Learning to Quit Books

Sinéad Keegan is an Irish-born writer in the final year of her MFA at Kingston and currently writing her first novel. Her short stories and poetry and have been published in several magazines and she blogs at www.sineadkeegan.com. Twitter: @sineadkeegan. She is the editor of No Dead White Men and recently taught a course in blogging and social media for Kingston Writing School.

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In the true spirit of blogging, I am going to make a confession.

It will perhaps come as no surprise that I have always loved reading. I devoured all the assigned books when I was in school. I loved many of them, disliked some of them but read all of them. While my classmates bought Cliff’s Notes for Crime and Punishment, I wrapped myself in Dostoyevsky’s language. When they watched the film of Great Expectations, I sought out more of Dickens’s novels. I read anything and everything I put my hand to and never quit. Real readers don’t quit.

So, for many years now I have lived with the great shame of not having finished Gulliver’s Travels. I was sixteen when it was assigned to me and I hated it. I read Lilliput and just thought it was unbelievably dull. This, from a teenager who counted The Return of the Native among her favourite books.

Until just this year it was the only book I’d ever failed to finish. But I have a new outlook now. I was having a chat with science fiction novelist Christopher Priest this spring when he mentioned that he only reads books that he loves. When I explained my guilt-reading, he squashed the idea firmly. He said that there are a finite number of books that you can read in your lifetime so you had better be sure you enjoy the reading that you do.

Reading had previously seemed an infinite activity. So many books and all the days in the world to spend curled up with them. Suddenly, I was aware of my literary mortality. He had me calculate the number of books I could possibly read if I kept reading at my current pace and lived to eighty. He assured me you slow down as you age, so the number was optimistic. My best case scenario number is 3,000. At first glance, this seems enormous, but surely there are more than 3,000 great books that I would love.

I take Chris’s point. In fact, he’s absolutely right and I’ve quit two books since I had that conversation. But I still hear that nagging voice urging me to persevere. The conflict rages. One of the books I’m claiming to have quit is still sitting on the end table in my “to read” pile with a bookmark at page 212. I’m less than halfway through, but I still devoted hours to struggling through a book that I genuinely dislike. I should have quit at page 1. The problem is that it came highly recommended by a dear friend and excellent novelist. In over a decade, she has never steered me wrong on books, so I tell myself that I just need to give this book another thirty pages or another twenty or just one more chapter.

I tell myself that the recommendation is the problem, but that’s not true. The problem is the guilt. I don’t want to be a person who leaves books unfinished. A reading quitter. So I remind myself that I am only reading the glorious novel I am right now because I have put that other one aside.

Now, before everyone gets all up in arms about the value of reading what you don’t like, relax. I know exactly why I don’t like this book and I’ll try not to do those things in my writing. Proper, intellectual, writer-ly activity done. Now I’m moving on to great literature that I also love. I feel confident I’m learning more from that than I would from wading through another 300 pages of a story and writing that I hate.

So, I give unto you all the permission to read widely, read voraciously, read what you love, quit what you don’t like and to do it all guilt free. Count how many books you hopefully have left in your life and spend that number wisely!

Let us know in the comments section what your book number is and what’s at the top of your “must read” list!

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Christopher Priest – 23 April 7:30pm

Christopher Priest flyerJoin the Facebook event here.

Read more about Christopher Priest in his writer profile.

Adaptation

Dorin Rufer is in her second year of her Creative Writing MFA. She is an avid reader, writer, movie-goer and tea drinker. She is part of a podcast/blog adaptationpodcast.com about film adaptations and the original formats they are based on. She is also starting up her own blog: dogaru20.wordpress.com. Check her and her Chai Latte addiction out

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Ever feel that the films adapted of your favourite stories are just someone playing a joke on you? As if someone read the back summary of a book and then wrote their script based on that, rather than reading the book? We have all been there, but why does it happen? Someone put their heart down on the page and then some screen writer, director, producer, or something took that and tore it apart?

