If, however, I …

Quote

If, however, I did fear, deep inside, that my inability to appreciate any celebrated book betrayed my complete intellectual and aesthetic inadequacy, I would probably be pretty angry. (1)

So this is a quote from a Salon article that I really intended to dissect (and who knows, perhaps somewhere I will).

Basically, the author comes to the conclusion that the only reason people write passionately negative reviews of books only do so because they couldn’t understand the words or just don’t trust their literary judgement. In fact, the subtitle reads “What readers who take offense at unfamiliar words and challenging books are telling us about our culture.” In other words, we are a culture of mainstream, listen-to-the-lowest-common-denominator and can we please stop listening to stupid people who don’t agree with us now?

First, I agree that the lowest common denominator is not likely to have the best quality work—because that’s really what it’s for, is marketing. 

Second, as a passionate reader who quite frequently loathes books even when the literary world loves them, I disagree most vehemently. 

Corollary: I absolutely do not distrust my literary tastes, and quite frequently literary people write stupid books. Terribly books.

But I am a passionate reader, and because I am, I like to share my opinions. Frequently I do so on the internet. Even more frequently, as anyone I know will tell you, I’ll share it in person. When a book offends me, from style, character or theme, I will tell people. Even in writing, where the poor dear author might see it and get his or her feelings hurt. Quite honestly, I don’t care.

Well, I would, should some author ever actually read one of my reviews and find them hurtful, I would empathize with that pain. I wouldn’t remove the review. I wouldn’t edit the review. It doesn’t feel like truth to me to do so. I do my best to make sure I am comfortable with absolutely everything I put online, ever. Some of it is horribly embarrassing and makes me blush to think of it. It’s still there (no links, though). It’s nothing to ruin my life. It’s truthful to who I was and what I wanted to say at the time. 

Now that I’ve completed NaNoWriMo some three times, I can tell you, all of those are awful. Shame on me for actually letting my friends read the first one, but that’s mostly because a rough draft written in such short time with no experience whatsoever might just be actively harmful to the world.(2)

So I would feel badly for an author who was too invested in their book to understand that people have different opinions and this is a fact and not even a right, but that’s just because I am also a human being with a functional empathy brain lobe. Once upon a time, criticism was understood to be a thing that happened. You could rail against it or fight back or ignore it, but you realized it would happen. Now, for all the hand-wringing over the youngest generations being too fragile to face the world after decades of gold stars and self-esteem babble, it seems like the notion has been swallowed wholeheartedly by the the literary community. And the genre community.

You know what happens when other professionals throw fits over mean reviews online? People laugh at them on the internet too. And television. And around the water cooler. 

Dear author, you sold your book. You made money. You are now a professional. Please try to grow a backbone.

Sincerely, 

Plot

(1) Is the literary world elitist?

(2) My friends are also strong-minded people, and do not appear to be damaged.

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A Little Bit Critical

So, as anyone who has watched a movie with me knows, I cannot turn off my brain for the two hours required, even, or maybe especially, in a darkened theater. Over the past few years, I can only say I loved…Toy Story III, The King’s Speech, and The Heat.

But my shriveled cynical heart could simply not resist Saving Mr. Banks. 

It as as close to perfect a movie as I believe Hollywood is capable. Hyperbolic, I know. But looking at three quarters of my few favorite movies…they’re kind of about old people. Maybe Hollywood writers are only able to write coherent stories for old people. Or maybe they’re not as likely to get distracted by sex when old people are involved. Wait…Last Vegas was a thing. Let me mourn for a moment.

Never mind. I think my favorite part of Saving Mr. Banks is not, actually the characters, which in fact sound like actual people, but that the characters’ story matches the theme…it’s a movie about creative ownership and even the conflict between the collaborative nature movie-making and the individual ownership of writing. 

