Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Skimming the Cream

Yesterday, I received a newsletter from Powell's Books to choose the best of 2011. There's a lot of that going around -- choosing the best of the previous year now that we are firmly ensconced in the new year. I decided to play along. After all, $250 in books is going to save me at least $250 in books that I will buy this year, or more accurately, this quarter (and sometimes this month).

I briefly flirted with choosing The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, which would be a first for me since I seldom choose literary novels as my favorites, but there I was flirting. Then it dawned on me which was the best book I had read last year (always excepting my own Among Women, which I thought was a very good and notable book, but I would since I wrote it). The best book was The Help by Kathryn Stockett for its humor, social themes, writing, and mostly for its characters. I absolutely adore Minny's smart mouth and Aibilene's common sense and courage. Skeeter reminded me of me, ever on the fringe of the right people and the right causes but discontented with that place and questioning everything and everyone.

In the end, it's all subjective and my favorites might have been different had I read more books or read different books. I read a lot of good books, but very seldom stellar books like Barnes's and Stockett's, books that engage and surprise me, but most of all entertain me and enrich my life, and Barnes's book was barely a novella.

What I look for in other authors' books is the same thing I look for when writing my own -- integrity and courage. The themes and plots aren't as important  except as they bring the story together, as being true to the characters, setting, and heart of the novel. I can find that in any genre or literary novel and good writing is good writing whether it's for young adult fiction or adult fiction. Just give me something true and honest; just give me integrity.

Maybe that is what has stalled my own writing of late, lack of integrity. No, that's not it. What has stalled me is disappointment. I thought my book would be more widely read and people would talk about what I created, but no. Just no. If people are talking, they're not talking to me or anywhere else I can find outside the core of fans and good people (writers really) who keep touting my book, and that's one of the hardest pills to swallow in writing.

It takes some screenwriter or director optioning a book they've read or creating a show based on a book to get the masses interested. Take George R. R. Martin, for example. He wrote a marvelous series of books that are amazing in its breadth and scope, unforgettable characters, and themes that resonate in all parts of the world, yet it wasn't until HBO decided to make Game of Thrones that readers sat up and took notice. The geek world had been on fire as Martin created his series and waited a bit impatiently for each new piece of the Westeros puzzle, but The Song of Ice and Fire series didn't take off until HBO's version of the show. The same thing happened for The Help where people sat up and took notice when the movie was announced and released. Barnes's The Sense of an Ending didn't need to be made into a movie since it won the 2011 Man Booker Prize for fiction -- literary fiction, no others need apply.

The problem is that most people are followers and they look for the leaders to tell them where to go and what to read or watch, or watch and read. The authors keep plugging away at their day jobs, unless they already have created a following by writing tome upon tome like Martin, and I get that. I don't want to wait for some bright screenwriter or director or producer to decide that my book is ready for its closeup so the masses will see what they are supposed to watch and then read. I haven't made enough of a name for myself yet, and I'm getting impatient with being disappointed. I also don't want to work for someone else when I could be writing more books and getting paid for the writing alone, be able to live on my writing alone without the help of a regular 2 pm to 8:30 pm job. I want my closeup now.

While I wait, I read and read about 80 books last year, give or take a couple, and it may have been more. I read and review a lot of books, and the best book I read last year was Kathryn Stockett's The Help. I also watched the movie and it was very good and, for once, stuck to the book and didn't change the ending or combine characters or anything else that Hollywood usually does to jazz up the material. The Help stood all on its own.

If you're interested in weighing in on your favorite book of 2011, go to Powell's and cast your vote. If not, check out  Julian Barnes, Kathryn Stockett, and George R. R. Martin and then check out writers you've never read and your favorites, your literary comfort food, in whatever format is your favorite. The best advice I can give you for 2012 is read, read a lot.

Although 2012 is just beginning, it too will end and you'll have a chance to choose your favorite at the end of this year, but only if you read. Good luck and good reading.

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