Friday, May 30, 2008

Review: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict

I just started (and finished, so read the following with care if you don't like spoilers) a book that explores every Jane Austen fan's greatest fantasy: what would it be like to actually live in Regency England? The novel, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, by Laurie Viera Rigler, follows Courtney Stone as she wakes up in the body of Jane Mansfield, a thirty-year-old Victorian woman who is hovering on the brink of spinsterhood.

The book is peppered with references to Jane Austen novels, but, unlike most literature aimed at Jane Austen "addicts," it explores an entirely new story line and characters, rather than rehashing Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy one more time. In a way, it is essentially a mystery novel as Courtney struggles to figure out what happened in Jane's life before the two women switched places, and her internal monologue is also hilarious, providing a 21st-century voice in an otherwise-ordinary tea time story of romance in the 1800s. Over all, it is fairly entertaining and an incredibly quick read.

With all this said, however, one thing that was slightly problematic for me was that, for a self-proclaimed Jane Austen addict, Courtney is rather ignorant of the lives and times of Victorian men and women. She is generally astonished by the daily events in the life of the young single woman, and she doesn't seem to understand what is expected of her socially, instead making blunders that I don't think anyone who has read any Jane Austen novels would make.

Another aspect of the novel that was slightly problematic for me was the plethora of unanswered questions at the end: how did Jane discuss 21st-Century ideas with other characters before the two women (presumably) switched lives? Was there a connection between them beforehand, as the fortuneteller seems to imply? If so, why was Courtney so completely unaware of this connection? Is Mr. Mansfield, Jane's father, also a time traveler?

In addition, the two male love interests (one 19th-century, one 21st-century) seem to converge in the end in a very confusing couple of paragraphs on the second-to-last page, which posed more questions rather than answering the ones already presented. Is this a case of reincarnation? Are Wes and Charles Edgeworth connected in the same way that Courtney and Jane are? We don't find out one way or the other, and I'm beginning to suspect that even the author doesn't know for sure what's going on.

While Riglers delves a bit into metaphysics to attempt to answer the time travel and identity questions, she does not devote enough time to actually attempt to answer any of them. I understand she's working on a sequel (from the point of view of Jane Mansfield, transported to the 21st century), so perhaps Riglers is trying to whet the reader's appetite--unsuccessfully. I don't like to put down a "fun" book with a bucketload of unanswered questions, and this was, essentially, written to be a frothy, fun book.

Overall, then, I would give this book a C+. While it is entertaining in a frivolous, decadent way, it poses too many questions that it doesn't bother answering, and the final epilogue of the book is completely unnecessary, negating much of the good the beginning and middle of the book brought. I would recommend it for those who enjoy Jane Austen novels, and only for those who do, as its charms would be completely wasted on those who do not.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Banned from the Library

I am now officially banned from the library.

Not by the library or the ALA (American Library Association) or anything like that, of course--I'm sure they're only too happy when I walk through the door to return a book that is two weeks overdue. In fact, I'm positive that they're secretly thrilled when I have to bite the bullet and pay a $17 fine for a book that is probably only worth $15. But I have now officially banned myself from even thinking of entering the hallowed halls of the Denver Public Library, because I am obviously not responsible enough to take advantage of my civil rights. Until I am responsible enough to get a borrowed book back by its due date, I am no longer allowed to borrow said book in the first place.

It's too bad, really. I've been going to the library since before I could read, thanks to my bibliophile mother, and I remember staggering out to the car with piles and piles of books that I would go home and spread out on the living room floor. When I was in high school, the Vandenberg Village Public Library was on my way home, and I would regularly stop in to peruse the new books section (yes, I was that high school girl). I've worked as an English tutor in libraries, surrounded by encyclopedias and books on literary criticism while patiently explaining why one can "think about" but not "consider about" something. I spent hours and hours at the UCLA libraries, either between classes or early in the morning, cramming as much homework and reading into the time as possible.

