Unsolicited Advice to a 12-Year-Old Writing Genius

(An open letter to a friend of mine).

Once again it has been brought to my attention your ability with writing, more importantly your love of writing. So I thought I would take it upon myself to offer some advice, along the lines of “things I wish someone had told me sooner.” Of course, I expect you to take all of this with a grain of salt, indeed, to ignore most of it. Remember, Mr. Edwards is a curmudgeon and a cynic, a bitter old man, a wannabe-dissident, a malcontent, never published, and wont to submerge himself in self-indulgent dissatisfaction. On the other hand, I have written well over a million words of fiction, some of which, I’m sure, your mother will let your read when you’re well into your twenties.

  1. Don’t bother trying to make your writing “good.” You’re old enough to understand words like gestalt, zeitgeist, and paradigm. These are the factors that will determine if your writing is considered “good” or not, and you don’t really have any control over them. So just write.
  2. But if you still insist on getting “better,” here’s a trick: help other people first. Help your sister and brother, encourage them and tell them what you like about what they’ve written. Help your cousins, your friends. Yes, you can help adults as well, if they have written something they want to share. Hey, look at this, this essay I’ve written. Want to help me make it better? I welcome your suggestions.
  3. Don’t try to fix the first sentence until you finished the last sentence. This goes for paragraphs too, and pages, and chapters. Have you ever watched a movie for the second time? Notice how the beginning is different, since you know how the film’s going to end? How can you know how to fix the first chapter if you don’t even know how the book ends?
  4. Don’t listen to anyone’s advice or criticism. Well, it’s okay to listen, and consider, but don’t worry about what they say too much. This goes for spelling, punctuation, and grammar, as well as voice, tone, characterization, and plot. People have a billion ways to tell you what’s wrong, but so few ways to tell you what’s right. Don’t let them bog you down with those billions.
  5. Ignore the so-called “write what you know” rule. It’s poppycock. Most of the time we write to discover, so of course we have to write what we don’t know. Can you imagine how many fantasy or sci-fi books would have been written if people had followed this absurd rule? Certainly there is a place for writing what you know, and some people do like that kind of autobiography, or expertise. But there’s no sense in limiting yourself. Write about whatever you want, and if you don’t know it, make it up.
  6. Ignore, also, the “show don’t tell” rule. You’re going to hear this one a lot. It’s such nonsense. It’s vague advice from people who don’t care enough to read what you’ve actually written, trying to sound all wise and useful. Showing versus telling depends entirely on the tone you’re trying to set, the mood, even the themes involved with what you’re writing. It has everything to do with the situation at hand, and you are on control of that in your writing, you alone.
  7. You don’t have to show what you’ve written to anyone, ever. Writing begins as a deeply personal act, and I wish someone had told me this, a long time ago. I self-censored myself, eschewing certain topics, ideas, even words, for fear nobody would like them. And in doing so I limited myself, I left whole parts unexplored. Don’t worry about anyone’s judgment—not even your own, if you can help it.
  8. However, once you do share your writing, it doesn’t really belong to you anymore. Sort of. People bring all kinds of things with them when they read, and you can’t control that. If someone reads your story and it reminds them of something, how can you tell them they were wrong to have a memory? It’s okay to explain yourself, but someday you’re going to write things that will be read by people you’ll never meet. So, once your done with a story or a book, let it go.
  9. Write every day, if you can. But if you can’t, don’t give up. If you find you haven’t written in days, weeks, months, years, that’s okay. You can always come back to it. Always. Writing is going to be something that stays with you forever. It can be your best friend (and sometimes your worst enemy), it will always be a part of you. Cherish it, nurture it, trust it, rely upon it. And when you write, write about anything, everything. Break the rules, be silly, see how hard it is to make no sense at all. Every word you write is exercise, and exercise will only make you stronger.
  10. Don’t only write, however. Yes, exercise can make you stronger, but it can also make you tired. It’s okay to not write sometimes. To do things, to explore the world, explore your friends, to have other interests. The great thing about writing is that it’s compatible with everything, so you don’t have to worry about choosing between writing and something else. So feel free to try as many something-elses as possible. At the very least, that will give you something to write about.

