Reading journals

Several times over the years I’ve tried to write down thoughts about whatever it is I’ve been reading. That always ends up in a disaster, as at some point I just get very immersed and forget I was supposed to write about what I was reading.

Long time ago one of my teachers gave out an assignment to us to write a reading journal and then an essay about the book using the journal as basis. I read the book alright, but my notes took the entirety of five lines in my notebook and were pretty much useless in my essay.

“This book starts off mighty boring.”

While writing the sentence above it might feel like the most observant thing anyone has said about the literary work described. It’s really of no use, though.

Although the book might be boring as f***, there ought to be something more you can say about it. Off the top of my head at least a ‘why’-question might be necessary. Yeah, that never pops up when I’m actually doing one of these journals.

“Pace picks up at page X.”

So what happens then? Then you actually start getting engrossed in the book. This is usually the point when I stop writing for about 100 or so pages, just because … I’m actually reading the book.

This is usually the point where I totally forgot the point of the entire reading journal thingie. I mean, if you want to get kids to read, just give them an interesting book they’re likely to like and let them read it. If you want to make sure they don’t really enjoy it but also to make sure they’ve got proof they sorta read it, make them write a journal about it.

“I like how Y behaves about themselves.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’d really want to be able to write one of these analytical, witty reading journals that some of my classmates were able to write at 6th grade. I just can’t.

Just analyzing what I read can be a bit of a hassle sometimes. Honestly, more often than sometimes. Fiction is one of those things I just can’t make myself analyze in too much depth. In my weird inner world, works of fiction are made to be enjoyed (or loathed, like the Paul Auster books I had to read for my entrance exams one year while trying to apply into a university) as they are. They aren’t supposed to be thought about too much. Too much analyzing can destroy the image the writer wanted to portray by writing it just so.

Scientific literature is easier that way. What is written is supposed to make sense and stand up to peer review. If you can’t make sense of it, think of it a bit more, read the sentence again. If you still can’t figure it out, maybe it’s not your field or it really doesn’t make sense. Easy.

“I didn’t really understand this book.”

Yet another one of those sentences that really tells everything and nothing. Bit like that so called essay I wrote about that book. I guess I hid really well that my journal was a stub. The essay didn’t betray the fact, and thank goodness the teacher wasn’t interested in the actual journals.

One book I have to admit (to my immense shame) of falling into this category is Tuntematon sotilas (The Unknown Soldier) by Väinö Linna. Sure, I know what it is about, I know the general flow of the story (show me a Finn who doesn’t know the story at least through the movie and I’ll show you a liar) and I know the central characters. But there is this one spot towards the end of the book where I always get confused who was who and did what. I’ve read Tuntematon maybe five or six times over the years (three times for school) and that same spot always confuses me.

As a granddaughter of a war veteran this is especially embarrassing to admit…

So why do I care about them stupid journals?

I wanted to study language and literature in a university once. I gave up on that dream after I had tried and failed the entrance exams four times for two different universities. While I never got to know what exactly I could have done better for three of those, I know exactly why I failed the fourth one.

I told you earlier about the Auster books I loathed. In the exam I was to write an analysis of the books (The New York trilogy I believe it was). As I absolutely hated them, I of course said so in the essay. I believe that combined with my lack of skill in analysis got me to fail (along with the fact I don’t belong in a certain minority of Finland that is somewhat favored in said university). I never really learned to analyze anything during my Finnish classes in high school – I really didn’t (and still don’t, really) see the point and I wrote prettily enough to hide my lack of skill whenever we had a test on the subject.

After my first failed exams I pushed myself to study the subject twice more for the next time. During that studying it dawned to me I have no idea how to analyze literature. Reading has always been to me a thing of pleasure, and now I was supposed to figure out all those whys and hows. Needless to say that wasn’t taught in any book and I failed twice more. After that I gave up and figured university wasn’t a place for me after all. (Or maybe I should have listened to my English teacher, majored in English and gone to Bruxelles to work for the EU as a translator. Oh well, bygones.)

When I was done wallowing in self pity I thought it’d still be a useful skill to know if I really wanted to write a book (being modest is very me, but being modest about writing isn’t). If I wanted to be a successful writer I should know what really made a good book, right? That got me back to that old task of writing a reading journal. Except that I still didn’t know how I was supposed to do that either.

I get those moments of revelation (you know “Ohhh, I see what you did there, you sly fox you!”) from time to time, but if I intentionally try and read a book and understand why this part is in there or why we’re told about this thing Y, I usually just draw a blank and move on. Dwelling on a specific subject is something I’m definitely not good at, at least when I can think of nothing remotely relevant. You may have noticed something of the sort from my random ramblings…?

