Sharing your shelf is sharing a little bit of your self.
SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK asked its readers recently to send in a photo of their home book case – aka a ‘shelfie’.
SWS kicked things off by posting the pic below – taken from inside company HQ. Here, books such as Bram Stoker’sDRACULA – written 124 years ago – are made to share shelf space with cast-signed framed photos from the 1960’s television series LOST IN SPACE.Classic hybrid shelf, in other words.
You guys responded brilliantly to the photo call, generously sharing what was inside your homes, and, in another sense, what’s inside your heads. Here’s a selection of those received –
Scoping out reader’s bookshelves makes for interesting literary eye-candy, to be sure. But what would you expect from the esteemed book altar of a pro author?
Professional writer Bridget Whelan – https://bridgetwhelan.com/ – based in East Sussex, England and boasting in excess of 7000 internet followers, was kind enough to share home snaps of her not one but four warehouse behemoths.
This is book love on a truly panoramic scale.
The human eye can detect shelf sag as slight as 0.7 of a millimeter – that’s less than the thickness of a plastic credit card.
Wanna see more? You do? Then go ahead and click HERE.
Last month, SWS reported HERE on the books shortlisted in the fiction category of the AMERICAN BOOK AWARDS. Congratulations to American author Jason Mott whose fourth novel HELL OF A BOOK has taken out the top prize.
For some of us, the idea of reading an entire novel is about as engrossing as being stuck in traffic … at peak hour.
Or spending 10 days in quarantine.
Or worse still, watching the box set of ‘FRIENDS’.
Ok, apologize to fans of that utterly wretched television series but maybe point made. Wading through someone else’s verbose and so often, slow moving fantasy, one that focuses on trifling details your brain simply finds dull no mater how hard you try to give yourself to it, is going to be a deal-breaker for all but the most dedicated, if you’ll pardon the garnished term, literarian.
No matter ’cause help is at hand.
SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK has discovered something better than the novel. Something more focused and to the point than the short story. Something with more bang for your buck than even Antman-sized flash fiction.
That something is the always inviting, often intriguing and frequently misleading plot synopsis; otherwise known as the book jacket blurb. Why spend weeks of your life laboring like a hospital patient hooked up to a ventilator through the word equivalent of an oversized bowl of cold lumpy porridge?
Gin bullocks to that, right?
In a similar vein to the movie trailer’s ability to elevate what might impolitely be labelled fourth-rate witless sludgeinto, at least to the untrained eye, what looks for all the world to pass for dinky-di five star entertainment, so too the novel’s back jacket blurb, in the hands of a wordsmith handed the job of pulling off a transformative act of deceit on a par with passing a dud check – back when folk used to do that – can raise to the level of an artform unto-itself the ability to convince the would-be reader that going ahead and committing to fully reading the book they are weighing in their hands may in any way approach the experience of devouring the thrill-a-second ride of the plot synopsis that has just succeeded so cleverly in whetting their lit appetite.
So… you ready for a couple of these BETTER THAN THE NOVEL ITSELF summaries?
You better be… after a build up such as it has been! These flexy little gems are all from novels published this year…
“The Adler’s seem like the perfect family – successful, affluent, attractive. It’s easy to dismiss the eggs thrown at their house as a childish prank, not so much the smoke bomb on the front lawn or slashed tyres of Thomas’s BMW. As the assaults escalate, Thomas and wife Viv, son Eli and daughter Tarryn grapple with rising fears their shameful secrets could be the reason the family is being targeted.“
“Rebecca Buckfast is the new principal of St Oswald’s school, the first headmistress in its history. She is intent on tearing apart the elite world that tried to hold her back. She has just started to reap the harvest of her ambition when a body is found.“
“Victoria Ford died in the World Trade Centre on 9/11. She had been accused of murder and in a call from the North Tower, she begged her sister Emma to prove her innocence. Twenty years later, Emma is convinced that a tv host can clear her sister’s name. The host digs deep but uncovers a darker mystery.“
And to round things out, here’s one I actually made a start on recently – baited, as it were – by the intriguing plot synopsis. I lasted all of two chapters (and a gleaming two chapters they were!) before skim-reading commenced and put it down for good about 40 pages in. Reviews I consulted HERE. after the fact seemed to largely confirm my feeling.
