AC Riley

Week 16: Writers Helping Writers

Friday, 06 May 2011 23:49 administrator
“Time’s a goon, right?” Jennifer Egan, A Visit From The Goon Squad

Recently, I stumbled upon a blog called “The Days of Yore,” which showcases interviews from people before they became famous. Most of these interviews turn out to be prophetic. Since I was itching to read A Visit From the Goon Squad I decided to buy it rather than wait for the 20 people ahead of me on the library request list. The blog had an article from the author, Jennifer Egan, and after reading such an amazing book, I was really interested in what she had to say.


When asked if she had any advice for aspiring writers, Egan said, “Read.” To me, that was the best advice she could give. Reading the works of other authors, seeing what works and what doesn’t, what plot points seem forced or natural, can really help a writer create his or her own story.


Her other pieces of advice were to make writing a routine and constantly revise and revisit your work. I remember reading an article about J.K Rowling who said that when she wrote Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone it was all written on paper so she had to type it. It seemed like that was a gift, given that she was now proofreading her work and catching mistakes. (Personally, I hate to proofread. I overanalyze what I’ve written and delete a lot of things. I usually ask someone else to read my work, someone removed from it with a fresh pair of eyes).


There are plenty of untold stories out there by creative people who just don’t know where to begin. If that's you, know that you're not alone. Check out “Days of Yore” and find out how it was done before folks got their big break. It’s probably not as daunting as you think.

Now here's what I read this week:

Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang by Chelsea Handler

I do enjoy the show, Chelsea Lately, and I watch it if there is nothing else on. So I figured reading her book would be enjoyable and humorous. Unfortunately, it was 200-plus pages of vulgar humor and outlandish anecdotes. Chelsea is that one friend that you would send Christmas cards to and avoid them when they’re in town. She’s immature and sometimes downright cruel. She plays unnecessary pranks on the people closest to her, most of the time her significant other. This book was full of the things she did to people that she felt were funny. I just thought they were sad.


The Crank Trilogy by Ellen Hopkins

Speaking of sadness, The Crank Trilogy (Crank, Glass, and Fallout) is a story about a girl’s life long struggle with crystal meth. These books were so engaging that I could hardly put them down. I never had any real interaction with drug addiction, only the glamorized version in movies and television. The story of Kristina felt so real that it scared me. I hated her, all of her decisions and how she completely destroyed her family’s life. These books should be mandatory reads for the D.A.R.E program because they are sure to keep people off drugs. I even thought twice about taking Tylenol for a headache while reading these. The books felt so real to me due to Ellen Hopkins’ writing since it was coming from a real place. Hopkins’ daughter had run-ins with crystal meth. The trilogy isn’t based on a true story but there are plenty of elements of truth to it.


Decoded by Jay-Z

I’d been anxious to read this book ever since I knew it was coming out. Jay-Z has always been a person of interest to me. Even in college, my political science professors would cite Jay-Z’s various successes when talking about capitalism. His story is inspiring and poignant. I read this on my Nook and the footnotes were interactive. By clicking them, it took you to the explanation of the lyrics, which I really enjoyed reading. Some of his more controversial songs are explained by Jay-Z and what he meant while writing them. This book speaks to all demographics and I think everyone has something to learn from Jay-Z and his personal struggles.


A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Jennifer Egan deserves every ounce of praise that it has received. I enjoyed this book immensely and cannot wait until HBO makes it into a TV series. The characters are outrageous, but real, and easy to relate to. The novel tells the story of different people living in New York City but their stories are woven together through decades. I enjoyed piecing together the characters and how they knew each other.


So have I inspired you to pick up a pen and write the next great American novel? I sure hope so! If Chelsea Handler can do it, so can you!


Happy reading!

Last Updated on Friday, 06 May 2011 23:53

Weeks 14 & 15: Death To The Library?

Thursday, 21 April 2011 00:19 administrator

I am now officially fearful of what might happen to our libraries.


It has become apparent that it is way too easy to get library books from the comfort of your own home and I fear that this may turn into a complete online library generation.


