By Keith Fisher
When I was a kid, we often rode our bicycles to Woolworth's department store. It was about two miles away and the closest place where we could get penny candy. In those days (the late nineteen-sixties), we could get several pieces of candy for one penny. The candy was similar to the stuff we distribute for Halloween, but there were other, more delicious choices.
Pixie Sticks to Bit-O-Honey and Jawbreakers. Licorice Whips, and Sugar Daddy. All for a penny, some of it was five for a penny. The candy bars we pay seventy-five cents for today cost a nickel then, and soda pop was ten cents.
Yes, it was a wonderful time to be a kid. We could go to the store with the dollar we earned from picking cherries and come home with a bag full of candy and change to boot.
I was reminded of that magical time the other day, while I lounged in an armchair in the public library. I looked up from my research and noticed the stacks of books in their racks, lined up like soldiers and extending into the next room. When you add the fact that there is three floors of those books . . .
It’s not that I never noticed it before but I was re-awakened to the thrill of it all. There are thousands of books that I can read. I was struck with the simile of the candy store. Like when I was a kid perusing the shelves and bins trying to decide which morsel of candy to buy, I looked at all those books and realized I could never, ever read all of them in my lifetime, and the collection keeps increasing daily. Just like a bag of candy, I can check out stacks of literature and take it home in my backpack.
I was also reminded of an old Twilight Zone episode. It was the one where Burgess Meredith escapes the holocaust and finds the library intact. He starts organizing the books into piles of books. Each pile representing days of the week. He planned to read his way through eternity—he sat down to begin, and accidentally broke his reading glasses.
He was in agony. He had all of those books, the time to read them, and no way to accomplish his goal. Do you ever feel like this? Books to read, stories to write, and so many things competing for your attention? Likewise with all the fiction in the world, we can only read one book at a time. We must choose which book warrants our attention.
Like the candy, with so many books to choose from, how do I pick? I can narrow it down by genre, LDS or not, even number of words, but in the end I am left with the same criteria that slush pile readers use to determine which manuscript is worthy of a second look. If the first few pages are poorly written, I must move on.
Something to think about when you choose which combination of words to use in the first chapter of your new book. Good luck with your writing, see you next week.
I remember penny candy too. Thanks for the reminder of a fun childhood memory.
Isn't the library amazing? I feel excited just walking in and knowing I can get all of that fun entertainment for free.
I check out tons of books and usually don't end up reading most of them. I read a few pages and set it aside if it doesn't immediately catch my interest. Occasionally, I find a treasure amidst them all and then I can't wait to go back and search some more.
what a great comment.
When I was a child we lived near a small store that sold penny candy, but it was one piece per penny. Stupid inflation . . .
I do the same with books. I'll come home with a whole stack, create my own slush pile and go from there. If it doesn't grab me after about five pages, I move on.
Life's too short to waste on drivel.
You know, the older I get the more convinced I am that I need to use the read-five-pages-and-decide technique with books. I'm simply too ocd to do it, but I need to try. Thanks for the reminder, everyone.
Bit-O-Honey and Jawbreakers...good memories. I also loved the episode of Twilight Zone with Burgess Meredith. Have I sufficiently dated myself yet?
Anyway, wise words on the importance of grabbing the reader's imagination from the get go.
You are so right. I agree that going to the library is like going to the candy store. I also love visiting the bookstore, only then I end up spending money.
I understand how you feel when you mention demands on your time. I have tried the two-chapter rule several times this year. It works well most of the time.
I agree that we need a really strong hook in the beginning of our stories! Great advice.
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