Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

discarding…books

It seems nowadays that for every 2 books I pick up and read, I always toss one and sometimes both aside. These are very daunting odds.

The first toss-aside was Jonathan Strange and Dr. Norrell. I wanted to read on but I felt very grind-y with the point of the book. Good God, I'm no Mrs. Gaskell (she wrote…books for young ladies. they had very pronounced and beat you over the head moral messages) but I do want literature to do something for me. So Jonathan Strange and Dr. Norrell got tossed aside.
I kept tossing more and more aside (finding them boring, too poorly written or just…lacking in humanity in general) and now I come to the Dante Club. I started reading in it a fever. It has literary standards that come to life! well, they did initially.

Now they're just…angelic or asthmatic or dull. Longfellow is clearly an angel reicarnated (boring), wendell holmes is wheezy and a two-dimensional busy body and Lowell…well…Lowell is drama.
The characters started out with promise but now they wither and fade. They might get better but why? why bother reading through horrible character development while other characters still get lopped down in graphic Dantean ways? I mean…isn't it better to develop your characters than go overboard in the description of what charred feet look like or what maggots feel when they eat the brain?

Given the qualifications of the writer (summa cum laude, Harvard with a degree in American Lit and a degree in Law), I should trust him and continue on blindly, knowing that all will be better but come on. He's using Dante to make cheap money. and not only is he using Dante, he's using Longfellow, Holmes, Lowell and quite a few other famous people. His book shows no redeemable Anything. For one being so bright and so shining in accomplishment, I'm amazed he even allowed himself to write this book. I have no respect for him. Even Wilkie Collins' who-dun-it's are better than this trash.

Well. I have to go to work but I mean to say a bit more. about everything.

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How to Get Through a Big Book

How to get through a Big Book and have a little fun too.

  1. Make and eat food mentioned in the book (big books always include food, usually in meticulous detail).
  2. Read a little bit each day.
  3. Make a soundtrack.
  4. Dress like a character from the book for a day. Or a week. Or a month if it really grabs you.
  5. Ten minutes to kill? Daydream about the landscape or what the characters are seeing as they move through their day.
  6. Read passages you enjoy out loud. If you’re in the right mood, record yourself reading passages and share it (Instagram is great for this). Include illustrations if you like (thank you, Shirin).
  7. Whip out a highlighter or some sticky tabs for those great parts.
  8. Pace yourself and remember, reading gigantic books isn’t a race. It’s about the journey. Might as well bring along snacks, good drinks, great lighting, and enjoy the ride.

How to Search for Story Settings

A big city not far from mine has a casino. I’ve heard a few stories from friends that have worked there. Most center on being treated badly by a customer and revenging themselves by throwing the customer’s car keys into the Fox River. Karma is enacted on a regular basis at the casino.

There’s something about that river, flowing by, murky green during the day and black at night, a bottomless pit for car keys.

The river divides the city in half, east to west. The Fox flows along the old warehouses, limestone and brick, built back when the city had manufacturing plants and industry. Now the warehouses sit sturdy and silent, crumbling ever so slowly. Their roofs are flat and give the illusion of brick walls running straight into the sky. Some were built like prosaic wedding cakes, higher and higher, until the final topping is small square with tiny windows. Industry has never been about aesthetic needs and wants.  And yet by some miracle, these old turn of the century warehouses have achieved it just the same.

I observed the warehouses from the back deck of the riverside café, clutching my cup of earl grey and wishing I had put sunscreen on. It was the first time I had ever been to this café and I came because I needed a new setting for a fiction story I was working on. None of the cafes I remembered from the past were working for me. I needed this kind of café, one that hung out in an old manufacturing city where there wasn’t much industry left. There was, at least, a casino and many local businesses and this café hung on, here at the water’s edge.

A little further up was the casino where my friends had thrown those keys into the water. From my point on the deck, I could see the grimy metallic white heel of the building jutting out. Another friend told me that he goes there regularly to play black jack. It relieves stress and earns a little extra cash for his family.

The wind picks up a little and despite the sun, it’s chilly. Spring plays these tricks on us.

There is no sign of life in the warehouses all around me. We’re all boxed in together and the light plays off their empty windows, open and blank to the sun. I sip some tea and play “Over the Hills and Far Away” by Led Zeppelin just to see if this café will work for my story. It only takes a few bars of listening to the song and I know that this place is perfect. This spot on the river is perfect for many stories. It’s  been perfect for all the stories I know nothing about and the ones that I’ve caught the smallest glimpses of.

A mallard suns himself in the weeds that line the water’s edge. The river moves fast and sure and I turn off the music. No need to for further noise. The song is already there.