Monday, May 30, 2011

Review of The Art of Fiction, by Ayn Rand

The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and ReadersThe Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers by Ayn Rand

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I believe this may be the most insightful book about writing that I have ever read. Ayn Rand is not about to accept any of the common cop-out explanations for writing: "Well, it just turned out that way." "I felt like doing it like that." "It seemed right." She declares that everything you write is because of some premise you hold in your head, whether you realize it or not, and that the key to good writing is to learn how to identify and shape those premises as you wish.

Her understanding of plot is more distinct and complete than that of any other writer I've heard explain the issue. For Rand, plot is all about definite purpose. This extends even to her descriptions, where every sentence is evaluated for how well it advances the (sometimes many) purposes of its paragraph. Rand draws a distinction between Romantic writing and Naturalistic writing. Romantic writing, she says, examines the underlying motives of human decisions, while Naturalistic writing claims to set down things 'as they are' but makes no value judgments. I found this insight helpful, as it explains why some books called classics are engaging and memorable, while others seem to wander without a point.

Some may find Rand's philosophy hard to get past. She certainly isn't shy about communicating it to you. Some may also find Rand's self-aggrandizing to be a distraction. (As she openly says early in the book, she believed herself to be the best writer of her time.) However, in my opinion, the clear advice she offers is too valuable to pass by. The fundamentals of good fiction are all here in this slender volume.

Note: Because of my own self-censoring, I skipped most of Chapter Eight, which dealt with love scenes. Readers who wish to guard their hearts from such things (and those under 15) will probably want to do the same.

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

And at last, something that is NOT a book review!

You know how I write my posts?  I generally start out with either an excuse or a disclaimer.  Or both.  (Example: I'm sorry I haven't posted in a while, but I've been really busy.  This isn't going to be the most interesting blog post, so forgive me again while I ramble on...)  If I'm smart, after I've finished the post, I delete the disclaimer, and that action alone makes the post 50% better.

The last time I posted something that wasn't a book review (or a random video about pendulums) was in February. 

Since then, I transformed into a medieval villainess and terrorized an entire band of hobbits (with a few elves thrown in on the side).  I've also run around in circles barefoot, won prizes for constructing towers of plastic cups, started a vicious water-fight, met friends from far-off lands, changed churches, and watched Singing in the Rain

I've also rediscovered how to write bad freeverse that sounds generally sappy and forlorn.  So I guess you could say I'm back to languishing in the shadow of 'poetic,' because I'm not yet up to chasing down the Poetic and confronting it face-to-face. 

I'm not quite done with my schoolwork yet.  I am keeping my fingers crossed in hopes that I'll have it all done by next Saturday when I take the SAT.  And after that is over.... FREEDOM!

Freedom means:
  • A for-real return to writing things longer than 1,000 words, with characters I actually made up out of my own head.  
  • Reading!  Books and books and books and books and books!  
  • Learning to cook.
  • Learning to drive.  (Oh dear.)
  • Doing other things that I can't think of at the moment.
  • Oh yeah, exercising.  In fun ways, though, not in boring ways.  (Like running on the treadmill.  The less I have to do that, the better.  It's so much more fun to run when you can be distracted: "Oh look, TREES!  And MORE trees!  Was that a butterfly?  Happy day, sun is shining, birds are singing, the clouds look cool, la la-la la-la...)  
  • ...and last on the list because it is most important to whoever is reading this (er, kinda), I will be blogging more.  
TA-DA!  *strikes a ta-da pose*

And now, gentle reader, lest I fall to the temptation to put a disclaimer at the end of this post, I shall now leave you to your blissful whatever-you-were-doing. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Review of Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

Brave New WorldBrave New World by Aldous Huxley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was, in my opinion, a worthwhile read. I found the society Huxley constructed to be quite fascinating (and ominous, as it should be), and I didn't feel like the book had any 'slow patches.' However, those who read this book for pleasure should be forewarned about a few things:

1. It's strictly rated PG-13.

2. The end is sad and depressing - which is necessary the fully demonstrate the evils of the society. Just be prepared for it, and you'll enjoy the book more.

3. There are several faults in the structure of the book, the main one being that it begins with two main characters and ends tying up the story of a third main character, leaving the first two with mostly-unresolved character arcs (in my opinion). For this reason, I would advise that you don't get too attached to any of the characters you meet. Or you can get attached to them, but know that it does not end well.

4. The beauty in this book is the thought it inspires (and demands). If you don't plan to take even a little time to consider the issues, this book is a waste of your time.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Pendulum Waves Video

Basically, I did steal this from Nathan Bransford.  But how could I not?

Whoever came up with this ought to get a medal. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Review of The Godless Constitution, by Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore

The Godless Constitution: The Case Against Religious CorrectnessThe Godless Constitution: The Case Against Religious Correctness by Isaac Kramnick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a Christian homeschooler (using Sonlight curriculum, if you want to know), I was originally put-off by the title of this book. Indeed, the first chapter seemed at times to veer into an anti-Christian rant. However, as the book progressed and I began to see the authors' point of view, I realized that they did have some very valid points. Two that I thought were most valuable were these:

1. If we ask the government to adopt religious slogans, we are asking it to overstep its bounds. If allow the government to make decisions on religious matters, we open the floodgates to all other kinds of infringements on our rights.

2. Christians (and other religious people) should not appeal to the government to fix society's problems. If we see a moral failing in our nation, it does not mean that the government has fallen down on its job: it means that the church has failed in its responsibility.

For these reasons, I do recommend this book to anyone who wonders what the right relationship should be between religion and politics. It does not hold all the answers, but to the thoughtful reader who is willing to consider and discuss the ideas it contains, it is another piece of the puzzle.

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