Thursday, August 10, 2006

My 31 day challenge: can you help?

I am going to take a 31 day challenge; but I need your help (don't worry it's not money, just your life experience I need...that and sexy, sexy photos). The 31 day challenge is where I push myself to try and complete something, usually something complete absurd in 31 days. I think I once read something about Confucius advising that a musical instrument could be learned by spending 16 hours for 16 days. I thought, “what if I just half one and double the other?”

When I was going to college and working in a bookshop I took the challenge of reading 100 books in 31 days (everyone who worked there got to pick 10). I failed, but ended up reading 80+ books that I wouldn’t have otherwise. When I wanted to learn the double bass, I practiced 4 hours a day for 31 days and got the basics down pat and when I wrote Zed I wrote the entire first draft in 31 days.

Right now, I am stuck on with my revision of my novel Control Group. I know what needs to be done; a complete rewrite of all characters, cutting some chapters entirely and rewriting everything else. So I have decided to give myself a 31 day challenge. To immerse myself entirely in the work, hours and hours every day until I either am found huddled on the floor, drooling and muttering “so many split infinitives” or I succeed (or make so much progress that the rest is merely clean up).

This is where I need your help. Spending hours and hours on editing and rewriting, I have found that because I am in the same mental state, the work becomes slightly stale. I used the same descriptive words. Someone is “placidly ironic” on page 42, 44 and 46. When you spend so much time in the same head space in such a short period of time, it tends to capture a single linguistic picture. To counter this I try to read a book every day, particularly authors who have such dominating world views that they tend to take over your mind. Reading books like these are an enforced kick-in-the-head to my creative and linguistic centers and keeps the language and imagery from getting stale.

If anyone can help me out by suggesting books I would be in your debt. It doesn’t matter about the author, subject or genre (though fiction is preferred) as long as the author has a distinctive and unique world view. Examples from last rewrite are the depression writer, David Goodis, who wrote Don’t shoot the Piano Player or Peter Hoeg’s Borderlines or Smilla’s Sense of Snow. Memoirs are good too, as when I was rewriting Zed I read a lot of memoirs from the Vietnam war. Sorry the stuff about the need for sexy, sexy photos was a lie (well, any other month, just not this month - too distracting!).

I have four days to fit my study with time locks, get my paper, pens, stocks of root beer, pretzels and books to read before I begin my functional insanity (spending that much time with so many imaginary people in your head, talking to them, interviewing them, finding out their likes and dislikes, it makes me a bit...odd). So please, any help or book suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


LJM said...

I've got two selections for you - but I haven't read either so I make no promises. Just thought they might stimulate your imagination:

The Brief History of the Dead - a novel by Kevin Brockmeier. This is a Victorian mystery.

Water for Elephants - Sara Green. This is a novel about a guy who works for the circus about 80 years ago.

elizabeth said...

Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
(twice this week I've told someone to read this)

You won't regret it.

Wiccachicky said...

Well, here are some that I recently read and enjoyed...but not sure if it's your thing:

Prep - by Curtis Sittenfeld (an awesome story of adolescence in a private prep school...dark and funny at the same time).

A Single Shard - Linda Sue Park (a young adult book about a Korean boy who attaches himself to a master potter...beautiful imagery and you learn a lot about pottery making).

Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris (hands down the funniest book I've read in a long, long time).

I could give you some academic type books too if you want, but these are the fiction I've been able to get through this least so far.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Thanks - If you want to put academic stuff that's good too - particularly if it related to Eugenics, group control, experimental psychology, group psychological, behavioral psychology (no biological psychology please!), or anything involved history medical experiments or memoirs of people conducting medical experiments or those who make money by being a medical test subject.

Wendryn said...

Ooh! I can help with books!

Elizabeth Moon - Remnant Population
James Alan Gardner - Expendables
(not sure if these two fit, but they definitely have distinctive voices)

Not fiction, but written by a psychologist and providing interesting perspectives:
Oliver Sacks - The Man who mistook his Wife for a Hat
Oliver Sacks - Seeing voices

Spradley and McCurdy - Conformity and Conflict - this is a cultural anthropology text, but it is filled with short, interesting pieces.

Mark Haddon - the curious incident of the dog in the night-time - if you ever deal with people with autism, this one rings very true.

Spider Robinson - Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (if you don't like puns, don't try this one)

Ursula K. LeGuin - pretty much any of her older works, but the Birthday of the World is a collection of short stories that might help

Alice Walker - the Temple of my Familiar

Orson Scott Card's books on the women of Genesis (yes, I know all about Card, but I still like some of his books...)

Zenna Henderson - The Anything Box or any of her People series

John Gardner - Grendel (told from the monster's point of view - not awesome, but an interesting take on an old story)

That's all I can come up with at the moment. Good luck!

Doctor Slack said...

