I’m Back with Salman Rushdie

In my last post I was still optimistic that I would be able to accomplish my reading goal of finishing 100 books in a year.  Now that it has taken me three months to read a book, I am not so sure.  Yes people you read that right, it took me three months to read a book and it was not even a particularly long book!  In my whole life it has never taken me three months to read a book.  I am fixated by that number, THREE WHOLE MONTHS.  I have been dwelling on how this has occurred and think I have figured out why.  Yes I have a new job and was away for two months, yes it was the holidays and I was busy, but the real culprit is what is making me feel so disappointed in myself…my smartphone.  While in San Francisco I started the bad habit of taking my phone to bed with me to check social media sites, check email and worst of all playing Hungry Babies (if you do not know what this is you are better off, it is addictive).  I realized this was the downfall of my project when I brought the same book to Ohio with me at Thanksgiving and Christmas, another thing that had never happened.  So my New Year’s resolution was to leave my phone in the living space and not take it to the bedroom, this way I could read before bed like I have done for as long as I can remember.  This has worked out well so far and why I was actually able to finish Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.

Please do not think my reluctance to read before bed or my snail’s pace at finishing Midnight’s Children was in any way a reflection of the book itself.  In fact this is one of the reasons I started this project, to read a book I would not typically read, to read a multitude of different genres and voices that I would not be drawn to in a bookstore or library and Midnight’s Children is the perfect example of that.  This novel is a story within a story, which I like as a literary device.  We are dependent upon the narrator’s somewhat failing memory to provide us with all the minute details of his life from birth to his pending death.  While reading you learn a lot about India herself, a time of transition to independence and what it is like to grow up a privileged “special” male born during that time.  By pure accident he realizes that he and all of the other children of India born between 12:00am and 1:00am are “special”, making them the Midnight Children.  I really enjoyed Rushdie’s writing style and storytelling ability; funny yet sad, embellished stories from a failing memory yet as honest as he can possibly be.  Even though it took me so long to finish the book, it is in no way a testament to its 533 pages.  I highly recommend this book, especially if you enjoy a flashback/flashforward type of storytelling.

Next up Ulysses by James Joyce and to recap my journey thus far:

The Great Gatsby. Catch-22. On the Road. To Kill a Mockingbird. The Lord of the Rings. Lolita. The Catcher in the Rye. Midnight’s Children. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (one I have already read).

- Corrine

Stephen Gosling
Lolita…

As some of you may know, last month I left my job of 7 ½ years to accept a position at a different company. I have been in San Francisco training for the last month, therefore my blogging has lapsed. However I have finally finished the next book in my 100 in 365 day challenge. Luckily on the list between this book and the last, there were two books that I had already read. These books were also two of my favorite books of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Lord of the Rings (all three) by J.R.R Tolkien. If you have not read either, I suggest you do! Even with the extended period it took me to finish this last book, I think I am still on track to finish my book challenge in the allotted time.

But for now let’s talk about Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. It is kind of cringe worthy to admit that you like this book, after all it is basically the story about a pedophile and his victim. Which is exactly what I had to keep telling myself as I was reading this novel. As is natural when reading a book, I found myself rooting for the protagonist (which in this case is also the antagonist), and had to keep reminding myself what exactly I was cheering for. But reading through Lolita, you start to feel sorry for the narrator and want him to get his happy ending but then you recall that his happy ending is with a preteen and you start to get the creepy crawlies. However, because Nabokov presents this novel as a “found” tell-all deprecatory tale from the protagonist’s perspective, I did start to sympathize with this terrible person. I got lost in the story and wanted to flip ahead to see how it all ended. Which for me, is a sign that I am really invested in the story and can hardly wait to see what happens.

I cannot imagine this story ever getting published today, not without a thorough investigation of its author and content. And I can definitely understand why it has been on so many banned book lists. But in honor of Banned Books week, while wearing my banned books socks, I will admit that I did like this novel; even if I did utter “gross” or “eww” aloud a few times while reading!

Having already read The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (one of my husband’s favorite books), I am moving on to the next entry on the list Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. Which is a very fitting title seeing as I am in San Francisco and the author lives right in this very city!

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- Corrine

Stephen Gosling
On the Road Down

I finished On the Road a few days ago and have actually started the next book on my list but have been lax about writing blog posts; hey I have DVR shows to catch up on! I bought the only version of On the Road by Jack Kerouac that I could find in the local Barnes and Noble. This just happened to be the original scroll version; or as the book cover states “The legendary first draft—rougher, wilder, and racier than the 1957 edition”. The Original Scroll edition is like one long story with no paragraph or chapter breaks, which for someone who likes chapter structure in novels so I know where to break for the night, this surprisingly did not bother me. I thought the story flowed well this way, just basically a stream of consciousness type of writing. There were typos, misspellings and even a chunk of text missing at the end where a friend’s dog ate the end of the scroll. All of this added to the book having a very authentic feel, like I just picked this up from Kerouac’s floor and started reading. However, I have no idea how much alike this and the 1957 edition are, which I am sure is what everyone else reading the blog has read. So forgive me if this does not sound like the book you remember and I will probably also have to ask forgiveness for the following opinion.

