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My Fall Reading List 2014

fall 2014 reading list

What a fabulous summer of reading! After 4 months so rich with reading that they merited two summer reading lists (My Summer Reading List 2014 and Mid-Summer Reading 2014), it’s hard to believe that Fall is here with more novels, nonfiction and young adult fiction clamoring onto the must-read list. My poet friends, note the gap in that series: we need your recommendations for poetry titles.

Here are the books I plan to be reading as I enjoy my first fall back in the north in years. Nice how the cooling, crisp weather seems perfect justification for stealing extra hours to read. Enjoy your reading, and do share your own recommendations!

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Adult Fiction

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah (2013). This Nigerian-American author has won the Orange Award for her prior novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, and had her short fiction published in some of my favorite literary magazines and anthologies. The New York Times Book Review listed Americanah as one of the ten best books of the year, yet I kept passing it up until Julianne Stirling recommended it. Her big tip: Listen to Americanah via Audible, as Julianne says the Audible narrator, Adjoa Andoh, brings pronunciation of African dialects and names to life. Update: I loved the subject and ideas of this book, but felt it rambled, so didn’t gush over this one as much as other reviewers.
  • Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (August 2014). A bit of booklove and… a pinch of guilt went into making this book an impulse buy. Guilt: too long I procrastinated tackling IQ84 (too many books to read and it was soooo long), so I was preconditioned to thinking I should read something by Murakami. Booklove: you have to see the hardcover in person to appreciate the publishing joy that went into the window-cut jacket and underlying map. Shallow reasons perhaps, but I am happy to have this renowned author from Kyoto among my reading this month. Update: Help, fellow readers. I can’t get past the first 40-60 pages. Do I push on; does all the who-cares? detail begin to mean something? So far, it’s losing out to other reads…
  • Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven (September 2014). Author Erin Morgenstern (her Night Circus was among my favorite Spring reads) raved about Station Eleven on its release today, which had me exploring Emily’s author site… I have to say, I am just as curious about two of her earlier novels: The Lola Quartet or Last Night in Montreal. I love the genre-crossover elements of crime or mystery with the depth of character typical to a literary novel. Either way, it’s my plan to read one of her books.
  • Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman (February 2014). I discovered this one in a tweet by Aragi, Inc., announcing the novel’s inclusion on the National Book Award longlist, which led me to a series of tweets and webpages ranging from a picture of Rabih, hands to either side of his head in joy on hearing the NBA news, to this description of the book on his author site: “heartrending novel that celebrates the singular life of an obsessive introvert, revealing Beirut’s beauties and horrors along the way.” I’ve shared before my aspirational admiration of agent Nicole Aragi, so could have said, “You had me at Aragi.” For all these reasons, Unnecessary Woman makes my fall shortlist.
  • Ian McEwan, The Children Act (September 2014). I once lamented that I wanted to read McEwan’s Atonement, but had seen the film already and couldn’t get far enough past it to forget the ending, for it not to be a spoiler to reading. So, as a guest at a book club, I had McEwan’s latest novel added to my reading list in Atonement’s stead.
  • Benjamin Percy, Red Moon (2013). I’ve had Percy on my radar for a couple years as a highly recommended workshop leader, and his books are definitely on my reading list this fall as I will be in a workshop with him in January. Red Moon gets the most attention as his most recent novel (other than Dead Lands, due out in April 2015) but I could read one or more of his others instead: novel, The Wilding, or short story collections: Refresh, Refresh or The Language of Elk. Update: Red Moon was a powerful and thought-provoking read — a fantasy thriller set in an alternative America, grappling with terrorism and fear of disease as the government wavers between controlling or integrating a minority population of lycans. I’ve heard nothing but praise of Percy, and found his writing muscular and compelling. I’ll be curious to read Dead Lands, and still want to catch his top-rated collection, Refresh, Refresh.

