Write on Wednesday – The Hook – August 8, 2018

Haruki Murakami, author of Blind Willow and Sleeping Woman asked, “shouldn’t there be cats in a zoo? They’re animals, too, right?” Then he continued, “Cats and dogs are your run-of-the-mill-type animals. Nobody’s going to pay money to see them. Just look around you–they’re everywhere. Same thing with people.”

I don’t know if this Murakami quote was about writing characters, but that’s what it made me ponder.
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Do all my characters need to have something totally unique about them? Is that what makes a reader turn the page? Do people who buy books want to read about ordinary people? Or is it the hook — the out-of-the-ordinary circumstances in which ordinary people find themselves?

I think it’s the hook.  For me to engage with a character I have to relate to them in some way. Age, gender, personality, vocation, avocation, relationship issues, family drama, memories of a previous time in my life. It could be lots of things, but for me to keep reading I want to know what happens to the character. That’s the hook.

J. K. Rowlings captured a whole generation of young readers with her ordinary kids who had something extraordinary in common. As a former therapist I believe those books are a model for mastery. Living is about mastering the new stuff that shows up daily. And the things kids need to master can be scary. If Harry and his friends can master wizardry and all the associated terrifying events, a reader might realize she can get through a new school year, fail a test, or talk to her parents about an embarrasing subject. Mastering a life experience prepares us for the future. And how I loved those books. I could imagine myself as Hermione. They are some of the few hard covers that remain on my bookshelf.

The Hannah Swensen cozy mystery series is about an ordinary young woman who bakes cookies for a living. She just happens to live in a small Minnesota town where other ordinary people get murdered at an alarming rate. Author Joanne Fluke has recently published book 23 in this series. By now the population of the town should be decimated and everyone remaining obese, but fans can’t get enough. Why is that? I think it’s because Hannah is ordinary and readers can relate. She always thinks she needs to lose ten pounds and compares her looks to her stunning sister. Her mother thinks Hannah can’t be happy unless she’s married. Hannah’s is a loving family with lots of family drama. Who can’t relate? And between helping the local law inforcement guys solve all those murders, she eats cookies for breakfast.

The other thing about cozy mysteries is that while people die in sometimes nasty circumstances the author doesn’t dwell on the details. These are easy reads in a time when many of us need diversion from the real world. In cozy mysteries the good guys always prevail.

Recently I put The Light of Fireflies by Paul Pen on my Kindle. I can’t remember why I bought it but I get alot of “hard to resist” offers from Amazon. I might have gotten it for $2.99. I really have a problem buying any e-book that costs more that $10.

I started the Pen book and stopped reading after thirty pages. It was way too creepy for me.  Burned people living in a sealed off basement with no access to the world.  Hints of incest. At first I thought it was a dystopian novel, but it’s personal not global dystopia. What the hell? It’s gotten thousands of four and five star reviews, but I gave it a one star. I don’t care if it was well written. Later I made myself go back to The Light of Fireflies. I couldn’t relate to these people so I didn’t care what the hook was.  Everytime there was a choice people took the wrong one. I plowed my way through it and then archived the novel on my Kindle. If this is what Paul Pen writes I won’t be buying any more of his books.

My reading habits have evolved since I was an English major at Goucher College (back in the day when it was an all women’s school). I now rarely read novels that are considered literary, rather I read for pleasure, entertainment and diversion. And sometimes to put myself back to sleep in the middle of the night. That requires a book I have read before, sometimes many times, so there are no surprises. Nothing grisly or bloody or one of those soft porn romances. I want to go back to sleep. Jan Karon novels do the trick quite nicely.

Here’s what I’ve read in the last six weeks. The Sewing Machine by Natalie Fergie; The Other Woman by Daniel Silva; The King Tides by James Swain; A Merciful Death by Kendra Elliott; The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry; Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly; Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder and The Betty Davis Club by Jane Lotter. The last two were re-reads. The book I am currently reading is The Key by Kathryn Hughes. Next in the queue is Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.

What have you read recently that you recommend?

 

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Book Club

The Stinky Book Club met last week. We shared what we’d been reading and after dinner, this is what we had for dessert. Laura had two bites and Mary Ann and I inhaled the rest. Chocolate hazelnut gelato. Yum! I think we meet as much for the food as we do to talk about books.