I could go on, (ask your mother, she knows how I tend to prattle) but I think that’s a good start. The truth is, everyone should write, not just geniuses like you, but everyone, all the time. Writing is a gift, a wonderful gift, better than any other gift I’ve ever received, and it’s free for everyone. And you know I’m always available to discuss writing, (at your mother’s discretion of course), whenever you like. Which reminds me—your mom’s no slouch either, when it comes to pen and paper; you’ve got more than one gift there, it seems, so use them well. And thanks for listening to an old man babble.

The Sense of an Ending– review on Goodreads

The Sense of an EndingThe Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

aMy reviews tend to be about provenance and coincidence, are therefore deeply personal, and should therefore by skipped if you’re looking for synopsis and approval. Not that there’s anything wrong with synopsis and approval. I just don’t feel like summarizing, and I don’t have the reputation or wisdom required for my approval carry any weight.

My wife’s cousin recommended a TV show that we are finding we like quite a bit, so when she recommended The Sense of an Ending, it was an easy decision to give the book a try. That it is a mere 163 pages was a plus, too. I don’t have much of an attention span. And I had just struggled to finish a book that I did not like at all, so I jumped into Sense with a lot enthusiasm. I wasn’t disappointed. Read it less than 18 hours. Not quite one sitting, but would have been had I started on a morning instead of bed time.

And it turns out this is the third Man Booker Prize 2011 Shortlist book I’ve read, along with Snowdrops and The Sister Brothers. Three books that I would have never compared to one another, except for their treatments of existentialism, although sometimes I think every book written in the modern era is a treatment of existentialism.

Sense is about time, documents, suicide, class, and England. In more or less that order. One character invokes Camus, reminding us that: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.” Match that against my favorite quote from Camus: “One sentence will suffice to describe modern man: he fornicated and he read newspapers” and you’ve got the tone of the book. It’s “to be or not to be” for the modern age.

That’s the tone, anyway, although the plot, in the end, vindicates the coward’s life. In more than one place Barnes has lines like “if this was a novel” or “if this was fiction” and that he also mentions masturbation more than a few times shows how playfully he regards all of this angsty stuff. His main character talks about “the littleness of life that art exaggerates,” and since the line comes from Flaubert, perhaps we’re supposed to compare this character to Madame Bovary.

So be it. It’s not that were disconnected that makes us miserable, it’s that we’re bored. Kill yourself for a good reason, or a bad one. But don’t pretend it’s noble, because once you’ve removed yourself from time’s exegesis, you no longer get to participate in the meaning of life.

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Flash Friday or Something

Flash Friday will be me showing you tiny pieces of fiction until I get bored with it or forget or get abducted by a gigantic sea gull. Note I say sea gull and not albatross. That asshat Coledridge screwed albatross for us as a metaphor and now we can’t use it.

Many of these are from the Reddit subreddit /r/writingprompts.

Prompt: The Alphabet Game: each sentence starts with the next letter of the alphabet.

Anytime any asks me why I insist on assaulting angels, I tell them. Because those bitches deserve to be beaten, bruised, bullied. Can you see me, there in front of a statue? Daring them to do something about it. Egging them on. Fist balled into tight packages of pain. Getting ready to rumble! Hatred spilling from my eyes. I start to dance around, weaving like a snake. Just when you think I’m, you know, just dancing…. Kapow! Let ‘em have it, right into the solar plexus. Make ‘em cry. Next, the kicking. One, two three! Punch ‘em a few more times. Quick as lightning. Really quick. Sting ‘em like a wasp. Till they can’t take no more. Unless they CAN take more, cause I GOT more to give. Very few angelic statues can stand my assaults. When I’m done, there’s just rubble, and crying. Xerox my face, put up all the signs you want. You’ll never catch me, jack. Zoos full of enraged gorillas couldn’t stop me, jack.