But the plot synopsis?
An absolute pitch-perfect little ripper.
“Private investigator Trike Augustine may be a brainiac with deductive skills to rival Sherlock Holmes, but they’re not doing him any good at solving the case of a missing gazzilionaire because the clues are so stupefyingly—well, stupid. His sidekicks—Max the former FBI agent and Lola the artist—don’t quite rise to the level of Dr. Watson, either. For example, when a large, dead pig turns up on Trike’s floor in the middle of the night, none of them can figure out what it means. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking as the astronomical reward being offered diminishes drastically every day.“
This LOST IN SPACE themed ‘shelfie‘ shows a section of my humble study-room bookcase. I’m particularly proud of the fact this ramshackle mini-display boasts a book written 124 years ago… namely DRACULA.
For the record, (’cause I just couldn’t resist a bit of unashamed namedropping) the autographed pics are Angela Cartwright (1952 – ) who played Penny on LIS and Francine York (1936 – 2017) who guest starred in one episode of LIS.
So how about you?
What’s your literary altar look like?
I would love, love, love to receive pics of YOUR home bookcase.
I’d like to feature an assortment of photos from readers on this blog in a future post. I’m asking folk to send their bookcase (or dvd collection ‘stacker’ if you’ve got one of those as well) happy snaps to my email address – email@example.com If you can add in a couple of lines of commentary to go with it that would make it extra special.
Four names stand tallest in the world of prestigious accolades for writers: The Nobel Prize for Literature– The Man Booker Prize – The Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Awards.
The National Book Awards have been a thing since as far back as 1936. It’s open to U.S authors only and features prizes in five categories –
Finalists – of which there are five in each category – receive $1,000, a medal, and a citation written by the judging panel; winners gets $10,000 and a bronze sculpture.
The judging panel this year comprises six people, including a professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, the reader-services coordinator for theNew York Public Library and an author who won last years National Book Award for Fiction.
Congratulations to the following titles and their authors who all made the longlist for Fiction. They include three debut novels.
(1) A story about children on the cusp of adulthood in worlds in peril. Dedicated to “The librarians then, now, and in the years to come.”
(2) Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, seventeen-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey.
(1) Evicted from their trailer on New Year’s Eve, Henry and his son, Junior, have been reduced to living out of a pickup truck.
(2) Spanning an entire lifetime, this is an intimate portrait of the dreams that propel one tenacious woman onward and the losses that she cannot outrun.
(1) A young girl named Ailey must learn to embrace her full heritage, a legacy of oppression and resistance, cruelty and resilience.
(2) Tensions build on a plantation between slaves and slave masters.
(1) An interpreter goes to work for a former President accused of war crimes. Apparently one of former U.S President Barack Obama’s favourite ‘summer reads’.
(2) Short story collection from award -winning author Elizabeth McCracken.
(1) An author sets out on a cross-country publicity tour to promote his bestselling novel.
(2) Astrobiologist Theo Byrne searches for life throughout the cosmos while single-handedly raising his unusual nine-year-old, Robin, following the death of his wife.
That’s fine. That’s dandy. That’s even, as the British might say ‘cracking’. But what does ScenicWriter’sShack REALLY think?
Well… considering some of those stodgy and all-round snore-rendous plot synopses as well as the fact these awards have been criticized in the past for being irrelevant to average readers – favoring qualities like fragmented story telling that, though they be fancy shmanzy, in some cases actually put off many readers – and are of more interest to professional writers – I’d say SWS‘s thoughts may best be captured by the following cartoon –
The Winner of the NATIONAL BOOK AWARDS will be announced on November 17th.
When the swarm of literally tens of thousands of films nesting inside a dedicated movie buff’s head reaches critical mass and the buzz becomes too busy to ignore, there’s but one thing to do – compile a top 100 list.
