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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Book Recommendations: Spring 2017

By now, you all know the drill: I'm going to come in here and say something about how I don't review things anymore, but still want to share all these great reads with you. And I've read some good things lately.

So here we are.

Perks of spending an hour on public transit several times a week for an entire semester? You get to read a lot of things. Here are some of the best things. Enjoy.

And I Darken by Kiersten White

I love historical fiction, and I love high fantasy. This book reads like both in one. While it's not strictly historical (it's an alternate history about a female Vlad the Impaler), it takes you to a period of history that hasn't yet been over-saturated with novels. Plus, it boasts an awesome female character and some intense character development. I read it in one sitting. Okay, I was on a plane, but still.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

This modern classic is beautiful, insightful, and, most of all, absolutely and utterly devastating in a way that somehow gave me hope. I was not prepared for this roller coaster of a book, but I can't stop thinking about it even four months after reading. It takes an honest look at culture, loss, and humanity in a way that makes it one of the most poignant books I've read in a long time, possibly ever. (Also recommended but not quite as good: Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns.)

Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn saga

Are you an absolute nerd for fantasy worldbuilding so solid, you could drive a tank through it and it wouldn't fall apart? Do you want plot twists that are so good that you become uncontrollably angry? Are you in need of a good cry? Have you been disappointed by high fantasy trilogies/series that build and build with no payoff? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to read the high fantasy embodiment of the they crave that mineral meme? Do you wish that the ending of Lucy actually made sense? Do you want me to shut up? Mistborn is the series for you, my friend.

But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman
I've gone to bookstores with friends a few times since reading this, and each time I see it, I pick it up, hand to said friend, and say, "This messed me up. Read it." It's been almost six months since I read this, and I still think about it on a frequent basis. Klosterman analyzes basic concepts that we take for granted (everything from "good" art to democracy to physics to the NFL) and dares to consider the idea that we're completely, utterly wrong about its value. After all, physicists spent thousands of years thinking that the sun revolved around the earth. Who's to say that our current understanding is any more correct? I'll leave you with that.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
This is the kind of book that haunts you in the best way possible. It's partly a coming-of-age story, partly a love story, and partly a story of the way we connect across our differences. It's also a story of subtle magic. It's difficult to describe, but definitely worth the experience. If nothing else, it's worth it for the lovely prose.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Despite the fact that everyone freaked out about Code Name Verity back in 2012, this one somehow flew under the radar.* While it doesn't have the complexity of Code Name Verity, it carries the same emotional and historical weight. It's difficult to capture the emotion of a concentration camp situation, but Elizabeth Wein succeeds at this. Pick this up for all your women fighter pilot story needs.

The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon
I was skeptical of this one. Love story that takes place over the course of a single day? Nah. My book club supplied me with a copy, though, so I figured I'd give it a chance. I was pleasantly surprised. It's a love story, but more than that, it's a story about how the tiny connections we make with those around us have far-reaching consequences. (The cover is also too pretty to pass up.)

Release by Patrick Ness
This is a difficult one to discuss. Was it, for me, the absolutely wrong book to read at the wrong time? Yes. Did I need it anyway? Yes. It tugs at you and teases out the sadness, and then it shows you the hope. That's what Patrick Ness does best, and he has yet to disappoint me.

*I suppose I regret that word choice. Maybe.
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Friday, March 10, 2017

Revision in Motion Stays in Motion

I've been working on one novel for a long time. That's not unusual, of course, but it does mean that every major milestone feels huge because it's so long in coming. I've told you about Untitled Icarus Novel* before, and I'll tell you about it again at some point because that's what I do.

I finished line editing this beast of a book. I printed it out (after a long, long round of structural revision, which is harder, in my opinion) and started slogging through each of my 80-some thousand words. But progress was slow, and the project just seemed too big. It killed my motivation--if I spend an hour on this project and barely put a dent in it, how many million hours is this going to take? I'm going to be in a nursing home before this is done.

So it effectively got put on hold for a few months. And, as they say, objects at rest stay at rest...

About three weeks ago, I decided to go for it. I wanted to finish this thing, but saying, "I'll work on this a random hour at a time whenever I have some free minutes," wasn't working. Instead, I set a goal of a chapter I day. I had 21 chapters left; that's only three weeks. A chapter takes me about 15-20 minutes. Easy, right?

Objects in motion stay in motion, guys. I finished in just over two weeks, and more importantly, I had a lot of fun doing it. And I learned something.

While the goal of one chapter per day helped me, it wasn't what kept me going. I had been thinking of it all wrong. I was thinking of this project as a goal to be completed, as a huge thing that I'd feel better about once it was done. This, as I learned, is a terrible way to run a project. And to run, well, life in general.

No, what helped was the change in thinking. When I started doing a chapter a day, with the expectation that I didn't need to feel pressured to do more. And when I did this, I started to enjoy it again, and suddenly I was editing for the fun of it. I would sometimes do two or three chapters because my momentum was taking me forward.

Breaking news: things are more enjoyable (and we're more motivated to do them) when we treat them like fun instead of work. And I'm applying this to life, not just writing. We spend so much time setting goals, but we don't stop to think about the process itself. Everything is endpoints. We set a goal so that we can set another goal.

I'm proposing that we chill on the goal-setting. Goals are important, but the way we're taught to set them, we lose focus on everything in between one goal and the next. Accomplishment becomes more important than learning along the way. I propose that we do things for the sake of doing them, not because they lead us to an endgame.

There are a few famous writers who have been quoted something along the lines of "I don't enjoy writing; I enjoy having written." Then why do it? There are careers that pay better, that are less emotionally taxing. Why waste your life writing when you don't actually enjoy the process?

Let's get away from this mentality. There's absolutely no reason to spend this much time on something you don't enjoy. Sure, it isn't always fun, but it should be something you love overall.

Please remember that there's more to writing--and to life--than your list of goals. Live in each present moment that comes along the way.

*Title is now The Icarus Legacy. We won't talk about how long it's taken me to get to this point.
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