to grab my attention and intrigue me more than, say, the cover for The Casual Vacancy.

Casual Vacancy Cover

(Which I read anyway because – duh – J.K. Rowling.)

What’s your opinion? Do you refuse to judge a book by its cover, or do you feel like it does (and should) represent a book? Do you ever just browse covers that grab your attention, or do you only go by recommendations from friends or family members?

 

Uprising by Jessica TherrienAnother quick book recommendation for you guys! I just finished reading Uprising by Jessica Therrien, and I thought it was great! This is the second novel in her Children of the Gods series. It follows Elyse, who is a Descendant of a Greek god. In the first book, she comes to terms with this new world she never knew existed, and in the second we see the repercussions of a lot of her previous actions.

The Children of the Gods series, as best as I can describe it, is like Percy Jackson meets X-Men. And that’s a total compliment in my book. The second novel focuses a lot on war, loss, death, and struggling to stay together as a unit and a family. There are some really wonderful messages in there, and some really dark times for the main character (and the reader!).

I think you guys will like it, so you should totally pick up the first one and give it a try. I thought the second one was even better!

Here’s the review of Uprising I wrote for Hypable.

Here’s my interview I did with Jessica for Hypable.

You can find Oppression and Uprising on Amazon.

And don’t forget to find Jessica on her blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

What do you think? Does the concept sound interesting? Think you’ll give it a try?

I just finished reading War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. It was a good read – a bit slow – but better than Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. There were a few parts that were really intense, and the ending was great. I like how the story was resolved, I just wish it hadn’t taken so long to get there.

But that’s not what I’m writing about today. Today, I’m asking you, “Is breaking the fourth wall a good thing or a bad thing?”

First, a definition of a fourth wall:

An imaginary wall (as at the opening of a modern stage proscenium) that keeps performers from recognizing or directly addressing their audience

This obviously mostly applies to plays and such, but I think it’s appropriate for books as well (correct me if I’m wrong – maybe there’s another term we use?).

Second, an example. There are plenty of examples in War of the Worlds where the narrator directly talks to his audience, the readers. And plenty of other books have done this too. The first book in the Kane Chronicles, The Red Pyramid, is written in a way that consistently reminds you that the narrators are directly talking to you. This is especially evident in the first few paragraphs:

We only have a few hours, so listen carefully.

If you’re hearing this story, you’re already in danger. Sadie and I might be your only chance.

Go to the school. Find the locker. I won’t tall you which school or which locker, because if you’re the right person, you’ll find it. The combination is 12/32/33. By the time you finish listening, you’ll know what those numbers mean. Just remember the story we’re about to tell you isn’t complete yet. How it ends will depend on you.

You can see that the narrator, Carter, talks directly to the person reading the book. The author, Rick Riordan, purposely breaks that invisible barrier and simultaneously brings the reader into the world of the novel, and yet makes them something separate.

The point is that although you can still feel a part of the story, it’s hard to imagine yourself as the main character if he or she is talking directly to you.

So, here’s the question again: “Is breaking the fourth wall a good thing or a bad thing?”

I don’t really have a definitive answer. I don’t think there is one. The safe answer would probably be that is depends on the circumstance. Does the story call for it? Does it feel right? Does it hinder the story or does it help bring out the personality of your characters?

And, of course, it’s all about personal preference.

Instead, I just want to take a moment to look at the pros and cons. Because, like everything else, there are some great aspects to breaking down that wall. But there are some problems with it as well.

THE PROS:

  1. You’re made a part of the story. The characters come alive when they talk directly to you, and you feel like you’re actively taking part in the narration.
  2. It really grabs your attention. An opening like the one above really hooks you in. It sets the stakes and makes you feel like everything is on the line, like you have to act RIGHT NOW in order to save the main characters. That can be really fun.
  3. It makes the characters more real. In War of the Worlds, the main character talks as if he’s writing you a letter – a full account of what happened to him. He could be real. He could be a friend or he could be some stranger that handed you a notebook about this surreal event that occurred a few months back.

THE CONS:

  1. You can’t be the main character. As soon as the narrator starts talking to you, it takes you out of the story. You’re no longer a part of that specific narration. You can imagine you exist in that world, but no longer can you put yourself in the shoes of the main character in the same way you could if that fourth wall was still solidly in place.
  2. It takes you out of the story. I know I already said this in the previous point, but it’s worth mentioning on its own. When that fourth wall is broken, it reminds you that the book is just a book. We so often lose ourselves in a novel, but breaking the wall is like when an actor looks directly into the camera. It’s a little jarring because it reminds you that you’re really just sitting in your living room looking at them through a television screen.
  3. It can imply telling. Not always, but sometimes. If your narrator is speaking directly to the audience, it means he’s having a conversation with them – albeit a one sided conversation – and that often means he’s telling them some sort of information that might be better if he had shown it through his actions.

