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Posts Tagged ‘bookshelf’

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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Posted originally on March 24, 2010.

In times like these men should utter nothing for which they would not be willingly responsible through time and in eternity.

                                                                       –  Abraham Lincoln

I have at least a hundred and ten places in the world, big and small, I’d love to visit one day. They are anywhere from Egypt to Ireland to Turkey to Japan to Greece — the list goes on and on. And most of those places have sneaked into my list because of the books I’ve read over the years.

Isn’t it amazing how the image you have of the world is shaped, among other things, by the books (or any printed material) you read? That realization makes the act of writing that much more daunting – forget about how hard the craft itself is.

When it comes to writing books, non-fiction has more rules. Authors of non-fiction are expected to be cognizant of the subject at hand, and they are relied upon to include only proven facts in their books.

Not so fiction.

When writing fiction for adults there’s more leeway, because they are capable of discerning right from wrong. That’s the general belief, at least.

Writing for children? That’s an entirely different beast. Books are one of the cheapest and most commonly used tools to help shape young minds. And children  are more impressionable, and hence susceptible to persuasion.

It is well and good to keep books real. I’m all for it. Up to a point.

My problem is when books get gimmicky, all for the sake of sales or some other self-serving need of the creators of the book, and make the depraved characters in it look really cool. Is this really necessary?

Let’s say someone writes a book that has a strong subliminal message that it is okay to make a cheap buck by cheating someone else. And for whatever reason, that book goes out of print after only some hundred copies are sold.

Where do those hundred-odd copies end up? On bookshelves, where they will continue to live for a number of decades. Even if each one of them gets read by one child in each generation, that’s a lot of children brainwashed over the years. And they grow up into adults who affect more children by their beliefs, opinions, and actions. And hence the sphere of influence of that one book keeps growing.

Every book has a message in it, whether it’s an obvious one or not.

As a writer, the bottom line for me is: Would my conscience remain clear even if only one reader embraces the message in my book?

How do you keep your writing responsible?

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Just a note before I begin: I aim to keep these pages completely clean and kid-friendly. I would love it if you brought the children in your life to these pages once in a while — with you supervising them, of course, if they’re very young.   

Now would be a wonderful time to do so: starting today, I’m going to do the next few posts with the young (in-earthly-years or at-heart) as my target audience.   

Do you read books?   

Do I hear a “yes”, followed by muttering to the effect of “but only because I have to. Not because I like to”?   

I also heard some resounding “yeah”s to my question, which means that some of you are avid readers already. Good! Keep at it now. And persist even later, when distractions stare you in the face and try to take you away from this passion of yours.   

Let me tell you why you should keep on reading, whether you love it or loathe it. Think about this: when you find a book that you like, you have made a friend forever. And what a friend that book will turn out to be!   

A book is a friend who:   

  • Does not judge you.
  • Does not impose its personality on you.
  • Listens to whatever you have to say to it.
  • Never brings its problems to you.
  • Is opinionated — make no mistake about that – but it does not shun you if you disagree with it.
  • Does not label you “geeky”, “popular” or “nerdy”.

This Hema P is such a dork! Just because I don't speak out loud, she assumes that I don't label her? Hmph!

 

  • Makes no demands on your time. It sits there waiting for you patiently, so it can open up to you the minute you wish it to.
  • Doesn’t need cleaning and feeding, just gentle handling.
  • Will accompany you around the world without you even having to leave your house.
  • Doesn’t pressure you into doing things that you don’t want to.
  • Doesn’t need you to dress up to go meet with it. Lounging in pajamas is the best way to cozy up with your favorite book.
  • Is you best confidante.
  • Will wait for you, years on end at times, when you grow out of it and drift away. It will remain on your bookshelf waiting  for you to come back, dust it and reclaim it as a friend.

Aren’t these reasons enough for you to set out on a search for a good book? Did I overlook any more reasons? If yes, I’d love to learn which ones — if only so I could feel all the more blessed to have made so many good friends myself.   

Come visit me again and I’ll introduce you to a bunch of wonderful books and authors. And who knows? There may be one or two among them that you’d want to add to your bookshelf.   

P.S: Thank you so much, everyone, for your support in following Mark McVeigh!! I think I may have earned that chat with him, after all!

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