Tag: The Bestseller Code 100 (page 1 of 16)

#BestsellerCode100: Number 50. The Martian by Andy Weir

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listThe Martian by Andy Weir.

This post does not contain spoilers.

The Martian by Andy Weir

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: When a freak accident leaves astronaut Mark Watney stranded alone on Mars with no one aware that he survived, his chances of making it back to Earth safely are nonexistent.  That, however, doesn’t stop the rebellious mechanical engineer and botanist from figuring out how to survive.

Have you read The Martian by Andy Weir? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about The Martian by Andy Weir? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number49. The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling (2012) – Discussion begins January 28, 2019
Tragicomedy

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Time to review our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, from a writer’s perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Westish College baseball star Henry Skrimshander is destined for the big leagues. That is, until he throws a ball that hits his roommate and friend Owen in the face. Will Henry be able to overcome the crippling self doubt that puts his future career in baseball — and even his life — in jeopardy?

Literary Fiction

As Karen mentioned in her review, this novel is an example of literary fiction.  If reading through this Bestseller Code list has taught me nothing else, it has revealed to me how much I dislike reading literary fiction. Spending excessive time in a person’s head mulling over his or her inner turmoil is claustrophobic. Even when a character does something interesting it is so overthought and overwrought that it loses impact.

It is a matter of taste, of course. Everyone has their own preferences. For example, I absolutely love ballet. I would gladly give up much to see someone dance for a couple of hours. Some people, on the other hand, would rather be poked with forks than subjected to the same performance.

Come to think of it reading this novel was rather like being poked with forks; ones which, of course, Pella washes afterwards.

 

Let’s review the specifics.

Characters

The characters in the book all intertwine in ways that makes six degrees of separation seem capricious. First we meet Mike Schwartz, a college athlete who has the skills to make things happen. When he sees Henry Skrimshander chase balls after a game, he realizes the kid has talent. He brings Henry to Westish college to play baseball. Henry’s roommate is Owen, the object of affection for Westish College President Affenlight who is the father of Pella who starts a relationship with Mike, but then sleeps with Henry.  Yes, it is all a bit incestuous to say the least.

In fact, so much so that when Affenlight begins to pine for the affection of a mysterious “O” it didn’t take a second to guess that it is Owen. It couldn’t be anyone else. There isn’t anyone else.

Setting

The vast majority of the “action” (I use that term loosely) takes place at the fictional Westish College in Wisconsin.  The campus resembles many others,

“…the green groomed lawn and the gray stone buildings that surrounded it, the sun just risen over the steamy lake and the mirrored-glass facade of the library…”

yet intimidates Henry, who doesn’t feel like he belongs.

Themes

Literary fiction is all about themes. Along with themes about human relationships (which may be why the computer chose it), I noticed a strong theme of people’s relationships with food. Specifically, people depriving themselves of or pushing away food.

For example, on page 156 Pella :

“Once , late at night, not long after she’d moved to San Francisco, she’d really, really wanted to cut up a slightly mushy avocado and rub the pit in her hands. It was an ecstasy-type desire, though she hadn’t taken ecstasy. She made David drive her to three supermarkets to find the right avocado. She told him she was craving guacamole — a more acceptable urge, if just barely. Luckily he’d fallen asleep while she was rolling the slimy pit in her palms, pretending to make guacamole. In the morning, having buried the chips and the yellow-green mush in the kitchen trash, she claimed to have eaten it all. She still had no idea how to make guacamole. “

On page 185, Owen reveals when he broke up with his boyfriend Jason that he had stopped eating. Henry was there to force him to eat. Later Owen, who is vegan, also refuses to eat fish.

On page 415, we find out roommates Noelle and Courtney live on red wine and Red Bull. On the next page, Henry has also given up on eating, and maybe drinking coffee, too.

“The thought of no more coffee and no more food made him momentarily happy.”

Rejecting food is a symbol for the emotional pain of the character.

I recently read a discussion about counter themes. In this case Henry’s use of the body building powder would be a counter theme.

Discussion

With literary fiction, we expect a lot of “fancy” writing to show off the author’s cleverness. Although Harbach’s writing is complex, as seen in the avocado paragraph above, it stays pretty much grounded. There aren’t any tricks or gimmicks, unlike Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. For that, I applaud.

If you’d like to read more about the author and how the book came about, Vanity Fair has an interesting article from 2014. The Atlantic also has an insightful review.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 50. The Martian by Andy Weir (2011) – Discussion begins January 14, 2019
Science Fiction

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Let’s look at our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, from a reader’s perspective.

