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Posts tagged ‘novels’

TIME PILOTS – commentary on Ernest Cline’s novel “Ready Player One”

readyoneReady Player One author Ernest Cline probably did not select the 1980s as the nostalgia motif of his novel simply because it happened to be the era of his youth. In current pop culture, Stranger Things, IT, 24K Magic, and plenty of other manifestations keep making the ‘80s the decade that cannot be terminated. Decades foregone, do today’s Gen-Zers ever feel false-nostalgia for Marcus Welby or The Macarena? There is something specifically poignant about the ‘80s that Cline thought would resonate with multi-generational readers.

Teenage Wade spends his days and nights memorizing the dialogue of John Hughes movies, listening to New Wave song files, and, most importantly, mastering classic arcade video games like Pac Man and Tempest. The year is 2044. Teen character obsessions with ’80s pop culture in Ready Player One is more than pacifying entertainment in the age of a catastrophic global energy crisis. Their avatar identities connect to virtual reality through a visor and motion-controlling gloves and hunt for treasure in the vast network called the OASIS, where people can become anybody they want or visit any place in the imaginable universe. Hunters occupationally plunder VR worlds for currency credits, fighting skill points, magic weapons and clues to the location of a trillion dollar prize. Halliday, a genius and recluse who designed the OASIS, has died and willed its ownership to the hunter who first solves a series of puzzles leading to a final figurative Easter Egg hidden in the lore of Halliday’s own ‘80s pop culture obsessions. The contest requires intense familiarity with Halliday’s favorite books, cartoons, and videogames from own teenage years, and has led to a global ‘80s craze fifty years beyond. As Wade, isolated in his personal hideout, describes, “Spiked hair and acid washed jeans are back in style.” He means what is in style amongst his peers inside the idealized and abstract universe of the Oasis.

In the America of 2044, climate change, wars and corporatism have reduced most of the population to depressed scavengers. Teenagers like Wade have been forced to abandon most of what we might consider a normal life of school, friendships, sex, and stepping outside. He lives a lonely existence in a vertical trailer park ghetto. But in the Oasis, Wade’s anonymous avatar, Parzival, is becoming the most famous Gunter [Egg + Hunter] in the world, relying on his mastery of ’80 pop culture to pursue the trail of Halliday’s arcane clues. The bulk of the novel follows Parzival, along with his team of Gunter comrades known popularly as the High Five, solving Halliday’s posthumous challenges left inside elaborate movie and videogame recreations. Their nemesis is IOI, a greedy corporation plotting to control the Oasis with a force of avatar clone armies trained to win the contests through cheating, extortion, and real world murder.

If this plot structure – a gang of troubled but precocious young people combine their expertises to defeat the schemes of an unscrupulous adult enterprise – sounds to you like Goonies, or Whiz Kids or other ‘80s era media artifacts, say Uno!

A recent article in the blog Vulture asked in its title Why Are We Still Obsessed With The ‘80s? Some of their answers were practical, such as what we see on our screens and hear through our earbuds is coming from media creatives in their 40s and 50s who have an affinity for the pop culture of their youth. Also the time traveling powers of YouTube and Facebook have mid-lifers introducing children, younger siblings, or nieces and nephews to the pop culture that populated their childhoods. So maybe the resiliency of the ‘80s is a phenomenon of shared multi-generational touchstones more available through current technology. As Vulture commented, “When one generation influences a second (and a third) generation in this way, there’s a pop cultural ripple effect that keeps on rippling… The pop culture we grew up on? You couldn’t ignore it if you tried.”

On a more theoretical level, Vulture suggested the tendency of media creatives to delve into the ‘80s as a means to connect the “now” to an era taking first steps into a transformative technological age. Nostalgia mining always offers an escape to idealized memories of youth, but the 1980s is the last full decade before the internet became an avatar for human interaction. In other words, maybe the reason why we keep trying to relive the ‘80s is because our computers have disconnected us from an authentic shared culture.

Ab ovo, Halliday’s Easter egg hunt. The futuristic odyssey specifically revisits a past in which technology was capturing young people’s desire for adventure before the internet supplanted real human interaction. We have to remind ourselves in the midst of Cline’s story that the High Five’s swashbuckling teen teamwork is all an illusion. In real life, the High Five buddies reside in remote parts of the world and do not even know what their comrades or competitors look like. Winning inside the Oasis – just as all commerce, politics, and notoriety of the day – is just a fantasy. There are not really trillions of dollars at stake in finding Halliday’s egg, just trillions of zeros and ones. The youths of ’44 have no actual participative culture of their own. It was Halliday’s dying desire to bequeath them his antique pop culture passions in a way that would stimulate actual interaction, something the inventor of the Oasis felt personally responsibility for ruining. Halliday’s contest is his last chance at real human connection, ironically after his death.

We might also say that Halliday is Ernest Cline’s avatar. Both the Easter Egg Hunt and Cline’s dystopian aesthetic are respective expressions of loss over something the ‘80s represented, a lost era of social engagement. Halliday filled his OASIS with references and facsimiles of the ‘80s culture he loved, then willed a contest which could only be won by someone who cared enough to love his same interests. Likewise, Cline, in writing Ready Player One offers readers a chance to connect or reconnect with his ’80s fondnesses. Of science fiction, another author, William Gibson (credited with reviving the SF genre in 1980s), once said, “It doesn’t resonate back from the future, it resonates out of modern history.” Cline’s sci-fi depicts a future that still searches for something we are missing out of our modern history. Both Cline, the creator, and his creator avatar, Halliday, seek to reboot real human-to-human communication.

rp13As for the Ready Player One motion picture adaptation, despite excellent special effects, it misses the chance to visualize the vast possibilities of the Oasis so inventively depicted by Cline. Also, the game of our hero Gunters using their intellectual powers to solve Halliday’s cryptic puzzles is given secondary treatment to fighting and action sequences. Not to say the action sequences are not well executed. In particular, a recreation of the movie The Shining as the setting for one of Halliday’s challenges provides something amazing on film that a novel could never do. Still, a disappointing shortcoming is the movie’s inability to capture the literal aspects of the Oasis as simulacrum, to understand the world’s fixation with videogames in this future as a product of desolation. Overtrying to be hopeful, the movie steps around an important theme in the novel, which explores something dark about our modern society and the mass-loneliness advance technology is creating.

Social commentary in the novel is deftly weaved through exciting action challenges. The book also succeeds in making our protagonist (avatar) Wade/Parzival both socially awkward and cool. The last third of the novel avails too much deus ex machina, and an anticipated final encounter feels rushed and superficial after the novel’s earlier insightfulness (Spoiler Alert: Only reality is real). Overall, Ready Player One is an electric read, the experience of a complete future universe both exciting and tragic.

FAR OUT! – commentary on Michael Sussman’s novel “Crashing Eden”

edenDo you believe everything you hear? Joss was a troubled teenager before ever telling his psychiatrist that his bicycle collision with a random car door was “meant to be.” He is the child of upper-middle class professionals who attends a private high school in multidimensional Cambridge, Massachusetts, but he also grew up angry and defiant, and he just got out of two years lock-up in juvie for setting the neighbor’s house on fire. His meeker younger brother killed himself; a tragedy over which the father has fallen into dissociation and the mother has become an irreconcilable bitch who holds Joss responsible. Yet, in the hospital, recovering from the concussion he suffered, Joss feels euphoric, spiritually renewed and he has begun to hear the OM.

The OM is the primordial vibration of the universe. It sounds like a cosmic choir chanting and could anciently be heard by all humans, before the mythical fall of creation. To this point Michael Sussman’s novel Crashing Eden is still a fairly phenomenological YA drama. We are not sure yet if this is a journey into myth and the supernatural, or the story of a depressed kid having a psychotic break.