In fact, even one of the things that I dislike about public libraries--the likelihood of encountering the half-crazed homeless--I take somewhat as a symbol of the freedom of thought. While some might (and do) argue that we should limit library access to the homeless because they aren't reading and are really only taking up space, my response is generally this: the library represents free thought, free speech, and, generally, that which is good about our country. As soon as we start limiting who can and who cannot enter this realm of free thought and free speech, we begin limiting the existence of those very freedoms. While I understand very well that the "slippery slope" argument is a logical fallacy, I can't help but wonder: if we ban the homeless from the libraries, who's next? What other group can "we" decide "we" don't want in the library? So while it is less than thrilling to see the half-crazed homeless lounging on library benches--especially if they try to engage me in conversation--I'm always pleased to see them, because it means at least one of my unalienable rights has yet to be violated.

I can't wait until I'm mature enough and responsible enough to go back. I really can't afford to buy every book that I want to read, but that's the only option I currently have left, I'm afraid.

This brings me to my next point, however, which is books that are banned from the library. I recently found a list of books that have been burned or banned / challenged in public schools or public libraries, due either to religion, racism, sexual content, or language. While I can understand that it is difficult for some people to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn without flinching at the rather liberal use of the n-word (which I won't use here for fear of being banned or challenged), is forbidding people from reading the book really the answer? Isn't it much more productive to show how things used to be and discuss how much better-off we are in a post-Civil Rights era? As John Milton said in Areopagitica, "As good almost kill a man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye." (Of course, we again could quibble on the definition of a "good" book, but consider this: I once heard that the best-selling book on Amazon when it went international was Mein Kampf, Hitler's autobiography. Why, you might ask? Because its sale was banned for so many years in Germany to try to repress anti-semitism. Was banning it effective? Probably not. Did it in fact raise awareness of and interest in the novel? Obviously so.)

And so I scanned the list of banned and challenged books, and was quite surprised by what had made it onto the list--almost every good novel of the 20th Century is on the list, and I'm sure it's only a matter of time until the rest of the good novels join the club. Fitzgerald, Joyce, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Hemingway, Tolkien--it's actually a fairly impressive group, and I'm sure J.K. Rowling was flattered to have been included.

Anyway, my point is that I'll be compiling my self-assigned reading list from this website (included below), if only because doing so gives me hope for the future... kind of like seeing the homeless in the magazine section at the Central Library Branch. Unfortunately for me, of course, I won't be at the Central Library Branch and will instead need to purchase these books from my nearest bookstore.

http://www.ala.org/Template.cfm?Section=bbwlinks&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=136590

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Little Did He Know: Dramatic Irony in Stranger than Fiction



*Spoiler Alert: Do not read the following if you don't wish to know what happens at the end of the film.*

Stranger than Fiction (2006), directed by Marc Forster, deliberately explores the relationship between author and narrator, character and plot, focusing explicitly on dramatic irony. As Professor Hilbert, the film's voice of literary theory, explains to Harold Crick, "'Little did he know' means that there's something that he doesn't know, which means that there's something that you don't know. Did you know that?" This gap in knowledge--otherwise known as dramatic irony--paves the way for the plot as Harold Crick goes in search of that which he doesn't know and understand.



There is a difference between ignorance, however, and dramatic irony, as dramatic irony requires knowledge on the part of the audience. So while Crick's primary concern--whether his story is a tragedy or a comedy--belies ignorance on his part, the audience is never quite sure how his tale will end. We know, for example, that the author of the novel, Karen Eiffel, intends to kill him, but we do not know the manner of his death--nor even, if that death would constitute a tragedy. As Professor Hilbert points out when Harold demands who would choose death and pancakes over life, "Harold, if you pause to think, you'd realize that that answer is inextricably contingent upon the type of life being led... and, of course, the quality of the pancakes." Would the real tragedy, then, be the death of Harold Crick or the type of life he led before realizing his death might be imminent?