The scriptwriters managed to tell quite a few stories in, well, a rather long movie. It was a good choice though, because for one thing, I didn’t even feel like I’d been in the theater that long, and afterward wasn’t as exhausted as I would have expected, as I did during The Book Thief. And I loved that it felt like the side characters were given characters and not just props.

Emma Thomson and Tom Hanks both portrayed their characters excellently, but everyone in the movie acted. Most of the time, watching movies, I am watching Acclaimed Actor X standing in for Character Y. There isn’t necessarily a great deal of acting. So that alone made me well-disposed towards the movie.

Finally, I should clarify: this is fiction people. I’m fairly certain it’s not meant to be a history. Maybe a homage, a memorial for the real people. (I did love the credits, tapes from the real sessions with Mrs. Travers.) But yeah, not a history, just a story, based loosely on real life, and told most excellently.

Good Luck!

Because it’s time to start writing if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo. And I know from experience staring late causes all sorts of problems.

I started last night, right at midnight. Stopped at an even 1000 words, because it’s a nice even number. Instead of continuing, of course, I’m writing this post, both as it has been scheduled and also because I was introduced to an author today.

Sigh.

Apparently this guy is some kind of big deal, or at least an  author with influence, though fortunately I’ve never heard from him and don’t need to worry about having it color my reading of his work. Someone feels threatened.

Because that’s what happens. Published authors, are, of course, the only ‘real’ authors, and god forbid the dirty common people get their mucky hands over their white towers.

Do I sound a little bitter? I suppose I am. When I first found NaNoWriMo, I was thrilled by the almost innocent thrill of the organizers. It wasn’t some way to convince people anything they wrote would be worthy of publishing, but to show people writing, and by extension, authors, aren’t worthy of blind devotion simply because they’ve managed to get a few tens of thousands of words onto paper. Great authors deserve recognition for their work, their word play skill, their insight into the human condition. Challenging amateur writers to make a similar effort in no way threatens the respect we pay to dedicated authors who can change the way we see the world.

If you haven’t noticed, our culture has lately failed to honor the humanities it depends on to be culture. People have recognized that modern ‘literary’ authors and critics are out of touch, that they don’t relate to humanity at all—that modern literature can be little more than a circle jerk of mutual appreciation from student to teacher to student, and hardly anyone new enters the picture.

NaNoWriMo brings hundreds of thousands of literature lovers together actively in a way I don’t recognize. Not like universities, where you have a limited list of acceptable reading material: what my professor called ‘serious’ literature. As much as I liked him, that’s such an artificial and unnatural limiting of everything literature is and can be. For example, I recently read a non-professional critical article* on the qualities of the best science fiction versus what science fiction has become. Science fiction, especially is dismissed by ‘serious’ authors because it doesn’t realize with real stuff. Whatever that’s supposed to mean. And the article points out that the best part of Science Fiction speculates about how our world today will affect the world tomorrow. What could be more profound than that? The best science fiction provokes wonder from the reader, changes the reader, offers the world possibilities. Everything the best literature has always done. Do read the article, it’s a thought-provoking read with a great discussion afterwards. But somehow science fiction is just not good enough for real authors.

Back to NaNiWriMo, why do professional authors object to others knowing how difficult it is to truly craft a novel?  I’ve long heard complaints from authors about people pointing out they just get to ‘stay at home all day’ or that they ‘have a great idea for a novel’ that they just haven’t gotten around to writing yet. Even after NaNoWriMo, people will still say these things. But some of them will actually try. And maybe they’ll appreciate how hard their favorite authors, or even least favorite authors, have to work at their profession.

No, somehow it’s a challenge. It assaults their delicate sensibilities. Maybe it even makes it harder for them to be published…because if you’ve been published once, it’s your right to be published again.

The creators of NaNoWriMo have never, in my experience presented the challenge as the path to publishing. It’s always been nothing more than permission. Permission to write a truly terrible novel that maybe no one will ever see, that will never be graded, but that maybe, just maybe, could be made into something worthwhile. With work. Every year, successful NaNo winners—which really includes everyone who attempted any writing at all—to continue to improve, to edit what they have, to expand anything missed in the rush, to close up the plot holes. And unlike everyone trying to sell their self-publishing services, the NaNo crew has always advocated editing, once the work is to that point. As an editor myself, and a discriminating reader, I greatly appreciate that attitude.

