Friday, November 20, 2009

Sometimes quirky isn't enough.

I recently read Aimee Bender's An Invisible Sign of My Own.  I'd never read any of her short stories, but since I'm more of a novel person anyway, I decided to pick up her novel when I saw it on sale at The Strand.  I've heard her stories are very strange in their content, the things that happen, and so I was interested to see how this voice translates into a novel.

From the very beginning, I could tell that this was going to be a very quirky novel.  The character is strange in the way she is, and the rest of the novel is infused with that strangeness.  I like it, because it's strange and fresh and interesting, and I found myself curious about the protag and what she was up to, because anything could go.  Ultimately, I enjoyed the novel, especially the way it ended.  However, after reading a couple of her short stories, I think she was more successful in sustaining the voice in her short stories than in the novel.  The primary problem that I see is that the detachment we feel for a character in a short story due to the weirdness is hard to translate over in a novel.  You can get away with not caring for a character in a story, but in a novel it's much more difficult.  It's not that I disliked Mona, but I found it hard to get into her head and completely empathize with her, which sometimes meant that I wasn't as compelled to keep reading.  I also wanted to get to know the science teacher more, and the kids sometimes felt bratty to me, which made me resent Mona for not being more in control (and for doing something crazy like have an ax in her classroom).  I think these are all elements I'd have been okay with in a short story, but in a novel, I needed for some internal working order that wasn't completely clear to me.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed it, and it was a fast read.  It was definitely different, which made it fun to examine and look at, and some of the ideas inside are so off the wall, that I appreciated them.  I also love how it comes full circle, with the beginning story being retold at the end in a different fashion.  That to me was a bit of brilliance on Bender's part.  Her prose is also really fresh and fun, which makes the read a good read.  She is supposedly working on a new novel, so it will be interesting to see if some of these issues are resolved a bit.

Yes, you won me back.

I'm a terrible friend.  I read my good friend Matt's book awhile back and have just been so busy that I haven't had time to blog about it.  And now we are, a good month or so later, and all my initial thoughts have flown out of my head.

Matt likes to joke that I hated his last book, Mexican WhiteBoy, which isn't true.  I didn't hate it.  It just felt younger to me and I didn't like it nearly as much as I liked his first book, Ball Don't Lie.  And I really really liked BDL because it had so much heart.  There were a few technical craft things here and there, but I could overlook all those issues because Sticky was such a wonderful character that lived for me.  Anyway, so Matt always joked that he was going to win me back with We Were Here, which is ridiculous since, well, it's not like he ever lost me

Anyway, I thought We Were Here was awesome.  Technically, it was well-crafted, well-plotted out.  It had movement and was making some clear choices, and I liked that.  I loved Rondell (with two L's) who was hilarious but lovable.  I liked the journal format.  The fact that we didn't find out what happened to Miguel til the end (although I sorta figured it out).  And Mong was SUPER interesting.  He was such a creepy sad guy, and I actually really wish we had stayed with him for a little longer.  He was so intriguing, I wanted to dig even deeper and follow him a little more.  But alas. 

As always, Matt has such a great ear for language.  It's edgy and urban yet lyrical and poetic at the same time, so that the prose never feels "young" even though the book is a YA book.  It's still sophisticated.

One of my favorite parts is right here:

And I just realized something.  Mong left some shit out when he said only trivial things don't matter.  It's so much more than that, yo.  Nothing matters.  Not when you break it all down like I been doing in my head all tonight.  Trust me.  Nothing.  Not me.  Not you.  Not the guy in the liquor store with the bat.  Not the Bible.  Not the pretty girls.  Not being the watcher-over of this park.  Not The Catcher in the Rye.  Not this damn book I'm writing.

Nothing, man.

It's all meaningless.

Everybody.

Is.

Nobody.
--[pg.284, We Were Here]

Good job, Matt!  Yay!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Before the Terror

Just finished God of Small Things.  Wow.  How heartbreaking.

The style of Roy's prose took me a little bit to get into.  It's lush and lyrical, but the narrator is an interesting choice.  It's a 3rd person variable POV, sort of omniscient, but not.  In the sense that the narrator is present, like has a voice of his/her own, opinions, asks rhetorical questions, etc.  A third person unnamed narrator who somehow knows everything.  Reminds me of like, the voiceover people on, say, Desperate Housewives, if you know what I mean.  But once I got used to the unconventional prose of the book, I really began to get into it.

Another thing that interested me was how she used flashback.  I deal heavily with flashbacks in my own writing, so it was interesting how she wove the past and the present, moving around it with a fluidity but not in a specific pattern.  It wasn't sequential, and things openly referred to other events we hadn't yet encountered.  So going into it, you get a sense of what has happened, but not completely.  It's a bit confusing, but you go along with it, trusting she'll reveal what happened along the way.  In fact, it's the knowing that something terrible has happened that propels you forward.  And even once you know what's coming, the prose pushes you along.  Plus, it's a little like watching a trainwreck.  Horrifying, but you can't stop hurtling towards it.

I squirmed as the aunt showed herself to be a bitch and a half.  I hated her with a fury.  But what surprised me were the sudden tears that sprang to my eyes as I hit the part where we finally see in scene Estha pulling away in the train station.  It completely broke me apart.  I knew this was coming, so why did it effect me so?  I'm not sure.  Maybe because I finally had the full picture of what had happened, what childish guilt and misunderstanding had taken place, what kind of grief they were all holding in their hearts as they left each other.  Or maybe it was just being in scene.

The last chapter, beautiful.  I didn't expect it to end on this note, a flashback of one of the rare moments of happiness and joy and positive beauty in the book.  So much of the book is focused on the fallout of terror and unkindness, negative things.  But here is love, and it is fleeting and we know it's only a moment - thirteen days to be exact - but it is beautiful and perhaps makes it feel like it's worth it, for a second.  It's captured like a rare butterfly.  So I like that she chooses to end on it.  Unconventional, but ultimately, the perfect place to end.  Grief and all those other things are not easily remedied or resolved.  They don't go away.  But this fleeting moment of joy somehow feels like an adequate ending for a story that has no easy ending.

The idea of the different shaped holes in the Universe - a thought I've thought of people sometimes but never articulated.  Wonderful.

And also:

That first night, on the day that Sophie Mol came, Velutha watched his lover dress.  When she was ready she squatted facing him.  She touched him lightly with her fingers and left a trail of goosebumps on his skin.  Like flat chalk on a blackboard.  Like breeze in a paddyfield.  Like jet-streaks in a blue church sky.  He took her face in his hands and drew it towards his.  He closed his eyes and smelled her skin.  Ammu laughed.

Yes, Margaret, she thought.  We do it to each other too.

She kissed his closed eyes and stood up.  Velutha with his back against the mangosteen tree watched her walk away.

She had a dry rose in her hair.

She turned to say it once again: "Naaley."

Tomorrow.
--[pg. 321, God of Small Things]

One of the most perfect endings, ever.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ouch.

From God of Small Things (which I'm racing to get through in time for my class on Tuesday):

"D'you know what happens when you hurt people?" Ammu said.  "When you hurt people, they begin to love you less.  That's what careless words do.  They make people love you a little less."
--[pg. 107, God of Small Things]

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The sad priest

I finished The Power and the Glory today and loved it.  Going into this book, I wasn't sure what to expect.  I've never read any Greene before, and from just the back cover, I wasn't entirely sure if this was "my type" of book.  But of course, I try to read everything and anything, and so I went into this with an open mind, especially given that I was told to read it for a class, with an eye towards structure and the third person POV. 

Well, I loved it.

The priest was such a sad, sympathetic character to me.  So flawed in so many ways, but ultimately a redemptive person because he is so flawed.  The fact that he is torn up about his sins because he can't be absolved of them -- and the reason that he can't is because he loves the outcome of his mortal sin, his daughter - how can one not sympathize with that?  The way he brings down the difference of the love he should feel for all people vs. the real love he feels for his daughter.  He is so human, so nuanced, so complex in his guilt, in his pride, in the way he is trying to live with the way he has sinned.  There are so many questions that are raised, subtly, thoughout the book, and it's not one that is easily ponderable.  I'm amazed by Greene's ability to infuse this book with so much that is religious, existential, etc, without ever truly preaching.  His characters are not flat stereotypes, but are real people.  And like real people, there is no easy way to determine good or bad; instead there exist so many shades of gray.  Everyone does things that are not admirable, and yet at the end, it is hard to condemn anyone for what they have done.  Even the lieutenant, you get the feeling he's not a bad man, but is simply a man with a different take on what is good and right.

