Books 22 - 24

22. Willing by Scott Spencer - This is a novel with a great idea for a plot suffering from multiple genre disorder. Is it farce? Comedy? Literary fiction? It's possible for a book to be at least two of those things, maybe all three, but this book doesn't quite achieve any of them. Avery Jankowsky, a freelance writer who's not quite making a living as a writer but is doing too well to quit, tells us the story of his many fathered childhood; his disappointing attempts at relationships; and how they all lead him to take an all expenses paid sex tour. Skipping along through Scandinavia with his fellow travelers, Avery always seems on the verge of breaking out of his self imposed dreariness. If he had, we'd have a funny book. If he discovered he couldn't, this could have been a story of a man accepting his life for what it is. Instead, we get a bunch of characters doing exactly what you knew they were going to do the moment you first read about them, and an ending that puts the story almost exactly back where it started.

23. A Prisoner of Birth by Jeffrey Archer, read by Roger Allam - The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite books of all time. I re-read it every couple years, and if I stumble across a movie version on television, I am powerless to not watch it, no matter how many times I've seen that version before (or how bad the adaptation is). When I heard that Archer had done an "update" on TCoMC for his newest book, of course I had to read/listen to it. The bad news is Archer still writes like a man who could live alone on a deserted island and never tire of the company. He writes. And he writes. And he writes more. Sometimes what he writes moves the story forward and about equal to that happening we get a rehashing of something we were already told or were able to figure out from context. Case in point, I inadvertently skipped disc 9 of the audiobook, and it didn't make one bit of difference to the story. The good news is, TCOmC is a story that has to be changed to be updated. Contemporary technology, finance, and law make it much more difficult to become someone else and then insinuate yourself into the lives of your nemeses. Archer does a good job of bringing the heart of TCoMC into the modern world. If only he had done it with few words. He is, unfortunately, another victim of SKS.

24. The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes- This is the book to turn to when that little voice inside your head begins to whisper (and then shout if you let it get away with it) "You? A writer?? Who do you think you're kidding??!?!?". This is the book you read when you hear that same vice as you sit down in front of a key board or pick up a pen asking, "What will my family think if they read this?", followed quickly by "What if no one but my family ever reads this?". And lastly, this is the book to read when you think that if what you are writing is "good" it would come to you in a better form, or at least more easily. This book doesn't give you writing exercises to condition your writing muscles, it doesn't teach you the mechanics of plotting and character arcs. What it does is give you antidotes and quotes from and about successful (sometimes financially, sometimes critically, sometimes both) authors and how they got past those awful moments. Some of the stories deal with the physical (when is the best time to write?), sometimes the psychological (this story is my baby, no one can love it like I do!), but they all deal with the blocks, real and imagined, that every writer faces at some point (or at too many points, in most cases).


Books 19- 21

19. The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle, read by Lily Rabe - Aryn Kyle has set herself a very high bar with this book, her first novel. It is a story of a family going through some tough times, nothing too extraordinary, told by the twelve year old youngest daughter. Of course our narrator sees herself at the center of this family, that's how twelve year olds think. But the reader will see how all the lives are falling apart, coming back together, and sometimes stagnating, while staying true to a young girl's voice. The sense of place (a small horse ranch in the desert) is so strong you can just about smell the leather saddles, the characters are fully fleshed out, even those that only appear on a few pages, and the plot takes some surprising, but very believable turns. The only negative was Kyle's female chauvinism. The women of this story act while the men react. The women are the instigators, the men are manipulated. There are a few exceptions to this, but it was noticeable enough I found myself wondering how the father could be so weak and oblivious and have raised daughters who think so well for themselves.

20. Speaking With The Angel, Edited by Nick Hornby - A collection of short stories written by friends of Nick Hornby at his request to raise money for an autism education program in England (and in the US if you buy the published in America version). The only requirement Honby gave his friends was that the stories be told in first person. With that broad of a brief, you're bound to get a variety of tone, plot, and of as in any anthology, quality. Colin Firth, for one, should never quit his day job. And Dave Eggars reminded me that writing as an animal will cause an immediate disconnect with the reader that is very difficult to overcome. On the positive side, a few of the stories are just down right good short fiction: Roddy Doly writes "The Slave", a sneaky little story that examines the difference between maturity and age; Giles Smith brings us "Last Requests", about person with a very unique job - preparing the last meals for death row inmates; and Irvine Welsh writes in the voice of a homophobe who finds the afterlife exactly what he wants it to be. It wasn't a surprise to learn Walsh was the author of "Trainspotting". Of all the pieces, my favorite was "NippleJesus", by Hornby himself, a "what is art?" story that shows that the question is more important than the answer.

21. Twilight by William Gay - This is a Southern Gothic horror story with the emphasis on people and place over action. That's more than enough to make this story a page turner of the highest calibre. A young man who probably thought his childhood was the worst thing that could happen to him finds himself mixed up with some truly evil men as a result of a question about his father's internment. In an attempt to find justice, he crosses paths with a county full of those sort of characters that make Southern Gothic stand apart from any other genre. The story cuts back and forth, not always smoothly, but when you get to the part that meets up with the beginning of the book, it's all too clear - and perfectly gruesome. Gay goes all out with the dialect and social customs of the region he's writing about, and they add to the "other worldy" aspect of this dark and violent tale. I can't wait to read more of what he's written!