The psychiatrists seem to have a clinical grasp of what’s wrong (or too right) with Joss. They explain that the OM is an auditory hallucination brought on by Joss’s state of manic bliss. Euphoria and delusions of grandiosity are common to mental patients Joss’s age. Joss’s belief that he has developed special powers, coinciding with the anniversary of his brother’s suicide, is likely a function of Joss’s mind protecting itself from sadness and guilt. Is Joss’s life changing experience of the OM going to be real within the context of the novel, or a maddness through which Joss will exercise his grief? The author will make a choice for the reader about what kind of novel this is going to be – a story about mental illness and family discord, or a sci-fi, superpowers fantasy that will suspend all physical rules to deliver readers beyond the universe to the feet of God. Because Joss believes that something universally significant is happening, and his conviction is about to be substantiated by a series of stupefying narrative events:

Event: Earth is hurtling toward intersection with a vast black hole in outer space, portending the end of the world.

Event: Joss encounters a pair of grad school scientists who have built a wearable device that amplifies the OM. They also enlist Joss in distributing the devices to young people everywhere, in the hope of saving the world by re-syncing it with the primordial vibration of the universe.

Event: the human mission to restore honestly and goodness to the world angers God Himself, who irrationally rains down catastrophic blizzards, earthquakes, and plagues.

Final Event: Joss teams up with the grad students, the ghost of his dead brother, and other friends who have developed supernatural abilities. Joss and company fly as spirit bodies through the black hole to confront God and talk-therapy Him through his attachment disorder related to his own mother abandoning him thirteen billion years before.

Anyone who took a high school English class is probably familiar with Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s concept of poetic faith, described as the willing suspension of disbelief. This refers to a reader’s willingness to accept a fictional imagining of the world (or world’s) on the author’s terms. Crashing Eden raises a question about the point at which fantasticism in speculative fiction breaks the readers willing suspension of disbelief. Sci-fi and fantasy stories freight a lot willingness before the cover page is ever turned, and, of course, suspension depends entirely on the individual reader’s cooperation.

There are a couple common ways the fantasy in a genre story gets broken. 1.) The RULES of the Impossible World are implausible in the real world, e.g. the wizard about to cast his death curse conveniently has a heart attack and dies. 2.) The RULES of the Impossible World are inconsistent, e.g. only a wizard can do magic until a non-wizard steals the magic wand. Despite other weaknesses, Crashing Eden actually passes both of these tests. After the on the level looking early chapters, Sussman wends a fairytale path, but there are no early conceits, no limits on the contrived reality that prevent the story from traveling beyond the beyond. So why does Cashing Eden not entirely work? In the druthers of your humble reviewer, its gradually elaborate fantasy simply gets too far out.

If the issue is not broken disbelief, perhaps we could call it cognitive estrangement from the breadth of Sussman’s fantasy world. We can still give up on a story if at some intangible juncture its fantasy proposal feels pointless. Too fantastic. Too weird. There are no doubt other readers for whom legends given authenticity, superpowers employed to punch-out God, and the undisputed existence of God at all, is an exhilarating reading experience. And Sussman deserves credit for giving young readers a positive parable about redemption, healthy self-forgiveness, and celebrating ethics of peace while never ennobling a particular religion. The book is also slyly funny and the teen hero is complex. To my taste, I would have liked the novel to continue in the direction of teen-with-a-mental-problem, and the fantastic parts to be something Joss subconsciously invented as a recovery tool. A little more science and not so much fiction, please. In words attributed to sci-fi author Damon Knight: “Alice In Wonderland, good. Weird Alice In Wonderland, good. Weird Alice In Weird Wonderland, not good.”

 

SIMON 2.GAY – commentary on Becky Albertalli’s novel “Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda”

simonSimon has a millennial age secret. He is gay and he is not ashamed of it. A 17-year-old suburban white kid with close friends and a chummy, functional family, Simon is not so fearful about being socially ostracized. His Gen Z size worry seems to be that people he already trusts to accept homosexuality will make his coming out a “big deal.” What is at stake for gay Simon in a post-acceptance era is that his differentness from the hetero default will eclipse the adult identity he is still in the process of constructing, and that people who would otherwise completely approve of his sexual preference, will appropriate their associations with him for their personal agendas.

As a coming-out novel, Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, written with soaring emotional intelligence by Becky Albertalli, approaches the subject rather different than the kind of young adult material of my 1980’s teen years. If there were coming-out stories, I did not read them. What I remember is clunky afterschool TV specials like What If I’m Gay? and The Truth About Alex. In both of those stories, which intended to present an affirming message about homosexuality, a high school jock’s closetedness is exposed through accidental circumstances, unleashing havoc on girlfriends, families, and sympathetic friends. In subtext, coming-out was audacious and reckless. Were teenagers of the era ready for The Truth? Where I grew up the only thing these specials produced were homophobic punchlines in the locker room.

Closeted Simon, growing up in present-day suburban Atlanta, has been engaging in an anonymous online romance with a mysterious boy from the same high school, going by the faceless moniker Blue. Simon is not a jock but a theater kid with a popular personality. A less popular and more awkward classmate, Martin, happens upon a school library computer display of Simon and Blue’s private homosexually revealing emails, which Simon accidentally forgot to close. Martin is not even homophobic, but he is a conniver and he threatens to abuse the secret unless Simon helps Martin get the attention of a female friend who is way out of Martin’s league. When the girlfriend does not show romantic interest, Martin posts a vulgar, fake coming-out confession on behalf of Simon to the high school’s gossip blog, and also hints at outing Blue. Simon might try to deny the gay truth, but instead our Twenty-first Century hero reluctantly accepts it an opportunity to start coming-out publicly. Some taunting and humiliation comes down from the jock clan at school, but mostly what is unleashed on Simon is a series of embarrassing endorsements. A dozen straight kids make a point of saying they support him. His BFF’s pick out guys they think are boyfriend prospects and squabble over who got to be first told. Teachers stand on guard for bullies. A lesbian couple hugs Simon and hands him their phone numbers. One girl reassures him that Jesus still loves him. Simon tolerates the undue attention, but he worries that the hullaballoo will somehow collaterally uncloset Blue. Will he lose Blue after his own carelessness with the library computer has set off a chain of events that might include schoolmate’s being so determined to embrace gay people, they will shortcut Blue coming-out on his own terms?

In Simon’s generally enlightened middle-class suburbs, one coming to terms with one’s identity can be just as scary, or risky, or embarrassing as it ever was. Albertalli has released a version of the coming-out story that updates the order of consequences. Simon is not ashamed of being gay, but he anticipates the unfairness of people coming to know him as that one thing. Before he has even had any real sexual experience, he will be redefined as his sexual preference. As Simon writes to Blue, “Do you ever feel locked into yourself? …Sometimes it feels like everyone knows who I am except me.” If Simon comes out, will his would-be allies receive him as he truly is, or will they impose some new version of himself he does not even know yet? Simon, version 2.gay ?

What is so fresh about the Simon character is that as he experiences typical teen rites of passage, he is also emotionally mature enough to recognize sexual preference as one part of himself. “I’m tired of coming out. All I ever do is come out. I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again.” Albertalli is suggesting that all teenagers reach a stage at which the adult they are struggling to find within feels like a secret identity. That every teen feels like the person they are perceived to be is a disguise over the person they actually are. That it is a universal experience to come-out as someone other than who family and peers recognize. “I don’t know how to tell them something like this and still come out feeling like Simon. Because if they don’t recognize me, I don’t recognize myself anymore.” Albertalli’s suburbs are progressive, but imperfect.

Progress has another modern consequence, as demonstrated by people in Simon’s orbit who use his sexual identity like an invisible token that can be invested into some other enterprise. As when Simon describes his coming-out to his family on Christmas morning:  “I guess it’s about what I expected. My mom’s asking about my feelings and my dad’s trying to turn it into a joke. Alice is getting political…” What Simon intuitively fears is that his differentness is something other people will treat as an object that may be taken from his hands. And it is. Martin, a kid who cares about his own gay brother and marches in a Pride parade, selfishly outs Simon on the gossip blog thinking that while it might be embarrassing it would be relatively inconsequential. Simon has to chew out Martin: “You don’t get to say it’s not a big thing. This was supposed to be mine. I’m supposed to decide when and where and who knows and how I want to say it… You took that from me.”

