New Spring cover

“New Spring” by Robert Jordan

Cover of New Spring novel

Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New Spring, the prequel of The Wheel of Time series, seems to be the shortest book in the pack but that doesn’t mean it’s quick reading. Shortly after completing The Shadow Rising, I rushed to the bookstore to pick up New Spring. I was too curious about the history in the series to wait until later or until I completed the series to read the prequel. So much had occurred prior to the first four books and I wanted the details on those events. What were Moiraine and Lan up to before finding the boys in Two Rivers? What was going on with the Seanchans and were the Forsaken loose and prowling about then too? What was Padan Fain doing before he became a peddler in Two Rivers? The Aes Sedais mentioned something of Padan Fain’s past in The Eye of the World but I want more details.

I thought the prequel would provide a broad view of key characters, noting their activities prior to book one but such was not the case. Instead, the prequel focused on Moiraine and Lan, mostly Moiraine; however, it is Lan who begins the story. The Aiel Wars are winding down and ends when the Aiel oddly retreat. Lan is relieved of his duties as commander of his unit and has plans to return north but his plans are upset with he learns that his carneira, some old lady he banged back in the day, wants to raise support and crown him as king of Malkier. So he travels to Chochin to face her. Really, Lan’s story didn’t do much except to give us a smidgen of the Aiel War and to remind us who Lan is, the last of the Malkier kings, and how he is, grave, loyal, honorable.

Meanwhile, Moiraine and Siuan are at the White Tower in Tar Valon in their final months as Accepted. We are with them when they hear Gitara foretell the coming of the Dragon and when the Amrylin Seat issues the odd command to record the names of every child born within sight of Dragonmount. I did not expect the prequel to start here since Moiraine and Siuan often refer to this event and their days as Accepted in their reflections in the other books. But this retelling of the prophecy and what ensues gives us some perspective on the magnitude of work Moiraine and Siuan must have put in to track down the boys at Two Rivers. However, I didn’t like that it is by conjecture that Moiraine and Siuan discover the Amyrlin Seat’s plan to locate the Dragon Reborn. As smart and informed as they are, I do not believe that the Amyrlin Seat would have a plan that can be easily deduced by two Accepteds. If so, then it’s no surprise that she was overthrown and killed. Elaida of the Red Ajah also makes an appearance. She bullies and tortures Siuan and Moiraine as they practice for their exams to gain their shawls. I guess she was included only to give Moiraine and Siuan a hard time and to show how much she hates them. She did little else. It was cool to see how the Accepteds are tested for the shawl and how the Ajahs are organized and the politics involved in the White Tower.

E-book cover art of Lan becoming Moiraine's warder. Pretty cool but I prefer the original covers. They fit the story's ambiance.

E-book cover art of Lan becoming Moiraine’s warder. Pretty cool but I prefer the original covers. They fit the story’s ambiance.

Lan and Moiraine meet on the way to Chochin. Lan, as stated above, is going to confront his carneira, and Moiraine is tracking down the Dragon Reborn. Often Moiraine reminded me of Nynaeve. Actually, I think young Moiraine, Nynaeve, Elayne, and Egwene are all the same—stubborn, easily angered, often overlook that they lack experience, believe they are invincible because of the power, childish, and petulant. Indeed their interior dialogues are all similar and I was sad to find that Siuan was the same. I thought her fish metaphors would further set her apart from the other young females in the series but no such luck. Like the others, she seems to constantly compare herself to Moiraine, which I find annoying because of how frequently this is done. In Chochin, Moiraine is no closer to discovering the Dragon Reborn but she has her first battle with a member of the Black Ajah. And it’s there that she makes Lan her Warder, which I wasn’t impressed by. For some reason, I thought that such an event would have more bells and whistles and not be so solemn.

Overall, the story was okay. It did not give me what I was looking for and now that I’ve read it, I think I could have done without it. I had already known about the prophecy and it is expected that Moiraine would encounter obstacles while searching for the Dragon Reborn and that the Black Ajah would want to find him as well. I really didn’t need to know about Moiraine and Siuan’s time as Accepted or what they thought about since it’s similar to Nynaeve, Elayne, and Egwene. The exception is that they have different goals. Lan’s story I could have discovered later if/when Jordan writes from Lan’s perspective. I am pretty sure Lan would have reflected on his carneira and the Aiel War at some point. I was grateful for the test for the shawl and a peek at the Ajahs’ quarters and politics and for meeting Cadsuane. Cadsuane is a bad ass. Oh, and also to learn a bit of Moiraine’s background and her connection to the Cairhien throne.

