Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover

‘[Book title] + summary’ And The Likelihood The Book Will Not Be Read

A photograph of a pile of books

Looking through my stats, I’ve noticed a lot of people searching for ‘[book title] summary’ in Google. (They rarely reach my site, presumably because I don’t provide full summaries, but I see them all the same.)

My first thought was that these people would mainly be students, secondary school age, looking to do what my classmates and me did and get away without reading the book, but increasingly the searches involve modern books. Some of these books I can see being placed on a syllabus but many wouldn’t be. And we’re not talking books that have necessarily been turned into films, either (which might have suggested people wanted to know the differences between the mediums).

I worry because it strikes me as likely that it’s just that people don’t want to read the book. If you get the summary, and thus know the main features of the plot, you can potentially hold your own in a conversation, but you likely wouldn’t get characterisation aspects without a different search and it can often take reading the book to know whether it’s character-driven and so forth. And is pretending really worth it? What happens when the person or people to whom you’re pretending ask about something that isn’t related to the plot? (I know this situation is similar to those times you’ve read the book but forgotten it and therefore can’t talk about it much, but it’s easier there, and likely comes across as honest, if you say as much.) I may be biased – I’d prefer to say I’ve not read a book or not yet read it; then again, I’m used to talking to bloggers and similarly-minded readers who know that the number of books out there is limitless.

Of course another possibility is that of a reader who reaches the end but doesn’t quite understand what they read. Usually those are apparent through more specific questions, but not always. Sometimes it can be hard to find what you’re after with specific questions because you have to get the words correct in terms of how the internet has referred to the subject. I looked up The Bell Jar‘s summary after reading the book to see if there were more clues about Joan’s role than I’ve noted. But when that didn’t work I added ‘Joan’ to my search, which made my intent obvious.

Lastly, if you’re studying another book and that book references another you feel it’d be good to have context for, I can see that being another reason to opt for a summary rather than a full read.

What do you think of summaries online and the use of them? There are quite a few study-sort of sites, but not all of them include commentary – I’d say commentary alongside the summary adds a real reason for it.

 
Planning For Christmas 2018

Book cover

Over the last month I’ve been musing over the end month of the year. Every year I say I’m going to add some seasonal books to my reading list but it doesn’t happen as well as I hope. This is partly because I leave it too late – I’m making up for it here – but it’s also because it can be difficult to find Christmas books that aren’t romance.

Finding Christmas romances are easy, they are everywhere and it makes sense that Christmas would be a priority because of the cosiness, mistletoe, and just general seasonal mood. Most of what I’ve read so far at Christmas have been romances. I like settling down beside my tree with such books but I also want to read in other genres too.

Book cover

And that is difficult. I suppose with literary fiction it’s the case that most books set at Christmas may sport some good cheer but at some point in order for the literary-ness to be included, the character’s lives will be upended… and that’s not really what you want at Christmas. It’s also just hard to find such books; most often those with ‘winter’ or ‘Christmas’ in the title move swiftly on.

Historical fiction is a possibly good bet but you have to accept that any Christmas time will likely be fleeting, and quite possibly unlike the season we know. Then there are classics. A Christmas Carol, which I’ve read; The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe which I’ve also read and is somewhat fleeting unless you include the endless winter into the Christmas time… which wouldn’t be right because as Mr Tumnus says, it is “always winter, but never Christmas”; and finally Little Women which I’ve added.

Then there are these: L Frank Baum’s The Life And Adventures Of Santa Claus; E T A Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker And The Mouse King (which, something I didn’t know, was first re-written by Dumas before being turned into a ballet – Dumas’ re-write informed Tchaikovsky); Nikolai Gogol’s The Night Before Christmas; O Henry’s The Gift Of The Magi; Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. I believe the Henry is an adult short story; I’d not heard of it before but it sounds famous.

Book cover

I’ve seen a Dilly Court’s The Christmas Card looks like a possibility, but I’ve read a couple of books in that Victorian-to-early-1900s-historical-sort-of-romance-always-with-similar-set-ups-in-terms-of-family and not liked them. (Is there a specific term for books like hers? They’re a particular sort of historical but are generally placed away from ‘regular’ historical fiction, and are instantly recognisable. I’ve noticed supermarkets here have tons of them but they are rarely on display in bookshops. Historical chick-lit perhaps?) I’ll probably give the Court a go for variety’s sake.

So that’s where I am in my planning at present: Dilly Court, Alcott, a contemporary romance or two (likely by Shannon Stacey because whilst I find her work hit and miss it’s always got the escapism factor) and a few children’s fiction options. When I looked for Dilly Court’s book cover I found this list of Christmas books on GoodReads that’ll be worth looking into, especially as it’s a list of other lists.

Do you have any Christmas book favourites? And have you anything I could add to my list of classics?

