Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Reading Elimination Tournament – Boldly Go Where You Have Never Gone Before

A good writer can immerse you in a world that you have no knowledge of and make you believe in it. Every detail. Every aspect of it. In this edition’s Reading Elimination Tournament entries, all four authors do this: Elwood Reid, takes us into the realm of Big-Ten college football as an elite athlete. Mark Saltzman takes us into a Carmelite monastery outside of Los Angeles to see life through the eyes of a nun. Paul Hoover travels through time back to the late 1960’s to experience home life through the point of view of a conscientious objector in small town Illinois. Finally, A.M Homes (a woman, for those of you who are not familiar with her) leaps into the body of a nervous, insecure teenage boy about to experience drastic changes in his life.

DSC_0091As a reader, the writer has to make me trust that you know what you are talking about. You have to set up scenes with specific details, riveting dialog, and engaging events that the average reader can relate to and believe possible. And the writer has to make it interesting, or at least interesting enough to keep the reader turning pages.

The first five pages should establish what the world of the book is about. Where are we? When are we? Who are we? What are we going to learn about this subject that we may or may not know about? If we know about it, is it true? If we don’t know about it, is it interesting? What are the rules of this world? Are there conflicts already brewing? The first five pages are critical for setting the expectations for the reader.

If I Don't Six – Elwood Reid (1998)

This story feels like a realistic tale about an interesting situation; the life of the elite collegiate athlete. The protagonist is a jock, one who is self-aware enough to reveal interesting insights which go beyond the surface. It grabs my attention and holds it. The protagonist is also from Cleveland, so Ohio plays a prominent role within the story, and is another reason the story interests me. The author manages to define other characters through vivid actions and insights revealed with the dialogue. This is very well done and goes on to the next round.

Saigon, Illinois – Paul Hoover (1988)

This book is set in the late 1960s it starts off with the main character Holder, setting up his appeal as a conscientious objector to avoid the draft for the Vietnam War. You can tell from the interactions between the draft board and Holder that he is a one of those clever and somewhat funny characters that you would like to learn more about. He seems to be in the midst of much of the conflict that occurs during that era. I like the character enough that I might want to move this on to the next round, but it is on the borderline. So it’s going into the maybe pile for now, but I’m leaning toward passing it to the next round.

Jack – A. M. Homes (1989)

This book starts in the middle of a driving lesson with a nervous teenage narrator in the driver’s seat. I like the observations of the narrator when dad takes over behind the wheel. Jack’s description comparing how his dad does the things that an experienced driver does without thinking, and the labor-intensive thought process of a beginning driver is great and true-to-life is brilliant. The character is likable and his observations interesting. Homes does a good job of presenting the teenage mind. I'm going to put this one on the maybe pile, but I'm leaning toward sending it to the next round.

Lying Awake – Mark Salzman (2000)

This one has an interesting premise; a nun has spiritual enlightenment, but also dangerous headaches which may require medical intervention. Are the two related? This is another book that starts out slow, describing the details of life in a convent. The structure is interesting, short paragraphs broken up with lines of prayer in between. The problem is that little is revealed about the character, we don’t even know her name yet, just the details of daily life of a Carmelite nun. There is not a hint of conflict within these pages either. The back cover promises that it is coming, but I don’t think that interesting description is enough to overcome the lack of character definition or conflict. I’m eliminating this one.

Books Eliminated So Far (and available if you want them):
  • 21 – Jeremy Iversen (2005) 
  • Farm Fatale – Wendy Holden (2001)
  • Freezing -- Penelope Evans (1997)
  • Stronghold: Dragonstar Book 1 – Melanie Rawn (1990)
  • Man of the House  Stephen McCauley (1996)
  • Strawberry Tattoo -- Lauren Henderson (1999)
  • Lying Awake -- Mark Salzman  (2000)
Bonus Books! (because I've finished reading them)
  • Lord of Chaos (Wheel of Time Book 6) Robert Jordan (1995)
  • Crown of Swords (Wheel of Time Book 7) Robert Jordan (1997)

No comments: