Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

M & M's or Dark Chocolate?

What do you think of literary fiction? That it's boring, plotless, and hard to get through? Not! It can be just as thrilling to read as the latest bestseller. Jessica Bell and I are doing a joint post on this subject. She has just signed a contract for her debut novel, a work of women's literary fiction, so clearly this is a hot topic over at The Alliterative Allomorph. Go Jessica!

Literary fiction isn't a big seller these days. Bella might read Wuthering Heights and be in love with Heathcliff, but the Twilight series isn't literary fiction. It's page-turning, can't put it down 'til you're done fiction. It's M & M's, pop in your mouth without thinking, consume on a bus, in a car, at the DMV. Not rich, dark chocolate to be savored, preferably alone, so as not to be interrupted from the delicious experience.

Lest you think I'm a literary snob, I am not. I love a fast read. There's a place for M & M's, and there's a place for the really good chocolate. I enjoy them both. And it takes skill to write one of those books you just can't put down. Don't make the mistake of thinking because it reads easy, it writes easy.

Every so often you come across a book that does it both. Here's my short list:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (American classic; my review here)

Misery by Stephen King  (imho his best work; my review here)

The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark (yummy; my review here)

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (short, literary, sweet & compelling; my rating here)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (the best YA novel ever, before YA was a genre; my rating here)

These books have the elements we literary buffs love when it's done well--symbolism, depth of characterization, well-written prose that just makes you pause and take a deep breath then read it again, deeper meanings below the surface-- while still telling a great story.

No one can spin a page-turning, keep you up all night tale any better than Stephen King.  But Misery has more to it than the usual suspense/psycho character out to kill our hero. I loved the writer analogies-- hugely insightful and entertaining. 

The Book of Unholy Mischief is like butter. Cream. Rich wondrous goodness. Food is a big part of it, so thus the food analogies. It's not only that I'm really hungry right now *umm cheesecake* but it truly is a savor and still can't put it down kind of novel.

And as for the other novels on my list, well you just have to sample them. Indulge. Really get into it. If they were school assignments and you hated reading them, forget that and read them now with pleasure. No book reports required.

How about it? Do you vote for M & M's or rich dark chocolate? Maybe both depending on your mood? Be sure to head over to Jessica's blog for her ideas. She's listed a few authors I'm definitely going to add to my to-read shelf.

41 comments:

  1. Definitely both : I love some books that would be considered "literary" and some that would be considered "popular". But then I like M & Ms and dark chocolate too ...

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  2. Like you, I love all kinds of chocolate...er, I mean books. Depends on my mood. Sometimes nothing satisfies like quick genre read, other times I want to settle in with something a little more substantial. It's all entertainment to me.

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  3. I love this topic. Kind of like writing versus storytelling. I've only read a few of the books you mentioned, but I completely agree with your assessment. Another book that I thought was a good example of literary and commercial was The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris.

    Recently the best writer I've read is Cormac McCarthy, the best storyteller is Suzanne Collins, at least for books I've read this year.

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  4. I like to switch it up with my reading choices. I may write YA (okay and I dabble in Erotica, which doesn't make any sense), but I do really enjoy some good literary works. I finished up THIS LULLABY by Sara Dessen and then quickly moved over to NINETEEN MINUTES by Jodi Piccoult. I love me my quick and easy candy (I'm 5 months pregnant, that's what I do), but there are those amazing "cheesecakes" that are so rich you just have to savor them. Now I'm hungry and think I need cheesecake.

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  5. Oh, I am both an M & M and dark chocolate kinda gal - depending on my mood. Love this topic and love following Jessica's journey towards publication.
    Karen

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  6. Until last week, I have been on a strict diet of M&M's. No energy to focus on dark chocolate. But the desire to change has reached my Kindle finger and I just started "The Monk; A Romance". So nice to enjoy the journey again.

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  7. This may surprise you, but I am a hard-core genre fiction fan - love those page turners. And yet, it's always dark chocolate for me!