Recalling the good old 80’s again, I am reminded of a friend who was forced out of the closet at age fourteen when his father caught him messing around with another boy in a tent. Not only did the father make the remainder of his teen years a torment, he became a pariah among his classmates and community. No doubt ostracization still happens to gay and genderqueer kids, but the queer stigma in most American places is fortunately becoming relic. Simon is less concerned with people disliking him or being violent towards him, than he is in being defined by his society in a way that is both narrow and manipulable.

My initial reaction to the Simon novel and its adjacent movie adaptation was: Hasn’t the teen coming-out thing been done enough? But, in fact, I am hardpressed to find a story about a teenage protagonist coming-out actually made into a major studio film. Even if the accomplishment is tardy, teenagers will love Love Simon’s thoughtful humor. The screenplay is a loose adaptation of the book, and cleverly executed given that the source material is about 1/3 epistolary (those email exchanges). It successfully regenerates most of the same dramatic beats with excellent young actors. It does not quite arrive at the post-acceptance angle portrayed in the novel. Instead of peers looking out for Simon, the movie’s drama leans on alienation, misconception, and, like the old days, making the gay teen seem responsible for his own victimization. Although, at the end Simon’s classmates rally around him. And Simon’s relationships with his parents are more fully realized. The movie was emotionally touching and I recommend it.

Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda is a radical coming out novel. Because what is more salient now in our culture is not gay-or-straight, but the lingering requirement of a person to have a static sexual identity at all, or the requirement that one should have to articulate one’s sex life to the whole homo sapien demos. These issues are still confusing at a time when people are, for the most part, accepting of homosexuality, and people who are publicly unaccepting often become social pariahs themselves. Tolerance, fortunately came to sound too patronizing, and today in America acceptance might be said to imply cis-chauvinism, even when the accepting party’s intentions are good. Because knowing what sort of sex partner another person prefers, or knowing whether the person considers them self only male or female, is no longer an acceptable method of knowing the person. As it reads in one of Blue’s emails to Simon, “You can memorize someone’s gestures but you can never know their thoughts… people are like houses with vast rooms and tiny windows.”

 

 

 

 

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TIMES THEY ARE A WRINKLING – commentary on Madeleine L’Engle’s novel “A Winkle In Time”

7567On the occasion of a major motion picture adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time 56 years after its publication, I decided to tesser through the fifth dimension back to 1962 to learn about the novel’s apparent durability among middle-grade literati. What I discovered is a mid-generational artifact wedged right between the 60’s feminist movement and McCarthy era preoccupations.

Meg is a twelve-year-old science nerd and bullied weirdo at school. However, at home she is the fulcrum of her weirdo science nerd family, including her unusual five-year-old brother, Charles Wallace, who hides his amazing intellectual gifts from other children. After Meg’s father, a physicist, mysteriously vanishes during a top secret experiment, a trio of intergalactic ferry-like women – Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit – arrive offering to help find him. They lead Meg, Charles Wallace, and a teenage friend, Calvin, on a dangerous mission to rescue the father, and introduce the children to the Tesseract, a method of space travel that involves folding (or wrinkling) time. From a luminous spot in the cosmos, the children are shown Camazotz, a dark planet shrouded by a malevolent cloud called The Black Thing and inhabited by people whose minds are controlled by IT. The authoritarian IT, is a disfleshed, mechanical brain, imposing total social conformity among Camazotz population. IT also holds Meg’s father prisoner. Meg and the other children are the only beings capable of traveling through The Black Thing to Camazotz, and risk being indoctrinated into ITs ethos of homogeneity. Through Meg’s journey two major themes emerge, the indicated one, appointing a young girl as progressive protagonist and hero of individualism, the other a subtextual bulwark of anti-communist zealotry and prevailing conservative values.

Meg begins the story as a hesitater and social outcast among her peers. Because she does not fit it, she is considered stupid, (a missummation also applied to Charles Wallace). Although, the three missuses celebrate Meg’s differentness and individual gifts, ultimately saving her family and the world from galactic evil is something she accomplishes alone. They provide the vehicle of the Tesseract, the mission, and the encouragement, but Meg’s strongest tool is her inner ability to overcome self-doubt. That is the novel’s timely, broad-minded wrinkle.

Within the same pages a second, less forward-looking theme lurks. The nebulous Black Thing is slowly encompassing planet Earth, as it has to completion the less resistant planet Camazotz, a name which happens to rhyme obliquely with communist. Citizens of Camazotz live in identical suburban houses, where all children play games in unison and parents fearfully obey an average routine. The Black Thing suppresses individuality itself, replacing its importance with the false bliss of social equality. Camazotzians are not starved, or deprived of civil rights. Sameness, civic efficiency and the provision of equal economic resources are depicted as worse deprivations. “[Meg] held on to her moment of revelation. Like and equal are two entirely different things.” Children of Camazotz are bereft because they have been absorbed philosophically by IT. The literal brain IT takes over independent thought making a person not just part of IT but turning them into an IT, and IT takes over Charles Wallace’s mind. Depriving Charles Wallace of self-determination is described as an act hate, so Meg resolves to give Charles Wallace what ITs vacuous equality cannot – love. That is, nonsectarian Christian love, which is moderately referenced throughout novel.

Besides Economic Liberalism and Christianity, there are other quaint ideological convictions touted. Intellectualism is a bogeyman as demonstrated when Charles Wallace, the most erudite of the children, falls into ITs mind control most easily because he has the arrogance to think he can defeat IT with logic alone. Meg’s father admits to irresponsible scientific exploration of the Tesseract – “we’re children playing with dynamite” – a reference to nuclear weapons. Also, L’Engle’s composition has a formal, fairy tale cadence that was perhaps the culture of children’s books in 1962 – a lot of dears and darlings and Faaathers.

This brings me, in brief, to the 2018 movie version. The adaptation is successful in imagining a fantastic special effects vision of the novel, distinguishing the characters, and abandoning some of L’Engle’s passé ideology. The movie seizes on the spirit of Meg learning to take pride in being an individual and turning her anger, stubbornness and impatience into strengths. And the filmmakers grow L’Engle’s feminist seed into an inclusive and multicultural universe. There are some deficiencies. The acting is broadly terrible, and L’Engle’s Christian sentiment has morphed into New Agey child-of-the-universe-summon-your-inner-light platitudes that feel drippy. But the best parts of the movie would not exist without the best parts of the original novel.

On the whole, A Wrinkle In Time is a novel from which young people will still draw relevant positivity. It is a story about a girl possessing the ability to solve problems with interior powers even the immortal, interstellar traveling women do not have. Maybe its 1962 first-world triumphalism does not hold up, but the message of children, particularly female children, learning to respect themselves is enduring.

FINNEGAN’S FAKE – commentary on Flann O’Brien’s novel “At Swim-Two Birds”

atswimAt-Swim-Two Birds is simply Flann O’Brien’s novel about an Irish student novelist writing a novel about an unfinished novel. Do you twig? The student’s spare-time literary activity includes spontaneous composition of the story of a lazy novelist who’s misused characters, drawn largely from Irish folk legends, animate and conspire to write their own novel in which their creator is tortured and tried for his abuses. In between the folk legend sections, O’Brien’s young author is browbeaten by his middle-class uncle who criticizes the student for his seeming disinterest in studying.

Metafiction may be a particular taste, as is toiling through O’Brien’s long adaptations of Irish verse and writing styles. I confess I wanted give up on this book early on, it was so bewildering. But sticking with O’Brien’s mythical fantasies and stream-of-conscious writing came to feel rewarding. Once I gave up on my inclination to understand every reference to Irish myth or modern Dublin slang term, I was able to absorb that O’Brien created something of epic imagination and wit, even while abandoning all writerly responsibilities toward character and plot. I’ve never been able to slog through the impenetrable language of James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, the style of which O’Brien appears to imitate or parody. Maybe At-Swim is Finnegan’s Wake lite. I know I’ve never before successfully read an Irish novel like this, or finished one feeling as edified. O’Brien’s humor is wicked, and his gifts for description and prose are extraordinary.

