Friday, December 13, 2013

Eat Like You’re Going Extinct

I have a health magazine that came with my gym membership, and it has a ton of articles about the paleo diet.  The articles claim that you’ll be healthier if you eat like a caveman or a dinosaur.  That statement confuses me because dinosaurs are extinct, and the average Neanderthal had a lifespan of less than 30 years.  That doesn’t seem very healthy to me.  I don’t want to go extinct, and I’d like to live to see my 30th birthday.  However, the diet was interesting enough that I bought a cookbook called Paleo Comfort Foods: Homestyle Cooking for a Gluten-Free Kitchen by Julie and Charles Mayfield.

According to the internet, there are a few different definitions of “paleo diet.”  This book’s introduction says, “What is our definition of paleo?  We eat meats (predominantly grass-fed), poultry (pastured), game (Charles is an avid hunter), fresh seafood, and any other high-quality proteins we can get our hands on.  We eat vegetables of all colors of the rainbow.  We eat little bits of fruit here and there—especially when in season, and picked fresh from our garden.  We consume fat without the fear of fat making us fat” (page 31-32).  Later in the introduction, the authors say, “These recipes are filled with ingredients and foods (for the most part) that your grandmother would recognize.  However, here’s what you won’t find in these recipes: grains or gluten, legumes (with the exception of two recipes using green beans, in which you’re eating mostly the bean pod, and they don’t have near the lectin load as dry beans), and the only bit of diary is with a few recipes that really do need the milk solids in non-clarified, but still grass-fed butter” (page 34).

Overall, Paleo Comfort Foods is a really nice book.  I love the giant pictures.  The book is durable and fairly easy to clean if you spill stuff on it while cooking.  I haven’t made all of the recipes, but most of the ones that I have made turned out well.  My favorites were jambalaya (even though I made it too spicy for most people), fried chicken (it’s actually more like baked chicken), and farmer’s pie.

This probably isn’t the best book for beginner cooks.  I’m a horrible and impatient cook.  Most of my food comes out of a box and goes into a microwave.  I sometimes get annoyed if I’m required to stir the food halfway through microwaving.  Cooking the recipes in this book was a big change for me.  A lot of the recipes took hours to make, and there were a few times that I had to call my mom because I didn’t understand something.  The book did help me start to get over my fear of touching raw meat.  This diet has a lot of meat in it.

There are two things that irritated me about this book.  The first is the font size in the foreword, acknowledgements, preface, introduction, kitchen foods, and cooking tools sections.  These sections take up approximately 50 pages, and the font is huge.  Huge font = higher page count = more expensive book.  I would have liked to have a smaller font or fewer sections at the beginning of the book so that the price would have been lower.  The price is $29.95, which isn’t horrible for a book with huge color pictures, but it might have been lower without 50 pages of monster font.  

The other annoyance was the index.  It’s sparse and not very useful.  For example, you need 1 teaspoon of filé powder to make jambalaya.  I had never heard of filé powder, and I wanted to know if I just needed it for this recipe or if it’s a common ingredient in a lot of recipes.  I looked it up in the index.  It wasn’t in there.  That makes it difficult to know if you should buy a lot of an ingredient or just enough for one recipe.  Some of the ingredients in this book are very expensive, so it would be nice to know how much to stock up on when they go on sale.

Even though there were a few annoying things about Paleo Comfort Foods, I’d still recommend the book to anyone who likes to cook and wants to try the paleo diet.  I don’t eat paleo often enough to know if it has any impact on my health, but it’s yummier than a microwaved Lean Cuisine. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

On Mary Sues

I have never written fan fiction or wanted to write fan fiction, but over the last year, I have been reading it out of curiosity.  The first time that I scrolled down to the comments of a fan fiction piece, I saw this comment:

"Your main character is a Mary Sue!"
My reaction to that comment was “Um, who’s Mary Sue?”  I had a college degree in fiction writing, I had been to writing conferences, I had been to author readings, I had attended workshops, I had read dozens of books on writing, I had turned down an offer to tutor at a writing center, and I had edited for a literary journal.  I had never heard of a Mary Sue.  I’m willing to bet that a lot of writers, editors, and professors have never heard of a Mary Sue.  If they knew about Mary Sues, they would’ve taught me about them, right?

