Friday, September 28, 2007
There are moments when I'm a little sympathetic towards Lee's plight - but quite honestly, when, towards the end, Cross tells her that if she stopped thinking she was so weird, then she'd realize she wasn't as weird as she thought, or that she kinda made her lot, I totally agree. I mean this guy sleeps with her and she feels all used and all that, I get it, but Lee totally did make it what it was, and he seems like a really decent guy. I mean she's fucking psycho. I kept waiting in this book for her to become more sympathetic, but in the end, I think she's too self-indulgent in her wallowing, and even though this is written as if looking back from many years, it seems like she's trying to explain and maybe justify everything that has happened. The thing is, it's not that normal people don't have the feelings she has, because I can recognize myself sometimes in some of the things she thinks. But it's not portrayed or explained sympathetically - I can't help but think that all the bad things that happen to her, she chooses for herself, instead of actively trying to change.
So that's my plot/character criticism. My craft criticism has to do with the fact that Curtis Sittenfeld chooses to make this backwards looking from adulthood. It makes the whole thing a little more detached. Even then, I'd expect it to be told then, humorously, because I mean come on, who doesn't look back at when they were maladjusted teenagers and kinda laugh at themselves? The introspection is too much; it needed to be counterbalanced with some humor or something. My other criticism is that she just talks WAY TOO MUCH and thinks WAY TOO MUCH for a teenager. Even if it's backwards looking, I don't really need to be explained what everything means in the grand scheme of things, when ultimately, I've been in hs before too and I know what it's like. Too much! Show the growing pains and leave it at that! And it makes me wonder if this character has grown up to be an unlikable adult. I also disliked how in the context of narrating something happening at the moment, the narrator would suddenly mention things that happened much later or give things away like, "Later on when I was older, I would realize..." or "Later when it was all over and I was trying to figure it out..." It takes me out of the moment, and I frankly could care less about who she becomes later.
There's 5 pages for this book to be wrapped up so that I feel like I'm getting something out of it. A lesson or SOMETHING to be learned. It would be amazing if she pulls it off, but I don't think she will.
The sad thing is, I actually do think the story itself can be interesting - who doesn't like to hear about crazy high school kids and romances behind the doors? Everything else was interesting, but it was like trying to see around the annoying narrator to what I was into. It's a shame, really, but I feel she could have made the character a lot more sympathetic. In the end, I never felt truly sorry for her situation. She was to me, always unlikable (and perhaps I would have been that girl in school who would have shunned her for that reason), because she never seemed to learn anything within the course of the story (only in retrospect), because she never seemed to get over her shame of who she was or where she came from, etc etc. I mean maybe that's how it is in real-life - we don't always grow up until we go to college or much later even - but this is fiction, and in fiction dammit, we're supposed to get something out of it. She just became that chick that no one liked, and, I thought, with good reason. Quite honestly, I never understood why the decent people in life like her anyway.
Argh. I think I liked this book much more in the beginning when I thought it was going somewhere. Now I feel slightly cheated because nothing ever really changes.
Um, I'll post a final final when I finish the last few pages (maybe) but for all intents and purposes, this can be my final judgment. A resounding: eh.
P.S. NY Times bestseller, one of NYTimes Book Review best books of the year? REALLY?!?!??!?!?!! What were they reading that year???
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Now, I don't know if it's just because I've had a rough couple of days with my manager (who is really pissing the flying shit out of me) but I'm finding the narrator of the book incredibly annoying. I'm kind of like, buck-up! Stop second guessing yourself! Can you please stop being so incredibly needy and pathetic? I feel like she might be a tad more sympathetic if there were just a little more snark in her, but the way it's written, she's just so... SAD. Her writing style reminds me, at points, of Plath without the skill with descriptions, but I don't find her character particularly sympathetic. I mean, at some point, I really want her to just get over herself and grow up.
But maybe I'm just cranky.
I have other things to say, but right now I'm too tired.
By the way, despite the annoyingness of the character, I still kinda want to know what happens. It's not a complete wash.
I did a review on here of American Pastoral once, basically to say that I was slightly disappointed. It was good, but it wasn't great and I had expected great. I don't know if it's because I read it wrong or I was being too nitpicky, but ultimately, I couldn't shake the nagging question of why Zuckerman had to be involved in this story at all! I think maybe, without that, I would have enjoyed the book a touch more.
Anyway though, the point is, it's like an end of an era or something because Roth is no longer using his alter-ego Zuckerman. One day I'm going to get around to reading another book of his, and perhaps I will like him a little more. But for now, I have too many other books to get through.
The visuals are beautiful, and from this excerpt you really see what this immigration process is like. I mean, I'm assuming the land they're arriving to is purely fictional, but it could just as easily have been Ellis Island. There are no words, but maybe it's because it's too hard to understand what the hell is going on. No one understands each other. The symbols are so meaningless. Maybe it's because I've been thinking a lot about the whole immigration process recently, in part because of the Danticat memoir, but I just see a lot of potential in this excerpt. So I might just check it out.
So the thing is, most people don't really read short stories. Which is kind of funny if you think about the world we live in today: short attention spans, busy running from one place to the next. You'd think we'd read more short stories, because we'd have more time for it than trying to slog through a novel. But quite honestly, the people who read short stories are the people who maybe are more literary to begin with.
Personally, I do read short stories and try to get through collections. But this is because I'm me, and I'm trying to be a writer, and I think it's important to see what other people are doing.
I think though, the problem with the short story is that the payoff is ultimately so much smaller. I feel like for most people, they read novels to sort of escape into an alternate reality, and the short story doesn't do that. You read the twenty pages and then its over. It's ultimately forgettable. And because every twenty pages you have to reimmerse yourself with new characters and situations, there's no compelling reason to get through an entire collection. I should know - I have at least four collections of short stories I've half started. I mean, ultimately, I think readers like to feel like they're in some world, getting to really know characters and following them on journeys. That's why series are so popular - sometimes some people just don't want to leave the characters behind. That's why, even with the death of Voldemort, we all kind of want to know what happened to everyone. To the general population, there's an attachment to people and places in popular novels because you feel like you've gotten to know them personally.
Short stories are a different animal. They offer something entirely different, sometimes parables of sorts, instant gratification. It has to be a one-shot, an intense burst of humanity and emotion (or, if you're doing genre fiction, of pivotal action and a brilliant compact plot). They require more thinking to get the most out of, I personally believe. The best short stories affect you quickly, simply. But I don't think there are enough elements in them that make them worth reading for most readers.
These are my favorite short stories as of late:
"Children of the Sea" by Edwidge Danticat (from Krik? Krak!)
"Asleep" by Banana Yoshimoto (from Asleep)
"On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning" by Haruki Murakami (from Elephant Vanishes)
"Emergency" by Denis Johnson (from Jesus' Son)
"Fiesta, 1980" by Junot Diaz (from Drown)
"Roy Spivey" by Miranda July (it's not in her collection, but was published in the Summer Fiction Issue of the New Yorker this year)
Although, quite frankly, the collections themselves are all very good, and I could pick out other stories from them that I also love very much (the first 4 or 5 of Danticat's collection, for example, all are very affecting).
Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri. I have yet to go through the whole thing, but like what I've read very much.
Lizard, by Banana Yoshimoto. But I'm just a big Yoshimoto fan.
The Stories of Eva Luna, by Isabelle Allende. Haven't gotten through the whole thing yet either, but what I've read, I've liked.
Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris. Well, because it's Sedaris, and it's funny.
For the more genre based, I've ALWAYS loved Jeffrey Archer's short story collections. They're fun, easy, usually involve a twist ending that I appreciate. There's one story involving two brothers (the name escapes me now), one the overlooked older, responsible one, one the younger, coddled, "artist". It follows their relationship throughout their adult lives in its short pages, and... I can't give it away! I own a good number of his short story collections because they're easy to read and gratifying the way popping a gummy bear is.
I feel like I'm missing a few here that I really liked... um... sorry.
Anyway, yes. Yay! Short stories!
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
When I started earning my own paycheck after college, I didn't blow the money on clothes and shoes the way a normal girl would. No, I blew it on food. And every kind of food imaginable - from cheap eats to hidden jewels to the good standards to your fine dining. New York City is one of the best places to be if you want to eat, and I had a checklist of restaurants I wanted to hit which I kept on my personal blog, very much like how I have a checklist of books I want to read here. I am happiest spending money on food, because it's worth it to me. Good food is absolutely worth its price tag.
