On Writing – Stephen King / The House on Mango Street – Sandra Cisneros

On Writing - Stephen King

This Stephen King’s book on “A Memoir of the Craft” seems to be one of those books that is always recommended in any beginner writing courses. I didn’t grow up with Stephen King’s books, and in fact I never read any of his books, simply because they are of the horror genre (I just can’t take/read/watch anything remotely scary). I know he has written some stories that are non-horror – and I loved the movies based on his stories like Shawshank Redemption or Stand By Me – but I guess I am never tempted enough to read in that direction.

His non-fiction On Writing is another case however, and I absolutely do not mind learning from someone who has been very successful in what he does, even though the works are not really my cup of tea.

In a nutshell, I enjoyed reading this book, and I was even pretty sad when it ended, because it felt like I lost a mentor figure of some kind that had been with me for a few weeks, who had become a voice on my shoulder, telling me what to do and what not to (Is that you, Jiminy Cricket?).

The book is divided into three parts. The first part is his memoir, about his life from childhood, teenagehood, life as a struggling writer, first breakthrough with first novel Carrie, and his subsequent books. As I am not his big fan, and therefore was not familiar with his books, this part was the one that was least interesting to me. But a story about the making of a writer, especially someone as bestselling as he is, has its own appeal. He seems to be genuinely a nice guy, and I think his good marriage and family life affect his works a lot. You cannot hate women or end up with aweful women characters if you love your wife in real life (I hope).

The second part is the meat of this book, the actual advice and instructions on writing. I loved reading this part. Some of the advice have been repeated often by others at various sites and articles (e.g. the use of adverbs, active vs passive voice, etc) but it’s nice to read them all together in the right context. The third part is sort of like an epilogue on a life changing event in his life that I won’t give away here, and it closes the book nicely.

My favorite part is when he equates writing to telephaty. There he was, Stephen King, in year 1997 in his basement somewhere in Maine, sending telephatic messages to me here in London, 18 years later in 2015. In 1997 I was a high school girl who never even read a novel in English. 18 years later I’m learning how to write an English book, and his voice has traveled through time and space, to the me who is here, right now, ready to absorb what he has to say. It would’ve been useless in year 1997, but now the time is right.

Love that image. Love love love.

In the last twist, Stephen King dedicated this book to Amy Tan, “who told me in a very simple and direct way that it was okay to write it.” What a surprise! They are apparently friends playing in the same author band, which is called The Rock Bottom Remainders (whose personnel has included Barbara Kingsolver and Mitch Albom, amongst many). I heard of this band before, since I am a big fan of Amy Tan and follow her Facebook page, but I guess I never made that connection with Stephen King. I read all Amy Tan’s books back when I begun to read novels again after my vacuum of a few years in my transition of moving from Indonesia to English-speaking countries. This was a very nice surprising detail for me, as if things have come full circle in a funny way. Perhaps if Stephen King had been born a Chinese ethnic woman in America he would’ve written Amy’s books. HAH :)

Mee’s rating: 4.5/5

The House on Mango Street - Sandra Cisneros

When I started writing my book, I knew I had to read Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street. I’m not sure why, perhaps because our house used to have a mango tree as well and it plays a significant role in my story, but the book is just like what I imagined it to be. It is written in a clear, almost childlike voice, that is also dreamy and original.

The book consists of dozens of vignettes, that “are not quite poems and not quite full stories” — most of them are only a couple of pages long. They all work together on a theme of growing up and surviving as migrants (in the USA in their case). Some of vignettes left me wanting for more, some of them felt like the right length — mixed feelings that always come for this kind of format. The book is very short in just over 100 pages, and I’d recommend it for anyone really as it is a nice, simple, and original read, that tells stories with a heart — something that I’d love to aim for in my own writing.

Mee’s rating: 4/5

The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan

the hundred secret senses - Amy TanThis is the 3rd book from Amy Tan, her first book that I read. It’s about Olivia, a half Chinese-American, that meets her half sister from China, Kwan.

A lot of stuff about ghosts, reincarnation, and basically all Chinese superstitions. There are two parallel stories going on, this life and previous life. Both’s equally interesting :)

What amazes me still is how the description of scene in the climax of story in China is so powerful. I had the picture so solid in my mind that even a year later, when I read The Opposite of Fate, in which Amy Tan explains that the scene is real, I knew exactly which one she means. Characters and plots are often strong in stories. But scenery? That’s pretty rare to me!

It’s a small village hidden in deep inland China, with path going up to a big old gate. Behind the cliff is a valley full of big rocks and thousands of caves all over the side of the mountains. That’s my attempt to describe it =D

4.5 stars
~ Finished it (roughly) on 30 January 2004

Shortlisted for 1996 Orange Prize for Fiction

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

the joy luck clubThe first book from Amy Tan. It’s collection of stories about mother daughter relationships (four pairs to be exact :). Again, I feel it’s so captivating by each and every word.

It’s like magic, fairy tale, and reality put together. I wish I could put all the quotes that caught me here, but then I would give the book content away.