A word on Jordan’s narrative style: I do not hate it but I do not love it either. He includes so much that it wears on me and since I’m reading the novels almost back-to-back, his style often becomes a nuisance. The books were published within a year or so of each other so I see no reason for the characters’ redundant thoughts. I think we know them quite well already. I’m often told that Brandon Sanderson’s style is a lighter so I look forward to the books he has written for the series though I’m a long way off. I just want Jordan to hold back a bit. So far I know every thought of the characters except when the urge to piss and shit is upon them.

The Eye of the World (book 1) ->

Quotes from the book:

“When a man believes he may die, he wants to leave something of himself behind. When a woman believes her man may die, she wants that part of him desperately. The result is a great many babies born during wars. It’s illogical, given the hardship that comes if the mad does die, or the woman, but the human heart is seldom logical.”

“Verin Sedai said that most mistakes made by rulers came from not knowing history; they acted in ignorance of the mistakes others had made before them.”

“Friends lightened many burdens, even those they did not know of.”

“Her father used to say that once was happenstance, twice might be coincidence, but thrice or more indicated the actions of your enemies.”

The Shadow Rising cover

“The Shadow Rising” by Robert Jordan

Cover of "The Shadow Rising (The Wheel of...

Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore. (Cover via Amazon)

The Shadow Rising was too damn long. Although it is a good read, the length turned me off and soured my enjoyment of the story. This might seem like unnecessary ranting since I’ve completed the first three books in the series, which are all hefty, and read the prequel of the series shortly after completing The Shadow Rising. But for some silly reason I thought (or convinced myself) that by the fourth book Jordan would realize how unnecessary it is to make his books so long for no reason. I should have known better. The length of the series should have been an indicator that Jordan never realized that he was going overboard with length.

Despite that, this installment of the Wheel of Time series was great in that we learn more about this fantasy world as we see it begin to change. We see a bit more of the Aiel and learn their history; we realize how corrupt the White Tower is, or rather, how divided it is; and we see Perrin become the leader he is destined to be. We pick up with everyone (Rand, Perrin, Mat, Moiraine, Lan, Nynaeve, Elayne, Egwene, Faile, Loial, Thom) in Tear. Rand has Callandor and is trying to control his power while staving off Moiraine’s influence, rule Tear, and keep some of the Forsaken at bay. Mat wants to leave Tear but can’t because of Rand’s pull as a ta’veren. Perrin wants to return to Two Rivers to help his people, who are being attacked by White Cloaks and trollocs, but wants to protect Faile as well. So, for the while, they dawdle.

What gets the characters moving is a trolloc attack. Like in the previous three books, it is the attack that gets the characters moving and it is always preceded by a moment of security, or of the characters dawdling, wondering what they should do and then—Surprise!!—the trollocs attack. Totally did not see that coming (rolls eyes). I wonder if all the books are structured this way.

Shortly after the attack, the characters decide on their chores for this installment. The decisions: Perrin returns to the Two Rivers with the annoying Faile in tow. Three of the Aiel join him and Faile as well as Loial, who leads them through the Ways. Since Egwene was carelessly hopping around Tel’aran’rhiod, one of the Wise Ones of the Aiel summoned her for a study abroad program so she joins Moiraine, Mat, Lan, and Rand as they travel to the Aiel Waste, to Rhuidean. Mat tags along because he is compelled to go. Moiraine wants to keep an eye on Rand. And Rand must go to Rhuidean, says the Aiel. After questioning the two members of the Black Ajah that they caught in Tear, Elayne and Nynaeve realize that the rest must be in Tanchico. They decide to go there and are accompanied by Thom (sent by Moiraine to protect them) and Juilin (sent by Rand and Lan). Meanwhile, Min is at the White Tower, posing as a silly, pretty girl while working undercover for the Amyrlin Seat.

Cover art for the e-book.

Cover art for the e-book.