So, Mr. Bertschy, I may well read your work in the future. I probably won’t even be reminded of this post. Heck, everyone’s allowed to say stupid things; it happens. Generally, I prefer to avoid attacking others on Twitter, because it sounds so much more cruel in fewer than 140 characters. I’m sure you’re not a terrible person. But I’m blogging about it instead of replying there because I’m not sure I want to engage directly with that kind of perceived elitism. If you do stumble across this post? It’s not personal, but I hope you understand why I disagree.**

Unfortunately, while you did back off a little when the ‘tongue-in-cheek’ part was pointed out, the tone of your first tweet hit a number of my berserk buttons when it comes to literature. I truely think the literary scene suffers from the artificial split between ‘literature’ and ‘genre’ and in insulated nature of the the big prizes. These thousand words are not a direct response to you. However, if you—or others of that kind of mindset—are willing to engage in a sincere discussion on the relative worthiness of fiction, I would love you forever. Seriously.

*”The Issue with Science Fiction Nowadays: Where Has All the Wonder Gone?” by Kyllorac (August 17, 2011)

**It is exceedingly unlikely, as I’m not going to tag the name, but as the entire post was in response to that Tweet, I thought I should clarify why I felt it necessary. Should he visit, I’d hate for him to feel attacked, but it’s very difficult to have a true discussion online.

P.S. Oh look at that! Back to the tl;dr posts—looks like the limited schedule helps. And I didn’t even start to talk about my own NaNo first day, which I must get back to, or the fantastic writer’s group I found. I know you’re all devastated to miss my over-sharing.

Taken By Surprise

 

Good thing a few people posted about National Novel Writing Month today on Goodreads. Because my brain had refused to recognize that November is just a week away!

 

Honestly, I’m just a little terrified.

 

When I checked my author page on the NaNo website, I remembered that my idea for this year is essentially the same one I had last year. This year though, I’d like to not just start on time but to finish. I’m convinced it’s a good idea. See me confident I have the best idea ever. Totally, completely confident.

 

Yes.

 

Hee. Anyway, it is a story I can have fun with, one responding to tropes I’m familiar and sometimes uncomfortable with common in current literary trends, like I did in my one successful NaNo, in 2010. You know, when I was looking at my profile, I realized I started NaNoWriMo in 2007. Five years ago. I feel old.

 

But if I win, I can at least feel accomplished.

 

Also, the NaNo site links to their corporate sponsors, through which I found Yarny, my new favorite writing site. Now I know I’ve blogged about other writing sites, like Plinky, if you want prompts, Write or Die for timed challenges, or 750words.com, which is good for getting into a writing habit, but Yarny is fantastic for fiction. You write in snippets that can be grouped and also keep track of “people, places, and things” that are important to the story. Everything connected to one story is saved on one screen, so it’s like a different folder for every story.

“The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pendants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin

 

It seems fairly intuitive, though I’m never quite sure I think like other people, and it’s a clean and simple layout. I only signed up for it today, and only the free version, but I think it’s by far my new favorite. I’ve already set up my novel for November, and started several stories that I keep thinking about writing without having started.

robot unicorn attack merino

I wish I had! *robot unicorn attack merino (Photo credit: lemonhalf)

Every once in a while, though I suppose it’s actually common now that I think about it, I have this … compulsion…no, call it emotion, to write. There’s a single, vivid image, visual, tactile, whatever and the only thing I want to do is get it down, shape it, say this thing that I know I want to say, have wanted to say without the words or without articulation, and suddenly it clarifies and all I want to do is write it down.

And I never do.