 
Analyses Of First Lines #5

I’ve found myself becoming incredibly picky. I started composing this post quite a few weeks ago but didn’t complete it because I didn’t have enough first lines to make it worthwhile – there were many I could choose from within the limits I set myself for this series (books that are currently in my reading life whether already read and being looked at again, in progress, or recently finished) but none struck a chord. Sometimes it was because working out exactly what the first line was could be tricky, with books sporting those sort of prologue pages that might not actually be prologue pages, and others that just didn’t intrigue in any way. Usually this sort of pickiness takes a while – my thoughts on referencing… eight years late – but in this case it’s only taken 5 posts. I suppose I’m getting used to thinking about what I want to do earlier rather than later.

Looking at what I’ve got below, I’ve noticed it’s full of doom, gloom, and hospitals, so I apologise if you’re reading this when you’ve a spring in your step. My reading hasn’t been all angst, I guess it’s just that the books that include it think more about their first lines. There may be something in that.

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

The attendants came for him as a pair, as always.

Book cover

He’s been there a long time, and he’s a big problem if two people are needed. We can estimate length of time but the amount of difficulty he’s causing really depends on what this is about. If historical there are a few possibilities – a simple thing of two people arriving; they may need to lift him head and foot; he may be causing them a lot of issues whether truly or in that depraved asylum fashion. If contemporary, it’s most likely to be a necessary thing but hopefully practiced with the comfort of the patient in mind in the context of a much better idea of what he is suffering from. It could be a hospital or a prison, a care home or in-home care, perhaps. Of course the cover gives you a hint as to what time we’re talking about, but on its own the line could be set in any time.

Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

They must think I don’t have long left, because today they allow the vicar in.

Book cover

Surprising open, everything is set up, and there’s something quite literary about the way this is a short sentence – the end is possibly near, and so there is little to say on that exact front. Looking at ‘they’, either ‘they’ are wrong and this will be a story in which the narrator gets better, or we’re going to be looking at the past.

The Theatre Of Dreams by Rosie Travers

I met the man who orchestrated my downfall in a Soho nightclub.

Book cover

The use of alliteration, and ‘orchestrated’ when another might use a different word – the start of this story, if not the whole, is going to have quite a lot of drama in it and not necessarily anything involving acting. The use of ‘Soho’ alone, without ‘nightclub’, sets the scene: a downfall – which may well have happened in London if the narrator is there to go clubbing – and the likelihood of their residence there, points to the title – fame.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.

Book cover

I love this line. I completely looked it over when I first read it, because nothing particularly jumps out at you during a regular read unless the Rosenbergs are a new story to you. But this line is absolutely perfect – everything is provided. You’ve got the season, mood, exact time and year, place, and even the state of mind, shown by what she chooses to focus on. You’ve also got repetition there to draw the reader to the sunny days, and the use of ‘queer’ (as a synonym for ‘odd’), and the way Plath chooses to highlight an electrocution, says straight away that the book may be a strange and/or difficult one. Of course difficult is what The Bell Jar is, but Plath’s bluntness, warning, lets you know straight away what you need to know if you’re just flicking through books and looking for something to read – unlike many books that take a while to show what they are about, Plath’s is immediate. And you’ve got to be thankful for that – her tale is morbid, dark, but she’s giving you an out if you wish to take it.

Whistle In The Dark by Emma Healey

‘This has been the worst week of my life,’ Jen said.

Book cover

Interesting is the chapter heading, ‘the end’ – are we going to be reading the book back to front? And with this first line Healey shows us we’re going to look into the near past, and something that has been bad or gone wrong. Whether or not ‘of my life’ is dramatising things is something we don’t yet know, and we don’t yet know. We also don’t know how old the person is and thus whether or not it is indeed likely to be dramatic or not.

Missing Pieces by Laura Pearson

The coffin was too small.

Book cover

This is rather like the flash fiction piece, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”1 – Pearson sets a very similar scene. Though what is left out that the famous fiction piece included is a reference to time; we don’t yet know how long the child lived for, and thus we don’t know how much, if any, pages moving forward will include references to a life lived. The title of this book and certainly the cover give an idea as to what the book is about, but if you were in any doubt, there’s the first line.

Reading these through again I think there’s definitely something to be said about darker books more often (potentially more often?) having strong first lines. I suppose that when you’re writing about a difficult subject in long form and wanting to get details across to the reader, it’s second nature to start as you mean to go on.

Then there is the fact that sometimes it takes a few lines for the stage to be set, and often these are short sentences where you look at a first line like Christina Stead’s – ‘One hot night last spring, after waiting fruitlessly for a call from my then lover, with whom I had quarreled the same afternoon, and finding one of my black moods on me, I flung out of my lonely room on the ninth floor (unlucky number) in a hotel in lower Fifth Avenue and rushed into the streets of the Village, feeling bad.’ – and wonder if they couldn’t have just created a long sentence, no matter how old-fashioned they seem to now be considered. But then of course short sentences have merits of their own.

With The Bell Jar soon to be behind me I’m thinking again of the idea of close reading ending lines. I think I’d want to retrace my steps and include the books that I’d used in these first lines posts. I’ll have to ponder that undertaking for a bit!