MEET ME UNDER THE WHALE, commentary on Brian Selznick’s novel “Wonderstruck”

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Wonderstruck is a six-hundred plus page juvenile fiction novel that might only take kids an hour an a half to read. That is because much of it is told in picture book form (Although, I found myself revisiting the artwork again and again.). Wonderstruck is two stories. Ben, a ten year old deaf boy runs away to New York City, following a trail of clues to find his abandoner father. Ben’s story is set contemporarily and told via traditional paragraphs. In the companion story, Rose is a ten-year-old deaf girl in 1927, who runs away to New York City to find her distant mother. However, Rose’s adventure is told entirely through the author’s mimetic pencil illustrations. The two journeys lead both characters to explore and hideout in The American Museum of Natural History. Eventually their timelines cross. Ben and old age Rose are united through their mutual interests in the same animal habitat diorama – a means of storytelling weaving art and science, life and imagination. Likewise in the last section of Wonderstruck, words and pictures, become interwoven.

Maurice Sendak once said, ““I don’t write for children. I write–and somebody says, ‘That’s for children!’” Wonderstruck is a fun, intertextual odyssey for the mind and the eye. There are also difficult circumstances of disappointment and death that the characters confront together. It is life illustrated for child and adult.

 

 

All Things Concentered- book review of ‘ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR,’ by Elizabeeth Brundage

brundage3Consider All Things Cease To Appear a work of literary merit that happens to begin with a murder suspect ruminating on Emerson and an ax in the skull of the protagonist. In other words, author Elizabeth Brundage eludes the general classification of a novel into Genre Fiction or Literary Fiction.

Genre Fiction usually gets divided into romance, horror, mystery, et cetera and then subdivided into cross genres and further complicated taxa. Literary Fiction is both difficult and easy to classify because it resides in the category of books with no category. Literary Fiction is for sale in the section of your book store where the fog never lifts, its shelve hanging unfastened between the land and sky. Is All Things Cease To Appear a mystery/thriller, a romantic/horror, or a literary fictive with genre elements? Here, context serves as an inside-out metaphor for the content, the imaginary hinterland Brundage creates.

The setting is Chosen, New York, an insular working-class town. George and Catherine Clare, intellectuals from the city, have moved to a house on a foreclosed dairy farm, also the site of the previous family’s tragic self-destruction. While George attends his new position as professor of art history at a nearby college, Catherine forgoes her career in art restoration to become restorian of the spooky, decaying property. She hires the teenage Hale brothers, a sad but bighearted trio, to repaint the exteriors, although she is unaware the house was last the Hale’s home until they were orphaned by their father’s violence and mother’s murder?/suicide.

George Clare teaches study in the Hudson River School of landscape painters, specifically George Innes, whose nineteenth century works were intended to be both observably captivating and spiritually experiential. Meanwhile Catherine Clare is experiencing her own metaphysical shift. She relies on the Hale boys and other new local friendships to navigate passage through her collapsing marriage and creeping ennui. George turns out to be a character perpetrating frauds, betrayals, and violent acts with sociopathic artifice, which culminates in his becoming the prime suspect in Catherine’s gruesome murder.

In its breadth, All Things tells the concentric history of two abused mothers who meet similar tragic fate in the same house at different times. Like any good novel, the story is rich in comparative elements, but referring to Brundage’s elements as ordinary pairings and opposites seems inadequate. Counterpoint might be a closer descriptive (Catherine plays Chopin on piano!), in the sense of independent melodies composed into one harmonic texture: Catherine is the abused mistress of the house, but the ghost of her lost predecessor, Ella Hale, continues to traverse the creaky stairs; the Hale boys still consider the house their property, and yet they are dispossessed from it; the Clares and the Hales are two families at different times appearing, concentrating, and disappearing.

These contrapuntals reflect the novel’s central philosophical platform: reality is a place where morals and meaning are uncertain concepts; time is an ebbing and disappearing focal point; life is a composition of light and darkness- like an Innes landscape that balances land and sky into a vague frontier where all things blend until ceasing to appear. Brundage performs context and content in counterpoint as genre motifs are blended with literary themes and superb prose. In this scene Eddy Hale, working outside Catherine’s house, is both a de facto permanent occupant and a frequent voyeur looking in from the outside:

“Maybe she’d come out to hang the wash. He’d watch her back, her arms reaching up, her elbows as knobby as a garden snail’s. Across the fields that had been his grandfather’s and his great grandfather’s before that, the wind spoke to him. Wait, it said… Now Catherine’s daughter was sleeping in his old room. He wouldn’t tell her. He wouldn’t tell her what had gone on in that house, how his father would come after them, turning over chairs and tables, how his mother would cry up in her room or sometimes sit in one place shaking just a little, like somebody who was scared.”

 

I suppose genre readers could find themselves disappointed to be led into a four hundred page murder mystery that neither provides a competent detective nor concludes with certainty about who is guilty. It is a risk for Brundage to write a beautiful novel wherein beauty and love depend on the unseen, and the success of heroes and demise of villains depends entirely on implication. As Brundage writes- in fog certain things, certain colors become important. Like Innes’s intention that observers of his paintings would have their souls see what their eyes could not, Brundage shows readers that the division of genre and literary fiction, like lateral time and universal logic, is mere optical illusion.

REBLOG:THE GUARDIAN: JULIAN BARNES on BIBLIOPHILIA, POSSESSING AND POSSESSED BY REAL BOOKS

theguardian 05.07.12

Julian Barnes: my life as a bibliophile

From school prizes to writing his own novels, the author reflects on his lifelong bibliomania and explains why, despite e-readers and Amazon, he believes the physical book and bookshops will survive
second-hand bookshop