We read from various perspectives in this installment and not just the perspectives of those we are familiar with. We hear from two officers in the White Cloaks’ army and the Amrylin Seat as well. There is also a tidbit from Padan Fain who now calls himself Ordeith and a new character pops up, Egeanin, a Seanchan who falls in with Nynaeve and Elayne’s group. While I appreciate these switches, it did not provide the effect I was looking for. The different perspectives allowed me the chance to see what’s going on in various places and what the plans are on both sides—the good and the evil. But while some stood out, most seem to run together. All the females sound alike and all the males sound same. That’s because they all have the same worries: The females worry about how the males perceive them and the males worry about how to prevent the females from bossing them around. It is Jordan’s style to be repetitious when it comes to a character’s thoughts and that makes the characters’ interior dialogues all the more annoying. Much of this installment is composed of interior dialogues, filled with repetitious thoughts, and unnecessary descriptions, most already familiar to the reader. They could have been cut.

Actually, the interior dialogues of Nynaeve, Elayne, and Egwene drove me up the wall. They are the most annoying characters in the series and their perspectives are a pain to read from. I’m tired of their stubbornness and Nynaeve’s pointless anger. I hope that the next time Nynaeve tugs her braid her hair falls out because I see no reason for her to be angry so frequently. With the exception of Min, I more so enjoyed reading from the guys’ perspectives than the girls. I enjoyed Perrin’s parts but disliked his redundant thoughts and Faile’s stubbornness, though I do respect her. Mat is always interesting. And Rand is getting a bit boring now but I am still interested in his story. I’d prefer if another character tells me what Rand does.

Like The Dragon Reborn, this installment could have been shorter. Actually, if Jordan had held back a bit and cut all the excessive fluff, he could have joined this installment to The Dragon Reborn to make one book—The Dragon’s Reborn but the Shadow’s Rising. My interest in the story is still strong so I will continue with the series. I began skipping sentences in this installment and it is highly likely that I will continue to do so in the others if their structure is the same. As annoyed as I am by the length, I am still impatient to find out what happens next.

Despite these misgivings, I do admire Jordan’s work. I find it to be a great high-fantasy series with flecks of Christian imagery and bits of Celtic mythology sprinkled throughout. There might be some influence from other religions and mythologies but since I am not yet familiar with them, they do not stick out to me. The Christian influence is strong with Rand as the savior (Christ) come to save the world through self-sacrifice. This particular sentence especially stood out to me in this installment: “The White Tower shall be broken by his name, and Aes Sedai shall kneel to wash his feet and dry them with their hair.” It made me recalled a story in the Bible when a woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair.

While reading the Celtic section of The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology, I couldn’t help thinking of The Wheel of Times series. I realized that Jordan took certain elements straight from the Celts, sometimes changing them a bit to fit his story (similar to what Tolkien did for his LOTR series with Nordic mythology). Names such as Tuatha De Danann, Uther Pendragon (was already familiar with him), Sangreal, and Galahad were unfamiliar to me prior to reading up on Celtic mythology so the connection wasn’t readily apparent while reading WOT. This is a personal frustration of mine. I wish I knew more of everything so I can quickly pick up on the allusions and other elements that authors include in their work and be even more amazed by their talent, resourcefulness, intelligence, and imagination. But while I work at expanding my knowledge, I’ll stick to rereading and revisiting to make these connections.

The Fires of Heaven (book 5) ->

<- The Dragon Reborn (book 3)

Quotes from the book:

“The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.”

“…no one fears what is familiar as much as what is strange.”

“To believe a thing is not to make it true.”

Amazing Posts I Found Online: Make-up, Statue, Cup

I found these amazing posts while perusing the web, reading blogs, or skimming through the many newsletters I’ve subscribed to.

A make-up artist paints album covers on her face:

grizzly_rsd_1397887604_crop_550x729

Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear; make-up by Natalie Sharp

I found this one on Flavorwire. It’s pretty cool. I’m unfamiliar with the albums featured but I am amazed by the artist’s skills. Her name is Natalie Sharp and she’s very talented. Visit her website to see more of her work.

Edgar Allan Poe statue:

poe 1

“Poe Returning To Boston” by Stefanie Rocknak

I found this on Huffington Post back in April. It’s a cool rendition of the writer Edgar Allan Poe and a raven by sculptor Stefanie Rocknak. I love the details on statue. In one of the close-up photos you can see the bags under Poe’s eyes and I like how his coat billows out, the raven’s wing follows a similar arc, so you can easily imagine a wind blowing. Spilling out the back of his briefcase are what seems like books and papers and a human heart. I do hope they set it in a room with enough shadows to give it an ominous look. What makes this photo of it work for me is that the dark background emphasizes the shadows on the statue, giving it a Gothic feel, like one of Poe’s stories. The statue will be officially unveiled on October 5.

