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Posts Tagged ‘reading recommendation’

Your Friday Recommendation #18

It’s Friday and instead of me recommending something for you to read, I want you to recommend something to me. Use the comments to tell me about your summer reading list. What did you read for the first time? What did you re-read because you love a good story? I’d love to hear from you.

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Your Friday Recommendation #14

I snagged a copy of one of my favorite books at a rummage sale last fall and it sat on my shelf for months. This week, I finally picked it up and have been reading a few chapters each night, both enjoying the book now as an adult and remembering the feelings it evoked to read it as a kid. I’m talking about Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume.

I’m recommending this book for three reasons. First, I write YA fiction about young male protagonists. Second, I think looking back on early reading experiences can lend one perspective on how their reading tastes developed. Finally, it’s a great book.

The story of nine-year-old Peter Hatcher, his turtle, Dribble, and his menacing little brother, Fudge, is told by Peter in a confident, authentic first-person voice. Peter is observant; he understands the people around him, even the adults. He both reports events and reflects on them in a perfectly natural way that always feels genuine. Blume’s book is the lesson anyone writing for kids needs to read.

I can only find one photo of the 1986-printing cover pictured above. My Aunt Judy gave me this for my seventh birthday and it’s the first book I judged by its cover. The colors weren’t bold, the brothers didn’t bear huge weapons, and there was no action figure tie-in. Plus, I’d heard of Judy Blume – she was a girl book writer. Was I getting a girl book because my Aunt Judy was a girl? After it sat around for a month and somehow ended up the only book in the family K-Car, I read it. I loved it. Take that, willful ignorance.

As for subsequent books in the four-volume series (five, if you count spin-off and real treat, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great), I can only speak for the first sequel, Superfudge. It really captures what it’s like to be in sixth grade and noticing girls for the first time. I never picked up the next two, Fudge-A-Mania or Double-Fudge, because it felt like the series was switching its focus to Fudge instead of Peter, and I connected with Peter as a reader. (Edit: I looked up Fudge-A-Mania and the plot is familiar, so I did read it, but it clearly didn’t have the same impression on me as the first two books. Did this happen with age? Fudge-A-Mania came out in 1990 when I was eleven – was I “too old” at this point?)

Maybe I’ll give them a try soon, but please know this – recent boxed sets with all four books have major wording changes, according to user reviews at Amazon: instead of sticking with its 1970s setting and Peter wanting records for Christmas, he asks for an MP3 player. I understand the reasoning behind this, to appeal to today’s young reader, but if I do seek out the rest of these books I’ll be seeking out first or near-first editions.

“Eat it or wear it!”

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Your Friday Recommendation #12

This is my first film recommendation to you, dear reader, but my copy arrived in the mail on Thursday and the Criterion Collection three-disc reissue of Seven Samurai by writer/director Akira Kurosawa is fresh in my mind. and still spinning in my DVD player.

A poor farming village will be pillaged by bandits when their crops are ready for harvest. They seek out wandering samurai and ronin who will protect them for nothing more than a bowl of rice and regained honor. This sweeping, epic tale explores universal themes like honor, sacrifice, family, identity, and trust with the perfectionist-driven Kurosawa behind it, both as writer and in the director’s chair. Often called his masterpiece, the 1954 film sets many “rules” in combining good filmmaking with good storytelling.

This is the film that inspired the 1970s American film school brats like Spielberg, Coppola, Scorsese, and especially Lucas. Watch the original Star Wars and the influence will be clear – the way shots are set up to tell story, the character archetypes who mingle in their collective universe, the manner in which a grand story boils down to a handful of strong underlying themes. Seven Samurai is storytelling at it’s best, and we have a lot of strong storytellers because of its existence.

The 207-minute film is presented over two discs, with a third disc containing supplemental material and a booklet featuring essays on the film, including one by star Toshiro Mifune. The set is presented by Criterion, a company known for giving films painstaking detail in the restoration process and loading their discs with worthwhile extras. Basically, Criterion is the Rolls Royce of DVD companies.