My library offers digital media in the form of EPUB and PDF files. Both are easy to access and even easier to download. Not every book is available in this format but a majority of them are. Which begs the question, do I even need to leave my house to browse the library’s vast selection?


The answer is yes…and no. Yes, I do need to leave my house if I want to get a book that isn’t available online. But like all new technology, this may not be an issue much longer. Not all artists were available on iTunes right away (am I right, Beatles fans?) but eventually everything takes a digital turn.


I’m scared and nervous about how much more libraries like mine will be able to sustain in this digital era.


This week I only read about four books because I was kept very busy. So in addition to and , the sixth and seventh Tess Monaghan books by Laura Lippman, I read only two other quick reads.


by Candace Bushnell

This book was available to download onto my ebook and honestly, I wish it wasn’t. I am a fan of the television series but this book wasn’t nearly as fun or as complex. The main character, Janey Wilcox, was not relatable nor felt worthy of any of my sympathy. She was unlikable in every way. I reserve judgment on the entire Carrie Bradshaw series since I haven’t read it yet, but if it’s anything like this Bushnell effort, I’ll be happy to stick to the small screen adaptation.


by Sarah Dessen

This book was actually a quick and interesting read. Sarah Dessen falls under the genre of teen chick-lit, probably the most abhorred genre by most adult standards. However, I found the story funny and smart. I liked the protagonist Remy who was complicated without being too cliché. Also, Dessen has a knack for keeping all of her books in the same universe and having different characters being mentioned or making cameos in her other works. I think this is a good way to build an audience while still keeping the story fresh.


Next week, I finally got my hands on Jay-Z’s biography! And I’ll attempt to read all three books in Stieg Larsson’s millennium trilogy.


So what do you think readers, are libraries completely doomed?

Happy reading!

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 April 2011 00:48

Weeks 12 and 13: Everyone Has a Story

Thursday, 07 April 2011 22:36 administrator
“I’d loved with hard and reckless abandonment, and had to pay the price for it,” Faith Evans,

I think I’ve read three biographies in my life. And I’m pretty sure most of them had to have been for some sort of school project (though I’m totally grateful for my 9th grade English assignment to read ). Normally, I try to stay away from biographies because they seem fake to me. Who can remember the exact conversation they had when they were 6? Or the exact date of your first school dance? I’m sure specific memories can be recalled, but it’s impossible to get the exact version of the story. In psychology they teach you the phenomenon of false memory and how untrustworthy eyewitness accounts actually are. Urged on after a mini-marathon of Oprah’s Master Class, I wanted to give the genre a second chance. I decided to look at some memoirs of people that interested me and maybe find some motivation and inspiration from them.
Memoirs are like reading someone’s diary or like the book version of a reality show. You’re getting their thoughts and reactions to certain events that seem unimaginable. For instance, reading Faith Evans’ biography was pure nosiness on my part. She was mixed up in the biggest rivalry in the history of music and I figured she’d have a great story to tell. But her account of the events was not like what was portrayed in the film Notorious released in January of 2009. That just goes to show you, there’s always more than two sides to every story.
by Tracy Morgan
I am a huge SNL fan and Tracy Morgan was always one of my favorite cast members. Now he’s on the Emmy-award winning show 30 Rock and still making me laugh each week. Unfortunately, his biography didn’t really inspire me but that’s because I wasn’t his demographic. He says from the very beginning that he is speaking to young, black males and having borrowed this book from my brother, I don’t think I could subscribe to the message. However, his life still made for a great read and it was interesting to see his background.
by Steve Martin
This particularly funny man wrote a particularly funny account of his life. I didn’t know much about Steve Martin other than he was in great movies and he made me laugh. I enjoyed reading about his start as a magician and his segue into comedy. He even submitted into the book some of his old notes with bad spelling and bad jokes. I loved reading about how he got his big break and how hard he worked toward his dream.
by Faith Evans
Where to begin? This book made me laugh and cry and feel so frustrated! I’d always been a fan of Faith Evans. Fan enough to buy and not download her CDs when I was in middle school. But this book really changed my opinion about her and of Biggie. I couldn’t stop texting my friend while I read this book because most of the things she said I found to be completely bananas. The way she allowed herself to be treated in the earlier stages of her life was hard to read, but it was nice to see how she started to gain control toward the end. It will be really hard for anyone to read this and NOT judge Faith for her choices. Her reveal about the last day of B.I.G.’s life was so sad. This was a great memoir.

