March 13, 2008

BTT: The Big Red Pen

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Booking Through Thursday

Suggested by John :

How about a chance to play editor-in-chief? Fill in the blanks:

__________ would have been a much better book if ______________________.


Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response (so people don’t have to go searching for it) in the comments—or if you prefer, leave your answers in the comments themselves!


I'm in a cranky mood, so I hope that doesn't effect my answer.

Most writers have a plan when they start writing a book. Usually I go along with this plan, they seem to know what they're doing. If the story doesn't go the way I wanted it but still has some logic, then I'm okay with that. As long as the ending doesn't feel phony or like the author just gave up.

I do have a problem with bad grammar. It makes it very difficult to concentrate. Henry James might be readable if someone had taken a red pen to all those run on sentences. The story of The Wings of the Dove has an interesting premise, but I just couldn't get over the sentences that went on for whole paragraphs. I felt that he set out to annoy the reader.

The only other book I can think of is Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand intended to beat us over the head with her philosophy. Twenty page speeches are fine if you're writing a text book but as a novel it didn't do it for me. Subtle, Rand is not.

I actual feel a little bit better! Great question to let me vent a little, even if it has nothing to do with why I'm so p*ssed off. I'm sure my editor-in-chief is different from your editor-in-chief that's why some of the greatest writers struggled with rejection for ages before being published. It's all a matter of opinion what's good, what's bad.

15 comments :

  1. I know what you mean about bad grammar, it really annoys me at times when reading a book. I feel like I am being pedantic and it's nice to know I am not the only one who feels like this!

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  2. With Atlas Shrugged, I simply skipped the twenty or so pages!

    *grin*

    Here is my BTT post!

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  3. I haven't read either of those so can't really say... but i guess I'll have to read Ayn Rand at some point, she seems to be a 'must'...

    Sometimes nothing beats venting! ;-)

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  4. Hi Chris,

    You are right, Atlas Shrugged does not appear to be subtle, but I discovered that it is.

    Did you know that an entire paragraph in the first chapter is repeated, word for word in the last chapter, and the two occurrences have completely different meanings?

    You can't just go to them and read them both out of context. You have to mark them both and then read the whole story. When you get to the second occurrence and have read it, you go back and re-read the first. The difference is remarkable. Even more amazing, Rand took ten years to write the whole novel, so somewhere in her planning she saw the new application for that same paragraph.

    Another aspect of subtlety that occurs repeatedly in the novel is how certain things are explained, without any indication that an explanation is occurring:

    As the main protagonists are flying out of New York, and its lights are winking out, Galt commands Dagny to not "look down". What would this paragon of individual choice be doing ordering someone around? All we read from that point is that Dagny is thinking about all the things that lead to this flight (double entendre intended).

    We first must grasp that one of the most important aspects of dealing with an emotion that conflicts with facts we know, is to consciously re-examine those facts. This is because emotions take longer to adjust to the meaning of the facts that contradict it. Galt knew that Dagny would be struggling emotionally if she had looked down, and he sought to save her that grief. He also knew that his command would be taken, not as the order of master to slave, but as the voice of understanding. A voice similar to a sympathetic policeman stopping a woman from seeing her husband's battered, dead body at a murder scene. All Rand does is *show* us Dagny's thinking. Understanding its significance is left to the reader.

    In addition to such instances as I have mentioned, there are many instances of metaphor that superficially appear obvious, but on second reading (which I did for the single purpose of trying to pick them out) prove to have deeper or double meanings or allusions than one might observe while reading the novel for the plot. Sometimes the metaphors have meanings to do with the real world, and its important historical characters

    Atlas Shrugged is a literary work, which means it is Art. Art is a selective recreation of reality according to the artist's value judgments. Good Art speaks of reality but does not copy it, it is not photography. No, the long speech would never occur in reality, and few listeners would follow it when sprung on them unexpectedly —as happened in the novel. However, this art work is for readers. Good readers think about the abstract meaning of what they read, they looking for covert sub-themes (some call them the 'sub-text') and consider implications of events and characters as they might actually appear in diluted or distributed form in Reality.

    I have only presented two examples, but there are dozens if not hundreds one can find. Atlas is an astounding condensation of all of those things. It is quite widely ridiculed by those who fear the Truths it reveals, who will rationalize their position so eagerly that they will flat-out lie about the story, about the characters and about the author. Many of them are not stupid, just egregiously dishonest.

    Those who read Rand somewhat superficially often agree with those phony critics, not having enough understanding of what they have read to reject their claims. Over time it is easier for them to remember the attitudes of those critics, and join in. This is especially true if they read the book when they were young, or with a prior bias formed from having first heard the criticisms. It's their loss.

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  5. As long as the ending doesn't feel phony

    *vigorous nod*

    The thing in a book that most annoys me is to see characters acting out-of-character, as though the author is pulling marionette strings to get the story/ending/scene he wants out of them.

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  6. Rhinoa- Thanks for agreeing.

    Gautami- I skipped a lot of that part too, if I didn't I would have fallen asleep.

    Joanna- Thanks, it's a venting day.

    Richard- You're entitled to your opinion, as am I, but I won't be reading AS again. It was discussed over several months with my book group. We went over the sub-text, etc. And we didn't all agree on every point. It's a great work, yes, but I'm old enough to make my own opinions and wasn't swayed one way or the other. In fact, I didn't know anything about the book before I read it. It had good points but I'm not joining the Ayn Rand fan club yet.

    Heather- Ditto.

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  7. OK...I'm TOTALLY with you on Wings of a Dove. And I didn't even finish it!! Paragraphs that go on for pages....that man drove me crazy!!

    GREAT answer!

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  8. I would like to read Rand in the future but am nervous because of exactly what you mention. I picture myself snoozing....

    Poor grammar is a peeve of mine too.

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  9. Henry James's novels would have been better if they had been written by Edith Wharton.

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  10. haven't read those books. that Atlas Shrugged one keeps popping up EVERYWHERE...I better figure out why.

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  11. Because I'm not one to pick fights (read: I'm passive agressive), I'll just say "wow" to one of the above comments and move on.

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  12. Stephanie- Thank you!

    Idaho Girl & Bethany- The size is daunting. I read it with a group. I don't know if I would have got through it otherwise. I've heard her shorter works are a little easier and you get the gist of her philosophy.

    Rob- lol! I agree completely.

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  13. I haven't read any of those... so I can't comment.

    And I've to agree about the bad grammar, that's one of the things that needed to be fixed first. ;)

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  14. My husband likes to rant about Atlas Shrugged. I haven't read it so I don't have an opinion on the book. I chose to rant about Harry Potter. Happy BTT.

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  15. Definitely too many pages spent of speeches.

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