It is left to the audience to answer this question, but there is much that Crick does not know that the audience is very well aware of--for example, who is the narrator/author of his story, what her intentions towards him are, and why his watch (which features heavily in the plot as a character) seems to go off at inappropriate times. Because Crick is well aware of his ignorance, however, the plot is driven by his search for the answers to these questions.

Perhaps that which stands as most symbolic for this dramatic irony is the apple which Harold Crick puts in his mouth as he runs to catch the morning bus. It blocks both his face from the world and the world from his face, resulting in Harold's partial disconnect from his surroundings. The scene is incredibly reminiscent of Rene Magritte's Son of Man (pictured right). Of Son of Man, Magritte said,
At least it hides the face partly. Well, so you have the apparent face, the apple, hiding the visible but hidden, the face of the person. It's something that happens constantly. Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present.
Throughout the film, this relationship between the visible and the hidden is developed as Harold becomes further enmeshed in his efforts to discover that which he doesn't know

The ignorance that is most fascinating, however, is not Harold Crick's; it is Karen Eiffel's, the author/narrator of Death and Taxes. While she believes she is creating her own characters and her own world, in reality, she is merely channeling part of it into prose, while she herself is entirely unaware that the character of Harold Crick actually exists. The film weaves a tangled mess of he-knows-she-knows: the audience knows that Crick knows about the narrator, and the audience also knows that the narrator does not know that Crick knows about the narrator. This simultaneously bestows god-like qualities upon Eiffel (by giving her the power to control a man's life) while making her unaware of the very power she possesses.

The question that inevitably rises, then, is whether Karen Eiffel did know of Harold's awareness of the omniscent third-person narrator. It is this awareness of the narrator that drives much of Harold's actions--he seeks out Professor Hilbert's help, he keeps a journal of the comic and tragic aspects of his life, and he even tracks down Eiffel, herself. Was this written in Death and Taxes, or was Crick acting independently of the plot of the novel? For example, when Professor Hilbert says, "Harold, you don’t control your fate," Harold replies, "I know," indicating that he is a pawn in the hands of the narrator. But did Eiffel, who theoretically does control his fate, allow him to contact Professor Hilbert in the first place, or was it purely Harold's own doing? When Crick mentions Hilbert by name upon their meeting, she seems startled that he knows of the professor, leading the audience to believe that, though there is an omniscient third-person narrator, the narrator who seems to know all is different from the author, who is merely the channel for the story (as any English 101 student can tell you). While this may seem rather obvious and redundant, however, it implies that Crick does possess free will and does control his own fate--to a degree.

This leads us to the final irony of the film--Crick chooses to step in front of a bus to save a child in order to preserve the artistic integrity of Eiffel's novel, while it is she who decides to allow him to live through the experience, destroying the very integrity that Crick sacrificed himself to save. Would Harold have agreed to be, as Ana Pascal points out, "severely injured," just so Eiffel could write an "okay" novel? Couldn't she have written an okay novel that didn't end in Crick's eventual hospitilization and encasement in plaster? In addition, even though Crick is alive, there were others who were negatively affected by the accident--in the montage at the end, the little boy who Crick saved is seen appearing guilt-stricked and mouthing, "It's my fault," while the bus driver, who had been looking for employment throughout the film, is seen to be embraced by two co-workers, with the implication being that she has been fired. If Eiffel does, indeed, have god-like qualities, it is clear that she is no god, for even when she is aware of her powers, she does not do them justice, punishing innocents merely so Harold Crick can be hit by a bus and survive the experience.
While the film is deliberately ambiguous about the nature of life--is Crick living a tragedy or a comedy?--it definitively argues that ignorance plays a major role in motivating characters, if only be denying them a vital piece of the puzzle. As Hilbert puts so succinctly, "Dramatic irony. It'll fuck you every time." It is only by making the most of what we do know--and actively searching for what we do not--that we can successfully navigate the path of life laid before us by our omniscient third-person narrator.