by Augusten Burroughs
I first heard the name Augusten Burroughs after watching a quirky movie called Running With Scissors my freshmen year of college. It was based on a memoir of the same name by Burroughs. The movie was poignant and funny but when I realized it was based on someone’s actual life, it felt sad. I needed to know more about this kid who was forced to live with his mother’s psychiatrist and deal with issues of drugs and sexuality. Wolf at the Table was Burroughs’ memoir about his memories of his verbally abusive and mentally unstable father. This book was hard to read because it frustrated me that Augusten was dealt such a crappy hand in life. But it also made me grateful that I hadn’t been.
I also read and by Laura Lippman, the fourth and fifth Tess Monaghan books.
This week I’ll be trying to find some ebooks that I can download from my local library. It’ll be interesting to see if I’m actually as tech-savvy as I like to think I am.
So what do you think readers, ever read any memoirs or biographies that you loved or loathed?
Happy Reading!
Last Updated on Thursday, 07 April 2011 22:53

Week 11: Character Flaw

Wednesday, 23 March 2011 04:21 administrator

By A.C. Riley


Characters are often what make people read a book or an entire series. They become friends, people worry about their lives, and their relationships. Great characters leap from the pages and onto the silver screen and into our televisions. And when they’re cast, there’s always a huge outcry from their fan base.

This week we all learned who would be donning the bow and arrow of our beloved heroine, Katniss Everdeen. The role was won by Oscar-nominated actress Jennifer Lawrence. Physically, Lawrence doesn’t look quite the way fans had imagined but I’ll reserve judgment until the movie comes out. Honestly, they could have done a lot worse.

But for some characters, they live forever in the pages of their books, never making it to a wider audience. So what kinds of characters usually get the Hollywood treatment? I have some theories.


The Flawed Hero: Here you’ll find your Harry Potters, Alex Crosses and the leading men of any number of John Grisham/Michael Connelly/David Balducci novels. These are the guys that know right from wrong, keep their cool and begrudgingly take on the role of the savior.


Woman Balancing Career and Love: These are the books that usually produce the romantic comedies women love to see. In this genre, a woman’s journey leads to fulfillment in the workplace and/or in love. (See: , , and )


The Take-No-Prisoners Vigilante: Most of these guys represented come from graphic novels or comic books like or . If you’re in the mood for justice, these guys get it every time.


Any Nicholas Sparks Characters: You read about them, learn to love them and then in some twist you are usually left in tears. Nicholas Sparks’ movies and books will always make you cry. Don’t believe me? Just out and let me know.

If you’re reading a book and you think the character falls into one of these categories, chances are, they’re making a movie. Hollywood depends on the creativity of authors to make big bucks for movie studios. Of the 30 books I’ve read so far this year, 13 have been or will be made into movies.

& by Laura Lippman

I won’t go into too much detail about the Tess Monoghan series for fear of sounding repetitive. This week I read the second and third book in the series and found it well-written and worth it. This series would make a great television show. Are you listening, TV producers?

by Emma Donoghue

The entire novel is told through the perspective of Jack, a 5-year-old boy who has lived with his mom in a single room his entire life, never knowing or being aware of anything outside of his 11 x 11 home. The real reason that he is living there is grim and I won’t spoil it for you. I will say, however, that after I finished this book I couldn’t get it out of my head. It was the last book I read for the week and I don’t think I could have started reading another book after that one. It’s haunting and unsettling but it’s worth the read. I want to recommend it but I don’t know if I would want anyone else to feel the way I did after reading it. Reading this book is like sticking a pin in a balloon and then watching it zigzag across the room, landing on the floor deflated. So if you want to be that balloon, read Room.