So my number one restaurant that I want to hit in NY, that I still haven't yet, is Per Se. I want to go so badly, but it's difficult to get reservations, and I also want to save it for something special. I've been dying, dying to go though.
For a foodie like me, you'd think I'd read some stuff like Kitchen Confidential or something. My aunt (who is also a foodie and also a reader) gave me a short story collection called The Best Food Writing of 2006 or something for Christmas last year. I haven't touched it yet. It just never occurs to me that reading about food is something I want to do. Food is meant to be eaten; reading about it would just make me hungry.
But now a former employee of Per Se has written a memoir. And, dammit, this is a book I want to read.
It's called Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter and it's written by Phoebe Damrosch. I expect some inside info on the restaurant of my dreams (I was eating at Porterhouse the other night, which is also in the Time Warner building, and I snuck by the door of Per Se and looked longingly at the menu. Sigh.)
You know, it's my dining habits that makes me seriously think twice about becoming a poor, starving writer.
I am tired. So tired.
I didn't even get to read my feeds or write any blog entries today! Hahaha.
Anyway, I thought I'd post up this NPR radio clip around the Kite Runner movie that my friend sent to me today.
Okay I'm going to go pamper myself with a manicure and pedicure. :)
Monday, September 24, 2007
In her reading at the Brooklyn Book Festival, Edwidge Danticat said, "This isn't so much of a me-moir as it is an us-moir." Smattering of laughter.
True though, this book isn't so much about her as it is about her family, her father and uncle. It's written in her usual, beautiful prose, but sometimes I almost feel like she's stepping back a little, not to get too close to the material.
There are heartbreaking moments, of when her mother leaves her and her brother behind to go to America, the way she wraps her arms around her mom's legs and has to be pried away. Of when they finally see them years later, and her little brother hides his face in the folds of his mother's skirt. When they finally go to America when she's much older, and her new little brother who she's only met once as an infant, runs up to her and hugs her. These moments are so beautiful and sweet and full of emotion... the kind of memories that stay with a person and are part of what makes them, them.
The relationships and histories of her family that she explores are intriguing and wonderful. They also paint this clear backdrop of a country in constant turmoil, unchanged even as recent as 2004, when her uncle flees Haiti in search of political asylum. He dies a few days later as he is held by immigration (I'm not giving anything away, this is all in the jacket flap).
This last section of the book, as her father is dying of a pulmonary disease and she's pregnant with her baby and her uncle is being unfairly detained... it breaks my heart!! The unfairness of it! Why! Bureaucracy? It makes no sense! I felt so much rage and anger for her, for him, for her entire family...
I couldn't help while reading this memoir, if she hadn't shed a good few tears recalling all of these events. I know I would have.
It's interesting - she probably felt incredibly helpless in the last days of her uncle's life, as she is trying to get him out of custody, unsuccessfully. In the end, she is denied visitation rights while he is in the hospital because he is a "prisoner". [Since when did 81 year old pastors from Haiti with blood pressure problems constitute a threat to America???] He dies alone, without his family by his side, after struggling for days to escape his country, his home. Anyway so this must have been such a heartbreaking experience, to be unable to do anything for someone you consider your second father. So what does she do? She writes a memoir for him, hoping to expose to the world his story. This reminds me of the power of words. Hopefully, in turn, she gets a measure of peace. She even says at one point early in the book, "I am writing this only because they can't." (pg. 26)
The other part I really like comes towards the end of the book:
"You shouldn't be a part of this," the manager said, pointing to my belly. "You have a life in you. You have no place with the dead."
"But I'm going to the funeral," I said.
What I really wanted to say was that the dead and the new life were already linked, through my blood, through me.
--[pgs. 248-249, Brother, I'm Dying]
It puts everything togther, where she exists in the midst of all of this, as past and present and future (her child) come together, their storylines interweaving.
Memoirs seem to exist to make sense of the chaos of life.
In any case, incredibly moving. Highly recommended.
I think I have more to say, but I'm at work and I'm tired, and I'm also being distracted by this Iranian president denying the existence of homosexuals thing. hee hee hee.
New York Public Library (42nd and 5th)
Nov. 15, 7:00 pm, $15
This means I have to start reading The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, which I have on my stack of to-read books. Or pick up The Name of the Rose.
Btw, Moonrat, [twitter twitter], if you are still hoping to get Orhan Pamuk to sign your book, he will also be at the New Yorker Festival, signing his essay collection at 5 on Saturday (Oct. 6, I believe).
New Yorker Festival (Oct 5-7) -
1) either the Jhumpa Lahiri/Edward P. Jones reading or the Junot Diaz/Annie Proulx reading on Fri at 7 (um wait, the latter seems to be senseless since I heard him for FREE already, but I get this feeling I could hear Lahiri for free to at some point too, and I haven't read Proulx yet though I want to pick up Brokeback... I know nothing about Jones)
2) Miranda July/A.M. Holmes event or George Saunders/JSF on Fri at 9:30 (Monsters vs. Incredible) --- I guess I would need to figure out location technicalities... you know to see if back to back is logistically possible.
[These are the Fri nite events I desperately want to go to]
However, because I was dragging my feet, all 4 events are now sold out through ticketmaster... instead I'd have to get them the DAY OF.
It's okay, then I can just go to the damn book signings (which is more boring because I actually like hearing the readings) on Saturday.
Edwidge Danticat, take 2 (Nov 28) -
Because I am loving her memoir, and I want to hear her talk more closely about it, and because I have three more of her books I could get signed. Thanks for the dude from Symphony Space who let me know. These guys are so effective.
Should I be spending $$$$ on readings when I have application fees to think about? No. Do I care? No.
If I didn't have a date tonight, I'd go to Ishmael Beah's reading. I've wanted to read that book for awhile now. Too bad the guy doesn't read (which should signal a big red X for me, but ah, trying to be openminded, you know.)
Recently reading these pretty successful young authors (well, I guess now not so young anymore but not old either), like Danticat and Diaz, it makes me think, suddenly, of my own quest to become a writer. I mean Danticat is heralded because she's made inroads for the Haitian population; Diaz for the Dominican-American population. It's wrapped up as part of who they are as writers, and I wonder if they could really ever escape that.
I was once told by a writing teacher that I should insert my Asian culture into one of the stories I had workshopped. "It makes more sense that way," she said. Then she said, "Young, minority writers are really popular these days. You should harness that as a way to market yourself."
This gave me pause, only because, well, I had never thought of myself as an Asian-American writer. I thought of myself as a writer. Maybe an American writer, but first and foremost, a writer.
My Asian-Americaness is part of my daily life, sure. I have a wide circle of Asian friends, I've gone to Asian parties, I spend Friday nights in Ktown and Saturday mornings in Chinatown. I speak two languages (though one fairly haltingly), and I celebrate certain Asian holidays. But none of these things seems to me strange or awkward. Especially in New York City, it's easy for me to view my life as just one of many different lives that a person can lead in New York. It's normal to me; this is my life.
I'll spare any details on times when I've been jarred and made aware of my Asian identity, and having to learn to fit into a "white" culture. Or the times when I felt self-conscious of who I am. It happens, but the point is that in the end, I've learned to live my life as if I think people are color blind. I don't know if that's a naive thing to do, but most of the time I forget that I'm any different than Joe Smith over there.
So that's the kind of writer I am. I'm sure, if you looked for it, you could find hints of how my Asian culture has influenced the way I see the world, the way my characters act, the things they value, the way they are to each other. But, save for one recent unfinished story (started at the urging of my aunts), I have never written a story where the protagonist was Asian. Not even when I was churning out a new story a week in fifth grade. Maybe because from the close POV, it's like I'm in my characters' skins, and they, like me, don't see the color of those skins. They, like me, are completely unaware that maybe they have a color that someone else percieves. I wouldn't even be able to say that my characters are white. To me, it's a non-issue. It doesn't even factor into anything I even think about. My stories are about the way humans react, not about the way an Asian versus a white versus a black person might react.
But the point is, maybe it's not a non-issue. People are shaped by their cultures. Maybe I should be writing stories with Asians as central characters. (Maybe this would make me more marketable.)