I had whole pages of this book tabbed for inclusion, but ultimately, I think it's futile to copy them all down.  It's hard to encompass the philosophical and moral questions that are raised without reading the whole thing I think.  But I'll put down these:

One mustn't have human affections - or rather one must love every soul as if it were one's own child.  The passion to protect must extend itself over a world - but he felt it tethered and aching like a hobbled animal to the tree trunk.
--[pg. 82-83, The Power and the Glory]

He wanted to say to this man, "Love is not wrong, but love should be happy and open - it is only wrong when it is secret, unhappy... It can be more unhappy than anything but the loss of God.  It is the loss of God.  You don't need a penance, my child, you have suffered quite enough," and to the other, "Lust is not the worst thing.  It is because any day, any time, lust may turn into love that we have to avoid it.  And when we love our sin then we are damned indeed."
-- [pg. 172, The Power and the Glory]

It ought to be possible for a man to be happy here, if he were not so tied to fear and suffering - unhappiness too can become a habit like piety.  Perhaps it was his duty to break it, his duty to discover peace.  He felt an immense envy of all those people who had confessed to him and had been absolved.  In six days, he told himself, in Las Casas, I too... But he couldn't believe that anyone anywhere would rid him of his heavy heart.  Even when he drank he felt bound to his sin by love.  It was easier to get rid of hate.
-- [pg. 173, The Power and the Glory]
The ending was inevitable, but so heartbreaking. 

That's all I want to say.  Read it.  You will not be disappointed.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A little moment of tragedy

Reading a bit of The Power and the Glory before I head to sleep (yes, it is 5 am).  I'm not very far into it, but I was trying to finish up Chapter 4 before I went to bed.  This last scene before the next chapter came out of left field for me, in the sense that I hadn't expected it to affect me, but it completely did.  The priest, who is running away from execution/persecution, comes across a very poor village, a community of huts and people who have nothing but the clothes on their backs.  The poor priest is incredibly tired, and wants to sleep, but these people haven't seen a priest in 5 years given the outlawing of the Church, and want to say their confessions.  The old man who has offered the priest a place to stay keeps talking to the priest about saying Mass and hearing out confessions, despite the fact that the priest is weary and on the run and hungry and exhausted.  Finally, the priest sits up, and angrily agrees to hear out confession.  When the old man is done, he asks if he can get the women too:

"Oh, let them come.  Let them all come," the priest cried angrily.  "I am your servant."  He put his hand over his eyes and began to weep.  The old man opened the door: it was not completely dark under the enormous arc of starry ill-lit sky.  He went across to the women's huts and knocked.  "Come," he said.  "You must say your confessions.  It is only polite to the father."  They wailed at him that they were tired... the morning would do.  "Would you insult him?" he said.  "What do you think he has come here for?  He is a very holy father.  There he is in my hut now weeping for our sins."  He hustled them out; one by one they picked their way across the clearing towards the hut, and the old man set off down the path towards the river to take the place of the boy who watched the ford for soldiers.
--[pg. 45, The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene]

I completely did not see this quiet moment of tragedy coming.  It is so sad, this poor priest who is bone-tired, bitter at his lot, and yet still rises to do his duties; this community of people so desperate to see a priest.  All these tired tired people, crashing into each other, despairing, and trying to hold on to something... The moment is so nuanced yet complex, and it leaves me wondering how I can ever create something like that in my own writing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Reread: Remains of the Day is even more awesome than I remember it being

Quick thoughts:

I re-read Remains of the Day for class this week.  Long time followers will remember I read this book about two years ago, shortly after I started this blog.  At the time I really enjoyed it, but I don't think my taste was nearly as "sophisticated" as it is now, which is weird, because it was only a few years ago.  But in the sense that I remember thinking back then that I was bored at parts, and I didn't really care about politics or butlering or any of that other stuff.  I think I was reading it for plot at the time, and therefore felt it moved slow sometimes.  And as much as I did appreciate that it had literary value, I don't think I got it as fully as I do now.  Strangely enough, this time I read through it, it was such a fast read and completely compelling from beginning to end.  I couldn't put it down, even though I'd read it before.  It was like I was reading it for the first time!  I read it really carefully this time, but it didn't even feel like it was at all slow.  Everything was so interesting to me, from the way it was crafted, to his unreliable narrator (and maybe it made a difference that I knew this time that he was unreliable?), to the way he shifted in memory, and just seeing the little hints Ishiguro placed about his unreliability.

I find it really strange, but I guess I've actually become a BETTER READER in two years' time?  But I loved the book more than I did the first time around.  Maybe because I can appreciate it from a writers' perspective, but maybe also because I've matured as a reader.  In any case, I just thought it was worth noting that I have new found appreciation, and in fact, was fairly blown away by this second read.

Author Stalking: Nicole Krauss and Michael Chabon

Last week, I happened to be able to catch two authors I admire very much give craft talks: Nicole Krauss and Michael Chabon.

Nicole Krauss
I went to hear Nicole Krauss first, at the New School.  She read a bit from both History of Love and her current work in progress.  Anyone who has been following this blog long enough (or knows me personally) knows that I've had this fascination with Nicole (and secretly want the authorial power marriage she and JSF share).  The first and only other time I've heard her read, I was so nervous, she had to hold out her hand and touch my arm, telling me it was okay.  It has something to do with the fact that when I read History of Love, I felt like it was the book I wanted to write.  It had the essence of something that felt very... me, for lack of a better word.  In any case, when I heard her at New School, this feeling was only further reaffirmed. 

Nicole has this aura about her, that I can't adequately explain.  She's obviously a very internal person.  She speaks in such a soothing tone, I can't imagine she has trouble getting her kids into bed at night.  She uses the word "perhaps" instead of "maybe" and she's very thoughtful and measured when she speaks.  There's something incredibly calm and affirmed about her, and she's clearly a very intelligent person.  She talks neither too slowly or too fast.  I don't know.  Maybe it's also a measure of grace. 

But what really struck me were the things she was saying when she was speaking about the craft.  She said that she never really came up with a plan, that what she was going for, more than anything, was a mood.  I think this really resonated with me, because that's generally how I like to write too.  I like to capture a mood, and that's probably why I do my best writing at night, or when I'm feeling something in particular.  She said she'd rifle through books, looking for things that could help her attain or keep the mood she was looking for, and I completely understood that as well.  I've read certain short stories or passages of books (including hers) to put me in the right mindset before I write.  I also liked how she talked about the fact that sometimes, she would just put things in and write about it, without really know why or what it meant, and then later it would work, in fact it would mean everything.  Some writers are measured and planned, but she completely opens herself to surprises.  I love that about her, because I feel like that's why her book felt so authentic to me. 

It was a short hour, but it left me really trusting in her, because from everything she was saying, her process is very similar to mine, or at least the way we are as writers.  I've tried to become more structured over time, because I think it might help, but her instinct, and the things she says she does, it totally resonated with me.  And left me wanting to be her best friend, because I feel like somehow, she might really understand me.  Maybe that's weird, and presumptuous, but I really really appreciated everything she said, not just as a different point of view, but because I felt she was speaking to and about me.  Weird.

Michael Chabon
I had never heard Michael Chabon prior to this, though because Moonrat is a fangirl, I knew I was in for something fantastic.  I've enjoyed the two books of his that I've read, and I know he is a masterful wordsmith.
In any case, I went up to Columbia University to hear him speak.  He read an essay about Edgar Allen Poe, a long piece that came in 5 parts and took him about 80 minutes to read.  But to his credit, despite the fact that it was long, I was never bored.  And that's a hard feat, especially when it's non-fic.  He was so interesting, so funny, so witty, and his words, as always, left me in awe.  In fact, I just sat there, wondering to myself how one person could come up with such interesting, fresh phrases, how he could use these words to so much advantage.  It was seriously breathtaking.  The essay was about Poe, and so he read some of Poe's poetry, and it was actually interesting, because you could see that he was influenced by Poe too.

To be honest, Michael Chabon was so impressive in person (helped greatly along by his scruffy good looks, gravelly voice, and entertaining reading skills), that I fell in love a little bit.  Ha!  But really, I thought to myself how much more I appreciated his writing, having heard him in person.  He is so incredibly thoughtful, intelligent and witty, and I still can't get over his amazing ability with words.  That was obvious in reading his writing, but I think it struck me even more when he was reading them outloud to us.

In the Q&A that followed, I think he had some interesting things to say about researching books and how it excites him, as well as how one knows when to abandon a book.  Strange to be able to see a man like that talk about the fact that he had one failed book.  You think of your heroes as invincible, I guess, and someone like him as being able to churn out gold every single time, not as someone who struggles hard the way we do too.

Afterwards, I was sorry I hadn't brought my book to be signed.  I would have liked to have shaken hands with him and told him in person how incredibly in awe of him I am.  I'm sure he hears it all the time, but one can never be praised too much, right?  Not in this thankless job, anyway...


Two great author events that make me SO GLAD to be back in the city... :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Book launch!

