Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dissonance

This post by Mike Jung captured perfectly some things I've been thinking about some books for a long while. I'm not referring to the particular book he's discussing there, which I haven't read myself and therefore don't feel qualified to comment on. I mean the feeling in general. The feeling of "oh I love this book so much it has so many great things in it BUT there is this racist/sexist/homophobic subplot/scene/character which I don't like and which makes me hesitate to recommend the book." Jung nailed that feeling of loving a work, but then seeing it from different angles and experiencing a growing discomfort with it, yet still loving much in it.

I've had such feelings about Gone with the Wind, and Booth Tarkington's Alice Adams, and the Little House books. I can understand why people might look at the objectionable parts of these books and decide they can't recommend the books at all, they don't want to read or reread them, they don't want their kids to read them. It's trickier to ask what can be salvaged, to love a story despite the parts that make you cringe. To like a book yet not make excuses for what's offensive in it. I've asked myself whether I even have the right to do it. I love that Mike Jung lays all these thoughts and emotions on the line, exploring these very questions.

Oddly--or, perhaps not oddly--I feel less hesitant when dealing with sexism in books. I note the offending passages and move on to get what I can out of the book. I long ago learned to read past, or through, misogyny because it's so pervasive, especially in older literature. Which isn't to say that I can speak for all women, or that we all get offended by exactly the same things, or that we all want to handle offense the same way, or that we're all willing to read the same books. I just mean I'm more likely to feel that I have some authority to discuss such a book. Whereas, in situations where I'm in the privileged group (for example, when the issue is race), I feel like I should do more listening than talking, that I should read more recommendations than I make.

I'm grateful to Mike Jung for discussing this with eloquence and heart.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The eras of reading

"Something that has always fascinated me is the way, if you read your whole life, you use what you read to mark time. I know I associate certain books with, I read that when I was moving. I read that when I was breaking up with my boyfriend, kind of thing. You're immediately, if you pick up a book, sort of thrown back in time to this other time when you first read it. The books never change, but you do."
--Gabrielle Zevin, interview with Powell's.com

Zevin also commented on the difference between being an author in real life and the way it's portrayed in popular media; the changes in publishing over the past decade; bookstores she has known and loved; the mysterious figure known as the book sales rep; and her new novel, The Storied Life of AJ Fikry.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Discoveries

Here's Francis Crick, one of the discoverers of the structure of DNA, on how it feels to make a scientific discovery:

"It is not easy to convey, unless one has experienced it, the dramatic feeling of sudden enlightenment that floods the mind when the right idea finally clicks into place. One immediately sees how many previously puzzling facts are neatly explained by the new hypothesis. One could kick oneself for not having the idea earlier, it now seems so obvious. Yet before, everything was in a fog."-- from What Mad Pursuit

I thought this might sound familiar to writers, because it's also a good description of making a creative breakthrough!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

YA Fest

April 19, 10:30 AM - 3 PM: YA Fest, Easton, PA. Book sales and signing by 50 young adult and middle-grade fiction authors; writing contest, raffles, and discussion panel. A portion of proceeds will go directly to the library to help fund the YA shelves and events. Palmer Branch of the Easton Public Library, Easton, PA. 3 Weller Place, Palmer Township, PA.

yafest2014

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Slowing down

In keeping with my ongoing project to try not to cram so much into my life that I stop enjoying everything that's here--my "slowing down" philosophy--I liked this post by Julie Owsik Ackerman on "Giving Up Rushing for Lent." A sample: "Rushing only makes me less happy, and doesn’t get me there any faster."

Also in keeping with this, I spent the afternoon taking a walk around some spring flowers, and attending an outdoor concert. I had a list of chores I coulda-woulda-shoulda done. But the sun was shining and the flowers were blooming, and this day comes only once. No regrets!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Relative riches

"[Paul assumed I had had a drycleaner] ... I tell Paul that when I was working with the homeless I didn't have anyone I would refer to as 'my drycleaner'--in fact, I don't think I ever had anything drycleaned at all. ... I don't think I bought any clothes from anywhere but a secondhand store until I was thirty. Most of my friends worked with the homeless, and no one I knew had a drycleaner. Paul grew up in a very different world than I did--his grandfather was John Huston's agent--and he looked at me oddly for a long minute when I told him this.
How'd you get your clothes clean? he finally asked."
--Nick Flynn, The Reenactments

This passage made me think about the assumptions we make about living, and standards of living, and what we think of as rich and poor. To some people, you're rich if you have your own pair of shoes. To others, you're not rich unless you have multiple dwellings and vehicles and investments. I think we all have our own definitions, but rarely compare notes with one another. At some point, I became aware of my own assumptions about what's rich and what's poor, and realized that they were not universal but personal definitions.

My grandparents worked in food service, auto repair, and a print shop. My father made the transition to office work, and then to management. I grew up as a middle-class American, at a time when middle-class families were just beginning to be able to have more than one car, bathroom, and TV set (the TV being the only electronic gadget most such families owned then, other than probably a stereo). We never had to worry about where the next meal was coming from, but luxuries were rare: planned and saved for. Growing up, I assumed a person was rich if he or she hired someone to clean the house or take care of the lawn; had anything that could be called "investments," a "trust," or an "inheritance;" owned a vacation home; or attended a private school. And then there were little details, such as ordering room service, which I thought was the most luxurious thing ever. You saw people do it on TV all the time, but I was never allowed to do it when my family stayed at a hotel. (I got most of my ideas about how rich people lived from TV, books, and movies.)

Since forming these impressions, biases, and assumptions, I've learned a little more about the world, and about how wide the extremes can be between the highest and lowest standards of living. I share my childhood ideas of wealth here not because they're of any use as an objective definition of what's rich--I think they speak more to the opposite point of how relative this can be--but because they probably tell you something about me, my class, and my perceptions, once upon a time. As such, this may be a useful example of what we writers should probably know about our characters. What do you think of as markers of wealth? What do your characters think?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Solitude

"Alone, I was simply myself--that supreme delight of the solitary life."
--Alix Kates Shulman, A Marriage Agreement and Other Essays