But I never wanted to be a writer of Asian-American literature. I hated that. It conjures up ideas of Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston. I have nothing against Asian-American writers; they did important things for the community, but it's just that my stories are not questions of racial identity and diaspora and what not. If I were to ever integrate Asiannness in a story, it'd be because that person happens to be Asian. Culture would bleed into the background, like anything else. I'd hate for it to become a central focus. I'd hate for people to start looking for the race aspect of it. Other people have done that far better than I could, and those are not things I care to explore.
But with a name like mine, I realize, even if I did somehow get myself on the shelves one day, someone is probably going to pick up my book and expect something. Some sort of stance. Some sort of statement.
I'm proud of who I am, of course I am. But I don't think I'm so different that I need to make waves and write about it. Sure, it'd be kind of funny for me to write a book about the Asian-American world that I live in, because it's its own little pocket of Americana. But no one would want to read it except other Asians. And I suspect that I could never finish it because I wouldn't care. And I wouldn't want to take the focus off of what really is important.
Is this silly? Unrealistic? With a name like mine, am I required to inject my own raciality? I've often thought about, like, what if I write one novel, just one, focusing on Asian people. You know, start myself off on the ethnic front. Trick people into letting me publish what they expect an ethnic person to publish. And then.... hee hee.... never do it again!!! See if I can do the bleeding into the background thing.
I don't know. It's not that I don't have a lot to say about race and being an outsider... I suppose I could do it if I wanted to. It's just that, in the end, those aren't the things that drive me, those aren't the things I care about. Piano lessons, parental expectations, fitting in into a homogenous world... it's all there, in my experiences, but in the end, those aren't the things that matter most to me. So why, by virtue of the color of my skin and the shape of my eyes, should I have to write about them?
Just some thinking.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
I don't believe in throwing out books (unless it's so terrible that I hate it, but even then, it pains me to actually toss it) so that wouldn't happen either.
But I kind of wish I could find the books I love with greater ease! As of right now, things are stacked in order of size, one in front of the other... finding old books I loved requires rummaging through levels and stacks and a tetris-like production.
Hmmm.... I really just need about two more bookshelves.
I should pitch this idea to somebody who actually has the time to do it. Seriously.
But okay, first the big overall: I really loved it.
Oscar: Oscar breaks my heart. Absolutely breaks my heart. This sad little nerdy little fat kid who is so true at heart, has such good intentions, is sensitive and thoughtful and idealistic about love, but is so awkward and strange and dorky. He is so sweet, so sad, there are moments in the book where I am positively aching for him because he is so lonely and misunderstood. And I started thinking, what the hell is up with these girls that he falls in love with? Why do they lead him on? And then I think, maybe he's just too extreme. The whole time, I knew what end was coming, I mean it pretty much tells you throughout the book, and yet I just kept thinking it was the next page, or the next. I loved the sections with him the very most. Because he is so vulnerable, so sad. I just want to scoop him up and tell him it's okay.
The sections: In the beginning, I was a little iffy about the whole skipping back and forth in history thing, perhaps because I had a mind on craft. But having read through all of it, I don't think I minded, because it gave me a very full picture of the world that they live in, the context of it all. Oscar's sections were my favorite, but them alone would not have made this book as great. This is a love story in ways, but it is so much, so much more. This is a story of family, of culture, of history, of "diaspora" as Diaz says. Beli's section was heartbreaking too, this fall of naivety.
History. I've commented a little about the history before, but I really like the footnotes to help me contextualize everything. Funny, because I read Danticat's Farming of Bones so recently, and I got a little history lesson on the Parsley Massacre, and this is where I first learned of Trujillo. And so with that as context, I was set to really dive into this world of terror that he reigned over. Pretty awesome, if you ask me. I love learning things I otherwise would not have known.
Vocab. Oh god. I wish I had read this book in front of my computer so I could dictionary.com all day long. He uses all these words I don't know! [Probably good for my GRE studying] A couple words he really likes to use that I don't see often elsewhere that I noticed: askance, pulchritude, precipitous(ly). Other words I didn't know at all: septuagenarian, orchidaceous, ameliorative (okay this one I *kinda* knew), etc etc... there were so many! It makes me wonder what the hell kind of vocab Diaz has!
Spanish. I said this already, but oh man sometimes I just WANTED TO KNOW what the Spanish meant! Another reason I should have been sitting in front of a comp the entire time I was reading this book. But I have learned some words from context, including words for family members, though some things, for the life of me, I'm not sure what they are and by now, I'm too lazy to look all of them up.
Fantasy/Sci-fi references. I don't know a good portion of them, but it added color. It made me giggle.
Speaking of giggling. Oh, god, the book is so funny. I mean it's totally heartbreaking at moments, but so effing hilarious, I couldn't stop giggling like a crazy woman on the subway. There were just so many moments where I was like, "tee hee hee HEE!!" And I am a big dork so sometimes the dorkier things got to me, like this wonderful little exchange:
Hail, Dog of God, was how he welcomed me my first day in Demarest.
Took a week before I figured out what the hell he meant.
God. Domini. Dog. Canis.
--[pg. 171, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao]
Hee hee hee!!!! I remember exactly where I was when I read this (standing on the subway platform), and in order not to seem like a crazy person grinning to herself, I had to bite down on my lip pretty hard. I think Oscar's awkward, dorky dialogue helps, in contrast with the narrator's laidback, who-gives-a-fuck sort of language. I mean honestly, in between all the moments of total "GAH!" I was having for Oscar and his poor cursed family, I was tittering away to myself...
He mentions my town! Sorry, I just had to say that again.
Ending. I have a teensy issue with the ending, only because when I got to the third to last section, I thought that was a great ending, and then I got to the second to last section and I thought that was a great ending, and then I got to last section, and I thought that was a good ending, but after two endings that I thought were great, I was kinda like hmmm. I can see why, for narrative purposes it's there, but I'm not certain it has the same impact as the other two.
Sprawlingness. In the beginning, I was kinda not really for the wide net this book covered. I mean, the title is clearly about Oscar's life, so why were we spending so much time away from him and looking at his mom, sister, grandparents, whatever? After the first section of Oscar, I was itching to get back to him, because he had instantly become so beloved. Even as I was going through it, while I thoroughly enjoyed the non-Oscar sections, I really had to rein myself in and not follow the temptation to breeze through the other sections as fast as possible to get back to Oscar. Now having read the whole thing, like I said above, I'm glad it was all in there, because it made the story that much more rich. But the Oscar story-as-told-by-Yunior is by far the most compelling part of the book. While I was reading Beli's story, I liked it and felt for her; when I was reading Oscar's, I loved it and wept for him.
Yunior and Lola. Really?? :(
The Mongoose. I had to Wikipedia a what the hell a mongoose looked like. I had a weird cartoony image in my mind. Moonrat, you might like it. It sort of looks like a mole. But seriously, what was up with that? And the no-face man?!
Magical realismish. Some undertones of Marquez at points, I felt. But I like that.
And last but not least, love. Oh, silly, naive love. Idealized love. You read it and you kind of laugh at how crazy and silly Oscar is for love that isn't even requited, but at a very base level, you love him for it. Because it recalls a time when you were young and you hoped for pure love like that. Because even if you're a cold, cynical, unromantic person, you can't help but admire someone so pure of heart. I would smack my son over the head if he did what Oscar did, but at the same time, I would love him for being so full of love. Maybe even a little bit jealous. I find the final scenes with Oscar (fourth to last section) so incredibly affecting. Crazy he is, but touching. There's this, so cheesy in a way, but in context, moving:
He told them that what they were doing was wrong, that they were going to take a great love out of the world. Love was a rare thing, easily confused with a million other things, and if anybody knew this to be true it was him. He told them about Ybon and the way he loved her and how much they had risked and that they'd started to dream the same dreams and say the same words. He told them that it was only because of her love that he'd been able to do the thing that he had done, the thing they could no longer stop, told them if they killed him they would probably feel nothing and their children would probably feel nothing either, not until they were old and weak or about to be struck by a car and then they would sense him waiting for them on the other side and over there he wouldn't be no fatboy or dork or kid no girl had ever loved; over there he'd be a hero, an avenger. Because anything you can dream (he put his hand up) you can be.
