Why are the most popular books of all time religious fiction?

Why are the most popular books of all time religious fiction?

It’s official, or at least it’s official enough to be prettily trussed up and bedecked in pixels in one of the Daily Infographic’s pictures, but the two most popular books of all time are both classical masterpieces of religious fiction, followed in third place by the ministrations of Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book.

Perhaps it’s to do with people’s intrinsic need to get away from the drollness of life, a chance to lose themselves in a spiritual realm and transcend from the humdrum banalities of existence, a chance to be part of something beyond human experience, but when it comes to popular reading, then religious fiction is way ahead of the field and is, without doubt, absolutely where it’s at.

 

Share and Enjoy:
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Orkut
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • Yahoo! Buzz

50 Writing Tools

50 Writing Tools

Like mastering any craft, learning how to be an effective writer involves a lot of practice, making a lot of mistakes, and a lot of hard graft. Of course, the materials available for budding writers are readily available, from expensive MAs through to tutor-led courses, both personal and group-based, self-study courses, online courses, online forums, online lectures, local and online writer’s groups, many professional and many more woefully amateur competitions, a buzzing calendar of book festivals, tonnes of magazines, websites, and libraries of books on every subject to study, copy, mimic and read, including shelf after shelf of educational and didactic tomes specifically targeting the journeyman writer.

With such a wealth of learning material, one of the biggest challenges facing a writer is deciding where to focus their energy, but one book well worth consideration is Dr Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, which is a distillation of fifty techniques, patterns and behaviors that Clark garnered over his 40-year writing and teaching career.

Split into four sections, each containing a number of chapters that focus on a single sentence theme, each chapter is loaded with anecdotes, examples and exercises, and while the book can easily be studied linearly like an exercise book, the rich and clear focus of each chapter also makes it an excellent reference book to dip into when looking for stylistic inspiration.

The first two sections focus on common writing techniques every discerning writer should consider continually, with the first section, Nuts and Bolts, covering fundamental techniques such as word ordering and the use of long sentences, and the second section, Special Effects, covering more specialized techniques, such as climbing the ladder of abstraction. The third section, Blueprints, deals with structure, and includes writing thematically, using dialogue and characterization, and the final section, Habits, delves into useful behaviors for writers to develop.

Although no book would ever dream of replacing  the writer’s most valuable resource, their imagination,  any writer wanting a book to thumb through, scribble in, read, read again, memorize, curse at, praise, and give pride of place to on their writing desk, then the contemporary writer should look no further than Dr Clark’s delightful book of magic.

Share and Enjoy:
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Orkut
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • Yahoo! Buzz

What colour’s your writing?

What colour’s your writing?

As writers we try and avoid writing purple prose, we mark mistakes or edits with red pen, and refer to our more salacious scenes as being blue, but we often struggle using colour to tap the whole emotional spectrum.

It’s something popular brands do remarkably well–as beautifully demonstrated by The Logo Co‘s color emotion guide, below–so shouldn’t we writers approach our writing with a fresh palette of hues?Color Emotion Guide

Share and Enjoy:
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Orkut
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • Yahoo! Buzz

What self-respecting genre calls itself Literary Fiction?

What self-respecting genre calls itself Literary Fiction?

Looking at bookcountry.com‘s genre map made me mull over that old cookie of how does literary relate to genre, and  is Literary Fiction a special kind of elitist genre, or just an excuse for writing intractable prose? Given some authors determination to write genreless Literary Fiction, and others determination to stick closely within  a particular genre, there’s obviously something highly personal about having your work categorised in a particular genre, or not, as the case might be.

A book’s perceived genre also has a profound effect on readers, as the many fans of speculative fiction who shun science fiction will attest, as will the legions of  P.D. James’  crime fans who won’t let her dystopian masterpiece, the Children of Men, anyway near their bookshelves.

Perhaps the most obvious relationship between genre and literary is how hard it is to define both terms.  Genre seems a fairly simple concept on its own, but turns out to be much easier to understand than it is to actually rationalise. Wikipedia has a good go and describes it as categorising by “technique, tone, or content”, before giving up and defining it as some kind of amorphous taxonomy. Electricka.com quickly decides it’s a categorisation of “style and theme”, before running scared and calling genre a fallacy.

Coming up with a plausible definition for literary is a well known black art, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that one of the most pleasing descriptions for both terms, genre and literary, is by Michael Kardos, who describes them as contrasting dimensions of the Literary/Genre Continuum. By placing them along perpendicular indices he ably shows how writing can be defined according to their literary complexity and genre at the same time, without introducing any dubious measures of quality or merit.

However, until publishers, authors, book sellers, and, most of all, readers give up on the one dimensional categorisation of genre, it looks certain the Literary/Genre continuum won’t catch on, leaving Literary Fiction as a reject bin for writing orphaned from the comfy and bygone taxonomy of genre. But of course, given that defying convention is something of a noble art,  perhaps there’s something in the snobbery associated with Literary Fiction, after all?