Let’s look into what goes into an adaptation? First, we all have to remember that words can always do more than pictures. There is a beautiful subtlety in well-done film, but it is still impossible to get all the detail one has put in their story onto the screen. Especially in the cases of budget and how wild the effects would need to be. The difference between a novel and screenplay is vast. Screenplays are written for the visual and auditory, driven by dialogue. Inner thoughts are always troublesome for an adaptation considering that voice-overs are hard to do well. As in Playwriting, a Screenplay page is a minute of screen time, where a novel, depending on the genre and age group, can be anywhere from 40,000 to, well, they can get really long. All the literary prose and background and descriptions have to be condensed and even sometimes watered down.

But what about the story itself? Because of these differences, most of the novel will be cut out. However, many people, including myself, say that the adaptation can be considered a success if the movie still gives the same general feeling, idea, theme, etc. The things one should consider if they are trying to adapt their book is as follows: 1) The pivotal scenes, 2) The seven or so most important characters, 3) The dialogue that fuels the plot.

However, with that said there are still questions that bother me about adaptations: why do they feel the need to change characters names? Whether it is the full or just the surname? I figure it is an attempt to try to separate the film from the original piece, especially when the film diverges from the original story, but is it necessary? Does it bother anyone else?

My biggest issue with it all is that in many cases I can see how a film could capitalise or enhance the story that people already know. In many cases, when an author overwrites slightly or puts things in that are repetitive or unnecessary, a film can pare that down into the best parts of the story. It isn’t easy, but it can be done.

The greatest aspect of stories as well as its greatest downfall is the investment its readers feel. We can’t help but feel attached to a really well written piece of work, and when someone messes with it, we feel hurt by those who didn’t do the work justice. Sometimes, we just have trouble separating ourselves while watching the film, but after all the work people put into the adaptation we do need to try to give them some credit; we don’t have to completely like the adaptation. Your opinion is your opinion and you are going to have it whether they like it or not, but we can take them all with a grain of salt.  (Except perhaps for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Seth Grahame-Smith, did you hate your own novel so much that you had to turn it into that action movie schlock? Be proud of your book, it is good!)

Most of the time it may be a case of “the book was better”! But at the same time, if you look back at the long catalogue of films, you may be surprised at how some of your favourite movies were originally books. Did you know that the film Pitch Perfect (2012) was based on a book?

Here is a website listing the 50 best book to movie adaptations… do you agree?

These are what are considered the worst adaptations.

And a fun one for those who hope to have a story of yours adapted in the future: Authors who have hated movie versions of their books.

Christopher Priest

Christopher Priest

Christopher Priest is an English writer of novels, short stories, biographies, critical works and more. He has written radio drama for BBC Radio 4, television programs for Thames TV and HTV and his reviews and features have been published in the Guardian, The Times, the Scotsman and other broadsheets and numerous magazines.

His 1995 novel, The Prestige, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and, in 2006, was made into a film of the same name starring Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johannson. Christopher Nolan directed and it was nominated for two Academy Awards.

Christopher has garnered several international awards, including the Eurocon Award (Yugoslavia), the Kurd Lasswitz Award (Germany), the Ditmar Award (Australia) and Le Grand Prix de L’Imaginaire (France). In 2001, he was awarded France’s Prix Utopia for lifetime achievement. In 2002, he won both the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Award for his novel The Separation. The Islanders won the 2011 BSFA Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. The Adjacent will be released in June.

Find out more about Christopher on his website: http://www.christopher-priest.co.uk/

 

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Christopher will be reading at 7:30pm on Tuesday, 23 April 2013 in JG 3003, Kingston University, Penrhyn Road. This is a free reading and open to the public.

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SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Fiction

The Adjacent (June 2013)

The Islanders (2011)

The Separation (2002)

The Prestige (1995)

The Quiet Woman (1990)

The Glamour (1988)

The Affirmation (1981)

An Infinite Summer (1979)

The Space Machine (1976)

Fugue for a Darkening Island (1972)

Indoctrinaire (1970)

 

Essays

‘Top Ten Slipstream Books’, The Guardian, May 2003

‘John Wyndham and H G Wells’, a talk given at Midhurst, West Sussex in December 2000

 ‘Independent Cinemas’, The Independent, 1999

 ‘The Beatles’, Chuch, 1986

 

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Christopher Priest’s Recommended Reading List

 

NON-FICTION:

A Sort of Life – Graham Greene

(The first volume of Greene’s autobiography, this is in my experience the only book

that tells the truth about what it is to be a writer.)