--[pgs. 321-322, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao]
So I must say again: I really really enjoyed this book. Which I'm so happy about, considering my initial reservations before I even bought it.[Though the question remains if I would have loved it as much if Junot Diaz was a total asshole.]
Friday, September 21, 2007
So apparently, Orhan Pamuk is an asshole. I'm not sure if one person's words is enough to verify this (as always, I'm trying to keep an openmind hahaha), but let's say he is. Supposedly he's conceited and pretentious. Should I let that affect my opinion of his writing? Should that prevent me from wanting to pick up his novel?
Let's plug in some other authors.
If J.K. Rowling were a bitch, I'd still read Harry Potter. But I think it's because its her imagination I'm interested in, not her skill as a writer (she says haughtily).
If Kazuo Ishiguro were an asshole, I'd still read his writing, but I might feel a little different about his characters. His writing has strongly relied on the unreliable narrator though, so for some reason, that makes it more okay. Like he's hiding things anyway.
If Edwidge Danticat were a bitch, I'd be crestfallen. Because her work is so honest and beautiful and good (like a good person) that I'd feel like she was hypocritical.
If Denis Johnson were an asshole, I'd hope he'd at least be a funny crazy asshole. Then I'd dismiss it as the effect of the crack.
Okay, so I guess it also depends on what kind of person I'm assuming they are, based on their writing. But at the end of the day, this is big for me: I hate pretentious artists.
Thing is, I'm a big believer of writing for yourself. I think it's almost difficult to do it, when you're thinking about what sells, and what's marketable and stuff. But I'm strong on the "art" aspect of it, which is why I've been resistant to fall too deeply into "the industry". I feel like once you start trying too hard to cater to an audience, your work becomes less honest, and what I like most about writing is how it captures the essence of the truth.
That being said, you always hope that by being honest, your work resonates with someone. And if it does resonate with someone, understand this: that you are not better than they are because you could put it into words. I've always felt that if someone understands my work, then they understand me; if they understand me, then we must be kindred at heart. And the only difference is that I was able to find the right way to say what we both wanted to feel. Your work exists because of you, but it does not exist for you.
For that reason, I think an author should always be respectful to his or her readers. These people are people who identify with what you've written. You're on a similar plane. Having them read your crap is almost self-indulgent. Be nice, because in some ways they might just be like you. Be nice, because you wouldn't be there without them. Be nice, because isn't the point to reach people?
I sometimes feel like pretentious writers should have their own little club, and they can have some pretentious academic fans. The rest of the writers, who are normal people who just happen to like to scribble down words, we can all hang out.
Also, I think writers could benefit from MEDIA TRAINING! Alas, it's so expensive. But that's okay, you know? No one is asking you to be the life of your party. Just smile and be courteous. Say thank you. Look em in the eye.
If I ever were to be lucky enough to make it up there, I'd wait however long it takes to sign every last book. Man, I'd build that into my schedule. I mean, those people are there for you. They love you. They don't even know you but they read your baby and they love you. You should love them for that too.
Also, because (as the art of schmoozing has taught me) you never know who is in your audience. Even if you're a big shot writer, who's to say your favorite movie producer's niece isn't in the audience (and is dying to have your book be optioned) or another agent who is curious or, even stupid things like the doctor who might operate on you one day or a real estate agent willing to cut you a deal or the person that could be your future man-of-your-dreams' sister or something?
Boo on pretentious writers.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
I think I should write some things book/writing related, so here we go, some facts about myself:
1. I started reading at the age of 3. Prior to this, my mother would make me spell out letters in Paddington Goes to the Circus in a painstakingly slow process. This is true. It took us hours to get through that book, and I feel like I never did get to the end because we'd always stop halfway. My first book was entitled Balloons and was soon followed by Bears and then the incredibly challenging Boats.
2. The first "book" I wrote was titled The Day the Boy Ran Away. This was loosely based around a book I owned (complete with illustrated stickers) called The Day Buddy Ran Away about a bear who runs away but gets lost in the woods. I seemed to do a lot of reading about bears.
3. My real name is not Angelle.
4. I used to get in trouble for reading... everywhere. As in, at the dinner table, in bed at night, in the car...... while walking..... And I spent a good portion of my elementary school years reading or scribbling in a bright pink (and then teal) notebook.
5. I wrote an entire book about a bunch of elementary school kids being shipwrecked on an island when I was in the 4th grade, and retyped it painstakingly using WordPerfect (back in the day when the screen was blue and the letters were white). I sent it into a contest, only to have my manuscript returned, informing me that it was a picture book contest only. Oops. Mom and Dad who encouraged me to enter the contest neglected to read the fine print.
6. My best friend and I used to spend summers writing "chapter" series. She took evens and I took odds. We stayed on the phone but never said a word all day as we wrote.
7. I loved books involving: family secrets, dollhouses, time travel, fairytales retold. But I still read just about anything if I ran out of things to read. Then I'd start going through the reject piles of books left on my bookshelf, just to have something to read.
8. I won a writing prize in 6th grade from my school during graduation. [All my years of nerdliness and not playing during recess and being a loser, finally rewarded!] They handed me the largest, bluest dictionary I have ever seen in my entire life. "We'll be hearing more from her," was what they said in their awards speech. I'm still trying to make good on that expectation.
9. I still read my kid sister's books. As in, when she was six and I was 18, I read her Junie B's, and when she was nine and I was 21, I read her Ella Enchanted. I have also read every single book in The Series of Unfortunate Events.
10. I will dedicate my first book to my amazing, wonderful, superheroine mommy.
Okay, and just to show you the sort of pressure I was under to write this post (though she may kill me for it and this may be the last entry you ever get from me):
Moonrat: i have DEFINITELY kept up my end hereA!!
Moonrat: DRINK FASTER
Happy Thursday! *downs the rest of her beer*
How did I not know about this?
Edwidge Danticat was reading at the 92nd St. Y today! I mean not that I need to pay $18 to see her read again after this weekend butttttt (okay I totally would have). There is no such thing as too many times to hear the authors I love. Well this is what I get for waiting until Thursday to thumb through my culture magazines instead of on Monday when I get them.
So that we don't miss out these three all on the 24th... (next Monday... wait, I think the Ishmael Beah reading is then too)
The Strand, Bway and 12th
Sept. 24, 7:00 pm
I've never read any of her, but I know people who have, so...
Barnes and Noble, Astor Place and Bway
Sept. 24, 7:00 pm
She's the third panelist on the panel I went to with Danticat on Sunday. The one that was funny but was overshadowed by the guy on his phone?
92nd St. Y (@ Lexington)
Sept. 24, 8:00 pm, $18
I've heard mixed reviews on Falling Man, but I suspect I may pick it up one of these days.
Anyway, I wasn't nearly as disappointed as Moonrat was, for the simple reason that I hadn't read his book, had no opinion of it at all, and was just kinda tagging along to see. Because I'm an author stalker and all.
To make up for it, we are both sitting in our respective apartments, drinking, declaring tonight to be a night of no work. Hmph. Look what you did Orhan. You've driven us to alcohol.
The funny thing about Blue is that he and I are very good friends, but as of the past year, I haven't seen him or talked to him all that much, mostly because we're both doing our own thing.
Anyway, he reminded me again, of how success, especially in writing, is almost 100% luck and perseverance. He forwarded me the article on Alfred Knopf in the NY Times. "Read this before you leave work today," he said. "Just remember. You gotta just keep your head down and do what you can and not worry about what other people say." I know, I said. These are all things I know, that I've even said to others. "Read it," he reiterated. "If Knopf can get it wrong, then who's to say some admissions officers can't too?" And then he said another thing: "I think the first step to becoming an artist is to learn to accept rejection."
I do well when I feel like I have something to prove. I remember not too long ago, feeling like some people thought of me as some silly kid, idealistic in ambition. I was angry and upset and I worked tirelessly, slaved over dumb stories to try to prove them wrong. I've never turned in a manuscript I didn't rewrite at least three times, didn't spend at least days upon, have never turned in half of a story. I've turned in things that are considered "first stabs", but my first stabs take days to do because I keep reinventing, playing with POVs and structure and voice. A chip on my shoulder propels me forward. I am easily injured, but I also get right back up and keep going.