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  8. Both!! Always! Both and lots more varieties in-between!!! I love that my reading is as eclectic as possible and I love that there are choices of reading material out there that are just as varied!!

    Take care
    x

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  9. Both, no question! Some days, I'm in the mood for something quick, entertaining and fun. Other days, I want something with a bit more depth.

    I agree with you on Misery. One of my all-time favourite books. I like Stephen King most of the time but Misery is just in a different class.

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  10. I don't think anyone should get bent out of shape over Literary Fiction. Every genre has duds. Every genre ends up with books that are boring. I think of books like music. If I like how it sounds, I don't care what genre it is. Genre is not for readers, not really. It's so publishers and bookstores know how to peg you.

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  11. I love both. I read the "literary" ones as an undergraduate and graduate. My favorites: To Kill A Mockingbird, Crime and Punishment, The Great Gatsby, How Green Was My Valley, Ethan Frome, Eudora Welty's stories, etc.

    Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult was stunning and unforgettable, as was The Memory Keeper's Daughter. With all this talk, I'm now going to read Misery!!

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  12. You've got a good analogy there--while I LOVE a good dark chocolate now and then... feel totally indulgent, it is 'too much' to do very often. And the remade version of M&Ms may very well be like Twilight--too much sugar and no quality at all--makes my TEETH ACHE. Made to pass the 8th grade standard of quality control...

    That said, I more often want a fast read (that meets at least some minimal quality standards--say a Heath Bar or a Twix) I am reading the Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest right now and CANNOT PUT IT DOWN and it's delightful.

    I read The Secret Life of Bees recently, and that one probably gets a 'Both'--or The Poisonwood Bible--that is one of my all time favorites and I adore the 'words' angle or that story.

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  13. I'm all about the dark chocolate and the literary fiction. For me, the literary stuff is actually a page turner. Of course, I like the M&M's too. A novel that has a swift plot as well as strong literary elements is tops in my book.

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  14. I've always felt like really good literary fiction does do both. It's page turning and it's thoughtful and intelligent with many layers. That's why all writing should be, to me.

    Thanks for your list, Karen! I haven't read some of these.

    Jai

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  15. I love both M&M's and dark chocolate. There are just different times in which I'll sit and read both. I adore To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my all time favorite reads, however had I not been forced to read it in English my Junior year I would have missed it, much like my husband did.

    During the fun months, summer and the holidays I love light airy reads, those that are predictable yet loveable. During the fall and spring months I love heart-warming and dark stories, those that make you think long after.

    This was a beautiful post Karen!

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  16. I never turn down chocolate, and the same is said for my love of books. There isn't a genre I won't read.

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  17. For me, I love Elizabeth Bowen and Virginia Woolf as slow reads and Morrell as my fast read choice.
    CD

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  18. Misery & The Dead Zone are two of my all-time favorite SK books!

    I like a variety of books, as long as I love the characters, I'll follow them! - I think I write a combo of dark and milk chocolate - a southern appalachian mix :-D

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  19. I'm afraid I rarely enjoy a slow read, although there are a handful that have won me over. :)

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  20. For me it's dark chocolate every time and mostly literary fiction, although I enjoy Scandinavian crime fiction and an occasional thriller.

    Sometimes wonderful prose and page-turning quality are not mutually exclusive. I recently finished Barbara Kingsolver's 'Prodigal Summer'. The author writes gorgeous prose but I was completely engrossed in the plot and turned over pages quickly, keen to find out what was happening to the characters.

    Having said this, I don't believe that I am a literary snob; it is simply a matter of taste and I do believe that light reads are just as hard to write. I respect all writers.

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  21. M&Ms for me please. I love To Kill a Mockingbird, Huck Finn, and Misery. I have yet to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I'll put that on my TBR list.