For a summary of The Art of Fielding, please check out its introductory post.

This post contains spoilers.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Literary Fiction

The Art of Fielding is our second book in a row from the Literary Fiction genre, but it couldn’t be more different from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.   Whereas Extremely Loud felt disjointed, confused, even haphazard in its presentation, The Art of Fielding led me on a journey of human emotions almost seamlessly, flowing easily from one chapter to the next.  Instead of feeling as though I was being dragged through the author’s artistic journey without a road map, as was the case with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Art of Fielding led me slowly but surely along the intended path, picking up the author’s breadcrumbs (foreshadowing) and never panicking that I was lost or had missed some vital direction sign.  And on top of that, it was a very satisfying journey.

Henry’s Collapse

Henry’s sole reason for being is to be the best shortstop ever, just like his idol St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Aparicio Rodriquez, who wrote a treatise on playing shortstop, The Art of Fielding. Henry has read this book so many times, he knows it by heart and often refers to its nuggets of baseball (life) truisms.

 3.  There are three stages:  Thoughtless being.  Thought.  Return to thoughtless being.

33.  Do not confuse the first and third stages.  Thoughtless being is attained by everyone, the return to thoughtless being by a very few.

Unfortunately, after Henry throws an errant ball that injures his friend and roommate, Owen, he begins second guessing himself, double-clutching throws.  Each error brings on even more self-doubt, until it seems impossible to break the cycle.  Henry then falls into a downward spiral.  If he no longer can see himself as the best shortstop he can be, then what is he?  Who is he?  Henry = Shortstop = Henry  is no longer a valid equation and he has nothing to replace that identity.  Having seen this happen to loved ones in real life – the loss of a career leading to a loss of identity – I found his ensuing depression heartbreaking and believable.

Debut Novels

We’ve read a surprising number of debut novels in this reading challenge, which should be heartening to any wanna be author – you too can hit a home run with your first novel and reach beyond the outfield fence – in this case, the New York Times Bestseller List.  All it takes is a great set of characters, a mix of  human emotions (love, betrayal, fear of growing old), and a relatable setting, such as the backdrop of a college baseball diamond (or a race track {The Art of Racing} or a waterfront condo in Chicago {The Silent Wife} or a town like Mill River Vermont {The Mill River Recluse}).  Isn’t that encouraging?

What’s most encouraging to me as a reader is that I finally really enjoyed a Literary Fiction novel from this challenge.  I hope that, as we get closer and closer to the best books at the end of this list, that there will be more glittering diamonds like The Art of Fielding.

Have you read The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 50. The Martian by Andy Weir (2011) – Discussion begins January 14, 2019
Science Fiction

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Let’s look at Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer from a reader’s perspective.

For a summary of Extremely Loud, please check out its introductory post.

This post contains spoilers.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

In 2016 I heard a radio interview of Jonathan Safran Foer, who was promoting his newly released book, Here I Am. The interview was interesting enough that I added Here I Am to my “must read” list.  This past December I noticed the book on the “new releases” shelf at my local library, so I brought it home, only to discover that it was written by the same author as our next book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  How serendipitous, I thought.  Not wanting to confuse myself by reading two books by the same author at the same time, I set aside Here I Am to read later and began reading our book selection.

I really wanted to love this book.  I liked the main character, Oskar.  I enjoyed his story line, his search for his lost father in New York City, even though I didn’t find it very believable that Oskar’s mother would allow him to roam NYC on his own.  After all, he is only nine.  But, for the sake of the story, I was willing to suspend that disbelief and keep reading.  As Roberta revealed in her Writer’s Review, it turns out that Oskar’s mom does know what he is doing and has surreptitiously arranged it so that Oskar is safe the whole time.  Both Oskar and the reader have been played.

Visual Cleverness

Roberta also mentioned the “clever” ways that Foer plays with the text and design throughout the book.  Oskar’s sections have their own idiosyncrasies, but the chapters that tell the stories of his grandmother and grandfather really go over the top, to the point where I found them almost unintelligible.  I’m sure the author had some lofty goals, some way these visual cues would lead us to a deeper understanding of the story, but they were completely lost on me.  I came away with only a vague understanding of his grandparent’s and their relationship, and mostly felt frustrated and cheated.

As an example, here’s a section from one of Oskar’s grandfather’s chapters (Why I’m Not Where You Are 5/21/63):

Jonathan-Safran-Foer

The entire chapter runs on this way, with no paragraph breaks and very few periods to mark the end of sentences.  I cringed every time I had to read the grandfather sections.