According to Google, a Mary Sue is a poorly-developed, unrealistically-perfect, idealized character that represents the author.  The author turns himself/herself into a character and inserts that character into an established fictional universe (such as the Harry Potter universe or the Star Trek universe).  The fictional author-character interacts with the established characters in that universe in some way. 

Judging by the volume of “Your character is a Mary Sue!” comments, Mary Sues are common and undesirable in fan fiction.  If you Google Mary Sue, there are quizzes that will (supposedly) tell you if your character is a Mary Sue.  While reading fan fiction, I saw authors arguing with commenters and denying that the Mary Sue label fits their characters.  I saw authors begging commenters not to call their characters Mary Sues.  I saw authors apologizing for the fact that their characters are Mary Sues.  I saw authors creating intentional Mary Sues.  I saw a lot of disagreements between commenters over whether or not a character is a Mary Sue.  The Mary Sue label seems to be subjective and applied often.

I decided that you have to be ballsy to put your fan fiction on the internet.  Writers have to have thick skin, but some of those Mary Sue comments are just nasty.  It made me wonder if there are aspiring writers who are so paranoid of creating a Mary Sue that they don’t write.  I also wondered if there are aspiring writers who have quit writing because of the Mary Sue comments.

I’m not sure how to answer those questions, but I really hope that Mary Sue paranoia doesn’t stop anyone from writing.  The fact that I’ve made it this far in my writing/editing career without hearing about Mary Sues makes me think that they’re not something that professional writers spend much time thinking about.  If you enjoy writing, then write.  Don’t worry about Mary Sues.  Constructive criticism is great, but it seems as if some people on fan fiction sites are just trolls who enjoy starting arguments.  Don’t let them discourage you.  Write your story the way that you think it should be written.  Trust your writer instincts.  Now, go write. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Character Development Exercise

I’ve always been slightly baffled by “Interview Your Character” exercises.  If you’re not familiar with these, they’re lists of questions for an author to answer about their fictional character.  The lists usually contain questions such as, “What’s your character’s favorite ice cream flavor?”  And, “How did your character learn where babies come from?”  These exercises are entertaining, but do they actually help with the story?  In my opinion, they don’t.  The fact that my character prefers chocolate ice cream isn’t helpful because it isn’t relevant to the story.  In the type of fiction that I enjoy, characters are usually too busy fighting for their lives to stop for ice cream.  Knowing their favorite flavor doesn’t help me.

I did some thinking, and some Google-ing, and some fiction-writing-reference-book checking, and I tried to come up with a character development exercise that would always be relevant to a writer’s story.  Here’s what I came up with. 

The most realistic characters in literature are the ones who seem to exist separately from the plot.  The characters do not exist solely to move the plot forward.  The plot is something that happens in the life of the character.  That character existed before the plot happened, and if the character survives the plot, he/she/it will continue to exist after the plot is over.

So, this is the first step in my character development exercise:

1.       Separate the character and the plot.

Who was this character before the plot happened?  Who would they be if the plot never happened?  What strengths/weaknesses/personality traits are they bringing into the plot? 

Harry Potter can be used as an obvious example of a character who brought traits into a plot.  The first time that Harry comes to Hogwarts, the Sorting Hat considers his personality and debates about whether to put him in Gryffindor or Slytherin.  The reader learns that Gryffindor students are brave and chivalrous, and Slytherin students are ambitious, cunning, and resourceful.  Harry possessed all of these traits before being told that he was a wizard.  If he’d never found out that he was a wizard, he’d still have these traits.  They are part of his personality.

The next two steps in the character development exercise are about human behavior.  A lot of human behavior is driven by two things: desire and fear. 

