Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Reading Elimination Tournament – Round 1: Set the Right Pace

DSC_0087Pacing is a challenge for any modern day fiction writer.  It seems like our literature now reflects our frenetic-paced lives. The story has to burst from the gate and leap into a story immediately, while not confusing the reader with too little information or boring the reader with too much.  Pacing is a difficult balance to maintain throughout an entire story, but in the first five pages it is like walking on a high wire without a net or a clown to break your fall.  You need to engage the reader and hook him/her into the story with a bit of mystery, but not too much mystery or you lose the reader’s attention.

Which of your favorite stories or novels have fantastic beginnings? Who are the authors that are the masters of stringing the reader along keeping them up way too late reading? Post them in the comments below.

Vicious Spring – Hollis Hampton Jones (2003)

First of all there is a great cover quote from Jay McInerney: “Fast, nasty, shocking and strangely touching. It knocked me out.”  This coming from author of the granddaddy of all party books: Bright Lights, Big City. The back cover and the first five pages reveal a narrator who does drugs because she's bored, has a boyfriend in his 30’s who works at a strip club, and she becomes a lap dancer. The first five pages include drugs, suggestions of sex, senseless vandalism and the fire alarm sprinklers going off inside school. It has interesting narrative voice and an intriguing first-person point of view that I want to read more about. On to the next round.

Love Invents Us – Amy Bloom (1997)

The back cover promises realistic characters and interesting situations. The first part of the book is about Elizabeth, an elementary school-aged girl who is modeling first with store owner. She, as the narrator, does not seem to be bothered by this action, although it feels a little creepy. He doesn't seem to molest her in any way, but you wonder what may happen later. Elizabeth seems to be starving for attention and love.  The narrative voice is not that interesting in the beginning, and even though I want to see where the story might go, I’m afraid it will be somewhere very sad and ugly.  I'm not sure that I’m up for this type of tale right now. This one is eliminated.

The Feast of Love – Charles Baxter (2000)

This one is weird because the narrator’s name is Charles Baxter which happens to be the name of the author. This one has a very slow start, talking about optical floaters that look like cogs in the machine in about of insomnia. This book is a National Book Award finalist, so I suppose I should give it more time, but there are a lot of books in this tournament and if I am honest with myself, the book doesn’t engage me enough to compel me to keep reading, so I am eliminating this one.

The Sweet Hereafter – Russell Banks (1991)

This book has many favorable blurbs, and of course, was an award-winning movie, which I haven't seen. Russell Banks has a very good reputation and the back cover copy promises a morality play that addresses one of life's most agonizing questions: When the worst thing happens, who could you blame? The first five pages are told from the point of view of what I think is a bus driver, who has hit something. This has happened in the past, and suggests, or at least makes me think, that a child was hit. This novel seems to start off a little slow, but I think I want some more time to read this to see if it can recover from the slow start by reading an additional 20 pages or so. But again, there are many tough choices ahead of me to cut this list down to 32, so I'll list this as a maybe for now.

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)
  • The Feast of Love -- Charles Baxter (2000)
  • Love Invents Us -- Amy Bloom (1997)
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)

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