Fiction carried over from prior reading lists (links to prior reading lists are below):

Young Adult Fiction

  • lupica signing 1Mike Lupica, Fantasy League (September 2014) or Travel Team. For years, students — especially boys who swore they hated to read, but loved sports — have been telling me how great Mike Lupica’s books are. My sons and I waited an hour in line to meet with him at Fairfield University Book Store the day Fantasy League was released, so I will be reading this one or his basketball book, Travel Team, along with my sons. (BTW: If you are an author doing a book tour in the area, Fairfield University Bookstore is a beautiful indy on the walk-around main street in Fairfield – a great place to sign books.)

Carryover from My Summer Reading List:

Nonfiction

  • Jeff Hobbs, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace (September 2014). I read an interesting interview with the author of this book, which makes me want to take a moment to remember this young Yale graduate, whose life of promise was cut short.

Having just started a Masters program in educational leadership, I’ll be reading these 2 over the next 7 weeks:

Carryover from My Summer Reading List:

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What About You?

What is on your current must-read list, or what books have you read recently that you highly recommend?  How do you usually get your reading recommendations — suggestions from a friend? lists in the news? books on shelves in the store?

If you post your own reading list, feel free to share your link in the comments below. If you would like to join in a reading blog hop, let me know.

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Where do the book links take you?

For convenience, you can click book titles for their link on Amazon — or find them at your favorite indie bookseller through indiebound.org:

Shop Indie Bookstores

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Novel Revision Strategies: Retyping the Novel Draft

At work on novel revisions. c. Elissa Field

At work on novel revisions. c. Elissa Field

 

This week, along with spending time with my boys for their spring break, I am working full days on novel revisions. The first 2 days, I was writing new material and then integrating all new “add ons” into the existing draft, then printing it out. Deep breath. Then, yesterday, I decided to try out a whole new strategy for novel revision.

First off, as with other posts in my Novel Revision series, this is a revision strategy intended for a mid-level revision. That is, at least one complete draft has been accomplished (more about that below). If you want other ideas about novel revision, click this link for a full listing of posts in the series or look for links at the end.

If this novel revision strategy doesn’t work, you’ll hear me cursing. But, so far, I can see merit, so let’s try it out.

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Stage in Revisions

The novel draft I am working on has held together as a novel for at least a year and has gone through several revisions to develop the internal and external conflicts, so that I have my permanent story line in place. The characters are fully developed. It is at the revision stage of working together scenes from multiple revisions, purging out weak portions from early drafts, and working toward smoothing out what will be a final version (prayers skyward).

Where did this approach come from?

Within recent weeks, two writers I follow each shared this piece of advice, here in a tweet by Alexander Chee:

By coincidence, I had just heard the same strategy in this New School interview with Anthony Marra, whose Constellation of Vital Phenomena I’ve been reading (look for link to my review of Constellation below):

At about 7:30 into the interview, Anthony answers a question about how he came upon the narrative style of the award-winning novel, in which there are no minor characters.

Explain the Revision Strategy

In sharing how the style came about, Anthony explains his writing process this way:

I retype everything.  That is sort of my revision method: just retyping and retyping. I’ll print out a draft as soon as I’m finished and put it down in front of the keyboard and go back and retype the whole thing…  This process of retyping, I feel like it’s the way some painters paint the same landscape again and again because… you start seeing it more through your memory than through your eyes…”

Wait, What?

Tell me you didn’t say, “retype the whole thing.”

I know. Isn’t “retype the whole thing” the great nightmare we all have of what would happen if the computer crashed, losing all but that one print copy?

Do the math: Type 30 words a minute? Maybe you’re lucky and type 60 or even 100? Yeah, divide your novel’s word count by that. Starting from scratch on all those finished pages – you’re staring down the long road of WEEKS worth of typing.

As the groan ebbs, the more patient writer inside — the one who genuinely wants excellence — toys with the idea, thinking, “What might I fix more authentically if I were typing this manuscript in from scratch?”

My Manuscript Tests it Out

My novel draft is in a good place for this kind of revision.