This ‘hive’ will be organised according to time period – nominating ten loved films from each of the decades from the 1940’s through to the 2010’s. That will total eighty films. Twenty selections will be included each for the 1970’s and 80’s – ‘my‘ decades – rounding out the list to 100 titles.
In the 21st century, historians have increasingly portrayed the 1970s as a “pivot of change” in world history. Novelist Tom Wolfe(1930 -2018) coined the term the ‘The Me Decade” referring to the 1970’s. The term describes a societal attitude towards individualism and away from the communitarianism that characterized the previous decade.
The 70’s were noted for both the oil crisis (1973) and the energy crisis (1979). Politically, Idi Amin led a political coup in Uganda in 1971 and Britain elected it’s first ever female Prime Minister – Margaret Thatcher – in 1979. Greenland was granted self government from Denmark, a fifteen year Lebanese civil war commenced in 1975 and Angola and Mozambique gained independence from Portugal the same year.
Technology-wise the 1970’s witnessed an explosion in the understanding of solid-state physics, driven by the development of the integrated circuit and the lazer. This was also the decade Stephen Hawking developed his theories about black holes.
Academy Award winners for Best Picture during this decade were –
And here are my twenty favorite films from this period –
There were regrets for the movies that didn’t make the cut but would have if the list had been a little longer – APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) – THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979) – ONE FLEW OVER THE CUKOO’S NEST (1975) – THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975) and THE GOODBYE GIRL (1977).
Every frame of every one of these movies a feast!
Ps. Wanna see someone else’s ‘Favorite Films of the 70’s’ list? Click HERE
There’s a well-known story about children’s author Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904 – 1991). You might know him from his more famous pen name, Dr Seuss.
After the success of his first book AND TO THINK THAT I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET, Seuss’s editor at publishing company Houghton Mifflin (today known as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and employing in excess of 4000 people) challenged him to go after an even younger audience.
He sent the American author a list of 350 words with the instructions to make a book out of them. The result was THE CAT IN THE HAT (1957). It clocked in at 236 words and was the second biggest selling book of Seuss’s career.
The book ahead of it? GREEN EGGS AND HAM (1960) which uses just 50 words – all but one of them, one syllable. (The long one: anywhere).
Dr Suess’s word selection came from lists created by ‘readability experts’ such as Austrian-born naturalized American author, Rudolf Flesch (1911 -1986). Flesch, writer of such books as THE ART OF PLAIN TALK (1946) and THE ART OF READABLE WRITING (1949) helped create a mathematical formula known as the FLESH-KINCAID GRADE LEVEL TEST.
The formula is fairly simple : the total number of words divided by the total number of sentences + total number of syllables divided by the total number of words.
The resulting score is the school-age grade level required to understand the text. If a book scores a 3 for example, that means you’d need at least a third-grade education to understand it.
A few years back American ‘data journalist’ Ben Blatt – one could be forgiven for mistaking his name for an off-the-wall Dr Seuss character – collected digitized versions of every fiction book that had made the number one position on the New York Times Bestseller List from 1960 to 2014.
He then fed all these words into a computer.
Not just any computer; but a computer capable of engaging in the kind of next-level ‘literary experiment’ Blatt envisaged. A computer ready to perform the number-crunching act of it’s life. And one that was eventually able to apply the Flesch–Kincaid Readability Test to every single digitized page of every one those 563 novels.
Most books meant for a general audience will fall within the 4th – 11th grade range, as did all of these bestsellers. Looking at the scores over the decades, an undeniable trend became clear to Blatt. The Bestseller List is full of so much simpler fiction nowadays then it was 40 or 50 years ago. In the 1960’s for example, the median book had a grade level of an 8. By the 2010’s that had reduced to a 6.
The trend to stripped back, ‘economical’ prose has been obvious now for some time. In 2021, what I call ‘homogenized word-soup’, vanilla dross so devoid of creative description, beautiful words, figurative language and good ‘ol personality – for me all the good great stuff – converts stories into adult versions of Run Spot Run, is tragically more now often the rule than the exception. Well, it can seem that way.
