Building A Life or Two

Although I haven’t been posting, I’ve been writing quite a bit. A few days ago, I began a piece about movies adapted from or based on books, inspired by my excitement of watching the final installation of The Hobbit. My son and I went to see it yesterday, and we’re reading the book together as well. I hope every parent experiences the joy of having a literary conversation with an eight year old. It is both simplistic and mind-blowing, pure yet passionate. He and I both cried during “The Battle of Five Armies;” I imagine we’ll both be heartbroken for the same characters before finishing the book.

The piece I wrote was meant to be short, but it grew into several pages and included numerous examples. I’ve decided to turn it into a regular series in this blog. The subject is rich and a joy to explore.

I’ve used the word “joy” twice now just in the first two paragraphs. Some might twist that into saying I’ve finally found a bit of Christmas spirit. My response to that is still “bah humbug!” I am enjoying the holidays, but not because of the holidays themselves.

My son had a magical Christmas morning — the presents appeared at the foot of his bed just like it the Harry Potter series! — and we spent several hours putting together what we named a LEGO Clash of Worlds. At one point, there was a Godzilla-sized MineCraft creeper terrorizing the dwarves of Middle Earth who were up in a burning tree while watching Han Solo team up with Master Chief to try to rescue the baby creeper from Nindroid Kai.

It was pretty intense for a Thursday.

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This week hasn’t been all fantasy and science fiction (actually it has been for books and movies). Reality has creeped in as well. I’ve been making decisions — one might even say resolutions — about my life and my son’s: past, presents, and potential futures.

First of all, I’ve decided to stop hoarding my issues. They seem to keep piling up and overwhelming me. I have about ten examples off the top of my head, but they’re all personal, so let’s move on…

Presents: the spelling was intentional. In the spirit of The Giver, I’ve decided to get my son a bike (sans training wheels) for his ninth birthday this spring. If I can afford it, I might get myself one at the same time so we can go riding together. I can no longer run, due to a health problem, but pedaling would be all right.

As to the future, there are a lot of uncertainties, which is why it is so important that I stop allowing things to clutter. I’ve already gotten rid of the annoying and mostly useless presence of men (including that one from a few weeks ago), I’m allowing myself more time to enjoy myself and relax (by myself like I prefer), and I’m considering a change, professionally (more on that another time).

These really do sound like resolutions. I’m not a fan of those, but I’ll accept the label. I don’t consider the cross from December to January a new year. My beginnings and endings are not dependent on the calendar — they are fluid, constantly changing, with many smaller beginnings and more significant endings. If I have to assign a defining number to each year, then it cannot be the same one everyone else uses; it must be meaningful to me.

My year will be marked by my son’s birthday — my accomplishments measured by his continual growth.

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Building A Life or Two

Although I haven’t been posting, I’ve been writing quite a bit. A few days ago, I began a piece about movies adapted from or based on books, inspired by my excitement of watching the final installation of The Hobbit. My son and I went to see it yesterday, and we’re reading the book together as well. I hope every parent experiences the joy of having a literary conversation with an eight year old. It is both simplistic and mind-blowing, pure yet passionate. He and I both cried during “The Battle of Five Armies;” I imagine we’ll both be heartbroken for the same characters before finishing the book.

The piece I wrote was meant to be short, but it grew into several pages and included numerous examples. I’ve decided to turn it into a regular series in this blog. The subject is rich and a joy to explore.

I’ve used the word “joy” twice now just in the first two paragraphs. Some might twist that into saying I’ve finally found a bit of Christmas spirit. My response to that is still “bah humbug!” I am enjoying the holidays, but not because of the holidays themselves.

My son had a magical Christmas morning — the presents appeared at the foot of his bed just like it the Harry Potter series! — and we spent several hours putting together what we named a LEGO Clash of Worlds. At one point, there was a Godzilla-sized MineCraft creeper terrorizing the dwarves of Middle Earth who were up in a burning tree while watching Han Solo team up with Master Chief to try to rescue the baby creeper from Nindroid Kai.

