Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Disaster: A Slideshow

I'm a man obsessed with words, but sometimes there's truth in the old saying about the worth of pictures. This slideshow is worth checking out:

My prayers go out to everyone struggling in the aftermath.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Simply for the Love - Of Monsters and Men

This is my kids' favorite song and video right now. Don't worry, they have good taste. And the video is sort of a visual wonder. Especially, you know, if you like monsters.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Under the Microscope - Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall

Bring Up the Bodies

Since Bring Up the Bodies just won the Man Booker Prize, I thought I'd look back at the first book in the series, Wolf Hall, which also won the Man Booker Prize, in 2009. That's a lot of Booker. Wolf Hall is a book that seemed to garner unending praise, which I admit somewhat puzzled me.

Not that Mantel can't write, as she's brilliant. And perhaps that's part of it? A brilliant writer who'd previously been loved by the elite but not the general public, who typically wrote about odd, strange little stories. And who had now written a big book on that most popular of topics, Henry the VIII. Or, more specifically, Thomas Cromwell and all the shenanigans that go on in Henry's court. Some might say it also has to do with the fact that she was writing about men, now, and not women... (just food for thought, there).

Mantel's writing in Wolf Hall is brilliant, and I can't argue that her character portraits of the various historical people are not evocative and humanizing. They are, and these are the strengths of the novel. Cromwell is a fascinating character, and the story is ripe with fascinating events... but the problem is that in the book all the fascinating events occur off stage, as it were, only to be rehashed by people who sit around talking afterward, obliquely referencing whatever happened. There seem to be endless talking head conversations. It's like a book about the moments between interesting things, and never the interesting things themselves. Just the talk and the gossip after the fact. And, yes, her talking heads are interesting and human, and cast an interesting light on history, but it's damned annoying to always be left out of the action, to be left wondering what that interesting experience might have been like, or that one, or that one...

It's a bit like sitting in a theater watching a movie. It's a fairly good movie, and you don't mind it. But in the theater next door, everyone is endlessly howling with delight, laughing, and shrieking with surprise. You try to concentrate on your movie, on what the people are saying, but part of you is always wondering what's happening in that other theater. What are they watching? What's that story? And wouldn't you like to see it?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Under the Microscope - After Midnight

Shop Indie Bookstores

This is one of the best books I've read in the last year or two. Hell, it's one of the best books I've ever read. It's a small, gorgeous, gem of a book, published by the Neversink Library. It is about the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s, told from the perspective of a young German woman. Sanna is not bright, she's not stupid -- she's just a normal young German woman who wants to have a good time, who wants to find a husband with a little money. But around her the world is changing. How long can she ignore it?

The author, Irmgard Keun, was a German writer who fled Germany in the late 1930s with her lover, the Jewish writer Joseph Roth. She had a sharp, clear understanding of the transformation that was taking place in Germany at this time, but the magic of this book is how she conveys these heartrending changes only through the periphery of what Sanna sees The world is changing, but this can be seen only at the edges, the fringes of Sanna's viewpoint, with the small piling up of incidents. Yet together these little incidents have a terrible weight.

The voice of this novel is pitch perfect, as a vaguely frivolous ignorance is slowly transformed to understanding and awareness. There's a huge weight of expectation that hangs over each paragraph; the reader sees, long before Sanna, what is happening, and this disconnect, between what is and what is seen, has a profound poignancy. In these empty spaces of missed perceptions lies the Holocaust.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Coming Back to Writing

I wrote a story yesterday.

Not a big deal, certainly, but the feeling was wonderful. Why? Because I hadn't written anything for a few months.

Clarification: I hadn't written any fiction for a few months. I've written, of course. Blogs, emails, and my day job is as an editor, so I am constantly immersed in words, tinkering with sentences. But writing fiction is something else entirely. The other things can play into it, but there's nothing quite like writing fiction. That is what I love.

And I hadn't written any fiction in almost three months. I had good reasons, of course. Busy at work, health problems, and a new baby to add to my three other kids. Busy.

And I'm fine with such breaks. Some writers beat themselves up over these hiatuses. Must write! Must write! But I give myself permission, from time to time, to take a break. Sometimes life calls on you to focus on other things. Like, you know, living. And I think this permission makes it easier to come back to writing. I don't stress about it. Yes, sometimes it takes a bit of discipline to sit back down at the computer, to re-establish habits that have gotten soft and hazy.

But really, if you're a writer, you'll be callled back to the computer. A story will become real inside your head, the words itching at your skull, looking for cracks and crevices to escape through. Something will compel you to return.

And there's something delicious about coming back to writing. The fingers tapping the keys, the words flowing. And flow is just what it is, in the words of modern psychology. In sports it's called being in the zone. The rest of the world falls away. There's a pureness of focus, a sense of the words, the story, passing through you, rather than being created by you. This is where the idea of the muse comes from, this sense of flow, when everything inside you is running so smoothly that you forget these things are there and the words simply come.

I wrote a story yesterday.

Not a big thing, surely. But it is a good thing.