Chipotle Cups:

“Two-Minute Seduction” by Toni Morrison

Everyone has probably heard of these by now. I read of the updated Chipotle cups on Vanity Fair and thought it a great idea. It has renewed my interest in Chipotle so now I’ll dine there just to get their cups…and a quesadilla. I like how they designed it so, along with your drink, you get a story and a doodle. This will be great for when I’m having a bad day. The story will inspire me, the doodle will cheer me up, and the drink will wash my sobs away. I just might collect them.

“Beautiful Creatures” by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Cover of "Beautiful Creatures"

Available on Amazon and at you local bookstore.

It took me a while to work up an interest in this book. I first watched the movie and because I enjoyed it so much, I decided to read the book. Unfortunately, when I first attempted to read it, I put it down almost immediately. I enjoyed the prologue but when the story began, I found the voice too dry to bear. But after reading The JK Review’s review of the novel and movie, I decided to give it another try and be patient. It paid off.

Quick summary:

I read this book a while back so the details of the story are a bit foggy but here is the gist of what I do remember. Beautiful Creatures is told from the perspective of Ethan Wate, a teenager in his junior year of high school. He resides in Gaitlin, a small town in the South Carolina, which he hates because he finds it too backwards. He can’t wait to escape its borders and explore the wider world. In the meantime, he escapes through books. He is an avid reader on account of his late mother being a librarian. When the story begins, he’s been having weird dreams of a girl and hearing a strange song on his iPod in the mornings. Soon the girl he sees in his dreams turns up at his school. She is the new girl in town—Lena Duchannes, niece of the town’s shut in.

Ethan is immediately drawn to her and, of course, they fall head over heels in love. Their respective families try to keep them apart at first since Lena, whose family are Casters (like witches) have a curse on it—upon her sixteenth birthday she will be claimed for the light or the dark. Her uncle Macon Ravenwood tries to ensure that nothing prevents her from being claimed for the light. But Seraphina, a dark Caster, wants Lena for her side. It is believed that Lena is a powerful Caster.

Various events occur to threaten Lena and Ethan’s relationship and Lena’s nature. They are ostracized by the town—Lena, because she is different; and Ethan, because he’s with the weird girl. Along the way, Ethan and Lena learn how the curse began and how connected their families are. Ethan also learns that there is another side to Gaitlin that he was unaware of. With the story ending on a tentative decision, the reader will be tempted to immediately grab the next installment to see how things work out.

My reaction:

Okay so that was a brief summary with none of the juicy bits but it’s what I remember, plus I didn’t want to give the story away. Though the story faded from my mind over time, what stuck with me is my reaction to it. Such is usually the case. I enjoyed the story immensely once I got into it. It takes a while to build up. It has a meaty backstory that helps to propel it along and I love that. Gaitlin has deep roots and I am tempted to continue with the series just to find out more about its history.

I found the concept of Casters interesting. The authors try to deviate from the common witches and wizards and simply go by what the person does. There are even some that are akin to vampires, some drink blood while others feed on dreams. Actually, I was so curious about this world of Casters that I often hopped on the series’ Wikia page to find out more. I was too impatient to wait until I read through the series. The past greatly influences the present day in Beautiful Creatures (especially the Civil War); so much so that flashbacks are incorporated into the story. I love that. The authors can easily have one of the installments be a historical fiction. That excites me. Also, it shows how much our ancestors’ decisions affect our lives, who we are and how we define ourselves.

The authors also incorporate various “summer reading” texts into the story. It was done smoothly and didn’t seem forced on the reader. Sometimes they were included as small mentions and sometimes the characters had fun with them when certain passages of the books were incorporated into their dialogue. It’s quite a cunning way to get teens interested in the classics and not to feel daunted by their summer reading list.

While reading, I couldn’t help thinking of Romeo and Juliet, what with both Ethan and Lena’s families not wanting them to be together and how tragic their love seems to be. Speaking of their love, I often wondered if it is too passionate. Are they too stuck on each other? At times it seems that if they should be severed from each other in any way, bad things would happen and one of them would die. Then I wondered if their strong feelings for each other was on account of innocent, simple love or does the curse have something to do with it. Are they drawn to each other because history is repeating itself?