Prompt: The sun rose as normal, flooding the sky with wonder. Hours later, though, the sun has not set, has not faded, has not moved from its perch atop the clouds. What do people think? What do they do?

I’m sitting on my front porch, holding a copy of Harlan Ellison’s Shatterday and wearing a pair of the most powerful sunglasses money can buy. The sunglasses are stolen. I stole them because the idea that sunglasses can be powerful is stupid. They just sit there. They don’t do anything. They’re polarized and smoked and they don’t do anything to UV rays, they just block them, somehow. I’m trying to stare at the sun, but it’s still too bright.

I open the book to my bookmark, “Jeffty is Five,” but I can’t see anything for a minute because of the sun staring. I really hate Harlan Ellison. He’s an old man and a hack and an arrogant prick. But there’s this girl on the bus who likes him, so now I have to read this crap. Science fiction is for idiots.

And unfortunately for me, some idiots have very large boobs.

It feels like I’ve been out here for hours, days. Chitter chatter on the radio about magnetic pulses from the sun. Blither blather about America getting hotter while China starts to freeze. But I’m not a fool, I know that radios don’t work when magnetic pulses screw up the earth, and this radio, it was made in China, probably. Just another butt-load of fiction. Give me a break.

No, seriously, give me a break. If the earth’s stopped spinning, then I’m going to be fifteen for a very long time, and that is not acceptable.

Prompt: Your main character unearths something in their backyard. It will have some sort of impact on their life. (Original prompt required a 250 word limit. I liked my 295 word original better; got to this link to see my 250 word version if you want).

The rain stopped, so Marty got off his fat ass and went into the backyard to water the flowers. His wife’s bright idea, to plant them in a special bed, underneath the eaves. Where the sun and rain couldn’t get to them. Thank god Marty shot blanks.

Stepped onto the patio, in his socks, no sandals. Wet soaked in fast. God damn it, he said, then whipped his head around to make sure no one heard him. Taking the lord’s name in vain meant couch time, and the couch was in the living room, next to the kitchen, with the microwave, and the brightness of the clock always made sleep impossible. A stupid reason not to curse, but Marty’d been married for 20 years.

Stupid flowers. Marigolds, or something. Lazy Susans and Black Eyed Peas. Black Dahlias and or maybe Irises. Gouged out Irises, by the look of it. Double you tea eff, Marty though, since he didn’t like to curse in his mind either, if he could help it. Just in case. Did something dig up the irises?

Marty peered at the hole in the dirt. Wriggling inside it, the fattest dirtiest grosses worm ever invented. Marty felt his gorge rise, couldn’t tear his eyes away. The worm writhed. Mechanical, Marty reached for a hand space. Robotic, he stabbed the worm. And stabbed and stabbed and stabbed.

The back door creaked, and terrible voice said “What are you doing to my petunias!” Marty looked up at his wife, her face ashen, angry, face as flat as a 20-year-old couch and eyes as bright as a microwave clock light at 3:43 in the morning.

Marty glanced at the hand spade, back at his wife, at the spade, at his wife. Suddenly he had an idea.

God Gave Me Ten Fingers, So I learned to Hunt n Peck

I have decided that today is going to be “write a hell of a lot Thursday” and so far it’s off to a rather mediocre start. I’ve at least managed a blog post at Wiffli, and then there’s this one. I need to do a write-up of my Ragnar experience for The Loop, I have at three e-mails to friends to write, and then I want to get in some fiction.

But my wife woke up with a sore back, poor thing, and it’s pretty much knocked her out for the day. She’s got an appointment at the clinic in a short while, so I’ll take her to that, and I am not blaming her in the least for getting the way of my silly declaration. If anything, her unfortunate state has forced me to laser-focus on my plan—no messing about with video games and Reddit and peanut-butter & jelly sandwiches.

What is it, this compulsion to write? It’s not like anyone’s reading this stuff. I mean, sure, a few people here, a few people there, at least one person per e-mail. But it’s not like they’ll miss it if I don’t. So why do it?