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The list below is what I’ve read in the last two months. Some of these are books recommended by Laura Ambler or Mary Ann Hillier, the other two members of the group. Laura is a very eclectic reader as is Mary Ann who likes sci-fi more than I do. I love getting reviews and recommendations from my friends.

Mary Ann, smart cookie that she is, has a small book in which she enters her thoughts about what she has just read. I try and remember and resort to looking on my Kindle. It tells me something if I can remember the book from it’s title or have to go look at the first couple of pages to remind myself what the story is. I liked some of these books better than others, but all were 4 stars or above although there are a couple that I couldn’t remember reading.Hmmm. Maybe those were 3 stars.

I also am guided by the daily deals Amazon puts in my inbox. I have to say I resent paying more than $10 for an e-book. So I look for deals of the day, deals of the week, and deals of the month. Amazon knows what I’ve bought so they make recommendations and when I find an author I like, such as Catherine Ryan Hyde, I’ll buy any of her novels when they are $1.99. Mary Ann loved the new Harry Potter play and paid full price for it. I’ll wait until the price comes down.

I read a lot in the middle of the night when I wake up and can’t fall back to sleep. Anything too creepy or scary or disturbing is out. One problem is that I have some paper books on my reading list, but they don’t have built in lights for middle of the nights reading. Here’s my list for mid-June through mid-August,

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. I read this because Mary Ann recommended it, and I loved this spare story of how a curmudgeonly widower becomes a hero in his small community with the help of new neighbors who look past his eccentricities.

The Glassblower by Petra Durst Benning. Historical fiction. The daughters of skilled glassblower in a European village of glassblowers have to make their way after their father’s death at a time when women did not blow glass or run the business. I was intrigued enough by the three sisters that I bought the next in the series which follows the sister who went to America.

The Wiregrass – a Novel by Pam Webber. Coming of age in the south in the early 60’s. A group of cousins spend summers with an aunt and uncle and confront racism and child abuse.

Leaving Blythe River by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Another coming of age novel. A young teen hunts for his father (with whom he has a difficult and distant relationship) when his father is lost in remote mountains in the western United States.

Burying the Honeysuckle Girls by Emily Carpenter. The daughter of a “damaged” mother and grandmother searches for how they died.

The Secret History by Donna Tart. I don’t usually read what I consider “literary” novels and this certainly is. Donna Tart wrote The Goldfinch which was enough for me to buy this book when it was offered at a discount on Amazon. It is worth the full price. Tart is an amazing writer and the convoluted story was a page turner.

Still Waters by Viveca Sten. A mystery set somewhere along the coast of Sweden. I didn’t see the ending coming.

A Beautiful Medicine by David Mercier. I read this after taking David’s mindfulness meditation class early in the summer. A truly interesting look at the mind/body connection.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. This was one I had to go back and look at on my Kindle as I couldn’t remember a thing about it. It was about a man in WW11 – or was it?

Broken Grace by E.C. Diskin. A woman has no memory after a car crash and comes back to dark secrets.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. Another “no memory” story. Interesting that I read these back to back. Not intentionally. When the main character falls at the gym she comes back to a world where she believes she is awaiting the birth of her first child. She’s really 39 and getting divorced. Moriarty is really good at the artful blending of the back and current story which is not so easy to do.

The Language of Hoofbeats by Catherine Ryan Hyde. The author of Pay It Forward tells the story of a lesbian couple with adopted and foster kids move across the road from a crotchety, troubled woman with a horse she never lets out of the corral.

Take Me With You by Catherine Ryan Hyde. A burned out teacher taking his son’s ashes to Yellowstone, finds himself taking two half orphans along on the journey while their father is in jail. I really loved this book.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hasseini. Thirty years of Afghan history told through the eyes of two very different women. Troubling but so well done.

After Anna by Alex Locke. A who-done-it mystery in which a child is kidnapped and returned after a week to her separated parents.

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson. An American author hikes, trains and drives around Great Britain. After a slow start I found myself engaged.

I’m five books into the next month’s cycle before the book club meets again at the end of September. I might try the rum raisin gelato next time.