1) Walk into library 2) Pick a book off the shelves.

Today I’m writing because I’ve recently rediscovered the pleasure of something I haven’t done for fun since high school: walking into a library, picking up a novel I’d never heard of and had no prior plans to read, and getting sucked in from jacket to epilogue.

As a writer, I’m also an avid reader, but here is my issue: I almost always know what I am going to read. I like structure: I work from lists. I’ll read what a friend hands me, what catches my eye on Goodreads. With purpose: books that play off one another, novels I will later be able to watch the film adaptation of, research/background reading, comp titles, work whose writing mirrors what I intend to do next. I read on a mapped route. And to some degree, if you read a lot of the same author, or work through trilogies or series, or even have a favorite table or shelf you always check at the bookstore, you might do the same.

Here is what I think.

I think, like writing, our reading should sometimes surprise us. And not just surprise us; knock our socks off and eat them and spit out a pair of mittens. Okay, maybe minus the eating and mittens. Point is, a good story has the power to floor you. A good, unexpected story can obliterate you.

In the best possible sense.

So here is my reading challenge for you:

  1. Walk into a library or bookstore.
  2. Pick up a book you’ve never heard of (though by all means, read the jacket and go with one that snags your interest). Bonus points for a genre or age group you don’t usually read!
  3. Take the book home and read it.

If you’re lucky (do not underestimate luck), somewhere in number three you will enter a time warp because the book you’ve brought home to read is so ridiculously engrossing you can’t set it down ’til it’s over. Try it. See what happens.

Here are my latest treasure finds, the two books-off-the-shelf that inspired this post:

Wool by Hugh Howey

Thousands of them have lived underground. They’ve lived there so long, there are only legends about people living anywhere else. Such a life requires rules. Strict rules. There are things that must not be discussed. Like going outside. Never mention you might like going outside.

Or you’ll get what you wish for.” –Goodreads

 

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

“Stephen King returns to the characters and territory of one of his most popular novels ever, The Shining, in this instantly riveting novel about the now middle-aged Dan Torrance (the boy protagonist of The Shining) and the very special twelve-year-old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals.” —Goodreads [abridged]

Full jacket copy here.

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On Stephen King’s 11/22/63

I remember reading somewhere (probably in his memoir On Writing) that Stephen King subjects early drafts of his manuscripts to a little test: he’ll put a copy in the hands of his wife, a cherished Ideal Reader, and monitor her reactions as she reads. If there’s a passage he means to be funny, and hopes will make his Ideal Reader laugh, he’ll cross his fingers and hope she will validate his efforts with said laughter. Likewise, and more significantly in my mind, King will shrewdly observe when his Ideal Reader puts the book down to do something else. Then he will note that part, go back into it, and ratchet things up to keep the reader reading and make the book even harder to put down.

This is the first sentiment that comes to mind after finishing 11/22/63, King’s novel about an English teacher who goes back in time in attempt to prevent the JFK assassination. Though the book is a veritable tome at 849 pages (I’ll be honest: probably the longest I have read since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), the story flies. There is constant tension. The protagonist always wants something and there are always obstacles to getting it. There are trials. Stakes. Consequences. This book puts into practice everything I have learned about creating a gripping storyline, and then some.

That said, I come away from 11/22/63 as both a reader and writer with a profound admiration for King’s seamless storytelling. If it’s clean prose and a gripping story you’re looking for, King is your man.

As a reader, the element I am most interested in discussing with this particular book is the ending. That said, WARNING: the rest of this post contains spoilers of 11/22/63! Do Not Read unless you want significant portions of the ending given away!

Still there? OKAY. The ending. This is something I’m going to try and look at from both the reader and writer perspectives (with some overlap– so bear with me).

As a reader: I’m satisfied. Conflicts are resolved. Sadie is still alive, if in her eighties, while Jake is what– on paper, mid thirties, in reality, about 40? He gets to see his darling again. She is a strong, accomplished woman who has touched many lives. They can’t really be together, as she is several decades older than Jake now, but hey. They can share another dance.

As a writer: I deeply admire not going the happy-ending route, and bringing Jake’s journey to a more realistic close. Jake has been on a perilous adventure and it has come at a price. Also, there’s a neat little symmetry with the whole “the past harmonizes” gimmick and the fact that Jake and Sadie dance to “In the Mood” like they did in an alternate past, years and years ago (even if it isn’t a Lindy). There is also something hauntingly beautiful about having Sadie recognize Jake, although in this reality they have never met before: about her knowing him as someone she has encountered in her dreams. I love this both as a reader and writer.

As a reader: So, in the end…when you’re looking at things objectively…Jake lost five years of his life, met and lost his true love (or rather, she’s still around, but doesn’t remember their time together because it technically never happened, and she is some forty years his senior), did what he set out to do, but ended up having to undo EVERYTHING, which means he basically really did WASTE five years of his life. I almost think it’s too romantic to say that an elderly version of his former lover makes a satisfactory consolation prize.

As a writer: Whatever. I’m still impressed.

Julie Takes The Internet By Storm

A STAGGERING 12 LIKES ON FACEBOOK AND A WEBSITE BESIDES JULIE ISRAEL, self It doesn’t take much to excite an unpublished author. “Twelve likes!” Julie Israel, one such aspiring novelist exclaims. “That’s almost a baker’s dozen!” Israel, the author of … Continue reading

Writing as Telepathy

I’ve recently finished reading Stephen King’s aptly-titled memoir, On Writing. As one would expect, Mr. King had some very interesting things to say on the subject.

Namely, that it’s magic.

If I hadn’t already returned the book to the library I’d quote it to you from the King himself, verbatim, but let me see if I can’t push up my sleeves and make a little magic of my own.

OH WAIT, I THINK I JUST DID.

You’re saying, “What? What just happened? Julie, I don’t understand!” Well, let me ask you this: did you not just envision the rolling up of sleeves? Hands clapping together, perhaps, and rubbing in anticipation?

(I certainly feel like a magician. “Is this your image?”)

Let’s try again. I’ll explain better and give a more thorough example this time.

When I was little I always wore something with a tutu for Halloween. One year I was a ballerina, the next a princess, and after that a fairy. The lace-up slippers came and went, as did the (plastic) jewel-studded crown and the wand, but integral to my costume each and every year was my bubblegum pink, mesh, flamboyant tutu.

Now. The tutu you are seeing might have several layers of frills; it might be stiff or fall silken like tulip petals; it could be sewn with pearl-colored sequins, or tied off with a great big bow.

But the fact remains that you are seeing a tutu.

Or if you weren’t, you are now.

This is a tutu that I envisioned in my head. I captured the images conjured in my mind and relayed them with words like “bubblegum pink” and “flamboyant”; with “frills,” “tulip petals,” and “tied off with a bow.” In writing, I emitted a magic signal. In writing, I sent those images to you.

Boom. Telepathy.

But when you think about it, it’s even better than telepathy. Telepathy is short-lived. With writing, hundreds of years from now (okay, let’s pretend for a moment people will still be interested in my blog, or that “blogging” will even exist) someone might read those very words and see the same image I projected; a figment originally dreamed up in my mind.

Magical, isn’t it.

Give it a go, if you’re up for it…send us an image by word!