Exercises in Style

Today my niece was watching me do a bit of writing, and asked why I had written a certain sentence. I explained to her that I was writing in a certain style, and we decided to write our own story to practice different styles.

First, I asked her to think up a place, a person, a problem, and a solution. She came up with:

  • The beach.
  • Izzy and her uncle.
  • Crabs were pinching us.
  • Use a rock to push the pinchers away.

This is the story we wrote:

One day, Izzy and her uncle were at the beach. They were having a wonderful time, but then crabs started to pinch them. Izzy said, “Let’s use a rock to push the pinchers away!” So her uncle found a rock, and tried Izzy’s solution. It worked! They went back to having a wonderful day.

Here’s the same story with shorter sentences:

It was day. Izzy and her uncle were playing ball. The ball was at the beach. It was fun. But then there were crabs. They pinched. Izzy said, “We need a rock!” Her uncle found one. The rock stopped the pinchers. Hurray. They played more ball.

Here’s the same story again, with me showing off and being extremely silly:

On a glorious summer’s day replete with heady sunshine and the kind of breeze that made you pine for chocolate ice-cream under a snow-white veranda, Izzy, aged 5 and her uncle, who was too old to count, were frolicking on a sandy beach that stretched from left to right for miles and miles. They were having so much fun, they didn’t even see the hoary legions of crabs that were marching forth-with from the frothy surf. So, it was much to their dismay when the fell crabs began their pinching. Such woe and suffering. But Izzy, aged 5, had a brilliant idea, the likes of which had not been seen on God’s green earth since the invention of bread cut into slices sufficient for making toast and/or sandwiches. “Find a rock, Uncle, and put to rest this foul and most horrendous succession of deeds accomplished in a pinching fashion.” And lo, her uncle searched the expansive sand-bars and found the perfect amalgamation of stony pebble construction. He pushed it, with puissance and determination, into the pinchers. The crabs were thus thwarted. And so, Izzy and her uncle were able to return to their most joyous adventures of fun-having.

My niece, by the way, is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.

100 Micro-Reviews of Well-Loved Novels, Most of Which I Have Not Read

This list comes from the BBC, in 2003, of England’s most loved novels. I don’t know why I decided to review them all. I think this was sent to me as some kind of list to check-off, to see how literate I am. Results: not very.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Have not read it but saw that movie Clueless which was based on Emma so we’re good, Jane?

The Lord of the Rings series by JRR Tolkien
I read the first one, saw the first two movies. I think I got it.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Not only have I not read this, I don’t even know what it’s about. At least I’ve heard of it.

Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
I liked the warm coziness of hanging with HP in the dorm, but in book 5 he turned into a whiny little jerk.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I read this book but I don’t remember much. I remember thinking that Scout kid was a little too big for her britches.

The Bible by God, Allegedly
I’ve read this part and that. Since I don’t read Greek or Aramaic, I’m pretty sure what I’m seeing isn’t the real deal, so I’m not too chuffed to read more.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
If the Bronte sisters were brought back from the dead and vied for my heart or some such crap they’d have to reconcile themselves to the fact that it wouldn’t be the quality of one their novels over the other that swayed me, as I have read neither.

Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
I should read this so I can irritate the crap out of intellectuals by saying George was right but 30 years too early and inverted.

His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman
I have not read this but I have a son and I want to read everything he reads so if I don’t read this one I bet I’ll end up reading something like it. In my day it was The Chronicles of Prydain, FYI.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Correct me if I’m wrong, but Chaz was a serialist, right? So reading him’s more about the parts than the sum, right? I mean, if you’re that kinda critic. And I am. And if one was going to read a lot of Chuckle’s oevre, that’s a lot of parts to get to. Me, I’m satisfied with my Dickens parts. Such larks!

Little Women by Louisa M Alcott
I have not read this book but it would be the kind of weird thing where I’m awake at 2 am and for no good reason watching clips from the Winona Ryder film adaptation. And if that happens I’ll tweet about it.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
I’ve read some Hardy, easily the most readable of all the boring dead old white dude novelists. Kind of a stereotypical British version of Gabrial Garcia Marquez, in terms of readability, in my opinion. When I’m old, and don’t have a good memory, I will keep Hardy and Marquez by my bedside, and just read random passages until I fall asleep.

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
I did a character sketch from this book, in highschool, which included taking all my clothes off (down to skivvies) in front of the whole class.

