Archive | July, 2016

How do you Beta read?

12 Jul

A fellow writer from my monthly group asked me to read a piece of his recently. Having more time from school, I obliged and asked for the Word document version so I could use tracked changes and comments to give my feedback. He told me he didn’t have MS Office and my brain exploded a bit.

This is the second time some has asked me to read for them and given me a PDF or OTF file. Maybe I’m old-fashioned but I’ve only ever used Word to Beta read for someone. I could manage Google Drive fine as well because of the similar features. I can leave comments right where I want them, not at the end saying, “In the second paragraph of the third page…” I can make quick comments on grammar and I can leave a tirade on why I don’t like a sentence that hides easily when you don’t want to see it anymore. The only other way I can do this is on paper. But, with modern technology, that’s not always the easiest.

Maybe I’m set in my ways. Maybe I need to update myself to other file formats or maybe I’m too detail oriented for a Beta reader. I give overall comments and detailed comments. I know 90% of a first draft gets re-written, but I’m going to make sure the remaining 10% has no split infinitives!

How do you Beta read for a friend? What kind of feedback do you look for from your Beta reader? I’d love to hear what others are doing and how I can help my cowriters more.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Review: Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett (4/5)

11 Jul

Again, I forget how this book graced my list. I’ve got to stop this because it’s been a bad trend of reading a book I really enjoy and not having someone to thank for the recommendation after I’ve read it. If you’re out there, thank you, referrer, for gracing me with this beautiful book.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

Truth & Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett

Summary from Goodreads:

What happens when the person who is your family is someone you aren’t bound to by blood? What happens when the person you promise to love and to honor for the rest of your life is not your lover, but your best friend? In Truth & Beauty, her frank and startlingly intimate first work of nonfiction, Ann Patchett shines a fresh, revealing light on the world of women’s friendships and shows us what it means to stand together.

Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy met in college in 1981, and, after enrolling in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, began a friendship that would be as defining to both of their lives as their work was. In her critically acclaimed and hugely successful memoir,Autobiography of a Face, Lucy Grealy wrote about losing part of her jaw to childhood cancer, the years of chemotherapy and radiation, and then the endless reconstructive surgeries. In Truth & Beauty, the story isn’t Lucy’s life or Ann’s life, but the parts of their lives they shared. This is a portrait of unwavering commitment that spans twenty years, from the long, cold winters of the Midwest, to surgical wards, to book parties in New York. Through love, fame, drugs, and despair, this book shows us what it means to be part of two lives that are intertwined.

I’ve never read another of Patchett’s books and I’d never heard of Lucy Grealy before starting this book. Now I feel tempted to add both to my growing TBR. Patchett had a great narrative voice for a memoir like this one. She was lyrical enough to write beautiful prose but not so much to make it feel ungrounded. I was amazed by Ann’s unending love for a friend that pushed her to such extremes. I’ve had tough relationships with friends before, but none that have pushed me as much as Lucy pushed Ann. I marveled at her patience and love.

Lucy Grealy Image via Goodreads

Lucy Grealy
Image via Goodreads

Patchett made Lucy jump off the page. I didn’t look up a picture of Lucy until I was writing this review and she looks pretty similar to what I imagined. To be honest, I thought her jaw would look much more notable than it does in this picture (I’m not sure what stage of surgical reconstruction this comes during). Yes, it’s noticeable, but not something that would stop me on the street. I can see how the resulting problems of being unable to eat or completely close her mouth would result from this and I sympathized for Lucy for the majority of the book. I felt sorry for her when her behavior was self-abusive, but for a long time, she seemed redeemable. It seemed like things could work out for her and she could be OK. But when the drugs started, it was hard to sympathize with her and I could tell Ann felt the same way.

I hope Ann didn’t make herself too different in this book because I really liked her. She was caring and smart and seemed to make logical decisions so I could see myself being like her. I wanted to be like her. She was hard-working and really believed she could be a writer and make a living doing that. Or maybe she seemed so level-headed next to Lucy. Who knows but I still liked her.

I have a good friend in an MFA program and the things she’s told me about the journey seemed very similar to the time Lucy and Ann spent in Iowa. There’s grading and being a TA and writing and workshopping and success and failures and cold. It seems MFA programs are never anywhere warm, always in the Midwest or New England. The residencies they were always competing for seemed really fun and like a writer’s dream. I wish it didn’t’ seem an MFA was the key to getting in.

