Saturday, June 25, 2011

Why I Wasn't an English Major

Do you wanna know why I wasn't an English major?

Do ya, punk? Huh?

Do ya?

You don't?

Well, Ima tell you anyhow.

One word. "Book reviews."

I hated book reviews with a passion in high school, and the first few English and/or Literature classes I took in college gave me more of the same. No, it wasn't exactly like High School book reviews, but it wasn't all that different either:

"Describe the theme in this book."

"Characterize the relationship between the protagonist and her siblings.

"Discuss the reason the author chose purple as the color of Matt's bedroom wallpaper."

"Why did the vulture land on Mrs. Winkle's veranda, and what, if anything, did it portend?"

"What did Bob mean when he said 'Ma, I killed the cat?'"


I came to writing later in life largely because in my youth I believed that, in order to be a writer, I had to start with a theme, develop an outline, have a reason for everything that happened in the story, and, when one of my characters killed a cat, there had to be some reason for it other than "I just wanted to kill the damn cat."

But I did start writing eventually, and found that I didn't need a theme, I didn't have to write an outline, and my characters can sometimes kill cats just because they're sociopathic dickwads. The characters, not the cats.

I still don't do book reviews though. Why? Because I refuse to look for themes. I will not characterize relationships. I won't try to get inside the head of the author and pretentiously assume that I might understand why he did "a" in a story rather than "b."  And if Bobby Jim kills the cat, I'm not going to look for any special reason why. I'm simply going to assume that's part of Bobby Jim's character, and that it's important to the story or the author wouldn't have written it like he did, and then I'll go on from there.

So that's why I don't do book reviews.

Except that I'm going to start doing book reviews. But I'll be doing them on my terms. There will be no discussion of themes, no pretending I actually know what I'm talking about (because I most assuredly do not), but I will tell you what I like and what I don't like and why.

I won't be doing reviews on famous writers. They have enough reviewers to keep them unhappy. I'll concentrate on not-or-almost-ready-for-prime-time-writers--many of whom will be peeps I've come across since I've involved myself in the writing world.

I'll be looking at stories that are way outside my comfort zone too--romance, fantasy, erotica and, yes, even literary. But I'll review them my way. Not Miss Webster's* way, may she Rest In Peace.

And I'm not going to do this all the time either. I'll do it to fill in from time to time in between my normal meaningless drivel. And only when I feel like it. So there.

So I'll be starting today with my first review: Dustin Time by June Kramin.

*checks watch*

Oops, sorry Bug. Out of time. Too bad it was such a short review. Maybe I might get the chance to post a little more about it next time.

And, Bug? One more thing. Please don't hurt me.

*Miss Webster was my English teacher in Middle School for two years running. She pounded a great deal of grammar into my head and some of it even stuck. She taught me that "not is always an adverb." And, Dog bless her heart, she taught me to hate outlining, even as she loved it so.


  1. For the most part, I agree--but I do think that analyzing literature has value. Learning to read for complexity, whether or not it exists, teaches a student to write complexly.

  2. I agree with you ... especially when I encountered some literary types who thought their reviews defined the quality of the book.

    It took me over a year before I'd admit my book comments were "book reviews". Of course, I do fantasy which a literary type wouldn't touch.

  3. Outlining is grand.

    Especially if it's used to show where a stiff, dead chihuahua was found on a busy road.



  4. Hi, Bart.

    I don't disagree with you, but it's not that I don't think there's any value in analyzing literature. It's just that I hate to do it. Analyzing can ruin an otherwise perfectly good read.

  5. Hello, Kay.

    "Book comments," huh? I like that term. Perhaps I'll steal it. Or borrow it.

  6. MrB if I would have know outlining made you stiff, I would have started doing it years ago.

  7. Well, it's nice to hear that you want to do book reviews.

    Good luck and have fun. :D

  8. No, see, I don't want to do Book Reviews. I want to do...checks Kay's message...Book Comments. :)

  9. What does this blog post mean to me?

    *strokes beard like what a proper writer does*

  10. I'm terribly sorry, sir, but there's no smoking in this thread.

    *rips Luke's pipe from his mouth, slaps him repeatedly about his head, then strangles him with his ascot*

    You might like this one, Luke:

  11. Okay, book comments. You can name them anything you want. :D

  12. It's not what I want, Bea. It's what Kay wants. If it were up to me, I'd rather be sitting at some sleazy bar somewhere pounding shots and beers.

  13. *waits patiently for Bug to come kick the chihuey into traffic*


  14. Well, why don't you write your "book comments" while sitting at some sleazy bar somewhere pounding shots and beers. Heck! You can start a new trend with book comments--A Drunkard's Words about Books.

  15. *Takes stage*

    "It's really just an honor to be mentioned." *cough*horseshit*cough*

    E for effort, puppy. Now ye balls shall be mine! Come here, you. :P

  16. Wha'samatta, Bug? got a battery stuck in your throat? :D

  17. Bea! What a great idea. I could even start a blog with that title. :)

  18. Where did that large, striped horse come from?

  19. You can read? Who'da thunk it.

    I think a writer should understand their own writing enough to give Miss Webster a book review on themselves. The other books, eh...liking it or not is enough.

    You might try commenting on the dictionary. That way you include all the other books too. It could free up a lot more drinking time.

  20. JJ, I move my lips when I do it, but I can read. Barely.

    And as for your dictionary idea--I'll give it some thought. Anything that frees up bar time is worth looking in to.

  21. "But I did start writing eventually, and found that I didn't need a theme, I didn't have to write an outline, and my characters can sometimes kill cats just because they're sociopathic dickwads. The characters, not the cats."

    Really? And here I was thinking of quitting writing because I've found I can't do any of that and figured that was the reason for my lack of success.

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