26 May, 2011

Reading the "Classics"

One sure way to improve your writing is to learn from the best. And while we may not be able to agree on who is best, there are plenty of lists of there if you're willing to bend to general consensus.

Pick a list of Top 100 books, and see how many you've read.  I chose the BBC's list since it was the first one Google brought up.  Since I'm writing a traditional mystery, I find myself drawn to that genre more than any other type of fiction, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover how many of the 100 books I have actually read: forty-eight (*)! Conversely, I'm amazed by the number of classics I haven't read. And even more ashamed that I've never even heard of a couple.

*1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2. The Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien
*3. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
*4. Harry Potter series – J. K. Rowling (I’ve read all of them!)
*5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
*6. The Bible (parts, at least)
*7. Wuthering Heights
*8. Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
9. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
*10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
*11. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
*12. Tess of the d'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
*13. Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare (many, but not all)
*15. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
16. The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien
17. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
*18. Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger
19. The Time Traveler's Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
*20. Middlemarch – George Eliot
*21. Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
*22. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
*23. Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
*28. Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
*33. The Chronicles of Narnia – C. S. Lewis
*34. Emma – Jane Austen
*35. Persuasion – Jane Austen
36. The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe – C. S. Lewis
37. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Berniere
39. Memoirs of a Geisha - William Golden
*40. Winnie-the-Pooh – A. A. Milne
*41. Animal Farm – George Orwell
42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
45. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46. Anne of Green Gables – L. M. Montgomery
*47. Far from the Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
*48. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
*49. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50. Atonement - Ian McEwan
*51. Life of Pi - Yann Martell
52. Dune – Frank Herbert
*53. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
*54. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
*57. A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
*58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60. Love in the time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
*61. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
*65. The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66. On the Road - Jack Kerouac
*67. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68. Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
*70. Moby-Dick – Herman Melville
*71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72. Dracula – Bram Stoker
*73. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson
74. Notes from a Small Island - Bill Bryson
*75. Ulysses - James Joyce
76. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77. Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal – Emile Zola
*79. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80. Possession - A. S. Byatt
*81. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82. Cloud Atlas - Charles Mitchell
83. The Colour Purple - Alice Walker
84. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
*85. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
*87. Charlotte's Web - E. B. White
88. The Five People You Meet in Heaven – Mitch Albom
*89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90. The Faraway Tree collection - Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
*92. The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint Exupery
93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
*94. Watership Down - Richard Adams
95. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
*97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
*98. Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99. Charlie & the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
*100. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Now to get started on the other 52!  Maybe I'll start with The Woman in White.
How many have you read?

04 May, 2011


May 4th marks Audrey Hepburn’s birthday.  Obviously Hepburn is famous for her work in films and with Unicef, but in my mind, she will eternally be associated with the LBD – the Little Black Dress.

Hepburn wore iconic LBDs in both Sabrina and Breakfast at Tiffany's. The "little black dress" from Breakfast at Tiffany's, designed by Givenchy, was sold at a Christie's auction on 5 December 2006 for £467,200 (approximately $920,000 at that time).

Every woman needs at least one LBD. Personally, I have one for each season.  It’s an absolute essential in any woman's wardrobe. But that's not really the point.

As a writer, I look at an empty page in my WIP in much the same way as I contemplate my LBD: a blank slate to accessorize, up or down as necessary, for the occasion.  I might add dialog or a red herring to the page, just as I’d add a scarf or a string of pearls.  Then it’s time to stand back, examine the result and judge the effect. Does it work?  

Givenchy gave Hepburn a look, a kind, a silhouette.  Her style was spare.  “What is more beautiful than a simple sheath made an extraordinary way in a special fabric, and just two earrings?" she once asked.
The same might be said for writing style.  Flowery language, excess backstory, awkward transitions – all detract from the simple beauty of a well-written book.   The LBD book comes in all sizes and styles, but it should remain simply, elegant, evocative.