Anyway, having forgotten and rethought the point of this blog post for a few times now… Have you written reading journals? How’d you do? Teach me how to do it?

No, really, tell me how you do that.

Advertisements

Why I started writing

I’ve always had an active imagination, maybe due exactly to the fact I was read to and read a lot.

Ever since we started doing writing excersises in school, freeform, I’ve written fictional stories. As far as I recall, I never had quite enough time to finish these little stories (4-5 pages in a kid’s handwriting), but I think there was one or two I did finish.

Habitually, these were among the stories the teacher wanted to read aloud for the class, which was an awful experience. I liked to write the stories but I hated the attention. (And read aloud it all sounded like a steaming pile of crap.)

It might have been seventh grade when I started writing my (then) magnum opus, and when we finally had the chance to write a freeform essay later that year I wrote a 12-page short story related to that universe. I liked it and counted it among the finest pieces I’d written so far. The teacher we had then hated it and made some rather rude remarks in front of the whole class.

Needless to say, after that I made sure none of my works got read in public again, and it worked quite well. Then, we had this class where the teacher wanted us to write articles for the local paper (read by 3-4000 people or so)  and she suggested I take part.

Luckily, it was nothing like writing short stories and so a friend of mine and me did a large two-page spread about fantasy. I’ve no longer the paper, which is probably for the best as from what I recall it was teensy and humiliating to read, though at the time we were rather proud of ourselves. We got a pretty diploma for that and that friend went on to study journalism.

All the while my head kept producing all these great (or not-so-great) ideas I just had to put to paper. My magnum opus reached at it’s peak 180 or so pages, all still stashed on my hard-drive and printed out in all its crappy glory. It is really not a prime piece of literature, but it really is what I spent my youth on… and maybe some day I’ll pick it up, edit it (a lot) and see if I could finish it. It has some pretty sound ideas deep under all the preposterous crap, even if it was written by a teenager.

During the years I noticed it’s really easy to start writing a story, but really very very hard to finish one, even when I know exactly how I’d want it to end. I still know how I’d like to finish my magnum opus, and some instinct tells me I could really finish it if I could wade through all that teenage angst put on paper and cut out the unnecessities. And really flesh out my silly characters.

When I finally graduated all them schools one has to go to these days to get employed my writing time dimished. I’ve never after high school written as much as I did during those few years.

It was years ago when my friend showed me a site for fanfiction writers. She was really into it and read a lot (even some stories so shitty I couldn’t get past the first chapter – some are just written bad and some writers have never heard of spell-check or grammar). I read some too, ideas springing to my mind, and couple years ago decided it was finally a time to actually finish something I start.

If only life was ever so easy. I wrote that story for about year and a half, updating pretty regularly. Then, last spring, I got severe pains to my right hand from my work. Turns out heavy manual labor wasn’t really my thing no matter how much I liked it.

The doctors told me the bones in my wrist and palm were in danger of pulverizing; that I had chronic tendonitis; that the tendon that goes from wrist to elbow is split permanently in the middle. The hand surgeon that consulted my case told me she’d ever only seen cases as bad on professional gymnasts. During the six first months after my diagnosis I could write nothing by hand and only a sentence or two with a computer.

Last month I finally got a clear bill of health as far as my bones are concerned. The tendonitis has left me with some trouble moving my hand and fingers – it gives me pain if I try to do certain things or do something for too long. I can no longer carry anything heavy with my right hand without fearing I’ll drop it any moment.

Luckily, the readers of my fic have been very patient with me. (Try and write a story while only being able to do it two sentences at a time and having to erase 500-1000 words every now and then when you realise it’s complete bullshit). Still gonna get there – there’s nothing I hate more than stories I like going forever unfinished. I’m not going to be that person.

When I’m done with my fic I think I’ll start sketching this story I’ve mentioned here previously. My own little space odyssey. It may take me a very long while, but not writing has never been an option. I’m sure you know the feeling.

Reading

I’ve seen a lot of discussion lately about how younger generations read less and less. A few weeks ago a large local newspaper had an opinion text written by a 15-year-old girl about how reading is considered “lame” among her peers and people reading books are geeks or nerds.

That made me quite sad. When I was her age, years ago, I read every chance I got. The man who used to drive a bus and worked at the local library once told my aunt he was sure I’d read half the library. I wish, really. For such a small place, that library was (and is) awesome.