For an interesting article on irony, check out "The Final Irony" from The Guardian:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2003/jun/28/weekend7.weekend2

Friday, May 23, 2008

Life is like an Altoid

Have you ever had one of those moments where time seems to slow down and the details of the scene are so clear and memorable that they become almost crystallized in your mind? When you can look back, even some time later, and describe the embroidery on the shirt of the person sitting next to you or the exact scent of the air? Normally when these occur, I'll turn around and write poetry about it, but they have traditionally been few and far between, which is why my poetry portfolio is so pathetically sparse (I've only written maybe three or four poems that I would term 'good,' while I have at least passably-decent prose coming out the yin yang).

These moments have been occurring more frequently; I've had two of these in the past week, where time was slowed down to the point where I was aware of my blinks, of my heart rate, the sound of traffic. Suddenly, I'll go through a sensory overload, as though the overbearing power of the world somehow slipped through my brain's natural defense mechanisms. Imagine you were chewing on a piece of hour-old Doublemint Gum that without warning turned into an Altoid. I guess it shows just how media-centric our society is, but it always makes me feel like I'm in a movie with a slow-motion scene, and since those are generally some of the most important scenes in the movie, after time has caught back up with me, I feel as though I lived through something momentous and inspiring.

This doesn't have to be with things that actually are momentous--for example, it happened earlier this week when I was sitting in Barnes and Noble. (Yes, I go to the big conglomerate chain bookstore. So sue me.) As I was getting ready to peel an orange, I glanced up and caught sight of the window washers outside the window, and boom--time slowed while my mind raced. I noticed every detail of the soapy water, of the way they hunched under the awning that stretched over them, of the technique they used for the squeegees. They didn't speak, but seemed to know exactly what to do without discussing it, and I didn't snap out of my trance (if that's what it was) until one glanced up and caught sight of me staring at them. This certainly wasn't momentous, but it was definitely inspiring.

My mind began to shoot off the types of questions creative writing classes always encourage: What are their names and what do they get paid and do they work for barnes and noble or do they work for a contracting company or are they self employed and do they enjoy their work and do they feel like it is work and are they afraid of heights and do they trust the wires holding them up or do they take it for granted and what do they do in the winter season and have they ever been injured on the job and have they ever seen anything they weren't supposed to see through a window they were washing and did they get caught and did that make them feel like peeping toms or did they feel it was all in the line of duty and are they in a union and what do they think I'm thinking right now?


I felt like I was in a stream-of-consciousness poem, as though Allen Ginsberg were trapped in my head and fighting to get out. I should also say that it wasn't necessarily pleasant, partly because it'll be incredibly difficult to write anything with any kind of rhythm and depth with the word "squeegee" in it ("Across the glass he drew the squeegee / A pointer in the game of Oijui"), and also because it made me realize how out-of-touch I normally am. Why is it that I don't connect that way with everyone I see? I've always enjoyed people-watching (what writer doesn't), but it normally isn't that personal for me; it's generally a sort of vague curiosity about the world around me, not really an interest about the world around them.

Regardless, I think John Fowels described it best in The French Lieutenant's Woman (which has been tying into my life remarkably well recently): "He felt himself in suspension between the two world, the warm, neat civilization behind his back, the cool, dark mystery outside. We all write poems; it is simply that poets are the ones who write in words."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Bicycle Built for One

Speaking of Victorian women, I stumbled across this really awesome article today from Mental Floss (on CNN): "Women's Lib Arrived on Bicycles." Susan B. Anthony, noted suffragist, once said, "Bicycling has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance." It also encouraged excercise in a class of women encouraged to stay at home on their fainting couches as well as new and less-constricting fashions in clothing. While I had never thought about it in this light, it makes sense that giving women a way to get out of the house--and maybe out into the real world--would liberate them in a world that discouraged female independent action.

Examples of this abound in Victorian literature. Think about Jane Austen. How often does one of her characters decide to go for a drive or a ride by herself? If Elizabeth--or Emma or Anne or any of them--decides to go somewhere, she is accompanied by her mother, her sisters, or a friend. She does not announce, "It has occurred to me that I would much prefer to blow this joint than finish this needlepoint. Cheerio!" In fact, if she goes anywhere, it's generally just an excuse to get out of the house and it's within walking distance.

