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Book Format

Quick thought: While I don’t dislike Oprah, I often think whether it’s necessary of her to endorse a book? I mean, I am bothered by her “O” seal that goes directly on the cover. Oprah doesn’t make a book classics if the book can hold its own. And if a book can hold its own, does it matter whether Oprah endorses it or not?

Musing Mondays2

How do you feel about books written in a differing format – whether this be journals or letters (epistolary), verse novels, or any other form? Is this something you enjoy? Or do you prefer straight forward chapter prose.

Epistolary novels are creative alternative to reveal a story through different perspectives, and because characters often experience blindspot and speak in multiple subtexts, epistolary format, if executed with force and ingenuity, can compound suspense. Three of my favorite reads are written in this format: The Guernsay Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, and A Meeting By the River by Christopher Isherwood. I prefer prose over verse in reading classics like Homer. Books that are heavy in dialogues (unless the authors write dialogues like W. Somerset Maugham and Christopher Isherwood, which you have to read between the lines) have not found favor in my account.

28 Responses

  1. I have to say I am more traditional when it comes to novels. I want a novel to be chapter. I like my dialogue to look like dialogue. I don’t mind an epistolary novel, but usually my favorites include letters within the body of the novel but do not solely consist of letters.

    I know I should be more open minded as to verse novels, but I just can’t quite make that leap. I quite like graphic novels, though.

    • To the most extent, yes, I want my novels to be strictly prose, with dialogues interspersed. My gripe with contemporary fiction is that authors focus more on dialogues than narratives that convey motives. Dialogues are great only if I can read between the lines or they contain multiple subtexts. The Woman in White is actually comprised of narratives from various parties involved in the story.

  2. I am a traditional chapter to chapter gal for the most part. Here’s Mine.

    • I also admire authors who evenly space out their chapters. Sometimes after several long chapters, a relatively short and succinct chapter breaks in as some author’s commentary. I follow this writing style pretty well. Too much dialogues distract me. They somehow make me feel disjointed and render the book less “literary.”

  3. I can follow just about any format as long as it makes sense/is well done.

    My full response is<a href="http://jenniferoberth.blogspot.com/2010/03/monday-musings-story-format.html&quot; here.

  4. Oh well, I left my link open.

    I’ll try again, just `cause I’m a bit of a perfectionist:

    My full response is<a href="http://jenniferoberth.blogspot.com/2010/03/monday-musings-story-format.html&quot; here.

  5. Hmmm, I see it’s not me. Something is leaving off the end of my tag.

    Oh, well – great blog Matt!

    I know what you mean about Oprah in the sense of “Who is she to give a seal of approval” but I think people that follow her, they know what she likes and then relate to it.

    And you can’t really fault the publishers or anyone who stands to gain money by the publicity – Oprah’s got a LOT of followers/fans.

    There are plenty of books that can hold their own but the audience might not know it exists.

    • I apologize the link didn’t work properly. I do admire Oprah’s ambition to push books that are of highly epic and literary status and yet don’t seem to be widely received. I remember many years ago her attempt to read Anna Karenina completely flopped. I am pleased Oprah’s fame promotes reading, but I don’t think Oprah followers would read every book she endorses.

  6. I’m with you…who made Oprah the literary God???

  7. Loove epistolary novels! One of my recent faves is Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. 🙂

  8. Oh, and re: Oprah

    I have mixed feelings. I cannot stand movie-poster book covers and although the “O” is mostly unobtrusive, it still tends to bother me. I guess I’m a snob. I don’t want people to think I only picked it up because Oprah recommended it.

    On the other hand, if the “O” does cause someone to pick up East of Eden who otherwise may never have heard of it, I’m all for that. Does that make sense?

    • I’m with you on that. I picked up East of Eden because another blogger has sketched up her reading plan for the year and she put John Steinbeck on the list. Then, my boyfriend who is aware that I will be taking the Amtrak to Los Angeles, suggested it would be very appropriate and interesting to read a book by Steinbeck. A few other bloggers then chimed in and sang praises of East of Eden, which I promptly picked up and read. As you see, it’s a combination of factors that I pick up a book, and book bloggers’ opinions carry huge weights. 🙂

      Oh…I cannot stand movie tie-in covers. They are just obscene!

  9. P.S. Matt, we’ve replaced the September and December reads for the Asian Book Group. September is now Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask and December is Shen Fu’s Six Records of a Floating Life. We decided to go with all classics this year. I hope you can join us; David and the others were so excited to hear you’re reading along! 🙂

    • Thanks for notifying me the swap. Are we still reading The Good earth this month? I have got the book and will be starting it soon, like the next couple days! 🙂

  10. I have a real soft spot for epistolary novels. Especially when they are old letters and someone discovers them, and of course they contain secrets! I’m not a verse person…I can’t stay focused.

    I don’t dislike Oprah either, but I do dislike the power wielded by her endorsement, and the resulting clamor and hysteria over the book. I think on the positive side, though, that many people read now that didn’t before they hopped on the bandwagon.

    • I am not conversant in verse and poetry, but I would like to explore poetry more, starting with Walt Whitman and Pablo Neruda. I read the prose edition of The Odessey first, and compare it with the verse.

      I know for sure Oprah’s endorsement would boost sales but whether her followers would finish the book is another story. I believe in free will in choosing my next book, but I do respect book bloggers’ opinions because they are very honest and reliable.

  11. I frantically love epistolary novels. I wish there were more of them around!

    • I think if they are executed well they can be very fun to read because of the blindspots. Sometimes the correspondents have their heads in the cloud and totally misunderstand one another. What fun!

  12. I tend toward straight prose..but epistolary books can be good. “Potato’ as you said is an excellent example.
    I must say I draw the line at poetry in books. It does nothing for me.

  13. Good post!
    I, personally, have really enjoyed most books I’ve read in the epistolary format–the story just seems more real to ‘hear’ the character’s thoughts in this way.
    I agree with another commenter here who says letters amid the prose novel are a good thing–very enriching to the story, I think.
    Verse in story-telling- definitely not up my alley…at this point…never say never!

    • Epistolary format can enhance and enrich the story—especially if it is leaning to unreliable narration or misunderstanding. But I always prefer straight prose in which you can read the motive and feelings of the characters.

  14. Have you read Henrietta’s War, part of the new Bloomsbury Group offerings? Really charming and with hidden depths. I enjoyed all the titles you listed, but was a bit apprehensive about epistolary novels after Clarissa in undergrad. Took years to recover from! 🙂

  15. Done well, I think different formats can be very entertaining, such as “e” by Matthew Beaumont or “Almost Like Being in Love” by Steve Kluger. Keeping it consistent throughout is the hardest part, but I love something different that challenges the way a book should be read or written.

    • Almost Like Being in Love is on my shelf—I should pull it off and start reading it. I admit that upon seeing that it was epistolary, Imy interest cooled. It’s been waiting for me on the shelf! 🙂

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