Bomber County – Daniel Swift

(About the poetry written by combatants in the second world war.)

The King’s English – Kingsley Amis

(A book of English usage, idiosyncratic and amusing.)

Song of the Sky – Guy Murchie

(A lyrical account of the nature of the sky: winds, clouds, storms, etc.)

 

FICTION:

Disappearances – William Wiser

Loitering with Intent – Muriel Spark

Larry’s Party – Carol Shields

Pavane – Keith Roberts

Collected Stories – Vladimir Nabokov

Pale Fire – Vladimir Nabokov

The Painted Bird – Jerzy Kosinski

Fame – Daniel Kehlmann

Ice – Anna Kavan

Dubliners – James Joyce

The Magus – John Fowles

2666 – Roberto Bolaño

The Voices of Time – J. G. Ballard

2013 MFA Residency Series Flyer

2013 MFA Residency Series Flyer 3

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What is the MFA Residency Series?

As we begin our new semester there are some exciting events coming up for second year MFA students and the wider community through the MFA Residency Series. But what is this series and how can you get involved?

The MFA Residency Series is a knowledge and teaching exchange set up by our course leader, Dr. Scott Bradfield, to enhance the writing and teaching education for MFAs. As many of you will already know, the MFA in Creative Writing is considered a “terminal degree”, which means that it is a qualification for teaching at the university level. In the second semester of course’s the second year students take a module called “Teaching and Writing Workshop.” In this class we have a weekly workshop, run by a variety of instructors who also speak about their teaching experience and strategies. It is designed to give students hands-on experience with different workshopping styles and methods that they can then implement in their own teaching.

The MFA Residents are select, outstanding writers who also have extensive teaching experience. They hail from various countries and often fly in specifically to be a part of this series. In addition to running a workshop, these writers and teachers also do private tutorials with all second year MFA students.

But what does this mean for you if you’re not a second year MFA? Good news: they also do readings that are open to the public. We encourage everyone to come meet these leading writers and hear them read from their work.

In the past, Dr. Bradfield has brought in writers including Fiona Sampson, former editor of Poetry Review, J. Robert Lennon, head of the MFA at Cornell University, and Brian Evenson, head of Brown University’s MFA program. And this year’s list is no less impressive with the following authors participating:

* Lamar Herrin, Professor Emeritus at Cornell University’s MFA program and author of novels, short stories, poetry and, most recently, a memoir entitled Romancing Spain.

* Wendy Cope OBE, Writer in Residence at Kingston University and poet renowned for her wit. Recent collections include Family Values and Two Cures for Love.

* Paul Maliszewski, editor and author of criticism, short stories, essays and poetry including the short story collection, Prayer and Parable, and the essay collection, Fakers: Hoaxers, Con Artists, Counterfeiters, and Other Great Pretenders. It is our great pleasure to welcome Paul back for the second time as an MFA Resident.

* Christopher Priest, prolific author of everything from children’s non-fiction to novels and biographies. The film adaptation of his 1995 novel, The Prestige, was directed by Christopher Nolan and received two Academy Award nominations.

The dates for the public readings are as follows:

Tuesday, 12 February 2013 – Lamar Herrin at 7:30pm at Penrhyn Road Campus in John Galsworthy room 3003

Tuesday, 16 April 2013 – Paul Maliszewski at 7:30pm

Tuesday, 23 April 2013 – Christopher Priest at 7:30pm

Locations along with author information will be posted on this site before each reading. We hope to have the profile of Lamar Herrin up very shortly so check back with us or follow this blog for updates via email (see box in at the top of the column on the right-hand-side of this page). Please come to the readings and enjoy the work of these fine writers from both sides of the Atlantic.

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