I have some posts forthcoming about my recent stalking of Nicole Krauss and Michael Chabon.  But in the meanwhile, I wanted to just take a moment to announce that my good friend and YA author Matt de la Pena's third book We Were Here has hit bookstores today.  I haven't read it yet, but it's his pride and joy, and has gotten some awesome reviews.  It's about a boy who breaks out of a home with several friends, in a journey of self-discovery.  Matt's writing tends to be urban and edgy, while still lyrical and poetic, and is a great option for boys in a YA category littered with "girl" books about vampire romances and high school drama.  Matt keeps it real, and I'm sure this book does too.  Buy it!!!!!!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Geniusness.

Long-time followers of my blog should know by now that I love Edwidge Danticat. Her work is lyrical, powerful, original and it says something. Well. Now she's also apparently a genius. She's won a MacArthur grant genius award. Good for her!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Quiet beauty

Wow, I couldn't put it down once I got past that middle section. I flew through the rest of the stories, and while none of them alone hit me the way that "Winter Concert" one did, the book as a whole was heartbreaking and beautiful, an amazing meditation on love and aging and forgiveness and life. I think as a young person reading this, I was taken to a place of understanding, of compassion, like a world that I have yet to encounter, a life I have yet to live, was revealed to me -- I can't imagine what it might be like to be an older person reading this. Strout has done an outstanding job of painting a complete picture of a town and a family in episodic form. My heart breaks for Henry, and even for Olive, who is fatally flawed in so many ways, but trying the best she can to do what she thinks is right.

The book explores so many themes, but ultimately, I think the lesson can be summed up by this section which comes on the last page of the book:

What young people didn't know, she thought, lying down beside this man, his hand on her shoulder, her arm; oh, what young people did not know. They did not know that lumpy, aged, and wrinkled bodies were as needy as their own young, firm ones, that love was not to be tossed away carelessly, as if it were a tart on a platter with others that got passed around again. No, if love was available, one chose it, or didn't choose it. And if her platter had been full with the goodness of Henry and she had found it burdensome, had flicked it off crumbs at a time, it was because she had not known what one should know: that day after day was unconsciously squandered.
--[Olive Kitteridge, pg. 270]


It's hard for me to put into words the way this book moved me, but it did. I guess that's the only thing I can really say about it. It moved me.

Well-deserving of the Pulitzer Prize, and the best book I've read all year.

A history revealed

I'm about halfway through Olive Kitteridge and I love it. The stories are all so quietly moving, illustrating these relationships and small currents of change that run through them. I wanted to write here though, because I just finished "Winter Concert", which is by far my favorite so far.

The picture of an elderly couple is painted with such care and tenderness. A lifetime together has made the two of them comfortable in their place with each other, augmented by the awareness of their mortality. It's a sweet picture, but what makes the story so remarkable is how a blip can come at them in the midst of all this, tilting this world that they've fought to have a little bit on its axis, reminding us that this kind of place doesn't exist without hardwork and years of trials. It's a won effort. And even though it isn't easily dismantled, nonetheless, it doesn't make them immune to hurt. An entire history of a time when their relationship wasn't so easy and wasn't so perfect and beautiful is encapsulated in this moment, this revealed past. Names aren't named, but we get a sense of what must have been a rough period in their lives together, something they've had to get through to be where they are now. The anguish it must have caused them at the time. There is nothing as poignant as the moment where he says, "Oh, Janie... I've made you so sad." (pg. 138). It is a line that is so full of sorrow in a world that has been so beautiful and perfect up until now, and you get the sense that he has tried so hard to make her happy to atone for past mistakes, to love her, and that this moment where he has disappointed her is a regret he can't abide by.

I loved this story. Truly, truly loved it. It made my heart ache from it's beauty. Loving the rest of the book too, but this was my favorite thus far.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Busyness makes one want brain candy

I've been busy for the past few weeks with settling into school. I'm at a new program that fulfills everything I've wanted in an MFA - intellectually, creatively, socially, supportively. However, with that has come a lot of work and a lot of stuff to think about in terms of my writing. Because of this, since I last devoured Jacqueline Carey's silly fantasy novel, I haven't bothered to pick up something new. Mostly because I'm slammed with work and don't want to start something that will suck me in when I should be doing homework (although in its place, I spend amazing amounts of time on facebook, hulu, useless blogs and managing my fantasy team), and also because I can't decide if I want something that will be brainless and fun to counter the literature I'm going to have to read, or if I want to read something that might help my writing, which sorta makes me feel like I'm always doing homework in a weird way. I came to this program to be immersed in the art of writing 90% of the time -- so is it ironic that part of me wants my pleasure reading to simply be pleasure? And by that, I mean, reading stuff that won't have me constantly be thinking about how I can integrate this into my own writing. But then again, I'm guessing there's nothing I'd read where I could turn that part of my brain off. Even if I decided to pick up The Lost Symbol, I'd be looking at how Dan Brown is so effective at creating cliffhangers (and thus an entire civilization willing to turn the page to his next two paragraph chapter).

I digress. Ultimately, thanks to a suggestion by Moonie, I've picked up Olive Kitteridge. I'm not sure if this is supposed to fall under linked stories, short stories or a novel, but I have high hopes for the Pulitzer winner.

So off I go to read one story before I sleep for tonight.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

More from the author of Time Traveler's Wife

Audrey Niffenegger's new book, Her Fearful Symmetry, is coming out at the end of this month. Apparently it's about twins (which is what my novel is about! haha). Here's a video interview:



I'm looking forward to reading it! I so loved her first book...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Movie: Time Traveler's Wife

Oh, I totally forgot --

With great anticipation, I saw Time Traveler's Wife at the theater. I know I was going to be let down, but I couldn't help but be excited. In fact, I reread the book before seeing it (actually only got through half of the book before seeing it, finished the other half later). I hadn't read the book in about six years or something, so it was exciting.

They changed some of it (obviously) and couldn't spend as much time developing their relationship in the past, which was a shame. My friend who hadn't read the book said the development was poor, and so it was hard to tell what they saw in each other. I thought the first half was kinda weird just because it was impossible for him to say, "I'm from the future" without it sounding ridiculous. But once we got over the establishment hump, it was much better. I love Rachel McAdams anyway. And although the changed the ending (and I loved the original ending), I thought their take was also effective and still made me cry.

Of course, they left out so many elements that made the book fuller, but the core elements of the relationship over time and being affected by his travel was still there. I think maybe as a lover of the book, it fulfilled my dreams of seeing it on screen, but it's hard for me to see what people who hadn't read the book thought.

That's all folks!

Another slew of recaps

I've been off internet for all of the month of August, which is when I did a sh!tload of reading. Now I've started up school again, which leaves me little room for pleasure reading (already I'm swamped with work). But I figured that since I'm handicapped in my ability to catch up to food posts, I should at least catch up with my book posts. So here we go:

1. Oryx and Crake. Moonrat had mentioned to me that she had hated this book, so I wasn't sure what to think going in. Then again, she hates dystopic fiction whereas I love it. In any case, I enjoyed this book. Didn't completely love it the way I did Blind Assassin, but I found myself intrigued by the predicament and trying to figure out what had happened that led up to the present situation. As with any dystopic fiction, and especially Atwood's, there's a lot to ponder in terms of the direction of our modern society, and what we're heading towards. The need for things to be more and more artificial because we want to live longer, stay more beautiful, have more things that are modified genetically to meet our desires. It's a scary place she paints, but even scarier is the idea that somebody might someday believe that we as a race are too flawed that we deserve to be completely wiped out of existence. The ending leaves you hanging, similar to the ending to Handmaid's Tale, where you hope that the better possibility occurred but you can never be sure. I enjoyed the book, though I suppose there's little room for an emotional investment into the characters.

2. Love, Rosie. A Cecelia Ahern book. Okay, yes, I know this is total fluff reading, and that she's a poor writer, and that in a way I've in some ways pretty much just picked up a chicklit novel by reading this on my sister's recommendation. But I won't apologize for liking it! The whole thing is done in notes and emails and im convos and letters. And it's a bit silly and kind of cute, and it's totally My Best Friend's Wedding meets You've Got Mail with some Serendipity thrown in. But I enjoyed it. And I thought the use of no traditional narrative (until the end, which I'll get to) worked well enough for what it was. Did it more believably than other books I've read that have tried to employ a similar device. I flew through it, felt thoroughly frustrated where I was meant to, and got happy at the end when I was meant to. It's predictable, but felt like reading a romantic comedy, and therefore I liked it. My only bone to pick was the epilogue,which suddenly got a little overly wrought in its cheese, and besides, it broke out of its device and started using regular narrative which I felt was a copout and in poor choice. There could have been a better way to show they got together without doing that. But oh well. I liked it.

