Tag Archives: Books

High Infatuation

Since our trip to Bishop in February/March, my friend Jen has been encouraging me to read some of Steph Davis’ books on climbing and mountaineering. So when an unexpected Amazon package showed up around my birthday and Steph Davis’ book High Infatuation was inside, I knew exactly who it was from.

High Infatuation is a different kind of book. In some ways, it feels almost like a collection of poems, except it’s not really poetry. It’s a collection of her thoughts on life, mixed in with some detailed accounts of defining trips and ascents in her career as a climber, a mixture of basic biography and personal diary. But it makes for great reading.

Davis is a professional climber who got a late start at it, never having climbed before her freshman year in college. But once she tried it, she was hooked. Davis has largely taken a fearless approach to climbing. If she has a knowledgeable partner she trusts, she’ll try just about anything, learning as she goes along.

Her snapshot glimpses into the adventurous dirtbag life certainly ignite if not wanderlust, an intense desire to get out and climb. Davis talks about working part-time jobs to afford to keep climbing, and to take trips to places including Patagonia, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Baffin Island, although after a few cursory mentions of waitressing to earn money for her bills, she doesn’t really mention it again, which makes me wonder how she could afford to climb year-round later on. I guess maybe sponsorship money, although she doesn’t talk about sponsors at all.

High Infatuation feels like a very personal read. As I went through it, several times I got the feeling that, as Davis was writing, she must have also been using it as a way to make sense of things and reflect on herself and her life, where she is and where she’s come from. Getting to read that makes her story very real, even if the book does leave you needing to do a little more research on her professional career (assuming you haven’t already followed it).

I love reading these kinds of books, but every time I do, it makes me want to push my computer away (and push the book away too) and get out there and live it for myself. Instead of reading or writing about other people’s adventures, I want to be out there myself. And with Yosemite not that far away from me… maybe I need to develop some new friendships…

The Return

When I saw that Buzz Aldrin had written (or co-written, at least John Barnes authored the book also) a sci-fi book, I couldn’t pass it up.

The Return was written and set in the 2000s. It follows the lives of four people who are inextricably linked. Kids together, Scott, Nick, Thalia and Eddie called themselves the Mars Four and dreamed of going there after growing up in the ’60s. In their adult lives, each one has been individually working toward commercial space travel.

When a routine mission goes fatally wrong, it’s just the beginning of a chain of events that make it seem like someone wants to keep the everyday folks out of space. A bomb set off in the upper atmosphere, putting the crew of the International Space Station in deadly danger, and now only the Mars Four and their individual expertise can save the crew.

The Return is all adventure and action, with a dash of nostalgia. And as it’s written by someone who’s been there, it actually does not read like sci-fi, but more like a fiction book. This isn’t Star Trek or Star Wars, this book reads like something that could happen today, with no magic high-tech gadgets required.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and not just because I love just about anything associated with space. It was fun, the characters felt real and relatable. It had action and intrigue. It was about everything you’d want in a book. Plus, when they did talk about science, it was explained clearly, no fancy jargon and complicated terms, just plain English.

The Return is, however, one of those books that just might turn you into a believer again. Surely the technology is out there, both for commercial space travel and, eventually, for Mars. Some people already firmly believe in that future and are working toward it. After reading this book, you might find a bit of that passion has rubbed off on you too. And even if you’re not signing up for a Mars mission, you might find that you hope we have enough people around who will.

The Lake House

After finally reading The Girl on the Train and enjoying it’s narrative twists and unreliable narrative, as one reviewer called it, I decided I’d keep with the thriller theme and read Kate Morton’s The Lake House.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t know a lot about the book going in, my mother-in-law had given me her copy after she read it, and while I’m familiar with Kate Morton, I wasn’t really familiar with her work going in (I work at a bookstore, I’m familiar with a /lot/ of authors without knowing anything about them or their books).

It was everything I could have possibly dreamed of, having read the synopsis. Detective Constable Sadie Sparrow is on a leave of absence from her job after getting too emotionally involved in a case of a mother abandoning her child. She takes her “holiday” in Cornwall, visiting the grandfather who raised her. While there, Sadie stumbles onto an old, abandoned house and quickly gets knee deep in the mystery surrounding it.

In 1933 the Edevane family was hosting their annual midsummer party when their young son goes missing, without a trace. Police search the area, but find nothing, and no note is ever discovered. Both surviving sisters carry the wright of guilt, convinced they are the reason their brother was taken. And while they both have moved on and accepted that there are no answers to be had, when Sadie comes along, Alice Edevane, a famous mystery writer, doesn’t take much convincing to unofficially reopen the investigation, and the trail leads them toward conclusions no one expected.

