Monthly Archives: December 2012

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

 

I’m taking today off to spend time with my family and friends this holiday season. I hope you get a chance to spend some time with someone you love this holiday season, too. Enjoy the penguin and Happy New Year.

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Filed under Children, Fiction, Holidays, Life, Literature, Love, Marriage, Random, Writing

ISBN: 978-1-59448-465-0

Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy

Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy

I remember reading Maile Meloy’s book Half In Love and thinking, why hadn’t I read MM in my MFA program? Everything about her was clear—her voice, her sentence structure, her depiction of the modern American West; she was the epitome of a short story, to me at least. Her stories were real, and they made me sit on my bed and try to understand what half in love really meant.

In November, The New Yorker ran “Demeter” a story by MM that rekindled my love. I went to my shelf in search of Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It, only to discover that I bought the paperback not once, but in my book hording ways twice. I called my best friend to ask if she would like to read it with me*, but I couldn’t wait. It was like a Christmas gift come early. I had to read it. **

So here I am. A week before Christmas thinking about the collection and fixating on the title Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It. Things I want(ed): the book to last longer, to grow up and be an astronaut, world peace, sanity, a child. Things Santa would never be able to fit in his sleigh.

Sometimes we get what we want.

Sometimes we don’t.

This is a book filled with characters who sometimes know what they want and sometimes don’t, who sometimes get it and sometimes don’t. One is left to examine what happens when a character actually breaks the rule of having it both ways, receiving everything they wanted.  One is left to wonder what else they gain, what else they lose. I know that sounds vague, but imagine a world in which you get everything you want. Now imagine a world in which you get nothing you want. That’s what it is like to read Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It; a torture of up and down after which one wanders back to this world dazed and moved.

I hope you have a Merry Christmas, a Joyful Winter Solstice, a Happy Hanukkah, a Super Kwanzaa, and a Fun Boxing Day. In short, Happy Holidays. Try not to get caught up in thinking about the things you want this year, and focus instead on what you have. Leave the wanting to MM, for she does it so well.

 

*Our attempts at book clubs always fail. We tried to read Don Quixote together, but after ordering it from Amazon and realizing it was nearly 1000 pages, well, let’s just say she’s the only one who started it.

**Sorry M! See first footnote.

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ISBN 978-0-31671597-3

The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake

The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake

When one reads The Stories Of Breece D’ J Pancake, one can tell that BDJP didn’t know how good he was as a writer. The stories are too natural. BDJP had the ability to pick up on his surroundings and transpose them to the page seamlessly.

Unfortunately BDJP is dead. This was his first and last book ever written because he took his life when he was only twenty-six. The book comes with a forward and two afterwards to explain BDJP. Maybe that was the publisher’s way of tying to explain the magic of these stories.

I picked up the book a few years ago because it had a fox on the cover and at the time I was into foxes. I hadn’t read a word within, just bought the book on a whim, knowing it had something inside for me. Joyce Carol Oates compared BDJP’s debut to Hemingway’s and Margaret Atwood called his voice “exceptional, gritty, mordant.” Both writers were correct. So what could I add?

A few days ago it snowed. And snowed. And snowed. My world was piled high with white and I thought, perhaps I should read about this fox, with his white cover. What I ended up doing was being transported to rural West Virginia, a world of miners and cowboys and farmers, a world I knew nothing about when I arrived.

What got me was the setting, the care BDJP put into his sentences, “The sun was blackened with snow, and the valley closed in quietly humming, quietly as in an hour of prayer.” That quote is taken from “First Day of Winter” the last story in the collection. It made me look outside and see my world in a new way. All that snow, and in all my life, I would have never seen the sun black with snow.

The stories left me with impressions. The characters came on the page declaring things like, “You look hell-bottom low” paired with BDJP’s flawless sensibilities “Questions and complex sentences, Bo had learned were the great shield of liars.” The book was plain and simple as the snow outside my window, and I wish, do I ever wish, that BDJP had lived long enough to give more stories. And I see the irony that it makes me somehow like one of his characters, selfish and sad staring out at all this snow unsure of anything other than it’s beauty.

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ISBN 0-679-44812-8

 

CivilWarLand in bad decline by George Saunders

CivilWarLand in bad decline by George Saunders

This week I chose CivilWarLand in bad decline, stories & a novella by George Saunders because it was the first book that launched GS’s career back in 1996 and it had a novella in it. I try not to blog about my own writing because I know, via Richard Yates in “Builders” how annoying it can be for a writer to talk about their own work, but I also know via RY, if one does it right it can be liberating.

I’m currently working on a novella, and I’m stuck. Right in the middle when all the action ought to be climbing steadily—you know like the little mountain climber on The Price Is Right— “Yodela, Yodela, Yode—” the novella just fell off the mountain.

A novella can fall off a mountain for any writer. It’s called writer’s block.

But I don’t have writer’s block. What happened to me was that I plotted out the novella only this far back before I got sick and now I’m on medication that prevents me from thinking way ahead, creating schemes, or plotting in general. I’m just not as sharp as I used to be. I’m nice and level which is great, but I’m not creative.

So what do I do now? Because the depressive phase is coming and all my body wants to do is sleep. I feel like I’ve fallen off a mountain.

I think about GS’s novella, “Bounty,” and its claw footed protagonist, a flawed, and I notice how all he wants is to get back to his sister to save her from being sold into slavery. This is the very simplest story line.

Protagonist wants sister to be okay.

And then I find that I am somehow climbing back up that mountain. I ask myself what is happening in the novella, who wants what, what is the simplest story line, and I find it.

Even though CivilWarLand in bad decline was written seventeen years ago, the book is still funny and current, and more importantly it reads like nothing else out there. GS wrote this book in the beginning of his career back when he was working as a geophysical engineer for an environmental company.

GS has an amazing imagination, but I don’t think he would have ever imagined a girl suffering from a bout of the bipoles would pick up his book seventeen years later and figure out a road back to her own novella.

This book may make some people walk away thinking, thank god they aren’t as flawed as one of GS’s characters, or it’s so funny to laugh at people like that, but the book made me walk away and look at my flaws and try to learn which ones I should just accept and which ones I can change. And in some sick way, it’s almost worth falling off the mountain for me to figure that out.

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