Book review: Eats, Shoots & Leaves

As I closed the last page of my book, I softly muttered “interesting” without even noticing.  My mother happened to be near me at that moment. She asked me “What did you just read?” I waved the book cover to her and answered “A book about punctuation.” She winced.

I would have probably winced too if I’d been my mother. She knows I’m a book worm, but sometimes  my eccentricities trouble her a bit.  Reading a complete book about punctuation just because you want to is kind of unheard off, no regular “reading for pleasure” material here. But I do read a couple of books like these ones once in a while. Mostly because, as a writer, I need to improve my craft. I need to know where to put the period.

“Eats, Shoots & Leaves” is a clever and informational book where not only grammar rules are exposed, but also a wave of useful information strikes in. It’s not only about commas, semicolons, periods, dashes, etc., but also about their history, how they arrived to our world, what our crazy predecessors thought of them, how some tried to abolish their existence, and how punctuation marks strived successfully. I got attached to each punctuation mark as I would’ve gotten attached to a fiction character. Embarrassingly, I’m that quirky when it comes to books.

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Moreover, Lynne Truss leads us to a deeper level, to the analysis of the evolution of punctuation marks. We learn not only their history, but also how our modern times, influenced by technology and constant mobile messaging, are changing the world view towards punctuation. With good evidence, Truss foresees the punctuation world future, with upcoming years of punctuation invasion. We won’t get ridding of them any soon. Reading this book gives us an insightful perspective.  We’re not only being told about punctuation rules; we’re also acquiring enough criteria to understand their evolution.

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But the aside note is that the book is clever and funny – British funny, humor that always makes me laugh for a reason. I enjoyed the book as much as I would have enjoyed a fiction novel.

Was I the only lonely boring person reading books about punctuation? Nop, I lent the book to a work colleague. The guy loved it. He read it faster than me, just in a couple of days, again my excuse being I’m a slow reader. Would I recommend this book to everybody? Definitely.  Yes.

Have you ever read any type of grammar/punctuation of what it could be thought as “boring” and find yourself enjoying it more than expected?

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Reading with writer’s eyes…

Being a writer is not easy at all, being a reader who writes neither it is. Reading and Writing are my biggest passions. But as I try to merge them into one world, I realize the challenge increases.

In order to write, you have to read. This is the most common advice you’ll receive from writers, books and courses about writing. And there is no bigger truth. Once you decide that writing is you want to do for the rest of your life, reading will come attached as a twin sister. I don’t believe in writers who don’t read. I just can’t. It won’t matter how many a good ideas you have, if you don’t know how the world of books work, and the only way to know is by getting up close to what’s out there.

But one must read all types of books out there:

Reading classics – They are classics for many reasons, but one of the main reasons is that they usually show great command of the language. They display high-quality narrative that has been awarded and well appraised by so many. What works in these books? What made them classics? You need to find out by for yourself.

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Reading Best Sellers – And it includes the highly criticized dystopian YA. But why are they so popular? Why are their writers the ones that can actually make a living of this? I usually hear many people chastising these books. Finding them with “my favorite books” tag in intellectual circles of writers would be almost impossible …. But guess what? They do sell! They have “the formula.” And yes, writing-wise they may not be the best example, but they can certainly grab readers.

Now, you may say: “Well, it depends on the reader.” And usually not all teenagers are the most loyal parameter of quality reading, but they are a wide popular profitable target market. Despite these books might be cheesy and corny, we realize many adults do also enjoy them. The key, I believe, is to find a balance between what is good writing and what sells. Let’s face it, we all know that deep in our hearts, we would really love to make money of our writing. So reading this literature we must (my Yoda dysfunctional personality)

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Reading all genres – I’ve heard tons of advice saying that you must read in your genre. True! But it doesn’t end there. I’ve learned to read in all sorts of genres. And I believe that it’s not fair to say you aren’t used to an X genre because you don’t read in it. All genres are writing; all of them teach us something. Romance teaches us how to create romantic tension between characters. Thrillers teach us how to insert adventure and movement in your plot. Mysteries teach us how to grab readers until the end of the book. Sci-fi teaches us through setting description how to create fantasy worlds. Memoirs teach us how not to lose the essence and spirit of your book… and so on…. All these elements usually coexist in a book.

