ONE OR MANY STORIES

It’s Friday as I start my response and will likely be Saturday when I publish it in addition to being the Monday of my workweek, yet I have an answer to share for Booking Through Thursday, so here is the question:

Series or Stand-alone?

My ideal preference is for related books based in – to borrow a science fiction term – the same universe yet with each book a self contained story. I like meeting old friends again or peaking behind corners I wasn’t privy to in another book, but I prefer not to need additional reading to complete the story.

I can name several sets of books I love which fit the standard of “companion” books.

Madeleine L’Engle, my favorite author since I first read A Wrinkle in Time, had interconnections in nearly all of her novels. In most editions of her young adult works, you’ll find a family tree linking her characters. When I first saw it in the copies of the Time Quartet, I poured over it. I spent the next several years acquiring each related title and read them all into dog-eared familiarity.

At the other end of my taste in books, Rachel Gibson often writes romances for supporting cast in previous books or slips in a situation where an old friend can make a cameo without making it a series.
She wrote a bunch of stories featuring the fictional Seattle Chinooks Hockey Team in one way or another and books set in a rural Idaho town and a Texas town. The closest she comes to a true series is her quartet of friends each of whom are writers in a different genera and have completely different approaches to romance. Even those are stand-alone stories even though it’s obvious each woman will eventually get a book of her own. Being romance, they can be read out of order because the formula of girl meets boy, conflict keeps them apart, conflict is resolved, happily ever after ensues is a given. All that is revealed in reading out of order is the name attached to the inevitable spouse.

If truly choosing between a series or a stand-alone book without the option of companion books, I would have to go for stand-alone books. I often feel, especially with modern writers, a story is split into “trilogies” or more simply for financial reasons. If it’s not a literary device, I would rather a writer tell me the story in one volume. Even Tolkien wanted Lord of the Rings to be one book, so I do suspect the vast majority of decisions to serialize comes from the publisher rather than the writer.

It is not just my inner cynic, however, preferring one book over many. The list of books which I count not just as favorites, but as life impacting includes so many titles without sequels or companions. Many of them leave little room for addition except in the reader’s imagination. I can’t fathom a book to go with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Girl With Pearl Earring, or The Red Tent. Or A Handmaid’s Tale. Or Nightfall. Or To Live Again. I could go on for days listing titles.

I go back to the original when I want visit with my friends who live in that world. I know them intimately, yet each time I see the book a new way. I believe there is a C.S. Lewis quote regarding the necessity of reading a book more than once to really understand it, but I haven’t been able to find it. Even if he didn’t say it, I do. Certainly, a book well loved is different each time it is read if for no other reason than the personal growth in the reader which occurs between readings.

It seems in my own reading, the more books about a character, the less depth the subsequent readings provides. One book is like a single painting or photograph. A series is like a movie. When you look at a single stationary object of art over a period of time, the meaning comes not from seeing things you haven’t seen before, but from seeing the same things in a different way. Of course, the experience exists in any artistic form, but is seems to me the more brevity in the work, the more room for seeing this way. Short stories or poems work better than novels, I think, and single books better than series.

With all that being said, sometimes a series is necessary to the story or format of the stories. Detective tales lend themselves to series as do closely related police procedural novels – and yes there is a real difference between those two types of books – because each crime faced is a new story no matter who is solving it. I can’t imagine The Chronicles of Narnia being one book instead of seven. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy could have been one book, but it could not have been a single book telling all the stories of the five books in the trilogy.

The bottom line becomes simple: The story itself ought dictate whiter the format is a single book, companion books, or a series.

HOW TO USE, ADAPT, AND DESIGN SEWING PATTERNS

This week’s musing asks… What is the last book that you learned something from? What book was it, and what did it teach you?

 

It is entirely likely friends and readers are sick to death of hearing about my sewing adventures. I sympathize. I can’t wait to be less focused on sewing for a bit, but I trudge on.

The success I’ve had in modifying a pattern and completing a muslin mockup of my dress for our Klingon wedding performance in April is in large part thanks to How to Use, Adapt, and Design Sewing Patterns: From store-bought patterns to drafting your own: a complete guide to fashion sewing with confidence by Lee Hollanhan. The copy Chris got me for Christmas is destined to be dog-eared.