I like that the story made me ask these questions, made me want to engage with it in some way. Though I enjoyed reading it, Beautiful Creatures does have some faults. First, I think it’s too long—about 563 pages, excluding the back matter. Some of the telepathic chatter could have been cut and certain scenes could have been condensed, such as when Ethan visits the Sisters’ house to dig up the backyard only to learn one minor clue. And the rock concert, that could have been condensed too. I’ve read some reviews that claim to dislike how the authors portray the small, country town of Gaitlin. They think the authors focus too closely on the stereotypes of the South when creating the town’s characters but I like it. Some criticize Ethan’s personality, stating that it doesn’t ring true for a teen-aged boy and I do agree with that. He does sound more like a girl sometimes but I still like his voice. Also, the ending pissed me off. All that build up, count down, and waiting for seemingly nothing. But that’s just me.

Overall, I gave it three stars on Goodreads. I thought Beautiful Creatures to be a good read because it’s intriguing, the world building is intricate, and it leaves you wanting to know more. I recommend you pick up both the book and the movie. Though it’s probably best to watch the movie first so you don’t feel upset that certain scenes were cut or characters condensed, among other changes. By itself, the movie is a nice little paranormal romance flick. So yea, go get both to enjoy on a summer night.

some insight on how bad moments influence our identity, from Andrew Solomon

Andrew Solomon TED quote

“We don’t seek the painful experiences that hew our identities, but we seek our identities in the wake of painful experiences.”

“Forge meaning and build identity: Forging meaning is about changing yourself; building identity is about changing the world.”

“We cannot bear a pointless torment, but we can endure great pain if we believe that it’s purposeful.”

“Ease makes less of an impression on us than struggle.”

“We could have been ourselves without our delights, but not without the misfortunes that drive our search for meaning.”

“Identity itself should be not a smug label or a gold medal but a revolution.”

Andrew Solomon, from his TED Talk, “How the Worst Moments In Our Lives Make Us Who We Are.” Solomon is a writer on politics, culture, and psychology. He is a regular contributor to NPR, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and other publications. His book, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2001 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2002.

Click here for more quotes.

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Foster’s Laws on Reading

Cover of "How to Read Novels Like a Profe...

Available on Amazon and at you local bookstore. (Cover via Amazon.)

I love to read books on writing but I love even more to read books on books. For the past few months I’ve read Thomas C. Foster’s How to Read Novels Like a Professor, Kevin Smokler’s Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven’t Touched Since High School, and attempted to read How Novels Work by John Mullan.

If you’re familiar with my posts, then it’s no surprise that I read Foster’s How to Read Novels Like a Professor. His first book, How to Read Literature Like a Professor, was a delightful read and I closed its covers having digested various tips to enrich my reading. How to Read Novels Like a Professor was just as enjoyable. Foster’s quips on the novels he discusses were entertaining. And what a lot of novels he covers! He hardly discriminates, including both contemporary classics like Harry Potter and those of old like Don Quixote. You will end this book with a long list of books to include in a reading challenge, such as the Classics Club’s reading challenge.

Foster’s book is not only for readers and students (student-readers). I highly recommend this book to writers as well. Reading relates to writing so as Foster discusses how to read better he essentially discusses how to write as well. He covers plot, character, dialogue, and all the obvious parts of a story and then some, such as the history of the novel. He discusses how its form came about and how the novel has changed over time. Reading his book is like taking his class. I’ve never taken his classes before (he is a professor of English at University of Michigan, Flint) but because of the wealth of topics covered and how he conveys them, it’s like taking a class with a very friendly professor who knows how to relate potential boring information while keeping the pupil’s interests high.

Like How to Read Literature Like a Professor, the tone is conversational throughout. You might even find yourself responding to some of his rhetorical questions as I did. A plus with reading Foster’s book is that his love of literature is readily apparent. I haven’t read many of the works he mentions but his analyses of them made me want to check them out so I went through the pain of jotting down all the novels he mentions. And it’s a great pain because he mentions, as stated before, many books and didn’t even include a list of them in the back matter of his book. He instead provides a list of novels that furthers one’s knowledge of the form of the novel. That annoyed me but not much. I plan to take a look at some of the works listed there as well.

Available on Amazon and at you local bookstore.

Available on Amazon and at you local bookstore.

Also like his previous book, Foster reiterates his advice that students not shy away from forming their own interpretations of the text since everyone carries their own experience to it and walks away with something different. I think that’s one of the best messages in the books. The structure of Foster’s How to Read books are similar containing chapters with hilarious titles and interludes interspersed between them. For this one, Foster provides laws to guide us in reading like a professor. They are scattered throughout the text but I have listed them below this reflection.