It’s but one reason I’ve concluded it may just be something in the water nowadays. Sadly that ‘something’ is something which no longer quenches my literary thirst; a thirst for the wham-bam creative word sparkle – set amongst a page-turning story – that literally leaves you breathless – and in my case saying, “I wish I could write like that!”
THE PLOT is the seventh novel from American writer Jean Hanff Korelitz.Her 2009 book ADMISSION was made into a 2013 film of the same title starring Tina Fey and Lilly Tomlin.
THE PLOT is a plagiarism tale from what might be referred to as the “Excuse Me While I Steal Your Book Idea & Get Famous” literary sub-genre . It centers on a writing teacher who helps himself to one of his student’s stories after the student expectantly passes away. The thieving pedagogue becomes very famous with his appropriated novel but someone out there knows the truth.
From literally hundreds of on-line accounts all attesting to the sheer wizardry of this novel – including horror writer Stephen King‘s glowing endorsement of “insanely readable” – to my own experience of digesting the crafty-sentences-packed excerpt, this book looks like it has every chance of being the exception rather than the fifty-shades-of-dull-slow-and-vanilla-not-to-mention-a-60-page-irrelevant-prelude-to-wade-through rule.
Good for a chatter. Good for a giggle. Excellent for a wrangle.
‘Best of’ lists are all those things. I say ‘giggle’ because every time I spy a favorites list that attaches the grandiose words ‘OF ALL TIME’ to it’s title, I wanna go the felt marker and add (UP TO THIS POINTIN TIME) in crazy, explanatory brackets. Wordy I know. But maybe ‘point’ made.
Rolling Stone Magazine released a 100 GREATEST MUSIC VIDEOS list the other week. (HERE) Given there’s by now no less than forty years worth of 3-minute clips to choose from, narrowing it down to just 100 would have been quite the feat.
Old school tastes were well represented. And so they should have been! These five classics – at the very least – DEMANDED inclusion –
BEYONCE claimed the top spot with four and a bit minutes of gyrating shenanigans titled FORMATION. She put that one together back in 2016. Interesting video. Maybe not so great a song.
So here’s a question: how many music videos do you think the world has seen since MTV first put to air their very first offering, the Buggles VIDEO KILLED THE RADIO STAR, forty years ago this month?
A hundred thousand? Five hundred thousand? Maybe a million? Whatever the number, in amongst all the cataloging, researching, eliminating and shortlisting, the good folks at ROLLING STONE somehow forgot about these personality-packed little gems, buried admittedly deep somewhere amongst the 80 story’s-high bowl of M&M’s they had to go impossibly fossicking through.
That’s ok. I found them for them.
DEVO did make it into the list at number 48 with BEAUTIFUL WORLD (a clip made up mostly of B &W historical film footage). But I reckon WHIP IT easily outdoes it in the all-important fun and whackdepartments.
Someone or something has been killing off the world’s bee population in scarily large numbers.
Like, en masse. As in murder on an industrial scale.
It’s been happening for a while. As far back as from the end of WW2 onwards.
Cruelly for the amateur sleuths of the world, this is one murder mystery that’s already been solved. If you want to know the answer to the riddle, go clickety click on the (mercifully short) video below.
With that sorted, time now to cue a…
This months ‘must haves’ for the short story writing competition offered up by the Australian Writer’s Centre were –
That low ‘hum’ you can start to hear is not your refrigerator going into it’s over-night cycle. It is rather time to…
Wally Funk could feel the weight beginning to press down on him. By his own guess, there were now nearly ten kilograms of live, writhing honeybees nesting on his body. Hundreds more were joining by the minute. “Exquisite!” he thought to himself. If it wouldn’t have risked collapsing the stable platform his mouth was serving for his winged besties, Wally would have let rip a whoo-hoo grin from ear to ear.
