Saturday, August 18, 2007

Two random, unrelated book thoughts thanks to Barnes browsing.

After copious amounts of food (savory Setagaya ramen and delectable Kyotofu desserts), I am back in my apartment, all ready to.. um.. work.

Yes, I should be either working on my applications, studying for the GREs or writing/revising my stories. But it's Friday night, the tummy feels full and sleepy, and blogging just sounds so appealing.....

Today I went to Barnes with the full intent to buy a GRE book, but the options overwhelmed (Kaplan? Princeton Review? DVD? No DVD?) and I chickened away. Of course, instead I had a small book accident (more like a little slip), and acquired two new books that will now be thrown atop the never-shrinking pile of "books to be read" on my desk. Hello, my name is Angelle, and I am an addict.

Anyway, this isn't a post about my dependency issues, because although I clearly have a spending problem when it comes to books, I also have no desire to change, and as we all know, accepting you have a problem that needs to be changed is the first step towards cure. Well, I frankly don't want to be cured. Find me in a couple of years when I'm officially a starving, unemployed writer, and then we'll talk (remember when in La Boheme they start burning their books for heat??).

What I do want to just jot down are two thoughts I came across today at Barnes.

#1. Eileen Goudge is playing the marketing game. Back in the day, when I was starting to make the crossover from children's books to adult genre paperbacks, one of the first books I picked up (after a failed attempt at The Firm - hey, I was 11!) was Eileen Goudge's Garden of Lies. I loved that book (and had my first taste of racy sex in novels) - babies switched at birth, love triangles, hidden family secrets.... what was there not to love? [I'm a sucker for the easy drama of hidden family secrets that have yet to be exposed. Books like Memory Keeper's Daughter are an easy sell to me.] I cried and cried for Rose, the blood daughter sent to live with a poor family, and the injustice as Rachel, the other girl, managed to take everything from her that was rightfully hers, even her one true love. My pre-adolescent heart was smitten with this story, and for awhile, I snapped up any novel of hers I could find in the library, which wasn't very many. Her covers though, all had this sort of "secret garden" mass-market vibe to it, clearly identifiable, very genre, without being clearly anything like "romance" or "mystery" or what have you.

Today, I walked by her name in the fiction section though, and her name was plastered on the cover of something clearly identifiable as chicklit, which, if you've read carefully, I abhor. Now, I haven't read her books since I was about 14 or 15 maybe, so I can't tell you if her themes are still the same, or if she's decided to try her hand at chicklit. I can't tell you if the cover is plastered on there to make it more easily marketable to her supposed target audience, but actually is something quite different, or if she really falls neatly into that category. Hell, I can't even tell you if her writing is any good, because, well, frankly at 11-15, style wasn't exactly something I cared about much. I actually kind of thought "literary" writing was kind of snobby and stuffy, what with all the supposed "themes" and "symbolism" and all. But that's besides the point. I just thought it was interesting. The cover is sooo... Emily Griffin (Something Blue). Um... a rattle? A ring? White space (or rather blue)? Clean century gothic (or something like it) font? Totally stopped me in my steps for a second. Just interesting to see how an author evolves to stay in the game.


#2: Ooh so Junot Diaz writes this short story to get us to care about his characters? Junot Diaz's book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is officially on shelves. I'm not sure when this happened (be on top of these things, Angelle!) but it's there, because I passed it today. Reading the jacket flap, I realized (as I somewhat suspected, but now confirmed) that "Oscar" in his book is the same "Oscar" in his recent New Yorker short story. Except that his short story was from the viewpoint of his older sister (they say "rebellious" in the copy, I say "crazy") who runs away and eventually (pages and pages later) ends up in the DR. Oscar gets little notice, he seems kind of sweet and innocuous, caring about his sister but not really quite sure what to do. I picture the nice chubby kid who stares at you openfaced whenever you do something surprising. Anyway, I didn't take to the short story so much (titled "Wildwood" if I remember correctly - it was in the same summer fiction issue as the delightful Miranda July), because I felt it dragged and dragged and never went anywhere. I really felt like he didn't think it through at all or anything. And now it's clear that it was probably hastily written and put into the New Yorker to help create buzz for his forthcoming novel. *shakes head* I mean, sure, it's kinda interesting, if were to read this new novel and love the characters and all, that there's this backstory from his sister's point of view. But really, if anything, this poorly constructed story dampened my appetite for the novel; if anything, the idea of spending 350 pages with these characters is just a really unappealing thought. And that's too bad, because I really wanted to like Junot Diaz. It's just sad to me, when I read things like that in the New Yorker, because while it may be to authors what a front page story in The New York Times is to PR professionals, the commercialization is almost a little too much to take. I'm sure Oscar Wao is a perfectly good book in its own right, but that flagrantly timed promotion sort of backfired, at least for me. I mean if you're going to use the magazine as a publicity tool, at least make sure the story is solid. It wasn't and sadly, Diaz's book is falling low on my list of to-reads.

