Suggestion Saturday: April 29, 2017

Here is this week’s list of essays and other links from my favourite corners of the web.

My Birth Father’s Double Life via WomenWriters. What a story!

Politeness Isn’t Enough; We Now Demand Friendliness. And It’s Destroying Authenticity. I couldn’t agree with this more. I don’t see how this will change, but I sure hope it will.

Not a Human Metronome via MichaelTMiyoshi.

Why Millennials Are Avoiding Small-Town America. It will be interesting to see if this trend shifts as my generation grows older. I honestly don’t see it happening for most millennials, but maybe I’m wrong about that!

His Heart, Her Hands. Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease. I was really surprised that this guy hadn’t written down all of his songs before he was given this diagnosis, but I liked the hopeful tone of this article.

The Medieval Sound of Silence via AprilMunday. None of the history books I’ve read have discussed this. I wonder what other differences we’d immediately notice between medieval times and our own that most people don’t think about?

So How Does a Centaur Eat, Anyway? Half of the reason why I’m sharing this with you is that I love finding other people who spend so much time figuring out how their favourite science fiction and fantasy stuff could work with our current understanding of the various branches of science. The other half of the reason why I’m sharing it is that  I couldn’t stop reading it. It was written so well.

From Bun. If the comic strip below is too small to read, click on the link on the left.

Posted By:
Tagged:
0

What Do Authors Owe Their Readers?

Lately I’ve been participating in an online discussion about a famous series that started off beautifully and ended in a way that irritated many of its longterm fans.

(No, I won’t be mentioning it by name here today. If you’re insatiably curious about this, send me a private message on Twitter and we’ll talk about it there).

The first few books in this series foreshadowed some fabulous plot twists that either never happened or were far easier to solve than anyone would have guessed based on how much time the characters spent worrying about them earlier on.

 

Several questions have popped into my mind over the years as I’ve listened to fans in this community debate what the ending means, whether or not it was satisfying, and why the author chose to tie everything up the way that they did.

My answers to them have evolved over time, but this is how I’d answer them right now.

Who decides what a story means?

We all do. In no way am I downplaying the importance of understanding what an author meant to say. That would be quite the silly thing for this writer to do!

With that being said, I also believe that an audience plays a key role in understanding any story. How they interpret certain scenes might not necessarily be how the creator thought about them when he or she was in the middle of the writing process.

This is a good thing. Sometimes I’ll write a story that I honestly don’t fully understand. Surprisingly, the writing process can be fickle like that, so I really appreciate it when readers come along with their own interpretations of what certain scenes could have meant.

If you mention a gun in the first scene, must it be fired later on?

Yes.

The difference between a gun in real-life and a gun in a story is that the latter was created for a specific purpose. If the writer was never intending for anyone to use it, why on earth would you add it to the scene? Everything that’s mentioned in a piece of fiction should serve a purpose. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t belong there.

What about red herrings, you might ask? While I’m not a big fan of them in general, distracting the audience from what’s really going on does give them meaning.

Writing about something that you know is a distraction from the beginning is nothing at all like writing about something that doesn’t have any reason for being there in the first place. Red herrings generally leave small clues for the audience about their true reason for existing.

A gun that isn’t fired doesn’t do anything like this. It pops into existence for no reason at all, and it never bothers to correct that no matter how long the plot meanders forward.

As you probably already guessed, this is one of my biggest pet peeves. I am completely comfortable being surprised by how something ends. I am not at all okay with having the wool pulled over my eyes.

What do readers own their favourite authors?

An open mind.

I am still a fan of the series I alluded to at the beginning of this post. I’ve been reading the first few books in it over and over again since I was 12 years old, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.

With that being said, I will always be disappointed by how it ended. There were so many missed opportunities in the last book to tie up all kinds of loose threads.

Now we come to the heart of the matter.

What do authors owe their readers?

Consistency.

I’ve read plenty of other stories whose endings disagreed with me for any number of reasons.The difference between those stories and the series I discussed today is that the former are consistent.

If they mention a gun in the first scene, it is fired at some point. What happens to the bullet varies from one storyline to the next, but it does leave the chamber of the gun. It never sits there unused forever.

To give another example, the main character might die in the last scene of a tale. If they do, though, there will be plenty of foreshadowing along the way to prepare you for it.

Speaking of foreshadowing, some authors use it heavily while others barely touch it at all. I can happily adjust to either technique as long as the narrator delivers on everything they hinted at early one.

All I want is for what’s hinted at in the beginning to be properly carried out by the end. Don’t leave me hanging, and I’ll be a happy reader.

5 Things I Want from The Handmaid’s Tale

There are only two days left until The Handmaid’s Tale premiers on Hulu.

The word excited doesn’t even begin to cover how I feel about this show.

I know that some of my readers are scrupulously avoiding  spoilers, so I’m going to honour that with today’s post. Everything I’ll be talking about is strictly from what happened the book, and it won’t include plot twists. I also won’t go into any detail about what the previews for this show have or have not shown.