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  22. I was raised on dark chocolate I rebelled into M&Ms now i love both I read whatever I can get my hands on although at this stage in my life I do prefer M&Ms bcos my brain needs to rest

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  23. Am just reading 'The Law and the Lady' by Wilkie Collins. It's sheer joy. Everyone should read it.

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  24. They are both yummy. I think of M&M as everyday reads and the Dark Chocolate a once in a while treat.

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  25. Can you tell me what happens at the end of Misery? I couldn't finish it - I got all bent out of shape. I got mad at HER for being a sadistic monster. I got mad at HIM for not being more of a suck up so he could get out of there intact...and the things she did to him just grossed me out. (yeah, I'm a lightweight)

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  26. I like both, either individually like Shiver or The story of Edgar Sawtelle, or combined like The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, one of the most beautifully written fantasies ever. imho.

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  27. mshatch, I've heard of The Last Unicorn but never read it. Not a fantasy fan, but this one I will read.

    Vicki, Well if I tell you I give away the ending to anyone reading this LOL. Have you seen the movie? It's somewhat easier to take-- no it isn't, it's so scary you won't sleep for a week.

    And thank you everyone for all the titles and ideas. More to add to my Goodreads list!

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  28. I do like M&Ms, but I didn't really get Twilight. I just don't think it's attractive if a guy tries to bite my neck. I like your reading list, especially A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I also like other classics like Jane Austen's stuff and Jane Eyre. I'm not sure about the rich dark chocolate though. At a gourmet grocery store they were selling bacon-flavored chocolate. I don't get that either.

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  29. I loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I like literary ficton because sometimes I just want to dwell a little longer:) thank you for your kind comment on my blog! I missed coming here.

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  30. I agree with you wholeheartedly on "Huckleberry Finn." Not that you have to choose -- which seems to be what you're saying -- but I do love a good novel that manages to be both. Actually would put "Wuthering Heights" in that category -- I couldn't put it down! Also, "The Lord of the Rings." I speed through that book every time, and I always wish I could slow down, because there is SO much to savor. Like good wine, to continue your food analogy. One of the goals of a good writer, I think, should be to make your book worthy of a second read, give it the kind of depth that deserves that second read and delights the reader again. Like coming back to an old friend, eh?

    Great post, Karen. Am heading over to Jessica's blog now. I love new book reccomendations!

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  31. I'd love to be both. But whether I am or not remains for someone else to judge. I do like genre fiction as you probably now. I'll check out Jessica's blog.
    Nancy
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

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  32. As long as the premise intrigues me I will read whatever genre hits my hand first. I like the sugar hit of M&Ms but appreciate and savour dark chocolate. Gosh Karen, now I'm hungry!

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  33. Well, I don't eat M&M's because Mars tests their chocolate on animals, but that's beside the point:)

    There's room for both, and your list seems good, even though I haven't read any of them. But thanks, I have several titles to put on my t-read list!

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  34. I don't think I can choose. M and M's and dark chocolate both have a place in my life. Some days you want to savour and experience deeper meaning other days you don't want to think and you reach for something light that you can skim and just be entertained.

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  35. I love both, but honestly, lean towards the m-n-m books. =D

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  36. I like both types of books, m-n-ms and chocolate. But I probably read more of the m-n-m type.

    Thanks for the list of books! I've read To Kill A Mockingbird--I agree that it's a really good piece of literature.

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  37. I LOVE your list--but especially TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and MISERY.
    I love both. Sometimes you need a little change-up every once in a while. :)

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  38. Love this post, Karen. It is amazing when literary and page-turning can be combined. A perfect read, imho. :)

    Thanks for the book list, too!

    Amy

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  39. I love to mix up my reading list. I'll read some YA, then a mystery, an historical fiction, a classic....I get bored reading the same thing all the time.

    Isn't variety a spice, after all?

    Unholy Mischief and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn...I got to check those out (the only ones on your list I haven't read).

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  40. Both, definitely both. I read a mixture of all genres.

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