I have lived in books, for books, by and with books; in recent years, I have been fortunate enough to be able to live frombooks. And it was through books that I first realised there were other worlds beyond my own; first imagined what it might be like to be another person; first encountered that deeply intimate bond made when a writer’s voice gets inside a reader’s head. I was perhaps lucky that for the first 10 years of my life there was no competition from television; and when one finally arrived in the household, it was under the strict control of my parents. They were both schoolteachers, so respect for the book and what it contained were implicit. We didn’t go to church, but we did go to the library.
My maternal grandparents were also teachers. Grandpa had a mail-order set of Dickens and a Nelson’s Cyclopaedia in about 30 small red volumes. My parents had classier and more varied books, and in later life became members of the Folio Society. I grew up assuming that all homes contained books; that this was normal. It was normal, too, that they were valued for their usefulness: to learn from at school, to dispense and verify information, and to entertain during the holidays. My father had collections of Times Fourth Leaders; my mother might enjoy a Nancy Mitford. Their shelves also contained the leather-bound prizes my father had won at Ilkeston County School between 1921 and 1925, for “General Proficiency” or “General Excellence”: The Pageant of English Prose, Goldsmith’sPoetical Works, Cary’s Dante, Lytton’sLast of the Barons, Charles Reade’s The Cloister and the Hearth.
None of these works excited me as a boy. I first started investigating my parents’ shelves (and those of my grandparents, and of my older brother) when awareness of sex dawned. Grandpa’s library contained little lubricity except a scene or two in John Masters’s Bhowani Junction; my parents had William Orpen’s History of Artwith several important black-and-white illustrations; but my brother owned a copy of Petronius’s Satyricon, which was the hottest book by far on the home shelves. The Romans definitely led a more riotous life than the one I witnessed around me in Northwood, Middlesex. Banquets, slave girls, orgies, all sorts of stuff. I wonder if my brother noticed that after a while some of the pages of hisSatyricon were almost falling from the spine. Foolishly, I assumed all his ancient classics must have similar erotic content. I spent many a dull day with his Hesiod before concluding that this wasn’t the case.
The local high street included an establishment we referred to as “the bookshop”. In fact, it was a fancy-goods store plus stationer’s with a downstairs room, about half of which was given over to books. Some of them were quite respectable – Penguin classics, Penguin and Pan fiction. Part of me assumed that these were all the books that there were. I mean, I knew there were different books in the public library, and there were school books, which were again different; but in terms of the wider world of books, I assumed this tiny sample was somehow representative. Occasionally, in another suburb or town, we might visit a “real” bookshop, which usually turned out to be a branch of WH Smith.
The only variant book-source came if you won a school prize (I was at City of London, then on Victoria Embankment next to Blackfriars Bridge). Winners were allowed to choose their own books, usually under parental supervision. But again, this was somehow a narrowing rather than a broadening exercise. You could choose them only from a selection available at a private showroom in an office block on the South Bank: a place both slightly mysterious and utterly functional. It was, I later discovered, yet another part of WH Smith. Here were books of weight and worthiness, the sort to be admired rather than perhaps ever read. Your school prize would have a particular value, you chose a book for up to that amount, whereupon it vanished from your sight, to reappear on Lord Mayor’s prize day, when the Lord Mayor of London, in full regalia, would personally hand it over to you. Now it would contain a pasted-in page on the front end-paper describing your achievement, while the cloth cover bore the gilt-embossed school arms. I can remember little of what I obediently chose when guided by my parents. But in 1963 I won the Mortimer English prize and, being now 17, must have gone by myself to that depository of seriousness, where I found (whose slip-up could it have been?) a copy of Ulysses. I can still see the disapproving face of the Lord Mayor as his protectively gloved hand passed over to me this notoriously filthy novel.
By now, I was beginning to view books as more than just utilitarian, sources of information, instruction, delight or titillation. First there was the excitement and meaning of possession. To own a certain book – one you had chosen yourself – was to define yourself. And that self-definition had to be protected, physically. So I would cover my favourite books (paperbacks, inevitably, out of financial constraint) with transparent Fablon. First, though, I would write my name – in a recently acquired italic hand, in blue ink, underlined with red – on the edge of the inside cover. The Fablon would then be cut and fitted so that it also protected the ownership signature. Some of these books – for instance, David Magarshack’s Penguin translations of the Russian classics – are still on my shelves.
Self-definition was one kind of magic. And then I was slowly introduced to another kind: that of the old, the secondhand, the non-new book. I remember a line of Auden first editions in the glass-fronted bookcase of a neighbour: a man, moreover, who had actually known Auden decades previously, and even played cricket with him. These facts seemed to me astonishing. I had never set eyes on a writer, or known anyone who had known a writer. I might have heard one or two on the wireless, seen one or two on television in a Face to Faceinterview with John Freeman. But our family’s nearest connection to literature was the fact that my father had read modern languages at Nottingham University, where the professor wasErnest Weekley, whose wife had run off with DH Lawrence. Oh, and my mother had once seen RD Smith, husband ofOlivia Manning, on a Birmingham station platform. Yet here were the ownership copies of someone who had known one of the country’s most famous living poets. Further, these books contained Auden’s still-echoing words in the form in which they had first come into the world. I sensed this magic sharply, and wanted part of it. So, from my student years, I became a book-collector as well as a book-user, and discovered that bookshops weren’t all owned by WH Smith.
Over the next decade or so – from the late 1960s to the late 70s – I became a tireless book-hunter, driving to the market towns and cathedral cities of England in my Morris Traveller and loading it with books bought at a rate that far exceeded any possible reading speed. This was a time when most towns of reasonable size had at least one large, long-established secondhand bookshop, often found within the shadow of the cathedral or city church; as I remember, you could usually park right outside for as long as you wanted. Without exception these would be independently owned shops – sometimes with a selection of new books at the front – and I immediately felt at home in them. The atmosphere, for a start, was so different. Here books seemed to be valued, and to form part of a continuing culture.
By now, I probably preferred secondhand books to new ones. In America such items were disparagingly referred to as “previously owned”; but this very continuity of ownership was part of their charm. A book dispensed its explanation of the world to one person, then another, and so on down the generations; different hands held the same book and drew sometimes the same, sometimes a different wisdom from it. Old books showed their age: they had fox marks the way old people had liver spots. They also smelt good – even when they reeked of cigarettes and (occasionally) cigars. And many might disgorge pungent ephemera: ancient publishers’ announcements and old bookmarks – often for insurance companies or Sunlight soap.
So I would drive to Salisbury, Petersfield, Aylesbury, Southport, Cheltenham, Guildford, getting into back rooms and locked warehouses and storesheds whenever I could. I was much less at ease in places that smelt of fine bindings, or that knew all too well the value of each item of stock. I preferred the democratic clutter of a shop whose stock was roughly ordered and where bargains were possible. In those days, even in shops selling new books, there was none of the ferociously fast stock turnaround that modern central management imposes. Nowadays, the average shelf-life of a new hardback novel – assuming it can reach a shelf in the first place – is four months. Then, books would stay on the shelves until someone bought them, or they might be reluctantly put into a special sale, or moved to the secondhand department, where they might rest for years on end. That book you couldn’t afford, or weren’t sure you really wanted, would often still be there on your return trip the following year. Secondhand shops also taught the lesson of the writer who has gone out of fashion. Charles Morgan,Hugh WalpoleDornford YatesLord LyttonMrs Henry Wood – there would be yards and yards of them out there, waiting for fashion to turn again. It rarely did.
I bought with a hunger that I recognise, looking back, was a kind of neediness: well, bibliomania is a known condition. Book-buying certainly consumed more than half of my disposable income. I bought first editions of the writers I most admired: Waugh, Greene, Huxley, Durrell, Betjeman. I bought first editions of Victorian poets such as Tennyson and Browning (neither of whom I had read) because they seemed astonishingly cheap. The dividing line between books I liked, books I thought I would like, books I hoped I would like and books I didn’t like now but thought I might at some future date was rarely distinct.
I collected King PenguinsBatsford books on the countryside, and the Britain in Pictures series produced by Collins in the 1940s and 50s. I bought poetry pamphlets and leather-backed French encyclopaedias published by Larousse; cartoon books and Victorian keepsakes; out-of-date dictionaries and bound copies of magazines from the Cornhill tothe Strand. I bought a copy of Sensation!, the first Belgian edition of Waugh’sScoop. I even made up a category called Odd Books, used to justify eccentric purchases such as Sir Robert Baden-Powell’s Pig-Sticking or Hog-Hunting,Bombadier Billy Wells’s Physical Energy,Cheiro’s Guide to the Hand and Tap-Dancing Made Easy by “Isolde”. All are still on my shelves, if rarely consulted. I also bought books it made no sense to buy, either at the time or in retrospect – like all three volumes (in first edition, with dust-wrappers, and definitely unread by the previous owner) of Sir Anthony Eden’s memoirs. Where was the sense in that?
My case was made worse by the fact that I was, in the jargon of the trade, a completist. So, for instance, because I had admired the few plays of Shaw that I’d seen, I ended up with several feet of his work, even down to obscure pamphlets about vegetarianism. Since Shaw was so popular, and his print-runs accordingly vast, I never paid much for any of this collection. Which also meant that when, 30 years later, having become less keen on Shaw’s didacticism and self-conscious wit, I decided to sell out, a clear minus profit was made.
Occasionally, there were thrilling discoveries. In the back warehouse of F Weatherhead & Son of Aylesbury, I found a copy of the first two cantos of Byron’sDon Juan, published without the author’s name in 1819. This rare first edition, bound in blue cloth, cost me 12/6d (or 62.5p). I would like to pretend (as I occasionally used to) that it was my specialist knowledge of Byronic bibliography that led me to spot it. But this would have been to ignore the full pencil note from the bookseller inside the front cover (“Cantos I and II appeared in London in July 1819 without the name of either author or bookseller in a thin quarto”). The price of 12/6d therefore couldn’t have been an oversight; more likely, it was an indication that the book had been on the shelves for decades.
Just as often, however, I would make serious mistakes. Why, for instance, did I buy, from DM Beach of Salisbury, Oliver Twist in its original monthly parts, as first issued by Bentley’s Miscellany? It was a good idea because they were in perfect condition, with fine plates, covers and advertisements. It was a bad idea because one of the parts (either the first or last) was missing – hence the set’s near-affordability. It was an optimistic idea because I was sure I would be able to track down the missing part at some moment in my collecting life. Needless to say, I never did, and this idiocy rebuked me from my shelves for many years.
Then there were moments when I realised that the world of books and book-collecting was not exactly as I’d imagined it. While I was familiar with famous cases of book forgery, I always assumed that collectors were honest and straightforward folk (I used to think the same about gardeners, too). Then, one day, I found myself at the Lilies in Weedon, Bucks – “by appointment only” – a 35-room Victorian mansion so stuffed with books that a visit occupied most of the day. Among its first edition section I found a book I had been chasing for years: Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies. It lacked a dustwrapper (which was normal – few early Waugh-buyers failed to discard the jackets), but was in pristine condition. The price was … astonishingly low. Then I read a little pencilled note which explained why. It was in the handwriting, and with the signature, ofRoger Senhouse, the Bloomsburyite publisher who was Lytton Strachey’s last lover. It read – and I quote from memory – “This second impression was left on my shelves in the place of my own first edition.” I was deeply shocked. Clearly, it had not been a spur-of-the- moment act. The culprit must have arrived chez Senhouse with this copy concealed about him – I assumed it was a he not a she – then managed the switch when no one was in the room. Who could it have been? Might I ever be tempted to such action? (Yes, I subsequently was – tempted, that is.) And might someone do that to me and my collection one day? (Not as far as I know.)
More recently, I heard another version of this story, from a different point of view. A reader sent a rather famous living author a copy of an early novel of his (one whose first print-run was under a thousand copies), asking for a signature and enclosing return postage. After a while, a parcel arrived containing the novel, duly signed by the author – except that he had retained the valuable first edition and sent a second impression instead.
Back then, book-hunting involved high mileage, slow accumulation and frequent frustration; the side-effect was a tendency, when you failed to find what you wanted, to buy a scattershot array of stuff to prove that your journey hadn’t been wasted. This manner of acquisition is no longer possible, or no longer makes sense. All those old, rambling, beautifully-sited shops have gone. Here is Roy Harley Lewis’s The Book-Browser’s Guide to Secondhand and Antiquarian Bookshops(second edition, 1982) on DM Beach of Salisbury: “There are a number of bookshops on sites so valuable that the proprietors could realise a small fortune by selling up and working from home … While property prices in Wiltshire cannot compare with (say) London, this marvellous corner site in the High Street is an enormous overhead for any bookshop.” Beach’s closed in 1999;Weatherhead’s (which had its own printed paper bag) in 1998; the Lilies – which was full of stray exhibits such as John Cowper Powys’s death-maskand “the clock that belonged to the people who put the engine in the boat that Shelley drowned in” – is no more. The bigger, and the more general, the more vulnerable, seems to have been the rule.
Collecting has also been changed utterly by the internet. It took me perhaps a dozen years to find a first edition of Vile Bodies for about £25. Today, 30 seconds with abebooks.co.uk will turn up two dozen first editions of varied condition and prices (the most expensive, with that rarest of Waugh dustwrappers, run from $15,000 to $28,000). When the great English novelist Penelope Fitzgerald died, I decided as homage to buy first editions (with dustwrappers) of her last four novels – the four that established her greatness. This all took less time than it would to find a parking space nowadays near the spot where Beach’s bookshop used to exist. And while I could go on about the “romance” and “serendipity of discovery” – and yes, there was romance – the old system was neither time- nor cost-effective.
I became a bit less of a book-collector (or, perhaps, book-fetishist) after I published my first novel. Perhaps, at some subconscious level, I decided that since I was now producing my own first editions, I needed other people’s less. I even started to sell books, which once would have seemed inconceivable. Not that this slowed my rate of acquisition: I still buy books faster than I can read them. But again, this feels completely normal: how weird it would be to have around you only as many books as you have time to read in the rest of your life. And I remain deeply attached to the physical book and the physical bookshop.
The current pressures on both are enormous. My last novel would have cost you £12.99 in a bookshop, about half that (plus postage) online, and a mere £4.79 as a Kindle download. The economics seem unanswerable. Yet, fortunately, economics have never entirely controlled either reading or book-buying. John Updike, towards the end of his life, became pessimistic about the future of the printed book:
For who, in that unthinkable future
When I am dead, will read? The printed page
Was just a half-millennium’s brief wonder …
I am more optimistic, both about reading and about books. There will always be non-readers, bad readers, lazy readers – there always were. Reading is a majority skill but a minority art. Yet nothing can replace the exact, complicated, subtle communion between absent author and entranced, present reader. Nor do I think the e-reader will ever completely supplant the physical book – even if it does so numerically. Every book feels and looks different in your hands; every Kindle download feels and looks exactly the same (though perhaps the e-reader will one day contain a “smell” function, which you will click to make your electronic Dickens novel suddenly reek of damp paper, fox marks and nicotine).
Books will have to earn their keep – and so will bookshops. Books will have to become more desirable: not luxury goods, but well-designed, attractive, making us want to pick them up, buy them, give them as presents, keep them, think about rereading them, and remember in later years that this was the edition in which we first encountered what lay inside. I have no luddite prejudice against new technology; it’s just that books look as if they contain knowledge, while e-readers look as if they contain information. My father’s school prizes are nowadays on my shelves, 90 years after he first won them. I’d rather read Goldsmith’s poems in this form than online.
The American writer and dilettanteLogan Pearsall Smith once said: “Some people think that life is the thing; but I prefer reading.” When I first came across this, I thought it witty; now I find it – as I do many aphorisms – a slick untruth. Life and reading are not separate activities. The distinction is false (as it is when Yeats imagines a choice between “perfection of the life, or of the work”). When you read a great book, you don’t escape from life, you plunge deeper into it. There may be a superficial escape – into different countries, mores, speech patterns – but what you are essentially doing is furthering your understanding of life’s subtleties, paradoxes, joys, pains and truths. Reading and life are not separate but symbiotic. And for this serious task of imaginative discovery and self-discovery, there is and remains one perfect symbol: the printed book.
• A Life with Books (£1.99) is a pamphlet published by Jonathan Cape to celebrate Independent Booksellers Week and is available exclusively in independent bookshops. All proceeds from the sales of the pamphlet go to the charity Freedom from Torture. IBW runs 30 June-7 July. For more details go to:www.independentbooksellersweek.org.uk