3. Shadow of the Wind. Zafon's first book. He paints a great little gothic Spain in this book, setting a perfect tone and mood. What I love about the book is that it's clearly a book for book lovers. The whole thing centers around a mystery started by a single book. But the world he paints is dark and slightly sinister, with some mystical magic properties that work around the edges. I enjoy his prose, or at least as well as I can in translation. The plot is intriguing and unique, in a way where it's hard to even tell where anything is going, or what the key to unraveling the mystery is. Some reveals at the end threw me for a loop, in fact. But really, the book is less about the plot or mystery itself, but rather immersing yourself in the world he's built. My only thing that I'll note is that he does this thing where the narrative changes to tell backstory, telling in such a way that the first person narrator couldn't have known those things. Or it'll do this thing where something goes off into italics and becomes a completely different narrative backstory. As a person focused heavily on craft, it amazes me he can get away with this. But other than that, I really liked his book. Can't wait to read the next one!

4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. My sister loves this book, and it was a short read, so what the heck. I enjoyed it well enough, though I don't get why she raves about it. It had a bit of a Catcher in the Rye feel -- awkward kid with intense emotions, trying to relate to a world around him in a coming of age. It was reasonably well done, though I didn't personally become heavily invested in the character. Also, the ending reveal seemed surprising to me and I'm not entirely sure I bought it...

5. Living Dead Girl. My sister (again) gave me this book to read as one of her favorites. I read it and thought it was reasonably well-done, at least prose-wise, but found it intensely disturbing. The book, about a girl who is abducted at 10 and forced to be pretty much a sex slave to a disturbed pedophile, offers little hope, little redemption opportunity, and is just a story of horror after horror. My sister is apparently morbid and finds the book fascinating the way only a teenager with angst can. I, on the other hand, find it disturbing that such a book is on the market and is so popular. Not because I'm offended by the premise, but because the book seemed to be bent on simply telling a sobering tale, and there is little complexity or hope in the end. And forgive me if I believe that fiction should serve a higher purpose than simply telling horrors. I mean, I think the content is a story that is an intriguing premise for a story, but beyond her day-to-day attempt to escape before time runs out, there's a very insular paranoia, where the girl has become a creature we can only pity, and not one we can relate to. And I don't think a writer wants her characters pitied. It's only at the very very end when we get a moment, a glimpse of something redeeming, but then it all comes crashing down before we can even explore it. There's no uplifting moment, no moral to be told, no lesson learned, no message about humanity. I got nothing from it except a feeling of bleakness about the fact that this may happen to certain girls every day of their lives and we're helpless to do anything about it. If I want depressing stories that have no rhyme or reason, I'll turn on the news, thank you very much. I don't need fiction to do it for me. Fiction, I think, exists to make meaning out of chaos. So in that vein, while I think the writing in here is good, vivid, visceral, I'm upset by the way the content was plotted out and ultimately put together.

6. The Guersney Literary and Potato Peel Society. This book has gotten a lot of hype recently, so I started reading it with high expectations. Since it took place during the war, I thought I'd get another tearjerker, something that hits at that place in me where I like to cry. To be honest, while I was reasonably entertained by the book for the most part, I never felt like the book held any momentum. A lot of letters back and forth (and actually, I think Cecilia Ahern did a better job building her plot using this device), a couple of intriguing threads here and there. But it never mattered that much to me. I felt like I really was reading somebody's letters, and the thing is, in real life, most people's lives and letters are boring. Put in a compilation, they don't make an interesting story. And that's how I felt about the book. It was anecdotal, a few minor dramas here and there, but nothing that pulled at me or made me feel attached to the characters emotionally. It was a fine read for the airplane, but it lacked a plot that seized me. So while I enjoyed it well enough (no big complaints), I don't have anything overwhelmingly positive to say about it either.

7. Kushiel's Mercy. Yes, because I do read fantasy -- this is the last book in the series, and was my favorite one. Everything gets tied together at the end, which is satisfying. And what I liked about this book is that I felt Carey was tighter here. In the past, there would be these long descriptions about journeys, and talking to useless people, and exploring here and there, and whatnot, which I cared less about. But here, it was action packed, and I was constantly on-edge, wanting to know what happened at the next step and where it was going. I was rarely bored, and mostly just excited to see how things panned out. Her action scenes are still really awesome, and the way things fit together in the end (and the political stuff), works out so well, I'm impressed. I'm sad to see the series go (although she's doing a spinoff for a few generations later in the same world, though I don't know how that will work out). Laugh at me all you want for reading obscure genre fiction (well not that obscure bc it sells pretty well), but I liked it!

Wooo. Okay done for now!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Super behind

Wow I'm about four books behind posts huh? Guess I'll have to do quick recaps then to catch up. Let's see:

Victoria Redel's Border of Truth:
Good, but not great. Now having read both her books, I'll say that her female protags have a way of grating upon me a little. I think I find them a little pretentious or self-important or something. Maybe that's how they're meant to be, but it makes it hard to sympathize. That being said, I liked the story of the father, his letters and his anguish much more. He was funny and interesting. Unfortunately, I don't think the book came together and touched me as much as I would have liked. It was meant to, I'm sure, but it fell short a bit. Maybe part of it has to do with too much saturation of the Holocaust market, that you expect something gut-wrenching. This read was good enough, but it wasn't groundbreaking.

Barack Obama's Audacity of Hope and Dreams From My Father:
I lumped them together since I listened to them on audio back to back while doing a cross-country drive. The first was much more a meditation on his ideals of government and values, etc, which I found really fascinating. His ideas made me respect him as a person, as well as a father, and reaffirmed my belief in him as a truly good person striving to leave a positive mark in the world. I found that I agreed with him in many respects (if not all). While it still remains to be seen how he can take these ideals and apply them practically as our president, and what the ultimate outcome of his presidency is, listening to Audacity makes me at least feel secure in the knowledge that our country is being led by someone with some really solid values and common sense, as well as compassion and empathy.

Dreams was much more a memoir, which I found really interesting, just to hear about the different experiences that he went through. What I find interesting especially, is that despite being raised by the "white" side of his family, his struggles through adolescence were so integrated with the African part of his heritage. I suppose that's inevitable, but I also though it was interesting how in his preface, when he talked about his mother passing away, he said that if he could do it again, he might write more a meditation on her, rather than on the absent parent, because she'd been such a driving force in his life. That was the one part (early on too) of the book that moved me to tears. So I wonder if, now that time has passed some, and with maturity and age and experience, if he's been able to reconcile the two parts of himself a bit more. In any case, I think it's really interesting to note where our current president has come from, what unique experiences he really has had from those that came before him. I also really like the fact that he is such an introspective person.

Steven Hall, The Raw Shark Texts:
Really intriguing concept, one that totally absorbed me from the outset. It's so creative and unique, being both a thriller but also a conceptual literary idea. However, the ending left me a bit unsatisfied, as I felt that there was a lot going on but didn't completely get explained as neatly as I'd have liked. I wanted to understand the rules of the game a bit better, as well as get the thing between Scout and Clio more. Maybe it's silly for me to want it spelled out, but I suppose I wanted the big a-ha reveal, ala Harry Potter, in which all the elements, however strange and fantastical, are pieced together in a coherent world.


I really need to do better maintenance on my blogs, but it's been a whirlwind the past few months, and probably won't settle down until September! [I'm tens of meals behind on my food blog for instance!]

Saturday, July 25, 2009

BBS

It's been all sorts of crazy, what with roadtripping it down the California coast and then across America. I haven't been reading, though I have listened to Obama's two books on audiobook, which I'll blog about shortly. Be back soon...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wax in my ears

I know that most people think it's beneficial for writers to have some sort of set schedule to stick to - an hour a day, even if it's poop, that kind of thing. For the most part I kinda agree. Except I also really believe in the muse that grabs and holds.

I think the "poop" writing thing is totally fine for a first run-through. Getting that first draft out is pulling teeth no matter what, and will probably be shitty no matter what, so one should keep writing through it, with the knowledge that it can be fixed later.

But now I'm on the revision part. And I don't want poop. I want quality. And I don't think quality in the second draft is something that can be forced. It's an instinct that seems to require the perfect mindset to be able to see that invisible perfection in the air and grab at it. I need to be in that "zone", that place where I know exactly what feels right, how words should be arranged, how a story should be told. This is where precision and delicateness comes in. This is where poop isn't allowed, because this is where you take something that's just a bunch of shit and try to make it into art. And art can't be forced through will alone, art is vision, and vision only hits you sometimes.

So it's frustrating to me when I hit a roadblock where I'm trying to piece things together and I know it feels wrong, but I know it's wrong because I'm not in the right mindset.

I'm working on Chapter 9 now. I am trying to use a block of text that originally appeared in Chapter 7 in my first draft, and integrate it. This requires some new preamble that must be freshly written, but has to sound just right in tone. Right now, I'm hitting a fog that is making it impossible for me to hear it. It's like I have wax in my ears or something, or am getting hit with a signal block. I can't get an accurate read on if this is sounding right, but I'm pretty sure it's total shit.

So I'm going to go eat a bowl of Ranier cherries, read a little, and then maybe take a second stab. If not, I guess there's always tomorrow night.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Draft 2

... is so much easier than draft 1.