  • I want to read the whole thing through.
  • I want to make major revisions to resolve differences in voice that come from working on a novel over a few years’ time.
  • I’m willing to drop any scene or sentence or word that isn’t working.

This is a great point to be recreating the story on a blank page, rather than just tweaking an existing draft.

And I type nearly as fast as I think. It may be faster for me to retype what I like than to mark up a draft and have to go back and implement those changes, knowing they still won’t perfectly fit with neighboring text.

So How’s It Working?

Two days into this approach I’ve typed in 6,993 words (or 19 pages) which is essentially the first chapter (or first chapter and half).

Pros

Retyping has been a great approach for this section of revisions, as 1) I needed this part of the novel perfected to submit as writing sample with a couple applications, and 2) the existing draft was made up of a handful of draft options.

Retyping went very smoothly. I typed in the first 4 pages exactly as they were, as I’ve revised them several times, although I discovered some obvious sentence errors in a couple places. I then cherry-picked 4 old scenes to rescue just key details and wording. Then I typed in, nearly verbatim, a couple recent drafts, which are closest to my intent with the narrative voice.  There was one small chunk that I cheated and used copy-paste to transfer. Sue me.

There were several pages of text I willingly dropped. In particular, it was good to see those “explainy,” psychology-heavy sections from early drafts falling behind on the cutting room floor. This is why I wanted to use this process. I kept only the best wording — only wording that felt strong enough to be worth typing again.

Cons

It does take a bit of time. I did the math but refuse to accept it would really take me 219 days to retype this thing. I’d like to claim faulty division and tell myself I can do it by May. (Update in June: nope, not finished by May. I haven’t given up the approach, but did not have time to devote to it while busy with students the past two months. Getting back to it…)

Have issues with your eyesight? I don’t normally but would empathize with anyone who does, as I injured my eye last month, which has made my vision more sensitive, and it is a little demanding on vision to go back and forth between the print draft and on-screen draft.

Worry about losing one of those darlings you slaughtered? I have a longstanding practice of saving a “cuts” document for anything I delete from a draft, because I can just cut it and paste it there. With this retyping process, I technically still have a record of those lost words as I have the printed draft, but, in order to move quickly, I was not clearly marking the printed text to keep track of words or sections I chose to exclude while typing. Keeping colored highlighters on hand would help with this: highlight one color for deleting and another if you are thinking to move something to another part of the manuscript.

Ah, typos. For anyone who’s already gone through a draft correcting dropped letters, misspellings, capitalizations or dropped words, this is the little nightmare: retyping exposes you to a whole fresh round of typos. I’m sure that writers using the retyping method just address those on the final version, or aim to do their best correct them with each round. < Note the irony of typos in that line? Point made.

Overall

Definitely, I see a value in this revision process, so will keep it in my toolbox, although I don’t know that it will become my one and only process.  I’ll post an update over the coming weeks to see if I stick with this process through the whole draft.

My biggest concern, overall, is that it is very tempting to make drastic revisions when retyping. This could be good — it lets you release those outgrown darlings readily — but that also means that the current revision can only be as good as I am on the day I’m retyping any revisions. Although, just as easily, one could tune out and simply type what’s there without real revision. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Update 6/8/14: I can’t update with a fabulous success story, as I went back into the distractions of teaching for the 2 months since that post, so have not made it far through the manuscript. However, I did finish reading Anthony Marra’s novel (look for link to my review, below), which I praise for its clean narrative and ability to accomplish a complex narrative structure. The strength of his narrative control is a nod in favor of his revision technique. I’ll update again as I move ahead with long revision days now school is done.

Read more about Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena in my June 7, 2014 review.

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How About You?

Are you at work on revision? Have you tried this strategy? Or, what strategies do you recommend? Feel free to share links to your own posts if you’ve written about your own favorite approach.

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Blake and the Irish cow. c. Elissa Field, request permission for use

Blake and the Irish cow. c. Elissa Field, request permission for use

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