This three-disc extravaganza isn’t the first time Criterion has released Seven Samurai. The film was their second release overall, a single disc which I proudly own (yes, I double-dipped on this one), but the picture and sound quality that made that disc so great are blown out of the water by the clarity and amazing quality of the fresh three-disc version. Currently, you can find it on sale at Amazon.com for the low, low price of $27.27. That’s much more than I’ve ever spent on a single film, but it’s also a low price for such a popular Criterion film, and I think it’s a worthwhile price to pay for any young storyteller looking to see a film that not only tells a great story in a powerful way, but has clear influences on modern American filmmaking.

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Your Friday Recommendation #11

On Tuesday, Scrawlers sent an email to its users announcing its first contest, The War of Art Contest. One lucky writer will win a copy of today’s recommendation, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

Pressfield contends that everyone is creative, particularly in creating a subconscious (and likely conscious) level of resistance to their ability to achieve their creative goals. Not a pretty picture, huh? The War of Art confronts this issue and explores ways of getting around self-generated resistance. You might recognize this in yourself already – procrastination, justification, being a “thinker” and not a “doer.” Pressfield argues many people go through these sorts of self-defeating phases because they’re afraid of failure, or very possibly afraid of success. He pushes the reader to push themselves, to break their own cycle of creative blockage and push forward. In fact, the cover image could serve as a pictoral thesis statement: a single, beautiful flower, life pushing itself through a block of cold, hard stone. The achievement of creativity over everything which should prevent it from blossoming.

If that’s too abstract, Pressfield sums up his book with a great two-sentence thesis statement right at the top of the book: “It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.” If you’ve ever tried to get serious about your writing craft, you know this is true.

This book is on my shelf as one of the Three White Books – three books on writing craft with white covers: The War of Art, The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White, and The Art of Fiction by John Gardner. This was the first book I had to read in my MFA program; Terry Davis made it the opening text for a class in Form & Technique in Prose and his recommendation of such a life-changing book is part of what makes me respect him so much as a writer, teacher and mentor (he also has around a thousand other great qualities, the least of which are not his charm and love of good story). In that classroom, I found myself in the unfortunate position of being the only student who said how much they enjoyed the book and got something out of it.

My clear recollection is being at home reading the book, really getting into it, and suddenly realizing I knew who Steven Pressfield was; he wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance, a film I’d studied in a Film & Religion course at the University of Wyoming. The film (and novel) uses the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita to help the main character focus and overcome his obstacles in a game of golf. The thing about this approach, however, is that it is all in the undertones, in the disguised way the Bagger Vance character coaches the young golf protege. There’s nothing overt about the spiritual or religious context, and I was not aware of Bhagavad Gita teachings until the post-film screening discussion. However, I recognized Pressfield was using the same sort of teachings in The War of Art and to great success, I might add. When I brought this up in class, those who had immediately dismissed the book dismissed it even further, hating that religion was being put upon them.

I found that unfortunate. This is a book to help writers break through their struggles to be as creative as they can be, and those fellow students wouldn’t have even known it used Bhagavad Gita teachings if I hadn’t said anything. To automatically dismiss it because their may be theology involved is willful ignorance, and if anything, that experience made me enjoy and appreciate the book even more.

I encourage you to write a story at Scrawlers and enter The War of Art Contest. If you don’t win a copy of The War of Art, it’s still worth seeking out on your own.

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Your Friday Recommendation #9

I’m a fan of great books at great prices, and if you’ve been in a B&M (“Brick & Mortar,” or physical store as-opposed to online store) Barnes & Noble lately, you’ve probably seen a stack of America (The Book) by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart for under $10 a copy – a real steal.

I’m not going to go into the brilliant satire in this book, nor the way the writers of The Daily Show create a streamlined effort to link all of the information they present. The reason I love this book is its presentation.

