Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Bookworm Report

I can't think of anything big and thematic to write about today, so just some short updates. Mostly about books.

--Over the weekend I read Chelsea Cain's Heartsick. I discovered her through the modern-day Bloomsbury that is a certain Portland writers' group, one which includes Cheryl Strayed, Lidia Yuknavitch, Chuck Palahnuik (to whom I do not cotton as a writer, but whom I respect), Monica Drake, Cain herself, and others. When I discovered that Cain wrote contemporary thrillers, I was shocked, because I thought it would be crazy hard to be a thriller writer in a writers' group including high-literary folks. I suddenly had a hundred questions for her about how she coped with this, emotionally and practically, but I knew I could never even get to the point of writing her a fan letter, much less asking her for advice, unless I actually, um, read her books. So I started with Heartsick, the first in the series, and - I never say this unless it's true - I couldn't put it down. It was SO FUCKING GOOD. If you like thrillers, or if you don't really like thrillers but you like reading about serial killers (me), or if you liked The Silence of the Lambs (also me), read this book. I mean it. Get hold of it today. Beats The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by a country mile.

--I also finished off two books lent to me by a friend: The Hunger Games and The Glass Castle. I know I'm a weeeee bit behind the zeitgeist on both of these books, but I think that's good, because I didn't love either one. It's a bit nuts that I didn't like The Hunger Games, because I still carry Feed around in my head every damn day of my life and I loved the Uglies series, but stylistically it was so plain that I felt you could barely distinguish it from journalism, and I really didn't want to read journalism about Battle Royale. And I was put off by its intended audience. I am not so naive as to think that kids can't handle shit as intense as this (I read The Shining before I was ten), but this book seemed way over the top, kind of on purpose, for reasons I don't really understand. I hypothesize that Collins initially wrote it for adults, but publishers or somebody told her that adults don't want to read about teenagers (which is crap, but seems a pervasive notion), so she recast it, and the people who took it on were all "ooh, it's over-the-top for kids, we'll get a lot of attention, let's do it!" Perhaps not. It's just a guess.

The Glass Castle seemed lesser than the sum of its parts. It read like a long string of going-nowhere stories, the winding tale of the writer's upbringing, and they didn't really build to anything except "Wow, what a shitty childhood." Sure, it's redemptive that she made it out and got a degree from Barnard and found success in the end, but I didn't feel anything driving the narrative (except the need to record it all) until about 3/4 of the way through.

--And I read Cinderella Ate My Daughter. If you have a daughter or were ever a young girl, oh, read this. I have a lot of love for the author, Peggy Orenstein, who wrote me back after I wrote her a fan letter for the essay that ultimately became this book, but it's not just that. This is an extraordinary, necessary book, and it shoved me a few steps further down the path of belief that marketing and advertising agencies are altering the shape of our days and months and years and lives in ways that are akin to human rights violations.

--I've been reading kind of a lot in the last few weeks.

--Yesterday I bought a Nook. Ugh, ugh, ugh. I hate almost everything about ebooks (the sole shining advantage is the lack of storage space necessary. There's also the (insane) fact that data seems more permanent than physical objects in our current century, which is only sort of an advantage and more just awful), but I looked at the Nook display and all the people buzzing around it for a long, long time when we were at B&N on Monday. I felt this settling sensation inside me and decided it was time.

I picked Nook over Kindle despite my devotion to Amazon (and Prime membership, and all sorts of other good reasons) because the internet told me that Kindles have ADVERTISEMENTS, which I am NOT DOING in ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM. NOT. I read books to get away from that excrement. So I bought a Nook. I used it a little bit yesterday, to check out a book from the library and to buy another Chelsea Cain book (on sale). I read the library book for a couple dozen pages and it wasn't that bad. I liked the experience of reading it pretty well, even if I don't think much of the book so far.

The thing I would really like is if ebooks and paper books could exist in the same market. There are books I'd rather hold in my hand to read, and books I'd be happy to carry around with me in an electronic gadget. I'll bet there are lots of readers like that out there, and that their preferences as to which books are which are very different from mine. So it would be great if we could just have both. But the current model of book publishing simply won't sustain, and it seems that ebooks are exactly the catalyst needed for a total industry overhaul. So maybe paper books will go.

See, even Darth Motherfucking Vader hates ebooks

--Matt talked patiently with me for nearly two hours a few nights ago about the [non-]horror book. We talked widely and generally about creative work and its pitfalls and perils, and we talked quite specifically about what I should do with the book. He helped me to discover something pretty amazing about the kind of hero I like to read about (compared with the kind of hero everybody else apparently likes to read about), something that I think will propel me into the second version of this book.

I liked the book the way it was, but after talking and thinking it over, I'm going in a completely new direction. Away from murky cross-genre and toward adventure; away from an unlikable and unspecial heroine and toward a more traditional one. (With actual motivation!) Those of you who read All Available Time will barely recognize this next version (I hate to call it a draft, since rewriting it nearly from scratch doesn't feel like a goddamn draft) when I'm finished with it. If you, too, liked it the way it was, let's electronically put our heads together and weep for it. Then I'll get started on it all over again.


Denise said...

I feel your pain about e-books. I don't have an e-reader yet but I'm sure that day will come. I actually just got a smartphone and in the same weekend managed to knock my laptop off the table and damage the screen so I feel like I've been shoved into smartphone world face first all of a sudden, and it's kind of fascinating and slightly unnerving as well. I know what you mean about wanting to have both e-books and paper books. There are some things that I read and really don't need to own in physical form. Some textbooks, for example, or the "palette cleansers" I get from the grocery store bin after finishing something heavy. Others that I love and want to cherish I just need in paper. They're lovely and magical in that form for me.

I'm really sorry about your book. You know, I just started teaching a first year (academic) writing class, and in the teacher training we've been talking a lot about how people resist doing revision not just because they are lazy but because they have put so much work into something and they hate to feel like it's going to waste. Editing they can accept. Grammar mistakes they know they have. But to cut whole paragraphs, do new research, add completely new ideas...It's galling. And we all feel that way. It made me think a lot of you and what you're going through with this book. I really enjoyed the "first draft" and I can't wait to read the next! Good luck.

Denise said...

Also, Darth Vader, LOL!

Katharine Coldiron said...

I find myself dividing music into these two categories, too. Certain artists I'll always want to buy the physical CD, for reasons I can't actually justify or nail down. I'd say it was nostalgia, but one of those artists is Florence + the Machine, whom I certainly didn't listen to when I was a kid. But for lots of others I'm happy to just buy MP3s, which is by far the simpler method.

Galling is exactly the right word. Not a word I've applied to this yet, but JUST the right one. And I'll actually write more about this exact problem sometime in the near future.