Many years ago a friend said to me “you have a gift and if you don’t do something with it, that’s a sin.” I was flattered at the time, but if I think about it now, my “gift” is not that I write well, it’s that I want to write. And that’s it. On days when I do write I feel good, like I just built a barn. On days I don’t I feel bad, like the chickens and the cows and the horses are standing in the rain getting wet for no reason.

A dumb analogy but I’m trying to exert a distinction here between what it means to write well and what it means to just write. If you catch my meaning.

It’s all pointless, but then I guess everything’s pointless. Video games, cans of peanuts and caffeine that are just chewed, swallowed, digested and evacuated through bowels, TV shows about old families in England, pornography and a few minutes of self-pleasure. It’s not like I’m writing instead of building actual houses for actual people. And even if I were, those people, those houses, a few hundred years from now? All gone. Pointless.

So, let’s call it a middle-class compulsion. The poor struggle to survive, the rich survive to struggle, and the rest of us sit here navel gazing. Time to stop questioning the need and succumb to it. On to those emails. Sorry I’ve got nothing more pithy to say than that. How about a joke?

There was once a young man who, in his youth, professed his desire to become a great writer.

When asked to define great, he said, “I want to write stuff that the whole world will read, stuff that people will react to on a truly emotional level, stuff that will make them scream, cry, howl in pain and anger!”

He now works for Microsoft writing error messages.

Deadfall Hotel– review on Goodreads

Deadfall HotelDeadfall Hotel by Steve Rasnic Tem

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: I have not finished Deadfall Hotel yet, and the only reason I was even going to try and finish was for the sake of writing this review. I was struggling to read it last week, and skipped last Monday’s review, and I fear the same will happen again today, unless I just get my thoughts down, finally. I don’t expect there to be anything in the last 20 pages that will change my impressions much. Simply put: awful book.

Now, that’s just my opinion, of course, and you should read others’ reviews, because some people liked the novel. They were intrigued by the setting, as was I, initially, intrigued by some of the characters. But Deadfall Hotel is written too much to be like a dream, and I can’t stand that kind of thing. I think dream sequences in books are a huge waste of time, the very worst aspect of deus ex machina shoved down the reader’s eyeballs. And this entire novel is meant to be a dream, a shifting, unexplained and unexplainable, entirely unsatisfying experience.

Page after page are filled with inconsistencies, made-up-on-the-spot conveniences, last-minute explanations. And maybe such a thing is acceptable if all one wants is to get into mood or atmosphere, let plot and character development be damned. I just can’t stand blood and guts for blood and guts’ sake. If a book is going to be visceral, I need to know what the organs were doing in the first place. To call this book gratuitous is an understatement.

Nothing provided is believable, and that this is “fantasy” is no excuse. Fantasy has to work even harder to achieve a kind of believability, and author Steve Rasnic Tem doesn’t even bother. I only managed to get through the novel as far as I got by allowing myself to scan some of pages when nothing was happening except interpretation of impression of feeling. And even then I was stuck with nothing else to do and no other reading options.

And all of that is too bad, because as I said, the idea was very intriguing: a widower and his daughter are asked to come run a large, rambling, mysterious resort with more than a few “special” guests. Comparisons to Stephen King’s The Shining are inevitable, but without merit, as the two books have nothing to do with one another other than being set in a remote hotel. Unless, like the Overlook, the Deadfall Hotel explodes at the end too; I don’t know if I’m going to bother reading that far to find out.

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Those Germans Have a Word for EVERYTHING!

Posted at The Loop, the blogs at Runner’sWorld.com

When I start a new hobby, I get into it by reading everything I can, in bookstores, on the internet, on bathroom walls. Running was no different, and many of you know what I mean when I say: instant confusion. Tempo runs? Repeats? Yasso 800s? Was I really going to have to learn—and practice—all this stuff? How does one, specifically, run “30 seconds below 10k pace”? What the heck’s an IT Band, where do I buy one, how much is it going to cost, and can I use it with iTunes? My head was in a whirl.