The Complete Works of Shakespeare by
I’ve read my fair share of Bill S. Not the boring ones. Not Troll boy and Crescent Wrench. Not the duller histories. Also, my vote on the “its not supposed to be read, it’s supposed to be performed” debate is: it’s not supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to enact procreation, but that doesn’t stop most of us.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
In another review I said I don’t know what Jane Eyre is even about. Let’s go up a notch: I have not even heard of this book.

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
I’m going to be real honest here: the book is fine, whatever, but whenever I have occasion to think “Bilbo Baggins” I start to giggle. It’s a long story, involving memes, 4chan, my brother-in-law-n-law, and the Big Bang Theory, and I don’t even like two out of those four things.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulk
This book had such a huge impact on me, in a manner of speaking, that manner being I’d never heard of it so who knows how many paths it never took me down to wind up here.

Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
My god who hasn’t read this book. No review necessary.

The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
A girl I knew once thought this was great and asked me to read it, so I did, and I did not care for it. And in a weird twist this was one of the few girls’ I didn’t have a crush on, so I told her what I thought. Probably why we’re not friends anymore. One of the reasons.

Middlemarch by George Eliot
Although I have not read this book, I loathe someone who has. Not anyone, just this one person in particular.

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Someday I’m going to read this novel just for the novelty of having read it, and yes, I see the pun there.

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
I will admit I didn’t really get it. I mean it was okay but I’m too naïve to get all the references to class and whatnot.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens
In another review I said I was one and done with Great Expectations. But I have to admit, this title is interesting. I wish Stephen King had written a book with this title.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Too long. Seriously. There’s too much bad TV to be seduced by these days.

The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Seminal.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Myself, I’ve never visited Brideshead, so I don’t know how to revist it. Wait, is that a virginity reference. Was Madonna channelling Waugh?

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Someday I’ll dip my toes in this book if only because someone for whom I have a lot of respect called this, more or less, one of the few “novels” he has any kind of time for.

Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Did you know I’m part Okie? Everybody thinks Steinbeck is the bees knees but those of us he used for his little screed don’t appreciate it too much.

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
When pedophiles take LSD. Don’t laugh at that.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
My cousin really loved the Redwall series when he was a kid. This novel is the adult version, right? I’d be able to argue why if I’d ever read it.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Yes, I’ll read books if a girl I have a crush on is reading it. But not this one, even though, at the time, I was so full of hormones I’m pretty sure I glowed in the dark.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
I haven’t read this book, but I did see David Copperfiled perform at a small theater in Las Vegas. There was a Q&A afterwards and he answered my question! I don’t remember what it was.

Chronicles of Narnia seriesby CS Lewis
I’ll admit it, I have this bias against a) knowing what a book is “about” before I even read it, and b) Jesus stories. Not that I have anything against Jesus. I like main characters who are assholes (that’s not blasphemy, but respect i.e. John 2:13-16)/.

Emma by Jane Austen
I sort of ruined this review by having already mentioned Clueless in my Pride and Prejudice review. Having read neither, that probably doesn’t even matter.

Persuasion by Jane Austen
Sigh. How many books has Jane Austen written? Hint: all the ones I haven’t read.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis
See above re: The Chronicles of Narnia. I have not read the series at all, so I have not read this one especially.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
I see this on people’s book shelves and not only do I not remember what they tell me about it, I don’t even remember if I asked them.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres
I read his trilogy, the one that starts with The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts. Oh my god those books were amazing. I should review those. And The Milagro Beanfield War triology.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
There was a big hulabaloo about this book a while ago so I bet could find a free version on some e-book pirate site if I wanted to. Maybe someday.

Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne
I have a two year old. I’ve read umpteen tiny book about Winnie the Pooh, if not the OG tome. I also have not seen any of the new Star Wars movies but they’re everywhere so I feel like I have.

Animal Farm by George Orwell
I have not read this. It’s about socialism, right? Or something.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Like a drug, this book fools you into thinking you’re reading something. Kind of like falling down a staircase fools you into thinking you’re going somewhere.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
In another review I said Thomas Hardy was kind of a stereotypical British version of Gabrial Garcia Marquez, so I’ll double-dpwn here and say GGM is sort of a wealthy Mexican version of Hardy. I mean I haven’t read this one but I read Love in the Time of Cholera, so there’s that.