Oh, sometimes I’ll jot a note on a scrap of paper, or it’ll even make it into my journal (that was supposed to replace all the scraps of paper), but most of the time, the best way I can think to express myself is through fiction or poetry, and honestly, I’m frightened of both.

As with drawing, what I try to get down in paper never quite resembles what’s in my head. And I just don’t know how to get from there to here.

So Yarny gives me a chance to get all my ideas together, collect all the dots and not feel like I have to start at the beginning, but get out the image I have instead of what I think I ought to write. Because the linear nature of most word processing programs keep me from just starting. To arrange it as Yarny does would probably take me several different folders and many documents, and I know I’d lose track. Forgive me my gushing, but I’m just a bit giddy at how perfect Yarny’s setup is for my process.

Wish me luck! I really think I can do it this year.

“I really think I write about everyday life. I don’t think I’m quite as odd as others say I am. Life is intrinsically, well, boring and dangerous at the same time. At any given moment the floor may open up. Of course, it almost never does; that’s what makes it so boring.”

― Edward Gorey

 

Review: Anathem

Anathem
Anathem by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well.

To start, I have far less to say than this book has to say about itself.

Though I first picked it up in July, and didn’t finish it until a concentrated burst this afternoon, as the library simply wouldn’t let me keep it anymore, it’s a quick read. I only picked it up after I heard about another of the author’s books, [b:Reamde|10552338|Reamde|Neal Stephenson|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1305993115s/10552338.jpg|15458989], from my friend’s dad while on vacation. Apparently every guy in the family had been reading and enjoying it, but the library only had Anathem. My friend hasn’t been enjoying that one, so my choice is just as well.

Not being much a reader of speculative fiction (I suppose the only genre I know to put this in, it’s not like anything I’ve ever read)the wildly different worldbuilding might have put me off, but I found the narrative voice strangely charming.

And really, that describes much of the book for me—fun and enthralling, bordering on silly. You know, I didn’t read any other reviews before either checking out this book or writing my review, so I don’t know what other readers will make of my response. Succinctly: it’s the familiar Campbell-ian hero’s journey only set somewhere else and with lots of exposition. Specifically, it’s about less a character and more a personality to walk the reader through the world without having to worry about a complex or unfamiliar plot. It tracks almost too perfectly.

I did enjoy the worldbuilding though, which saved it. I think the way I arranged in my head, to keep everything straight and not rely too heavily on the glossary right from the start went something like this: Eramus (Sp??) is a member of an academically-themed monkhood, on a planet much like our own, or at least ours in a parallel universe, if civilization had diverged technologically four hundred years ago and from there where it would be in another three thousand years all before it turned out to be the plot in-text. Sort of. Then, of course, he’s almost immediately outside the convent—sorry, concent—because that’s how this kind of plot goes. He meets up with his sister, or rather, ‘sib’, and while all the theoretical discussions are interesting, at least to me, I wonder how much of this is just a send up of, well, modern everything. That would be a really interesting discussion if I were smart enough to try it, and remembered enough of the work. I really have too much else to get to to try and get through this behemoth, however. Maybe I’ll get back to it, I have plenty of notes. After meeting his sib, Raz gets into trouble and has to stay home—at least until he has to leave again—there are so many more theoretical arguments to be made about the outside world! And anyway, we have to get to the sort of aliens somehow.

So the only reason I question whether or not this is a satire of modern culture, or rather, exactly how much of is, is because as I said, most of it is worldbuilding. There is lots and lots of worldbuilding with lots of theoretical math-ish type conversations. I couldn’t say whether it’s real math, because math isn’t my thing. Also, math is a term in the novel for a subset of the concent.

