Much of the writing advice from top writers can be distilled into two actions: write, and read. I’d like to say I do both everyday, but I can’t.
After our little people are safely tucked into bed, I apportion my precious night hours to either writing or reading. If I am reading, it’s inevitably research for my current writing projects–and, reading like this, I can devour a book in a night.
I’d like to share three excellent novel(la)s I read in the last week, all of which come from a speculative place:
1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. In spite of the teen angst, which is to be expected from a YA novel, the story had me enthralled from the first chapter. The pace is fast, owing to the deft way in which the narrator (Katniss Everdeen) reveals details of the place and the characters in the face of escalating action.
Set in a future where the United States has become Panem, and Panem comprises a controlling Capitol and twelve districts, the novel is a pointed comment on class and politics, a tale of young love, and a story of survival unlike any other I have read. This could be due to the author’s twisted inspiration–a blurring of reality TV and war footage.
If you loved the movie, please read the book. There is a richness to the characters and their plights that does not translate to the big screen.
2. The Giver by Lois Lowry. This is a deceptive book. While it is short (around 43,000 words) and YA and written in uncluttered scenes with simple prose, its concepts are believable and foreseeable.
The Giver relates a future where a perfect society has been created by limiting individual choices and experiences, through Sameness and a highly controlled regimen around life and death. While the townsfolk do not feel pain, loss or loneliness, Sameness also removes the ability to feel positive emotions or see colour. When a twelve-year-old boy is selected to take on the town’s memories, the function of this closed society is challenged to its core.
First published in 1993, The Giver has attracted worldwide fame and notoriety. For me, the story reverberated uneasily for some days after the reading: I felt echoes of Eichmann’s story and the Milgram experiments. This is a novel I will come back to.
3. The Fireman by Ray Bradbury. More than a year ago, I managed to source an original print of this novella from within the pages of Galaxy Science Fiction, February 1951. When I slipped the plastic cover from this musty-scented volume, it was with utter reverence and delight.
The Fireman is the story that grew into Bradbury’s seminal novel, Fahrenheit 451. It is the futuristic tale of a man who faces a major conflict of interest when he begins to read the books he is paid to burn. How far he takes this illegal act defines his future and that of other firemen; in this midst, his hometown falls prey to war.
Bradbury was a prolific writer, an autodidact* and a library addict. It was in the UCLA’s Lawrence Clark Powell Library that he wrote this seminal piece–in just 9 days. As I read The Fireman, I felt sad in the knowledge that I discovered the brilliance of this man too late to meet him in this life, not that our paths would have crossed. This is just the usual thought that dawns on me when I learn that someone I admire has passed on.
What I’m reading next:
- Tonight it’s Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, a book described in the introduction as ‘his most perfect novel’–a big label to live up to.
- Tomorrow I will re-read one of my old favourites: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
- The day after that, I’ll break my speculative fiction binge (for now) with Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser, pending library availability.
So…have you read any good books lately? I’m happily taking recommendations for next week’s reading!
Yours in writing (and reading),
* Apparently Ray Bradbury spent three days each week for ten years in a library because he couldn’t afford the college fees. He was completely self-taught. I am in awe of this man’s motivation.