I edited two chapters tonight. Bringing my current WiP draft 2 to 20,950 words, 64 pages and 8 chapters.

It's so much easier to write a second draft because the story's out, and the scenes are mostly all written. It's just a matter now of looking at it from a macro perspective to try to address pacing and scene placement, and then filling in the gaps that exist. I don't really do outlines, so now that I have all my scenes down, it's like fake outlining. Ie: cut and paste.

But seriously, this process is a billion times easier than draft 1, where you have to create 100% of everything. Here, I find myself writing new scenes almost every chapter, but it becomes much clearer what scenes I need and are missing, whereas before it was all such a crapshoot.

This is so much more fun than draft 1, seriously. It actually makes me kinda excited, to see my random scenes and stuff finally starting to come together and actually beginning to make a coherent whole. I just hope it's halfway decent!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

New template

Because the 2-column template was getting too crowded!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Heartbreakingly perfect ending.

Okay. I just finished the Lahiri collection, Unaccustomed Earth, and I am so heartbroken!

SPOILERS!

As soon as I put together day after Christmas, Thailand and earthquake in the morning, I KNEW IT. I KNEW WHERE WE WERE HEADED and I only hoped that Lahiri would navigate away from the heartbreaking ending so that they could be together.

But no. NO SHE DIDN'T and I AM SAD.

See this is how I know that Lahiri is awesome. These are only three short stories linked together loosely, and I am so bound to these characters in just a few pages that she's broken my heart. IN THREE SHORT STORIES! In 100 pages! How does she do it? Why am I upset? It's simply unfair. Unfair I tell you! How did they not end up together!!!

The ending. It was perfect and beautiful and heartbreaking:

It might have been your child but this was not the case. We had been careful, and you had left nothing behind.
--[pg. 333, "Going Ashore", Unaccustomed Earth]


I couldn't have beared (bore?) to do this to my characters if I were Lahiri, so kudos to her. Even though I sorta HATE HER FOR IT!

Seriously, amazing short story collection. I rarely am captivated by an entire collection, enough to want to read the whole thing through cover to cover, but this was simply perfection.

When short stories are successful.

So I'm not a big short story reader. I like my novels. I like being able to immerse myself in a character and go on a long-haul journey, not a little snapshot. I've rarely finished an entire short story collection, mostly because there's no incentive to. You finish one and it feels good enough and then you lose momentum because you had to do stuff, and there's no drive to pick it up again and finish where you left off. Even as a writer, the drive of a novel is so much more intense than to write a short story. I always want to stay with characters and their worlds longer.

Nonetheless, I have my own short story favorites. Most notably, Edwidge Danticat's Krik? Krak! collection is beautiful to me, the opening story "Children of the Sea" my favorite of all time.

I picked up Unaccustomed Earth because it's Jhumpa Lahiri. She went to my alma mater (as did Danticat) and I just kept hearing about how amazing this collection was. This I didn't doubt, but I did doubt my ability to sustain interest to finish the whole thing. I have Interpreter of Maladies floating around somewhere - I've only gotten through the first few stories.

Nonetheless, when I couldn't decide what book to read next, I picked this up. I'm about halfway through right now, but I have to say, I am really really impressed. Her short stories don't feel like short stories. They feel like little snapshots of something fully formed. I really feel like I get to know her characters and become personally invested in them as people, and they don't feel temporary to me. I care about them, and am really sorry when the short story is over. In fact, every story feels like a mini-novella, and it just makes me sad that I don't get to continue the journey with them.

I'm one story away from being done with the first section of the book, and it seems like the next section are a collection of linked stories, which excites me.

Lahiri really impresses me with her prose and her storytelling abilities. I've been sitting here trying to dissect what makes her stories so successful because I am so impressed. :)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Holy sh*t.

I just wrote the last 15 pages (I think) of my novel. That means. I am actually at the end. As in, I wrote to the end of my novel!

I have a ton of scenes from the first half still to write (that I lazily skipped over in my first run-through), but once I get those under my belt, I can start writing the fun second draft where I can piece everything together since now I know what happens!

I am SO EXCITED. This novel has been so daunting to me, and while I know I still have a long long long way to go before it's even fit for a beta reader's eyes, I feel I've climbed my own little molehill here in actually getting to the end!

I wasn't sure I was going to make it!


[For all you writers who already have 1+ completed novels under the belt, I guess this pittance of a milestone is nothing... but I am REALLY REALLY excited!]


Okay. Bye!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Strong female voices

I just finished The Red Tent, and really enjoyed it.

I'm horrifically ignorant of the Bible (Old or New Testament), and I pretty much assumed Genesis was like... Adam and Eve and the creation of the world. In any case, I never knew much about the story of Jacob or his sons, and certainly not Dinah, so I came into this story with no knowledge. I found the writing and language really easy but rich in tone, and I loved the story of the mothers. This is truly a female book. Afterwards, I did my googling to figure out what the passage in the Bible actually said. I think it's extremely imaginative of Diamant to come up with her own interpretation of this small section in the Bible, and an imagining that is so feminist in its way (not rah-rah feminist, but of strong bold women). I seriously just enjoyed being immersed in the world she was painting for us.

The only moments where I had problems was towards the end, as we started getting a listing of all the spawn of the Jacobites. I realize that this probably has to do with connecting it back to the Old Testament, but it just sort of seemed listy to me. The ending with her being this spirit, and telling of her death was also kinda gimicky to me. I would have preferred an earlier ending just by a few pages. But beyond that, thought this book was fantastic.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Dragons and phoenixes and beasts, oh my!

I finally had the chance to finish up my friend Cindy's debut novel Silver Phoenix (sorry Cindy!). It was so good! It's really quite something to be able to read a book that somebody you know wrote!

My favorite thing about the book, hands down, is how DETAILED she gets in describing the food. I was constantly hungry while reading the book... hee hee! It made me laugh because it was so obvious how much Cindy loves food while reading her book.

Okay, just kidding, while that was among the things I liked best about the book, it wasn't my most FAVORITE thing. Her book reminds me of the sort of wu xia type books of Chinese folklore and fantasy -- all the beasts and magic and fantastical creatures and fighting! It really has that sort of Jin Yong type feel to it -- only her characters aren't petty and annoying as Jin Yong's can be. I really like how strong Ai Ling is as a character, impetuous but empathetic, and how she's loved for her untraditional traits. And her love for food definitely helps (seriously!). I am so proud of Cindy for coming up with something that is so inventive and interesting in terms of characters and different kinds of beasts and other magical elements, completely giving her own take on Chinese-type fantasy. And her descriptions of all of these worlds and elements were so detailed. I only wish kinda that we got to spend more time in some of those places - like the one-armed town! We only got to see it mostly from a pastoral walk and then from the inside of prison. I would have loved to find out more about what the people are like, what their customs are, etc. Woulda been cool to have them land in a place different from their own and have to interact with them for a few days or weeks at length so we get a true immersion of a different place. I think that's probably my biggest criticism - I felt we were introduced to so many really cool elements, that I wish I had spent more time with them to really get to understand them and be immersed as opposed to only meeting each of them for a chapter or two and then moving on to the next ones. I wanted to get a real feel and understanding of these alternate worlds, that I'm not sure I got right now because we were introduced to so many but not over an extended period of time.

I'm really intrigued by what's going to happen in the sequel (Chen Yong's daddy search? Backstory on what happened with Silver Phoenix and Zhong Ye? Ai Ling and Chen Yong sitting in a tree?) because I feel like there are so many questions left unanswered!!!

Good job Cindy!! I am so proud of you!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Blah blah writing blah blah

It's been a fun-filled last couple of weeks since I finished my last paper, what with my birthday passing and lots of trying to get in some fun time out West before I move back. That means I haven't really been reading, and writing isn't moving along as well as I'd like. Instead of getting in 3000 words a day like I was hoping, I'm getting MAYBE 1000 a day. And that's after a lot of hemming and hawing because I'm so stuck. This novel is kicking my butt. I feel like I'm stalling as I write scenes, which is never a good sign. I met a screenwriter this weekend who told me it took him 3 1/2 years to write his first screenplay, which was his way of encouraging me. He told me the first one is always the hardest because you're trying to figure out your process. But that after the first one, it'll get easier.

So I keep telling myself this. This will get easier. Because right now I have NO IDEA what I'm doing!

Cheers!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Finished!

Turned in my last paper yesterday, which means that I can finally:

1. Work unfettered on my novel. Halfway there, baby!

2. Start reading for fun again. I'm trying to create a reading list that will help me stay in the right mindset as I write. Meaning no boy writers unless they write pretty, and lots of lyrical (but not snobby) girl writers. And by boy and girl I mean male and female, but whatever. I need accessible female writers that can continue to inspire me and keep me in the right mood. There's a reason I read Danticat's short stories when I need to transition myself into writing mode. Anyway, any suggestions?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Why am I not finished with this novel yet?