There are many random terms in the novel, really, that’s half the worldbuilding. He chooses what words to use carefully: I didn’t think there were too many, though most significant nouns were of unconventional usage. At least there were no apostrophes. It’s a bit pulpy, which is fun, and sometimes techno-babbly, which I’m not sure is the term as it’s been used, but sounds right. I wish I could tell how much of the concent was supposed to be satire, because I’m not sure of Stephenson’s point with the concent idea. The ideas and concepts are simplistic—but then again, it’s only a thousand pages, and long as that is for fiction, it’s hardly enough to start with reality. Of course, he’s not engaging with many tricky human quirks except in the most general sense…like I said, we’re led through the world by a personality, less a character. No one is particularly deep or complex, but suit their purposes.

I’ve barely even started with what I want to say…I’m not even sure what that is. I’ll have to give myself some time to format a proper argument or at least some cohesion. Let me think on it, look out for a proper review after I’ve had a chance to cogitate.

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Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Doesn’t it have a lovely cover?

Unfortunately, it’s entirely inappropriate for the tone and style of the novel. I should have paid more attention to another edition’s comparison to Ocean’s Eleven, which is not my genre, and the comparison to Robin Hood at all is pushing it.

They should have stuck with this one:

burning city cover

Problem was, I hated Locke. Didn’t find him the least bit charming, and yet I don’t think I was supposed to see him as a sociopath, though I’m fairly sure he was. Surely Locke’s genius should have provided some consolation? Only it felt like an informed attribute: everyone’s always just so impressed by Locke, and we spend so much time going on about his various gambits (’cause he’s a genius), I just got bored.

You might ask: if you see so much of his planning, how can his intelligence be an informed attribute? Because I don’t remember any scenes of Locke working to figure it out. Have you ever watched Sherlock? Even the consulting detective himself has to stop and put all the clues together, but as I recall, most of Locke’s brilliance was recounted after the fact.

That could be unfair. Still, what with Locke-as-protagonist, and this terrible, terrible world, the novel felt too self-satisfied. It reveled in all the ugliness and gore.

But I didn’t care about anyone! All the side characters were one-dimensional, especially the significant ones—which is just as well, considering they amounted to nothing more than motivation fodder for Locke. Yes, there was a lot of graphic violence, but it didn’t serve the story. Now, I’m not opposed to violence or gore in books, but it was so over the top, I occasionally snorted in amusement before I could stop myself (which makes me feel like a terrible person).

I suppose I liked Doña Vorchenza and Sophia(?). Unfortunately, I can’t remember much about them.

There’s my real trouble right there. Because I didn’t like Locke, I kept putting the book down; every time I put the book down, I forgot what was going on, who was who, and why I should care. Also, related to that, the pacing felt choppy. I read this on my nook, and the segments were all really short, and—this can’t be faulted to the author—after every section break, the first paragraph was formatted in a larger font. It very much seemed to drag anything out.

I can see why others like this book: if you don’t despise Locke, you won’t be as distracted from the plot like I was, and there is a lot of it. I honestly can’t think of how to put the positives, but if this is your thing, please go and read it.

But if, like me, you saw the cover, but not Ocean’s Eleven, just know what you’re getting into, and be prepared for a long, digressing set-up and conventional plot.

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You are a Lying Liar who Lies!

 

Sorry to accuse, but I’m sure you can’t help it. You’re human, after all.

 

Unless you’re invading aliens, in which case you may as well skip this post, because it probably won’t help you out in your conquest, or even in translating humanity, at all.

 

Anyway, we’ve discovered the television in the living room can connect directly to Netflix, and I’ve been watching it much more often, and you know, I pay for it. So that’s good. It also gives me time to knit and I’ve nearly finished the back of my first top!

 

This time, my recommended tags include: Barack Obama, United States, Mitt Romney, Maryland, Stephanie Cutter, Joe Biden, People, and History.

 

 

I is amused.

 

Mostly because, though I am accusing everyone of being a liar, it’s in relation to the TV show Lie to Me, hence the reference to Netflix. It’s not a great show, honestly, but at least it’s fun to watch. Lie to Me has another Sherlock Holmes–style character, at least in that the character has been such an enduring influence on our culture. The idea is, he can automatically tell you’re lying because Science.