REBLOG: CLAYTON DIGGS’ DISTINCTIVE RAY BRADBURY OBIT

“The boy was good! Was he actually a Martian? We’ll never know.”

Ray Bradbury Dead at 91, Martians, and Sci-fi Man-juice

by claytondiggs

link: http://claytondiggs.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/ray-bradbury-dead-at-91-martians-and-sci-fi-man-juice/

You ever just sit around and think about Ray Bradbury? I did, yesterday when I heard that that great American writer had made his final journey to the Martian landscape that lies beyond the great beyond. No, that’s,not quite it… He got cornered by imaginary lions in a virtual reality who tore him into worm food…No, still not right…He morphed into a heap of books, heated toFahrenheit 451, turned to ash, and blew into little bits of cosmic dust to then descend on some Red Planet at the edge of the Universe. Yeah, that’s a little more like it. Hot damn! I’m sorry. I’m not. I really am!

I am sorry that we’ll no longer share airspace with a guy who, to my mind, was one of the most original and gorgeous voices in our American literary canon.

Old Ray was born in Waukegan, Illinois, in 1920. He grew up during that tonic for the restless imagination, the Great Depression, a time when the future seemed not only bleak and depressing as shit but, well – unimaginable. But imagine it Ray did, and with a visionary zeal that always took our collective breath away. The boy was good! Was he actually a Martian? We’ll never know.