I couldn’t get enough of the book that I even read the Cliffnote of it! (Note: Cliffnote is a deep analyze of a usually famous literature by another author. Unfortunately, Amy Tan thinks that a lot of things written in the cliffnotes of her book are not accurate.)

There’s a movie made based on this book. I’d love to watch that when I can find it.

~ Finished it on 30 April 2004

4.5 stars

Memorable Quotes

“I once sacrificed my life to keep my parents’ promise. This means nothing to you, because to you promises mean nothing. A daughter can promise to come to dinner, but if she has a headache, if she she has a traffic jam, if she wants to watch a favorite movie on TV, she no longer has a promise.

I watched this same movie when you did not come. The American soldier promises to come back and marry the girl. She is crying with a genuine feeling and he says, “Promise! Promise! Honey-sweetheart, my promise is as good as gold.” Then he pushes her onto the bed. But he doesn’t come back. His gold is like yours, it is only fourteen carats.

To Chinese people, fourteen carats isn’t real gold. Feel my bracelets. They must be twenty-four carats, pure inside and out.

It’s too late to change you, but I’m telling you this because I worry about your baby. I worry that someday she will say, “Thank you, Grandmother, for the gold bracelete. I’ll never forget you.” But later, she will forget her promise. She will forget she had a grandmother.”

“My mother believed in God’s will for many years. It was as if she had turned on a celestial faucet and goodness kept pouring out. She said it was faith that kept all these good things coming our way, only I thought she said “fate”, because she couldn’t pronounce that “th” sound in “faith”.

And later, I discovered that maybe it was fate all along, that faith was just an illusion that somehow you’re in control. I found out the most I could have was hope, and with that I was not denying any possibility, good or bad. I was just saying, If there is a choice, dear God or whatever you are, here’s where the odds should be placed.”

The Opposite of Fate by Amy Tan

The book is a collection of stories, journal, published writings of Amy Tan. This time it’s non-fiction. I found the book in Biography section. I wouldn’t miss this book, because I’m such a fan of Tan :)

There are some chapters that I love so much, but some others I had a bit of struggle to go through. The main reason being her effort to play more with words, which in my dictionary are considered never-heard-and-probably-never-will-ever-again. She is, after all, a linguistic hobbyist, we can say if she doesn’t prefer the word expert. The language used in her other books, are the ones “simplified” in respect of her mother’s English.

Apparently it’s not only me who wonders why the picture of Dad is never that big in her life. I think it’s really not the matter of the person as a role model. It does not mean the Mother is a better person, or the Dad has weaker personality. I guess some people in your life just make greater impact, for reasons that probably noone really understands. They could be person you love the most, you hate the most, a stranger, someone who’s with you all your life, or one that just passes by ;)

Finished on 09 May 2005

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

“The truth is, I write for more self-serving reasons–that is, I write for myself. I write because I enjoy stories and make-believe. I write because if I didn’t, I’d probably go crazy. Thus I write about questions that disturb me, images that mystify me, or memories that cause me anguish and pain. I write about secrets, lies, and contradictions, because within them are many kinds of truth. In other words, I write stories about life as I have misunderstood it.” ~ Amy Tan

The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan

the kitchen god's wifeI love this book to death! For me it’s the best of Amy Tan’s and the best of any novel I read in my life. Every word flows so right and sounds so meaningful. I kept saying it in my mind, “She’s such a genious!”

In this book Amy Tan tells the story that of her mother’s. From China to America, passed war, two marriages, lost children, and so on.

The choice of the title is very clever. Really, don’t you think it sounds like a cookbook, which makes you think that it probably wouldn’t take you nowhere but the household kitchen? Well you’re wrong! Because this story will take you far far away to mainland China like a dream (or a nightmare). Not until about half of the book that I realized the meaning of the title. It shows the entire book in a single line. Genious! =)

~ Finished on 30 June 2004

5 stars

The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan

thebonesettersdaughterThis is the 4th book from Amy Tan. When I read it, the cover is different with the one I put here (found it in Amazon). Interestingly, I’m now in the middle of reading her 5th book (The Opposite of Fate) in which I found out that this cover is actually the photograph of her grandmother.

It starts from a girl that was raised by a nanny with scarred face, who unbeknown to her is her own mother, who bore her outside marriage and therefore casted away by her family. Only after the nanny killed herself because all disrespect that she felt from her own daughter, that she knew who she really was. This haunts her for long long years, even after she has her own daughter.

This is a story about grandmother, mother, and daughter. How past guilts and pain are brought over from generation to generation.

When I first read the book, I couldn’t even pronounce bonesetter. Apparently, it’s a totally chinese thing. A different name for a bone doctor. :) As weird as the title, I found the story is extra-ordinary.

4.5 stars
~ Finished it (roughly) on 25 February 2004

“I was like a turtle lying on its back, struggling to know why the world was upside down.”

Longlisted for 2001 Orange Prize for Fiction

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