1. Why does inspiration seem to only strike in the middle of the night when I'm actually really freaking tired and want to sleep but can't because, you know, this scene wants to be written?

2. Why does the middle of my novel suck so much?

3. Why won't my novel magically write itself during the time I lie awake at night thinking about it?

4. Why do I love my novel so much despite the fact that it seems bent on slowly killing me?

5. Why do I only have 100 pages-ish? Why is this process so damn slow?!

6. Why is it that when I set out to write a "simple", "straightforward" novel, I still somehow end up with three different interweaving timeline stories that will require me to write separately and then map out and intergrate and organize and outline?

7. Why don't I have any idea of what the hell is going on in my novel or what is going to end up happening?

8. Why do I only want to work on my novel (to the detriment of the papers and finals I have to still complete) despite the fact that when I finally do "work" on it, I just sit and stare at blank screens, type and delete things, tear my hair out and moan?

9. Why is every scene in the future more interesting to me than the scene that I am working on?

10. Why am I putting myself through this torture?

If someone has the answer to these pressing questions, please let me know.




If I count all the words I've typed for this novel so far, I'm officially over the 30K mark! This does not include random scenes I've jotted down on looseleaf and notebook pages - though it may include double scenes. But since I've stopped writing this book sequentially and started just throwing in scenes, I no longer know what I'm keeping as notes and what I'm keeping as part of the actual thing. Nonetheless -- whee! -- I'm almost halfway done with a first pass! First pass being just the bare attempt to get down the story, before the fun second draft comes along. That's where I actually get to sit down, arrange my story as I'd like for it appear on a page, and then fill in all the holes and make everything sound prettier so it's actually readable.

But for now, goal #1: get the story down!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Humor can save an unsympathetic protag!

Okay I liked the book so much I just finished it.

Oh dude, David Yoo is a funny, funny guy. I could not stop giggling out loud as I read this book. The humor is silly, self-deprecating and positively ludicrous at points, but so convincing I couldn't stop grinning the whole way through. And luckily, because Nick Park (the protagonist), the young, girl-obsessed, Korean-American kid in this book, is a total asshole. I kid you not. From the beginning of the book (where he's in 3rd grade) to the end (when he's graduating from high school), he's a self-loathing, deluded, selfish asshole who lies and pushes the envelope so much that you almost can't stand him and almost lose sympathy for him. But Yoo's wit is Nick's, and therefore the book's, saving grace. So even though you kinda think he's an ass for pretending he's a kung-fu fighter, he's funny about it, so, okay fine.

And anyway, his wild delusions are all part of him finding himself and coming to terms with his Korean-Americanness. I liked how fresh this book was as one to contend with the Asian-American dialogue. It was a fresh breakaway from the many eye-rolling Asian-American texts I've read in the past. So good for David Yoo.

Towards the end, I did feel like it was a little too neatly wrapped up, this sudden "realization" - though I suppose to be able to pull it off with any finesse is a tall order, since, really, do we ever just figure things out? And for a YA readership maybe it's important to bang the moral over the head? I'm not sure. This was one of the weak spots for me, where I could see the new-ness of Yoo's first novel.

I could say stuff about race and self-loathing and stuff here - and I'll admit that it was an interesting perspective to see, one where I literally wanted to shake Nick really hard - but I'm going to save it because I plan to write a paper on it in about a week. And I need to percolate. And it's 5 am. But all I can say is that this is a good read, especially for Asian-Americans, but I suspect would be appealing to non-Asian-Americans, especially boys who have a good sense of humor and love girls.

Great read, truly entertaining. I can't wait to read his new book that just came out.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Freaking Asian-American hilarity

I've decided to write my adolescent lit paper on Asian-American something or other. So I took out David Yoo's Girls for Breakfast from the library, not entirely certain what to expect.

Dude. I'm about 1/3 through it and it is effing HILARIOUS. I really didn't expect it to be this laugh-out-loud funny. But it really kinda is.

The book is about a Korean-American kid who lives in an all-white neighborhood and is obsessed with girls. No, like REALLY CRAZY OBSESSED in the funniest fucking way (excuse my french).

Okay I'm not done yet, so I won't say anything else, but just as an example of the silliness that makes me laugh:

Nick (the protag) has just been forced to go to Korean church-
Practically everyone's daughter was named Sunny or Grace, and every son was Billy or Franky. No one else was named Nick. I wondered if Koreans emulated Italian Mafia families on purpose.
--[pg. 98]


Nick has just been called a banana - yellow on the outside, white on the inside. He is confused by the classification of being called "yellow"-
My face felt like it was turning red. According to art class, if my skin really was yellow, that would mean my face was actually turning orange.
--[pg. 104]

Oh man, seriously, I'm already a total fan of Dave Yoo, even though I normally never read stuff like this. Okay, I'll be back when I'm done with this book.

A literary meme

1) What author do you own the most books by?
I was hoping to be able to say something really impressively literary, like how I own every book Edwidge Danticat's written, or how I own a lot of Haruki Murakami. Then my mind thought, series, so perhaps Piers Anthony or Orson Scott Card. Except, I realize, sadly, that the answer might actually be V.C. Andrews. I went through a phase in 8th grade where I read almost every saga she came out with. And since that generally meant like, 5 books per saga, I must own at least 20 books by her. Sad. And a waste of shelf space.

2) What book do you own the most copies of?
The Secret Garden. And not the same edition either, but various different versions, including crappy school copies, British editions, and beautifully illustrated hardbacks. My mom loves that book so she kept buying me new copies, as if the love could be distributed amongst all the different versions.

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
No. That's one grammatical problem that I never even really think about. Is it bad I'm a writing tutor?

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
I find Oscar Wao really endearing, but in love? No. Hmm, I can't think of anybody. Maybe it's because I like flawed characters in books, but who in their right mind would want to date anyone super flawed? I am ashamed to admit I did swoon over Edward from Twilight, until I realized how he was an accessory to Bella's insane neediness.

4a) What fictional character would you most like to be?
I can't say I want to be any of them, because seriously, if your life is interesting enough to be made into a book, it usually means your life is pretty fucked up. Even with a happy ending at the end, not sure I want to have to endure anything like that.

4b) What fictional character do you think most resembles you?
The ones I write about?

5) What book have you read the most times in your life?
I think I have read A Wrinkle in Time many many many times.

6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
Probably A Wrinkle in Time. Or one of those dollhouse mystery books. Or anything about time travel and secrets in attics and stuff. I have a bunch of those at home that I've read a few times but I can't remember what they're called right this moment.

7) What is the worst book you've read in the past year?
Assuming we're talking about past year as in the past 365 days, I'm going to go ahead and say again how much I despised Jack Kerouac's Visions of Cody. Self-indulgent. And I pretty much will never read Kerouac again because of it.

8) What is the best book you've read in the past year?
It's been a long while since I've read anything I absolutely lovedlovedloved, but let me go through my backlogs of books. Okay, so in the past 365 days, the books that come to mind are 1. Kazuo Ishiguro's A Pale View of the Hills - possibly my favorite Ishiguro out of all the ones I've read 2. Alexander Chee's Edinburgh - in my opinion, really underpublicized and underread for how beautiful his prose is 3. The English Patient - which probably requires no explanation 4. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - which is YA but I don't care because I really liked it and it made me cry. Clearly I love pretty prose and things that make me cry.

9) If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
Cormac McCarthy's The Road. I still think it's fucking amazing no matter how many times I read it (and so far the count is at 3 times).

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for literature?
I haven't really been following the big hitters for this past year so I can't really say.

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
Hmm, I dunno. They almost always ruin a book when they make it into a movie, unless you're like, The Coen Brothers. Which, speaking of, they're supposed to be doing Yiddish Policeman's Union which should be awesome. Maybe something more genre, like I'm still waiting on an Ender's Game movie, though I'm also worried they'll fuck it all up.

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
The Road. Which unfortunately apparently they've already done. I bet you it sucks.

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
Uh. None I can remember at this juncture...

14) What is the most lowbrow book you've read as an adult?
Twilight and its subsequent sequels. Fosho. Or I suppose I could say my recent breeze through the Anne Bishop books could count too. I blame Jas and Frederick for those. Whatever. They were good.

15) What is the most difficult book you've ever read?
I don't like difficult, so I most likely didn't get through anything that was too difficult.

16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you've seen?
The only Shakespeare play I've seen (like a real play put on by real actors) is Julius Caesar when Denzel came to town. And that's not really obscure.

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
Um. Wasn't a lit major so can't answer this question. I'll just say the Russians, since the half of Anna Karenina I quite enjoyed, and I love Nabokov (though I suppose he's more contemporary?). But I haven't really read any of the French so it's an unfair comparison.

18) Roth or Updike?
Haven't read any Updike, but the one Roth I read (American Pastoral) I was kinda disappointed by. So I choose neither.