Anyway, last but not least, I just wanted to say, Anna Karenina is taking me so freaking long to get through, and I'm starting to, you know, lose confidence in my ability to fly through books. To bolster my thinning ego, I've started (on the side) Sylvia Plath's Bell Jar which my coworker kindly lent to me. It's nice and short, so I figure I can get through it fast, and not feel so bad that I haven't finished a new book in like two months now (rereading every single Harry Potter doesn't count).

2 drops:

Anonymous said...

To not like a story is one thing: reading is subjective, we like some stories, we don't like others. That's why reading is so amazing, the books we enjoy spiral in us as individual as DNA. No two helixes the same. But unless I'm mistaken The New Yorker has been excerpting from about-to-be-published books for over 90 years! Miranda July is a perfect example! The story you're talking about liking was written precisely to pump up her publication buzz--unlike Diaz's story which is an integral part of his novel. The New Yorker excerpted from EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED. And THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, HIROSHIMA. This is nothing new. You didn't like the story--that's cool. That's NORMAL. But I've worked at The New Yorker and let me assure you that the fiction department doesn't accept a story that it doesn't consider absolutely top-notch. You might not like their fiction and plenty of us don't like a lot of what they publish but a committee of editors and the publisher must have; otherwise out would go another one of the billion rejection letters the magazine sends every year. I doubt Diaz has the kind of pull where he can send them a story and they'll rush to publish it. I for one read the novel in galley and I thought it the best written book in a long time. But you read an excerpt and didn't like it. That's fine. But don't try to make a bigger case out of it than that. Story excerpting at The New Yorker is as old the magazine. Still, the story must have done something right to have provoked such a strong reaction in you. It provoked something in me too and negative or positive that's all we can hope from our art. Not that everybody likes it--but that it moves us even a little.

angelle said...

Anon-- fair enough. I mean, I do realize that most all of the stories in the New Yorker these days are somehow related to something forthcoming, trying to create publicity buzz, soforth. I don't have a problem with that in itself, for the most part. I mean, obviously, one always wishes that commercialization weren't part of the whole thing at all, that the New Yorker would just publish works because they're the best from the best, regardless of forthcoming publications, but hey, I'm in PR, I know how this world works. It's all part of the wheel. Nonetheless, like you said, it's a subjective thing, where in this case I felt like it didn't work to Diaz's favor. I have nothing against him -- I've read a couple of stories from his collection Drown, and I liked them both very much. I just felt that the story in the New Yorker was badly constructed. The book itself may be awesome, and the storyline IN "wildwood" itself wasn't so bad. It was the execution of it that I felt was subpar, that it wasn't tight enough, and I know I'm not the only person who feels this way. Nonetheless, what do I know? He's the published, famous one, and I'm here blogging. So ultimately, sure, it's a matter of opinion.

I do agree with you about good fiction provoking something in you - good or bad. But I do think that should have more to do with issues and art, rather than the craft itself, though of course, there are exceptions when it comes to experimental fiction, whatnot. I don't think this story provoked a strong reaction in me as in I wildly hated it, or the themes, or whatever. It's just that the way it was constructed left me feeling so frustrated with the storytelling, that in the end, I just didn't care about the characters. For the characters and themes itself, I felt indifference - for the actually piece I just felt disappointment. I would have much rather I hated the characters and the choices they made thereby hating the piece for that reason - because I do think that's what good writing does, makes you care enough to hate or like, or whatever - but this piece didn't do it for me.

But fair enough. If you liked the galley, then maybe it's better than this piece of fiction in here, and I may pick it up at some point anyway. Like you said, everyone's entitled to their own opinion.

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