Think about your character separately from the plot and answer these two questions:

2.       What is this character’s greatest desire? (Not directly related to the plot).

3.      What is this character’s greatest fear? (Not directly related to the plot).

If your plot is about a character who needs to kill an evil overlord, their greatest desire shouldn’t be to kill the overlord.  The desire and fear should be much deeper than that.  They might be so deep that the character doesn’t even realize that these things are determining how he/she/it reacts to certain situations.  Once again, think about the character before the plot happens.  It might be helpful to go all the way back to the character’s childhood.  How was the character raised?  If the character had overbearing, perfectionist parents, the character might be terrified of failure.  This could make the character scared of trying new things because there’s a possibility of failure when anything new is attempted.  On the other hand, it could make the character rich and powerful because the character puts a ton of effort in to everything that he/she/it does in order to avoid failure.

What if your character was orphaned as a child?  This could cause a desire for love and acceptance, and that could lead to the character getting involved in an abusive relationship.  The character desires to feel loved so badly that he/she/it will settle for a relationship with someone who takes advantage of the character.

Here’s the last step in this exercise:

4.       Look at the events in the plot from the character’s point-of-view.   

The plot will reveal your character’s greatest desires and greatest fears.  It might be so subtle that the average reader doesn’t notice, but you (the author) should notice the desires and fears being revealed.  Different characters will react to the same situation in different ways because their behavior is being driven by different desires and fears.  A character who desires happiness may have no problem leaving a job that he/she/it hates.  A character who fears failure may be reluctant to leave a crappy job because he/she/it might fail at finding a new job.

If it helps, you can do this for each character and major plot point:

This character desires ___________, so when __________ happens in the plot, the character will have this reaction: _________________.

This character fears ___________, so when __________ happens in the plot, the character will have this reaction: ________________.

Friday, November 8, 2013


Happy NaNoWriMo!  If you’re participating, you should have at least 13,328 words written by the end of today (if I did the math correctly).  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month.  Every November, writers from all over the world attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. 

Instead of participating in the writing this year, I was going to do National Novel Editing Month and try to cut 50,000 words out of a novel.  I’ve only cut 3,600 so far.  I have a feeling that I’ve already failed at NaNoEditMo.

Last year, I did succeed at writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.  It was a fun experience because I only had to worry about the word count.  I knew that the novel would be a complete, unsalvageable disaster that no one would ever read, but it was liberating to be able to write without worrying about the results.  I totally agree with John Green in this Vlogbrothers video from 2009.  (If you're on this blog's mobile site, you might not be able to see the video.  I still haven't figured out why.)


Happy NaNo, and don’t be afraid to suck.  Now, go write.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Editorial Philosophy

This was originally a school assignment, but I found it interesting because I’ve never thought about my personal editorial philosophy before.  It helped me understand my reactions to certain pieces of literature.  I thought that it might also be interesting to authors, so I’m posting it here.  I know that I’m not the only person who has these opinions.




There are many elements that I look for when determining whether or not a story should be published.  The first is imagery, which seems simple because most stories should have it, but I’m the type of person who thinks in pictures and whose senses are closely tied to memory.  When I look at the hundreds of books on my shelves, in my drawers, and spilling out of my closet, I often don’t remember the names and backstories of the characters.  Sometimes, I don’t even remember the book’s plot.  What I do remember is the imagery, and when I think about the story months or years after reading it, the imagery is always the first thing that comes back to me.  I can take a book off my shelf and say, “This novel has a scene of a mother and daughter walking in a river,” or “This literary magazine has a story where a man puts wood carvings of people on his fireplace mantel.”  I want stories that have strong imagery because those are the ones that I remember and want to read over and over.

Since I enjoy reading a piece many times, I look for writing that will hold up to multiple readings without becoming uninteresting.  I like stories with layers.  I love to read a story a second or third time and see things that I missed the first time. 

