Category Archives: Books and Reading

Tre sekunder and my writing class

I have just finished reading the fifth book about Ewert Grens; Tre sekunder (or Three Seconds, as it’s called in its English translation), written by the two Swedish crime novelists Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström.

Now, what to say about it? The story is scary. But the whole novel is slooooow up until a certain point where the adrenaline just explodes and it gets intense for 100 pages or so.  Just to slow down again. I’ve read the four books prior to this one and I’ve enjoyed them all. The books all have different themes (trafficking, incest, death penalty, people living underground and now drugs and police informants) and as a reader I truly believe the research the authors have done. Even though many events seem unlikely and foreign, I believe Roslund&Hellström when they tell me they base their books on real people and real events.

But reading this fifth book of theirs wasn’t as enjoyable as reading the others. I hated the language in which they let sentences run on and on and on with commas instead of breaking them up with punctuation marks and capital letter. I found strange passages where people didn’t behave in a logical manner. One example is when a man opens an envelope and takes out five different objects. He places them in a row in front of him. He takes the first three objects and looks at them properly. Then makes a phone call. And waits for an answer. Then, and not earlier, he glances at the fourth object. He takes it up, realizes what it is and goes to check if it functions. This means leaving his office for a bit. Then, and not earlier, he looks at the fifth object and states what it is. He checks to see what information he can get from it. Now, this is not what people do. If one gets an envelope with five objects in it, one takes them out and states what they are before making phone calls and leaving your office to check one object’s functionality. Right?

And the whole book is written in third person but in two or three places the perspective changes and the characters starts to think of themselves as “I” in a way I find disturbing.

So, where the other four books like this when it comes to language and writing technicalities? I don’t know. I know I didn’t curse my way through the pages (as I partly did with Tre sekunder). But I haven’t taken them out from the bookselves to check. It could be that the other books are more properly written, but honestly I think it’s a result of me having another mindset. I read texts in another way now. I’ve always been a grammar police, but with my classes in Creative Writing, I’ve also started to pay more attention to perspective, to plots, to descriptions of people and the settings, and other foundation stones of fictional work.

Reading has become a different experience to me now. And I hope it means that I’m learning new things. Or at least that I’m bringing old knowledge back into the light.

I wonder how taking a photography class focused on visual communication will change the way I look at pictures?

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Random Friday nr2

1)
I have a meeting out of town on Monday afternoon and it’s been decided that I’ll go there using public transportation. I wasn’t sure if bus or train would be the best choice as I’d have to walk the last leg of the journey (or get a cab, which I didn’t even consider until way later…). I called the company I’ll visit and asked the receptionist if she had any suggestions for me.

Within two minutes we had made arrangements for her, or the company’s janitor, to come pick me up at the train station and drive me to my meeting. I was flabbergasted. I’ve never met that kind of customer service from a Swedish company before.

2)
My boyfriend and I will go to the movies and a dinner tonight. I’m cashing  in my Christmas gift from last year. We’re going to see Oceans (the longer non-US and Canadian version) and I’m really looking forward to it.

3)
I’ve applied to my third Creative Writing-class, starting in January next year. I’m not sure I’ll take it though even if I get accepted (as I should be with the university credits I already have). I’m enjoying this second class way more than the first one as I find our assignments to be more challenging and focused, but I’ve felt behind all semester. I’ve handed in one of my assignments knowing I’d have to rework it to change a fail to pass as I didn’t have the time to make it proper to begin with. I’ve added sort of lame posts in our discussion forum as I haven’t read the material enough to discuss it in depth.

That’s one reason to not start the class if I get accepted. The third class will probably mean more reading and even more challenging assignments.

But, there’s also another reason. I’ve also applied to a photography class on visual communication. It’s offered as distant ed from the University of Jönköping. It’d be sooo fun to be challenged to use my camera in different ways as well as get to know more about pictures and images in general.

First round of acceptance letters will be sent out in a couple of weeks. I’ll let you know how it goes!

4)
I finished reading a funny book the other day; Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann by Jonas Jonasson. (I don’t think it’s translated into English but the title means The hundred-year-old who climbed out the window and disappeared.) I laughed several times while reading this Swedish version of a Forrest Gump-story.