19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?
I've never finished a Dave Sedaris collection, and I thought A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was self-indulgent. I liked it when I first finished it but the more I think about it, the more I dislike it. However, I have What is the What on my shelf and I hear it's good, so maybe I'll choose Eggers when I'm done.

20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
I didn't like the little bit of Chaucer I had to read (he's the reason I decided to not become an English major), never finished all of Milton, but I quite liked the bit I did read, so my inclination is towards him, though that might be completely unfair.

21) Austen or Eliot?
This is when it becomes readily apparent that I'm woefully underread. I haven't read either.

22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
All of the above. Ahaha. Well. Like, let's think here, never read Hemmingway, Faulkner, Updike, Austen, Eliot, the Russians, the French, Pynchon, the Irish (besides Lawrence who I hated), Joyce, etc etc etc.... In other words, I'm missing the entire Canon, but who cares about dead white guys anyway?

23) What is your favorite novel?
Again, The Road.

24) Play?
Um... I haven't really seen many plays. So can I say something like Inherit the Wind?

25) Poem?
Love at First Sight by Wislawa Szymborska. Yeah, I'm a sap.

26) Essay?
Eh? I don't think I've ever sat around and read "essays".

27) Short story?
Hands down, "Children of the Sea" by Edwidge Danticat, from her collection Krik? Krak! That piece reminds me every time of why I want to be a writer. Beautiful.

28) Work of non-fiction?
The Year of Magical Thinking. So moving.

29) Who is your favorite writer?
Edwidge Danticat.

30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
Like I said, I was quite disappointed by Dave Eggers' AHWOSG. But I haven't read enough to deem him overrated yet. Maybe Stephenie Meyer? Ahaha.

31) What is your desert island book?
A book that tells me how to survive on a desert island.

32) And ... what are you reading right now?
I'm reading quite a few books simultaneously. Cindy Pon's Silver Phoenix, David Yoo's Girls for Breakfast, and Tyler Knox's Kockroach. The plan is to get boy books out of my system and focus on female writers all summer as I attempt to bang out the first draft of my novel...

A politicalized short story should still be well-written!

By the way, for this same class, I've been reading short stories from this collection called American Eyes, a collection of Asian-American short stories.

To be honest, I don't like most of the stories in this book. I get my workshop cap on and I find all sorts of holes in the stories, and I don't think they're all that well-written. I feel some of them are dangerous if not read critically, and I just in general am not a fan of these short little "Asian-American" stories because I feel like they're so short that they do nothing besides call attention to the woefulness of being Asian-American. It's not that I can't relate - I can - but beyond that, I'm not sure that these stories are good literature.

On the other hand, I try to keep in mind that these stories were published in the 90's, and back then, there probably wasn't as much dialogue on being Asian-American as there exists now. It was the time of Joy Luck Club, etc, so I suppose there was a place and time for those stories. I just wish they had been better....

More on being an Asian writer, I suppose.

Today I attended a lecture given by Gene Yang, author of American Born Chinese, a graphic novel. I read this book about a year ago, but recently reread it for one of my classes. The lecture was excellent - Yang was funny yet insightful, and really entertaining as he explained to a largely non-Asian audience about the source material for much of the book.

As a Chinese-American, his lecture particularly hit home for me. I am by no means an Asian-American "activist". I never participated in those protests against, say Abercrombie and Fitch's "Two Wongs Don't Make a White" t-shirts or whatever, and I've never necessarily been politically active. Nonetheless, I also am extremely conscious of my hyphenated status in America, and this is especially on my mind when I think about being a writer who doesn't want to be niched. I wouldn't say that I'm self-loathing to any extent - I simply want to be judged on a basis that excludes my ethnicity.

Despite the fact that I now feel very comfortable operating within a non-Asian world, there was once a time when I didn't. When all I knew was Asia-Americana which has its own brand of American culture. And being within this culture meant that most of the time I didn't have to deal with the question of my ethnicity because everyone around me was just like me. But upon graduation, I was thrust into a predominantly white world, and suddenly it felt like an issue. Suddenly I wasn't entirely sure how to fit in and how people saw me. I didn't actually know how to relate.

Yang's lecture today hit home for me because he brought up all the stereotypes that have existed - both far past during Exclusion Act days and more current events - and I found myself getting worked up over everything he said, and being able to relate so well to the choices he made in his graphic novel.

Yet at the same time, I wondered what it said about me, that I don't want to be part of that dialogue in that way. I don't want to write a book about an Asian-American trying to be part of society. I don't want to write a book where "identity" is an issue in that way. I don't want to have to talk about Chinese people being dogeaters or being good at math (or not, as the case may be). I appreciate and wholeheartedly applaud somebody like Yang for bringing up the difficult nuances of this topic, and in a comic no less, but I shudder at the idea of ever having to do that myself. I want to be loved as a writer despite my Asianness - and I wonder if that is a bad thing. It's not that I don't think these issues are important, it's just that it's not what I want to write about. I want to write things that appeal to everyone, that are relatable to everyone. I don't want to write for an Asian-American generation.

This post has less to do with the book I suppose than with my thoughts about being an ethnic writer. The book is good - it tackles questions of identity, of how Asians are perceived by outsiders, but also how Asianness is perceived by someone who just wants to belong. It's about embracing your own self and learning to accept it. And it's really fun and funny to boot.

I guess I just got a swarm of feelings sitting there in the audience because I wondered if there's supposed to be a burden of responsibility being an Asian writer, to open a dialogue about these sorts of things.

But I kinda think the opposite. I want to show that Asian people think about things other than being Asian. We think about all the things everyone else does - question of family, of love, of ethics, of honor, of courage, of morals. And I don't want to have to write about Asian people in order to do it.

Oh, I'm sure one day one of my protags will be Asian. And I'm sure one day I may even write something about China. But I never want my Asianness to be at the forefront of what I write. I want it to be just a fact, like if my heroine were red-headed instead of a brunette, or liked books instead of liking movies, or was a vegetarian instead of a carnivore. Things that are important, sure, but only in so far that they give you a better understanding of the character in their situation, and not the focal point of the entire book.

I keep digressing here. I really did admire Yang's book and his lecture. His anecdotes pumped me up and I felt my anger simmering and my defiance wanting to shine through every time he showed me something offensive. I take great pride in my heritage and the images and examples he gave made me unbelievably angry. So good on him. And good on this book.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Surprise affect.

I recently finished The Shadow Catcher for one of my classes. It's one of those books that I otherwise wouldn't have picked up, I'm guessing, but I found I actually enjoyed it.

The book interweaves two stories - one about Edward Curtis, a real-life photographer famous for having taken pictures of many Native Americans back in the late 1800s/early 1900s and his wife Clara, and the second about a fictional reimagined Marianne Wiggins who has written a book about Curtis.

I didn't think I'd like this book. Not that I thought I'd dislike it, but while I was reading it, I was kinda ho-hum about the whole thing. The writing is good, but I'm a person who waits to be affected and sucked in by a quiet beauty of a literary novel, and while The Shadow Catcher was fresh enough so that the reading was never a chore, it also didn't arrest me at first.

I did find the story of Clara and Edward intriguing though, and was frustrated as it was doled out in two chunks - I didn't want to go back to the present and just wanted to know what happened because I felt more invested in their story. The ending to their story however, gave me that affect that I wanted. It was a quiet sadness that I loved.

Because I was invested in the Clara/Edward story, I also thought I wouldn't really give a damn about the present tense stream, but the mystery that evolves was enough that I did want to read through it, just to know the answer. Therefore, the ending also surprised me by being more affecting than I'd expected, though to my taste, not completely satisfying. But just the slightest bit off, not enough for me to think it was bad. And so I actually liked this, to my surprise, because I hadn't thought I would, going in.

Also, I found that I became somewhat interested in the man Edward Curtis (who is a real person), but more so, I wondered how much of this was true, if perhaps Clara was the woman behind him who never got the credit she deserves. There's also a lot in here about sort of what "America" is made of -- specifically the West and being out West, and also just by nature of the material, about Native Americans, which I really enjoyed.

This novel is about what happens to the people who get left behind, really. It's quiet and creeps up upon you. No big drama, nor any crazy action. Not a lot happens in the book, but it definitely caught me in the end. It's a good read, though I wouldn't place it among my top favorites or anything.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Foodied.

On a side note:

I have started a food blog. Because I love to eat and this place is not the place for food. Me and a couple of other girls (including Moonrat) are supposed to be contributing our food experiences. Because. We love food.

Come visit!

I love me a YA dystopia.

So, I picked up The Hunger Games last night, thinking I'd read for a couple of hours and then put it down to sleep. Nuh-uh. I stayed up til 5, finishing every last word. Lucky for me I didn't have to be on campus til 1...

