Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Book Club 3: This Time It's Personal

It's that time again, kids! Yes, it's time to get your read on. And because this is the third annual* book club book recommendation, I'm recommending twice the books for twice the fun!

Sort of!

So the first book I want to recommend is one you might already be familiar with. It's 'The Princess Bride' by William Goldman. You've no doubt seen the movie and heard the quotes and considered buying the t-shirts. I personally recommend the 25th or 30th anniversary edition because it has more features that are quite enjoyable. 'The Princess Bride' is a lot of fun and you should read it. I approve this message!

The second book is not actually a book, it is a series of books. It is 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' by Lemony Snicket (AKA Daniel Handler.) Yes, I am recommending that you, all you adults out there, read a thirteen book series aimed at children. At least read the first one and maybe the fourth. Books two and three are sort of optional in that they don't do much that the first one didn't. Book four is where it really picks up. But regardless, I say read them all. They're quite enjoyable.

But I'm not just here to recommend books that are good. You can find those books without me. I'm here to recommend books that will teach you something.

Both 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' and 'The Princess Bride' will teach you to be weird. Being weird is good. It's good to be different, to stand out, to be noticeable.

You see there's a standard for books. We see the standard all the time and we learn to write a book like these standard books and there is nothing wrong with that. Many great books are standard books. Some of the greatest books are standard books. But they're still standard. They follow the set conventions. One convention is particular is that the world of the book and the world of the reader are separate and do not intrude on each other. We the reader are not a part of the book and we acknowledge that the book is not a historical record and we're okay with that.

Not these books.

William Goldman provides a framing device for his books in which he is not writing the story but abridging it for re-publication. The book has a fictional history, the world has a fictional history and William Goldman has a fictional history but by constantly addressing us, the reader, and by providing a framing device like this, he blurs those lines and invites us to be a part of the world in which the story is taking place. 'The Princess Bride' is a story told in layers. Both the creation of the book is a story and the book is a story.

It's hard to explain.

I have to admit I didn't care much for it at first and I sometimes wished that William Goldman and his framing device would get lost and let me just read the book. But in the end it grew on me and I became as much involved in the fake story about the book as the fake story that is the book.

Head spinning yet?

You'll have to read it to get a full grasp of what I'm talking about.

A little easier is 'A Series of Unfortunate Events.' The framing device here is similar: The story is real, the people and places are real. The narrator (Lemony Snicket) is a character in this world, a researcher reaching the story, and he is telling the story to the reader. Daniel Handler (as Lemony Snicket) constantly addresses the reader to remind us that the story is true and that there are many happier and less unfortunate stories you could be reading.

Again, the author is blurring the line between the world of the book and the world of the reader by directly speaking to the audience and asking them to believe that they are also a part of the world. You see in the world of 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' by Lemony Snicket, there is a book called 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' and it is written by Lemony Snicket and that book is the same book as the one you are reading.

Chew on that idea for a little while and let it settle in your brain's stomach.

Now you might like this way or writing or you might hate it. You might decide to try something similar or you may not. The point is that we have conventions - many of them for a good reason - and we write within those conventions - often for a good reason. But some people don't and we should be aware that we don't have to, either.

As authors we do not read for just enjoyment but also to learn. We learn from those who succeeded and failed before us. William Goldman and Daniel Handler have succeeded and met with much acclaim for their work and they did it, in part, by breaking with convention. Whether or not we walk a similarly unconventional path, we can learn from what they did and we should be aware that rules can be broken.

Jive to your own groove, kids, and keep writing.

*Not really annual.

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