When I first finished reading Extremely Loud last week, I came away with a feeling of actually liking the book.  I felt it was the first Literary Fiction novel we’ve read in this challenge where I liked the story line, liked the characters, liked the outcome.  Now, a week later, I realize that that was all an illusion.  The story quickly faded in my mind and left me with more questions than answers.

I have not seen the movie that was made from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I have to wonder how the producers and screenwriters handled all these text and design “innovations” on the big screen.  Would I perhaps understand the story better by seeing the movie?

The Importance of Genre

Unfortunately, now I likely will not read Here I Am.  If Extremely Loud is indicative of this author’s writing style, I don’t need to waste more of my precious reading time.  And once again, I’m reminded of the importance of genre.  A bestseller list encompasses so many genres that one individual is never going to like every book on that list, no matter how popular it was to other readers.  Hopefully somewhere in this Reading Challenge I’ll find a Literary Fiction novel that I really and truly enjoy.

Have you read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 51. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (2011) – Discussion begins December 31, 2018
Literary Fiction

#BestsellerCode100: Number 51. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

This post does not contain spoilers.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Westish College baseball star Henry Skrimshander is destined for the big leagues. That is, until he messes up an easy throw which leads to disaster, and the lives of those around him are changed. With his future in jeopardy, can Henry overcome his crippling self doubt?

Have you read The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 50. The Martian by Andy Weir (2011) – Discussion begins January 14, 2019
Science Fiction

#BestsellerCode100: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Writer’s Review

Let’s take a look at Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer from a writer’s perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

 

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Nine-year-old Oskar Schell’s father died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. When he finds a key hidden in his father’s closet, he thinks it is part of a scavenger hunt game he and his dad played. This impels Oskar to go on a quest to find the lock that the key fits.

Genre

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a work of literary fiction.

Discussion

Normally I would go into the characters and setting of the book, but for this novel I’m going to take a different tack and jump right into discussion.

In the end of the book Oskar discovers the reason that his mother has allowed him to wander around the city without asking where he was going or even seeming to care about what he was doing was because she knew exactly what he was up to all along. She had talked to everyone he went to visit before Oskar arrived. She made sure he was safe by acting behind the scenes. His journey was an illusion orchestrated by his mom who assumed the role of protector and also puppet master.

Oh, the irony. As a reader, I felt every bit as manipulated by the author as Oskar was by his mother. I was supposed to admire the clever way Foer played with the text and design. My, pages 121-123 are blank. Isn’t that such a statement? So bold.

Pages 208- 216 are covered with red editor’s marks. (Well, sort of. They aren’t the marks a copy editor would use.) “How ingenious,” the reader is supposed to say. How innovative.

 

Extremely Loud

Why do I feel manipulated?

As a writer, the question becomes why does this work of fiction leave me annoyed whereas another novel, equally a work of complete fiction, can draw me in and make me completely forget the world I’m in for hours?

I’m not saying I have this all figured out by any means, but at least part of it is ego. In this novel Jonathan Safran Foer’s ego is everywhere. He wants you to admire his brilliant writing, not enjoy it. The author uses his gifts — and he is very talented — to show off, whereas another equally talented writer would step back and let the characters tell the story. You’ve probably noticed this with actors, too. Some charismatic actors always steal the show by being themselves regardless of the role. Do you ever forget that it’s Bruce Willis or Will Smith on the screen? Other sublimely gifted actors inhabit their characters so fully that the members of the audience suspend disbelief. They believe they are watching real people for the time the characters are on the screen.

The way Foer defies writing convention so blatantly is also part of it. My life is busy and I have limited time to read. As a reader, I don’t want to spend my precious hours trying to figure out the odd grammar and syntax. Instead, I want to read. I want the words to disappear and the images to roll through my head like a movie.

Every novel we’ve read for this challenge has taught me something that I hope will make me a better writer. The message I learned from this one is to be kind to your reader. Leave your ego at the door.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 51. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (2011) – Discussion begins December 31, 2018
Literary Fiction

#BestsellerCode100: Number 52. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Nine-year-old Oskar Schell’s father died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. When he finds a key, he thinks it is part of a scavenger hunt game he and his dad played, so Oskar goes on a quest to find out what it fits.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a work of literary fiction.

 

Have you read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 51. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (2011) – Discussion begins December 31, 2018
Literary Fiction

#BestsellerCode100: Number 53. Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listBeautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire.

