Book Review

October Newsletter: Atonement book review

atonementAtonement by Ian McEwan
A book review by Richard McGee

I have been reading novels selected to Best Lists.

Atonement was listed as one of the best novels written in the 20th century and was nominated for several awards.

Atonement is the story of a thirteen-year-old girl, Briony, that is a witness to a crime and falsely accuses a young man, the boyfriend of her older sister. Her testimony leads to his conviction and incarceration and it alienates the sister from the family. As Briony grows into adulthood, she realizes the error of her testimony and the story evolves into her attempt to correct her wrong.

This is not a simple read. The author delves into extensive details of the life of Briony so that some scenes may remind you of the painstaking detail in Virginia Wolfe’s “Mrs. Dalloway”. I first read about a fourth of this book before setting it down for several months. When I picked it back up, I began again at the first and am glad I finished it.

The story began slowly but hooked me so that I could hardly lay it down to sleep at night. The big plot turns in the story pulled me toward the end. When I started this book, I wanted to watch the movie it inspired after I read it; but after reading the book, I no longer desire to see the movie. The author does such a great job of taking us into Briony’s thoughts, that I am certain a movie will disappoint in comparison. I recommend this book as an excellent read.

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September Newsletter: Writers Are Different

Writers Are Different By Richard McGee

Writers are always trying to improve their craft. They listen differently than other people; listening to a conversation often has little to do with the subject of the conversation but noting the ebb and flow of words so they can write better and more natural dialog themselves. They like to watch people perform routine tasks so their fictional characters will behave more realistically.

Writers even watch movies and tv shows a little differently. They are watching the interaction of characters, listening to dialog, and identifying plot points. My wife and I recently watched Grantchester, a Masterpiece series on PBS. We have enjoyed this series the last two years and looked forward to watching the third season. The show is a murder mystery with a police detective and church vicar cooperating to solve crimes.

The main character of the series, a church vicar, was replaced in this latest season. In the fourth episode, the new vicar asked the detective to accompany him to visit his family. Of course, a murder occurs, and they work together to solve the case. My wife loves murder mysteries and enjoyed the episode. Watching it as a writer, I was ecstatic. The show’s writer had revealed the new character’s backstory to his partner and to the viewers. It made me more empathetic to the character and it provided the depth to him that would provide many more story ideas in the future.

A good writer must build a good backstory for his characters and often struggles with how to share it with the reader. As a writer, I watched this show, fully appreciating how it was accomplished.

Book Review

June Newsletter Book Review: Clarissa

clarissa-or-the-history-of-a-young-lady-5

Book Review—Reading Clarissa ~ By Richard McGee

For the last few years I have been trying to read as many of the literature classics as I can. It has been an interesting effort with a wide variety of subjects. I have reread some that I had first seen many years ago in college and I have discovered some new ones that I had not heard of before.

“Clarissa, or the History of a Young Lady” is one I was unaware of. Written by Samuel Richardson, it was published in 1748. In 2015 the BBC rated Clarissa 14th on its list of the 100 greatest British novels.

The story revolves around Clarissa Harlowe, whose quest for virtue is challenged by a libertine, Robert Lovelace, who strives to compromise her morals to prove that virtuous women do not exist. Mistrust, jealousy, and greed by her family are the biggest impediments for her and push her toward Lovelace. The author makes us care about Clarissa and we feel the angst as she is pressured from all sides. The novel is unusual as the entire story is told in letters between the characters. It was interesting to see this different way of relating the tale.

This was a challenge for me to read. Clarissa is among the longest novels written in the English language. The digital copy for my Kindle was nine volumes for the complete book. The other challenge is to get a copy of the book. You probably will not find a copy of it in your bookstore. Amazon recently made it available in print and kindle editions but they appear to be condensed versions. I downloaded mine from the Project Gutenberg website where 59,000 books with copyright expired are available for free. When you have time, I recommend you read this one.

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May Newsletter: Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day – Richard McGee

 

May brings warmer temperatures and colorful flowers and it also brings Mother’s Day. It’s a special day to thank the mother in our life for all she does and tell her how much she has meant to you. My mother passed away a few years ago, so I will tell everyone how special she was.

My mother was the twelfth child of thirteen born to a German immigrant on a farm 45 miles north of Dallas, Texas. She completed an eighth-grade education, all that was available at her local school. When she married my father, she gained an eight-year old son from his previous marriage. She later had three sons of her own.

My mother entered the university under a probation program for non-high school graduates. Under that program, she was required to maintain a B-average. She got only one B and the remainder all A’s on the way to getting her BA in education, and began teaching elementary school. Later she got a MA degree and taught for 28 years.

My mother loved and accepted everyone. Going through the racial turmoil in the late 1960’s, she would just shake her head and say, “Why can’t we all just get along.” She had no biases against color or sexual orientation, she just saw all humans as beings of God.

     She was my moral compass and the rock foundation in my life and somedays I really miss her. If your mother is still living, make sure to tell her how special she is to you this Mother’s Day.