 

It seems to be about on the level of every other show using Science to solve crimes. Or Numb3rs. Yes, I like that show too. Sorry, scientists, the silly conclusions and far-reaching fantasy conclusions do not stop me from watching fake science crime dramas—at least I won’t watch the CSIs…except sometimes when they’re particularly funny.

 

Back to Lie to Me. It’s a little harder to talk about because, despite having seen six episodes, I don’t know any of the character names. Anyway, so you have the genius-jerk type character, his Girl Friday, the weird guy, the new girl, and the secretary. Secretary, her name is Heidi, hardly shows up, and the weird guy takes awhile to get screen-time during the set up, but now is a foil for the new girl. The new girl is fun, but surely can’t have decent relationships outside of work, even if we haven’t seen that at all, because she doesn’t seem very clearly with humanity, except for identifying emotions. I like Girl Friday, she’s got back story and fun quirks. Main character, as I said, is a typical genius jerk, snarky, ought to get sued for harassment, can quell any naysayer with just one quip. These shows never acknowledge how attached people are to their opinions whether or not they’re caught.

 

Hotch on Criminal Minds did it better though. Mostly because he’s not a jerk, but because calling out the lawyer in the courtroom played with concepts of hubris and poetic justice

 

 

Not that Lie to Me isn’t trying to do the same thing, but the main character is supposed to pull it off every episode, and it’s less impressive that way. Also, they telegraph the guilty party a lot, and you generally know the answer as soon as the character comes on-screen. The fun comes from seeing how they’ll tease out the truth. It is nice that just because they can see a lie, they can’t necessarily force the truth.

 

A little less inerrancy, perhaps, in drawing conclusions would be nice. The characters are always right when they interpret the ‘micro-expressions.’ I are aware that these things exist but it’s not a straightforward science and there are, or should be, more ways of going wrong.

 

No, instead they’re always right. And lying is bad regardless of situation or intent.

 

For instance, I recently read about a Japanese social construct tatemae. That particular website compared it to a ‘social reality:’ for instance, when you go through the grocery store checkout line and the clerk asks how you are, you say ‘fine,’ well, unless you’re particularly socially inept or just a selfish jerk. The article I read described tatemae as similar to the white lie, but without the Western connection toward a lie: in other words, a necessary truth for social life. When trying to find that article again, I also found another article that defined it as pretense and considered it problematic.

 

That second article does make a very good point on the social scale, but in discussing Lie to Me, I want to discuss the idea that whole-scale truth isn’t necessarily a good idea. For instance, there’s no need for the woman at the end of the first episode to admit she’s glad to have gotten another candidate fired, except to cause bad blood—as if the workplace needs any more of that.

 

Culturally, in the US anyway, I don’t think our problem is increased lying, but the lying is a symptom of our overall lack of..dare I call it ‘honor’. People don’t care about how their actions, for example, cheating, plagiarizer  lying, cause problems for others and are more willing to break social norms for personal gain. A consequence, I think, of our idealization of individualism. The problem comes down to lack of ethics, and not more lying. But I’m supposed to be talking about a television show where people have already started lying, and this fictional corporation has to determine the truth.

 

Which, is, in part, the reason for the awkward nature of the show. The main character apparently started this company, and every episode they’re hired to solve two problems, often criminally related. So they have no investment except to find the Truth. Conceivably, if the client doesn’t go alone with them, the human lie-detectors could just walk away. Also, I’m not sure how they’re paid.

 

I don’t know. Several how-to writer’s books insist the protagonist must have high personal stake in the plot, otherwise the reader will question why they don’t just quit when it gets hard. Aside from that not being a desirable trait, fictionally or otherwise, it’s a valid concern. Why shouldn’t the characters of Lie to Me not walk away?

 

Heh. It’s not a question that the show asks, and it definitely doesn’t support it. That’s just what happens when I go off on a tangent. It’s a fun show to watch though. As I knit more this winter, it’ll definitely be on in the background.