Footnotes

1 I was intrigued to discover that this six-word story is commonly attributed to Ernest Hemingway, although there is no hard evidence to suggest it was his. O’Toole (2013) says, ‘a literary agent named Peter Miller stated that he was told the anecdote about Hemingway and baby shoes by a “well-established newspaper syndicator” circa 1974.’ He quotes Miller’s book: ‘Apparently, Ernest Hemingway was lunching at Luchow’s with a number of writers and claimed that he could write a short story that was only six words long. Of course, the other writers balked. Hemingway told each of them to put ten dollars in the middle of the table; if he was wrong, he said, he’d match it. If he was right, he would keep the entire pot. He quickly wrote six words down on a napkin and passed it around; Papa won the bet. The words were “FOR SALE, BABY SHOES, NEVER WORN.” A beginning, a middle and an end!’ (Miller 1991, p.27, cited in O’Toole 2013)

But O’Toole also cites other variations on the tale, other potential writers. Miller’s anecdote is unsubstantiated. (I think it’s also worth noting that the time scale between Hemingway’s supposed claim and his completing it, sounds incredibly far-fetched unless he had already prepared the story in advance. This surely suggests he’d seen the story elsewhere.) His article, linked to below, is worth a read.

Online References

O’Toole, Garson (2013) For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn, Quote Investigator, accessed 7th September 2018.

 
Reading Life: 5th September 2018

A photograph of the Japanese garden at Kingston Lacy

With more reading time to spend as of late, I’ve found myself reading the books I received at Christmas, novels I’d asked for upon request for a list. The Nakano Thrift Shop was one. Originally drawn in by the hype, I decided to read it when browsing my shelves and whilst I thought early on that it probably wasn’t my cup of tea I wanted to keep going, after all it was a present and I was intrigued by the author. I wonder if perhaps, looking at things with introductions in mind, I should have read Murakami first, but then one book doesn’t speak for all and to my knowledge the translators for the two authors are different.

From there I picked up Americanah – first started in January – and read it until the end, which meant from 1/3 of the way through. It’ll be on my best of list. The variety of subjects under the one umbrella topic, particularly with a main character who isn’t all that likeable, was very well done.

And then I opted for the book that sat next to the Kawakami on my higgledy-piggledy to be read shelf, also a gift – Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. It hardly bears repeating that it’s difficult, but for its literary value, both in terms of Plath and in the context of literature as a whole, it’s also enjoyable. I’ve noted down a number of extracts – the story of the bellhop, Esther/Sylvia’s views on women’s lives in those years – and am also enjoying the lighter moments, elements I didn’t expect would be included. For now it’s less dark than I imagined, but I know it goes further. I’m working at a sort of 50/50 pace with research – reading a few chapters, switching to research, then going back to the book. I read about the debates surrounding Plath and Ted Hughes when I read Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, but there have been more recent reports about her father aligning with the Nazis – like this one from 2012 by Dalya Alberge – that paint a picture that gives a more rounded story to Plath’s poem, Daddy, from which the following comes:

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You—

I’m half thinking that after Plath I should continue on to other books received as presents, because it’s a good mix, and includes Eowyn Ivey’s To The Bright Edge Of The World. I’ll see – I’m inclined to be completely whimsical, and reading books received as gifts sets an expectation, however random.

Which difficult book have you read recently and how did you find the experience?

 
August 2018 Reading Round Up

August was pretty good. I’ve a couple of books on the go and finished a fair number, though I’m glad to have finished most of them, to have got them out of the way.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

Book cover

Glenda Young: Belle Of The Back Streets – A girl from a poor family in pre-wartime Britain takes to the streets as a rag and bone person and doesn’t follow the advice of others, instead spending time with the ‘wrong sort’. This was very much like a soap opera, with multiple people dying in quick succession just for plot points.

Book cover

Hiromi Kawakami: The Nakano Thrift Shop – Hitomi relates various times at the second-hand shop in which she works, as she finds love with a co-worker and tries to figure out more about her employers. Good as an example of translated literature, but you have to be aware that not much happens.

Book cover

Nick Spalding: Checking Out – A childrens’ musical creator, given a few months to live, looks to provide meaning to his life. Not bad but the comedy falls flat early on.

Book cover

Rosie Travers: The Theatre Of Dreams – A recently-disgraced actress moves to the coast to manage a dance school… or at least that’s what she thought she was doing – in actual fact she’s there to help save a historical pavilion from demolition. Good stuff.

My favourite this month would be the Travers; high above the others it added much needed enjoyment and the mystery element that starts about a third of the way through really raised the bar, which was a promise kept.

Quotation Report

A thought from The Nakano Thrift Shop worth mulling over:

When it comes to old things, whether buying or selling, why is it that people act so cautious?… With something brand new, they have no problem just ordering it from a catalogue, no matter how expensive.

For September the plan is literary fiction with a book or two in different genres. Over the weekend I got back to Americanah and am a fair way towards finishing; I’d like to have done so by the end of this week.

What are you reading? And do you have plans for autumn?

 

Older Entries Newer Entries