This week I’m reading biographies. I’ve chosen by Faith Evans, by Steve Martin and by Tracy Morgan.


So what do you think, readers? Are there any character archetypes I missed?


Happy Reading


Week 10: Pride & Prejudice & The Nook

Tuesday, 15 March 2011 03:17 administrator

“It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first”-, Jane Austen


So it finally happened. I used an e-reader.


When I first saw the advertisements for the e-readers, I was skeptical. A book with no pages and no spine? That wasn’t for me. I dismissed it quickly; I had no need for another electronic device. Unlike my switch from Walkman to iPod, I didn’t see the e-reader as something that would make my life easier. I love to hold a book and turn its pages. Reading a book is ritualistic in a way. I didn’t need the e-reader because I already had books.


In my dream house, there will be a library for the books I’ve collected over the years. I would come in every morning and run my hand along the spines of all the books that I’d acquired and pick one to re-read. I’ve got enough books now that I could probably fill at least two walls. This dream is in jeopardy now because I must confess; I’ve fallen for an e-reader.


It’s a Nook and it is lovely.


I’m the kind of person who enjoys personalizing things that I own. I have a cover for my nook, my own screensaver (which mainly consists of SNL bumpers of my favorite hosts) and five CDs loaded onto its memory in order to make it unmistakably mine. This helped me overcome my skepticism and welcome this intruder into my haven of belongings.


The Nook came loaded with classics and the only one I hadn’t read was . Honestly, I haven’t read any Jane Austen novels (blasphemy, I know), so I was excited to get started. I also purchased by Laura Lippman, a mystery novel so engrossing that I actually placed my hand to the top right corner of the nook as if to turn the page. Once I realized my mistake, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself, knowing that though I did love the Nook, it would take awhile to replace the ritual. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be reading a book and try to press a non-existent tiny arrow to move a page forward.


Mostly what I’ve come to realize is this: you can have it both ways. I can love the Nook and I can still buy books. It isn’t an either/or situation that I dramatically concocted in my head. It’s about having it all, and it’s fantastic.


by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen

Elizabeth Bennett as a 19th century literary heroine is great, but as a zombie hunter she is extraordinary. Much of the plot of Austen’s book is the same, but the action makes for a much better read when Zombies are involved. Anyone who hasn’t read Pride and Prejudice by now may have a hard time getting into it. I’d say just read the version by Grahame-Smith. Same characters, slightly different dialogue and much more fun.


by Laura Lippman

After the not-so interesting sixteenth novel about Stephanie Plum and the casting of Katherine Heigl in the forthcoming movie One for the Money, I didn’t think I’d find another female sleuth that I would want to read a series about. Enter Tess Monoghan. Lippman, who by now I’m sure you can see has become a favorite author of mine, has created a great group of characters for the Tess Monoghan series. , like all of Lippman’s books, is set in Baltimore and name checks a lot of places downtown and around the Maryland area. Her dialogue is sharp and funny but most importantly, Tess makes way better rational, adult decisions than Stephanie.


by Pittacus Lore

I am a big fan of Young Adult fiction so I was eager to check this book out. Written by James Frey and Jobie Hughes under the pseudonym Pittacus Lore, this alien adventure novel definitely kept me engaged. The scenes are written so well and the action is easy to follow. However, the dialogue, like many young adult fiction novels, comes across like an after-thought. Not much is inferred, it’s all spelled out using the fewest words possible. It has to be said that the story goes above and beyond expectations and the dialogue can easily be overlooked; I just wanted it to be more sophisticated. The sequel has definitely been added to the growing lists of books that I can’t wait to read when they are released later this year.


Consider me a convert to the e-reader community. I’ll be reading books in both forms from here on out. I’m curious to know how long it took others to make the jump.


How quick did you become a convert? Which e-reader did you choose?


I’ll be reading the next two Tess Monoghan series books and by Emma Donoghue this week. Happy Reading!


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