Or take a look at Thomas Hardy. In Tess of the d'Urbervilles, it is when Tess is walking home at night by herself that her true problems begin (though some might say it is really due to her complete lack of self-preservation). In The Return of the Native, Eustacia Vye roams the heath by herself, causing herself and the other characters no end of heartache. Each of these stories ends in tragedy and death.

There are probably hundreds of such examples of women's mobility serving as the "gateway" to sin, and so when the bicycle was introduced to England in the 1880s, it represented more than just one more form of transportation. It was easier and safer than riding a horse and less expensive than a carriage, and gave women a much wider range of activities and places to go. In addition, the bicycle serves as a symbol for independence, in part due to the fact that it is self-propelled; it is the rider's energy and strength alone that moves the bike, nothing else.

To this day, the bike represents an alternative way of life, free of dependence on oil and full of activity and fresh air--to most TV addicted, car-driving Americans, it's practically a subculture in the 21st century. There are still cycling events to protest Big Oil, the War, and even unsafe drivers. (The picture to the left documents the time last year my cousin was charged with indecent exposure for participating in the World Naked Bike Ride to protest the war. She's the one in the middle wearing a scarf and a tattoo, and she named her bike Naked--so she can ride Naked whenever she wants.)

Speaking as a bicyclist, or at least a non-car owner who owns a bike and occasionally rides it, my real sense of independence comes from being able to go the wrong way on one-way streets by just hopping up onto the sidewalk. Regardless, I have much more respect for the history of the bicycle than I did before I realized just what it might have meant to my grandmother's grandmother's grandmother.
For those who are interested in reading the article, here it is: http://www.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/wayoflife/05/20/women.bicycling/index.html

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Victorian in Vegas

A friend and I went to Vegas last weekend and I was obliged--unwillingly, I might add--to perform some pretty deep self-reflection, due in part to the fact that I am currently reading The French Leutenant's Woman. Written by John Fowles in 1969, the novel is based in the 1850s and is harshly critical of Mid-Victorian society, its repression of women, and the emphasis on the social strata. Sitting by the pool at Bally's with my book on my lap, I couldn't help but draw comparisons between Vegas and the Victorian society described so expertly in The French Leutenant's Woman. There I was, reading about Charles and Ernestina's vacation in the country--where by day Ernestina spends most of her time indoors and Charles goes hiking for sand dollars and by night they attend chaperoned parties--while the rest of the occupants of the pool were doing a good job pretending they were on MTV's Spring Break: 2008. Tanned and well-oiled co-eds lounged by or waded in the pool, club music pumped from the speakers by the DJ's table, and waitresses clad in turquoise animal-print bikinis delivered margaritas and Bud Lites to those who were too sun-baked to get up and go to the bar themselves. Normally, I wouldn't have minded the deafening hip-hop, even if I was trying to read--except the DJ kept playing some of my least favorite songs like "Lean Like a Cholo" and "Drop it Like it's Hot." Barf.*

I kid you not, one group of kids (I hesitate to call them men and women, though they were probably around my age) decided to have a swimming race in the hot tub. Here's a brief description of the rules, as described by one extremely drunk blond in a strapless bikini: "Okay, so we swim across the pool with our beers held up in the air, touch the other side, swim back, say 'Cheers,' chug, and then show our privates." Upon hearing this, I immediately thought three things: (1) a race would be better done in a pool not ten feet wide and two-and-a-half feet deep, (2) "privates" is probably the most unattractive-sounding word ever invented for the human genitalia--other than "genitalia," of course--, and (3) it was a good thing my CPR certification hadn't expired yet, because I might actually have to use it.