Lucky for me, I don’t have good running genes, so there was no threat of wasted potential. I could safely ignore all that stuff and just run, if I wanted to. I have blogged before about the ills of running too much, meaning too fast or too often. That’s a lesson I should have learned (and maybe would have if I’d persevered with those books) early on. But for the most part, I could just run whenever I felt like it and let “training” be another one of those things that the elites do.

All that said, however, there was one term that stood out, one that really resonated with me. (I’m not talking about “tapering,” even though I pointed out last week how good I am it.) I’m talking about the word “fartlek,” and if you’re in a safe place right now as you read this, go ahead and let yourself laugh out loud. We all know what it sounds like.

Which is the point. My understanding is that “fartlek” refers to “playing around” while you run, and if, for you, that means going to Taco Bell to fuel up, so be it. Otherwise, a “fartlek” is any spontaneous burst of speed, done for any reason at all. Maybe you’re feeling good, so you decided to sprint to the next telephone pole. Or you’re getting bored on a hill, and decide to finish it off with a mad dash. A fartlek can be as long or short as you like, as fast or as slow. The point is to enjoy it, and not worry too much.

And after 5 years of running, I’ve found that I naturally, even accidentally, do fartleks now and again as part of my everyday running. So here’s a list of fartlek tricks, or maybe fartlektrugen, or even zufalligefartlektrugen.

  • Trip on a piece of sidewalk, almost but not quite fall, sudden adrenaline rush: fartlek
  • 100 yards from an intersection, light turns yellow: fartlek
  • 2 year old, half a block away, wanders into semi-busy street: fartlek, with a single 30 pound curl, carry, and deliver.
  • Passing an ivy covered fence, dog barks: fartlek.
  • Awesome guitar solo on the iPod: fartlek
  • Glance at your watch, note you’re running 1 minute/mile below your “slow” pace: fartlek
  • Glance at your watch, note you were supposed to be home 5 minutes ago to shower and get dressed for your turn driving the carpool: fartlek
  • Coming towards you on the sidewalk, attractive person of a gender you find attractive: fartlek with excellent running posture and mouth closed, breathing through nose
  • Shortcut through heavily wooded park, close to dusk: fartlek.

Let me know if you have any other unbeabsichtigtfartzufalliglektrugen (or whatever YOU call them).

Random Coincidence Usually Isn’t

Here’s this: “Not Allerigc to Adventure” to run-inspire you, write-inspire you, and love-whatever-you-do-inspire you. It’s the blog of ultramarathoner Sabrina Moran, and if you don’t delight in her running 100 miles or 24 hours at a time (guess which one is longer) then delight in how funny she is. Know what’s funny? I wrote the above before reading her post called “You’re Not an Inspiration.” Ha!

I have been lax in my writing. So what I’m doing is taking an email I wrote to someone and using it to write a blog post. I don’t know if that’s kosher, but I just read a quote from Johnny Depp who said “Just keep moving forward and don’t give a shit about what anyone thinks.” That resonates with my favorite Robert Downey Jr. quote: “Listen, smile, agree, and then do whatever the fuck you were gonna do anyway.”

You see what I’m doing there? I’m associating my attitudes with the attitudes of two very talented, very good-looking men. (Both of whom are older than me! But can you guess who of the two is oldest?)

Speaking of kosher, we had Hebrew Nationals last week. True Story. Here’s an ironic link, brought to you by Yahoo, now run by my wife’s sister’s old boss, who I have never formally met, but who I walked by once as she entered a house I was exiting, all 300 million dollars of her. (You see what I’m doing there?)

I’m sleepy. We went to Portland on Sunday, and I opted to drive back rather late instead of crashing and driving back the next day. It’s getting harder and harder as I get older and older to recover from bad or no sleep. While I was there, a friend of mine (call him Charles) told me about a friend of ours (call her Hanna) who had a severe psychotic break as a result of a misdiagnosed bipolar disorder and a serious case of sleep deprivation. Not that I’m at risk of that, but still. Sleep is so needed.