A theme in both The Girl on the Train and in The Lake House is how easily conclusions can be drawn based on partial information, and how easy they are to believe. This technique, the unreliable narrative, is really effective in keeping readers guessing, because as you see things from the view of different characters, you realize each theory makes some sense, and you forget to compare them and look for holes. After all, you’re just reading to enjoy it (although, I like trying to figure out the ending before it’s made completely obvious). In this story, I didn’t guess the ending. I allowed myself to just ride along with the how, though I did notice some inconsistencies in character’s ideas that made me certain their theories were wrong. I’ll proudly admit though, I did guess the ultimate who, so the ending wasn’t completely surprising to me.

Morton also uses various characters to give the background of the story, and to show the events. Sometimes, in stories like these, using various viewpoints can be confusing and, frankly, boring. But Morton doesn’t give the same scene multiple times, instead using different characters to show different moments relevant to them.

Overall, it was a well written book with several storylines woven together to make a complete picture and giving characters depth. It was a fun, fast read, and one I’d recommend to fans of thrillers. While it’s a little more upbeat than is usually my cup of tea, it’s a nice change from everyone dying in the end, or morally ambiguous endings.

Kate Morton is definitely going on the list of authors I’d like to read more of.

Planning to edit versus editing proper

I lost some steam the last week or two, and I didn’t even touch my computer for editing. But this week (OK, so like three days), I’ve pushed myself to get back to it. This story isn’t going to edit itself.

My story, when I left it, was filled with notes on what to do in certain spots and things to fix, and how to fix them, and just all sorts of would-be scribbles, if I were doing this by hand on paper. What I’ve noticed as I’ve started reading through the story yet again, is how many of those notes took as much effort to write as it would have required to just make the change and move on. I have to confess, I’ve allowed myself to get caught up in planning the edits and, consequently, allowed myself to neglect the actual editing process.

But the actual process can be hard. When you write something, or at least when I do, I get attached to it. And when it’s something that I’m revising, or an idea I’m moving somewhere else, I’m not convinced I won’t need that first attempt anymore. It’s hard to erase, to delete words that you spent time on. There’s the sneaking suspicion that once you delete them, you’re suddenly going to need them again, but you won’t be able to remember them. So then the challenge becomes allowing myself the freedom to recreate things. If I erase something that is bad, then can’t remember the idea I was going to use, did the idea belong there in the first place?

This whole process right now is for me to learn how to edit my own work. I have no deadlines, no demands for when it needs to be done. I have the luxury of taking all the time in the world to work my way through. And if I have to stop a time or two to think hard about where my story should go, that’s OK. Better now than when I’ve published or self-published it and there’s no going back, right?

So I’ve got some big pieces to edit, the ones I mentioned in my last post, the new plot ideas to weave in. The goal I’m setting for myself is to hurry up and wrap up the little things, and choose one big piece to work on. Because then I’ll have something good to write about next week, instead of something boring like how I changed a passive sentence into an active one. It’s important, but most of you don’t really care.

So as I’m wrapping up this week, I’m prepping my editing for next week. As I go through, I’m making notes of places where I need to work in something about the student’s civil disobediences, or key places to start implanting the people who claim to be his family, and the questions surrounding his mental health. That way, when I get to strapping in for the big editing, I’ve made it a little easier for myself. Maybe then I’ll make a dent in the proper editing.

John Glenn: A Memoir

I’ll admit, I was interested in this book, not because I knew who John Glenn was, but because I’d looked it up for a customer at work and saw that it was a biography on an astronaut. Sometimes I think that if I could go back, knowing what I know about myself now, I probably would have pursued a career in science, and maybe even my dreams of being an astronaut. But, on to the book review.

The book is an autobiography that explores John Glenn’s life from childhood during the Great Depression, to his joining the military and becoming a fighter pilot during World War II, all the way through his two trips to space–the last when he was 77 years old (maybe it’s not too late for me!).

Glenn writes in a very plain way, unassuming. You get the feeling he is just telling his story, not trying to brag about anything he’s done or reap glory for being an American icon and hero. It feels very much like sitting down and listening to your grandfather regale you with stories from his life. Sometimes you can almost here the laugh that goes along with a funny anecdote.