It was pretty intense for a Thursday.

image

This week hasn’t been all fantasy and science fiction (actually it has been for books and movies). Reality has creeped in as well. I’ve been making decisions — one might even say resolutions — about my life and my son’s: past, presents, and potential futures.

First of all, I’ve decided to stop hoarding my issues. They seem to keep piling up and overwhelming me. I have about ten examples off the top of my head, but they’re all personal, so let’s move on…

Presents: the spelling was intentional. In the spirit of The Giver, I’ve decided to get my son a bike (sans training wheels) for his ninth birthday this spring. If I can afford it, I might get myself one at the same time so we can go riding together. I can no longer run, due to a health problem, but pedaling would be all right.

As to the future, there are a lot of uncertainties, which is why it is so important that I stop allowing things to clutter. I’ve already gotten rid of the annoying and mostly useless presence of men (including that one from a few weeks ago), I’m allowing myself more time to enjoy myself and relax (by myself like I prefer), and I’m considering a change, professionally (more on that another time).

These really do sound like resolutions. I’m not a fan of those, but I’ll accept the label. I don’t consider the cross from December to January a new year. My beginnings and endings are not dependent on the calendar — they are fluid, constantly changing, with many smaller beginnings and more significant endings. If I have to assign a defining number to each year, then it cannot be the same one everyone else uses; it must be meaningful to me.

My year will be marked by my son’s birthday — my accomplishments measured by his continual growth.

Scratch ‘n Sniff

What causes inspiration? More, importantly, what makes inspiration worth sharing? A large group of people can write with the same topic in mind , yet only a handful may create something worth reading.

English professors make a point to discourage their students from self-publication; they say it is not widely respected in the academic community. This opinion is difficult to dispute, especially when you actually start reading some of the self-published, and obviously unedited, digital garbage now available. I bought a Kindle the year they were first released; I have a lot of my classics and favorites in my cloud, but I still prefer to flip through pages.

I sometimes wonder if any book that lacks a paperback version is worth my time. This attitude is likely a result of a lifelong addiction to the library. Printed words have more meaning when they can be touched and smelled. (My name is Jane, and I am a book sniffer.)

There are, however, a lot of horribly written books that continue to survive the test of time: The Epic of Gilgamesh, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and anything with Chicken Soup in the title. I was forced to read Gilgamesh for three different classes, and the story was worse each time. Just because it is (one of) the oldest written work(s), doesn’t mean it’s any good. The James Joyce I only had to read once, but I didn’t make it past chapter three. And I went through my Chicken Soup phase about the same time I was exclusively watching Lifetime T.V. I deserve to be mocked!

Today, I had a fleeting desire to buy the new Stephen King. Two things stopped me: 1) my preference for borrowing, and 2) my dislike of name brands. Okay: a third reason is that Mr. Mercedes really is awful.

New books are too pretty. There they are all shiny and unblemished on store shelves, like centerfolds; you know you’re not the first, or even the twenty-first, to touch their words, yet they present themselves as being unread. The tramps. Used ones are more honest. They sit in libraries and second-hand stores gathering dust and waiting to be noticed. Some have stains and tears from careless hands. Their bindings are cracked, their yellowed pages showing through worn covers, and yet they are more enticing to me than the beauty queens vying for my attention.

New books are beautiful, but they’re too easily damaged. Paperbacks read once or twice become grotesque: spines bend, covers wrinkle and flap away from fluffed out pages. Used volumes, in comparison, retain their shape; library copies especially maintain a dignified loveliness, perhaps because, rather than in spite, of being loved so many times before.

It won’t matter for Revival; the library will have a brand new, non-bendy hardcover. It’s more about the principle: why buy a book you haven’t read? You don’t know if you’ll enjoy it. What if it’s only good for one read and then just gathers dust on your shelf with no hope of ever being picked up by someone else? Stephen King is a brilliant author. He’s written some of my favorites: The Dark Tower, The Stand, The Green Mile, Dr. Sleep, etc. But he’s also written trash like Pet Sematary, Thinner, and Gerald’s Game. He’s become a name brand; people buy his work because they know he’s good, but they forget that he is still a man who can make mistakes.