I want to read about characters with intricate pasts, complex motives, believable desires, and psychological depth.  I prefer main characters who are active, not just reactive, and definitely not just victims.  I like characters who take control of their lives and make the events in the plot happen.  I don’t want to see them only reacting to events that were created by circumstance or by less-important characters.  Some reaction is fine, of course, but I also want to see the character doing/creating/causing something.  I get annoyed by characters who are victims and nothing else.  If a character is being bullied or targeted by bad guys, there has to be a good reason.  I want to see the character do something to change the situation and not just mope around feeling sorry for himself/herself.

I enjoy reading many different types of stories, but I most often find myself being drawn to stories that are quirky and unpredictable.  I have heard people say, “There’s no such thing as an original idea,” and maybe that’s true, but I definitely think that there are original combinations of ideas.  I love it when I read a story and see some combination that I’ve never seen before or think about something familiar in an entirely new way.  I want stories that entertain me as well as make me think and keep me guessing.  I have very little tolerance for predictability.  It’s disappointing to guess the end of a story, flip to the last page, and discover that I’m correct.

I look for stories that make me feel something.  I’m always happy when some element in the first few pages of a story makes me sit up and pay attention.  I want plots that make me so curious that I can’t put the story down until I find out what happens next.  I want to feel the tension that comes from reading faster and faster until I find out what happens.  I also want characters that I can care about.  The characters don’t have to be likeable or be good people, but they have to be intriguing enough that I care about what happens to them.  The best stories are the ones where I care about the characters so much that I’m anxious when they’re in trouble, and I’m happy when they achieve their goals.  I have read so many stories that involve breakups and makeups, death and destruction, plans thwarted and battles won that I sometimes feel as if I’ve become emotionally numb to those types of stories.  I always appreciate it when an author gets me invested enough in the plot and characters that the story’s events have an emotional impact on me.  

I don’t have as much experience with poetry as I do with novels and short stories, but I’m most drawn to poems that play with language and sound beautiful when read out loud.  I also like poems that are able to say a lot with very few words and have strong imagery.

I prefer nonfiction that has a narrative and is both entertaining and educational.  I want to learn something without feeling as if I’m learning something.  I’ve never enjoyed reading a textbook.

I have a love/hate relationship with memoirs because there are so many poorly-written ones out there.  It seems as if anyone who is slightly famous or had something slightly interesting happen to them publishes a memoir, even if they’ve never written anything before in their life.  I dislike memoirs that are self-indulgent.  I’m reading the book because I want to hear a good story, not because I want to hear about the awesomeness of the author.  I enjoy memoirs that skip some of the “I,” “I,” “I,” “Me,” “Me,” “Me,” and focus on being entertaining and educational.

That’s my editorial philosophy as of right now.  It will probably change in the future.  Thanks for reading it.  


Friday, October 25, 2013

Crappy Editing Solves/Ruins/Creates Mysteries

If your bookshelves are anything like mine, almost all of your books come from one of five large publishing companies.  However, there are thousands of publishing companies out there.  I wanted to know what kinds of books the smaller companies are publishing.  I bought a book published by a small company.  It was horrible.  It was possibly the most disappointing book I’ve ever read.  I know that small publishers are capable of producing quality books, but this book was just bad.  It made me feel sad for the author because it’s the publishing company’s job to not publish something until it’s ready.  This book was not ready.
Here’s what happens in the book:
A wealthy business owner’s son goes missing and is assumed to have been kidnapped.  Two detectives are hired by two different people to find the son.  The detectives don’t know that they’ve been hired to work on the same case until they meet in a bar and start talking about their cases.  One of the detectives says something like, “I know what happened right before the business owner’s son died.”  The other detective doesn’t react to the news that they guy who they’re both looking for is dead.  They just end their conversation, go their separate ways, and continue looking for the missing son.  Nothing else is said about the son being dead.
I spent about two-thirds of the book being massively confused and rereading to figure out why I was massively confused.  Why were the detectives still treating this case like a missing person case if they knew that the son was dead?
Then, at the end of the book, the detectives find the son’s body and don’t seem surprised that he’s dead, but the way that the dead-body-discovery scene is written feels as if the death is meant to surprise the reader.  It wasn’t a surprise to me because the detective said that the son was dead two-hundred pages ago.
I’m still confused.  I have a feeling that the author changed some scenes, and the dialogue about the son’s death wasn’t supposed to be in the published version of the book.  I can’t come up with another reason why the detectives would continue looking for someone who they knew was dead.  It would also explain why one detective didn’t react when the other detective said that the son was dead.  The mistake led to me being confused for the majority of the book.  If I didn’t have a compulsive need to finish every book that I start reading, I would have put this one down and not picked it up again.
This is why good editing is so important.  One misplaced line ruined an entire book.  (Well, one misplaced line and about eighty distracting typos ruined an entire book).  So, edit carefully. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