As you can see, there are pros and cons on both sides. Some pretty good ones too. Breaking the fourth wall can mean having a pretty incredible hook, but it might also bring your readers out of the story.

Should you do it? Maybe. It works really effectively in the Kane Chronicles series. I thought it worked fairly well in War of the Worlds, too, but it was far less necessary. It depends on your characters. On the premise. On the medium through which your characters are telling the story (ie. Sadie and Carter Kane are recording themselves). There are certainly a lot of factors to consider, and a decision to break the fourth wall should be made on a case-by-case basis.

Have you watched or read anything that broke the fourth wall? Was it effective? Have you ever broken the fourth wall in one of your stories? Why did you decide to do it?

17 & GoneI’ve become such a champion of this book in such a short amount of time. I read it for Hypable’s Book Club, which is part of the Book Hype podcast. We’ve read The Darkest Minds and then City of a Thousand Dolls. And they were good. Not great. Not perfect. But they were pretty good. I enjoyed them.

17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma is a different story all together. Literally, actually. It’s a completely different genre with a completely different purpose. It gets into your head and messes with you.

And that’s one of the reasons why I love it.

I’m not going to tell you much about it, except for what the official blurb offers. And the reason is that this book should be experienced without knowing anything about it. You should be totally blind going in. Only then will you get the full impact of the story. It’s very real and very raw. It should be read as if it were a true account, because only then, I think, you can get the full impact of the story.

Here’s the synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Lauren is having visions of girls who have gone missing. And all these girls have just one thing in common—they are 17 and gone without a trace. As Lauren struggles to shake these waking nightmares, impossible questions demand urgent answers: Why are the girls speaking to Lauren? How can she help them? And… is she next? As Lauren searches for clues, everything begins to unravel, and when a brush with death lands her in the hospital, a shocking truth emerges, changing everything.

I don’t think this is the type of book everyone will like. The writing is excellent, as is the storytelling, but the story is rough, and there’s a lot of death and sadness. It’s not a book you can particularly say you enjoy, but I think it makes a big impact, and that’s the sort of thing it was meant to do. It’s supposed to bother you and send chills down your spine. And boy does it deliver.

If you’ve read the book, join me in the comments for a little discussion. To those that haven’t read it, note that the comment section may not be spoiler free.

We’re going to be discussing this on an upcoming episode of Book Hype, so stay tuned for that as well. I always release the episodes on my Facebook page, or you can check out my ROW80 updates I post every Sunday morning.

Have you ever read a book that you love but don’t particularly enjoy because it’s so heavy? I thought Tuesdays with Morrie was like that too.

I always feel kind of bad thinking this. I mean, I’m an avid reader, AND I’m a writer. Shouldn’t I be completely in love with the classics? It’s like an art history student going up to a painting by Michelangelo and saying, “Meh.”

Some people are going to look at you funny.

But I can’t help it! There are a few “classics” I do enjoy. 1984 is one of my all-time favorite books. I love Lord of the Flies. But beyond that? There are maybe only a few others.

1984 George OrwellIf you read my post about audiobooks on Monday, you’ll know I’ve been using them to listen to the classics because it’s a lot easier for me to get through them that way. I’ve read both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland  and Through the Looking Glass, and I’m just about done with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

And you know what? I didn’t really like them.

Okay, so they’re imaginative, and they’re inspiring and they’ve launched TV shows and movies and toys and a million other things. But I found the writing to be juvenile and the descriptions, in a lot of cases, to be pointless.

Now, this isn’t totally the fault of the author. And this is sort of the point I want to drive home. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written in 1865. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published in 1900. These times are a world away from ours. Certain things were expected in stories – things that would be looked down upon by today’s standards. So many descriptions go on for pages and pages and pages. Nowadays? That’d land your MS in the circular file.

So, okay. The classics are hard to relate to. The writing is not the same as we’d expect if we were to pick up a contemporary novel. But what about the story? Wouldn’t that be its saving grace?

Yes, I think that’s where a classic is saved. If you can get through all the junk and read for the meaning of the story, that’s where the love for the novel comes into play. Let’s face it, if you actually enjoy reading A Tale of Two Cities, you might be a bit of a masochist. The writing is so roundabout, so dragged out, that I found myself able to get through only a few pages at a time. (This was before I discovered the joy of audiobooks, which probably would’ve brought this story more to life than my imagination was able to.)

But once you read the words and reflect back on the story, the love for the character arc and journey the characters went on becomes apparent. It’s only after the fact that the story becomes what we treasure. While we’re reading it? It’s torture. At least, that’s how I feel.