Smokler’s Practical Classics was a wonderful read as well. He covers books that readers would have encountered in high school and divides his chapters into sections based on the dominant theme of the texts. I must admit that I became a bit jealous of him the more I read. I admire the way he presents his analyses of the texts. I really want to reach that level. His reviews of the books are engaging and, like Foster, his love of literature easily shines through. He describes what the books are about, throws in a little detail on the author’s background, then gives a short analysis on the text. It all flows smoothly and is not at all boring or convoluted.

I think Smokler’s Practical Classics is a great place to start if you’re trying to figure what classics to read. It’s also a great book to pick up if you have to read one of the many books he mentions for a class. Say, if you’re running late for class and didn’t do the reading, just read Smokler’s chapter on the book and you’ll be good for like the first discussion on the text if it’s a one hour class and there’re more than ten students in the class. Of course, if the professor is a trickster and decides to assign a short, in-class essay on the reading, then you’re on your own.

Cover of "How Novels Work"

Cover of How Novels Work

But I prefer when I’ve read the books Smokler discusses because I can compare his reaction to the story to my own and note our similarities and differences. For example, for some reason he believes Sula was an easier read than The Bluest Eye, to which I strongly disagree. I found The Bluest Eye to be an easier read. Though I read it at a very young age, I could easily identify what was going on in the text. But Sula? Half the time I was reading Sula I was confused. I also read that at a young age and tried re-reading it in high school and still had a difficult time understanding it. I think I’ll return to both books again just to see how my reactions to them have changed.

And that’s the point of Smokler’s book: To introduce readers to the classics, yes; but also to compel readers to revisit them. Another element of the book I like is Smokler’s suggestions of when to read the books and also his “idea for office mischief” placed, obviously, in his chapter on Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” So yeah, Smokler can be a bit playful too.

Mullan was not playful. Not that he had to be but his How Novels Work was a tough read. I found it dry, stiff, a bit stuck-up but definitely informative. As such, I was unable to finish it. I just couldn’t bear to stick with it to the end. My mind often wandered while reading and the smallest distraction was often enough for me to stop reading and go off on a tangent. So I placed it aside and stuck with Foster instead who covered how novels work adequately.

And here are Foster’s Laws from How to Read Novels Like a Professor:

  1. The Law of Getting Started: The opening is the first lesson in how to read the novel.
    • The first page can tell you: style; tone; mood; diction; point-of-view; narrative presence; narrative attitude; time frame; time management; place; motif; theme; irony; rhythm; pace’ expectations; character; and instructions for how to read the novel. Foster, of course, goes in detail on each of these.
  2. The Law of Bogus Locales: Places in a work of fiction are never real but must behave as if real.
    • Settings have to be “functional in their own context.”
  3. The Law of Look Who’s Talking: The narrator of a fictional work is an imaginative and linguistic construct, every bit as much as the characters or events.
    • Not only does Foster lists and describes the different narrator types, he also discusses the advantages and disadvantages of using them (great tips for writers).
  4. The Law of Narrative Unreliability: Stop believing the narrator when you see the word “I.”
    • “Oftentimes character-narrators simply don’t know what’s going on or can’t fully process what they see.” Sometimes the first-person narrator know the truth but don’t want us to know.
  5. The Law of Hearing Voices: The narrative voice in a novel is a device invented by the writer.
    • Voice is all about word choice and word order.
  6. The Law of Conservation of Characters: Thou shalt not burden the punters with needless character development.
    • When establishing character, less is better; of course, there are exceptions. Foster covers them too.
  7. The Law of Bad Actors: We will follow the exploits of villain-heroes, but only if they give us something in return.
  8. The Law of Chapter and Verse: A chapter, as a section that makes sense for its particular novel, follows no rules but its own.
  9. The Law of Universal Specificity: You can’t write about everywhere or everyone, only about one person or one place.
    • “If you want to write about everybody, start with one person, in one place, doing one real thing.”
  10. The Law of People and Things: Characters are revealed not only by their actions and their words, but also by the items that surround them.
    • “The things…associated with a character typically reveal aspects of his personality as well as key ingredients of the story.”
  11. The Law of Narrative Diction: By their words shall ye know them.
    • “Word choice and placement and combination act to define a writer’s style, texture, tone, mood.”
  12. The Law of Novelistic Style: There are no rules for sentence length and structure except those dictated by the novel in which they’re used.
    • “The novel will dictate what sort of sentences it requires; the sentences will determine the sort of novel that can be written.”
  13. The Law of Streaming Narrative: All representations of consciousness are arbitrary and artificial.
  14. The Law of Character Clarity: To understand characters, you have to know their deepest desires.
    • Usually, we know what the character really wants by what they obsess on.
  15. The Law of Crowded Desks: When a novelist sits down to begin a novel, there are a thousand other writers in the room.
  16. The Law of Novel Paradox: Novels grow out of intensely private obsessions, which writers then must make public and accessible to readers.
    • “They have to make us care about something that we may never even have thought about, and make it seem like our own idea.” (Lol, sounds like writers are con artists.)
  17. The Law of Universal Connectedness: Every novel grows out of other novels.
  18. The Law of Us and Them: Readers choose the degree to which they identify with characters.
  19. The Law of Fictional Ideation: It doesn’t make any difference how good the philosophy is if the fiction is lousy.
    • “The novels that last, and have something to say, capture us with narrative, then hit us with ideas.”
  20. The Law of Narrative Unity: The best way to organize a novel is the way that makes the most sense for that particular book.
  21. The Law of Shutting Doors: The degree of closure in the ending of a novel is in direct proportion to the eagerness of the novelist to please his audience.
  22. The Law of Now and Then: Every novel is an act of violence, a wrestling match with the historical and social forces of its own time.
  23. The Law of All Reading: Own the novels you read. (Poems, too. Also stories, essays, plays).
    • Good novels go beyond the text. “Good readers invest themselves in novels in ways that stretch the text.”