How To Fail At Writing

Disclaimer: this post is my opinion.  Feel free to disagree in the comments.


I was researching the reading habits of the American public (a very depressing topic), and I came across this comment at the bottom of one of the articles:

“I write paranormal romances, so I read everything except paranormal romances.  I don’t want my writing to be influenced by other paranormal romance authors.”

I’m sorry, anonymous internet poster, but this is a horrible idea.  If you want to write paranormal romances, you should be reading every paranormal romance that you can find.

Here’s why:

Genre conventions.  Paranormal romance is a genre, and like any genre, readers of those books have expectations that the book needs to meet.  What traits do paranormal romance readers find appealing in heroes/heroines?  Does the main character in a paranormal romance tend to be a man or a woman?  How does the typical “boy meets girl” scenario go in a paranormal romance?  Do paranormal romances differ from regular romances in any way besides the paranormal element?  Do paranormal romances have traditional happily-ever-after endings?  How big of a role does the paranormal element have to play to satisfy the reader?  What are some common paranormal elements found in the genre?  Does one of the main characters have to be non-human?  Does the paranormal element typically cause conflict between the hero and heroine? 

I don’t know how to answer these questions because I don’t write paranormal romances, and I haven’t read enough of them to learn the genre conventions.  A paranormal romance writer should understand the conventions.  They should know what the readers expect.  The only way to learn these things is to read paranormal romances and see what other authors are doing to satisfy the readers.

Writers also need to be reading within their genre to make sure that what they’re doing hasn’t been done to death.  Maybe readers have seen your story too many times before.  What you think is original might be cliché to someone who reads the genre.  Maybe the market has been saturated with vampire romances, or mermaid romances, or whatever romances for the last few years, and publishers aren’t publishing those types of books right now.  You won’t know these things if you’re not reading.

Finally, being influenced by other writers isn’t a bad thing.  A lot of great ideas are sparked by reading, and it doesn’t hurt to study the work of successful writers.  So, please read within your genre.  It won't kill you.




I haven’t given you an update on All The Things recently.

All The Things = 19 books.  I somehow managed to acquire more books.

I’m currently reading A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers.  I bought the book because of the title only.  I had no idea what the book was about.  Turns out, it’s a really good book.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Colorado Gold Conference Review

The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference was held on September 20-22, 2013 at the Renaissance Hotel in Denver.  The conference offered sessions on improving your writing, starting your writing career, writing different genres, figuring out the publishing industry, and furthering your writing career after you’ve been published.  Conference attendees could follow the “Fast Tracks” and focus on one of these areas, or they could mix-and-match sessions.  The conference also had agent and editor panels, published writer panels, critique sessions, pitch sessions, pitch coaching, and master classes.

This was my first time going to this conference.  I only went to the sessions, and I didn’t follow any of the “Fast Tracks,” but I was there for all three days.  This was the second-biggest writing conference I’ve ever been to.  There were a lot of people, but it didn’t feel overcrowded.