And sometimes I think people love the classics just because they’re classics. And I don’t get that. Maybe that’s why I feel so guilty when I say I have a hard time getting through them – shouldn’t I love them all if reading and writing are such a big part of my life?

Maybe. But maybe not. I think everyone should read the classics and try to understand them. But you don’t have to like them. A like for those stories, just like any other story, is subjective. And it isn’t required. Just because you don’t like Macbeth doesn’t mean you haven’t read it and doesn’t mean you don’t understand it. It just means you didn’t like it. Plain and simple.

Or, at least, that’s what I’m telling myself to ease the guilt.

What do you guys think? Are you advocates of the classics, or do you have trouble with them too? Are there any that you absolutely love? Are there any that you feel guilty about not liking?

Alice's Adventures in WonderlandYesterday at my check-in for ROW80 I told you guys I started listening to audiobooks. This is actually my first experience with audiobooks, and…I don’t know how I feel about them just yet.

I’m having that same internal struggle I had when I started reading eBooks. I feel like it’s cheating in a way, but at the same time, it’s still the same information. I’m still experiencing a story, even if I’m not reading it myself.

I’ve made a list of pros and cons to figure how I really feel about audiobooks. (The lists are pretty much dead even.) Feel free to chime in and let me know what you think about them or if you have any points to add to my list.

Pros

  • More visual: When listening to an audiobook, the story seems to come more alive for me. The verbs are more visual. You can’t focus on the words and the way they look, which I guess is what I often do when reading. Instead, you have to focus on the images those words produce in your mind. Now, I always picture a book as I read it, but I realized that with an audiobook, the images just seem to be more vivid.
  • Multitasking: This is probably my favorite thing about audiobooks. There are some things I have to do for work or otherwise that, frankly, don’t take a lot of brain power. So I can put on an audiobook while I do these tasks, and not only am I getting work done, but I’m reading too! It’s really a great way to keep myself occupied.
  • Personality of the narrator: The personality of the narrator enhances the story a great deal. Sometimes there are multiple narrators, which is always fun, and sometimes it’s just one person. Either way, it’s nice to hear someone else telling you a story. The people who narrate these books are always enthusiastic about them, and it makes for a more interesting experience.
  • Read the classics: I have trouble reading all those classics, but I’ve started listening to them as audiobooks and it’s made the experience a lot easier. Not only can I get through one of them a lot quicker (in a couple of hours instead of weeks at a time), but it makes the story come alive in ways I have trouble with when I read it myself. I actually have a lot more to say about classics and why they’re so difficult for me, so look for that blog post later this week. For now, suffice it to say that this makes reading everything I should have already been familiar with a lot easier.

Cons:

  • Repetitive: When you read a book, as opposed to listening to it, you don’t notice all the he said, she said dialogue tags. Your eyes just sort of skim over them. But when you have a lengthy dialogue exchange, the repetition of these dialogue days can be quite annoying. This is especially true when you have multiple narrators, because you don’t need this information repeated. Additionally, I find the use of adverbs – when totally necessary in the story – is unnecessary in an audio book. When a narrator says, “The cat climbed up the tree,” he said wryly, his voice already sounds wry. Therefore, the adverbs just get annoying because the narrator’s tone has already implied what a reader would need to know if they were merely reading the book.
  • Not good for visual learners: I’m a visual learner, and listening to audiobooks has proven difficult. I have a hard time keeping track of characters, even when there are different voices to help ease the transition. There’s just something about seeing the character name written out that makes it a lot easier to file that information away in my brain.
  • Narrator’s interpretations: This does sort of go against what I sent in the list of pros, but I think it is a separate occurrence. Or, at least, it’s dependent on the narrator. When you read a book, that experience is all your own. The voices of the characters fill your head, and you control the way they sound. However, when a narrator reads the book to you, they interpret the inflections and tones of the characters, and this can be a little jarring if you don’t quite agree with them about how a character says some of their dialogue.
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

  • Cheating: I can’t help it. It DOES feel like cheating to me. Or, at the very least, it feels like something completely different from reading a book. Have I truly read Alice in Wonderland? Technically, yes. I’ve experienced the same story everyone else has, despite the fact I’ve listened to it as an audiobook instead of reading it for myself. And, really, there’s nothing wrong with listening to audiobooks. If it gets people to experience a story they would’ve otherwise avoided, then I’m all for it! Perhaps this point goes back to the fact that I’m a visual learner and I have trouble cementing the details into my brain when I just listen to the story. I don’t feel as closely connected to it.

Do you listen to audiobooks? Do you think it’s “cheating”? Are there certain books, like the classics, that you’d rather listen to as an audiobook?