But we do know that his stories sprang from the deep and potent well of his childhood fears. In an interview on Fresh Air he once said: “As soon as I looked up, there it was, and it was horrible,” Bradbury remembers. “And I would scream and fall back down the stairs, and my mother and father would get up and sigh and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, here we go again.’ “

Childhood was indeed an important time for the budding author. Ray read and read and read everything he could get his grubby little alien hands on. He dug on Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and dreamed of outdoing them, and so, between frenzied bouts of cranking out adolescent sci-fi man-juice (to pics of big-boobied Martian chicks no doubt), he also managed to crank out a short story a week. Lesson: the only way to (re)produce is through consistency!

Great American sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury dead at 91

When the Bradbury fam up and moved to SoCal, little Ray took to hiding out in the dank, scary basement of the UCLA library, where, for 10 cents a half-hour, he could rent a typewriter. Said Ray years later: “I thought, my gosh, this is terrific! I can be here for a couple hours a day. It’ll cost me 30, 40 cents, and I can get my work done. Also, it’s awesome to spew sci-fi man-juice in a public venue. Much more exciting than at home.”

Ray hit it big with his 1950 collection, The Martian Chronicles. Then, while that fat old cow masturbatorJoe McCarthy, was looking to anally violate anyone evenly remotely aligned with anything Red, planet or otherwise, Ray did a right ballsy thing — he shot a FUCK YOU ray-gun at censorship in general with his best known work, Fahrenheit 451, and did so in a FUCK YOU kind of way, having the story that would become his signature novel first printed in Playboy.

Have you read that fine, fine book? If not, put down whatever you’re doing, go out and get a copy, and sit the hell down. It’s about a future society in which McCarthy-like fat old cow masturbators have firefighters burn books for the purpose of keeping folks dull and ignorant. There’s never been a revolution without there first being a revolution of ideas, goes the theory. In practice, the only trouble comes when the firefighters become curious about what exactly it is they’re being made to burn. Then all hell breaks loose! Shit fire! Hot damn! Great book.

People the world over and even those in outer space loved old Ray. The crew of Apollo 15 so totally dug Bradbury’s novel Dandelion Wine that they named a lunar crater after the it. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second guy on the moon, and the man forever-and-a-day frustrated by the fact that he scores way less poon than Neil Armstrong, had this say: “Ray Bradbury is one who is contributing to the understanding of the imagination and the curiosity of the human race.” Hey, it would have been better if pussy-champ Neil Armstrong had said it, but novelists can’t be choosers, right?

Amazingly, despite his visions of the future, Ray never got into using computers. He even once told The New York Times that the Internet was pointless. Well, buddy, on that point at least, we’ve gotta say: FAIL!

It’s okay – nobody’s perfect!

Old Ray finally settled down to family life right here on Earth in 1947, when he married a gal named Maggie, and the happy couple had four little Martian girls. Ray suffered a stroke at age 80 and, sadly, couldn’t write anymore. He did, however, keep having his strange visions of things to come. He felt sure we’d be landing on Mars right soon and asked that his ashes be buried on that vast and vacant red planet.

We’ll sure miss you, old buddy, old Ray, venerable imaginer of humanity’s many possible destinies. We’ll sure miss you. I raise my cup of Dandelion Wineto you, Sir. I truly do.

GET RAY’S ASHES TO MARS: A FUND

  • If you’d like to help Ray complete his dying wish, shoot me an email: me (at) claytondiggs (dot) com.
  • It’s gonna take a lot of dollar bills to make it happen, but if Ray taught us anything, it’s that every dream has got to start somewhere.

“I’m so fucking cool. How big will penises be in the future? THIIIIS BIIIIG!”

Clayton Diggs into Great Gatsby, the novel and movies in his unique, um…brogue. Brills!

Clayton Diggs

(Editor’s warning: links might lead you to some insanely funny shit… or not.  It depends on the link.)

You ever just sit around and think about The Great Gatsby? I did recently and I realized, yet again, that it’s a great fuckin’ book. Hot damn, F.Scott Fitzgerald, as a writer, I gotta hate you! But man, as a reader, I gotta love you. How did he write that shit, you know? Deal with the devil? Was it all the booze? And if so, what was he drinking and where can I get me some? Hot damn!

In case you’ve been so  foolish as to never read what may well be the best novel in the English language, here’s what it’s about: Nick Carraway, a penniless day-trader, finds himself fascinated by the lavish lifestyle and sexy parties of his much richer neighbor, the mysterious Jay Gatsby. Gatsby, as it…

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17 Books Hemingway Would Read Instead of a $1M Dollars

Link to Poets and Writers:  Lists of Note.


Thursday, 8 March 2012

Hemingway’s Favourites

In the February 1935 issue of Esquire magazine, an article by Ernest Hemingway appeared that was titled ‘Remembering Shooting-Flying: A Key West Letter.’ In it, Hemingway reeled off 17 books, all of which he “would rather read again for the first time […] than have an assured income of a million dollars a year.”That list can be read below.(Source: Esquire, Feb. 1935; Image: Ernest Hemingway, via.)

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
Far Away and Long Ago, by W. H. Hudson
Buddenbrooks, by Thomas Mann
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
A Sportsman’s Sketches, by Ivan Turgenev
The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Hail and Farewell, by George Moore
Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson
La Reine Margot, by Alexandre Dumas
La Maison Tellier, by Guy de Maupassant
Le Rouge et le Noir, by Stendhal
La Chartreuse de Parme, by Stendhal
Dubliners, by James Joyce
Autobiographies, by W. B. Yeats

The Great American Novel. Will There Ever Be Another?

Roger Kimball in The Weekly Standard on the place of fiction in our culture today. I agree with just about everything this guy says even though he’s still an uptight ahole.

link:  The Great American Novel | The Weekly Standard.

The Great American Novel

Wacky Guide To Titling Your Novel

as stolen from NPR.org

link: How To Name Your First Novel : Monkey See : NPR.

If Your First Novel Will Be A Busted Romance

[ANY OF THE SEVEN DWARFS]: A Love Story

If Your First Novel Will Be A Harrowing Historical Account

The [A COLOR] [REPEAT THAT COLOR] [A FLOWER]s Of [A CITY IN EUROPE]

If Your First Novel Will Be A Withering Teenage Quasi-Memoir

How I Flunked [YOUR WORST ACADEMIC SUBJECT] But Passed [THE FIRST MUSICIAN YOU SAW IN CONCERT]

If Your First Novel Will Be A Workplace Satire

At Least They Left Us The [A PIECE OF OFFICE MACHINERY]

If Your First Novel Will Be A Quirky Woman’s Story From Someone Else’s Point Of View

[A CHILD-CARE-RELATED TRANSITIVE VERB]ing [THE NAME OF YOUR PATERNAL GRANDMOTHER]

If Your First Novel Will Be A Quirky Man’s Story From His Own Point Of View

[THE FIRST NAME OF YOUR MATERNAL GRANDFATHER]Reads The Works Of [CLASSIC AUTHOR]

If Your First Novel Will Be A Miserable Story Of One Person’s Suffering

My [A FRAGILE OBJECT] Is [A WORD THAT MEANS “BROKEN”]

If Your First Novel Will Be Self-Consciously Ironic And Self-Congratulatory

[A COMIC-BOOK SOUND EFFECT WORD] Goes [A NEIGHBORHOOD IN BROOKLYN]

If Your First Novel Takes Place In Gorgeous Locations

The [ANY COUNTRY] [ANY COMMON SOCIAL EVENT]Chronicles

If Your First Novel Is Intended To Launch A Giant Moneymaking Franchise

Everything Starts With [“1” OR “A”]

Find the BIG Meaning of Your Novel

This is great advice to writers on thinking about the scope of your work. I know the little truths come easily for me. The big Truths always look line a moving target.

link: http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/25K6lO/justinemusk.com/2012/02/17/meaning-truth-novel-how-to-blog/

JUSTINE MUSK

how to find the Big Meaning of your novel (+ blog) that will make your readers fall wildly in love with you

1

So I realized I was coming at my novel from the outside in.