I’ve mentioned it in a couple posts, but I cannot say enough good things about it.

One thing I’ve found in learning crafts in general and sewing specifically is most instructions assume a certain level of familiarity with the basic skills and terminology. This book starts at the beginning of it’s subject matter assuming no knowledge and even includes a section in the back with basic sewing techniques.

Now, I didn’t go into this a total novice, but I being primarily self taught, I would not have known to iron my pattern pieces (who would think you could iron paper?) or how serrated scissors are the best option for silky fabrics. Clear illustrations and color photography show things I’d always thought I’d need an experienced sewer to teach me in person. Like laying out patterns on stripped or patterned fabric. Now, I haven’t tried it yet, but I feel like I could do it referencing the pictures in the book.

Hands down, the most useful part of the book for my needs is the chart with all the body parts to be measured for comparison to the pattern measurements complete with explanation and diagrams. I wouldn’t have known where to start without those seventeen points of reference. Add the section showing how to modify store bought patterns made my project possible. Now, I will say, the part on modifying pattern pieces was only the start of what I ended up having to do. Both the shape of the dress and my body shape differ substantially from the examples, but apply the principles I learned in the book, some common sense and geometry got me where I needed to go.

ON YA FICTION

This weeks question: Why do you think that the Young Adult genre is so popular with even the adult readers? Do you read YA books, yourself?
It is much easier to answer the second question first: I read young adult novels.

I was only 12 or 13 when I started reading books not written for kids and teens. I read a metric ton of books in my teens without regard for anything but interest, one book leading to another as I read through everything I could get my hands on by certain authors.

I did read YA authors like Lois Duncan, Paula Danzig and plenty of others I couldn’t name if you paid me. I read the Chronicles of Narnia. I read Matilda though I was not interested other Dalh. My introduction to Robert Silverberg was a little kid chapter book called Lost Race Of Mars. Boy, was I surprised when I checked To Live Again out of the library at the tender age of twelve. My all-time favorite author, Madeleine L’Engle, is best known for her young adult fiction generally and A Wrinkle in Time specifically. I first read Wrinkle when I was ten, but a few years later I was special ordering memoirs and fiction from the bookstore. Besides classics, science fiction, and classic science fiction, L’Engle was my start into the world of adult novels.

The reason I mention my personal history in transitioning from YA to “regular” books at an early age is that the process has colored my viewpoint. At first, I felt grown up reading and understanding books above my age level. Over time, however, I saw the quality of a book wasn’t related to the age of the intended reader. With this knowledge, I didn’t feel like I shouldn’t read YA though I confess some of the campier fare did begin to bore me.

As an adult, I have no problem reading YA without a lick of shame. Heck, hand me Dr. Suess or Shel Silverstein and I’m happy as a clam. Good writing and storytelling are the same no matter who the intended audience. It’s true with movies and television, too.

It is weird to me to think of YA as a genre, let alone in relation to adults reading it. Everyone has their own reasons. For some, it may simply be reading comprehension level. I don’t mean that as a slam. Reading is the best way to increase reading skills and I’m always pro-reading whatever it is a person likes to read. I enjoy “light” adult books not much more difficult.

A couple of my personal reasons for reading YA could be factors for others.

It appears the most popular YA among adults is of the fantastical sort. Be it Harry Potter or Twilight, adults are reading it. Less popular, but way awesome are the Artemis Fowl books which mix myth and magic with high tech gadgets. It could be argued there’s plenty of this type of fiction written for adults, but I do find the YA fantasy and science fiction authors are more likely to be mainstream.

Another sub-genre of YA I’m especially fond of is “coming of age” tales. From classics like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, I love reading about a young person on the precipitous of maturity. Something about that point in life is so compelling. It was when I was at the age of the characters and it is looking back at them through the lens of adulthood. I don’t know anyone who had such a rosy adolescence they can’t relate. And relating to the characters is one of the biggest reasons I read anything.

I’m interested to see other reader’s answers to the why part of the musing.

JANUARY 19TH, 2012 WORD FOR WORD

I read books word for word with a few exceptions. Reference books, including cookbooks, are a find what I need proposition though I will often at read the entire book once to know what information it contains. In short story collections, I often find myself skipping certain stories especially when rereading. More often than not, I’m read a collection a second or twentieth time for one story that’s been on my mind for some reason.