Glenn’s biography is encouraging and inspiring too, a representation of chasing dreams and making a difference through hard and dedicated work. Not to mention just cool to see how much history this guy lived through.

Overall, it was a fun and pretty fast read, considering it’s more than 500 pages. If you like history, science, airplanes or politics, it’s the read for you.

The final days

I’m less than 1,000 words away from winning NaNoWriMo this year (writing 50,000 words).

I have two days left, not counting today (and I don’t because I have to leave for work in an hour).

And I still have to wrap up this chapter and wrap up the whole story.

Where I am at almost feels like a climax of its own, but it’s actually the story winding down. Whether it will be a series or just one of the ambiguously cyclical stories that annoy some people and refresh others, I haven’t really decided. That will be something to consider later on, after I’ve finished the story and read through it again. At that point, I’ll be able to see if there is enough new ideas to pursue a series. Or, perhaps, I’ll be dissatisfied, and I’ll write another chapter or an epilogue or something. But all of that will be December’s problem. (Ok, probably a problem for some time later on in life, I never seem to get around to earnestly editing any of my projects.)

When I hit 40,000 words, I felt like I was running out of steam. As I looked at my outline for the last two chapters, I was wondering how on earth I was going to write them at 5,000 words each (even though just last week I was bragging about how they were such dense chapters). When it came down to it, I thought I was going to come up short.

But this gave me a great opportunity to add in some “extra” content that showed different strengths of different characters, and I think will really make the last chapter of the story make sense. I was able to add in a little bit of the snapshot of life kind of scenes that make the character real, show time passing, and give just a short break from the hustle and bustle of the main storyline.

So now here I am, just a little over 49,000 words, and I’ve still got the entire final chapter to write. If I’m honest, I’ll probably put that off until December (I’ve got a book calling my name, and I need to finish it so I can blog about it on Friday!).

But I’ve learned a lot about my writing process since I’ve tried out some new things this year, the biggest being that even if I plan and give myself structure, I still have creative license and freedom. While in general my story is the same as when I started out, several characters turned out to be very different than I had expected. And by letting myself plan as I go, I was able to adjust the key events in later chapters to reflect the new strengths and weaknesses that I discovered in my characters.

And finally, I was able to simply enjoy the writing instead of stressing over what is supposed to come next or how to pass time before moving on to the scene that is supposed to happen next month. So, I’ve committed myself now to being a semi-planner. I know where I’m going, but I can take side roads to get there.

Onward now to those final words.

NaNo week 2

I’m almost halfway through NaNoWriMo at this point, both in time and in word count (goal is 50k words, at least).

I’ve been writing almost everyday, and getting myself a little bit ahead so that when I have those days (Thursdays) when I just don’t have time to write, I’m not getting behind.

I don’t even remember what I wrote about last week, but I’m sure this post will be almost identical.

Having a basic chapter-by-chapter outline is really helping. Of course there are still days when I stare at blank pages wondering what to write, but usually it’s an issue of getting started. I don’t get stuck in the middle of things so much anymore, which is great. It also frees up brain power to start thinking about life scenes to sprinkle through the chapters, instead of trying to figure out how to move my story on from point A to point B.

And thus, my ability to write those life scenes, little snapshots of everyday life for my character, is improved. Not necessarily that my writing is wonderful, but that I can think of such scenes that don’t feel utterly out of place. They don’t feel like Anime filler episodes.

I’ve now got my story outlined all the way, and I’ve found that what I thought would happen in the beginning, the characters I thought would play prominent roles, have changed quite a bit. The prince, who was supposed to help Theda get revenge, has turned out to be rather cowardly. But he’s ended up marrying a strong, confident woman who will help Theda.

And at least one person who was supposed to be dead has escaped with his life and will be making an appearance very soon. And he will play a significant role that I didn’t even know needed filled.

So, I’ve almost found a sort of middle ground between planning and winging it. It’s been really great to start with a plan, to have a road map and a general idea of where I’m going. But as the creativity flows and I get a little more into my story, I still have the freedom and flexibility to adjust as new ideas pop into my head, and I can allow my characters to follow their individual natures, instead of trying to find some dramatic reason for them to become someone entirely new (and unbelievable).

So here’s to week three. If I can make it to 30k or 35k, I think I’ll be solidly set to finish, or at least hit the word goal for the month (I can always write an ending in December). According to the website, and my current average words per day, I’m set to hit 50k words on November 28, which would give me two whole days to actually finish my novel during the month of November, not just hit the minimum word count.