Unloved Books

Sorry, I know I just posted here, and I try to avoid flooding people with blog posts, but I just saw something that fascinates me. I’d post about it next week, but I’m going to be away from the Internet for a bit.

Goodread’s Facebook page just asked people to list what one book everyone else likes, that they don’t.

Wow, so many responses! I kept scrolling through more and more comments, and then started seeing a theme.

A lot of the same books were listed over and over. 50 Shades of Gray and Twilight were at the top of the list.

What fascinated me enough to want to blog about this, though, were the reasons. Even though we can never make all people happy, writers want to know why someone likes a book, or doesn’t. That knowledge gives you something to strive to avoid.

A lot of people listed classics like Grapes of Wrath, Moby Dick, etc. The almost-universal reason was ‘it’s boring’. That makes sense to me because the classics were written for a different era and a different generation of readers. Back then, the world we lived in was much smaller. People didn’t travel like now, and the internet wasn’t there to open the world for us. So books tended to have long passages of narrative description to show the reader that world. These days a few sentences of description are all that is needed for most readers to ‘see’ the setting.

Some responders wrote that they hated a book so much they threw it against the wall when they were finished. I kind of want to read those, because for a book to cause such a strong reaction, there must be something there. The reader may hate the book, but obviously a few nerves were touched.

Most responders though, had similar reasons for not liking a book. Boring. Flat characters. Unrealistic plot. Unlikeable characters. Stupid protagonists. No change from the beginning to the end (in other words no character growth). Condescending to children. And just plain bad writing.

Those are all things writers strive to avoid and learn how to improve upon.

So how would you answer that question, and most importantly, why? Show us writers what to avoid.

Stories and Wills

Whether you’re a writer or not, everyone knows the world is full of stories. Everywhere you turn there’s a story. Every conversation you have is a story. Each thing that happens as you walk through your day is a story.

Some take those stories, embellish them, and write a book. Some add a few words and create amazing short stories or poems or songs.

And some stories are found in old high school wills.

Way back in 1978 when I graduated from high school, we were asked to write a will for our senior newspaper. They were to be symbolic of our leaving school and moving into ‘adult’ life.

Mom and Lisa 1978

Senior mother-daughter tea

Recently, I came across that collection. High school was difficult for me in a lot of ways and I didn’t know the majority of the kids. I had my small group of wonderful friends, but outside that group, I spent most of my time off in story world. But I thought it would be fun to read this collection after so many years. I couldn’t remember what I had written. Would it be wise and profound? Would it be something where I would see the seeds of a writer?

As you can imagine, a lot of these were the typical sort, where a guy wills to freshmen his secret spot for smoking pot, or the best route to skip class. But what amazed me was that several were stories. In a sentence or two, I could see the story, hear the writer’s voice, and feel the emotion behind their words.

One girl, who had obviously struggled in her bookkeeping class, willed to her teacher all 3,013 unbalanced worksheets. The story? I know of this woman and she is a finance person for a city.

From a girl to a guy: two musty tolo tickets and a wilted boutonniere. For those who don’t know, a tolo was a dance where the girl asked a guy, something not normally acceptable for ‘ladies’ to do back then. So what’s the story? Was the dance so wonderful she kept the souvenirs? Did he stand her up and not show? Is there anger or bitterness in those words, or humor, or sweet memories?

One guy willed to another guy in the same class better luck next year ‘cuz he will probably be back.

A guy to a girl: enough diamonds to last a lifetime. Sweet, but did those diamonds last a lifetime? Are they still together? Has he realized that she is shallow and has spent all their money on diamonds? Is she furious because he’s bankrupted them over the years, buying diamonds they can’t afford? Do they sit with gray hair, holding hands and seeing that single small diamond on her finger?

One guy willed his coach a lifetime membership in the National Sadist Club. That made me laugh. And probably any kid who has suffered through a physical education class will laugh, too.

One guy willed a girl my bad reputation ‘cause I’m not worth it. Ah! I see a bad boy and a bookworm! I’m convinced they eventually got together and lived happily ever after.

And then there were these. Read and hear the stories.

A smile to anyone who thinks life isn’t worth living.

The borrowed time I’m living on.

To my brother, the sense to come down to earth.

The best of luck coping with the world.

The ability to lose weight and drop a boyfriend.

For a bunch of eighteen-year-olds, some of these are almost profound.

And what about the will I wrote, you ask?

Three cases of yogurt, to one of my best friends.

Yep. No seeds of a future writer there. Nothing profound. And I have absolutely no idea what that was about. I’m going to call her and ask though, because after all these years we’re still best friends, and I’m sure she’ll remember the story.

19th birthday 1979

19th birthday. Loved that dress; hated the hair.

Ode to a Cat, a Dog, and a Mouse

Each morning I stumble to the bathroom followed by both dogs. They collapse on the bath mats and wait. Then they follow me to the bedroom. Then they follow me to the kitchen. I think there are two reasons for what my husband calls ‘the wagon train’.

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Arwen and Vala

One, they are bored out of their little brains and are waiting for something interesting to happen.

Or, two, they are terrified I’ll forget their breakfast and so they hover in order to remind me of their starving presence.

Either way, something interesting happened the other morning.

When the wagon train entered the bathroom, both dogs immediately woke up and zeroed in on the toilet plunger in the corner. There was a…stick poking out behind it.

We live in the woods. Finding sticks in the house isn’t uncommon. But this one moved.

Whether it was a young rat or a fat mouse, I don’t know. I didn’t look that close. I’m going to call the poor thing a mouse.

Some of you remember hearing about the tiny four-week-old kitten my husband rescued from the pouring rain. She’s grown up.

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Rocinante (Roci for short)

She brought in a toy.

I went to the living room where my husband was enjoying his coffee, minus the wagon train, and demanded that his cat come back and finish the job.

When I turned around, our old dog Arwen was coming down the hall, tail up and full of pride, with a…stick poking out of her mouth.

My husband yelled ‘drop it!’ before I could yell ‘take that outside!’.

That poor mouse. It ended up hucked over the neighbor’s fence.

A little later the cat sauntered back in and went straight to the toilet plunger, where she searched fruitlessly. I believe she stashed the mouse there.

But here’s the thing. The bathroom isn’t that far from the back door, which was open. Why didn’t the mouse run outside? It could have. It was in the bathroom by itself for a while.

What kind of threats does a cat tell a mouse to make it freeze where it’s been dropped and wait for death?

‘There are giants in this place. If they see or hear you, they’ll scream and STOMP you.’

‘If you think this is bad, wait until the DOGS see you. Better stay still and quiet.’

‘If you move I’m going to pounce. You may think I’m gone, but I’m not. Hold VERY still and you might live.’

Whatever the threat was, that poor mouse had a rough night. Caught by a cat. Found by humans. Caught by a dog. Sent flying by a human.

I like to think the mouse survived. After all, the neighbor’s yard is full of weeds. It could have had a soft landing. Maybe it just ended up soggy from being in the dog’s mouth. Maybe, right now, he’s telling his friends and family all about the crazy adventures that he survived purely because of his immense bravery and courage and ability to hold VERY still.

Of course they’ll think he’s bragging and not believe a word of it.

Unless they get close enough to an old dog to smell her breath.

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Mouse Breath