Archive for the ‘reading’ category

Review of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

07/19/2011

by Elena Makansi, BSP Summer Intern

I had the privilege of hearing author Laini Taylor’s editor speak about this book at BEA, during the YA Editor’s Buzz panel. She sold it as an exciting, beautifully written, engaging book with a kick-ass, beautiful heroine. A sort of Angels and Devils tale, set in contemporary Prague. While most of that sounded great, I was a bit turned off by the whole “kick-ass beautiful heroine” part. Of course I love reading about powerful women, and I think it is awesome that young readers, especially young women, can look up to and be empowered by these characters. However, after reading many, many YA novels with kick-ass, beautiful heroines, the idea became a bit annoying. They’re all beautiful, yet perfectly flawed in the luckiest ways—they’re stubborn or arrogant or socially-awkward-but-not-really. They’re the Chosen ones, Marked ones, Unique-in-every-way ones.

Karou from Daughter of Smoke and Bone is indeed beautiful. And she kicks her fair share of ass. She’s sneaky, mysterious, artsy, and dutifully fulfills many of the YA genre’s stock heroine’s characteristics. But this novel surprised me in a wonderful way. Karou’s characterization—indeed the characterization of all of the main players including Akiva, Zuzana, and Brimstone—goes above and beyond stock and wedges a stake right through the reader’s heart. Karou feels as if she’s missing something; she is lost, lonely, confused. The reader cannot help but just feel deeply for Karou. Through graceful and empathetic writing, Taylor takes her readers into the hearts, not just the minds, of her characters.

The premise in a nutshell: angels and devils are at war, and neither deserve to win. The plot, to a seasoned but growing older by the day YA reader, seems at first glance to be trite: an angel falls in love with a devil, but they can’t be together because they’re at war. How many different angel and devil stories have gone wrong? Many. But prepare to be wondrously (pleasantly is an understatement) surprised. This world is incredibly creative, layered with fascinating details and back story.

The seraphim and the chimaera (They’re not actually angels and devils, and they don’t actually live in heaven or hell. Those are mythical words created by naïve humans.)  have familiar attributes and characteristics, such as wings, but their personalities, histories, myths, and magic are so richly imagined as to dance off the page in a flutter of blood-spattered sparkles. And yes, there is blood. This war is brutal to the core. Taylor is unafraid; while I wouldn’t call this book an epic, the story certainly has a wide wingspan. It’s an urban fantasy set mainly in the streets of Prague, but towards the end of the book we get a glimpse into the fantastical Otherworld. The entire otherworldly realm is at war—and has been for thousands of years. In order to save their race, the chimaera and the seraphim must sacrifice…well, a lot of things. You’ll see.

Taylor’s story is gorgeous, exciting, knock-your-socks-off surprising, and so creative and just damn fun (not to mention, funny) that I’d recommend it to fantasy-loving teens, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and grandfathers alike. In fact, if it wasn’t for my mother’s own insistence that I give Karou a chance, I would have wrongfully ignored Daughter of Smoke and Bone. This book’s got magic, Moroccan marketplaces, Parisian subways,  teeth, romance, myth, gorgeous world-building, loss, mystery, wishes, and art. The only problem I have now is waiting for the sequel–especially since Daughter of Smoke and Bone itself will not be released until the end of September.

Who do you write for?

10/03/2010

In today’s New York Times, author Michael Cunningham (The Hours), writes about the writer as translator and about the interactive relationship between the writer, the words written, and the reader. Good writing has rhythm–in the syntax, in the sentences, paragraphs and in the overall pacing of the book. When translating a book from one language to another, a translator must not only try to faithfully translate the meaning of the words, but to capture that rhythm. But, the act of translation goes deeper than that. The very act of writing means that the writer must capture the ideas in his/her head and translate them into words and sentences that both have the rhythm readers want and expect, the rhythm that makes reading a pleasure, but also translate the ideas into meaningful sentences the reader can “get.”

To do this well, Cunningham advises, the writer must not just write for him/herself, but must write for the reader. He says:

This brings us to the question of the relationship between writers and their readers, where another act of translation occurs.

I teach writing, and one of the first questions I ask my students every semester is, who are you writing for? The answer, 9 times out of 10, is that they write for themselves. I tell them that I understand — that I go home every night, make an elaborate cake and eat it all by myself. By which I mean that cakes, and books, are meant to be presented to others. And further, that books (unlike cakes) are deep, elaborate interactions between writers and readers, albeit separated by time and space.

I remind them, as well, that no one wants to read their stories. There are a lot of other stories out there, and by now, in the 21st century, there’s been such an accumulation of literature that few of us will live long enough to read all the great stories and novels, never mind the pretty good ones. Not to mention the fact that we, as readers, are busy.

Writing for yourself can be done in a journal or a diary. It can be brilliant and wonderful, deep and insightful, poetic and rhythmic. But it may not necessarily be something anyone else wants to read. So writers who want to sell their work, who want other readers to read, enjoy, benefit from, and learn something new from their work, must write for someone besides themselves. They must write for the reader.

So, the question is: Who do you write for?

In case you’ve been marooned on a desert island…

08/06/2010

Before you read any further, Blank Slate Press would like to thank Anna, our University of Chicago summer intern, for the work she’s done and the enthusiasm she brought to our new adventure in the future of publishing. We hope you’ll hear more from her in the future. And now, before she leaves us to return to the cold (or at least not desperately hot) north, her book review:

100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

This book review is probably redundant considering the widespread critical acclaim that literary master Gabriel García Márquez is in the habit of receiving. I have decided to write it anyways, though, in the off-chance that someone who has spent the last 50 years on a barren island in the middle of the vast Pacific has recently returned to civilization, the internet, and the Blank Slate Press blog. Such a person would have missed the 1967 publication, and consequent general adulation, of the book that I consider to be among the greatest ever written: Cien años de soledad, or 100 Years of Solitude.

The epic multi-generational story of the Buendía family is not one that I could properly analyze in a short book review, or even in a short book. Márquez weaves a tale that stretches across the lives of a large number of spectacularly unique characters, from the devastatingly beautiful and unsettlingly simple-minded Remedios, to the enigmatic, adopted Rebeca, prone to eating dirt and plaster, to the 17 brothers all named Aureliano and all destined to be gruesomely assassinated. Yet the truly amazing quality about Márquez’s writing is his ability to take this multitude of distinct stories, each filled with its own victories and heartbreaks, and create from them the undeniable feeling of a cohesive whole: a chronicle of love, anger, beauty, and solitude that transcends and defies the very concept of time.

This feeling that Márquez’s writing creates – that of an inexplicable link somehow crafted out of joy, love, suffering, loyalty, and above all, solitude, which unites the different generations of the Buendía family – is perfectly suited for the delicate magical realism which appears throughout the novel. Whether the surreal images that Márquez subtly weaves into his everyday occurrences (like the yellow butterflies that surround young Meme, filling the air around her with a fluttering brightness more thickly the closer she is to her lover) are responsible for the feeling of timeless unity or whether they merely complement it, I cannot say. What I do know, however, is that in 100 Years of Solitude Márquez has created a work whose richness of language is paralleled only by the richness of its characters. As I read about each of the members of the Buendía family, I feel along with them the painful, beautiful, aching love and desolation that marks them as a family “condemned to one hundred years of solitude.” It is an experience, and a novel, unlike any other I have had the privilege to read.

-Anna Tripodi, intern


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