This post does not contain spoilers.

Beautiful Disaster* by Jamie McGuire


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

Summary: When good girl Abby Abernathy meets bad boy Travis Maddox, she resists his charm because he has the reputation for one night stands. Her keeping him at arm’s-length makes Travis want Abby even more. To get closer to her, he proposes a bet. If she wins he must refrain from sex for a month or if she loses, Abby must move in with Travis for a month.

This novel is a defined as a “new adult” romance. It is followed by a loosely linked series featuring the Maddox brothers, including Beautiful Oblivion, Beautiful Redemption, and Beautiful Sacrifice.

Have you read Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 52. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (2005) – Discussion begins December 17, 2018
Literary Fiction

#BestsellerCode100: Our Thoughts on Novels 100 to 54

Having finished novels 100 to 54, Karen and I are nearly half way through The Bestseller Code list of 100 bestsellers. We’ve decided to summarize our results so far in a Q and A format. (Links go to our reviews and landing pages).

What was your favorite and least favorite book from the list, and why?

Roberta:  My least favorite book from the list is the easiest to pick. I despised the main character in Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young so much I couldn’t get past the first part.

My favorite is more difficult. If I disregard the three authors I had already read and knew I enjoyed (The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert GalbraithThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson, and anything by John Sandford), my favorite that I discovered by reading the list is The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison.  I loved the sparse language and the ability of the author to keep readers on the edge of their seats even though the ending was revealed in the second paragraph. Or was it?

 

That said, I had several close runner ups.

Karen:  My least favorite book was the same as Roberta’s, Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young, for much the same reasons.  I only finished the book because I wanted to see if it would ever improve (it did not).  The main character was so horrible that you had no sympathy or empathy for him and the second portion of the book read more like science fiction rather than Christian fiction.  It was a total waste of my time.

Two other books deserve dishonorable mention in the “least favorite category” – The Klone and I by Danielle Steel and The Choice by Nicholas Sparks.

I had several favorite books and really could not choose just one.  It was a three-way tie for first place between Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, And The Mountains Echoed by Khalid Hosseini, and Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.  They all fall in the Historical Fiction genre, so it’s no surprise they were my favorites.  Each gave me insight into specific events and time periods, leading me to do more research on my own.  It didn’t hurt that the writing by each author was excellent, with fully developed characters, great descriptions, and moving story lines.  Enjoyable all the way around.

 

 

I had a two-way tie for second place between The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Steig Larrson and The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf.  One is a suspense novel, the other Crime/Mystery/Thriller.  Both of these books kept me up way too late at night reading!

Two books deserve special mention because I find that when reviewing the list of books read, I remember absolutely nothing about them — Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri and The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown.  They were that unmemorable.

Has this reading challenge changed your reading selection process?

 Roberta:  If anything, it has made me less interested in picking up a bestseller. The words “bestselling author” on the cover aren’t as impressive as they once were, and instead I look for careful, reasoned reviews and recommendations of readers I trust.

Karen:  Where before my fiction selections were usually historical fiction and spy thrillers, I find I now also look for crime/mystery/detective novels.  I especially enjoyed Easy Prey by John Sandford and have begun reading that complete series.  And, as Roberta stated above, I’m less interested in a book if it is a bestseller.  I also disliked most of the novels that had won any sort of literary award.

As a writer, what have you gleaned from doing this challenge that has helped your own writing?

Roberta:  That is a great question.

Rather than learning any specific writing techniques, I learned that many of the best novelists break all sorts of “rules.” For example, there were novels (like Lovely Bones) that began with the highest level of drama instead of having the standard rising conflict with a climax at the end. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larson had pages of solid dialogue without a single dialogue tag. Some of the authors did more telling than showing. The bottom line is good storytelling is about more than simply following certain conventions.

I have also discovered that writing with a distinctive voice is something to strive for. I tend to try to play it safe, tamp down my voice, and keep to norms. The best novels turn the norms upside down.

For a few of the novels, the storytelling was so smooth and effortless, the writing disappeared from my consciousness. I was completely engrossed and hardly realized I was reading. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet, but I’d love to be able to achieve it.

As a reader, what have you gleaned from doing this challenge that has impacted your reading?

Karen:  This challenge has broadened my scope of reading genres and exposed me to new authors I might not have discovered on my own.  It’s also led me to the realization that I don’t need to require myself to finish reading a book if it is not up to my expectations.  There are a lot of mediocre books out there, even if they are bestsellers, and so if it’s not working for me early on, I can set it aside and move on.