I can recommend it if you want to have fun!

4 Things Meme

My knitting friend Anna over at garndrömmar.se set me up for a challenge as she wanted me to answer a meme about different things of four. Here goes:

4 TV-shows I watch
Grey’s Anatomy, The Event, the Swedish quiz show Vem vet mest? (Who knows the most?) and the sports news.

4 things I’ve done today (Or yesterday as I’m writing this the evening before I post it)
I cheated to and from work today as I used the car instead of walking or biking. I had chicken wok for  lunch. I worked on the fourth assignment for my writing class but didn’t finish it. I made a swatch for a pair of Snowbird Mittens.

4 things I’m looking forward to or longing for
Warmer temperatures and longer days (and November just began…). Having friends over for lunch this weekend. The knitting marathon that Fröken Garn houses in two weeks time. Finding the courage to battle quilting my big quilt.

4 things on my wish list
A week in a silent retreat. A dinner with Douglas Coupland so I can pick his brain for a bit. Enough vacation days and money to take me (and my boyfriend) abroad so I (we) can see family and friends. Getting tattooed by Stina at Eyescreamtattoo in Ystad.

4 things I hate/loathe/detest
Feeling inadequate. People using my ideas or my work without giving me credit. When I start crying from anger or frustration instead of being able to scream at whatever made me angry or frustrated. And of course; war and violence.

4 people I challenge with this meme
I’ll leave it open for anyone to grab…

Audiobooks vs “real books”

In the last 6 weeks, I have listened to 6 audiobooks through my iPod. I’ve listened to them while walking, sitting down with a knitting project in hand, baking a cake, tidying up around the house, vacuuming, scrubbing the shower with a toothbrush, having lunch out on the porch, sitting on a bus, biking and lying in bed.

I wouldn’t have been able to read proper books at the same time as doing all of the above. And I think that’s the major plus for me when it comes to audiobooks vs “real books”. I actually go through books whithout having to make them a priority over some of those tasks that really need to be done.

As long as I can remember, I’ve been one of those people who check the ending of books before getting there. Holding a book in hand, I always get the urge to check the last sentence after having read only a couple of chapters. Sometimes it totally destroys the book as that last sentence reveals too much, but I can’t help myself. With audiobooks though… It takes so much more of an effort to get to the last sentence that I have enough time to tell myself to quit it. To not bother. And I have to say that stories often get better if I can still be intrigued by the end.

Yesterday I finished the latest book I’ve listened to (Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane) and I realized I reacted so much more to suspense when I heard it rather than read it. The suspension at the end of the book got to me more than it would’ve if I’d read it. I couldn’t fast forward the voice the same way I push through text when using my eyes. Every syllable was there.

My boyfriend asked me yesterday, as I was loading my next audiobook into the computer, if I had given up on reading paper books altogether. No, I haven’t. But I have to say that I like the freedom that audiobooks give me.

I do wonder though, if my iPod will destroy some of the magic around books and reading…

Magic Hour – learning good writing

Two days ago I finished listening to a book called Magic Hour (but I did it in Swedish and here it’s called En flicka som kallas Alice) by Kristin Hannah. I hadn’t heard of the author before and had no expectations for the novel. I thought it sounded interesting as it involved a psychiatrist and a “wild child”, thought to have been raised by wolves.

What I got was a novel with cliché characters (psychiatrist-focused-on-her-career-with-a-broken-heart, flirty-doctor-with-a-secret-past-that-makes-him-doubt-love, man-who-loves-his-best-friend-from-childhood-and-now-wants-her-to-know-about-it, policewoman-who-loves-her-best-friend-from-childhood-but-doesn’t-know-it, smalltown-journalist-doing-whatever-it-takes-to-get-a-story and so on), inconsistencies and stupidity (a starved girl who hasn’t had anything but plants and grass to eat for a while is repeatedly fed waffles with whipped cream, hamburgers and french fries without any physical reaction and the girl who doesn’t know words knows that someone has told her about the “big bad world out there”, the girl’s biological father shows up and claims her after not having seen her in three years and then ends up giving her back to the psychiatrist the same night as he can’t handle his daughter) and a story as predictable as December coming after November.

