Enjoy any good books lately? Here's four I've recently read and would recommend: a dystopian novel, a strange and luminous collection of short stories, and two books for writers: the first because it contains a superb collection of excerpts, and the second for all of its advice from great writers. Snippets from the four books:
1. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood) — "We play two games. Larynx, I spell. Valance. Quince. Zygote. I hold the glossy counters with their smooth edges, finger the letters. The feeling is voluptuous. This is freedom, an eyeblink of it. Limp, I spell. Gorge. What a luxury. The counters are like candies, made of peppermint, cool like that. Humbugs, those were called. I would like to put them into my mouth. They would taste also of lime. The letter C. Crisp, slightly acid on the tongue, delicious."
2. Jesus' Son (Denis Johnson) — "The next room past that was dim and blue-lit, and inside it, through the doorway, we saw a loft, almost a gigantic bunk bed, in which several ghost-complected women were lying around. One just like those came through the door from that room and stood looking at the three of us with her mascara blurred and her lipstick kissed away. She wore a skirt but not a blouse, just a white bra like someone in an undies ad in a teenage magazine. But she was older than that. Looking at her I thought of going out in the fields with my wife back when we were so in love we didn't know what it was."
3. The Making of a Story (Alice LaPlante) — "Flat characters are also called stereotypes, and the hallmark of flat characters is that they are incapable of surprising us; they act in a prescribed way, and are utterly consistent, without complexity. [...] A round character is the opposite of this: he or she is capable of surprising us—with unexpected fits of anger or an uplifting sense of humor or a snide remark about a presumed friend. But a round character also convinces us. As E.M. Forster says, if a character never surprises us, then he or she is flat; if they surprise but do not convince us, they are only flat pretending to be round."
4. The Modern Library Writer's Workshop (Stephen Koch) — "Every writer must be taught how to write every book she or he writes, and the teacher is always the book itself. Writing becomes good by accretion. It builds on itself; it picks up its own cues, it takes its own suggestions. You rarely if ever start out knowing exactly what you are doing or what is to come, and by the time you reach the middle, you rarely know how you are going to get out alive. The project must be your guide, and it will not be finished teaching you the job until the day you type the final page. Then, if you're lucky, it will let you go."