Quotes from How to Read Novels Like a Professor:

“We each bring a great deal of our own lives, our own perspectives, our own reading of other works, to each new novel that we’ll never see the same things.”

“Meaning in fiction is the result of a conspiracy between two minds and two imaginations.”

“Writing grows out of experience…So does reading.”

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yellow wallpaper

“The Yellow Wall-Paper” by Charlotte Perkins Gillman

Cover of "The Yellow Wallpaper and Other ...

Available on Amazon and at you local bookstore. (Cover via Amazon)

An unsettling story, to say the least. I decided to read this story because of how often I’ve heard of it. I was particularly intrigued because I was told that the narrator is highly unreliable and mad. Crazy people always pique my interest. Of course, my constant misgiving regarding the classics made me assume that it would be a boring read but I resolved to plow through it no matter what. I wanted to know what happens.

I read “The Yellow Wall-Paper” in the Penguin Classics copy of Gillman’s selected writing. It includes an introduction written by Denise D. Knight, professor of English at SUNY Cortland. I’m glad I read the introduction before reading the story because it provided some perspective. Usually, I skip introductions because they tend to give the story away and take all the fun out of puzzling it out for myself. But in this case—where the story is a tad confusing and might be hard to digest if you haven’t the patience for such a narrative—it’s good to read the introduction and get some information on the author’s background and what moved her to write such an unsettling tale.

I like Gillman. I like to assume that anyone who considers herself a feminist would like her too. I think of myself as a semi-feminist. Gillman advocated for equality in the household. She didn’t believe that the woman’s sole purpose should be that of wife and mother. A woman could be more than that or none of them, if she chose. Basically, a woman should have the free will to choose who she wants to be and how she wants to be identified. Gillman believed that society’s insistence on gender roles—man as provider and protector; woman as nurturer and domesticated—limits humanity’s ability. I wonder what she would say of the world now. “The Yellow Wall-Paper” is drawn from her own experience. She suffered from depression in her 20s after giving birth to a daughter and was prescribed bed rest, basically she was told not to do anything but lie around all day. Of course, this didn’t help her depression but made her worse. It wasn’t until she stopped with such treatments that she became better.

Quick summary:

“The Yellow Wall-Paper” is a short story about an unnamed narrator who suffers from depression and is prescribed bed rest by her physician husband and is driven mad because of it. The narrator, who is a mother (like Gillman), moves to an ancestral hall for the summer with her husband. She likes the house because it seems haunted—she has a fanciful mind—but hates the wallpaper that plasters the walls of her bedroom. She becomes fixated on the wallpaper the longer she stays at the mansion doing nothing but stealing moments to secretly write in her journal until she soon begins to see the woman behind the paper’s pattern. When she unravels the pattern, she frees the woman and shocks her husband.

