Tag: classics

Finally finished

After three years or so of picking along one chapter at a time, I finally finished Don Quixote. Don’t misunderstand and think it took me that long because it wasn’t good. It was a great book, all 982 pages of it.

The most surprising thing about it was the sense of humor. The writing is often sarcastic and translates surprisingly well around 400 years after it was written. There were a few chapters that were tedious reads, but only a few. The ending wasn’t what I expected, either, but the book doesn’t contain cliffhanging plot twists like modern, commercial fiction.

After I finished the old classic, I moved on to Dan Brown’s Origin, which is modern, commercial fiction. It’s the latest novel in Brown’s DaVinci Code series. I prefer the old classic, because modern fiction always feels like it is trying so hard to keep you reading to find the answers.

The hook to Origin is that some scientist guy has discovered where humans really came from and where they are going. Every time you think this discovery is to be revealed, something happens to keep it hidden from the reader. While this is obviously supposed to create suspense and intrigue, it does the opposite for me. It makes each chapter more predictable, because I know each chapter will end with some unanswered question.

Origin reads a lot like a modern movie script. It’s entertaining, but that’s about it. The first 50 pages or so were pretty good, but once you reach page 100, it feels like Brown is just stringing you along with predictable action scenes.

I’ve always felt this way about modern fiction, which is why I usually stick to the classics, like Don Quixote, which I highly recommend.




Who are the greatest writers of our day?

As an English Literature major in college, I studied many great writers of the past. The old writers were celebrities of sorts, or so the stories seemed to suggest. Everyone knew of Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway or William Faulkner. What writers do we speak of today?

If someone asked me who the best writers of the 21st century are, I wouldn’t have an answer. Maybe that means writing is totally irrelevant in our world today. If asked, I think most people automatically mention the old writers as the best. Jane Austen is still a big name today, thanks to movies made of all her books. Do people actually still read her books or just know her name from the movies?

If I asked my niece or nephew, who are both in high school, whether Jane Austen was a good writer, they would both answer yes. If I asked whether they had read one of her books, they would both answer no. Around Christmas time I asked them if they were familiar with A Christmas Carol. They were, but only the movie. They had no interest in reading the book by Charles Dickens.

Colson Whitehead won the Pulitzer for fiction this year for writing The Underground Railroad. Is Colson Whitehead one of today’s great writers. Whitehead has a twitter page and six novels to his credit, according to a Google search. Do modern great writers have to have a twitter page? Must they write novels?

Bob Dylan won the Nobel prize for literature last year. He doesn’t write novels. He falls loosely in the poet category, if you consider modern-day song writers the equivalent of ancient poets. Do poets still exist outside of songwriters?

These are some of the questions floating through my head on this Wednesday night. Who do you think are some of the 21st century’s greatest writers?

Best laid plans

Most of us have at least heard of Lonesome Dove, a western novel turned TV movie years ago. I occasionally read from the book and just ran across a quote worth sharing. One of the main characters named Woodrow Call offers the following thought on making plans:

“Though he had always been a careful planner, life on the frontier had long ago convinced him of the fragility of plans. The truth was, most plans did fail, to one degree or another, for one reason or another. He had survived as a Ranger because he was quick to respond to what he had actually found, not because his planning was infallible.”

As much as I try not to plan things out too much, I fall into that trap a lot, so the quote served as a great reminder to me to take life one day at a time. It applies to all walks of life, but can easily apply to the life of a writer. There is a lot of advice floating around out there for aspiring writers, but in the end a writer just needs to write and see where the effort leads.



Is browsing in bookstores still a relevant source of sales?

If your town is similar to mine, few bookstores exist. As far as corporate chains, or large, recognizable book-selling brands go there is only one such store in my town. In the past few years, I’ve set foot in that store twice, both around the holidays, in search of gifts for family members. 

So, if my patterns are similar in any way to the masses, which I would guess they are, few people browse in bookstores anymore. I’ve read reports that print books made a comeback in recent years, that people are choosing to hold a real book in their hands over a tablet, but are they going to the bookstore to purchase those books? If print books are really making a comeback, will we see bookstores make a comeback? 

This is an important question for aspiring writers, because one has to decide if potential readers are going to find their book in a real bookstore. If a writer decides he or she won’t find a large number of potential readers within a bookstore, that means the readers will more likely find an author’s writings online or in a digital bookstore. If you wrote a book in the past decade, there is little to no chance I have seen it in a bookstore. 

If you wanted to get my attention and sell me a book, you would need another advertising vehicle. I can’t remember the last time I saw an advertisement for a book, but I see plenty of ads for movies that say, “based on the book.” I’ll admit to reading a few of those. The only other way I come across books is by browsing online or by recommendation from friends.

I can count recommendations from friends on one hand without using all five fingers and not one of those recommendations led to a book I liked. The only book I liked in the past decade from browsing a bestseller list was Gone Girl. I’ve struck out with so many books using the browsing method that I am unlikely to keep browsing, so where does that leave me as a reader?

I see plenty of blogs advertising books written by independent publishers, but not one has convinced me to buy their book. Unfortunately, if you are trying to sell your book with a blog or social-media account, you come across as amateur and nobody wants to buy a book from an amateur. 

As a reader, I am often left reading classics that have passed the test of time and are known to be good reads. That way I don’t waste my time on some random book. The independent modern writer is not reaching me, the modern reader, with books of print or electonic variety. 

I don’t know what that means for the modern writer, but it is possible that the traditional idea of a book is dying, even though readers are supposedly returning to print books. Give me all the stats you like, I see no evidence in my daily life of people going into bookstores or talking about the latest Kindle read. 

One chapter at a time makes more sense

Don Quixote is about a million pages long, or maybe more like a thousand. So is The Count of Monte Cristo and plenty of other old classic literary tales. When someone says you should read one of these monstrous books, the task seems too daunting to begin, but what  if you changed your perspective a bit?

I’ve been reading Don Quixote for about two years, because I only read one chapter at a time, sometimes going as long as a month between reads. I recently learned that many of these old books were written in serial format, with chapters being released weekly or monthly in newspapers and such.

Reading the entire Don Quixote in a month is akin to watching the entire series of Breaking Bad in a month. It can be done, but who has that kind of time? Breaking Bad was originally written for TV, intending viewers watch it over several years. Don Quixote or Monte Cristo were likely written with the same timeline in mind.

Classic literature is a lot more fun when read one chapter at a time.