It is strange, however, to read a book that is harshly critical of Victorian society and realize that you might be much more comfortable in said society than you often are in your own. We went to a club on Friday night--because I do like to dance, however prudish this post might make me seem--and I was struck once again by the difference 150 years makes in social etiquette. The men at these clubs toss back a couple of drinks, make their way onto the dance floor, and approach the women from behind, apparently thinking that dry-humping their asses is a great form of introduction. I make it a rule to only dance with men who come at me from the front, say "Hello," and perhaps even shake my hand--those who, you know, treat me like a human being. Needless to say, though I was approached by about five guys, I danced with none of them and was probaby unnecessarily rude to several of them.

There has to be a middle ground, then, between the puritanical and repressive culture of the Victorians (where women were neither allowed to enjoy sex nor leave the house) and the hedonistic, drunken orgy that is the rage today. Or perhaps I'm basing my comparison too heavily on the behavior of those vacationing in a city with the motto, "What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas." Is this sort of thing normal in places that aren't Sin City? My only other points of comparison are L.A.--which is hardly any better--and Denver, where the hippies tend to prefer house parties before they hook up. Is there nowhere where people behave normally? (And by "normally," I mean, of course, "like me.")

On the other hand, however, I am painfully aware that I am the posterchild for my sunsign the Virgo, whose likes and dislikes are, according to the ever-reliable source Wikipedia, the following: "Likes- Health foods, lists, hygiene, order, wholesomeness, cleanliness, penny-pinching, details, peace. Dislikes- Hazards to health, sloppiness, and narrow-minded people, squalor, being uncertain, uncleanliness, confusion." Virgos might also be described--as I often am--as prudish and hyper-critical, so is it really any wonder I didn't fit in at the poolside frat party?

Maybe I shouldn't have dismissed the Mormon Singles Ward so quickly...

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* I should note that they also played "The Way I Are" by Timbaland and Keri Hilson, currently one of my favorite songs for several reasons: (1) It's catchy and get stuck in my head for days on end, (2) It's good to work-out to, and (3) It is one of the few hip hop videos I've seen that is not incredibly degrading to women, due in part to the fact that Keri Hilson is an artist in her own right and doesn't have to depend on dancing in a two-piece to make it into music videos.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Print is Dead.

I recently stumbled across a fairly interesting website that lists bestselling books from the last century, and I think it highlights what is wrong with the world today--or at least, one thing that is wrong with the world today. While it is true that most people don't read books anymore (TV and the internet being the preferred method of entertainment), it is also true that those who do actually pick up novels generally read the lightest of materials, making fluffy romance novels and murder mysteries best-sellers, while "literary fiction" (a genre I had never heard of until several months ago) stumbles its way from publishing houses to discount racks at Barnes and Noble.

For example, check out the best-sellers from 1998, just ten years ago:

F I C T I O N
1. The Street Lawyer, John Grisham
2. Rainbow Six, Tom Clancy
3. Bag of Bones, Stephen King
4. A Man in Full, Tom Wolfe
5. Mirror Image, Danielle Steel
6. The Long Road Home, Danielle Steel
7. The Klone and I, Danielle Steel
8. Point of Origin, Patricia Cornwell
9. Paradise, Toni Morrison
10. All Through the Night, Mary Higgins Clark
N O N F I C T I O N
1. The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom, Suze Orman
2. The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw
3. Sugar Busters!, H. Leighton Steward, Morrison C. Bethea, Sam S. Andrews, and Luis A. Balart
4. Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom
5. The Guinness Book of Records 1999
6. Talking to Heaven, James Van Praagh
7. Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self, Sarah Ban Breathnach
8. In the Meantime, Iyanla Vanzant
9. A Pirate Looks at Fifty, Jimmy Buffett
10. If Life Is a Game These Are the Rules, Cherie Carter-Scott, Ph.D.

