Tag Archives: Gerry Stoker

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Beginnings/Endings of Books

Top Ten TuesdayThe Broke and The Bookish have thrown down the gauntlet once again, challenging fellow book bloggers to list the best beginnings and endings of books. Regular readers will remember that I pretty much covered my favourite beginnings in this post‘A Good Opening Line Can Make All the Difference’, so I think I’ll focus on endings here.

1. Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, ‘So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, and all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.’

Listen to him read it here: 

Race2. Race by Studs Terkel, ‘I look at older people now and I love them. My father is beautiful…he says things that I think are crazy, and a few years later I find out that it wasn’t so crazy. That guy knew what he was talking about. If somehow we could get objectivity. If there were some big universal mirror…
   I have faith we can mature. Stranger things have happened. Maybe America, maybe the world is in its adolescence. Maybe we’re driving home from the prom, drunk, and nobody knows whether we’re going to survive or not. Maybe we’ll survive and maybe we’ll be a pretty smart old person, well-adjusted and mellow.
   I am guardedly optimistic- definitely guardedly. If everything is going to hell, it would be hard for me to get up in the morning. But I can’t honestly say, “sure, things will get better.” We might not make it home from the prom.’ 

3. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, ‘Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning —
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’

Color Purple4. The Color Purple, Alice Walker, ‘But I don’t think us feel old at all. And us so happy. Matter of fact, I think this the youngest us ever felt.’

5. James Joyce’s The Dead, ‘His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.’

6. Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck (look out for a review later this week), ‘”I have not been so happy since I was a child,” she told them. “I remember now that when I was a child I loved to run into the rain-‘…
   “Heaven sends the rain,” she said. “How can I, a mortal, command the clouds?”‘
   But they insisted, and she could see they desired eagerly to praise her.
   “It is for your sake, Old Buddha, that the rain comes down, the fortunate rain, blessing us all because of you.”
   “Well, well,” she said, and laughed to indulge them. “Perhaps,” she said, “perhaps-“

7. Astrotomato’s Planetfall: All Fall Down, ‘”This story isn’t over.”‘Planetfall

8. William Shakespeare’s King Lear, ‘The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest have borne most; we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.’

9. Gerry Stoker’s Why Politics Matters ‘Achieving mass democracy was the great triumph of the twentieth century. Learning to live with it will be the great achievement of the twenty-first.’ 

10. Dave Gorman vs. The Rest of The World ‘Do you play any games? Real life, not computer games. Would you like a game?’ 

Full evaluations of the last two can be found in this post about how to effectively end a non-fiction piece. Please not that the numbering is not a ranking, just the order in which they occurred to me.

What do you think of my selections? What are your favourite endings of books? 

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All’s Well That Ends Well: Advice For Writers

It is always difficult deciding how to conclude what you’ve written; what final impression do you want to leave the reader with? Is there a message or a lesson that you want them to take away? In non-fiction writing in particular, many writers find it difficult to know when and how to stop.

 In terms of biography or autobiography, the rules are very similar to those in fiction, even though it is rather more difficult to choose an ‘ending’ point in real life. Essentially, you are telling a story. This means that the ending should resolve the main conflict that you have presented: you need to say what resulted from the key plot points or incidents. Although you don’t have to entirely resolve everything else you’ve mentioned, it’s better if you at least refer to any ongoing sub plots to give a sense of completion.

A good example of a satisfying ending can be found in Dave Gorman vs. The Rest of The World, a witty and cheerful book, I highly recommend it. This is Dave Gorman’s autobiographical account of challenging anyone and everyone to play a huge variety of games of their choosing. The ending refers back to the climax of the book as the writer overcomes a bad experience wherein he met a stranger who became violent. The last lines describe how he persuaded himself to persevere with the game-playing by remembering all the positive encounters he had had with people and didn’t allow himself to change his outlook irrevocably. Through the use of rhetorical questions, short paragraphs and truncated sentences, the reader is drawn in to Gorman’s internal monologue. By finishing on a positive note, he’s created a sort of happy moral to the story that leaves the reader with a smile.

The last line mirrors the opening of the book: ‘Do you play any games? Real life, not computer games. Would you like a game?’ This direct repetition is a lovely device that almost always makes for a satisfying ending. It’s as if it is bookending the text, or the main story is the sandwich filling and these two identical slices of bread hold it together. The same effect can be created by referring to the same event at the start and end of a text, or even just by using similar lexical choices a more subtle, almost subconscious, link can be made. By asking a direct question, Dave Gorman achieves the delicate balance of a conclusive, yet open ending, engaging the reader.

 Non-fiction texts of other genres often use similar techniques, referring back to a quotation or argument used at the start is a pleasing way to round off a text. In the sort of popular non-fiction which provides academic arguments or explanations at an accessible level, the ending must summarise the main points of the text and demonstrate the how the argument was built in order to restate it with finality and gravitas. In this sense it is similar to an essay. It is a justification of your thesis or world view, as demonstrated in Gerry Stoker’s Why Politics Matters: ‘This book has identified a challenge facing all democracies. The ideals of democracy are valued and supported by most citizens, however, the practice of democratic politics is currently a massive turn-off.’

 Importantly, he also recognises arguments to the contrary and potential weaknesses in his text and strongly refutes them using evidence. He defines his view of politics and its role in society. In his final paragraph he directly answers his title. Why does politics matter? ‘Politics matters because it, too, is an ingredient in what is needed for a good life.’ Using words from the title is one of my favourite techniques for rounding something off satisfactorily. I call it the Love Actually Device, because that’s one of the films where one of the characters almost manages to un-ironically work the title of the film into the dialogue. I love it when they say the title of the film in the film. It makes me want to punch the air with joy. The same applies to books and essays.

 A bit of parallel phrasing finishes off Gerry Stoker’s book beautifully, ‘Achieving mass democracy was the great triumph of the twentieth century. Learning to live with it will be the great achievement of the twenty-first.’ Glorious. 

 Basically, think about the mood you want to leave the reader in. Both these texts, though very different, finish with a common theme of hope for the future. Finishing on a positive note will leave the reader well disposed to your story or argument. Consider: why did you write this account? What do you want the reader to know? Make sure that your point is clearly stated, give the reader something to ponder on and leave a lasting impression.

 Get someone else to read it (friends, family, or a professional proofreader) and see what impression they were left with. If all else fails, just write in large, definitive lettering…THE END.

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