I love me a good YA dystopia. The Hunger Games makes me think of something of a cross between The Giver and Ender's Game, making it a really fun read. Katniss, the protagonist, is just fiery enough for her to be believable, but young enough that you feel for her vulnerability. I really liked this book -- it's really creative in its premise, it's exciting, and it's got the slight romantic element, that becomes part of a greater strategy. I loved hearing about the different costumes, the strange/scary muttations, and I salivated at the food she described. Really creative.

The only thing I do have to say is that the use of the present tense really jarred me at moments, where I felt it wasn't natural, and it would kinda take me out of the book, which I don't like. I think she could have written it in past tense and it would have been fine.

Okay, I was warned about The Hunger Games, so I didn't feel like hurling the book across the room the way others did when I got to the "End of Book 1" print at the end. But I am eagerly anticipating the next one....

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

YAY FOR CHINESE HEROINES!


I just wanted to announce to everyone that my good friend Cindy Pon's YA debut, Silver Phoenix, is hitting bookstores TODAY! I haven't snagged my copy yet (will get myself a nice signed copy... or two) so I haven't read it yet, but I'm SO EXCITED for Cindy and SO PROUD that the day is finally here! And I'm sure her book -- a YA fantasy set in a fictional Chinese land -- is going to be awesome and fun... especially bc it features a strong Asian heroine.



CONGRATULATIONS CINDY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Monica Sone and a question of race.

Final post and I'm all caught up! And then I swear I'll be good on maintenance (this is like cleaning... or dieting... I always promise maintenance. But entropy is such a strong force in the world!)

Monica Sone's Nisei Eyes is a biographical account of a Japanese-American girl living in Seattle during the 2nd world war. She eventually gets sent to internment camps when she's in her young adulthood, but much of the book details her experience being a first generation Japanese-American girl.

I liked this book. Mostly because I can identify, obviously, with the conflicted feelings of being both 100% Asian and 100% American, and yet at the same time feeling like you actually belong nowhere completely. Given when it was published (early 1950s), I think it's also really educational for people back then who didn't know much about Japanese culture or the Asian American experience. She does a decent job of deconstructing myths about subservient, harsh, unloving Asians and their families and highlights a lot of the dilemmas that come with being "hyphenated".

At the same time, I felt her treatment of Japanese internment was a bit too soft and fluffy towards the end and didn't necessarily punch in enough of the injustice of this incident in American history. Granted, Japanese internment wasn't like a concentration camp, but it is still appalling to think that so many Americans were forced to leave their homes and possessions and livelihoods to live in camps, and forbidden to return for so many years. The history of alienation against Asian Americans makes my blood boil...


An interesting note -

In the class in which we discussed this book, I am the only East Asian. I'm sure most of my classmates have no idea if I'm Japanese or Chinese or something else, but I find myself acutely self-aware when I raise my hand to make a comment. I think I purposely try to make my comments sound as objective and neutral as possible, because I don't want to be seen as saying something "representative" or for people to think I'm touchy. At the same time, when we do talk about certain things, I know that inside I have a very personal reaction to this concept of Asian alienation and stereotypes, and I also find myself inwardly trying to keep myself from taking anything in offense, despite my desire to want to blurt out my own knowledge. It's really interesting, because I don't think I've ever been in an academic situation discussing Asian something or other, and being the only Asian person in the room. I wonder if people are secretly taking sidelong glances at me to see my reaction, or if that's simply my own self-consciousness that doesn't exist.

The thing for me about being Asian is that most of the time I forget I am. Oh, I'm VERY Asian in a lot of the way I live my day to day life - I love karaoke, Asian food, have tons of Asian friends - but to me this is just the way I live my American life. I take it for granted that to be an American means everybody lives their life their own way. So I don't necessarily think about the Asianness of it. I think I forget I'm Asian most of the time until I'm forced to remember it. The way I forget all my friends are Asian until I invite a couple of white friends to a bday party.

We're reading a couple more Asian-American books over the next couple of weeks, and I wonder to myself if there's anyway that I can insert my experience without turning myself into somebody who becomes only represented by my Asianness.

It's the very reason I don't want to be niched as an Asian-American writer. To me, I'm just a writer. An American. Who happens to live her life in a very Asian-American way. But I honestly feel most of the time that I am just a person. And yet at the same time, I am also acutely aware of how my face might affect people in certain situations. How is that possible? To feel so raceless and yet so racial at the EXACT same time?

Blood Meridian vs. The Road

Okay, I'm kinda reluctant to write about Blood Meridian in my state of "I just want to bang out my blog reviews so I'm all caught up" because I know this book deserves a thoughtful review. It is McCarthy's so-called masterpiece. But please bear with me, as I also just finished writing a 12-page paper on this book, comparing it to The Road.

The book was much denser than either The Road or No Country For Old Men, the only other McCarthy works I've read. It took me hours upon hours to get through the book (over the span of 3 days, so that I could finish it in time to write about it), and often times I had to go back and reread sentences. So in that sense, it's decidedly different from The Road.

Like The Road, it's freaking bloody. No. Way bloodier. The gore is so much that after a certain point, I found myself completely desensitized to it (much in the way that the inhabitants of the world probably were, hmm?).

I found it a dazzling, epic read, yet really really bleak in its outlook due to the senseless death and the way goodness pretty much is unrewarded. The judge, the devil incarnate, pretty much wins in the end, and that in itself was so depressing.

Also, I know this book is based upon a real gang of scalphunters that lived. This book depressed me so much, thinking about how terrible we were to the people who originally lived on this land, all in the name of "manifest destiny".

I was talking to E. about this book vs. The Road a lot via facebook the other day. Here is some of what we said (I'm posting this mostly because I'm too lazy to try to sort through all my thoughts on this book again):

Me: im writing my essay on pretty much how the two books are antitheses of each other, and how while BM reveals hopelessness/the dominance of violence in human nature over morality, TR does the opposite. speaking of the religion aspect of it though -- would u say that BM represents a perversion of God? I felt like I read it that way when I read it and I was going to write a para on how it's like that in BM versus TR (where at first you think God has abandoned them but then the father kinda sees the boy as an embodiment of God-ish), but I can't seem to find the citations I need for it and now I'm wondering if I just imagined it.

E: I think the key to thinking about religion and BM and TR is through these relationships. Arguably the Kid and the Boy are both the "christ figures" in the horrible stereotypical literary theory sense. But the question is what happens when they are taught by "good" or "evil". BM can actually be seen as really positive because The Kid, despite all the influence of the Judge, eventually rebels and goes from being someone of a questionable nature to someone of pretty solid moral character. The evil made him good. In BM the judge functions as the Devil. In TR it's the world. The world functions as the excuse people have for depravity, so in some ways it's a more slippery character. Both books look at religion through a moral perspective. In BM it's religion being warped that helps the Kid find a true sense of righteousness. In TR it's the world being warped that leads the Boy to religion... which may or may not be a savior depending on how you read it.

Me: i ♥ mccarthy. though (as you very well know), i find the road hopeful as all hell and i found BM to be depressing stabby stabby, and that's what my thesis is about. i mean the kid, sure, he starts getting a backbone, but he still kills that random kid in the forest at the end and anyway his "goodness" is unrewarded when the judge decides to axe him in the bathroom or whatever. creepy dude that judge.

E: I know what you mean. The Judge is the Devil! But he's just amazing that way, alternately fascinating/horrible/wonderful. The whole making gunpowder bit was incredible. We had such opposite reads. I find BM totally inspiring, while TR I had to like... look for some uppers afterward. HA!

Me: haha. i wonder what that says about us, that we read the same two books and read them in the complete opposite direction. i took the judge's triumph in the end as a final, the-devil-has-won-and-quashed-you-silly-moralists sort of win. hee!

E: I think that Blood Meridian is the more complex of the two books; The Road proposes a more black and white morality. Doubt also plays a really quiet, subversive role in BM that as far as religion goes delves into some of the more uncomfortable parts of Christianity. TR sort of whacks you over the head with it. I do love the starkness of the prose in TR tho... But I'm just a sucker for the over the top of BM. BTW a fabulous character study could be done comparing the role of the Judge in BM with the antagonist in Oates' short story Where are You Going, Where Have You Been. Same Devil, same seduction, two wildly different approaches. Not that I ever thought about that or anything... nooo.

Me:
BM is definitely more complex in its layers, but i think the stark black and white quality of TR is exactly its point. here is a world in which morality is absolute and above circumstance, which of course is not the way the real world works, but perhaps in a world as stripped of civilization as the one in TR is, it's the only way humanity can ... Read Moresurvive. i think it makes a case against bending the rules, and how once u do that, things can quickly devolve to where everything becomes a free for all. BM to me is the flipside of the coin -- this idea that morality is simply a manmade construct, and that in fact, humans are governed by a survival for the fittest and a bloodlust inherent in all of us.


Okay, I know I really should take the time to write more about this. And perhaps I will. Later. I'm seriously burned out, guys.