Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Tenth Circle

Wednesday night, I started Jodi Picoult’s The Tenth Circle. Friday night, I finished all 385 pages. I’ve been a Picoult fan since last last spring. I’ve read three other Picoult books: Plain Truth, My Sister’s Keeper, and Keeping Faith.

I like Picoult’s work because it’s intellectually challenging—she crafts a complex multi-layered plot, fleshes out her characters so we believe they’re real, and pays special attention to details. Plus, she teaches us stuff—in The Tenth Circle, it’s Dante, graphic novels, and life among the Alaskan natives. And she employs metaphor and symbolism. I’m a sucker for metaphor and symbolism.

I won’t go into what the book is about or post a review (that’s already been done by the biggies of the publishing world; you can find reviews, etc. on her website).

The problem I find with reading really good books like this one (and others I’ve recently read—Sarah’s Key, Lucky, The Time Traveler’s Wife) is that the really good books ruin me for enjoying a mediocre book. Or even a book that’s, well, adequate.

I can open The Tenth Circle to almost any page and find examples of good writing or good insight—or both. For instance, this on page 30:
All teenagers knew this [lying] was true. The process of growing up was nothing more than figuring out what doors hadn’t been slammed in your face. For years, Trixie’s own parents had told her than she could be anything, have anything, do anything. That was why she’d been so eager to grow up—until she got to adolescence and hit a big fat wall of reality. As it turned out, she couldn’t have anything she wanted. You didn’t get to be pretty or smart or popular just because you wanted it. You didn’t control your own destiny; you were too busy trying to fit in. Even now, as she stood here, there were a million parents setting their kids up for heartbreak.

The main character’s realization equals a universal truth. The writing flows—it sounds just how a teenager would think: no big words, no complicated sentences.

From page 269, the opening line of a chapter:
It was late enough in December that all the radio stations played only Christmas carols.
We know the “when”—we’ve all heard the monotony of radio offerings by mid-December. The rhythm of the sentence echoes the monotony. (Read it aloud and see.)

From page 88:
Laura stared at the screen, at the cursor blinking on one of the multiple percent signs. Trixie was one of those numbers now, one of those percents. She wondered how it was that she’d never truly studied this statistical symbol before: a figure split in two, a pair of empty circles on either side.

Here’s a test for what you’re reading now. Open the book to a random page. Without looking, put your finger on the page. Read the part you touched. Try again. And once more. Did every passage you selected at random hold your attention, make you want to read more? If not, why bother to read that particular book?

Books like The Tenth Circle have raised my expectations. When I read, I want to be bowled over (Ew! A cliché. A good writer wouldn’t use that!). I want each book to be better than the last.

In short, I want perfection. With metaphor and symbolism, too.


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Blogger Amy Hanek said...

I also LOVE Joci Picoult. I have read "Plain Truth" and "My Sister's Keeper."

Whenever I read anything by Jodi Picoult, I find the line dividing an issue blurs. I walk away with a different perspective on the world. She's an unbelievable author! I look forward to reading this one too!

6:44 AM  

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