Yes, I am tentatively planning to write about this series in depth once I’ve seen the first few episodes. Consider yourself warned when it comes to me sharing a few spoilers in the future.

With that being said, here are the top five things I’ll be looking for in this show when I finally get to see it.

1. A Clearer Understanding of Exactly How Gilead Was Formed

I am really hoping that Offred, the main character, will tell us more about how The United States was dismantled and why The Republic of Gilead took its place.

The book touched on this briefly, but it left out a lot of details about how everything went down. There were certain parts of the original timeline that never made sense to me. Other sections of it were easier to imagine really happening, so it will be fascinating to see how all of these scenes are woven together in a way that hopefully explains the political and social shifts that I found harder to believe.

2. Terrifying Normalcy

Most dystopian novels take place in dark, dreary settings where people fight over the last scraps of food or spend all of their time attempting to outrun zombies.

The Handmaid’s Tale, on the other hand, takes place in a house on a quiet, sunny street where even very minor crimes like littering are completely unthinkable. The lawns are all perfectly manicured there, and everyone still gets to eat three square meals a day.

This was one of the things that appealed to me the most the first time I read this book. I’m crossing my fingers that the cinematography will capture the strange and unforgettable juxtaposition of the tranquil place she currently lives in and Offred’s traumatic memories of her very recent past.

3. Feminism

The Handmaid’s Tale folded all kinds of commentary on feminism, gender, and sexism into a story that I couldn’t stop reading. I can’t wait to see how this is translated from the written word to a TV show. There were so many moments in the original story that could be expanded to make an even bigger impression on the audience.

As much as I want to talk about this section in great detail, I’d risk slipping into spoiler territory if I do.

If the miniseries explores this the way I hope it will, I will definitely return to this topic in a future post. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about since I first heard that this series was being developed.

4. False News

“I’m ravenous for news, any kind of news; even if it’s false news, it must mean something.” – The Handmaid’s Tale

Offred lived in a world where any kind of news was hard to come by. It was impossible to tell whether or not it was true even if you’d managed to hear a scrap of information about something or someone you’ve been dying to know more about.

I didn’t think too much about this part of the plot the first time I read the book, but it’s something that really frightened me when I reread it last winter.

Information is a form of power. People are much easier to control if you prevent them from easily learning new things or hearing what’s going on in other parts of Gilead. This is especially true if they are constantly doubting whether or not anything they hear is real.

5.  A Roadmap for Staying Hopeful

Offred had no reason at all to feel hope in her tale.

Everything and everyone she’d ever loved had been ripped away from her. She didn’t know where her loved ones were or what they were doing, and yet she never stopped dreaming of being reunited with them someday.

No matter what happened to her, Offred refused to give up. She pushed through every dark mood and painful memory that came her way even when there was no conceivable way for her to make those days even slightly better.

I deeply admired that about this character, and I can’t wait to see how this part of her personality shines through on the small screen. So much of her personal development happened while she was thinking things she dare not say aloud to anyone. It’s going to be fascinating to watch all of that unfold at the end of this month.

How about you? What are you most looking forward to in this show?

Suggestion Saturday: April 22, 2017

Here is this week’s list of short stories, comic strips, essays, and other links from my favourite corners of the web. It’s much bigger than usual because several of the links are for comic strips and also because I kept finding things I thought you’d all love.

Mulu Canopy Walk – In the Face of Fear! via feetdotravel. If you have a fear of heights, this is a great post to read. I’m really proud of this blogger for facing her fears like that.

Come See the Living Dryad. This story was so engrossing I actually googled the characters in it to see if it was based on real events.

The Key to Success in Life. I can’t stop laughing at this.

It’s “Just a Bunny” via Best4bunny. This post is filled with photos of cute little rabbits. Is that the only reason I’m recommending it to you? Of course not! It is one of them, though.

Oscar and the Flying Fish via yadadarcyyada. A story of magical, flying fish as told from the perspective of a young child.

Rituals Part 1 and Part 2. This is something that totally should have happened in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode.

The Hippies Have Won. My parents aren’t old enough to be hippies, but we did eat hippie food when I was growing up. It makes me happy to see stuff like brown rice and whole foods become mainstream.

How to Survive the Next Catastrophic Pandemic. No, this isn’t a sly reference to a zombie movie or anything like that. It’s sensible advice that everyone should listen to.

From What Is Good Rhetoric? 

Philosophers have had a longstanding problem with rhetoric. The standard view of the quarrel is well-known: philosophy is a truth-directed activity concerned with reasoned argument, while rhetoric is uninterested in truth and concerned merely with persuasion.

Posted By:
Tagged:
0

Why I Love to Reread Books

Earlier this year I reread The Handmaid’s Tale in preparation for the miniseries based on this story that is coming out next week. Stay tuned! I am planning to blog about that series after I’ve seen it, but today I’ll be talking about rereading books in general.

Over the last few years I’ve also reread:

  • The Earth’s Children series
  • The Anne of Green Gables series
  • The Harry Potter series

Yes, I’ve read these stories so many times that I know every plot twist by heart. I’ve even been known to quote my favourite passages from them to my spouse when he least expects it.