What has surprised you most about the books we’ve read?

Roberta:  I was surprised how many of the novels I didn’t like or felt were poorly written, especially some of the ones that won literary prizes. Naively, I thought bestsellers would appeal to a broad range of readers and so I’d like the majority on the list. Now I realize novels might make the bestseller lists through marketing, luck, or good timing rather than because they have superior writing or storytelling.

That said, I also admit that forcing myself to read the books during a two week window for the challenge might also have soured me to some of the books. I wasn’t always in the mood to read a particular genre when it was assigned.

Karen:  Again, like Roberta, I experienced surprise at how many truly awful books make the bestseller list (public acclaim) or receive awards (literary acclaim).  Two examples are Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James and Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.  Either that, or my tastes run completely opposite those of the general reading public and/or literary prize committees.

Have you learned anything about what makes a novel a bestseller from reading the list so far?

Roberta:  The main take away I’ve had so far is that it isn’t the quality of writing that makes a novel a bestseller, but having a fresh perspective and/or a fresh story that really makes them stand out. Readers seem to like a bit of novelty, for example books about a zombie apocalypse (World War Z by Max Brooks), a love story featuring a quadriplegic main character (Me Before You by JoJo Moyes),  a novel told from the perspective of a dog (The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein) or from the perspective of a dead girl (The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold).

Having a distinctive voice also helps.

Karen: Besides having a loyal fan base that will snatch up your newest release without waiting for a review and thus potentially creating a bestseller when it should have been a dud?

Two things stand out in the bestsellers that I’ve truly enjoyed:

__________________

What are we reading next?

We’re taking a break until November.

We have decided to take a short hiatus from the Bestseller 100 Challenge. Both of us have other commitments and aren’t able to put in the time and attention the project requires.   We will be sure to let you know when we start this challenge back up so you can read along with us.   The second half of the 100 Book List includes some of our favorite (and some very popular) authors, such as J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, Barbara Kingsolver, Jodi Picoult, and Tom Clancy.  We hope you will join us at that time.

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of Testimony by Anita Shreve

Let’s take a look at the next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, Testimony by Anita Shreve, from a writer’s perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

 

Testimony* by Anita Shreve

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: When the headmaster of Avery Academy receives a video of three of his older male students engaged in sexual acts with an underage girl, he is shocked. What will be the consequences for the students involved and for the school, which is already struggling? How did this happen and what should he do about it?

Plot/Format

This novel has an unusual format in many ways. First of all, instead of the standard rising conflict, the author presents the highest level of drama — the most intense scene — in the first chapter. All the following chapters cover either the acts that gave rise to the event or the results from it. It is like a mirror is shattered in the first scene and the rest of the book is about trying to reassemble the pieces.

The story is told from the perspectives of multiple characters, some of whom are closer to the sex scandal than others.  At times the diversity of viewpoints is excessive and unnecessary, for example when Natalie the lunch lady at the school or the town boy named Daryl, who sells alcohol to minors, get their say.

To her credit, Anita Shreve uses an unnamed researcher from the university to instigate some of the “testimony” and tie together the pieces with the finest of threads. The book might have been stronger, however, if the researcher was more concrete and pulled the pieces together more tightly.

Each chapter also varies in point of view. For example, the first chapter with Mike the headmaster is in third person. The second scene (by Ellen, Rob’s mom) is told in second person. Sienna, the underage girl, narrates in first person.

Characters

Because Anita Shreve tells the story from multiple perspectives, it isn’t clear who the protagonist is. The reader learns the most about one of the boys named Silas; what his motives were and what happened to him.

A case could also be made that Mike, the headmaster of the school who views the video, is the main character, especially since he’s the character we meet first. On the other hand, his actions also instigated much of what happened to Silas.

 

Photo of a house in Vermont by Mariamichelle via Visualhunt.com

Setting

The setting is a private school in Vermont. It adds atmosphere, but the story could have been placed anywhere and still had the same impact.

Discussion

A test for the greatness of any novel is how well it remains relevant over time. Unfortunately, from the perspective of the #MeToo era,  how Shreve treats the three young males who get drunk and sexually assault an underage girl seems tipped towards sympathy for the boys. The girl is presented at times as a willing participant, or at the very least less of a victim, than the boys. That perspective feels outdated.

Overall, although the construction of the novel was intriguing, the themes didn’t work for me. I had to work to finish the novel because I didn’t really care what happened to any of the characters.

 

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