Let’s Start Talking Book Pet Peeves

I was born with a rare and often fatal heart condition called Tetralogy of Fallot. No, don’t feel sorry for me, I’m 48 and still on this side of the lawn. Luckily for me, I was a teen when corrective surgery reduced the chances of death. I’m only telling you this in order to explain my passion for books. You see, when I was a child playtime was restricted. The doctors felt the less I exerted myself, the better. This was way before video games, so really, the only choice I had was to sit quietly and read. And read I did!

Books became my ticket to the outside. They allowed me to “explore” the world and learn about people different from myself. In my young mind I would take the place of a character in order to do things I could never do myself. Reading became more than a habit, books became my friends.

I read so much and so often that by the time I was in the 6th grade, my test scores indicated my reading level to be that of an adult. My teacher told my mom I should start getting my books from the local library because the school’s kid’s library did not have anything that would hold my interest. This was before teen fiction was allowed in school libraries, to be honest, the only “teen” fiction at that time was Judy Blume and even that was too childish for my taste.

After corrective surgery I continued to read. As a teen I read indiscriminately; whatever book my mom brought in the house I would read, even a Danielle Steele (okay, I only read one of hers. One was enough). I read all the popular authors of the 70’s and 80’s, Hollywood biographies, horror and the classics. Some were good some were bad (Stephen King good, Danielle Steele oh, so bad).

All of authors I read had something in common. They came from big publishing houses and had editors who helped with the writing process. The editor would be the first to read a book, be it a rough draft or finished copy. It was the editor who spotted errors, inconsistencies, terrible sentence structure, wooden dialog, glaring omissions or scenes that just didn’t quite cut it. Now, with the move to self-publishing and small publishing houses, editors are becoming a dying breed. To many writers this is a blessing, as they often have a love/ hate relationship with an editor, but for the reader, this is becoming a real problem. Which gets me to the purpose of this post. As a reader I would like to offer some advice to today’s writers, and would like your input as well. Let’s start talking about our pet peeves when it comes to books. Besides bad grammar (that’s a given) what makes you put a book down or least decide not to read another by the same author? I have a list, but for the sake of brevity (I think I just heard one of my literary professors choke. Sari, brief?) I’ll start with a biggie, Lying.

In his book On Writing, Stephen Kings says his biggest piece of advice to new writers is to never lie. This may sound odd, coming from a fiction writer, but what he meant was be true to your story and characters. Don’t have a character do something, well, out of character. Start with the truth of your character’s personality and stick to it. Remember, we readers become intimate with your characters and if we are confronted by a change of personality we are abruptly stopped by this action and start doubting you and the character. Once doubt sets in, it is awfully hard for us to trust you. Once distrust sets in, you’ve lost us. One of the beautiful things about King’s own writing is his ability to take an ordinary person and place him or her in an unusual circumstance, while staying true to who he or she is. Would we have loved The Stand as much as we did if Stu Redmond, the hero of the story, turned into a coward or did something horrible in the middle of the book? I think not.

Any fan of fantasy or sci fi will tell you the best books of these genres are those that are based in some truth. Good sci fi writers stick to actual physics or at least make it sound like they are. They make the impossible seem possible because they don’t lie. They make take us to distance planets, but they don’t do it in hot air balloons

I said I would make it brief, so I’ll stop here. In my next post we will talk about inconsistencies, as this is the showstopper for many of my reading friends. Now it’s your turn, tell me about your pet peeve when it comes to reading.

11/22//63 Stephen King & I Dance Again

You would never guess this, but when I was young I had a special relationship with Stephen King. Now, before you let your imagination run wild, or think you’re about to read a tell-all post, let me be clear; I have never met the man, and wouldn’t know what to say to him if I did. No, the special relationship was the kind that he encourages when he addresses his fans as “constant reader”. But I was more than a constant reader, I was an obsessive reader, and at one point, one of his biggest fans.

That’s a mighty big claim you may be thinking. But I was. At one point in the 1980’s I bought my copies of his latest books from the small bookstore in his hometown of Bangor Main. Why? Because for a while, they were the first to receive copies and I just had to have one from that first batch. They also sold limited edition Christmas ornaments depicting various places from his novels. You would only know this if you frequented that store.  When I could not justify the shipping cost of his latest novel, my own hometown’s small bookstore, Copperfields, would always set aside the first book from their shipment for me. Once, I even got to go into the store to buy his latest tome before it opened. You know you buy a lot of books when a store does favors like that.

My obsession with his writing started in high school. One day in 1977, I stayed home not feeling well, but not sick enough to stay in bed all day. I decided to read something new, though my choices were limited. My parents read, but they were not collectors of books like I am. They liked to read a book then pass it on, as if keeping books around the house was a sign of messy housekeeping. Luckily for me, my parents had just recently become Doubleday Book of the Month club members, and had a couple of new hardbacks in the living room shelf waiting to be read. I had my choice between The Shinning and Burnt Offerings. Both looked good, but for whatever reason, I chose The Shinning. It was a choice that would change my reading habits.