Ever since I learned to read when I was six years old I’ve read a lot. My mother would read me a bedtime story every night until I was competent enough a reader to read myself (and of course, she or my father would read to me otherwise as well, but not every day). After I learned to read all by myself, my mother had to remind me to actually start sleeping and not read the whole night.

I had dozens of children’s books and compilations of fairy tales – which my mother has all kept, waiting for me to have children of my own. Perhaps in time I will fill that collection with books of today (although I can tell you from watching my nephews and niece and their books that those are not so great as the books of my own childhood – rose-tinted glasses?).

I used to correct my dad’s reading (he has a very strong accent and says some words funny because of it), but that never took away from the fact I enjoyed those little moments with my parents; me in my nighties and them reading aloud with me until I went to sleep. I have a very strong recollection of my dad reading me a Nancy Drew -book – that must have been when I was already in school – and me telling him over and over that the word was kid-napping, not whatever it was he said.

That time has left me with an unquenchable love for books; I love to read them, to handle them, to share their words of wisdom. And I cannot deny enjoying buying them – perhaps a bit too much at times (468 and counting).

It is no wonder then, that I worry the kids of today won’t get to enjoy the same experiences I so cherish: the sound of your parent reading, the feel of the pages, the build-up of a good story. I hope, though, that the electronic world of today will not too much distance the younger generations from the enjoyment that is the written word.

And just after my worry was starting to peak (despite the words of encouragement of that 15-year-old who loved to read), the paper had another news story about reading. More and more grown-ups had started to visit one local library to get coaching (or tutoring, the article is not in English and I’m translating on the run) on reading. There is one librarian who speaks with the people interested and suggests them books they might like to read. Both sit down and talk about what the other person liked to read and what not. Then the librarian gives suggestions and when they meet again the tutored tells her whether they liked them or not or whether they left them unfinished and gets more suggestions.

A wonderful idea I wished was used more. I love to recommend books I’ve read (and loaning them out, though I try to cut back on that because getting them back can be a hassle – thanks a lot to the person who stole my Dark Tower books). My husband is yet to pick up a single book I’ve recommended, but then, he has trouble concentrating and my taste for smart reading and long literary experience tend to produce some heavy-to-read suggestions. My parents love their Christmas present books though (crime for dad, romance/drama for mom). Last year I bought my mom the Anthony Doerr book that was just then translated to Finnish – mom loved it, dad hated it (but hey, that was why I gave dad a Jo Nesbø).

I think part of the worry is publishers lobbying for traditional books. Much of writing and publishing has transferred over to the internet (and books are even shared illegally as torrent files!). I bet it’s quite hard to try and keep the book market afloat with so much free written material of all kinds that can be found online. And quite a percent of it is actually pretty good (or in some cases better than many actual books I’ve read)!

It might not be then, that popularity of reading is on the decline, it might just be the popularity of the traditional media. I of course see that as a bit problematic, because I love the smell and feel of an actual book. It is not the end of the world, though.

Do you like to read? What is your favorite book? Do you feel the popularity of books and/or reading is declining (and why)? Please, do tell.

 

So, what’s this about?

Basically, this is my blog to map my journey as a writer.

Specifically, about a very special journey that has been growing in my head for over two years. A journey of the human race into the stars.

Also, a record of my personal journey as a writer, started more than a decade ago.

So how did we end up in this here blog?

A while ago, a friend of mine started a blog about writing (in Finnish: Kirjoittajantie). That got me thinking: how and why did I start writing, all those years ago? Why is it that I’m 28 and still unpublished – unfinished – now?

Unpublished is a bit of a strong word if you count publishing in the internet – and writing fanfiction. I have been writing something, you see, a fanfic story of one of my favorite universes ever: Lord of the Rings. I have been writing this particular story for about two years now, and while I’m not entirely happy with it, it is the only piece of writing thus far I’ve finished. To-the-end -finished. 31 chapters (the last one as of this writing still a bit unfinished), over two years, over 92k words, plenty of blood sweat and tears. (The Maid Servant *hint, hint*)

So, what is this special journey into space I talked about earlier?

I’ve been envisioning a sci-fi world of my own since I read George R.R. Martin’s Dreamsongs -compilations a few years back. Something as huge and varied – a place where everything is possible. Now obviously, it should be nothing too similar, something all my own, but at least as awesome – right?

Well, thus far, in my mind, it has been strictly in the far far future. Today it occurred to me; woman, you should write a story about how they got there – how human race escaped this blue-green ball that will eventually die.

So, to sum it up: this is the blog that will follow that journey, where ever it may lead me.