A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving
I have not read this. But Wikipedia tells me Irving has confirmed it was inspired by Grass’s nove The Tin Drum. Say, did you know Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Going to Take It” was insipred by “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful”?

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Have not read it. Is it about a ghost? A bride? A ghost bride? Now I don’t want to read it just in case it isn’t.

Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
Not only have I not read this book, if I was at a pub trivia night, and the question “who wrote Anne of Green Gables?” came up, I would drunkley buly my teammates into answering “Thomas Hardy.”

Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
After I got done with this one I thought “Well, that was no fun. I wonder what else this Hardy guy has up his sleeve.” So I read Jude the Obscure. Holy crap, dude, take some welbutrin.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
I didn’t read this, but I saw the old movie version before the cool HBO version came out. And I did read something else by Atwood, Cat’s Eye, maybe, I’m not sure. It was for grad school. I didn’t do well in grad school.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
I’m going to read this someday just so I can write a steampunk Lego Marvel-SuperHeroes Muppet noir parody of it. I am serious

Atonement by Ian McEwan
I think I’d like to read this one. I have a friend who recommends it. I thought I was reading it when I started reading Notes on a Scandal, but that’s because I’m bad with titles.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Spoiler: he lost me when he found that “island.”

Dune by Frank Herbert
Whoa. Way better than I thought it would be. I should read more. Did you know his kid wrote a book too? It was kind of weird. Fun, but weird.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
I haven’t heard of this one. But once I made a “meme” about a gibbon with lupus. I have no idea why.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
For the love of god, how many Jane Austen books that I haven’t read am I going to review? Maybe I should just $%^&* read one.

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
I might be wrong about this, but I think someone gave me this book, and the age count was, like, “I don’t even read books I like that are this long.”

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Really good. And what’s ironic about that “nano” review right there is how woefully terse it is compared to Zafon’s engaging, fluid style.

A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
This is how immature I am: I haven’t read this book, but every time I see the title, I do the spoonerism thing to make it naughty. What if I ended up reading the whole book this way? “It was the test if wimes, it was the terst of bimes…” Oh brother.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
One of my dad’s favorites, so I’ll read it this someday.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
A Spot of Bother was better.

Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Still can’t believe a human being wrote this.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
You know, if I could find someone who was as plain as sparse as Hemigway, as plain as Steinbeck, and as devious as Faulkner, I’d eat it up like ice-cream.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
And The Collector by John Fowles and The Collector Collector by Tibor Fischer. Go pervs go.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
In another review I mentioned a guy who I said likes Dostoyevsky. He used to love this book. I think cause of the Greek stuff.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
This is one of those books that I think might be good but then I reasd the inside flap of the dust jacket and the description makes me want to play video games instead.

Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
I think I’ll read this one someday. I like sword fights. Dumas is the guy who’s always writing abour sword fights, right? And I bet it’s, like, free to download and such.

On The Road by Jack Kerouac
I like gimmicks as much as the next person. But too many finger-snapping poetry-slammist who want to secretly hump Hunter S. Thompson’s corpse have turned me off of writings Kerouacian.

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
Holy crap was this depressing. I mean I really really liked it. I am in therapy now, and take drugs. That’s just a coincidence. Listen, if you read one Hardy, read this one.

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
I know people are always saying that the book is better than movie. What if you’ve never consumed either? Then which one? Based on Pride and Prejudice.

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
I tried to read The Satanaic Verses and it just felt just too unnecessarily complex in sentence structure, like David Foster Wallace with olive skin. So I’m probably not going to try this one.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville
I don’t need a manual on whale hunting. Abridge the good bits, maybe I’ll look ‘em over.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Yet another Dickens novel I have not read. Book club idea: books on tape that you only listen to while going on epic walks across London.

Dracula by Bram Stoker
I tried to read this when I went through my Vampire phase, which unfortunetly coincided with my “keep it real” phase (like eating burgers with no condiments only drinking Coca-Cola. It was a dumb phase.) I was too young for the language. Now I’m too old. Ah, life.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
When an adult told the child me that this was right up my alley, since I like secrets and mazes and stuff, it only took about ten pages before I realized I couldn’t really trust adultsd anymore. A coming of age story.

Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson
This Bryson guy, he’s a professional writer. It’s his job. He shows up at the office and writes books and then goes home. I feel like the one I did read by him, although it wasn’t this one, sufficed.

