Friday, January 29, 2010

Fruit of the Sea

So Salinger is dead. It's always strange when a writer I love dies. It was very disconcerting when David Foster Wallace died awhile ago, as he played a big part on my journey as a writer. And now Salinger.

And yet Salinger's death makes me think not just of his writing, his stories which I love (oh those bananafish...), but also the larger connections between books and life, the way things are tied to experiences.

I didn't read Catcher in the Rye first. Rather, when I was in highschool I had an English teacher who lent me a copy of Nine Stories. I say lent, even though he never got the copy back. Bad Ink. But the thing is that he was encouraging me because of what was probably my obvious love of reading and writing. He was a quiet teacher. Nice. Humble. He wasn't dramatic or captivating. You wouldn't remember him for his classes or lectures. But you might remember him for his human touch. A small thing. "Here's a book. Read it."

I didn't read it, not right away. I was stubborn like that. Independent. But I did read it, in the end, and found a great writer. Catcher in the Rye came next, years later, at the insistence of my future wife, and then Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters. And yet I still remember that battered copy of Nine Stories the teacher lent me. It followed me around for years (sorry for not getting it back to you, Mr. Gutteridge). But I've brought a lot of books to a lot of people, and hopefully I'll always do so. Maybe that will make up for it a bit, for that small thing that wasn't small. A recognition that perhaps I might have a talent, and here was a book that might help.

A bit of Salinger, a bit of life... all part of a dream.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

101 Dalmatians

Okay, for our 101st post here, I thought I'd show 101 pictures of Dalmatian dogs...

Yeah, okay, I'm lying. I'm not that mean. Okay, yeah, I am that mean, but simply far too lazy to do that much work. Heck, that 100 books post almost killed me.

But after my guest post over on Nathan Bransford's blog I started thinking about something. Sort of connected, really, to what I wrote about there, but a little different. Expectations, but expectations of a different sort.

I enjoyed doing that blog post, and enjoyed the wondrously kind comments. But it got me thinking about the expectations we have for an audience. Do any of you think about audience while writing? It's sort of a complex question for me, and one I'm not sure I have an answer for. Or perhaps the problem is that I have many answers for it, or one that's always shifting...

In one sense I sort of knew the audience at Nathan's, as I'm a regualr reader and commenter there. I have a feel for the tone, for some of the people. And yet you never really know what people are going to say. And for unpublished novelists it's even more so. Who's your audience? I think that holds for the reality of a possible future publication, but also for the abstract mental frameworks we hold while putting words on the page.

I know some writers think of particular people when they work, a very particular audience. Husband or wife or friend or parent. I don't think I do... and yet sometimes I'll think "What will so and so think of this?" Mostly I write for myself, for the reader in me, trying to find the story that I want to hear, that I want to read, something I couldn't find on the shelves. And yet there's certainly an awareness of other possible readers. Writing, at its heart, is an act of communication. A sharing, a bridge of ideas formed out of words and cabled sentences. So I'm aware of that potential audience, and sometimes hypothesize their reaction. To good effect... and ill. Sometimes it moves me to a clarity and simplicity that is advantageous, and sometimes it reins me in short, holds me back, makes me more conservative than I want to be... or should be.

And yet these expectations of an audience are just that... expectations. Dreams, whimsies, hypotheses. If a book comes to fruition there will be an actual audience. Real people. And the neat thing about publishing a book is finding that audience, and perhaps finding fans. Fans! People totally into and in love with what you wrote! I think most writers have some expectation of this. It's only natural.

And yet I'm guessing that this is one of those things (like my Plan, capital P) where the reality is something different than expected. I look at published writers interacting with the public and, yes, there are fans. But there are all sorts of other reactions, too. Oh yes, many strange reactions. People who hate the writing, or find it boring, or go on racist rants, or accuse the writer of racist rants, or psychoanalyze the story to make declarations about the writer's relationship with parental figures...

It's a dizzying mix of things. So it got me thinking about what my expectations of audience were, and how divorced from reality they might be.

What about you? Do you have an audience in mind while you write? What does it do for you? And do you ever picture what the real audience might say? If you've had something widely read, what was the reaction like and how was it different (or similar) to what you imagined?

I'm thinking that while I understand in an abstract sense what a really large audience will be like, it would probably be a rude awakening in reality. A bit of a chasm, perhaps, between those expectations and the actual experience of an audience of readers.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wondrous Hundredousness

So, remarkably, this is the 100th post here at our little alchemical workshop. Who would've thunk it? I figured my contribution to the blog would sort of be like my diary attempts. Which went something like:

"Hey there, just checking in. I, well, yeah, I did some, ah, stuff today. Okay, check in again later."

Followed by lots of blank pages.

But lo! I actually wrote things in this little collaborative blog. So, to celebrate (and since this is a bookish sort of blog), I decided to do a list of 100 fabulous books! And no cheating by using series to take up multiple spaces! Yes, I'm crazy. But that's okay. It's a secret. Shhh.