I’d created a complex storyworld with a cast of characters and tangled backstory shaping the frontstory. It was like I had the map, but couldn’t find the interstate freeway leading to my destination. I was going down some dark country roads, and it was only a matter of time before I’d end up in a town of cannibals or something.

(Cue the sound of a chainsaw.

…On second thought, DON’T.)

As Roz Morris suggests in her book NAIL YOUR NOVEL, one way to help yourself get unstuck is to remind yourself why you wanted to write the damn thing in the first place.

For me, for this book, it was the idea of repetition compulsion: how we recreate relationships and situations from the past in an ongoing effort to resolve them. I’m using reincarnation as a metaphor for that.

But what is the point of the book? If art is the creative demonstration of a truth, what is the truth I am trying to prove? I needed to get at the novel from the inside out.

Back to basics: a story is about a character who wants something and must overcome obstacles to get it.

But in order to do that, she’s forced to change in some way.

It’s in the overcoming of those obstacles that she finds what she lacks, and acquires what she needs, to achieve her goal (or not). The meaning of the story – the thematic significance – is in that character growth. That shift in consciousness that makes a new life possible.

In her book THE PLOT WHISPERER, Martha Alderson advises you to look to your own life, for your own truths, that you can then bring to bear on your novel. What are the big truths of your life?

I’m talking what Jim Signorelli refers to as big-t Truths, those metaphysical truths that we can’t measure or quantify but recognize, somehow, as right. We vibe with them.

In contrast, little-t truths are the facts and figures we find in the history books, for example. So-called objective information. (It’s not like history is, you know, written by the victors or anything.)

Little-t truths can be manipulated.

Big-t Truths cannot: they are what they are, and they remain the same from Homer to Shakespeare to Spielberg to Joyce Carol Oates. They are the abstract truths that live behind, and in between, and beneath the other kind. Little-t truths inform us; big-T truths live inside us, and a writer doesn’t teach or preach so much as stir them to life. We feel that shiver of recognition, that sense of deepening alignment with the values of the novel, as we live vicariously through the characters and arrive at a sense of what it all means.

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Big-t truths live in your platform as well, your blog – that is, if you want to create something powerful enough to attract and engage new readers and deepen your connections with your fans.

It comes back to the question: What do you stand for? What is your purpose? What is your defining value or ideal?

The nature of blogging (and online writing in general) is to provide information that solves problems, that illuminates or improves your reader’s life in some way. Think of that information as the bait on the hook that draws your readers to you (you just want to make sure that it’s the right bait for the right kind of audience).

But to turn those readers into fans, you need to deepen that engagement, because information on its own isn’t enough.

The gurus will say that you need to connect with readers emotionally, and that’s true. But more than that, you need them to resonate with you. And that happens when they can sense the big-t Truth living behind that information, shaping the delivery of that information, and they recognize it as their Truth as well.

Community develops around shared values.

To find yours, Signorelli suggests what he calls the “laddering interview”, or what is elsewhere known as “the five whys”. You explore the motivation behind your motivation behind your motivation until you get to its root cause. That’s where you find your Truth.

For example:

Why blog about creativity?

Because I think it’s important to a well-lived life, a healthy society.

Why?

Because it deepens your connection to yourself and the world.

Why?

Because it helps you explore and develop your identity, your voice, your vision, and project that into the world.

Why?

So you can interact with the world as your full-bodied, amplified, authentic self, which allows you to stand in your power and connect with like-minded souls.

Why?

So you can work together to create a movement, raise awareness, find innovative solutions, that change the world. And sell your work and make some money as a side benefit.

You try it.

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Getting back to my novel, this is the thematic statement I came up with:

The hunger for love leads to distortions of love, but only real love can heal and transcend the cycle of exploitative relationships.

So my character has to grow toward genuine love and intimacy in a way that helps her save herself (and others). I have to create the events, characters and situations – the objective information, the little-t truths, the ‘plot’ — forcing her to do that.

Wish me luck.

What are the Truths that you’re working with?

book reports – VIOLENCIA! A MUSICAL NOVEL by Bruce Jay Friedman

I’m not sure if I’m supposed to know the author Bruce Jay Friedman. I came across his novel Violencia! (2001) while doing research for my own novel in progress. Friedman, now in his 80s, over decades has written a bunch of novels I never read, some off-broadway plays I never heard of, and the screenplays for movies made in the 1980s I couldn’t care less about, e.g. Stir Crazy, Doctor Detroit, Splash. If Friedman is a famous author I gather it’s because he’s supposed to be a master wit in hysterical fiction. Hysterical is a pretty good word for describing the mania of Violencia! A retired police precinct clerk is recruited to write the libretto for Violencia!, a Broadway musical based on gritty experiences observed in the crime fighting world. Despite knowing nothing about writing a musical and being a rather ordinary man, the clerk unwittingly becomes a swiveling node for the novel’s cast of neurotic producers, composers and theatre actors. They all see the dull clerk as an embassy for their vanities, character flaws, and harebrained ideas about art and audience. Violencia! follows the attempt to put on a big musical from it’s distasteful concept, to dishonest financing scheme, to pointless and vulgar production numbers, and then to calamitous road tryouts. The novel is intended as a satire on the affectations of backstage Broadway. Situations and characters in this book are clever I have to admit, but satirical comedy like this too often proceeds plausibility: the fatigued composer returns energized after vacationing in less than a day’s travel from New York to PuertaVallarta, no-nothing producers with hundreds-thousands of dollars at stake insist that Violencia!’s success is held in suspense by the script’s call for use of the word “doody.” This style of writing allows for comical leaps in logic and abandoned story detail. Friedman’s novel is creative but I also find the storytelling a little lazy considering it’s something he’s been doing for decades. This may be a good light read for someone in the mood for lampoonery; I take my comedy much more serious.

Media Log: 01.07.2012

(cinema) The Help, d. Tate Taylor, 2011. I didn’t know anything about this movie or

from "The Help"

it’s source novel before screening it (In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit that I was under the impression it was a comedy about black people who hire a white maid). I enjoyed it overall but I couldn’t stop thinking the whole thing doesn’t seems inaccurate. The conservatism of the Southern whites seem behind the times of the setting and the black characters are patronizingly simple-minded. The telling of America’s civil rights struggles in the 1960 is territory that has been well covered in better movies. It’s interesting that this story about black domestic help is told mostly from the white character points of view. And while I hate to say it, there is something cloyingly liberal about the depictions of “proud” black people and “good” white people. The movie is well made and well acted but the level of story telling never goes above something you might see on Lifetime. 2 1/2 movie spotlights… (television) Star Trek DS9, “Move Along Home.” Quark is forced to participate  in a game with a gang of gamblers who all look like roadies for a Southern rock band. The stakes of the game involve transporting the DS9 senior officers into a holographic maze that is filled with trap doors and dangers. You would like to trip with our characters into this Alice In Wonderland like fantasy game. But the episode fails completely to ever establish a plausible connection between what’s happening in Quark’s game room and what’s happening in the hologram. It all comes off to me as under imagined and lazy. 1 spotlight. “The Nagus.” Quark is put in charge of the Ferengi trade alliance and becomes the target of assassination plots. This is the first episode in the ST universe that gives us some flavor and background of who the Ferengi people are besides cartoonish filchers (and vaguely anti-semitic stereotypes). It’s a fun episode even it is light on sci-fi and drama. 2 1/2 spotlights… Golden Girls, “Charlie’s Buddy.” Rose falls for a con-artist who is pretending to be an old friend of her deceased husband. This a pretty well-balanced episode that handles both its dramatic story and its comedic subplot with some maturity – a quality surprisingly lacking in many episodes of this show. 3 spotlights.