The psychiatrist and the handsome doctor did end up together. The police woman realized she loved her best friend and they ended up together. The girl got better and got to stay with the psychiatrist. The psychiatrist and the police woman, who are sisters, patched up their relationship and realized that they loved each other.  And everyone lived happily ever after.

Sure, it wasn’t all bad. I was interested in finding out what had happened to the girl (and when the end came I couldn’t tie it all together but I don’t know if it’s just me or if it was a bit unclear) and curious about her recovery and what would happen to her. There just wasn’t enough of that to compensate for the clichés and the predictability of the story.

And while I was out there walking or biking with the book in my iPod, I thought about the difficulties of staying away from clichés and mainstream stories without getting accused of being “out there” and writing about things and characters that readers can’t connect with. And how readers sometimes get disappointed if you don’t stick to the stereotypes and decide to shake things up a bit by letting your characters do the unexpected. And about how this book wasn’t in the least daring.

Magic Hour didn’t gain anything from the two stupid love stories in it. Absolutely nothing. So, why choose to include them? Why not be brave enough to skip them and focus the story on the relationship between the girl and the psychiatrist? And maybe the sister conflict (even though we’ve read that one before as well)?

Lately, I’ve realized that I learn as much about good writing from reading poor books as I do from reading the great ones…

iPod Nano and motivation

I’m usually late to the party when it comes to technical gadgets. Most of the time they don’t interest me. Could be my lack of understanding as to how these things function or my fear of “getting too wrapped up” (one of the reasons for me not doing Twitter or having an account over at Facebook) or something else I won’t admit to myself, but the fact is I’m not a gadget nerd. (I don’t even own a cell phone…)

Last week I climed a step on the gadget nerd-ladder!  I got myself an iPod Nano. And I love it.

It’s turned me onto audiobooks, and in ten days I’ve gone through 2½ books as I’ve biked to and from work, been out walking at night or sitting on the couch with a knitting project in hand. I’ve listened to a Peter Robinson-novel called Cold is the Grave (Kall som graven in Swedish), a Swedish novel called Supernova by Marika King and now I’m moving through Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down (Fallhöjd in Swedish).

I can’t say I’ve explored much of my iPod yet, but I’m getting there. I can listen to audiofiles, I can film with it and I know how to turn on the pedometer function.

The thing that gets me all worked up about it though, is the way it has motivated me to get out on those walks even as the rain has poured (and how it makes every single walk longer than intended as I keep taking another turn to hear a bit more instead of going home straight) and how it kicks my creativity to life as I process the words I hear. From this week’s walks I have four ideas for short stories to write, a rough plan on how to turn one of our bedrooms into a cosy guestroom and also an idea for a project combining my writing and my photography. And I don’t think I have missed a word from the readings of the books…

Who knows? At Christmas time I might have a head (and notebook) full of creative ideas and be in great shape after hours of walking (and maybe even jogging!). And all because of an iPod Nano.

New books

As of Monday, I have new books on my shelves. My second class in Creative Writing (or “kreativt skrivande” as it’s called in Swedish) starts in a couple of weeks and I wanted to make sure I had all the needed literature before that.

The class requires us to read:

  • Att skriva – En hantverkares memoarer (On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft) by Stephen King (a book I already had)
  • Att skriva börjar här, version 2.0 by Maria Küchen
  • Skriv på! En romanförfattares syn på skönlitteratur och författarskap (Write Away! One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life) by Elizabeth George
  • Creative Writing by Colin Bulman

For the fun of it, I also threw in three Swedish fiction novels and Amy Butler’s latest book on bags: Amy Butler’s Style Stitches: 12 Easy Ways to 26 Wonderful Bags. I have already fallen in love in two of the bag designs and see myself making these during fall. I love making bags!

(And while we’re at the subject of books – I have created a page on my blog here on which I’ll log the books I read. Not too much to report right now as I started this weekend, but please take a look!)