I finished four books this week. That makes it sound like a big reading week, but two of the books were tiny and I was well into the other two at the start of the week. I will present them in the order in which I enjoyed them because they hit the great, the middling, and the awful. The best was Ikkyu: Crow With No Mouth, which is a poetry collection by an irreverent 15th century Zen monk. Given that this is a collection of Japanese short form poetry, you may have guessed that it’s one of the short books (as opposed to one that was half read.) [Full disclosure: some will find a few of the poems vulgar, and it’s probably not a collection you want your kids reading until they are of suitable age for graphic sexual description.] Among my favorite verses are:
you can’t make cherry blossoms by tearing off petals
to plant only spring does that
it’s logical: if you’re not going anywhere
any road is the right one
I live in a shack on the edge of whorehouse row
me autumn a single candle
the edges of the sword are life and death
no one knows which is which
(Yes, I’m on a bit of a haiku kick lately. With my RCYT training in progress, I haven’t had a lot of time for more extensive reading or writing lately.) Unlike the previous book, this book on Haiku isn’t a poetry collection–though it does assemble a lot of great haiku, tanka, renga, and haibun as examples. However, this book is–as its subtitle suggests–about writing, sharing, and teaching haiku and related poetic forms. The book teaches one that five-seven-five syllable organization isn’t an essential element haiku, but rather it should be considered the most readily abandoned and superficial aspect of this form. However, beyond teaching one what one really needs to know to construct haiku, the book offers a lesson plan for teaching haiku to school children and tells us how this Japanese poetry form went global.
Elements of Fiction Writing: Conflict & Suspense is my second read by Bell on writing. The first one was on plotting and structure. That first book must have been useful enough to get me to read a second. This book is divided in two parts, the first one on conflict and the second on suspense. (The first is much longer.) In both cases, the chapters examine how the various elements of fiction (i.e. setting, plot, character, dialogue, etc.) can contribute to creating the much-needed characteristics of conflict and suspense. Bell uses a lot of example text to illustrate his points (mostly–but not exclusively–from commercial fiction), and this is a valuable feature of his guides.
This book was a stinker, and I can’t recommend it for anyone–though its saving grace is that it’s slim and thus only wastes a tiny bit of one’s time. What the author apparently did was to watch a Star Wars movie marathon and pull every Yoda line out and collect them together. This is a sad effort in two ways. First, while Yoda isn’t a lead in the movies (and, therefore, has a limited number of lines), there’s a vast canon of Star Wars books, and it doesn’t look like the author trolled any of them for quotes. Second, some of the lines are neither witty nor wise. Occasionally, Yoda has a line equivalent to, “take a left at the second light,” and the author includes such banal quotes. Furthermore, some of the quotes appear a second time in either reduced or extended form. Beyond all these complaints, the author doesn’t even take the time to put together meaningful front matter to tell the reader something interesting that they don’t already know, and thus doesn’t establish his worth in producing such a book. (Also, he doesn’t seem to know accepted protocol for writing quotes inside quotes–i.e. use of single quotes. Which I guess means he probably didn’t just cut and paste all the quotes because then they would have been grammatically correct.) He also could have at least provided told us which movie each quote was from. It’s a lazy effort. It succeeds spectacularly in being lazy. If you’ve seen the movies (or have basic cable so that you can readily do so by way of one of the frequent Star Wars marathons) you’ll gain nothing from this book.
I bought three books during this week, but one of them was the aforementioned Yoda crapfest. On the other hand, one of these books I have high hopes for being both fascinated and educated by, and that’s Wired for Story. This book is about how our brains are evolutionarily optimized to the narrative form, and how one can use this fact to one’s advantage as a constructor of stories.
The second book was a poetry collection that is on sale on Amazon entitled Love Alone. I must admit that I picked this book to meet one of my remaining requirements in the 2015 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge–nevertheless I have high hopes for this work.