I know I’m not sleeping well when I have vivid dreams. I don’t like having them. Not because they’re bad, as such, but just because the imagery lingers and it makes the day’s thoughts cloudy. I read a theory that dreams are an interpretation of your brain re-arranging neurons to move memories from short-term into long-term. Last night I had a dream I was running around a deserted vacation resort, and then it turned into a casino and I saw an old (ex) friend and then another (current) friend chased me because he thought I was ignoring him. He caught me, and said “stop, damn it.”

That dream has no meaning; more telling is how vivid it was, that the resort was sort of all bed-rock and tarnished brass, the casino was plush red velvet, and my friend’s hands were very strong. And what it tells me is I am not sleeping well, probably because I’m drinking too much caffeine. But Ragnar is in a few days, and I’m excited, and I won’t be sleeping well that night, or the next night. Isn’t it weird how having a bad night’s sleep can make you have another bad night’s sleep the next day? It’s silly.

And lends itself to… a thing that there’s a name for, when you start seeing coincidences all over the place. For example, on Boing Boing, there was a post about Nocebos which are like placebos but make you feel bad, not good. Add to that that ultramarathoners blog, where she in a post mentions “Doxastic penetration” which “refers to when your beliefs color your perceptions.” Now can I add those ideas to a TED talk I saw the other day, by the founder of SuperBetter, and to that add a blog post at the Happiness Project called “Want To Have More Fun? Go On a Mission.”

And shall I add to that those quotes by Depp n’ Downey? And you see where I’m going with all these? Can you see what I am doing there? WELL I CAN’T BECAUSE I HAVE NOT SLEPT ENOUGH.

But I don’t care because Ragnar is in a few days. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod. I will not sleep well but so what: I’m on a mission, a mission to do one of things that makes me happy like no other, and I think Johnny and Robert would approve. No, really, I genuinely think they would provide applause.

Guest Post: Dan Edwards on “Why Basketball is Not a Sport”

What’s a sport? How is it different from just a game? I took the following from a discussion my dad was having on this difficult topic. His name is Dan Edwards.

I would argue that basketball is not a sport.

When I played I was 5’7″ and the basket was at 10 feet. Trying to get the ball into the hoop was definitely a sport.

In today’s professional basketball, the average height is about 8’7– they have arms that are longer than I was tall. How tough is it to look down into the basket and drop the ball through?

For these monsters shooting a basket is about as tough as dealing cards.

We were allowed only one step on a layup. The pros are allowed to do the Merengue on the way to the basket and then do the Teaberry Shuffle as well. It’s not a layup, it’s sprint.

And what they call a foul is ridiculous. In my day, if it did not require stitches or a splint, the ref let it go.

The phrase “No Blood No Foul” was a chanted by our mothers.

Now, if a player is looked at crossly on his way to the basket, the ref blows the pea out of his whistle in horrified disgust.

These people make two billion dollars a year, not including shoe endorsements. Let them get a few bruises.

And speaking of money. I you get paid, it’s not a sport. It’s a job.

Otherwise why isn’t writing software a sport? It takes skill, and training, and if you’re really good you can drop out of college before you get your degree and make tons of cash.

Don’t get me started on football.

I Am SO Good at Tapering

Posted at The Loop, the blogs at Runner’sWorld.com

I’ve mentioned before that the Ragnar Relay is my number one all-time favorite run, and it’s coming up in two weeks. And I want to be ready. And I do not use italics lightly. I want to get the most out of this year’s running, and for me, that means only one thing: running injury free.

I am prone to blowing out my calf, one or the other (not sure what the technical term is). I even went to see a foot doctor about it, since it was happening all the time. He told me my bones were too long for my muscles, and so I was putting too much stress on them. My options were surgery, or stretching. I chose stretching. I should tell you that this is the same doctor who told me I was running wrong, that I am supposed to hit heel first. I don’t mean to insult ducks, but what a quack.