When three of the best-sellers are written by Danielle Steele and one is The Guinness Book of Records, you know there's a disconnect between what is popular and what is good. (This depends entirely on your definition of "good," of course. Far be it for me to label Danielle Steele romances as lacking any worth, because escapist reading definitely has its place in day-to-day life. It helps one to relax and it stimulates the imagination in a way television does not, but from a literary standpoint, it also lacks any kind of thought on a deeper level. So while I enjoy a Nora Roberts novel as much as the next woman, I do not put having read one on my list of accomplishments to date, and I hardly think anyone would put Stephen King's name on a list alongside F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck as great American novelists.)



The conclusion one inevitably comes to, however, is this: as a writer, I am faced with the decision between writing what I feel is important to write--what my soul demands I write--and what will sell. There are, of course, a few exceptions to this norm, and a few contemporary authors manage to walk the line between "good" writing and commercial writing. I would include Toni Morrison on this list, but obviously few other "literary" authors can compete with Jimmy Buffett's biography the way Morrison can.


So if I write what I feel is important and good to write--for my own mental and spiritual well-being--it follows that it has little chance of being published and even less of a chance of doing well. I will get no accolades for my novel, nor will I be able to quit my job and take up writing full-time, which always has been and always will be my fantasy. On the other hand, if I write a romantic thriller (or any kind of "thriller," for that matter), I will potentially have the opportunity for another book deal in the future, which could eventually lead to writing full-time.


Nor do I have some kind of hope that my novel will be different--if only 1% of authors are published and 70% of books are dismal flops, it follows that my book has roughly a .03% chance of getting published and a .00000001% chance of making it big and getting a movie deal. We can't all be J.K. Rowling. That means that my novel has to be better-written and more commercial than 99.97% of the other books submitted to publishing houses, which average over 2,000 submissions a day. These are not very good odds by any stretch of the imagination.

Plus, getting published is entirely dependent on the fates: the mood of an editor on a particular day, the demand for a genre or style from week to week, whether you have the correct contact information in an ever-changing field... the list of reasons your (my) book can be rejected is endless, and the quality of your (my) book has very little to do with them.

Of course, I can't say I'm surprised by this. Even I, a self-proclaimed "reader," have not recently picked up a good book that was published in the last ten years. I've been too busy frantically trying to cram all of the classics into my free time that I haven't been able to even consider a book that was published this year and got rave reviews. Hell, in my literature classesat UCLA, I never even got past the 1800s because they were just so dense with good stuff. So I can't blame people for not reading new books, and I can't expect them to be interested in mine if and when I ever finish it, leading some to the conclusion that print really is dead.

So I come to my final conclusion: if there's very little chance my book will ever be published, and even less of a chance that it will ever be read, then there's no reason not to write the book purely for my own pleasure. There's no reason I shouldn't pour as much of my soul as can fit onto the page, and to take fifteen years to do it, because I'm not writing for anyone other than myself. What I'll do with the finished product is another topic altogether, but until then, I'll write for myself and myself only, because I can't reasonably expect that there will ever be an audience

(For those who are interested, here's the website that lists the best-sellers for every year since the 1900s. Pretty interesting, since I've never heard of most of the authors. Just goes to show you, you might have to choose between being good and being commercial, but being commercial doesn't necesarily mean you'll be remembered: http://www.caderbooks.com/bestintro.html.)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Apple Tree Club


This is the basis for my novel, an allegory I've spent some time working on in my head. This has very little to do with the plot of the story, but the basic "lesson" is what I would like to convey in my book. I feel like it might be productive to actually write this out and mull it over, to help stir up the creative juices. It's in a constant state of revisement, but this is what I have so far...

Once upon a time, there was a group of people who lived in a forest in the bottom of a little valley. And these people were unhappy, for they lived their lives in shade and darkness, for the sunlight could not pierce through the canopy of trees that stood overhead. And these people longed to feel the sunlight on their skin and smell the warm breeze, but they did not know how to go about doing this.


And so this continued until one little boy who discovered how to climb an apple tree. And the air was clean and sweet, and the little boy could see for miles around him, and he was happy. And when this little boy looked down on the ground below his great tree, he remembered the people milling about on the grass, and they looked lost and unhappy.

