October 29, 2014

The Craziest Rainbow

As I explained earlier this month, I've lacked blogging inspiration lately, so it's been mostly book reviews. I don't know about you, but I'm getting kind of bored with that, so I thought this was a good opportunity to start up a new feature I've considered for a long time. I can guarantee this series will be highly self-indulgent, and if we're all lucky, it will also be somewhat entertaining.

Ever since I was a small child, I've fancied myself a writer. Thanks to diligent parental hoarding, many of my early creative efforts have been preserved, and I'd like to share some of these stories and poems with you. The first piece of juvenilia dates from second grade, which I believe makes it my earliest surviving work:

October 17, 2014

Fit to Print

It's well into October (in case you haven't noticed), which means that the bulk of the year is over. The most substantial thing I've accomplished in 2014 to this point is that I've read a lot of books. I've done some other stuff too, of course, but most of that remains stalled in a state of incompletion.

Reading books is great. You start at the first page, you move forward through the (hopefully wonderful) story, and then you get to the end, and it's over. Maybe you're sorry it's over, maybe you're a little bit relieved, but in any case, the book is done. You've had the experience of reading it, you get to add it to your list, and you can tell other people what you thought of it.

This is why all my posts for the past few months have been about books I've read. Reviews are a nice concrete chunk of prose representing a specific accomplishment that I know how to tell the world about. While I sometimes struggle to accurately (and diplomatically) express my opinions of the books, these are feelings I'm comfortable sharing.

The rest is trickier. I am still making gradual progress toward the new novel. I'm still actively seeking an agent for the completed novel. I'm always contemplating what other sorts of things I could write, or should write, or might do with myself and my time. It's all kind of vague.

I had hoped my accomplishments would be more thrilling by this point in the year. Any day now, I could have exciting new things to post about, and in the meantime I'm going to work on coming up with a bit of variety, even if it's not too new or too exciting. But when all else fails, it's a comfort to know that there are always more books to read and discuss.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Edan Lepucki studies the metaphors in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale: "Throughout the novel, Offred continually turns her body into something other than a body in this way. At the same time, she also regularly personifies objects. In this passage, for example, while she is a piece of a toast, the ceiling has a 'blind plaster eye' and the moon shines on 'the breast of the new-fallen snow.' In Offred's imagination, everything is turned on its head, or given one." (Thanks, The Millions!)

October 10, 2014

Station Eleven

I'm fascinated by apocalypses, and I'm not the only one, so there's always more fiction out there to satisfy my horrified curiosity about what would happen if civilization broke down for one reason or another. I go into these stories with high hopes, but I'm often disappointed, because I usually find something lacking, whether in the premise or the characters or the plot. So I was very excited when STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel not only lived up to my expectations, but earned a spot as one of my favorite books of the year.

The story opens in a Toronto theater, during a production of King Lear, as the lead actor has a heart attack in the middle of a scene. This ominous event introduces us to the characters we'll be following into a world that is just about to change completely. Hospitals are already filling with patients sick from a deadly and highly contagious flu. Soon, very few people will be left alive.

After the opening section, the narrative jumps ahead many years. Life in the wake of the pandemic is both simpler and more difficult. A troupe of actors and musicians travel the coast of Lake Michigan, bringing Shakespeare to settlements of survivors. One of these performers acted in King Lear as a child, right before the collapse. She remembers the kind man who died onstage, but she doesn't remember much else of the time before, or from the terrifying first year.

Fortunately, as readers, we get to know more than any of the characters, and we gradually learn about several different experiences of the immediate aftermath. The story's carefully presented time shifts reveal the connections between a web of fascinating characters who were once part of one another's lives, if only briefly. With this structure, Mandel portrays the intimate, emotional stories of each character while also exploring the broad effects of a worldwide catastrophe.

This is a gripping novel, full of well-developed characters, intriguing mysteries, excellent world-building, and strong writing. At times it's heartbreaking, at times it's amusing, and at every point, it's engrossing. Mandel has three earlier books, and I'm eager to read them all, because she can definitely tell a story.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ On the NaNoWriMo blog, Crystal Chan offers suggestions on How to Write About What You Don't Know: "Take a deep breath, because a heavy dose of research--and humility--will be involved. You can't just conjecture because you'll do so using your own frame of reference. Writing about what you don't know explicitly means that you can't rely on your own experiences. You have to do so much research that this new material becomes what you know."