One year, I blew out my calf about two weeks before Ragnar. Ran it anyway. Back then, I was normally able to hold about a nine minute per mile average for up to ten miles. But having a bum calf meant I was lucky to manage 10’30” per mile. Here’s an irony: I was only to run at all by using a very exaggerated heel strike. Turns out it prolonged my recovery by about a month.

I know a little bit better now. I saw a physical therapist, who helped me loosen up my ankles and hips, which keeps from pronating so much that my mid-foot strike moves way up closer to my toes. And I know better than to train at race paces, which has also reduced the frequency of injuries.

So, last Wednesday was my final “hard run” and this week I’m cutting back from 5 times a week to just three. Next week I’m going run just twice, two short very slow 5k. I don’t want to brag, but this is not a problem for me. I know some people get really antsy when they can’t run. Mentally, they know one week off won’t diminish their abilities, but emotionally it eats away at them. Not me!

I mean, some people are good at training. Some people thrive under the pressure of performance. Some people are wizards with nutrition, with knowing their own bodies, with finding super-awesome shoe sales and getting kick-ass socks at 90% off. My personal running gift is being a taper diva. It’s like I was made to rest before races. (Hey, Christopher McDougall, I have great idea for a sequal: Born to Rest. Come interview me any time you want, man).

Sure, I might get a little depressed, especially since the weather finally turned nice here, and will only stay like this for maybe another week or so. But I can handle it, mostly thanks to beer. Beer is a great excuse to run, on those days when you might not otherwise manage it. And, it turns out, it’s a great way to survive not running as well.

Indeed, as I write this, I am actually tapering with a Guinness Black Lager. After I post, I may go taper with a pilsner, and this weekend I plan on tapering in more than a few fine bars here in Seattle.

Come to think of it, tapering is pretty great!

The End of Mr. Y– review on Goodreads

The End of Mr. YThe End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One of the great things about Goodreads is the variety of opinions given about a book. I didn’t care much for The End of Mr. Y, and there are plenty of reviews that say what I want to say; but there are also plenty of folks who liked the book just fine. On the one hand, this is not very helpful, in that you might not know whether to read the book or not. On the other, it’s great because the onus is no longer on the reviewer to recommend as much as to share an experience. That’s what I want to do. I want to tell you why I didn’t like the book, even though I might not be able to tell you it wasn’t any good.

The first half of the novel is just a mystery about the discovery and provenance of a strange book, and satisfies in that sense. The small college town in a cold England winter is atmospheric, edging on haunting. Her main character, Ariel, is interesting enough, though secondary characters are sort of glossed over, sounding boards for Ariel to bounces theories against.

But then it goes all “fantasy” in the second half, which I didn’t expect, and since I didn’t know I was supposed to ramp up my willing suspension of disbelief, I found myself scowling much of the time. Maybe that’s my fault. But fantasy requires a very rigid consistency, lest we feel the writer is just, literally, creating conflict (and resolution) out of nothing. Lost, utterly, was all that atmosphere. There’s plenty of mystery, but it’s of the “wtf” variety, with no hope of explanation or justification.

Scarlett Thomas takes the “what if” of post-structural linguistics and applies it to the “what if” of quantum mechanics. That’s fine, and for an idle browser of both subjects such as myself, her exploration has potential. But it’s a potential ramrodded in the last eight of the book into a conclusion that’s a little too inevitable—instead of opening up a world of possibility, paradoxes of time travel are used to justify a lack of free will, a numbing experience for the reader, peppered with, in my opinion, ridiculous sex scenes.

Honestly, it was the sex scenes throughout that really bored me. I just don’t see how they were required—one character is nothing more than an ATM for cash and shame, except the shame is utterly unconvincing, doesn’t develop Ariel’s character all, and has no impact on the plot whatsoever.

I’m giving this two stars, begrudgingly. At least Thomas knows how to handle a sentence, and like I said, there was all of that wonderful atmosphere in the first half of the book. And it did remind me that I want to go read up on Baudrillard, not to mention my having read The End of Mr. Y right around the time the CERN folks were revealing their evidence for the existence of the Higgs Boson.

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