Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Book Report: Preconceived Notions

I got significant writing done yesterday, and then just as I finished my writing session for the night, I realized that what I'd just written was all wrong. Well, not so much wrong as incomplete. In planning what happens next, I found myself "planning" what I'd just written, filling in holes that needed to be dealt with before I could go on to "next." This is the kind of thing I usually end up doing on the second or third draft, so I hope it means I'm breaking my pattern of writing a draft that then needs to be entirely rewritten. The fun irony is that this is happening in a book that I planned to write as a fast first draft before rewriting completely. By the time I'm done with the "first" draft, it will have already been rewritten, piece by piece. I suspect that in the long run it will be faster than writing a quick draft and then spending months rewriting. It just feels slow for now.

Meanwhile, I'm on a mission to read my way through the Nebula Award finalists so I can make a more informed vote. I doubt I'll get through all of them, since I just have a couple of weeks before the deadline and there are a lot of books. But I figure that reading the ones I can get my hands on will broaden my reading horizons. It's good to every so often let someone else dictate your reading choices. I started with two young adult books that are up for the award whose name I can't remember but that is apparently not technically a Nebula (I'm thinking it's named after Andre Norton, but I'm too lazy to look that up at the moment). They were the books my neighborhood library had that I didn't have to put on hold.

First was Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. I hung out some with Paolo at MileHi Con last fall but hadn't read any of his work. This book falls into the current trend of dystopian young adult books, depicting a near future where society has either fallen apart or has become some kind of cruel and horrible culture. Or, as I've been known to call them, the "AAAAAHH! We're all going to die from global warming!" books. I will admit that I don't quite understand the popularity of this trend because I find these books oppressive and depressing, and there were a couple of times when I almost put this book down because it was just too bleak for me to take. But I couldn't because I cared enough about the main character that I just had to see what would happen to him and what he would do, and, ultimately, it was a good adventure story. I used to enjoy reading books about people stranded in the Outback, and stuff like that, and I even enjoy Dickens, which depicts a pretty dystopian society, so I mentally moved it into that category and then I really enjoyed it (I'm not sure why it bothers me more to see this kind of world depicted as an inevitable future, but it does). In a future when global warming has dramatically altered the earth (it's hard to tell how much because the viewpoint character's perspective is very limited), a lot of people on the coast live in severe poverty, scavenging what they can from the giant beached oil tankers that are now obsolete. Nailer is one of these scavengers, a teenage boy who's still small enough to fit into narrow passageways on these wrecks to pull out copper and other valuable metals. After a storm, he comes across a wrecked clipper ship with more wealth than he can imagine -- and with a lone survivor, a teenage girl. He has to decide whether to risk everything to try to get her back home (where he might get the chance at a new life) or to kill her and take the scavenge that will make him wealthy. This is a real page-turner that puts the characters through some truly harrowing adventures, and in spite of the bleak setting, there is a thread of hope. It was really fun to see how the main character's horizons are broadened and how he learns to define "family."

Then I read White Cat by Holly Black. I first heard about this book when I went to see Sarah Rees Brennan on her book tour, since I figured that when someone has come from Ireland, I can go across town, and Holly was touring with her. I ended up hanging out with them for a while. I thought this book sounded intriguing, but I was somewhat leery of the "bad boy" factor. I would describe this book as a sort of less-glitzy White Collar from a teen perspective and involving magic. It takes place in an alternate present where magic exists, but it's illegal. That means a lot of people with magical powers are criminals and use magic to commit crimes. They tend to work for the large organized crime families. Our Hero is the youngest son in a family of magical grifters -- and the only one without magic. He's finally got a chance at a somewhat normal life now that his mother's in prison and he's going to a boarding school away from his brothers. But then he starts having strange dreams and sleepwalking, and it's almost like someone is trying to send him a message through his dreams, letting him know that his memories of the worst thing to ever happen to him may not be accurate. This was another page-turner. I read it in just a couple of days and couldn't put it down (I should get more work done today, now that I've finished it). My worries about the bad boy factor turned out to be totally misplaced. The book is told from the boy's point of view, so there's no swooning over how dark and dangerous he is. He makes no excuses for himself. He's very matter-of-fact about what he is. He's a born (and made) con artist, but we mostly see him using his skills for a somewhat good purpose, he does have a personal moral code, and although he is something of a criminal, he's the "good" one in the family, which I suppose makes him a rebel of sorts, but he's also the good guy. Yes, I even found myself liking this guy, though not in a "he's so dreamy!" way, since he's young enough to be my son. I'm not even sure I would have crushed on him if I were a teen, but I still find him a very compelling and intriguing hero.

So, these two books go to show that preconceived notions about what you'll like or not like can be very misleading. You could miss something you'd enjoy if you reject it because it contains an element you don't usually find appealing. That doesn't mean I'm going to be revisiting vampire books or that I'll go out searching for more dystopian future books or bad boy hero books. But when I consider books, I need to look beyond my knee-jerk turnoffs.

However, I think I need to read something fun and light now. I can't deal with too much darkness and danger.

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