Fabulosity Rounded to One Hundred

Strange Piece of Paradise - a fabulous memoir of crime and survival. My favourite book.
The Edge of Sadness - a brilliant novel about an Irish American priest struggling with his vocation. Genius, and a winner of the Pullitzer Prize. A sin that no one remembers it now.
The Lord of the Rings - need I say anything?
In Cold Blood - Capote inventing a genre.
The Executioner's Song - Mailer taking that genre to the next level. His writing at its very best, and what he should have tried to do more often.
Money from Hitler - Just read this. You know that old saying, "You have to be mean to your characters"? This writer, Denemarkova, heard this and laughed and laughed and laughed...
The Lazarus Project - Hemon is building a great reputation, and rightfully so. This book is brilliant, particularly the latter half. Striking, slightly off-kilter prose. Oh yes.
The Road - Post-apocalyptic genius. And surprisingly more hopeful than a lot of McCarthy's other books. Despite, you know, the death of the whole world.
Blood Meridian, or, The Evening Redness in the West - The Road was, for example, more hopeful than this one. But the prose in this book will melt your brain.
The Sunset Limited - Soon to be a movie! Thank you, Tommy Lee Jones.

The Outer Dark - Okay, I know, there's a lot of McCarthy books here.
Child of God - Last McCarthy book, swearsies.
The Prydain Chronicles - Totally not McCarthy! Loved this series as a child, and love it still. Crunchings and munchings. Okay, insider joke. Sorry.
Infinite Jest - Read it when I was 18. Blew my mind. "You can do that in a book? Why the hell didn't anyone tell me?"
The Hobbit - Lord of the Rings, Jr. I've read this book more than any other. Pass the pipeweed.
Murder on the Orient Express - Oh, Agatha, if only you weren't old. And dead.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - So classically perfect.
The Screwtape Letters - You can keep your lion, Narnia. I want these letters.
The Man Who Was Thursday - How can you not like Chesterton? He was so nice he probably wasn't human. But I like him anyway. Sort of like a fat, jolly angel perched on my shoulder.
Harry Potter et al. - Hey, what the hell.

102 Minutes - Puts you inside the Twin Towers, minute by minute. Riveting.
Tomorrow in the Battle Think On Me - My man, Javier Marias. Spanish genius.
A Heart So White - Marias again.
All Souls - Okay, I love him.
Dark Back of Time - Even though he stopped returning my calls.
When I was Mortal - Why, Javier, why?
Written Lives - Okay, I'm over him.
Your Face Tomorrow - Okay, I'm not. Sod off.
Catch-22 - Funniest book about death ever.
The Belgariad - I'm a fan. I admit it.

The Things They Carried - One of the greatest books ever written.
In the Lake of the Woods - Also one of the greatest books ever written.
If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home - Okay, I kinda love Tim O'brien, too.
Going After Cacciato - See?
Dispatches - One of the great war memoirs ever. Doesn't hurt that Michael Herr cowrote Apocalypse Now, either.
They Marched Into Sunlight - A brilliant history of one day during the Vietnam War, covering a platoon in the bush, the policy makers in Washington, and a peace protest gone wild in Wisconsin.
The Cat from Hue - Just to continue the Vietnam kick.
Chickenhawk - Okay, I've read a lot of books about Vietnam. But they're all really good.
Dubliners - I learned more about writing from reading this book than any other.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - Masterwork.

A Song of Ice and Fire - Gets a bit bloated on the backside, but hey, podody's nerfect.
Dreamland - A modern Dickensian covers old New York. Good stuff.
This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen - A book that will haunt you.
Carpenter's Gothic - my favourite of Gaddis's books. Maybe because it's short?
Cat and Mouse - Oh I loved this little novel by Gunter Grass.
Half of a Yellow Sun - A truly stunning novel about civil war in Africa. A must read.
Gun, With Occasional Music - The title alone is worth the price.
The Fortress of Solitude - I think Lethem pulled this book directly out of my brain. I want him to give it back. Mine, mine, mine.
Oh, the Glory of it All - A fabulous memoir of San Francisco and the ridiculousness of money replacing love.
The Tender Bar - A young guy gets raised by a barful of drinkers. No shit. Really.

Reading Lolita in Tehran - a great book about literature, and, more importantly, about the people reading it.
Lolita - I didn't read it in Tehran, but hey...
An Invitation to a Beheading - I love this book, my favourite of Nabokov's.
Don Quixote - Sancho Panza is my hero.
A Christmas Carol - Redeemed Dickens for me. (Oliver Twist... your definition of realism must be a little different than mine)
Children of the Ghetto - A great, and mostly overlooked, classic about Jewish life in Victorian London.
Sanctuary - Faulkner. Oh yes.
As I Lay Dying - Further yesness.
The Sound and the Fury - How many times do I have to say it?
The Old Man and the Sea - I put Faulkner and Hemingway together just to annoy them.