My point: I’m not interested in buying the author; I’m after the story, and some stories just aren’t worth the cost.

Literary

Words are beautiful. They have unique purpose and flow before being arranged and rearranged in sentences or lines, paragraphs or stanzas. A word doesn’t need to be in a poem in order to be poetic; a word just needs to be in the right place at the right time.

Only a really bad writer could mess up something so inherently perfect and simple.

I’ve read 54 books so far this year (I’ve yet to tally the pages). In the last ten-plus months, I’ve started at least a dozen books that I’ve placed in the book drop after only a few chapters. Either first impressions mean more to me than I’ll admit or those dozen books were poorly written.

For me, the art is in the writing style; the plot is secondary.

If I had a printout of what I’ve borrowed from the library this year, I’d be able to tell you what books I gave up on…and what books I should have given up on. Those aren’t worth remembering, and I prefer to focus on the ones that have made a positive impact. Oddly enough, those two are the ones I finished most recently: Crooked River by Valerie Geary and Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville.

I checked out Crooked River on Monday and took it back Wednesday morning. Gretel and the Dark went back Thursday. I read fast, but I usually take my time. These two made reading exciting for me again. It’s been a dry few months. Stephen King’s latest (Mr. Mercedes) was a bit disappointing past the first few chapters, and, since then, my reading has been sporadic. Only six more books until I reach my goal, yet I’ve been on autopilot for months; I’m not sure how I got through the last twenty. Now that I’ve finally read something decent, in month 11 of 12, perhaps I can regain a little enthusiasm for the written word.

It takes a lot for me to stop reading once I’ve started. If there’s such a thing as Literary OCD, I have it. (This is actually good news for many writers as the second book in a longer series is usually weak.) Maybe it was my two-month illness or my upsurge of social interaction that caused me to lose interest in the books that would normally make me geek out. Maybe it was just the usual relapse of depression. Or maybe there really was a scarcity of decent literature, at least in my local library.

The library was my favorite place when I was a kid. We lived on top of a hill between one society and another – the literal fringes – so every trip into town was an excursion. The children’s section had puzzles, puppets, games, toys, and more books than I could ever hope to read (although I tried). First, I would find at least eight books: Amelia Bedelia, Where’s Waldo, Little Critters, and (because it freaked my mom out) Madeline. I’d get a puppet or two. Set my books on the bench next to me and play with puzzles. Con my brother into playing a game and then get mad when he won. In all those trips to the library – and we’re talking weekly trips – either I skipped over the books that were not only dedicated to buttons but could be unbuttoned or I just skipped that reading phase altogether.

In the nineties, I was obsessed with V.C. Andrews, Lifetime Television, and number of bleach blonde boy bands. (Sidenote: as a game one day, begin every conversation with “I saw this movie on Lifetime once…” and count how many people stop you right there.) I was still in love with the library, but I mostly went that one Saturday each year when I could buy a huge bag of cast-offs for just one dollar.

In college, I had to read books I absolutely hated because they were “classics.” Although I discovered some of my favorite authors this way (Hawthorne, Dickens, Whitman), I also discovered why book burning isn’t always a bad thing.

My son also loves the library. The one where we live doesn’t have an elaborate children’s wing; there are two puzzles missing half their pieces, no puppets, toys or games, and I can count the number of book shelves using only my two hands. Still, he loves it. Besides, he’s been spending more time in the teen room lately anyway. He still reads children’s books (so do I), but I’m happy that he’s growing up and closing the gap between our reading levels.

A couple years ago, he was obsessed with Scooby Doo chapter books. After surviving those, my resistance to bad prose is fairly high. He’s been getting into jokes lately; however, so I’m anticipating another literary dry spell.