Writer’s envy

“Man, I wish I wrote that!”

What writer hasn’t thought that. In fact, what reader hasn’t thought that at some point?

Be it a fanfic, a book, a play, movie or the lyrics of a song – we all have experienced that feeling of finding something that felt so brilliant to us that we desperately wished our brains could have created it. In short, we are hit by writer’s envy. (Or writer’s jealousy or writer’s admiration as the case may be.)

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Why YA?

We all have guilty pleasures. For some it’s saccharine love songs while some secretly indulge in cheesy soap operas. For me, it became YA books a few years ago. HOWEVER, I have been coming out of the I’m-32-and-read-about-teens closet lately for one simple reason – YA has been getting so damn good!

I’m an eclectic reader but what I most enjoy is Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Magical realism (my poison of choice tends to be Urban Fantasy) and there is no getting around the fact that Young Adult and New Adult books have been rocking those genres in the last five years. That’s why this blog post will be mostly about those genres. I’m sure there is fascinating Crime, Romance and Historical novels in the YA sector but I’ve not read them. Nope, it’s new worlds, altered realities or dystopian futures for me.

I look at my Goodreads Read List and see titles like Daughter of Smoke & Bone, The Hunger Games, Red Queen, The Raven Boys, Divergent and The Diviners with the knowledge of that I have merely scraped the surface of what’s around and popular. I largely blame Tumblr’s many book bloggers and Youtube’s Booktubers for being so enthusiastic about these books and for showing off the gorgeous covers. (Honestly, they make them impossible to resist!)

But there is more to these books than great covers and all the hype. Let’s look at some of the Pros and Cons from my personal standpoint, shall we? (With the caveat that I’m generalizing, there are individual books who don’t adhere to this at all. Oh, and that I know that I am not the intended market and I don’t judge those who are. Read and let read, right?)

What these books tend to excel at:

  1. Braver plots, where difficult topics are usually not shied away from and mirrors are held up to show our actual world in all its ugliness and beauty.

  2. Less sex, which can be a pro or a con, but having seen some of the straight sex in fantasy novels – I personally don’t miss it.

  3. Greater diversity. Be it POCs or LGBTQIA+ characters, these books tend to have them and usually don’t make a big fuss about them being “different”.

  4. There is a pattern of getting on with the plot/action without getting bogged down with unnecessary description and background info. (Something especially adult fantasy books can be guilty of.) The plot in these books tends to be fast-paced and almost movie-esque.

  5. Growing an avid community of readers who obsess over and discuss the books and make great art in appreciation of it.

So, what do I feel are some of the cons of YA? (Once again, this is personal, I know some people who would list these as the Pros.)

  1. The characters being teens. This sounds harsh but I hasten to remind you that this is just from my personal viewpoint and I was never a fan of teens, even when I was one. For an adult, reading about the teenage angst and their different way of seeing life, can be… frustrating. But you soon get past it, and you might even become a bit nostalgic about when you saw the world like this.

  2. Love triangles. A lot of these books have them and I know I can’t complain as I myself loved them as a teen and that is the intended reader here. But I still roll my eyes at them and try to skip a few pages, which never works.

  3. Obvious (clichéd) love interests. The mysterious bad boy who has suffered and broods alone? The so called manic-pixie-girl with strange hair colour who is always thin and impulsive? Well, they tend to be a bit two-dimensional and done to death. But then I am a 32-year-old lesbian so what do I know. I should let straight (and pan- and bisexual) teenagers have what they want, I suppose. Le Sigh.

  4. Imagery. It can be overused and it can be repetitive. Yes, we get that her heart felt like a crushed bird or that his hair billowed in the wind like a wheat field during a storm. It was great the first time but you have said it ten times now, move on. (Am I starting to sound cynical here?)

  5. Sometimes the editing seems a little less firm than in adult novels. You find yourself quirking an eyebrow at POV breaches and repetitive word uses. But then, books for the younger generations have always shied away from the strict rules of their elders – look at the Beat generation, they would scoff at today’s innocent little POV breaches.

These are just some of my thoughts about YA Sci-fi/Fantasy but I’ll leave it there before I bore you all. Five of each category should do nicely. I’m sure you have books to read.

Now, I’m fully aware that I have just dipped my toe in the ocean of YA and that most of what I have read has been the mainstream choices, so please feel free to suggest any good diamonds in the rough or even better… YA Sci fi/Fantasy that is lesfic! Does that exist? Can I read a story where the strong but grumpy heroine ends up with the manic-pixie-girl love interest? No, I’m really not being sarcastic, I want to try it!

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Book lifelines

After much convincing, my wife has talked me into recommending books on this blog. Not reviewing books, because I don’t like leaving bad reviews (unless, of course, I feel like I have to warn someone) but instead recommending all the great books I am fortunate enough to get to read and enjoy. I didn’t quite know how to start so I figured I would give you a list of three books that got me through a rough patch and came to mean more than other books to me. I like to think that I’m not the only one who has books like that, ones that came to me at the right time and helped me deal with what was going on in my life at the time. If you have books like those too, please leave a comment and let me know I’m not alone.  For now, let’s start with book number one.

Desolation Angels – Jack Kerouac

I know, I know… Kerouac, while a classic author, is problematic and his books are riddled with homophobia and misogyny. Most of it was of its time, but yes, it can be hard to read. Nonetheless, I have to bring up this book as it was the first book to mean more to me than just fun or reality escape. I found this book when I moved away from home. I was studying at uni and lived not only off campus, but in a neighbouring town where rent was cheaper. I felt quite isolated and not sure about who I was and how I wanted to live my life. The first part of the book, where the Kerouac self insert works and lives in solitude up a mountain, really spoke to me and often calmed me when I was freaking out about unwanted social interaction or the new challenges of living alone. It taught me to enjoy being alone and to realise that there was no manual to living your life, but that it was about what worked for you and kept your head above water.

American gods – Neil Gaiman

This book has saved me several times. It’s my go-to book when I’m in a low period in my life. Something about the journey, and the realism mixed with the magical, manages to give me hope. This book reminds me  (when I get locked into a bad place in life or just in my head) that there is a  huge world out there and that others have worse problems than I do. Seeing Shadow handle the problems in his life (often by not facing them head on) helps me move forward. I guess that is the underlying theme for me with this book, moving forward. Letting the story move you along as it unfolds. And then learning how to get off the carousel when you are ready to take control. As someone who suffers with a lot of anxiety and short bouts of depression, learning to move forward is crucial to me. Plus, this book inspires me to write. And that is gold dust.

The Diviners – Libba Bray

Pure diversion and distraction, but with a twist. I found this book when I desperately needed to take a break from my own life and the unpleasant thoughts in my head. This book quickly transported me away to New York in the 1920s. What was different from other great books that can also transport you (examples like The Luminaries, The Miniaturist and The Goldfinch come to mind) was that this book kept me there but without making me feel the suffering of the main character too deeply. Which was good considering it’s a horror book!

There are other books that have served this purpose for me, but these are the top three. I re-read them often and in the case of the two first ones, I can just pick them up and read a few pages before moving on with other things. Books can be great therapeutic tools and I hope to someday write a book that helps someone else get through a rough patch.

So, spill, do you too have a book (or several) that has been a source of comfort or a crutch when needed?

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Audiobooks – “Why don’t you just read the books?”

That’s the question I often get when I tell people I listen to audiobooks. Either that or not-so-subtle glances where people want to ask why I listen to audiobooks but don’t quite dare. I can almost hear them thinking about it? Have I got some form of visual impairment? Am I illiterate? But then why do I carry paperbacks and a full e-library in my iPad with me everywhere?

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