Ann Patchett Image via the Chicago Tribune

Ann Patchett
Image via the Chicago Tribune

I liked their time in Iowa and that immediately after, when they were both struggling to write and be heard. It reminded me of being right out of college, living in a small dingy apartment and wondering what to do next. I think many people go through that part of their life and choose not to look back on it, but Patchett addressed it perfectly as a painful but necessary step to get to where you are.

Hearing about Lucy’s drug addiction was really hard for me. She seemed to have so much going for her and I couldn’t understand why she would do those things to herself. Nothing was ever enough for her and she pushed so much to change her situation but couldn’t control it. I didn’t see how drugs made her feel more in control. I felt bad for her at her at first, but it didn’t seem like she had any desire to change her situation.

Patchett narrated the audiobook herself and I thought that was a lovely touch. She didn’t get overly emotional, but it was clear that she had a deep love for Lucy and she made their nicknames for each other seem effortless and fun. I think another reader could have done it well, but Patchett did it best.

I question now how far I would go for a friend and how far a friend would go for me. Is it different from what I would do for a relative or my husband? Why? Why does blood matter when someone is so important to us? I loved what Patchett had to say about friendships, they are more powerful than family sometimes and that’s something I need reminding of from time to time.

Writer’s Takeaway: Patchett had a great way of making a narrative poetic. Some authors are too flowery for my tastes, but Patchett did it well. She would tie in metaphors and some imagery when I wasn’t expecting it but never too much to take me out of the story. I enjoyed that and I think it made the story stronger.

An enjoyable memoir, to be sure, that says a lot about the value of friendships. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts: 
Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett | Taking it to the Streets
My Ann Patchett project: Truth and Beauty | AlenasLife
Sullen Grealy, sister of author Lucy Grealy, is Hijacked by Grief | Books on the Brain
Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty: A Mixed Bag | Lily Iona Mackenzie

Book Club Reflection: Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

7 Jul

As has so often happened with my book club selections, what I liked, everyone else was iffy on or didn’t like. This was one of my favorite books of the year so far and a lot of people felt it fell flat. Sigh.

The majority of us had seen the movie as well as read the book and most of us agreed that the two were pretty similar. It was a nice touch for me after so many movies I’ve seen have strayed so far from their book origins. We had an interesting question from the reader guide that said we should compare the book to the TV show I Love Lucy because the two were set in the same era. It seemed an odd comparison when Lucy was trying to make us laugh and show the funny side of life while Brooklyn was a reality that wasn’t fun at all. The only thing we could really pull from the exercise was how well Ricky Ricardo was received by a television audience that was rejecting Italians and Irish in stores. It seems that Cubans were better accepted than many European settlers.

There is a lot to say about the author. Colm Toibin was born in Enniscorthy, Ireland and set part of the novel there for that reason. This was his sixth novel and he’s written another book, Nora Webster, which employs some of the same characters but is set in Ireland. Many people were surprised that a male author wrote with a very feminine vision, a surprise I expressed in my review. Toibin is heavily influenced by Hemingway and I could easily see that in his sentences and rhythm. There was a lot unsaid that the reader had to infer. Some readers didn’t like that and wanted some more from Eilis. I’m a big Hemingway fan and it was right up my ally. Toibin writes most of his books in an uncomfortable chair with a pen and paper, transferring his words to a word processor later on. Brooklyn, however, was his first book not written longhand, which he composed during a residency at Stanford.

This story resonated with many because while it’s the story of one girl, the things Eilis went through mirror what many immigrants go through. A woman in our group shared her immigration story and said Eilis’s desire to find a purpose in Brooklyn and belong there was something she went through as well. Members of our group who had moved around the country on their own felt the same way. Eilis was a reluctant immigrant, sent to America against her will almost. Rose seems to have sent her away knowing that she herself was ill and didn’t want Eilis stuck at home taking care of their mother but living. The path she followed was set for her, work, school, and later on, Jim. She was very passive in the book and only stood up for herself when Mrs. Kelly forced her hand and she decided to leave Ireland.

We contemplated if Eilis would have stayed and married Jim if she hadn’t been found out. Jim didn’t look her way at all before she went to America, giving her the cold shoulder. She was only interesting when she had a story. She says that she didn’t think Jim could accept her if he ever found out and we think that was true. The relationship she had with Tony was hard for us to understand. Eilis felt, to some, very flat and we wondered why he was so attracted to her. He seemed to like Irish girls but doesn’t really say what it is about them. She seemed attracted to him because he felt safe. She didn’t feel she fit in America but Tony made her belong and she loved him for that. We were bothered that once he was out of the picture, she didn’t even read his letters. We couldn’t decide if it was because it would make her miss him too much or because he was easy to forget.