I'm sure you'll have read some of these already, but here's a random mix of favourites and/or pleasant recent encounters:

1. Londonstani by Gautam Malkani.
2. Blindness by Jose Saramago.
3. apostrophe by Darren Wershler-Henry and Bill Kennedy.
4. Bloodsports by Eden Robinson.
5. White Teeth by Zadie Smith.
6. Copper Woman and Other Poems by Afua Cooper.
7. Tear Down by Ali Riley...
8. ...and/or Wayward by Ali Riley.
9. The Dog Fighter by Marc Bojanowski.
10. The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro.
11. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway.
12. The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad.
13. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.
14. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zorah Neale Hurston.
15. Another Country by James Baldwin.
16. Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown.
17. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.
18. Translated Accounts by James Kelman.
19. Instruments of Darkness by Nancy Huston.
20. These Festive Nights by Marie-Claire Blais...
21. ...and (but not or) Thunder and Light by Marie-Claire Blais.
22. Testament by Nino Ricci.
23. J'Accuse by Aharon Shabtai.
24. Without an Alphabet, Without a Face by Saadi Youssef.
25. My Life by Lyn Hejinian.
26. Free Enterprise by Michelle Cliff.
27. Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje.
28. Land to Light On by Dionne Brand.
29. She by Claire Harris.
30. Texaco by Patrick Chamoiseau.
31. Hard Core Logo by Michael Turner.

* Bonus selection: From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun. Contrarian intellectual and cultural history -- fascinating, but be prepared to argue with him for the full 800 pages. Maybe not the best choice for a 31-day challenge...

Karen said...

Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel

....a really great read! (and it goes with your psychology thing)

Yoga Korunta said...

You may enjoy (Cry For My Revolution, Iran) by my former econ prof, Manoucher Parvin.

The Watcher said...

The Vampire Tapestry by Suzy McKenn Charnas

Death comes not as the thunder of hooves but as a whisper from a lover.

Sweet dreams...

Elizabeth McClung said...

Wendryn: we have eeriely similar book experience - did you know that Elizabeth Moon wrote a BETTER book on Austism called The Speed of Dark for her son, I believe.

Oddly the only book I don't already own is Zenna Henderson - that book is out of print but have located another of hers and will give it a try.

I am reserved on conformity and conflict as I did study cultural anthropology and now pretty much limit myself entirely to urban sub-groups while it seems to push the concepts of global influence - but I might go back and check out the roots again.

Since we have similar tastes - any chance you want to produce another list for me - since what I haven't read/own I will probably like?

Doctor Slack: There are fewer of your titles I have read, or at least that particular book - I have read James Balwin but not "Another Country" though it sounds very focused, Eden Robinson or Ali Riley as a local canadian press will take me a while to get.

I was disturbed you put "white teeth" but then I was a bookshop owner in the UK when it came out so my reaction is a bit more "ug" - it is a bit like my reaction to Tratt's Secret History - very compelling/very transparent.

I notice you like Canadian fiction, which has traditionally made me feel like I was in a cultural straitjacket as well as deeply depressed but will try Marie-Claire Blais on your recommendation.

I will also try "From Dawn to Decadance" - I hope it will be as stimulating as Boorstin's The Creators. Thanks for the recommendations. (I don't argue with books, I just say somewhere about page 30: "I disagree with your premise" then check a few places to see if they have changed their premise and move on)

Karen: Read it, I'm afraid, do you have any other ones - oh wait, that somehow reminded me to pick up a copy of "Wisconson Death Trip" - okay, sorted - any other recommendations?

Yoga: that one isn't readily accessable where I am (as in I am not prepared to pay $30+ for a paperback) - is there another recommendation?

Angelique: I've place an order for it (see, $1 is more my financial speed!).

Kind of reminded me of when I went through my "fairy tale" retellings phase and read some really, really dark stuff like Jim Wilson's Coachman's Rat and Jane Yolen's Briar Rose or some other prosatan worshipping german teen books (an appretice school where kids go off and have a lark with black magic and killing people before they graduate as human sacrifices - oh those old school days!)

funchilde said...

two recent faves are:
A memory of running and
The Vintner's Luck I also lurve Donna Tartt's "Secret History"
good luck this is kind of cool. i get to watch without being in the path of the oncoming (31 day) train! sexy photos...see my blog for my new apron and orange t-shirt.

Wendryn said...

OK, I'll try another batch.

I've been on a David Brin kick lately - reading everything of his I can get my hands on. Most recently was Kiln People. The Uplift series has been good, too.

I've also been reading a lot of John Ringo, especially the Hymn Before Battle series and the one that, I think, starts with There Will Be Dragons.

Robert J. Sawyer, especially the Hominids series.

The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross - picked this up out of curiousity and it turned out to be a lot of fun.

Pretty much anything by William Gibson.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

Pretty much anything by Pratchett - his style takes a little getting used to, but I really enjoy them.

Neil Gaiman's American Gods - I'm just getting started on Gaiman.

Maya Angelou's books, starting with I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

The Stardancer series - Spider & Jeanne Robinson

The Ship Who Sang, Anne McCaffrey (I don't like the later ones as much, but I still really like the first one)

Tanya Huff's series about Henry Fitzroy, starting with Blood Price

Suzette Haden Elgin's Native Tongue series - very absorbing; you might want to start with these.