I got comfortable on the couch at 8:30 in the morning, said goodbye to my mother as she walked out the door for a day of errands and grooming; getting one’s hair and nails done was something housewives still did back in the 70’s. She surprised us both when, as she walked back into the house at 4:30-just in time to get dinner going-  she said “are you still sitting there reading?! She was surprised because, well there I was 7 hours later, in the same position as when she left, and I was surprised because I realized I hadn’t move, and was about to finish the book. I hadn’t noticed the time; I hadn’t noticed my discomfort, or anything else for that matter. Someone could have broken into the house, and I wouldn’t of noticed. I was so deep into the story, I forgot even I existed.  That’s what Stephen King’s writing did to me. Over the years I developed a habit of making sure that before I picked up one of his books, I had “my house in order” because when I started to read, I did not stop until the book was done. My best time? 9 hours for the complete and unedited version of The Stand.

Do you ever have those kinds of dreams in which the people in it seem so real, you wake up wondering who they were and where they went? That’s what Stephen King’s writing does to me. It puts me in a dream like state, where I watch people I come to know and love (some times really hate). I have to watch them act out their dramas and “wake up” only when the story is complete. No other writer does this to me. No other writer takes me into that deep hole and keeps me there until the story is told.

As I became older, and my interest in fiction waned, my obsession with King faded. I became a mother; a mother with a child who had a heart condition. Nothing King would write, could match the horror a young mother faces as she watches her baby being taken on a gurney to an operating table. My interest in the macabre vanished as my role of caregiver took shape.

To be honest, even after my son’s health improved, I noticed I no longer cared for King’s writing.  Deloris Claiborne and Gerald’s Games bored me. As much as I wanted to like Insomnia, it put me to sleep. At some point in the middle of the 1990’s I realized my obsession was over, and that whatever magic hold King had over me didn’t work any more. I had my memories of our time together, but like many a good relationships, we just grew apart. I became a scholar and fiction was something I indulged in once or twice a year. King was never on my reading menu.

My friends and I talked about King, as many felt the same way I did. They too became bored with his writing and had moved on to new authors. As for me, yes there were times I picked up a book only to find I did not want to put it down, but never did I pick up a book I couldn’t put down. Never did I find myself in that dream like state. I missed it, and wanted it, but it just never happened.

A few months ago a friend, who loved King almost as much as I did, told me she read 11/22/63 and thought it was marvelous. I didn’t take a lot of noticed as I had no interest in reading about the Kennedy assassination, I was just finishing my degree (finally) and I just knew I’d be disappointed. She insisted I read the book and I filed this away along with other helpful advice she gave me when my long time boyfriend and I broke up. Oh sure the book was good, and sure the breakup was for the best. Thanks for the tips.

A month ago I was reading a New York Times review of the year’s best books. Each came with a little blurb on why it was so good. The article mentioned 11/22/63 and said, it was written by a man who clearly remembered the 50’s and is a book that “is a meditation on memory, love, loss, free will and necessity”. This about a Stephen King book? My interest was sparked. Stephen King seemed to be stepping out of his comfort zone and into the land of serious writing. For the same unknown reason I picked up The Shining, I downloaded 11/22/63. Oh how history was about to repeat itself, (pun intended).

This last Sunday I finally admitted I did not feel well. I’m battling a sinus infection and by Sunday it had won. I decided to do something I haven’t done in years (more years than I would be willing to admit to). I decided not to get dressed. Instead I would get comfortable on the couch and read. I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to read, but I had a full iPad and Sunday was the day I would pick from my Kindle library and start going through it . The first title I saw was 11/22/63, so I opened it up at 11:30 and started reading. Within a couple of pages I was once again in dream land. I did not come out of it until late that night. No, I take that back, it took two days for me to return to 2013.

Should I tell you what the book is about, should I go into detail? I’m not sure. Most reviews are a run down of the story, but hey, I really had no idea what the book was about, why should I ruin it for you?

It’s a story about choices and how one man is given the opportunity to do something that is bigger than him, bigger than all of us. He is given the chance to change history on the hope and promise that more good than harm will come from it. But it is the little things this man does that drives the story and makes your heart ache. It is a lesson on how the present gets in the way of the future. Even when we map out our future and think we know what is to be done, the present slaps us down. Who is it that said, “Wanna make God laugh? Tell him your plans”. King makes this all too clear and reminds us that even if we could go back and change some big event in our life, it is the small things that make up our lives.

The characters were real to me. Just like those in my dreams, I knew them and liked them. After I finished the book, I just sat. I couldn’t take my mind off of them and missed them like old friends you miss as they pull out of your driveway after a weekend visit. King has once again taken everyday people and turned them into heroes, not so much because they do great things, but because they dare to do good things in world that is not always fair.

Some critics say this book is pessimistic. I disagree. I think King is offering hope. He reminds us that if we pay attention to what is in front of us, and do the best we can, we may not regret our past. And, if a man offers you the chance to go back in time and you find yourself comfortable where you are, go ahead and live that life as if it is the only one you have.

This is the best lesson I’ve learned in years. By the way, if you read or have read the book, you will understand my blog title. For those who do get it, I hope you and I have many more chances to dance.