On the Road was not my favorite book. I found myself at points thinking, “Ugh, when will this be over” and “I cannot stop reading this, it is on my list”: also I never stop reading a book halfway through. More than once I wondered why I was supposed to care about these characters and all of their hitchhiking ways and drug habits. The characters just seemed to be meandering and having no direction, which I think is the point, but it kind of drove me crazy. There were parts of the book that I really liked and found myself sad when those parts were over, because then I got back to the things that bored me. Thinking back and analyzing the story, I enjoyed the parts that had a character staying in a certain place for a longer amount of time. This allowed the time for some character development, rather than jumping from thing to thing and person to person. To me it seems that most of the minor characters have more development than the main characters. Maybe this is because Kerouac was too close to the main characters to describe them properly. He was so used to being around these people and knowing their quirks that he fails to give his reader a clear picture of them. Which leads me to not care about them as much as I could and wishing for a better story altogether.

I am aware that this is not the popular opinion about this book. On the Roadconsistently ends up on best book lists and top books to read lists, but for me it fell short. I so wanted to like this novel. I was actually very excited to start reading it after hearing great things about it for so long. However, it did not live up to my expectations and made me think that maybe it was just the cool thing to say, “I really love Kerouac”.  Never one to judge an author on one piece of work, I will have to try more of his writing before sticking to this judgment, but after my 100 in 365 challenge.  For now I am on to Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

- Corrine

Stephen Gosling
One Book Down: Catch-22

For my 100 in 365 book project, I decided to just read the books in the order in which they are listed, rather than jump all around. It makes it easier for me and it makes it easier for you to follow along (you can see the list in my first post). Besides my brain likes things in a neat order or my little bit of OCD goes crazy. For those following, the first book was The Great Gatsby, which I had already read, so I moved right on to the second, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. The night after I wrote my first blog (ever!) I ran out to Barnes and Noble to buy a few of the books on the list. I found the 50th anniversary edition of Catch-22 and dove in that night before bed.

Let me just say that I used to read in all of my spare time but recently have just limited myself to right before bed. This can make me stay up extremely late if I am in the middle of a chapter or the story is amazing; this can make me read a book extremely slower than I normally would; or in the case of Catch-22 can give me some crazy, crazy dreams!

I just want to clarify that I am not a professional book reviewer and I do not expect anyone to read this and completely agree or take my word/opinion as an expert review. For each book, I will just write what my first impressions are and move on to the next. If it helps you decided to read a book or not, that is great but do not blame me if you miss out on something!

Upon opening Catch-22 I looked over at my husband and said, “Ugh, this is a war book, I don’t really care for books about wars.” Which is actually completely untrue because Homer’s The Iliad is one of my favorite books of all time. I guess I just never really knew what Catch-22 was about but I had committed myself to this challenge, so I reluctantly started to read. Throughout the first few chapters I felt very manic and crazy, much like most of the characters called each other. There was a sense of confusion because the chapters tend to skip back and forth through time and hop from character to character. But once I learned all of the character names and got a hang of the way Heller writes, I really began to enjoy the book.

When reading Catch-22, one gets the sense that they are holding onto a true piece of American literature. Not to say that other books I read are not literature, but there really was some sense of awe and admiration while reading. Maybe that is why on the back cover there is a quote from Stephen King saying, “To my mind, there have been two great American novels in the past fifty years. Catch-22 is one.” I would love to know what he thinks is the other great American novel, but I digress.

I really enjoyed Catch-22. After the initial manic feeling, I began to get into the story and when characters were lost (yes this will happen, it is set during the war) I was truly saddened. However, there is a message of hope at the end, so don’t despair too long, keep reading! Next I will be On the Road with Jack Kerouac.

- Corrine

Stephen Gosling
Query Always in Process

I am more than half way through the manic Catch-22 and will report back next blog post. This post will be focused more on the writing, rather than reading aspect of my life. More importantly it is focused on the ever dreaded, ever looming query letter.

For those who do not know, a query letter is a letter sent to a literary agent or publishing house in hopes that they will represent you and your novel. Easy right? Not so much! This letter needs to represent you, your book, and grab the attention of the reader so they want to request your entire manuscript, but it all needs to be done in one page. This means you have to take your 67,000-word, 200-page novel and condense it down to a few paragraphs and hope you entice your prospect enough that they are intrigued and want to read more. Getting a little more daunting, right?

I have never been good at talking about or promoting myself; which as an actress and writer is probably not a good thing. I think that is why the thought of a query letter produces the sweats and heart palpitations. I finished the “final” edits on my book (edits are never really finished) sometime in 2013 and it took me until 2014 to force myself to sit down and write a query. Then without much editing or rewriting, I started to send it out to literary agents, I think I just wanted it to be out of my hands. I will tell you now this is not a great idea. I sent my letter to about 15 agents and heard a “No” from probably two of them and nothing from the rest. Hearing a “No” is better than hearing nothing at all because you know your letter is at least being read and not sitting in a slush pile somewhere being ignored or deleted. I knew I had to do some research and write a whole new letter.

The heart palpitations and procrastination set in once again and I actually did not force myself to write a new letter until just recently in 2015. I wrote and rewrote, sent it out to other people to read to get feedback and think I finally have a pretty nice letter (it is attached below for all to read). I am doing extensive research into literary agents and their current authors to try and find an agency that would be a perfect fit for my book and me, rather than just querying every agency I find. I have received a few “no’s” already but know that is going to happen and will keep trying because someone somewhere will love my novel as much as I do.

All of that being said; if anyone knows of or personally knows a literary agent, word of mouth is always the best way to get things done!

Until the next one…

Query Letter for The Immortal Dilema

- Corrine

Stephen Gosling