I didn't know about The Speed of Dark - I'll pick it up. Looks interesting. I've done a lot of work with people with autism in the past and it was fascinating and frustrating and hard, and I find myself still pulled by it, of that makes sense.

I just finished Celebrations of Death, the anthropology of mortuary ritual, by Richard Huntington and Peter Metcalf, which was interesting but probably not what you are looking for. I've been getting into anthropology and archaeology books lately to add to my normal scifi/fantasy/murder mystery fare.

Are there any of these you haven't read?

Doctor Slack said...

You know, I never did get around to The Secret History, so I'm not sure what stylistic traits it might share with Smith's work. The hype machine around both authors was pretty ugly, of course, but for my money WT was a good enough book to rise above it (not so much with On Beauty, though). To each their own, though!

I do know what you mean about CanLit & to be honest, I usually stay away from the normal run of it for much the same reasons. There is the occasional standout, though, and Blais was definitely one for me. Something about Zed made me think you might enjoy the Robinson as well (which as a minor point of interest is set in "lovely" East Van).

Happy reading!

Doctor Slack said...

Something about Zed made me think you might enjoy the Robinson as well

Oh, it's an M&S book incidentally, so should have better distribution than some of the obscure poetry I listed. :)

Heather said...

Here's another stack of suggestions: all novels, all underread, and all with distinctive protagonists.

Lynda Barry: Cruddy
David Adams Richard': Road to the Stilt House
Joel Hynes: Down to Dirt
Alicia Erian: Towelhead
George Elliot Clarke: George and Rue
Ali Smith: Hotel World
Clare Morrall: Astonishing Splashes of Colour
Marilynne Rbinson Gilead

And then there's always novels by Sylvia Townsend Warner, Rose Macaulay, Beryl Bainbridge, or Nadine Gordimer.

Sober @ Sundown said...

I cannot suggest any books to add to this list, but I will say that everyone's suggestions are simply awesome. I can't imagine reading a book a day, or 100 in 31 days. I use to read a lot of scientific information until I became old, and the eyes started to go. Now, I am lucky I can still read billboards on the freeways...... Good luck with you new goal.

kathz said...

Cornell Woolrich, I Married A Dead Man, The Bride Wore Black and others

Stevie Davies, The Element of Water

Sheenagh Pugh, Folksong, Kirstie's Witnesses

Michael Faber, The Crimson Petal and the White and shorter books too

Hilary Mantel, Giving Up the Ghost (and short stories and novels)

Helen Dunmore, The Siege

Sarah Waters, probably her Victorian novels first

Peter Ackroyd, Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem

Ahdaf Soueif, In The Eye of the Sun, The Map of Love

Naguib Mahfouz, The Cairo Trilogy

Margaret Elphinstone, The Sea Land, Voyageurs

George Mackay Brown, Vinland, short stories

James Kelman, How late it was, how late, Translated Accounts

Janice Galloway, Clara (and other work too)

A.L.Kennedy, Anything, including short stories

Jeanette Winterson, The Passion

Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus

Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone, The Woman in White

I'm getting a bit obvious - better stop before I start recommening East Lynne (regrettable but enhralling) or Clarissa (which I would like to read for the fourth time if only I could justify it).

I don't read enough for pleasure - this is culled from a few years of holiday reading.


sandushinka said...

Mikhail Bulgakov
Heart of a Dog -- dog turned into human of dubious quality via medical experiments; some satire involved

Master and Margarita -- the devil comes to Moscow, problems ensue, good vs. evil, etc.; IMHO, this is the best work of 20th century Russian fiction there is, my summary does not do it justice.

Also Julia Voznesenskaya's Women's Decameron -- a bunch of women stuck in a Leningrad maternity ward tell stories on a different theme every day. A Russian friend of mine who spent a lot of time in one with a difficult pregnancy says it really is a lot like that.

The Watcher said...

This one you have to have...

After Human by Michael Cross

Wiccachicky said...

Group psych/control?

You must read the Discipline and Punish by Foucault if you haven't already. His History of Madness is also worth reading.

You can also try Control: A History of Behavioral Psychology by John A. Mills.

Rod Smith said...

First, the good (albeit irrelevant to the post at hand) news: I'm reviewing Zed (which I loved )for Rain Taxi, a free literary review with excellent US distribution.

Next, the other good news: Vellum by Hal Duncan. The Glasgow-based author's debut novel is to the macrocosm what Zed is to the micro, in the sense of being set all over the fabric of reality as opposed to an apartment tower. Protagonist (one of them, anyway)Phreedom Messenger has a lot in common with Zed, at least in terms of speed and formidability. (She's a bit older, and more of an overt Inanna, as opposed to Zed's subtle Maat.) Other protagonist Seammus Finnan comes from the same stock as Luc, but he's basically a good fellow, to the extent that the Sebitti--all fratboy assholes with the exception of Metatron (a different sort of asshole) and Azaezel--are trying to forcibly recruit him for Armageddon duty. Phreedom, too, but she outsmarts both them and the demons (who are far worse) early on. While the novel is on this year's WFA shortlist,it isn't so much fantasy as denatured reality. It will blow your brains out. Duncan also maintains a very worthy blog at