Monthly Archives: November 2011

RTW: Best Book of November

So the YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday topic this week is:

What’s the best book you read this November?

Sadly, I didn’t get to read a great deal this month, even with the holiday. Lots of school stuff going on and I also failed at my own personal NaNoWriMo challenge, which wasn’t even to write a whole novel: I just wanted to finish a draft of a WIP. But alas, I’m slow, and being slow takes up reading time.

However, the books I did read were great. I recommend them all:

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King
Stoner & Spaz by Ron Koertge
The Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy by Stewart O’Nan (okay, actually I don’t recommend this one because it’s way too upsetting. Lesson: don’t waterproof the tent with gasoline!)
Night of the Moonbow by Thomas Tryon (For some reason, I have only ever met one other person in the world who has read this book. Have you read it?)

But the best book I read was one I found in my garage when I was helping my son look for a ghost story to tell his Boy Scout den. It’s an anthology of short stories and was a favorite when I was a kid. I think I had all of the Alfred Hitchcock anthologies back then, but this one, in particular, has SO MANY good stories, including:

“Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” by Robert Bloch

“The Chinese Puzzle Box” by Agatha Christie
“The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell
“Man from the South” by Roald Dahl
“The Birds” by Daphne du Maurier

So there you go. My November pick:

 Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbinders in Suspense!

Can’t wait to see your picks!

RTW: My high school English class

So the YA Highway RTW topic today is:  

if you had the power to change school curriculums, which books would you be sure high school students were required to read?

a well-read Hemingway cat ponders the question

Well, this is an impossible question and I’m sure some of my answers are wildly inappropriate, but here’s what my reading list would look like (some are short stories):

the ark sakura – kōbō abe
speak – laurie halse anderson
giles goat-boy (or at least, “lost in the funhouse“) – john barth
a clockwork orange – anthony burgess
the butterfly revolution – william butler
in cold blood – truman capote
after the first death – robert cormier
the collector – john fowles
on the jellicoe road – melina marchetta
47 – walter mosley
“a good man is hard to find” – flannery o’connor
“where are you going, where have you been?” – joyce carol oates
last night i sang to the monster – benjamin alire sáenz
the god box – alex sanchez
maus (vol. 1 & 2) – art spiegelman

What would you choose? 

On the making up of minds….

Someone once told me that when you can’t make up your mind, the best thing to do is to flip a coin and go with fate, but with the caveat that if you feel disappointed when you see how the coin lands, then it’s obvious you wanted the other choice and to go with that.
Sounds easy, right?
I’ve been thinking about decision-making in literature lately. Not the decisions that a writer makes, but the one characters make. And not only what choices get made, but how they’re made. As this article eloquently explains, what we think of as logical inference, very often isn’t and much of our decision-making is based on association and heuristic intuition rather than “logic,” with all sorts of interesting consequences and possible sequelae.
This lack of disconnect between what we think we’re doing and what we’re actually doing when we’re trying to be rational, is part of what makes decision-making such an intriguing process. It’s also why I think it’s one worth analyzing on a character level. Is a given character impulsive in how they make choices? Are they hesitant? Superstitious? Wishy washy? Do they reason with or without emotion? Does their style clash with those around them or are they easily swayed by outside opinion? 
In essence, what does their decision-making style say about them?
There’s also group decision-making, of course, which is the realm for so many historically fascinating social phenomena like groupthink, risky shift, and ye olde Abilene Paradox. The dangers of group decision-making often serves as the foundation for dystopian worldbuilding, but this danger shows up in all sorts of contexts: from juries to gangs to secret societies, groups choices in film and in literature are frequently cast as threatening to the individual. 

I guess this is a super long way of saying that sometimes what’s interesting to me in a story isn’t just why a choice was made, but how that choice actually came about (this may be why I’m such a fan of National Geographic’s Seconds From Disaster). And as a process, decision-making feels ripe for thematic reflection and ratcheting up plot tension. But is it something other writers think about? Is this just my own pet interest? Let me know! I’d love to hear your thoughts.