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Posts Tagged ‘genre’

Ever since I began looking at books from a writer’s perspective (in addition to a reader’s), I’ve heard that a book’s first line is the best way to hook or lose your reader. So much so that, in this economy, many books make it or break it based on their opening words.

No pressure for the writer, huh?

Are we so desperate for immediate gratification that we’d put away a book we’ve committed to reading, only because its first few words failed to impress us?

Whatever happened to: “Don’t judge a book by its first line?” Okay, I made that up but that’s how I feel sometimes. But then, I’ve also never subscribed to the belief: First impressions are the best impressions.

Besides, whether a sentence does it for you or not, I think, is entirely subjective.

I’ve yet to set aside a book because its first line didn’t live up to my expectations. Having said that, I have come across books that opened with much promise in their very first words—they tickled my imagination about what genre they could be; whether I needed to suspend my reality and wear my fantastical hat; or if I should to tighten my seat belt and prepare for a breathless ride through a culture foreign to me.

There have also been times when my first impressions proved to be completely baseless in how clever/satisfactory/feel-good-read the book turned out to be in the end.

Here are the first lines from some books in my bookshelf, in no particular order.

  • The old woman remembered a swan she had bought many years ago in Shanghai for a foolish sum.

             The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan

  • In a town called Stonetown, near a port called Stonetown Harbor, a boy named Reynie Muldoon was preparing to take an important test.

             The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart

  • He left the coffee-scented warmth of the Main Street Grill and stood for a moment under the green awning.

             At Home in Mitford, Jan Karon

  • Nailer clambered through a service duct, tugging at copper wire and yanking it free.

            Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi

  • Precious Ramotswe was sitting at her desk at the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Gaborone.

             The Full Cupboard of Life, Alexander McCall Smith

  • Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.

             The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan

  • The conch shell sounded, like the mountain’s deep call to the sky, and Mira knew they had entered the palace.

             Follow the Cowherd Boy, J.A. Joshi

  • “Eh, Tree-Ear! Have you hungered well today?” Crane-man called out as Tree-ear drew near the bridge.

             A Single Shard, Linda Sue Park

 

Has the first line in a book ever impressed you adversely enough to stop reading that book?

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Okay, so the title is not entirely true. I still very much love and enjoy reading. It’s just that the definition of ‘fun’ as it relates to reading has changed for me.

Now, when I pick up a book, it’s not merely to indulge myself. It’s not just a hobby any longer, though I’d have to admit, reading has always been much more than a hobby with me – it’s been a natural part of my life.

It’s just that my objectivity and perspective as a reader have recently altered. It’s like a kaleidoscope: I have adjusted the viewing tube ever so slightly and the whole pattern has shifted.

Let’s take a look at some of the thoughts that are likely to roil through a writer’s head the minute s/he starts reading a good book written by someone else:

  1. Wow, what a strong opening! Guess I need to work on mine (in my novel-in-progress) some more. (This thought can be objectively interpreted as: “Wish I would experience an epiphany and the opening for my novel would strike me like a bolt of lightning.”)
  2. Ugh! How could he have written the exact scene that has been brewing in my head for the past two weeks? (Read as: “The scene is somewhat similar to the one I’ve been sketching – the same one I haven’t been able to cough up coherently enough to put down on paper yet.”)
  3. Yes!! The voice of this character is very close to my protagonist’s. (Read as: “If this book got published, then there’s hope for mine, too!”)
  4. The narrative is so catchy; I admire the style very much! (Read as: “I’m envious, pure and simple.”)
  5. The plot is strong, there is just the right balance of dialogue and narrative, and the flow is so natural in this book. (Read as: “How many more revisions before my manuscript gets this tight?”)
  6. This author is so prolific. (Read as: “I’m jealous of this author.”)
  7. Gosh, I never expected this twist! (Read as: “I need to explore this genre more, if I didn’t see this coming. Sigh!”)

Reading like a writer is a completely different game, with its own set of rules, than reading for fun or relaxation. It is a sport that can become exciting and effective with discipline and practice.

I am game for this: I look forward to fashioning new relationships with a whole lot of new books, and forging fresher bonds with those that I have already read in the past.

Has something like this happened to you? I’d love it if you’d share with us your newfound wisdom!

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I present to you the different (very much simplified) perspectives a book engenders, right from the time of its conception up to the time it makes it to the bookstalls … and beyond.

Author: Writes the book based on her: research, past history and experiences, sensibilities, inspiration and motivation.

Publisher: Acquires a manuscript, which gets eventually published, based on: concept’s salability, market direction, industry’s current trends, economy, marketability of the author’s name.

Bookseller: Displays a book on the shelf based on: salability, cover art, name of the author, reviews, hype produced by the book in the market, bestseller list.

Librarian: Orders a book for the library’s shelf based on: genre, reviews, awards won by the book, concept of the book, author’s name.

Reader: Picks a book to read attracted by: the genre, the cover art, the flap copy, the name of the author/series, excerpts, assignments, current fads, his taste and sensibilities.

Parent: Chooses a book for his child based on: genre, child’s taste, his own taste, concept, price of the book, awards won by the book.

The perspective changes even for the same set of people, given a slight change in the circumstances. For instance, the same parent might not choose the same book for another of his children.

And these are only a few of the points of view that a children’s book produces. If it were a book in adult category, that too, one with political or religious context to it, then the whole ballgame changes and the perspectives multiply.

The adage Don’t judge a book by its cover isn’t really such a cliché, is it?

Hope you can find a book this weekend in which you can lose yourself willingly!

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