Quitting on a Bad Book?

Is it ever okay to give up on a book?

I ask because lately, it seems like I can’t find a book that I want to actually finish reading. Besides the Percy Jackson series, I mean. I’m flying through those with an eagerness that I’ve been missing for a long time.

Maybe I’m just becoming a snobby curmudgeon as I age. But seriously, I’m in the middle of 9 books right now and don’t have the desire to pick up and finish any of them. Some of these are books on bestselling lists and titles that many of my bookish friends are raving about. The others are galley copies of books that also received a lot of hype. They range from YA novels to literary fiction to nonfiction.

Great writing is tough, I get it. It’s why I don’t have a novel of my own on the bookstore shelves yet. I applaud each and every author for their efforts and would have to be a complete idiot to say I could do better. Is it just that the wrong books are finding me? Do I need to go through a phase where I pull back from modern fiction and only read the classics? Should I stick only to the authors I trust for awhile?

Do I need to struggle through the story no matter what? I hated Girl with the Dragon Tattoo when I first started reading. I had to get 200 pages deep before the story captivated me. All of the writing advice I’ve ever received said to start out strong and fast paced. Is this the exception, or the rule?

I realize this is mostly rambling and that I’ll still probably read whatever book is thrown at me, but still. It’s frustrating. Am I an awful human being for giving up, possibly too quickly, or do I need to whip out the “life is too short” cliche?

Book Review: Publishing, A Writer’s Memoir by Gail Godwin

226 pages Bloomsbury USA Release Date: January 15, 2015
226 pages
Bloomsbury USA
Release Date: January 15, 2015

As the title of this post indicates, I’m reviewing a memoir this time around. And, as always:

I received an uncorrected proof of this book through the publisher. I am not being compensated in any way for this review. All of the opinions expressed here are my own.

Gail Godwin would fit the definition of a successful writer. After all, she is the author of 14 bestselling novels, two short story collections, and two nonfiction works. Her newest nonfiction work, Publishing: A Writer’s Memoir, is the story of how Godwin became the writer she is today. Regretfully, it is the only work of hers that I’ve read to-date.

Initially I was worried that this memoir, like a few others I’ve read, would be nothing but a platform for bragging and snobbery. Thankfully, it was nothing of the sort. Godwin is a very down-to-earth individual. She opens the piece with her first rejection as a writer and continues to mention her mistakes and failures as much as she discusses her achievements. I appreciated the balance, both as a reader and as a writer. Publishing reminds us that though writing is a challenging profession, it is still an attainable goal so long as one is willing to work through the frequent disappointments. Even the best writers don’t always get it right.

I personally found this inspiring, and there were many instances when I felt compelled to drop the book just so I could go and work on my own writing. Regardless of what her reason was for writing this, Godwin serves as an inspiration for all of us struggling to make it in this competitive and ever-changing field. This is a great book for all, both writers and book lovers who would like more insight into how books come to be.



When Writing and Life Overlap

photo credit: Vince Kusters via photopin cc

This past month I’ve been working pretty steadily on a book-length memoir. It was prompted by a medical memoir piece I had to write for a class I took this previous semester. The entire book revolves around my relationship with my mother and the autoimmune disease we share (I’m aware that this sounds boring, but it’s too early in the game for entertaining back matter anyway).

I’m used to opening up about my private life on the Web, but a memoir takes things to a whole new level. While it’s okay for me to talk about my writer-ly musings here or about my experience living with a disease on My Battle With RA, a memoir almost always involves other people in some way. Sometimes, the people who show up in memoirs aren’t always portrayed in the best light. Memoirs are chock full of skeletons and deeply buried memories. That’s what pulls readers in. I speak generally, of course.

I’m totally cool with putting my stuff out there. No shame. Problem is that I don’t know how well Mom or any other people I mention will take it. I’m working diligently to make sure that the information I give is accurate and focuses mainly on my childhood interpretation of things, because the last thing I want to do is humiliate my mother and piss off relatives.

