Okay, books #14 and #15 are getting a tag-team book report because they are an absolute study in opposites. One kept me glued to the page, making excuses to sit down and read just so that I could imbibe it, and the other one was so lacking that I gave up after about 40%. (Funny how we don’t talk about page numbers anymore, just percentage on our eReaders) One, you will notice, I did not even name in the title of this blog, and the other was Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me?, by Mindy Kaling.
As you might have guessed, in spite of my clever little switcheroo trick there, the one that I didn’t name was the one that I couldn’t finish. But I loved Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? like an old friend that I couldn’t get enough of and just wanted to hang out with. No Name Book was a novel, Mindy Kaling’s book is a memoir. Is it fair to compare the two? I think so, and here’s why.
First of all, No Name Book will remain nameless because I learned my lesson about criticizing books written by people I have a passing connection with in the online writer world. I kind of hate saying anything bad about something created by someone in generally the same position I’m in publishing-wise, especially when there’s an off-chance that they could be hurt by what I say. I’ve reported on books that I didn’t like and thought there was no way on earth that the author would ever find my blog, only to have them post a comment on said report. So No Name Book will be given no name.
Here’s the problem with No Name Book. It had a fantastic premise. Very interesting, great potential for conflict and drama. The characters were set up in a tension-filled situation with plenty of secondary characters and sub-plots introduced to make it a complex and compelling story. But the author proceeded to dismiss the complexity, over-write the characters, make predictable choices interspersed with improbable action after improbable action, and gave the hero no personality and the heroine stereotypical heroine issues. Combine that with a bland, simplistic writing style and I was lost.
In the book’s defense, I am admittedly a hard reader to please. I think that there is probably a whole world of readers out there who enjoy simple stories simply written with predictable plots. Judging by this author’s reviews on Amazon, there are tons of readers who love that kind of book. Great! I love it! Diversity is good! But the writing isn’t. And like I said, there are people out there who can look past bad writing to find the goodness in a story.
Contrast that with Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?. Yes, it’s narrative non-fiction, but at the same time, Mindy Kaling “creates” so many vivid characters that jump right off the page (her friends, family, and coworkers) and describes tension-filled (and often hilarious), complex, high-stakes situations that form the story of her life. It falls under the category of “you can’t make this stuff up”. To top it all off, the way she writes is intimate, conversational, funny, and compelling.
We fiction writers can learn from the beauty of the carefully-crafted memoir! It’s all about engaging your audience. As far as I’m concerned, Mindy Kaling could be making up every single event that she describes the same way a novelist creates the situations of their characters stories. It’s how she tells those stories, her choice of words and pace of revealing information, that made me keep reading and keep reading and keep reading. In the introduction to the book, she says that you will be able to read it in two days, and I did. It’s been taking me weeks to read books lately, but I made the time to read this in two days!
Of course, Mindy is also a writer, and although this is far from being a craft book, it did teach me a few things about the art of writing. Such as the fact that I am not the only one who wastes time when I should be writing. And I quote…
“I’ve found my productive-writing-to-screwing-around ratio to be one to seven. So, for every eight-hour day of writing, there is only one good productive hour of work being done. The other seven hours are preparing for writing: pacing around the house, collapsing cardboard boxes for recycling, reading the DVD extras pamphlet from the BBC Price & Prejudice, getting snacks lined up for writing, and YouTubing toddlers who learned the “Single Ladies” dance.”
Yes, even brilliant TV writers goof off for hours before actually doing the damn writing.
So yep, I loved Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?. And I very much did not love No Name Book. One taught me how I want to write, and the other taught me how I don’t want to write. I’m grateful to both. Reading examples of great writing is important. Reading examples of bad writing is equally important so that we can know what to stay away from.
Next up in the queue, a novella that I’ve wanted to read for a long, long time….