Ulysses by James Joyce
I am still, to this day, convinced that James Joyce secretly hated everyone who thought “writing” was “art” and wrote this to mess with people heads. And when that didn’t work, he wrote Finnegan’s Wake. And when that didn’t work, he died of being Irish in the wrong century.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Got to admit, there’s a sneaky part of me that wants to stop taking my medication, wait for the suicidal thoughts, then read this. A sneaky, stupid, self-indulgent part of me.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
Sounds like an adult film title as written by someone who thinks they get the joke of adult film titles but doesn’t. Sorry if that’s irreverant. Have never even heard of this novel.

Germinal by Emile Zola
Myabe I’ll read this just to be able to use the word “germinal” in sentence, correctly. Tell me if this is even close “He put his germinal hand on her shoulder and she winced, insid.”

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
While I have not read this, I have read books by the food critic who writes for a magazine I often get confused with the one named after it.

Possession by AS Byatt
Haunting. Okay I don’t know if that’s right. I read this so long ago, all I remember is that it was one of those “multiple literary styles” novels. Or, I was reading another book at the same time that was.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Had to read this a lot as a kid, in school. Now I wonder what they were trying to teach us. This story is all over the place. I mean, do people even ‘read’ the book anymore? Just go watch the Bill Murray version.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Stumbled across this one by accident, found it aweseome, read lots of his other stuff, also awesome.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Saw the movie. Made me really mad and sad. So did Fried Green Tomatoes. That one I read though.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
I may have read this. I may have seen the movie. I may have had a sandwhich yesterday. I can never be sure about things. Anyway. did pmen just straight ask women to marry them, no fuss no muss?

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Although I took French, I never took enough French that I had to read this book. Not sure why else people read it, unless it’s, I don’t know, good, or whatever.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Wow this look like a long, complicated book with lots of characters and such. An Indian Tolstoy, maybe. I’ve never read Tolstoy, either.

Charlotte’s Web by EB White
Read it when I was a kid. Who hasn’t. As I said in other reviews, what where they trying to teach us back in the day.

The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom
If someone told me those five people are Dopey, Happy, Sneezy, Lucky, and Smelly, I would read this book.

Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I haven’t read all of them, but I watched the brilliant TV series, and I did read one of those “writing as Sir ACD” books, and I liked it.

The Faraway Tree Collection by Enid Blyton
I have not read this book but I sure do like that title. That’s the kind of title I would come up with. Yes I’m tooting my own horn. (Story title idea: ‘A Collection of Self-Tooting Horns’ … okay nevermind).

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
I started reading this because “It’s short! Piece of cake!” But damn, it took forever. Kind of how long it took to get from the novel’s publication to the movie Rushmore.

The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery
Is this a whole book, or a kids’ book with pictures and stuff?

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
Everytime I try to remember if I’ve read this book, I remember parts of it, then I re-read it to see if I was right, and I was, and then a few years later I go through this little pageant again.

Watership Down by Richard Adams
Is this a sequel to The Wind in the Willows? All I remember is that scene in the movie, which I saw on TV when I was a kid, where the guy was hanging from the wheel and turning it and then he died. Oops, sorry, spoiler.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Not only is this book a heck of a lot of fun, and well written, and when you’re done reading it you can tell your friends you read a “picaresque,” but someone I really don’t like hated this book, so it’s even better now.

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
This has an intriguingh title. One of my all time favorite stories is ‘A Rose for Emily.’ If this is a whole novel like that, I’m in.

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Never read it, but love that dudes named after guns are more famous for their swords. Betcha Dumas didn’t plan for that.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Bill contemplates suicide. I wonder what was going on in his life that he had to hash this one out in his longest play (note to self: check to see if that’s true). I’ll bet it was existential angst. It’s the kind of uncle that would sleep with anyone’s mother, let alone yours.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
The other day I read a review of Ready Player One that said it was basically this novel, modernized. Well, heck. I didn’t much like Ready Player One.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Read the book, drove halfway across the country to see the musical with a girl who I thought loved me, drove halfway across town to see the musical with a girl who loved me enough to marry me. I liked the Napolean parts; they weren’t in the musical.