There will always be ups and downs for me because of this, but I know I'll never give up. And isn't that what it's all about? Not giving up.
Thanks, Blue. You've reminded me of everything important for me to remember as I start on this long, tortured journey... All the things I should never forget and never lose sight of.
*end today's moment of self-doubt*
Okay, I'm falling into my weekly descent into self-doubt and despair. I wrote a draft of my personal statement and now feel like it's not enough. I have so much to say! I want to say, Please take me! I will work hard! I will write everyday! I will study other writers! I'll read a lot! I'll make improvements! I'll take criticism seriously! I will never give up! I am vigilant and passionate! Please please please please please just give me the chance to step through your bloody gates (or whatever the hell you guys have) and I will not disappoint you!
The comforting thought is - you don't need an MFA to be a writer.
The not-so-comforting thought is - if they don't think I'm even good enough to work on, how will I ever get anywhere?
[I have heart! I have passion! I have vision! I want to be better! And I will keep knocking! I swear! I'm a writer! Really!]
God, these applications are taking over my life, and therefore, my blog too.
Off to go author stalking with Moonratty.
I'm a little thrown off by some of the Spanish dialogue because I never took Spanish so I'm not really sure what some of it means (though I try, a collaboration of the little I learned from watching Sesame Street, knowledge of Latin roots and trying to find similarities between the French I remember). It frustrates me a little because, while I get the jist of what's being said, I have the sneaking suspicion it'd be even awesomer if I knew exactly what it meant. I kind of wish I had the internet with me at all times so I could google every word. But oh well. [I was similarly frustrated with Lolita, in that I didn't know all of the French, but was usually never around a comp to translate].
However, I do very much like the random footnotes that are effing hilarious but give you context for things you probably don't know about (which he pokes at endlessly, knowing full well that practically nobody knows anything about Dominican history).
Okay it's only the first 40 pages, but if it stays on track like this, I think I'm going to be enjoying my time immensely.
By the way, if you've noticed I've deviated from the "classics" for awhile now, you are correct. But it's because I feel like I need to put myself in a contemporary mindset (as well as taking a close look at what recent writers have done) as I start to try to even think about starting a novel.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Incidentally, while I was taking this test, an email came through from one of the places I submitted, kindly informing me of my rejection. Tee hee. I mean, this was like a "real" place, aiming high, blah blah. I really didn't expect anything less (though I do admit that it made me wonder if it means admissions committees will totally reject me too, which I will care very very much about), but it kinda felt good to close the loop on one of my first submissions. Weird, but true: by being rejected I feel like I've accomplished something. I also happen to like the fact that they got back to me in ONE WEEK! How wonderful of them.
[To continue on a night of eventfulness, a boy also called right after, a boy I had stopped expecting to hear from, and very apologetically asked to see me again. This is out of the confines of normal blog posts, but I just like the fact that these not quite-brilliantly-happy-but-pretty-nice things happened in threes, so felt it was worth mentioning.]
Because I feel so accomplished for the day, I have decided I am allowed to start the next book on my list, which will be Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Because before I submit anything to him, I'd like to get a feel for his new novel.
But to kick off my love for him, let me highlight my favorite of the stories I've read so far from Drown. "Fiesta, 1980".
What I love about this story is that it deals with this kid, who's old enough to notice and articulate certain things, but young enough that he pukes every time he gets into a car. He's vulnerable and mixed up about his dad's blatant infidelity, but powerless to do anything, and all the while, he's at this weird party with family and aunts and cousins and what the hell is going on, and oh, he's not even allowed to eat! He's dealing with all sorts of crazy.
I love this scene:
How is it at home, Yunior?
What do you mean?
How's it going in the apartment? Are you kids OK?
I knew an interrogation when I heard one, no matter how sugar-coated it was. I didn't say anything. Don't get me wrong, I loved my tia, but something told me to keep my mouth shut. Maybe it was family loyalty, maybe I just wanted to protect Mami or I was afraid that Papi would find out - it could have been anything really.
Is your mom all right?
Have there been lots of fights?
None, I said. Too many shrugs would have been just as bad as an answer. Papi's at work too much.
Work, Tia said, like it was somebody's name she didn't like.
-- [pg. 39, "Fiesta, 1980", Drown]
It captures perfectly, this little moment, this wanting to protect his mother from the awful truth so not being able to tell her sister, this fear of his father who is scary and sometimes mean, and all of this too much a burden for a young boy to shoulder.
And then later, he's watching his mom at the party, and he's thinking about her, thinking about what she must have been like when she was younger, before his dad came into the picture. He's thinking all his young thoughts, trying to piece things together and make sense of it, and then she catches him looking:
Mami must have caught me studying her because she stopped what she was doing and gave me a smile, maybe her first one of the night. Suddenly I wanted to go over and hug her, for no other reason than I loved her, but there were about eleven fat jiggling bodies between us. So I sat down on the tiled floor and waited.
--[pgs. 41-42, "Fiesta, 1980", Drown]
This moment of love coming from a boy who is maybe toeing the line between boy and adolescent, at a time when he's about to grow up, about to be too old to hug and kiss his mom for no reason, and you know that sooner or later, he's going to reject her, rebel, something like that, because that's what teenage boys do. But at this one moment in time, his mom (who rarely smiles) catches him looking at her, and she loves him, so she smiles. And he loves her, and he suddenly wants to show it. Maybe even to protect her, just a little bit, because in the back of his head he feels like he knows what's coming. I feel like we've all had those moments, where you're looking at someone you love and they're unaware of you, and in the moment right as they catch you, you get that big surge of affection. Unexplainable except for the fact that they exist.
And then this perfect ending. Perfect!
In the darkness, I saw that Papi had a hand on Mami's knee and that the two of them were quiet and still. They weren't slumped back or anything; they were both wide awake, bolted into their seats. I couldn't see either of their faces and no matter how hard I tried I could not imagine their expressions. Neither of them moved. Every now and then the van was filled with the bright rush of somebody else's headlights. Finally I said, Mami, and they both looked back, already knowing what was happening.
--[pg. 43, "Fiesta, 1980", Drown]
So much in this paragraph that is unspoken. And he's still this kid who sort of gets there's something happening, or maybe there isn't but he's just really scared, and he's in this car, and he's all confused and there was this big party and he usually pukes in cars... and it's just like this big manifestation of everything.
I LOVE this story, and I feel like it could easily make my list of top 5 stories now. I love how it's set in this unfamiliar (at least to me) setting, a people I'm not familiar with, but everything else I get. I've been to big family gatherings with all this potluck food and wonky aunts and stuff. I've been little and seen my parents fight and gotten scared and confused. I mean, I just think it's a really awesome piece, because while he never dives too far into how the narrator feels (because the kid basically just seems sorta confused), the environment is painted so perfectly around him.Good good story. I'm excited about Oscar Wao now.
[edit: I just finished a very very first draft of my personal statement. I feel awesome.]
I have not read A Million Little Pieces, his infamous not-memoir. But you can be sure that if originally James Frey was just another author (okay, one who happened to get a gig with Oprah, but still, an author), once the shit hit the fan, he was not just an author but a headline. And then soon after that I'd be standing on the subway platform or sitting on the train and see at least three people carrying his blue book with the creepy hand graphic on it (I think it's a little creepy). Because now everyone wants to know what the media's talking about. Where's the fraud? What part was fraud? What's real? Who is this guy?
And from then on, any book he comes out with is preceded with, "his new FICTION title"....
Something like his little stunt, in an ideal world, a world where we don't bow to consumers and where the power of free media is diminished (you know, socialism... just kidding), might have ended with him being blacklisted forever. But because we are who we are, and James Frey is a name we recognize and people bought that book even as bookstores were moving it from the "memoir" shelf to the "fiction" shelf (I don't know, did that really happen?) and airports were selling it and everyone wanted a piece of James Frey (okay, I'm hyping it up, but you know what I mean). My point is, James Frey has written two more books since, and major publishing houses buy them. Because people know who he is and he will sell. At least, that's what it seems like to me.
Sometimes I wonder if the saying is true - any publicity is good publicity.
And wouldn't it be funny if it were all an elaborate pubicity stunt?
I'm considering changing all my "Reading" labels to "Author Stalking" because that somehow seems more appropriate. But then I'm afraid somebody's agent and/or publicist might find my posts (while searching for poop related google hits) and sue me for being crazy.