The edition our library handed out had an excerpt from Nora Webster in the back that brought up a good question. We felt that Mrs. Lacey was proud of Eilis for being successful in America when she returned, but when Eilis left, she was both angry and sad. We wondered how their relationship would be after. The quotes from Nora Webster talk about May Lacey being unable to look at pictures of her daughter and her American husband, much the same way Eilis couldn’t read Tony’s letters. It’s too painful and forces up a lot of repressed memories.

Our next book is another historical fiction, this time from the early 1800s. I’m liking this trend! Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 6-July-2016

6 Jul

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


Stewart_DB_USA_POB_03_28_13.inddCurrently reading: I used my new eReader and got through a chapter or two of In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. It helps that I’m struggling with my current book a lot and needed something to break the monotony so I gave this title a little more attention than I would have otherwise. I’m about 1/3 of the way done with it.
Though there’s more of a plot of In the Hand of Dante by Nick Tosches, there are still annoyingly long chapters about a religious theory that I hope will tie into the plot, but I’m not sure how. I’m getting tired of it and I really do not like this book. I’ll push through to the end because the modern plot line is interesting, but expect a low rating of this one!
My newest audiobook is The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart. Steward did a virtual talk at my library over a year ago and I’ve been looking for a way to read her book since then. The ebook was a pain because the pages were PDFs and they didn’t come out well on my phone, so audiobook it is!

TruthBeautyRecently finished: I finished Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett over the weekend and really loved it. My review will be up next week but I have to say I’m not tempted to read some other Patchett novels and Lucy Grealy’s books because I feel like I’d have a deeper insight to all of them having read this book. I recommend this one to anyone who loves a good memoir.

No reviews this week because I’ve only finished this one book and took Monday ‘off’ from blogging to celebrate the 4th of July. Stay tuned for next week!

WingsReading Next: The plan is still The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. I should be picking it up soon and it will be a welcome read after I finish Tosches. I hope it’s like being held by my mom after a bad swim meet. Fingers crossed.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Challenge Update, June 2016

5 Jul

Unsurprising, May was a slow month for me. I was in the midst of an intensive class and there wasn’t anything that could push me through reading faster. Even a good book took me some time. You can look at my progress at any time on my challenge page.

Books finished in June:

The Unlikely Disciple // Kevin Roose
27 Days to Midnight // Kristine Kruppa
The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street // Susan Jane Gilman

The best part of all of this is that all of the above were 5 Star reads! I had a great month of books even if it was slower than I would have liked.

When Are You Reading? Challenge

9/12
This is my challenge to read a book from 13 different time periods. You can read about it here. Unfortunately, I have no change to report here. None of my current reads will help, either. I do know that my next book will fill in the 1800s and I can always find a dystopian to fill in the future so I’ve really just got the 1600s to worry about. It’s time to start looking at my Philippa Gregory collection to see what I can fill in.

Goodreads Challenge

23/45
I’m now only one book ahead. I’m getting a bit nervous here. I thought after finishing the long books last month I would speed ahead, but I’ve slowed down. I’m hoping I can reverse this trend soon and speed back up, but we’ll see. I’m keeping my fingers crossed now.

Book of the Month

IceCreamWith all 5 Star reads, this is harder than usual, but I think there’s a clear winner in my head. I absolutely loved The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street. It was fun, the narrator made me laugh, and I wanted it to never end. The use of voice in this book should be envied, it was incredible. I really recommend it.

Added to my TBR

Read three, added two. It’s not going down fast, but it’s going down. It helps that the ones I’m reading now were all on the list so I haven’t had any add/reads to stalemate it.

  • Slade House by David Mitchell. This will be a book club selection, likely in October/November to line up with Halloween and creepy reads.
  • Stiff by Mary Roach. Another book club pick that we’ll read in the fall. Man, if it weren’t for book clubs, I’d have such a short reading list! It keeps me distracted from my TBR and it also ends up adding to it when I find new authors that I like.

How are your challenges going? I hope you’re killing it. If you love historical fiction, give some thought to my challenge, it’s fun!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!