The Good Soldier - Should have called it by the name that Ford Madox Ford wanted, "The Saddest Story".
Clara Callan - My favourite epistolary novel. (Sorry, Dracula)
The Last Samurai - Why am I drawn to boy genius stories? But this one is actually good. Fantastic, intelligent, moving, and funny.
Fall on Your Knees - Wouldn't normally have read this book, but I trusted the author.
The Way the Crow Flies - I trusted her because of this book. Brilliant. Not sure I liked the denouement, but brilliant anyway.
The Malazan Book of the Fallen - Crazy. But great fantasy writing. This man is full of imagination.
Tigana - One of the best fantasy novels out there. And the greatest villain who is not a villain.
A Song for Arbonne - After reading Tigana you can read this.
The Lions of Al Rassan - And this.
Fahrenheit 451 - Burning books! Maybe I'll have to get an e-reader after all.

Run - Oh the writerly crush I have on Ann Patchett. It's quite possible that this book has my all-time favourite scene in it. Quite possible, indeed.
Truth and Beauty - More Patchett. A memoir about friendship, loss, and writing.
Bel Canto - The crush started here.
Oh Pure and Radiant Heart - Loved this fantastical look at Los Alamos and the creators of the Atom Bomb.
Pride and Prejudice - Yes, I read it. And still have lots of testosterone.
The Life of Insects - Russian writer of the fabulous and strange.
Metamorphosis - Pelevin picked up a few ideas from this Kafka fellow.
Stranger Things Happen - Odd and wonderful short stories.
Lipstick Jihad - I should have put this up by Reading Lolita in Tehran, but I forgot. A wonderful memoir of a young woman returning to live in her family's homeland of Iran.
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World - good ol' Murakami.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - No jokes here. This book is brilliant. Zap your brain sort of brilliant.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running - This book is about running, obviously. But it's also about writing. I like both. Go figure.
After Dark - Another Murakami. Why not?
The Baron in the Trees - How can you go wrong with Calvino?
If On a Winter's Night a Traveller - More of the Italian Gentleman.
The Path to the Spiders' Nests - Oddly, my favourite of Calvino's. Odd because it was his first novel and the only one written in the realist style.
The Cloven Viscount - Sounds like a metaphorical title... but it's not. Which makes me happy. :)
Night - Does it need anything said about it?
Survival in Auschwitz - Same goes for this one.
A Writer At War - Here's the Eastern Front in all its madness.

A Woman in Berlin - This memoir of the Fall of Berlin by an anonymous woman will sear your eyes and tear out your heart. But that's a good thing.
Europe Central - Despite the fact that The Rejectionist discovered that Vollman is an asshat, I still love this book.
The Known World - Beautiful and yet hard to read. Former slaves owning slaves of their own... truth and light shimmer on these pages.
Shadow Country - A modern masterpiece decades in the making.
The Year of Magical Thinking - So perfectly sad and beautiful
Duncton Wood - Moles have never been so fascinating. Yes, moles. The ones that dig in the ground.
An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination - A gem of a little memoir full of loss and hope. A stillborn child, a second chance... in the hands of a masterful writer.
Into the Wild - You know it ends badly. I mean, he tells you at the beginning of the book. But you keep hoping.
Into Thin Air - Okay, I love this book. I have like 8 copies on my shelves. I'm like Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory, where he's compelled to buy every copy of Catcher in the Rye that he sees. That's me with Into Thin Air. But it gives me lots of copies to lend out. If you come to my house you WILL be leaving with a copy of this book. And leftovers. I ain't eating them.
The Hundred Brothers - A hilarious story about one hundred brothers. Yes, one hundred. How could I end the Fabulosity One Hundred any other way?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Book Lust

I must admit, I'm uselessly addicted to the book as object. I mean, I'm obviously addicted to the book as provider of content. That's a given. But I realize, more and more, that I'm totally bonzo for actual books. For specific books. Not just any old Sunday afternoon tome lying around. But certain... ideal books. The books that simply call to me.

The most current object of my affection is The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins. Not the hardcover, mind you. Trade paperback. It's specific, this book lust. Yes, I really want to read the book for its contents (which are supposed to be brilliant). But I love this book. Trade paperback. The dusty, orangeish glow of the cover. The gloss of it, the texture of it, the weight of it. The perfect feel of the pages, the paper so perfectly chosen. The font, the design. Just the way it feels in my hand. Just the balance of it, the perfect amount of give and bend to the pages. It invites me in. Calls me in.

I think this is what I'll miss when the Ebook Overlords take over. The content will be there. But where the book lust? How do I glory in the pages if there are no pages?

The Forever War. Yes. Okay, yes, I can get it at the library. And probably will. (Got no money) But... but... but... I want the book. I want it as a thing for my shelf. I want it as a piece of my house, a piece of myself. I'm greedy for it. Unashamedly so! A proud greed. Mine, mine, mine!

So who's with me? Book lust, anyone? What's a book you had to have? Reading wasn't enough. Had to slip that book under your coat and make a bolt for the door...