So, disclaimer: I am not crazy. I mean, I am, but not in this way. My craziness has more to do with my own inner psychosis, self-doubt, moodiness and emotional drama (otherwise known as super-PMS at all times), and an overly active imagination. But I swear, when it comes to authors, I am perfectly respectable and nice. Charming, even. If a little bit starstruck. But I mean no harm. I just like being around people with a gift for words. They make me happy. They make me feel like somewhere in this world, I might belong.
Finished AHWOSG this morning on my commute in.
I've given it some thought, and, okay, I think there are times when the breaking out of character works a little better than others. For instance, at the very end, when he's driving John home, and John's accusing him of using all these people in his book... I think that works because it makes Eggers as a writer a little more sympathetic, and it clearly shows his consciousness of what he is doing. I'm okay with that. But there are other moments where I feel like it's really not all that necessary, and then there's that Real World interview that I completely just don't like at all (or at least felt went on for much longer than necessary).
Having said that, I do appreciate many parts of the book, but mostly, of course, is his relationship with his brother. Those moments in the book are by far the most, real, honest, poignant parts, as I've mentioned before. And maybe it's because the age difference between him and Toph is about the same as me and my sister's (a couple years less for us), so I could identify, imagining what I might feel if I had to raise my little sister. I've actually thought about this before, because my mom has told me in the past that if anything were to happen to her and my dad, I'd have to raise her, and so of course I've thought about what that might entail and how I'd have to go about it, what kind of sacrifices I'd have to make, if I'd do a good job. Curious to me is why they let him, the youngest of the three older children, raise him, and not, say, Bill, who seems oddly removed from this whole situation, but hey, I'm sure they had their reasons...
Oh, wait, last thing I need to add - I really liked Eggers' crazy active imagination rants, mostly because it made me feel like, OMG WAIT! I'M NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO HAS CRAZY THOUGHTS LIKE THIS!! Seriously. He's so crazy, it made me feel normal. I mean come on, most people present themselves as perfectly well-adjusted, normal people. But Eggers showed his inner crazy. I appreciated that, because I am totally psychotic just like him. I have my crazy thoughts that spiral out of control, morbidity, fears, guilt, delusions of grandeur, all of which I try my very best to hide from everyone out of fear of rejection and exile..... Now I know it's not just me.
But yeah, I liked that. I liked seeing this boy raise another boy, trying to be an adult, having this guilt, trying to figure things out. I liked watching their relationship, watching Toph grow. The other stuff... didn't care so much about... Some of the stuff with the friends (like psycho John) and his exploits with his friends was somewhat interesting... but eh... at the end of the day, I always sorta wanted to get back to Toph, even if this was more about Dave than about Toph.
But all in all, it was good. Maybe not great. Maybe not a work of staggering genius. But reasonably entertaining. Even heartbreaking at times.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
I do terribly in trying to write outlines. I realize that I just have to go and vomit out the story in a first draft, even if its terrible. That way I know what I'm writing about and how it ends and how it gets to where it ends.
A novel might be an ambitious undertaking.
Also, even though I'm completely taken by these characters, the voice is so not me, that I'm not sure I would want it to be the first novel I write. You kind of want to be enamored with your language in addition to your characters, you know? But maybe I can pull off both.
But I kinda always wanted to write a beautiful lyrical novel, and yet right now I'm writing a novel from a 30-something year old male, first person POV taking place in the present. Hmm. Well, for now I guess I'll just spit out the plot first. We can deal with style and voice later.
[I'm thinking the problem is how much "guy" reading I'm doing recently as opposed to female stuff... although I always did intend for this story to be first person from this dude... bleh.]
I don't know. Decisions, decisions.
Anyways, on to Eggers - I really do like his writing when he STAYS IN CHARACTER, because it's funny and hilarious and shows how neurotic he is, and I love his rambly daydreams and his neverending guilt whenever he leaves Toph alone, and how it shows he's this kid himself trying to figure it all out, and how he's having growing pains of his own but growing pains watching his little brother grow up too. I mean, the narrative is awesome, the story is great, it's hysterical and off-the-wall, and I can truly, truly appreciate ALL of that. I just really wish it were a little bit more condensed, and I REALLY wish he would stop the breaking out of character thing. Not a fan. The rest of it is wonderful, it really is. It's best when he has these scenes with his brother, or these scenes when he's thinking about his brother and all the terrible things that might happen or how much he misses his brother because now he's having a social life and all that. The magazine stuff, eh, not as into, but it does help illustrate what life's like while he's gone from his brother. But again, feel like it could have been edited to make it a little tighter.
I have about 80 pages left, but I really wanted to say that while I still remembered. By the time I reach the end, I probably won't have much to say.
Um, I'm writing too much personal writing-related as opposed to book-related stuff lately. I really need to curb that.
Monday, September 17, 2007
It didn't take me that long to get to Borough Hall, surprisingly. I hopped on an A, and it took me 20 minutes from midtown, so I arrived EARLY to my pleasant surprise.
Early to Matt (de la Pena)'s reading, that is. He sat on a panel called "The Sporting Life" with two other children's writers - Phil Bildner and Sharon Robinson. I was kinda dorkily excited when they said she was Jackie Robinson's daughter. Because I have a clear memory of reading Bette Bao Lord's In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson in 5th grade, and we had all these discussions on it, and it kinda gelled because I'm Chinese and all and this book was about an immigrant Chinese girl (who moved the year Jackie Robinson was making headlines).
But I digress. The point is, the two of these other panelists also wrote sports books, though their books seemed to skew younger than Matt's (whose book is really like, high school level). Well, Mr. Bildner did his reading, and it was oh-so-theatrical that I bet he does GREAT kids readings with picture books and everything (totally the kind of reader I giggled over when I was like, seven, sitting on beanbag chairs). And Sharon Robinson was very sweet and earnest in her love for kids and sports. Matt read from part of his book, Ball Don't Lie, which describes the gym his main character, Sticky plays in. If you haven't read the book, Matt has a really great urban rhythm in his writing, and this part of the book is pure poetry. Hearing an author read their words is always interesting... in a way, you kind of get to hear how it sounds in their head. I love the poetics. The rhythm. Matt's got that going for his book, for his reading. It's truly a little urban masterpiece, down to the last word. And of course, hearing him reading it is pretty great. [His new book, Mexican WhiteBoy is slated to come out in 2008. Hooray for sophomore novels!]
Anyway, after, a few questions and answers, Sharon Robinson making big overarching statements like, "Well, I think we all..." which I sometimes wanted to contradict, but she's so sweet, you know she kinda doesn't realize what it means when she says that. We found out a couple of interesting things, like Sharon Robinson's brother lives in Zimbabwe and has TEN kids, Phil dresses up as an old baseball player when he visits kids, Matt got his start writing beautiful heartbreaking love letters to women, and oh-so-much-more. Not so many kids in the crowd, but it's interesting nonetheless, to see authors talk about their books. Even better when you know one of them....
Here is a bad picture of the three of them. Do you love the railing in my way? Do you love how small the picture is? I do. But believe me, up close, they are all stunningly beautiful with tiny pores and large smiles. (Whatever.)
Next, I went to find Moonrat at her booth. Once I did, she was sporting the Harper Perennial button (which I soon found EVERYONE was because they say "Olive You"!) and I desperately needed one for myself. However, we decided to go eat instead. She eats a salad, I eat some eggs, Space Alien has eggs too. We dine outside (it is unfortunately a tad chilly) with young guys playing jazz in the background. Yum yum yum.
So back to the fair it is. I almost immediately get in line to get tickets for the 3:00 readings (at 1:45, the line is already fairly long). I grab my ticket that ensures I get to see my beloved Danticat, and then I go to Bank Street to pick my little sister up some books.
I settle on three: Gail Carson Levine's Fairest, Libba Bray's Rebel Angels, and Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely. Yes, three fantasy books. But it was that or teen chicklit, and if you haven't figured out yet how I feel about chicklit, well shame on you. Anyway, my sister has specifically requested the Libba Bray and Gail Carson Levine signatures (nevermind that when she was seven, I found her a signed copy of GCL's The Fairy's Mistake at Bank Street and she's lost it), so I have to FIND these authors for them to write my sister's beautiful name alongside theirs. Of course, that's when I find out that Gail Carson Levine has ALREADY LEFT (doh!) and that Libba Bray and Melissa Marr won't be available until 3, which is, when I have to go to the reading.