People read not only because the plot was so exciting that they couldn’t let the book go, but also because they cared about the protagonists; they found allies or inspiration in them. I’ve read a couple of action-packed thrillers that got me bored easily. I reached a point where I was just so bored about the extensive description of a fight scene; a slow motion punch described in pages. It reminded me of those movies where half of the movie is shootings and guns and no interesting plot. It also happens with books.

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If you’re like me, with preference for Thrillers for example, then you have at least to care about one of your characters. We want to know that the CIA spy of a book has a family with a sick child, that if he doesn’t do the job, his son will die. We want that CIA spy that when he’s about to die, we will keep reading and pray that he doesn’t. If he’s just a random handsome spy with great muscles, involved in a cat and mouse chase during the plot, it gets boring…Thriller writers need to read romance and memoirs too!

As a writer, I try to read with a different eye. I try to see all elements in a book, how dialogue flows, how settings and actions are described, how writers show and don’t tell. I assess why the plot gets exciting, how chapters end, and what makes me go to the next chapter. I evaluate those setting descriptions that are just too long for me to care. I write down when I find words and expressions that work so well that I could use them in a further work (one of the advantages of kindle reading, that you can highlight words without actually damaging a book.)

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This is a new way of reading, different from what I was used to, but satisfying nonetheless. It’s not only about finding refuge in a book while resting on a reading corner, but also investing time in my long-time dreamed goals.

If you’re a writer, do you find yourself with this different perspective of reading?

How to overcome the idea that the movie is not what the book was!

So I have guilty pleasures, and some are related to a couple of YA books out there. You see I’m a slow reader, but with the Divergent series, I broke my reading time records (like just a couple of days for each one). I’m not going to talk about if the book is good, if the writing is good, etc. Nope, this post is not about that. It’s just how much readers get their hopes in when they have a visual representation, a movie, of their favorite stories.

Why do we care?

Because when we read a story, we imagine the characters, the settings, and the whole story in our heads. So when we hear that a movie will be “based” on it, we get excited hoping to find that everything we pictured in our heads as we read the book will be consciously represented on the screen.

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Why is not always like that?

Because we can’t fit all the details in less than 2 hours. And because, movies are different from books. Most movies are there for entertaining purposes or for stimulating our visual senses. We can’t get ten pages of character’s emotional inner struggle in a movie.  If you take movies like me, that they exist for entertainment purposes and not for lulling you into sleep, then you get this point.

Should we demand movie producers respect the book storyline?

No, it’s only “based on”. Film studios have no obligation to remain loyal to the author’s story. And they have their own scriptwriters who know what works best in a movie and what doesn’t.

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And what about Insurgent? (the second installment of the Divergent series, in case you’re not familiar with it)

It’s a freaking good movie. If you didn’t read the book, the better for you; you’ll be able to assess the movie entirely from its entertaining potential. If you read it, stop comparing it to the book. The book was a story written by Veronica Roth, and it ends up there, in the papers of the book and if the picture you made up in your mind. The movie is another thing.

Was I aware of this perspective when I went to see the movie?

Of course not! I was the person who in Divergent nagged my companion all the time telling her: “in the book it was not like that… in the book…. ” Oh, poor her….

In the second one, I had the same inner struggle, but this time I kept it to myself, or my friend would have killed me. But this time when the movie ended, and I forced myself to forget the book, I found out that the movie was actually very well developed and very well told. Very entertaining.  I even found myself wishing some scenes would have been added to the book (don’t tell Veronica Roth 🙂 )

It’s one thing to love books and to love the stories and wish we could see the exact visual representations on the big screen, but let’s face it, it’s not going to happen. The magic of books will always remain on their pages and the skills we use to dive into the story. The power we have to imagine those words. That’s the beauty of books. We don’t need to have forced flat representations on screen. Movies are a different type of art, a visual art. Let’s stop trying to match them and keep the books and their wonderful stories to us.

And you, do you ever find yourself wishing the movie was exactly the same as the book? Do you easily get disappointed when you find that it’s not what you imagined from the book? Other movies/books that you can think of where you found this difference or rather a quite accurate resemblance between the two?