And so he lowered down a rope ladder and invited the people on the ground to join him in his club, and he named the tree Salvation. But when he let some of the people into his tree, he found that there were disagreements between the club members. And so he evicted them all back to the ground below and announced that there were new rules to join the Apple Tree Club--in order to maintain order in the tree, everyone who wished to climb the tree of Salvation must first agree to never disagree with the little boy. In this way, there would never be strife in the tree, for all would agree. And even if one of the club's members privately disagreed with the rules of the Tree, he would be forced to leave the club, for disbelief showed a lack of faith in the club.


And for sure it was much more difficult to become a member of the Apple Tree Club, and the little boy would only lower his rope ladder for those who truly agreed with everything he said and lived their lives the way he thought was best. And though most of his rules were just and fair, some were outdated or close-minded, but he required absolute obedience of all of the rules. And over time, the little boy added more and more requirements for those who wished to join the club, and he published his rules in a little book. And the people on the ground below began to mill about restlessly, for they wished to climb the tree, for they had heard the air was cleaner and smelled of apple blossoms up high.


But they could not all join, for they could not live their lives on the ground the way the little boy wished they would. And so the people down below began to read the book he had given them more critically, and different people read the book in different ways. And so they formed groups down on the ground promising others who came to the foot of the tree that they knew the way to climb the tree, though they themselves were not up there. And so the groundlings began to divide into sects, and they would fight amongst themselves about which group had the right way of it, and still the little boy would only allow a select few into the Club.


And the roots of the tree were washed in blood, for the fights grew more and more violent, and the little boy watched in disapproval, knowing that he didn't want any of them in his club, no matter how worthy those on the ground thought they were or how well they could quote his rule book. And he would amuse himself by lowering his rope ladder to those on the ground below, but no matter how much they strained and leapt for it, it was always just out of reach, and those in the Apple Tree Club laughed.


And it came to pass that one of those on the ground looked around and noticed the blood-washed grass and the fighting around her, and she backed slowly away from the commotion. And each of the groups turned to stare at her, wondering why she was no longer clawing at the foot of the tree in order to get into the club and dine on fresh apples. But the little girl was not interested in playing the games required to get into the tree, nor was she interested in fighting others for her own membership in the club.


And so the little girl went for a walk by herself through the woods, and though it was frightening, for she was alone and the path was not clear, she came to another tree that was just as tall as the Tree of Salvation and it had just as much fruit. But this tree was difficult to climb, for she was dependent only on herself as she tried to reach each tree branch above her head, and there was no rope ladder lowered down for easy access. And finally she found herself perched on the highest branch and could see for miles and smell the apple blossom-sweetened air. And she could still see the Tree of Salvation, for they were both high above the ground, but she had no desire to climb it, for she had her own tree, which she named Enlightenment.


And those who were clustered around the foot of the Tree of Salvation, convinced they were almost in the club, watched her with stormy eyes as she she lifted her face to the sunlight and basked in its warmth. And so they snuck through the woods to the foot of her tree, and they used an axe to try to cut the tree down, for they were suspicious of all who did not want to join the Apple Tree Club in the Tree of Salvation. And because they focused on destroying the Tree of Enlightenment, they lost sight of what their original goal had been, which was to climb to fresh air and happiness. And still the Tree of Enlightenment stood strong, for those who were still in shadow were too weak to destroy it. And as they hacked at it, they missed its strong trunk and instead hit the soil at their feet, digging themselves into a hole where even the brightest rays of the sun could not reach them.


And still the little girl lived in peace in her tree, and though she did not start a club and lower a ladder to help others climb to the sun, she would occasionally drop apples to let those who were still in shadows taste the sweet fruit, and she would tell them to take the path to find their own tree to climb, for she could see there were many trees in the little valley. But those who were still in darkness were afraid to climb a tree by themselves, and would instead take refuge at the foot of the Tree of Salvation, hoping the little boy might someday lower the rope ladder down to them.

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