Everyone I talked to was nice and helpful.  I didn’t stay at the hotel, but the conference rooms and the hallways seemed clean, and the employees were helpful.  Some of the conference rooms were difficult to find.  It would have been nice to have a map of the hotel in the conference packet so that I didn’t have to go back to the hotel lobby and look at their map whenever I didn’t know where I was going.

I wish that I could have cloned myself and gone to more of the sessions.  I sometimes had a hard time deciding which ones I wanted to attend.  I thought that I’d like the publishing industry sessions the most because I’m usually more interested in editing than writing, but I ended up liking the writing sessions the best.  My two favorites were Writing Action and Fight Scenes and Writing Characters with Psychological Disorders. 

It’s odd that I liked Writing Action and Fight Scenes because I’ve written very few fight scenes; the fight scenes that I have written are all short and one-sided; and I’ve never written a battle scene like you’d find in a war or sword-and-sorcery novel.  The session was really interesting, though.  A lot of the writing advice that was given seemed to be aimed at beginning writers.  It was the type of stuff that you’d learn in an Intro to Fiction Writing class.  For example, the instructors taught us to use short sentences to speed up the pace of a scene and use long sentences to slow the pace.  They also taught us to keep things in order: “I punched him, and he fell.”  Not: “He fell after I punched him.”  For me, the most interesting parts of the session were the details about what actually happens during fights/battles.  Some people feel as if time speeds up; other people feel as if time slows down.  Some people’s brains get so overwhelmed with sensory information that the brain can’t process all of it, and they don’t remember parts of the battle after it’s over.  Some people get so scared that they really do crap their pants (that’s not a myth).  And, if you get shot and aren’t killed instantly, you probably won’t lie down and die gracefully.  You’ll scream.  And maybe flail around.  A lot.

Writing Characters with Psychological Disorders is another session that I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did.  I’ve written some odd characters, but the session focused almost entirely on schizophrenia, and I’ve never written a schizophrenic character.  For anyone who doesn’t know, people with schizophrenia have hallucinations and have a hard time telling the difference between what is real and what is a hallucination.  Writing a schizophrenic character seems like a challenging thing to do, so I don’t think I ever want to try it.  I did like hearing stories about real-life people with schizophrenia.  Brains are weird.  The biggest thing that I learned from the session is that I’m hugely grateful that I don’t have schizophrenia.

This post is getting long, so I’m ending it by saying that I will definitely be going to the Colorado Gold Conference next year.  I enjoyed it.         

Friday, October 4, 2013

Short Story Collections That Don’t Suck

I promise that this is the last of these lists for a long time.  If you’re looking to get in to reading short story collections or composite novels, here are a few to get you started.  I tried to pick collections about a variety of subjects.  There should hopefully be something here that appeals to everybody.  Once again, I stole the book summaries from Goodreads and Wikipedia.  Also, I'm done fighting with Blogger to get the formatting correct on these posts.  Sorry you have to look at some crappy formatting.


In Our Time – Ernest Hemingway

When In Our Time was published in 1925, it was praised by Ford Madox Ford, John Dos Passos, and F. Scott Fitzgerald for its simple and precise use of language to convey a wide range of complex emotions, and it earned Hemingway a place beside Sherwood Anderson and Gertrude Stein among the most promising American writers of that period. In Our Time contains several early Hemingway classics, including the famous Nick Adams stories "Indian Camp," "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife," "The Three Day Blow," and "The Battler," and introduces readers to the hallmarks of the Hemingway style: a lean, tough prose -- enlivened by an ear for the colloquial and an eye for the realistic that suggests, through the simplest of statements, a sense of moral value and a clarity of heart.

Now recognized as one of the most original short story collections in twentieth-century literature, In Our Time provides a key to Hemingway's later works.

Why I don’t think it sucks: I know that this one was on last week’s list, but it needs to be on this week’s too.  Hemingway can say a lot with very few words.