Politically Motivated Noir Parody in Ten Tweets

(posted on Twitter 12/6/2017 

Sitting at my PC and trying to decide if staring at Twitter or the half-empty bottle of gin on my desk was going to do me more damage. The bottle used to be half full, but at 9 am I realized the day wasn’t even half-over yet, so I improvised. #TweetNoir 1/10


Then she walked in. And by she I mean another tweet from one of them liberal types with the long legs and a longer list of grievances. Actually, I’m guessing about the legs. But never mind. She had something to say re: Trump #TweetNoir 2/10


“Look here, dick.’ She cooed. “How’d you know my name?” I snarled. “It’s written on your door.” And she wasn’t lying. There on the cheap glass in cheaper acrylic, “Dick Detective, Twitter Addict.” Not the pithiest, but then I’m not even sure what pithiest means. #TweetNoir 3/10


“Alright,” I burbled. “Let’s hear it.” She took a seat in my feed and let loose. “Mueller’s got Trump’s bank records, see. The big cheese is about to get busted or embarrassed.” She smiled the smile of a thousand lethal retweets. #TweetNoir 4/10


“What do you want me to do about it,” I said. “I’ve got, maybe, a 100 followers, 150 tops on a good day if I lure a few ‘bots with gratuitous hashtags.” #GratuitousHashtags, by the way, is my middle name. I guess Mom was on some major painkillers when I was born. #TweetNoir 5/10


“Every little bit counts,” she said. “Get creative. Write one of those stupid #TweetNoir things. Make it a thread. Go crazy, ya lazy, privileged, upper-middle class white man.” That one wasn’t written on my door, but she had me pegged, but good. 6/10


“Fine. I’ll see what I can do,” I managed. I started rummaging in my desk for a pencil and the legal pad I’d swiped from a lawyer’s office, which is just the kind of self-indulgent irony that kept me from getting too many followers in the first place. #TweetNoir 7/10


“That’s all I’m asking,” she coo’ed. Again with the cooing. Either she was trying to seduce me or I was in serious need of a thesaurus. Most likely the latter. I’m good with words like I’m good with booze: the more I have, the less I know what I’m doin’. #TweetNoir 8/10


She got up and left, which is to say, my feed was starting to fill up with video game tweets and dad jokes. It ain’t easy, being a Twitter addict. Hence the booze. But then nothing that’s easy is worth it, according to some crap I read in a book once. #TweetNoir 9/10


Speaking of booze, I took another look at that bottle of gin. Now that I had a case, something to occupy me for a few minutes, the bottle was starting to look half full. I guess I’d call that a win. #TweetNoir #ImpeachTrump #GoMuellerGo theguardian.com/us-news/2017/d… 10/10

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Ignore ‘Em

I’ve been getting this jones to do some writing lately. Fiction writing. I’ve gotten literally dozens of unfinished pieces in different folders and at different stages. I don’t know that my urge is to finish them; I just want to get lost in the process.

So I’ve dipped my toes when I have time. But a few days ago this happened: I was in the kitchen, mulling some ideas in my head while I put together a bottle for the baby. A newspaper was on the kitchen table, and in it, yet another article about Trump. My brain started doing what it always does: arguing with imaginary people.

I know better than this, and forced myself to stop after a few minutes. I tried to return to those thoughts from before, ideas for the stories I’m working. Gone. Utterly gone. The idea of sitting down and writing felt like a chore, and a Sisyphean one at that.

And I realized: this happens all the time. This has been happening to me for a long time now. No wonder I never write nuthin’.

What I’m getting at here is not supposed to be any kind of political stance or discussion about the looming election (although, you have to admit: it sure does loom, doesn’t it.) Instead, I want to mentioned a different epiphany I had today. Because I was on the internet, on Reddit and Facebook, and the articles about Trump: they were legion.

Somehow, instead I ended up watching some YouTube videos. First I watched The Robert Randolph band play Squeeze and Voodoo Chile. Then I watched a short video on how to play the Black Lion opening in chess. Then I read an article about a guy who paced a 3:55 marathon for a bunch of people.

And it was back! The urge to write. The desire to get in there and pound some keys and make up whacky stuff. It was like an antidote to all the… what do you call it (ha, here I am, an urge to write, and I’m at a loss for words). All the cynicism and bitterness and doom and gloom, all of that weight was just gone.

It seems so obvious, I know. But it’s easy to forget the obvious when your brain is more or less constantly trying to solve the complicated puzzles of saving your soul from the degradations of the world. So call this a reminder Find things that delight you, immerse yourself in the awe of witnessing genius, and use it to erase the malaise of all this dreck that seems to earn so many page hits and generate ad revenue.

And then go write about it!