Wearing nothing but shorts and swimming goggles, the strong-as-an-ox-and-twice-as-hairy 42-year-old turned his head in minute increments, like a slow-motion tank turret. What his gaze came to rest upon next lay only a few meters away.
Jimmy Hunzer was half his age and not doing nearly as well. Known more widely by his self-assuming, pompous stage name “Royal Jelly”, the brash council worker, who Wally regarded as at best a ‘professional amateur’ within the ranks of the bee-wearing hopefuls chancing their luck on the competition circuit, was at this moment looking more like a whopping great sports stadium attended by just a handful of loyal fans.
For someone with a penchant for appearing on stage wearing t-shirts emblazoned with gobby slogans like “I’M THE BEE’S KNEES” and “I LOVE BEES – AND BEES LOVE ME” – this was a sad moment. One that Wally was fully savouring.
Before the eyes of a hypnotized crowd and watchful judges, bees continued to land en-mass like mini-helicopters on Wally’s flesh ‘n bone helipad. Laying motionless while controlling his breathing and heartbeat, he thought back over all the things he’d done to make this undeniably top-hat moment happen.
Prep had been perfect. The benefits of using a pheromone-enhanced, crayfish-scented hair shampoo were now obvious for all to see. As was his tried and true trick of consuming a bowl of garlic soup the morning of the comp. This guaranteed he would ooze from literally every pore what his fuzzy friends regarded as no less than a potent love potion.
Wally’s training in the lead-up to the competition had likewise been innovative and carried out with the tenacity of a small animal. He’d engaged people to beat him with sticks to build his resistance to the inevitable toe-curling pain of multiple bee stings. He’d used a portable altitude chamber borrowed from his mountain-climbing next-door neighbor in a bid to increase his red blood cell count – something bees are apparently quite doubly good at sniffing out.
He’d even near-memorized every line of the god-awful 1970’s Michael Caine movie ‘THE SWARM’; for some reason. And taken to wearing to bed on cold winter nights a ridiculous yellow and black bee-onesiehe’d purchased on the internet; just so, in his own words, he could “mind-meld with my teensy weensy insect soul-mates”.
Poised for victory, a catastrophic thought then suddenly sent jolts of panic through Wally Funk’s inert head. Nose plugs! He’d left his on the kitchen bench at home. With his face now transformed into a writhing, humming insect mask, he sensed any second now could spell defeat if a breakaway bee was to venture up the dark cave cavity of either nostril, causing him to abort his attempt.
Wally thought fast. How could he plug the holes? His first idea was trying to expel air from his nostrils in a continuous series of exhaled puffs. In very little time he realized he would be unable to keep this up for long without running out of breath. There had to be another way. And very soon it came to him.
Lunch! Yesterday’s to be precise. Wally began to use his bee-encased fingertips resting at his sides to gently feel the inside of his pants pocket. Incredibly, he’d horded a left-over carrot stick and left-over celery stick from the previous day’s lunch. Lucky for him, he’d decided, for some reason he no longer remembered, to store them there. The trick now would be to remove them without aggravating his furry golden companions.
Moving centimeter by centimeter Wally spent the next few minutes doing just that. Getting to the point where he could insertone veggie stick at a time in each nostril was his next maneuver. Super slow-mo movements were also to eventually achieve this near-impossible feat as well.
Wally finished that day with another gold trophy for his cabinet. He also notched a personal record of 32 kg of weighed bees attached to his face and body. Probably most special of all was a unique winner’s photo he received. For a few days it created quite the ‘buzz’ around town when it was published by the local paper.
Featuring a fist-raised Wally still completely covered in bees, with two prominent veggie sticks protruding from his nostrils and some rather sad-looking and thoroughly deflated ‘Royal Jelly’ standing alongside him, it was a jubilant prizewinner’s image destined to live long in the memory. And one unlikely to be ever repeated.
Wanna read the 500 word winner’s entry? You do? Then go ahead and clickHERE.
After a lifetime of loyally expounding the virtues of free-to-air television and tut-tutting those who chose to part with their hard-earned and PAY for viewing content, last week the streaming revolution finally landed at our place. Better late to the party then no party at all, I say.