Magically, Jamie appears (having gotten lost on her way to Brooklyn and having gone over the Brooklyn Bridge like 3 times back and forth), and after picking up lunch with her, she offers to get the books signed while I go to the reading. (She does, and the messages made out to my sister make no sense whatsoever, but I think it's exciting for a 13 year old to see her name written in a book by authors she knows... or a 25 year old. You know. Whatever.)
So then I go WAIT ON THE MASSIVE LINE that is for the "My Life" panel which Danticat is on. MASSIVE. I have a brief panic attack that THEY WON'T LET ME IN because some people on the line don't have tickets and they are ahead of me. "If I don't get in, I'll kill someone!" I declare. The lady in front of me tries to convince me that I should sneak behind the dude in the red shirt that is policing all of us and just go up. That's when I shrink back, reticent Asianness taking over. She rolls her eyes at me. "Suit yourself," she says.
Okay, we finally get in. I am sitting in the VERY VERY VERY front row because it's so packed, and this is not good because, well, the panelists are sitting at a JUDGES TABLE thing so I can barely see their heads. But whatever. It also means I'm that much closer to Edwidge. Hee hee. It's so packed that they start letting people sit in the JURY seats behind the authors. This is met with laughter, because Mike Farrell is the one to suggest this.
Anyway, it finally starts, after packing in as many people as possible, and Edwidge reads from her new memoir, Brother, I'm Dying. By the way, I bought this book an hour earlier (after the YA books) from Bookcourt, sort of through clenched teeth. Because the book is $24, and at Barnes I could probably get it for something like $18. But, I must have it so I can get it signed, along with my copy of Krik? Krak! that I've brought along just for this occasion.
Okay, so she goes, reads a little bit from it. She talks about how it's less of a me-moir, and more of an us-moir (chuckle, chuckle). About how her uncle dies and her dad is diagnosed with a disease and she finds out she's pregnant and this is all around the same time, and she's going through a lot. She says she doesn't think it's a rant on immigration, but some people think it's too much so and some people think it's not enough. Honestly, I'm sure it's beautiful, regardless. This is Danticat we're talking about. I love her love her love her, and that's the sort of obsessive weirdness that goes through my head while I'm listening to her speak. I like her voice, how low and smooth it is. It's exactly what you'd expect it to be, given her writing. I like when things like that happen.
So then Mike Farrell goes (he reads this long, very important, affecting sounding thing, except I'm focusing on trying to get a clear shot of them and I'm not really listening), this woman Katha Pollitt does to (I feel like I should know her but I don't). Some guy's Nextel phone goes off during her reading, like LOUD beeps and staticky hello? hello? garble garble garble? and he actually ANSWERS it! It goes on for a good minute or so before the guy FINALLY gets up an leaves. Asshole. Katha Pollitt was pretty funny, but I missed half of the punchline because I was too focused on this guy.
Questions/Answers - some guy asks Mike if his compassion extends towards animals cruelly being treated in labs and processed as our chicken nuggets (my words, not his), and he is going on this weird tirade where I almost wonder if he's one of those creepo PETA people but Mike answers, brilliantly, "I'm a vegetarian." Later, this guy comes up to Edwidge and she goes, "That was a very interesting question you asked..." and he asks her, "Are you a vegetarian too?" and she says, "Actually, I am... but I've been eating fish..." and I thought how nice of her.
Here's a picture of the panelists.. sort of. It's so bad because I was way too close. But again, I'm sure, if I could actually see their faces, they are really stunningly goodlooking people. [On a sidenote, Edwidge's brother was there, and he's a pretty goooodlooooking guy......]
I try to get my book signed right then and there, but eventually she is shuttled out, so I go stand on the line. I make friends in line. We discuss other writers, and I offer to take pictures for them. Then it's my turn, and of course I have to give her my spiel on writing and how much she has affected me and other things I can't talk about on this blog because it's too identifying, but anyway, she is very sweet, gives me suggestions on MFA programs, blah blah, and meanwhile, the girls I've met in line have taken pictures with my camera, one of me looking like a bashful, starstruck teen. [I wonder when I will ever get over my awkwardness in meeting authors I love...]
Oh, and in line, I saw Jonathan Safran Foer (who I missed that day in favor of Danticat) walk over to Edwidge and talk to her for an extended period of time. I wonder if author-to-author, he's a little more personable....
Hmm. After that, me and Jamie went over to say hi to Moonrat (who's booth was crazy) and then we went to sit in a final panel, called "Brooklyn's Own", showcasing authors representing a few of Brooklyn's literary journals, including Harp & Altar, A Public Space, Tin House, and a publisher, Archipelago Books. They were LATE... as in we were standing on line for a good 25 minutes before they finally let us in. I was pretty tired by then, so Shane Book's poems, while I'm sure very good, were kind of lost on me (and I'm not a huge huge poetry fan anyway). Elizabeth Strout, whose books I hear are pretty good, was not all that great of a reader, though her prose itself is pretty good. Michael Thomas was really interesting, actually. I loved his reading, this snippet of a memoir and having to do with getting Red Sox tickets and being an African-American Red Sox fan in New York, and his son crying over a loss.... funny, poignant, well-written... I'd actually definitely look into his stuff after hearing him. And then there was Joseph Coulson, whose reading was fantastic, but for this reason: I don't know if I'd read the content of his book because jazz and sailing (which is what his book is about) aren't really my thing. But oh boy, that guy can read. I wasn't even listening to the meaning of his words sometimes, more listening to their cadence. He does it very coffeeshop like, rhythmic, poetic, almost like we're listening to slam poetry. The way he breaks up his phrases, the way he moves his hands while he's reading, the places where he takes his breath, the way his voice lilts. I could care less about sailing and all of that, but listening to him read is awesome. Maybe he should do his book on tape. I would seriously consider buying. It's like he had it well rehearsed, well-practiced, like he'd heard it a million times in his head and said it a million times outloud. Really quite nice. My only problem with these guys is that they definitely read for way longer than my attention span allows at 5:45 pm on a long Sunday.
But anyway. After that, Jamie and I parted ways, I found Moonrat, and we, of course, went to eat.
Have I mentioned that I love Brooklyn, and that everytime I go there, I wish I lived there?
And that was my very long, not-actually-all-that-eventful day at the BBF.
Oh, on a final note, can we please give me a round of applause (pat on the back, whatever, I'm not picky) on the fact that while I bought 4 books, only one was for myself?
They sing songs about Harry Potter. They are called Harry and the Potters.
How wonderfully geeky.
I'm about a little more than halfway through AHWOFSG and I'm not sure what to make of it. Maybe it's because of all the hype, but I'm a tad disappointed. I'll have to agree with Vivian and Moonrat that the first third of the book, where he's recounting his life with Toph right after the parents die and they move, that part's the best part. But soon after, he kind descends into this self-indulgent exploration of self that I'm not too into. Moonie and I were discussing about how the book probably could have benefited greatly from some heavyhanded editing. Some sections are way too long, and again, self-indulgent. It's not that I'm totally against the whole self-consciousness of the book (though the first time it happened, I was like, wha??), but I'm not really a fan of gimmick for the sake of gimmick. I like Eggers' runaway imagination that happens within the thread of the narrative, and I think that's okay. But to breakaway completely from within the story and take it out... hmm... I don't know. I mean, it's his memoir and he can do what he wants I suppose, but most compelling were the first few chapters. Now, while it's interesting to hear him psychoanalyze himself, it reads a little too much like someone's therapy session. I don't doubt that Eggers is a great writer - but I really do wonder about these choices, because I feel like if I had submitted a manuscript like this to someone now, they'd be like, uh? What? What are you doing?
Anyway, I'm still interested in the thread of the story of course, but really, the self-indulgence needs to go.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
9:07 am-1:27 pm - Have an exciting dream involving a guy (friend? relative? acquaintance?) gone comic-villain bad who can transform iron filings into liquid and recreate into angry shards of knives, killing hundreds in a grotesque rampage.
