From Kate’s Writing Crate…
As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.
Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don’t generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice and/or creativity.
First pages are usually the best written in a book—highly polished and edited—so I always want to see if the author sustained that level throughout his or her book.
When I’m in a bookstore, I pick up books and flip through them stopping at random pages to see if the writing style grabs my attention. I only read a sentence or two, not many words to convince me to buy in, but if the author is good, they are enough.
When I’m viewing books online, I can’t do that as only the first pages are available. To be honest, I’m more disappointed in the books I buy this way when I know nothing about the author. However, while online I can view many more books than are in a bookstore so I discover more gems this way.
The latest gem I’ve read is Kinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Li. Her book caught my eye as I looked for something new to read online. I loved the title.
I opened to the first pages and read the first paragraph. Based on that paragraph alone, I decided to buy her book. I also knew if the book lived up to that paragraph, I would use it as the basis for a masterclass post. I’ve never made this decision based on 93 words before, but Li captured the absurdness of human nature during one the most solemn of occasions. She made me think and she made me laugh.
Read the same paragraph for yourselves. If it appeals to you, read the rest of Li’s book. Her insights into human nature keep coming—fresh, true, eye-opening, and heartbreaking.
The plot of the book is sparse: The four main characters grow up in China, but, after a slightly mysterious tragedy, two relocate to America. It’s the author’s voice and the creativity of her insights that made this a masterclass for me. Here are a few examples:
…believing, like most people, in a moment called later. Safely removed, later promises possibilities: changes, solutions, rewards, happiness, all too distant to be real, yet real enough to offer relief from the claustrophobic cocoon of now. (page 33)
She had never been much of a reader of fiction before, but these [Russian or French] novels, whose characters bore long and unmemorable names had comforted her: even the most complicated stories offered a clarity that she could not find in the world around her… (page 134)
No, solitude she did not have; what she had was a never-ending quarantine. (page 229)
While these and many other lines appealed to me, I especially loved the phrase claustrophobic cocoon of now—four words that capture life when difficult perfectly.
Solitude a never-ending quarantine? I never considered solitude any kind of quarantine, but it is whether imposed or chosen.
The clarity of Yiyun Li's insights is why I recommend writers read Kinder Than Solitude. It’s also why I’ll read the rest of her books.