One of the first things I hit play on was a documentary called BEHIND THE CURVE.
It’s about the idea – and people who believe with every breath of their body in the idea – that our planet is NOTball-shaped, as we have all been brought up to believe, but flat.
That’s flat as in something that has edges. Flat as in something you can fall over the side of.
Barely had the opening credits rolled when the admittedly underused rational side of my brain spoke up loud and clear, challenging“Do you really need to sit through the next 90 minutes of this tin-foil hat brigade lunacy?”
Incredibly, even… unimaginatively, the answer turned out to be “Yes”.
I say incredibly because, well… there’s this –
I did end up indulging my curiosity for the entire 90 minutes of this ‘show’.
Iwas interested to see what type of person chooses to deliberately go against the last twothousand years of empirical scientific fact.
In fact, what type of individual champions the sort of nutty idea with double whack that could only ever fly in our ‘anything goes’ internet age; an age where proven knowledge has little choice but to cozy-up alongside way-out theories, speculationand the dreaded ‘fake news’.
What type of person? Labeling the ‘flat Earthers‘ – as they like to be called – as typically age 30+ adults who still live in Mum’s basement might come across as a little harsh or sarcastic. Instead I’ll broadly categorize them as the type of person who could be inclined to believe other far-out conspiracy theories, like um… oh don’t know, maybe that one about the government being able to control the weather or that other dandy about chemicals in the water supply turning frogs gay.
For the record, the idea that the Earth is a sphere was all but settled by ancient Greek philosophers such as Aristotle (384–322 BC), who obtained empirical evidence after travelling to Egypt and seeing new constellations of stars.
Eratosthenes, in the third century BC, became the first person to calculate the circumference of the Earth. Islamic scholars made further advanced measurements from about the 9th century AD onwards, while European navigators circled the Earth in the 16th century. Images from space were final proof, if any were needed.
It would be easy to dismiss flat-Earthers as simply being misguided due to a lack of education. While there are indications that those susceptible to such views have low levels of scientific literacy, there is most likely something else at play here, to account for such wayward views. Views that fly in the face of all generally accepted laws and principles of science.
That something is a conspiracy mentality. There are arguments to suggest that such conspirists view the world through a really quite dark filter, whereby it’s assumed all authorities, institutions, corporations and governments are there to simply exploit people and keep various truths from leaking out, thus maintaining the status quo.
You can keep up that degree of denial and fact-twisting for a while I guess, but in the long-term, reality and tested, proven science have to surface at some stage. Don’t they? Well, don’t they?
For some reason that saying about never arguing with a fool in case people may not be able to tell the difference is playing through my head like some kind of rabid earworm at this very moment. And yet... I now deliberately fly in the face of such wisdom and offer these two proofs of a round Earth...
Different locations on Earth experience seasons at different times. Ever notice how summer in the United States corresponds to winter in Australia? Or how winter in Italy lines up with summer in Argentina? If the Earth were flat, Australia, Italy, and Argentina would all experience the seasons the same exact way. The flat Earth idea can’t explain this.
The second proof can be done simply by watching a sunset. Pick a nice spot from which you can watch a sunset (Point A) Ideally, you’d have a clear horizon in front of you, and behind you would be some sort of elevated point that you can quickly access (a hill, a building with at least two floors, or perhaps a tree; this is your Point B).
Watch the sunset from Point A, and once the sun is out of sight, hurry on over to Point B. With the added elevation provided by Point B, you should be able to see the sun above the horizon. If Earth were flat, the sun would not be visible at any elevation once it had set.
If you don’t have a hill, you could even try lying on your stomach to watch the sunset and then standing up to get a higher line of sight.
I can scarcely believe SWS is inserting a video of this ilk, but if the two justifications above didn’t grab by the intellectual coin purse than maybe this slightly wordy two and a half minute video will…
PPS. Care to read what THE NEW YORKER thought of the documentary BEHIND THE CURVE ? Then go clickety click HERE.