This is an issue I’ve thought about a lot. My fiance is trying to break into standup comedy. As artists, we realize that our relationship and our individual careers are going to coincide more often than the norm. He’s going to want to make fun of me on stage, and for good reason. I’m going to want to base fictional characters off of him, include him in future memoir pieces, or write about him here. We both have the mutual understanding that we can never flip off the artist switch for the sake of the other’s feelings. It’s unfair to stifle art, especially when it’s another creative doing the stifling. We’re pursuing things that require life experience the same way a car needs gas.

We have an agreement that anything goes, but if it’s something of a sensitive nature, we’ll at least inform the other beforehand. There’s a scene in my memoir  where I write about a particularly serious conversation we had regarding our future, and I made sure he was aware of it. Still, I know he won’t try to stop me.

How does that translate with other people though? I’m not the first to face this dilemma. How many stories have been abandoned simply because others didn’t want them published? I don’t think I have to worry too much, but the thought hangs over my head like a black cloud whenever I sit down at the computer. I know my mother is supportive of my career and would never accuse me of intentionally trying to hurt anyone, but what if she tells me that my memoir makes her uncomfortable? Do I respectfully accept that it will never get published? Do I publish anyway and expect her to “just deal?” In my opinion, this piece is one of the better things I’ve written recently. Do I deny myself the opportunity?

Sometimes being a writer sucks with its many “what-ifs.” I try not to let too many outside influences dictate my projects, or I’d never get anything accomplished. I’m going to need to mention this project eventually. I’m deciding to wait until I’m finished with a draft. It’s like going into a board meeting with a fancy Powerpoint presentation and selling an idea. I’ll let you know how that goes.









Ten Years From Now

I took a blogging class this past semester, and part of our homework each week was to complete a writing exercise. This one in particular was a favorite of mine. We were asked to have our future selves write about our present selves. I wanted to share it because I’m sure many of you can understand where I’m coming from (and because I think it’s pretty good for a first draft).

Ten years have gone by, but I still remember that feeling of anxiety and uncertainty in the pit of my stomach. I spent a lot of time holed up in the Writing Center on campus, feeling the stress of school and reality pressing down on me like a cinder block. It was the same anxiety I felt when I stepped onto the campus for the first time as a freshman. I didn’t know who I was, what I was doing, or what my future would be like. Would I feel a sense of belonging? Would I meet people who would actually “get” me?  I was ready for the change of pace, but to what extent I wasn’t sure.

I made it though. It wasn’t easy. There were a lot of late nights, term papers, and bottles of beer. There were some near nervous breakdowns too. The smell of weed at 2am permeating from my suitemate’s room started to become a strange sort of security blanket; at least I wasn’t all alone during those late nights. I kept telling myself it would all be worth it in the end.

I made Rutgers my home for five years. There was a Wednesday during the Fall semester of my senior year when I was sitting alone in the Writing Center, two hours before we were supposed to open. I was working on a writing sample for my graduate school applications, completely clueless as to what direction my story should take. It hit me then that one year from that moment I’d be starting over, in a new place, with new people and new jobs. I wouldn’t be going to work at the Writing Center, or even to my other on-campus computer job.  And if I played my cards right, I wouldn’t be living at home with my mother anymore either. It was a surreal thought.    

But the alternate thought was that my endless amounts of homework would prevent me from getting that writing sample done or filling out applications. I would have to keep living with my mother, because I didn’t get into any grad programs. I’ve come to realize that people in their early twenties doubt themselves a whole lot.

But everything turned out okay in the end, even after all of the worrying. I did manage to get away from the little bubble I created. I did move halfway across the country to pursue a degree that most people thought was a useless waste of time, which made it possible for me to write this while sitting on the couch in pajamas while everyone else is working a nine-to-five. I wish there was a way to tell the college senior version of me to slow down and enjoy an occasional lunch break, and to drink the coffee simply for the pleasure of it. 

What would future you say about present you?