If you’ve attended public schools in the last thirty years, chances are you will recognize America (The Book) as an amazing parody of a school textbook. The binding, the glossy cover, the library stamp in the front page, the page layout. Over and over, this book goes the extra mile in terms of creating a new level of parody and satire. Yes, they satirize American sensibilities, politics, and history, but to do it in a textbook format, to imply that the way American children learn and are being taught is what really brings this book’s message home.

What’s that? You’ve already read America (The Book)? Then look for America (The Book) Teacher’s Edition. This version has “hand-written” notes all over the place, both correcting the inaccuracies of the original – by inaccuracies, I mean the true parts that were changed so they would be funny – and a snarky running commentary on how the last book was presented. It’s a fun supplemental to the original, and you can likely find this on a close-out table for under $10 as well. Considering these hardcover books were both pushing $20 when they first came out, the price is surely right to those who’ve been waiting to pick up a copy.

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(this post was added retro-actively to assist continuity.)

Your Friday Recommendation #8

Today’s recommendation is to take a look at how you get news online and decide if you can streamline it any more than the system you currently use.

I used to check MSNBC.com every morning for the news. Sometimes, I would listen to a streaming audio presentation from Minnesota Public Radio. That was the extent of how I used the internet for the news. Call me late to the bandwagon, but I had no idea what RSS feeds were or how they worked until last year. Now, I have “Really Simple Syndication” feeds for MSNBC.com, TheGuardian.co.uk, and MinnesotaPublicRadio.org, which has many text-based news stories besides its streaming audio. That may not seem like a big leap, and I know there are a lot more news sources out there, but I’m starting small, and frankly I’m just excited I understand how to use another piece of web 2.0 technology.

There’s also room for fun news, too. For example, my news tab also features feeds for WiiFanboy – a blog dedicated to Nintendo Wii-centric news and gossip, Ain’t-It-Cool-News.com – a news and rumor website for films and all things geeky, and WhatWouldTylerDurdenDo.com – a (not-always-safe-for-work) blog lambasting celebrities for their latest “news” in the “infotainment” world.

Take a look at the way you read the news online. If you aren’t using RSS feeds yet, give it a shot. Information is being delivered faster than ever, so make sure you’re receiving it as fast as you can.

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(this post was added retro-actively to assist continuity.)

Your Friday Recommendation #5

The Ron Book Team meets on Monday evening, and we’ve chosen to discuss the recent New York Times bestseller and decidedly fast read, Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen.

If you’ve set foot in a bookstore in the past year, you’ve undoubtedly seen stacks of this novel neatly laid out on a table by the front door. I often resist consciously reading bestsellers, relying on my own instincts for reading material instead of relying on what’s “popular.” I acknowledge I likely miss many great reads because of this attitude, but lucky for me, RBT gave me a good excuse to read Gruen’s novel.

Told in first-person by a ninety-year-old man (maybe ninety-three, he’s really not sure) looking back on his experiences in the circus, the story begins with an action-packed flashback and pulls back to a present-time perspective as the narrator gives the readers full disclosure.

The success of the story is the circus setting. In fact as a craft choice, the setting is the definitive piece which makes this novel unique, while the love story doesn’t leave many surprises. The characters interact with the setting, and only its specific characteristics can effectively help tell the story. Every aspect of what our protagonist does is based on how he discovers the environment around him and how to live in it. If you’re like me and you struggle to include setting as a strong storytelling component, you could do worse than read Gruen’s novel as a good example on how to do it right. If you’re looking for active protagonists who don’t have to rely on coincidence to fuel their next decisions, you won’t find that here. Still, the setting is captivating and as setting is something I’m trying to tackle, I recommend this book.

I packed away nearly half the book on the plane out to NYC and hope to finish it on the way back (edit: I finished it on the way back with time to spare). Perhaps I’ll have additional thoughts next week after the Ron Book Club discusses the novel (edit: nope, I got sick enough to miss the meeting and cancel my classes that week). In the meantime, with the above paragraph-long love letter to setting, I’m sure you can imagine what Your Monday Prompt will focus on…

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