My reaction:

I enjoyed the story immensely. It is froth with meaning. On the surface, it’s a story about a woman that goes crazy. We don’t know who she is or why this happens. Her condition worsens when she becomes paranoid and sees illusions in the wallpaper of her bedroom. Her loving husband, who cares for her immensely to the point of being controlling, is in denial about her mental decline. In this case, the story ends with the husband fainting from the sight of his deranged wife probably due to the shock of seeing the physical manifestation of his wife’s mental deterioration. Taking this story at face value makes a satisfactory read because it’s haunting. It appeals to the same emotions as horror films and psychological thrillers.

However, one can interpret what is presented in the story and try to unravel the author’s message. Since Gillman felt strongly about women’s place in society, I believe all parts of this story are intentionally placed to connote a certain meaning. It is obvious that the narrator wants to be free, both physically and mentally but especially mentally. Her bedroom is a physical portrayal of the bars placed on her mind. Although her bedroom was once a child’s playroom, it is hard for the reader to imagine it as such what with the bars placed on the windows, the nailed-down bed, and the “rings and things in the walls.” That sounds like a prison to me.

The woman trapped in the pattern.

The woman trapped in the pattern.

She is barred mentally because of the amount of control her loving husband exerts over her. He decides what she should or shouldn’t do. And he decides whether or not she is sick. Throughout most of the story, he refuses to admit that his wife may be ill. He does not listen to her and often laughs at her whenever she gives her opinions. Her only refuge, at first, was the moments she steals to write, which her husband tells her not to do. Writing is her first act of defiance; although, even when she does so her husband’s control often barges in, preventing her from completing her original thoughts.

Her inability to express herself drives her insane and being locked in the yellow wall-papered room all day, not doing a thing, causes her to project her reality onto it. She begins to see herself behind the bars of the wall-paper’s pattern. And she works to free herself. She succeeds in doing so and her husband breaks into the room at the moment she mentally escapes him. Why he faints? I’m still trying to puzzle that out. It could be from shock, as stated above, because he realizes that his wife is mad but I think it’s more than that. I think the power dynamic in their relationship shifted when the lady escapes the pattern since she “creeps over him.” She no longer has to heed what he says, or submit to his control. She no longer has to hide her opinions and emotions. In effect, she no longer has to be a wall-paper in the relationship—seen and not heard. I think the husband is rendered powerless by this change and thus faints. His power was in his ability to control and make the decisions but that’s no longer needed since the narrator is now supposedly free.

There’s no definite ending to this story so make of it what you will. Gillman left the conclusion in the hands (or mind) of the reader. The narrator’s purpose is to be free but whether or not she is depends on the reader’s interpretation. One thing I think is definite is that she is mad as hell…or maybe all of that signifies something else. Who knows? I think she’s crazy. The strain of remaining silent and compliant drove her mad and it is the madness that frees her.

I love how Gillman wrote this story because it is open to varied interpretations depending on what the reader chooses to see. The husband is both kind and loving and controlling. The narrator, both logical and illogical. I must admit, at first I didn’t believe the narrator to be mad. I didn’t until close to the end. Which is why writing in the first person works well for this story. First-person narrators are always unreliable but also endearing, well, most of them are. It’s easy for the reader to be swayed by the first-person narrator’s opinions and sympathize with her. It’s not that this narrator doesn’t believe she is off. It’s that her husband’s control over her is so strong that she believes as he does and therefore does not own the facts that reveal her declining mentality until late in the story.

Her decline is revealed gradually, beginning with the people she sees on the sidewalks outside her window, which later turn out to be numerous crawling women who possibly escaped the wall-paper, like her. Then there are the small mentions that are dropped every now and then but fairly repeated throughout—like the gnawed bedstead, the scratching in the wall, and the groove in the wall as well, which she blames on the children who previously occupied the room. Those must have been some rambunctious kids. But then close to the end she admits to biting a piece of the bedstead in anger. I think this happens often hence the gnawing look of it. And that groove in the wall was probably made by her when she creeps around the room, which she does only in daylight and with the door locked. And then there are the extreme ideas that pops into her head—burning the house to locate the smell of the wall-paper and jumping out of the window because she’s angry— that she barely prevents herself from committing. Why? Because her intentions will be misconstrued; not because they are dangerous.

Overall, a great read and worthy of its classic status. “The Yellow Wall-Paper” is short and can be done in a few minutes. And it’s perfect for a mild horror/psychological thriller venture. It is not boring in least and Gillman is quite funny. I highly recommend it and have already suggested it to many friends. Can’t wait to sample her other works.

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