1:30 pm - Wake up and think 1) Wow, what an exciting dream. Maybe I should write a short story about it 2) I realllly need to pee
1:45 pm - Sit in front of computer and realize how incredibly late in the day it is. Moan.
2:00 pm - Chat online with friend in San Francisco who has business school personal essays due in two weeks. Mutually agree to procrastinate.
2:15 pm - Make pasta. Eat it.
2:30 pm - Chat some more. Mention that you plan to get a lot of work done today. Just as soon as you take a shower. Complain about work.
2:45 pm - Decide you must finish the chapter you were reading of AHWOSG last night before you fell asleep. Finish chapter. Ponder over whether or not you think Dave Eggers would be your friend in real life. Wikipedia him. Feel sad for poor Beth. Wonder how maladjusted Toph is. Think about the reason why you could never write a memoir.
3:15 pm - Read ESPN.com. Check your fantasy team. Drop your crappy defense in favor of Cincy defense.
3:23 pm - Throw yourself on the couch and lament over how much you have to do.
3:25 pm - Take a shower.
3:45 pm - Get dressed.
4:00 pm - Walk to bus stop.
4:20 pm - Get on bus. Read, bopping head to cool Mexican pop blaring from the radio. Get overwhelmed by a sudden desire for fish tacos.
4:55 pm - Arrive at dentist.
5:00 pm-5:35 pm - Get teeth squeaky clean. Get berated by dentist for not flossing. Find out you have 3 cavities and have to come back for two more visits. Get berated for not using mouthguard because your back molars look like the Dakota plains. Get asked by dentist why you are single. Hate dentist briefly. Get told by dentist that you've lost weight. Love dentist.
5:45 pm - Get on bus.
6:15 pm - Buy a slice of pizza because bad food seems to be all you want to eat these days. And because you've convinced yourself you deserve it. Because you've been working so hard and all.
6:25 pm - Come back home. Throw yourself on bed and roll around, moaning.
6:30 pm - Turn on laptop.
6:32 pm - Grab GRE book and read section entitled, "Analysis of the Issue Essay". Skim it without doing the exercises because you think you know this already. Scoff internally about how you're a writer and you don't need to be told that words like "moreover" and "additionally" make a paragraph sound more professional. Laugh at the section that tells you writing also includes rhythm and use of alternating long and short sentences.
6:40 pm - Throw GRE book across room. Bury head into a pillow.
6:45 pm - Decide to do a practice GRE on PowerPrep.
6:47 pm - Get mad at PowerPrep for being Vista incompatible.
6:50 pm - Install PowerPrep on desktop. Decide against doing an entire test.
6:55 pm - Do 12 antonym questions. Realize your vocab is too low. Panic. Close out of section to avoid feeling any stupider. Briefly toy with idea of studying your flash cards. Dismiss idea.
7:05 pm - Do 20 quant analysis problems. Get pleased with yourself for getting only 3 wrong. Realize that the 20 took you 30 minutes. Wail loudly.
7:40 pm - Think about starting personal statement. Check email (blog feed, fantasy stats, facebook).
7:55 pm - Bow head over notebook and sob silently.
8:00 pm - Decide to write blog entry.
8:15 pm - Eat a can of mandarin oranges.
The rest of the next 12 hours will look something like this:
8:30 pm - Try to make self as presentable as possible.
9:00 pm - Leave apartment to cross the river, then crosstown, then uptown, to Spanish Harlem (now dubbed SpaHa).
10:30 pm - (because it will really take that long) Schmooze at the apartment of a girl you've only met twice and where you know nobody else.
11:30 pm - Escape (hopefully drunkenly) back to midtown. Meet up with Moonie and Melanie for karaoke debauchery (again, hopefully). Sing all the usuals, including songs from Rent, Disney cartoon favorites, bad 80's, electronic renditions of Asian pop songs, Reflections, boy bands, and a few you've always secretly wanted to try but need to "test out" first.
2:00 am - (or something like it) Stumble home with raw vocal chords after whispering goodbye to your friends.
3:00 am - Arrive home. Try to avoid conversation with doorman. Sleep.
9:00 am - Try to wake up so you can make Matt's 11 am reading at BBF. (because it takes that long to get to Brooklyn)
Total amount of actual work done:
20 quant comp questions
12 verbal antonym questions
Skim-through of one GRE book chapter
30 pages of Dave Eggers' book
1 fantasy football drop/add
1 blog entry
It's okay. Tomorrow... erm... Monday? Will be better.
But I don't care. I want some time to read, and for once, not on a commute to avoid being interrupted by things like, oh, work and life and things like that. So I'm going to stay up even later, and read until I can't open my eyes anymore (which may actually be a very short time as I am very very very tired).
I have to say, reading Eggers for me is very interesting. It's interesting for me to note how he manages to pull off this character (or self-portrayal, really) who is so... imaginative and dreamy, in a certain way (all his day dreams! the ridiculousness of it!), and yet so obnoxious in so many other ways. I love how he takes this heavy HEAVY situation, and somehow filters the tone of the guy so that while he's aware of his situation and not devoid of emotion, he's not like weeping in melodrama either. In fact, it shows this weird sense of protection, self-defense, etc etc. It's a good strategy for something so enormous. I mean this could easily be this big tearjerker, but he gives a fresh voice that makes it funny and bearable to read.... I guess that's who he is, and his "gimmick" of sorts. But I like.
Okay, off to bed with my book.
Friday, September 14, 2007
I'm obviously reaching a nighttime lull. You know, the kind of depression that creeps out from the corners late at night because you should be in bed and dreaming, but instead it's quiet and eerie and darkish and you hear nothing but the slight smattering of your blinds as a car rumbles by....... And that's when you feel all alone and bad about everything you've ever done or tried to do.
Okay, things aren't as bad as all that. I'm being melodramatic. I'm just tired. And stressed.
I didn't get any reading in today either.
I don't know what this has to do with anything. I feel a little like I dropped the ball. But it's 1:30 am and I wanted to pretend someone was out there, I guess.
But so that this isn't a completely book-devoid entry, I'll leave you with what might be an answer to a certain question. This thought that's been floating in my mind since I started thinking personal statements and why and what and how.
Four years ago (maybe almost 5), on a night similar to this, I was up doing reading for one of my college classes. Of course it wasn't 1:30 am, it was probably more like 5:30 am because this is what I did - I stayed up all night and slept by day, and went to my afternoon classes.
Anyway, one of my literature classes - one of the few I took during my time at school - assigned a slew of short stories and handouts that week. Included in the assignment was Edwidge Danticat's "Children of the Sea". I've mentioned this story. I know. But the way it ends is heartbreakingly beautiful, and although out of context, this means nothing, it remained one of my favorite quotes for many years, something I've used in AIM away messages, Facebook profiles, something that's written on a digital sticky pasted to my desktop wallpaper on my laptop, something I can pretty much recite by heart:
From here, I cannot even see the sea. Behind these mountains are more mountains and more black butterflies still and a sea that is endless like my love for you.
--["Children of the Sea", Krik? Krak!, Edwidge Danticat]
It was after closing these pages, smoothing my hands over the glossy cover and letting her words soak through my system, that I realized something really really important about fiction. About prose. About words. The power they hold. To touch us, to change us. To point out our humanity. To remind us of our humanity. I had always loved to write, but I think it was the first time it truly, truly hit home for me what was special in it's art. It wasn't just the recreation of fanciful tales. Not for me anyway. And in that moment, something became very clear to me, and I wrote the following blog entry (elsewhere than here, obviously) - excuse the melodrama and triteness, but it was five years ago:
I realized today, early in the morning, that I, above all things, want to be able to touch people with my words.
I want to be able to make people feel alive, be able to make them feel beauty and sorrow and all that humanity and the world encompasses. I want simple words to somehow strike a chord that has no words, I want trivial sentences to uplift and quiet, I want to capture what is not visible, I want to infuse people's hearts with love and joy and sorrow and bittersweet... I want to remind people of the beauty that cannot be seen and only felt, to leave something behind that lingers in their minds and hearts, to let them feel what they've never felt or have forgotten.
I think everyone in this world wants to touch others somehow... and for me, I've just realized, I want to do it through my words.
Why do I want to be a writer? It has everything to do with that moment after I finished Danticat's piece, this feeling I just could not capture in words but realized that more than anything, I desperately wanted to.