Share and Enjoy:
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Orkut
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • Yahoo! Buzz

The Magic Paint Review

The Magic Paint Review

The world, as painted by Primo Levi, is a hokey, calloused place. As stuffed full of surreal bureaucracy as it is twisted by mankind’s ineptitude; as prickly as it is accommodating; and as intriguing as it is cruelly frustrating.The Magic Paint by Primo Levi

Like a bowl full of strange fruit, the eight short stories in this collection are no exception, and by carefully eschewing dialogue, Levi gives the stories the ethereal timbre of a voiceless choir. From animals courting smalltalk at a party, through to modern gladiators, the deadly craze of Knall, and the curse of a perfect poem, the stories are hard and sharp, while offering surprising comfort to the morass of modern life.

So if you like your reading with some bite, or to draw blood, or with an aftertaste of the bizarre, then get yourself a copy of this collection, strap yourself down and get ready to watch the psychedelic paint dry.

Share and Enjoy:
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Orkut
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • Yahoo! Buzz

Through the Wall Review

Through the Wall Review

Bleak and quietly disturbing, the short stories of Petrushevskaya portray a shadowy world that feeds equally on the social ails of the modern world, and the earthy magic of the old kingdom.

The stories in this collection–Through the Wall, The Father, The Cabbage-Patch Mother, Marilena’s Secret, and Anna and Maria–are fine examples of the modern faerie tale: part horror story, part moral hazard, and part something nameless.

As the cast of listeners, lovers, nurses, wizards, and dancers journey through realms of endless woods and monotone cities, you’re left with an inkling it’s only the thinnest veil of hope that keeps the darkness from swallowing us whole.

Share and Enjoy:
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Orkut
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • Yahoo! Buzz

Romance of the Thin Man and the Fat Lady Review

Romance of the Thin Man and the Fat Lady Review

There’s no obvious way to review a collection of Robert Coover’s short stories, no conspicuous handle with which to hold the text, no praise likely to escape being labelled sycophancy, and no criticism that wouldn’t rightly be mocked as bitter jealously. Reviewing Coover is painful, and not because of any pretensions it gives one to write like him, but rather because of the pretensions it instills to read him without being intimidated.

Whether its the romantic irony of the collection’s eponymous story, the fetid titillation of “The Babysitter”, or the frivolous mundanity of “A Pedestrian Accident”, each story reads like you’re smacking yourself in the head with a flail; each leaves an admixture of blood and synovial fluid pouring from your ears; each feels sucking on the metallic teats of a shotgun’s barrels.

So if you’re happy to have your mind wrung out and twisted by a short collection of words, then I recommend you need look no further; if you prefer to keep your sense and thoughts well ordered, then why not go look for something off a best seller list.

Share and Enjoy:
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Orkut
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • Yahoo! Buzz

Duplex Sex

Duplex Sex

With two minutes to spare before my train pulled into my stop, it seemed the perfect time for a quick stumble using the wonderful stumbleupon.  My browser paused, almost indiscernibly, before arriving at  Rhymer.com,  a simple and fast rhyming dictionary that leaves paper dictionaries in the dirt.

I did a test search, and couldn’t resist framing the results in a quick, dirty poem:

I live for duplex sex. An exchange of twice-fold joy, but alas not with my ex.

Of course, I’ve now realised the big advantage of paper dictionaries: the labour of flicking fastidiously through pages actively discourages writers from churning out such gutter poetry.

 

Share and Enjoy:
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Orkut
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • Yahoo! Buzz

My problem with e-bookshelves

My problem with e-bookshelves

Having finally beaten my unread bookshelf last year and read the assorted tomes that had been gathering dust for many a year, I’ve now taken to my Kindle with a gusto.

The problem is my roving eye finds it far too easy to browse e-books, and my thumbs find it far too easy to do a 1-click purchase, leaving my unread e-bookshelf twice as full as my unread bookshelf ever was.

Is this perhaps the achilles heel of e-books? It’s far too easy to buy them, while finding the time to read them is as hard as it ever was with paper books, and harder if–like me–you have a penchant for reading in the bath.

Share and Enjoy:
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Orkut
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • Yahoo! Buzz

The Sexes Review

The Sexes Review

The Sexes is a small collection of Dorothy Parker’s short stories about relationships, and is published as part of Penguin’s mini modern classics series.

The first story, the Sexes, is a masterclass in dialogue: taught, lucid, and oozing with an admixture of cultural, emotional and interpersonal tension. As a singular comment on the complex narrative that exists between the sexes, it is an aggressive shot across the bow against those that seek to deny the differences between the genders.

The Lovely Leave offers a fly-on-the-wall perspective of the intricacies that lie behind the facade of a loving relationship. An education for those yet to experience loving relationships, and a mirror for everyone else, it’s a pristine example of how to clothe reality in fiction.

Like all collections, not all stories are crafted equally, and the Little Hours is the runt of the litter, a meandering story with little purpose other than to showcase a litany of quotations and the sharp poise of Parker’s prose.

The final two stories, Glory in the Daytime and Lolita, bring the book to an ordered conclusion. Glory in the Daytime is a sharp vignette contrasting the human costs of fame against the droll existence of normalcy, and Lolita is a strange but elegant story of the smallness of attitude fostered by small town life.

The Sexes is an perfectly tempered collection of short stories that not only underlines the genius of Dorothy Parker, but also serves as a intricate lesson about the complexities of human emotion and sexual politics. And apart from being a taut read, it serves as a gentle reminder that–for those willing to look–the richness of life is there to marvel at just beyond the graceful vision of our eyes.

Share and Enjoy:
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Orkut
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • Yahoo! Buzz