 

When it comes to books containing a narrative spanning the entire length, be it fiction or non-fiction, I do not skip around or skip over sections. It would break my concentration and take me out of the world the book creates in my brain.

I’m not entirely sure how to do so without missing things. It’s not like watching a DVD where you can see the action at super fast speed and would know when to slow down to regular speed again after whatever you were skipping.

What I feel no guilt about is quitting a book where I’d be tempted to skip parts in simply to “finish” or for curiosity’s sake. Okay, that is a slight lie. I don’t feel bad if it’s a random book with which I’m struggling. If it’s a classic or otherwise important book, I worry I’m the problem, rather than the unreadable book or acknowledging not every book is for every reader. It’s a trap I fall into from time to time because one of the reasons I read, at least that kind of book, is to reassure myself I’m as intellectual as I think I. With the total catalog of Project Gutenburg accessible in portable form, I’m going to have to work on that hang up. Too many books and too little time to read something sucky and the only criteria should be wither I think it sucks.

KINDLE CONVERT

Today’s question:
What devices –if any– do you read books on? Do you find it enjoyable, or still somewhat bothersome? Or: If you only read the print books, why haven’t you chosen to read on any devices?

The shine is still on my Kindle. Chris got it for me for Christmas. I’d decided I’d wanted one a while ago and carefully debated the features of the various Kindle models before picking one for my, conveniently on Amazon, wish list. In the end, I decided my purpose would be best filled with the basic model. See, I have two laptops at my disposal at home. One is essentially used as a desktop in our office. The other lives in the living room, but trails to the dinning room, kitchen or bedroom as I go about my day. I use it to pay music or listen to podcasts pretty much all the time when I’m home alone along with keeping Firefox open for Facebook, Twitter and Google Reader. Now, all that stuff would be awesome on the Kindle Fire, but my needs are filled with the laptop. I’ve got Netflix on the PS3 or Wii. And that’s only the tip of our gadget iceberg.

The Kindle, I wanted for reading. Old fashioned reading of books.

I don’t have a ton of time to sit around with a book. It’s a good in many ways. I’m busy with other things that make me happier than I’d be if I was reading all the time. I’ve downloaded eBooks and attempted to read on the computer. If I’m on the computer, reading, I’m distracted by all kinds of other things. Plus, you can’t lay in bed with a laptop or read in the bathroom (I do it unabashedly). The basic Kindle takes away all those distractions. The things it does do besides displaying eBooks and documents are painfully inconvenient without a keyboard or touch screen. Even doing the initial set up was tedious and I saved most of it (specifically, typing in “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” in the device name field) to do on Amazon from the computer. I would recommend the more advanced versions for anyone who wants to access Twitter or Facebook from their Kindle. I do those things from my Blackberry – sometimes even when I’m a foot away from the laptop – so I didn’t want the feature in my eReader.

It’s been under a month, but I flipping love my Kindle. It’s sleek and lightweight. I can’t begin to describe how comfortable the E Ink is on the eyes. Lack of backlight contributes, no doubt. I found I’m reading faster. My eyes just glide over the words. The font is adjustable. Mine is set on the smallest setting, about the size of print in the average paperback. Pictures and other images are crisp and clean.

Now, I do love physical books. I got two for Christmas. A reference book about sewing I’d asked for: How to Use, Adapt, and Design Sewing Patterns: From store-bought patterns to drafting your own: a complete guide to fashion sewing with confidence and Jeff Dunham’s All By My Selves. With the sewing book or any other how-to or reference books where images and diagrams are important, I suspect I’ll always prefer the physical book. From a functional perspective, I can keep it with my project with bookmarks or lists marking the pages. Even a color eReader wouldn’t fit the bill. Plus, one of the things I like on the Kindle is how it comes to life on the last page I was reading. I’m reading a book on the Kindle, currently sitting on the bathroom counter, and working on a project requiring the reference book. Call be lazy, but I’d rather have those two separate than toggle back and for multiple times per day.

One thing I haven’t done yet is to take the Kindle out with me. I’m still working on is either finding a sleeve or cover I love. More likely, I’ll be making a sleeve. I’m less worried about breaking or dosing with water since I picked up the $24.99 insurance plan. Best investment ever for peace of mind. It’s a beautiful device for the hardcore readers.