There are a few different reasons why I occasionally like to go back and revisit these tales despite the fact that there are many new books left on my to-read list.

Reason #1: I Already Know I’ll Like the Story. 

Several months ago, I started reading something that I was fully expecting to love. The blurb was amazing, the reviews of it were really good, and I’d spoken to someone else who’d read it and thought it was wonderful.

Imagine how surprised I was when I could barely make it through the first scene. Not only was the main character written in a stereotypical manner, the narrator seemed more interested in describing what her body looked like than why she woke up in a world that had shifted from being completely ordinary to not making any sense at all.

I was disappointed. Rather than getting sucked into the story, I quietly closed the file and went looking for something else to read.

The nice thing about returning to old favourites is that I already know what I think of them. If they have flaws, I’ve already weighed them against the storyline and decided that they aren’t serious enough to destroy my warm feelings about the characters or plot in general.

Most of the books I read are still new to me, but sometimes it is really nice to be guaranteed a satisfying read.

Reason #2: I Don’t Always Identify with the Same Character.

I thought Marilla was a stuffy, old grouch the first dozen times I read Anne of Green Gables. Many of the rules she expected Anne to follow didn’t make sense to me, and I thought she was far too strict with the girl in general. The last time I read it, I was surprised by how much I empathized with her.

I am nowhere near Marilla’s age, but I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to suddenly become the permanent legal guardian of a rambunctious preteen who has never known a stable home life, has limited respect for social conventions, and pushes back against almost every boundary you try to set with her.

At least I have memories from a good childhood and a nephew who is close to Anne’s age. Marilla didn’t have any experience with children at all when she first met Anne, and the bits and pieces of her upbringing we later learn about make it sound strict and dreary. Nobody gave her warmth or affection at that age. All she had ever known was duty and hard farm work, and yet somehow she was expected to look after a young girl who was starving for affection.

All of these details make the strong, loving bond she eventually forges with Anne even more remarkable than I remembered it being.

Reason #3: I Know I’ll Find Something New in Them Every Time

Reading the same book again is like walking down your favourite trail and noticing small differences in the landscape this time. It was nowhere near this beautiful  – and possibly photoshopped?! – but when I was a kid I used to love to walk down short mountain trails and find plants I hadn’t noticed before.

No matter how many times my family had previously walked down those paths, there was always some kind of flower or shrub that I’d missed the last time. Had they not been in season on our last visit, or was I looking elsewhere then?

I don’t know, but last winter I reread my favourite book in the Earth’s Children series,The Valley of Horses. The Clan of the Cave Bear, the first book in that series, was full of difficult – and even traumatic – experiences for Ayla, the main character.

What I enjoy the most about The Valley of Horses is how much time she has to reflect on all of the things she experienced after she was permanently banished from her adoptive tribe. There were periods of loneliness in those years she spent living alone, but all of that solitude did give her the opportunity to heal emotionally from the things that had happened to her.

One of the details of this story that I’d begun to forget was that Ayla survived pneumonia while she was living on her own. As someone who has had this disease before, I’m amazed at how well she did at looking after herself while she recovered.

Even the mildest form of pneumonia is a nasty illness. It sucks every ounce of energy out of your body no matter how many hours of the day you sleep, and the symptoms can last for weeks if you happen to be a character living in a time and place where antibiotics won’t exist for another 30,000 years or so. Something as simple as taking a bath or staying awake for more than a few hours at once is extremely difficult even if you’re lucky enough to have a prescription for antibiotics, a warm, safe house, and a fridge full of nutritious food that can be reheated easily.

I can’t imagine having to prepare and cook food, gather wood, keep a fire going, melt snow or ice for water, stay alert for any hint of danger that might be approaching your cave, and try to recover from this horrible disease all at the same time.

It’s something I’d overlooked in the past, but it makes me like Ayla even more now that I’m aware of what that experience must have been like for her.

How about you? How do you feel about rereading books? I’ll be on Twitter throughout the day, and I’d love to discuss it with you.

The Top 5 Must-Haves If You Want to Start Exercising

If you haven’t exercised in years, what equipment do you really need to get started? What is optional? What items can be skipped or put off until later? What can be bought second-hand? All of these questions will be answered in today’s post. 1. Comfortable Shoes and Clothes Nearly all of my workout clothing is old,… Read More

Posted By:
Tagged:
0

Suggestion Saturday: April 15, 2017

 Here is this week’s list of links from my favourite corners of the web. How to Banish Negativity with This Simple Mind Tool via dlhampton. Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean that it’s easy. It does work, though! Happy Beaster. No, that isn’t a typo. What if the Easter Bunny wasn’t the only animal who brought you treats… Read More

Posted By:
Tagged:
0

Suggestion Saturday: April 8, 2017

Here is this week’s list of comic strips and other links from my favourite corners of the web. Found a Baby Bird? I can’t remember if I’ve shared this infographic with you on a previous Suggestion Saturday post or not. It is a good reminder of what to do if you find a baby bird at this time… Read More

Posted By:
Tagged:
0