Nine Stories – J.D. Salinger
Nine Stories is a collection of short stories by American fiction writer J. D. Salinger released in May 1953. It includes two of his most famous short stories, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and “For Esmé – with Love and Squalor.”
“A Perfect Day for Bananafish” is an enigmatic examination of a young married couple, Muriel and Seymour Glass, while on vacation in Florida.  “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor” is widely considered to be one of the finest literary pieces to result from World War II.  It’s about an orphaned child, Esmé, who meets an American soldier in Devon, England in 1944.

Why I don’t think it sucks: Amazing child characters.  If you’re a writer who wants to write realistic child characters, you need to read this book.  Actually, everyone needs to read this book.  It’s one of the best books in the history of books.


The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien

They carried malaria tablets, love letters, 28-pound mine detectors, dope, illustrated bibles, each other. And if they made it home alive, they carried unrelenting images of a nightmarish war that history is only beginning to absorb. Since its first publication, The Things They Carried has become an unparalleled Vietnam testament, a classic work of American literature, and a profound study of men at war that illuminates the capacity, and the limits, of the human heart and soul.

Why I don’t think it sucks: Realism.
Interpreter of MaladiesJhumpa Lahiri

Mr. Kapasi, the protagonist of Jhumpa Lahiri's title story, would certainly have his work cut out for him if he were forced to interpret the maladies of all the characters in this eloquent debut collection. Take, for example, Shoba and Shukumar, the young couple in "A Temporary Matter" whose marriage is crumbling in the wake of a stillborn child. Or Miranda in "Sexy," who is involved in a hopeless affair with a married man. But Mr. Kapasi has problems enough of his own; in addition to his regular job working as an interpreter for a doctor who does not speak his patients' language, he also drives tourists to local sites of interest. His fare on this particular day is Mr. and Mrs. Das--first-generation Americans of Indian descent--and their children. During the course of the afternoon, Mr. Kapasi becomes enamored of Mrs. Das and then becomes her unwilling confidant when she reads too much into his profession. "I told you because of your talents," she informs him after divulging a startling secret.  “I'm tired of feeling so terrible all the time. Eight years, Mr. Kapasi, I've been in pain eight years. I was hoping you could help me feel better; say the right thing. Suggest some kind of remedy.”
Of course, Mr. Kapasi has no cure for what ails Mrs. Das--or himself. Lahiri's subtle, bittersweet ending is characteristic of the collection as a whole. Some of these nine tales are set in India, others in the United States, and most concern characters of Indian heritage. Yet the situations Lahiri's people face, from unhappy marriages to civil war, transcend ethnicity. As the narrator of the last story, "The Third and Final Continent," comments: "There are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept." In that single line Jhumpa Lahiri sums up a universal experience, one that applies to all who have grown up, left home, fallen in or out of love, and, above all, experienced what it means to be a foreigner, even within one's own family.

Why I don’t think it sucks: The complicated relationships between the characters.

Things We Didn’t See Coming – Steven Amsterdam

It’s the anxious eve of the millennium. The car is packed to capacity, and as midnight approaches, a family flees the city in a fit of panic and paranoid, conflicting emotions.
The ensuing journey spans decades and offers a sharp-eyed perspective on a hardscrabble future, as a boy jettisons his family and all other ties in order to survive as a journeyman in an uncertain landscape. By turns led by love, larceny, and a new sexual order, he must avoid capture and imprisonment, starvation, pandemic, and some particularly bad weather.
In Things We Didn’t See Coming, Steven Amsterdam links together nine luminous narratives through the mind of one peripatetic and resourceful wanderer who always has one eye on the exit door and the other on a future that shifts more drastically and more often than anyone would like to imagine.
Why I don’t think it sucks: For some reason, no one I’ve talked to has heard of this book.  I guess it got lost in the flood of recent dystopian/post-apocalyptic literature.  The structure of this composite novel is interesting.  Each short story features the same narrator at a different stage of his life (from teenager to old person).  This book is worth reading for the structure.