Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Salon: The 2009 National Book Festival OR I get my nerd on

One of the things I love about living in a big metro area is that authors come to visit on their book tours. Well, you don't get much bigger than the National Book Festival, and this year I didn't miss it!

There were so many amazing authors there it was really difficult to decide who to see and who to skip.

The crowds were HUGE even though it wasn't that nice of a day and it started raining really hard around 2 pm. It was especially exciting to see how many kids were there and how excited they were over some of these authors.

The first thing I did was walk past the book signing lines and decided right away to ditch that idea. There were so many people! I figured I'd see more authors if I didn't stand in line.

So, I walked around a bit and hit up the Fiction and Fantasy tent and caught the end of Jodi Picoult. The last question asked was: Did you agree with the changes they made to the movie My Sister's Keeper. She said: The acting was amazing but they shouldn't have changed the ending. And everyone cheered. I haven't seen the movie or read the book yet, but I can understand the crowd's sentiments completely.

Then I headed over to the Children and Teens tent to wait for Shannon Hale, who I was super excited to see because I LOVE her work. And I love that she's young and a mom and writes amazing fairy tale books. What's not to love?
She spoke mostly about how hard she had to work to become a published author, and rolled out this huge roll of laminated rejection letters. It was pretty gigantic. In some ways this is disheartening because how many great authors are getting turned down and discouraged by this process? But at the same time it's inspiring, because this is the reality of a writer and she succeeded even though no one was accepting her work.
But before I was able to see Shannon Hale, I had to wait through Paula Dean. Now, I like to watch Paula on the Food Network, and I think she's a really sweet woman, but I'm not like obsessed with her or anything. This crowd was. And after watching her work the crowd, it was really easy to see why. She's charming, especially with that accent, and she's funny, really funny. As an audience member you're just so sure she loves what she's doing that her good humor is just infectious. I'm glad I stumbled upon her chat.
After Paula and Shannon, I booked it over to see Lois Lowry, the REAL reason I came out to the book festival. The Giver is my favorite book of all time and to see her, wow, that was an experience. She spoke about how her new children's book came into being. It began as an autobiographical short story written and published years ago and was transformed into The Crow Call. Her crowd was huge as well, and I sat on the ground blocked by tons of standing people for most of it. I managed to snap a few pictures though.
The best part was hearing her say for sure that Jonas and Gabriel were alive. She said she meant for the ending of The Giver to be uplifting, and all I can say is "I KNEW IT!". In response to another question, she also said that Jonas's world came about partly from wondering "what if we had a way of changing human memory" and that it was NOT a world she would want to live in (which I think is clear from the overall message of the book).

After that, I had some time to kill before Rick Riordan so I skipped back over to the Fiction tent and sat through Julia Alvarez and John Irving. Julia's talk was interesting because she spoke about growing up in the Dominican Republic under Trujillo and then coming to America and diving into the treasure trove of the public library. She stressed the importance of our public library system and how it is really a symbol of the freedom we have as Americans. She said, and rightly so, that the first things to go under a dictatorship (or similar system) are the books and the right to assemble.

John Irving was every bit as egotistical and snarky as I knew he would be. His talk was interesting because the lady from the Post "interviewed" him. He writes everything out long hand in spiral notebooks and only after the entire novel is written will he then have an assistant type it for him. He said he only uses a computer to communicate with his children and family.

Then after Irving, I walked back to the Children and Teens tent, caught the very end of Kate DiCamillo, although her mike went out, and then...RICK RIORDAN!!

He was awesome! It is so apparent that he loves kids and is great with them. He knows how to talk to kids to really connect. I bet he was a great middle school teacher. He talked about the next series of Camp Half-Blood books that will be coming out, and a new series centered around Egyptian gods, which was oh-so-exciting news for me. He answered some questions, the funniest of which was probably, "Why does Grover like enchiladas so much?" and said that his favorite character was probably either Grover or Tyson. Tyson! I knew it! He said he identified most with Grover because he would be the one shaking in his boots as opposed to being the one swinging the sword and saving the day. He said he was taken to the camp set for the movie at night and it was just like he was being driven to Camp Half-Blood. I'm really excited for this movie, I think it is going to be very entertaining.

He really worked the crowd and he had me, as well as hundreds of children and their parents eating out of the palm of his hand. Very cool guy. I respect him so much for the work he's doing in children's literature. It was so awesome to see the crowds of kids excited about his books. He even read the beginning of the new Egyptian series, and said that not even his family had heard it yet! So cool!

After Riordan, I left because it was freezing and raining and I was exhausted. But overall, I'd say the festival was a major success!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Me Want! OR Ishiguro has a new book out

Kazuo Ishiguro is seriously one of my favorite authors. Of his books, I've read, Never Let Me Go, Artist of the Floating World, A Pale View of Hills, and The Remains of the Day. I loved each of them to the point of bursting. I still need to read When We Were Orphans and The Unconsoled.

Now he has a new book out! And it's short stories!! That is what I like to call a twofer.

Read the Barnes and Noble Review here.

See the Paris Review interview with Ishiguro here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Reading Update: 9-24-09

Since I'm not really finishing any books at the moment, because I'm jumping around short story collections for class, I'm going to try some general updates on what I'm reading. Hopefully, this doesn't bore anyone to tears.

I just started reading Hemingway stories today. I've got the Finica Vigia Edition, which claims to be the "complete short stories" of Hemingway. My professor has us working on the "In Our Time" series of stories, which as far as I can tell is centered around this guy Nick.

I really like reading Hemingway stories, but I'm often left with this blank feeling after them. I always feel like I just missed some really important meaning. In my head, I'm thinking "Wait...what?" Does anyone else have this feeling? And is this a good thing? Should I immediately "get" the story, or should I have to go back and reread and reconsider? Am I just slow? Hemingway makes me doubt myself as a reader.

I'm also starting on Chekhov's stories (and whenever I say or think "Chekhov" I think of the guy from Star Trek). I had an email conversation with my friend Katie, from The Bitterness Blog, and I liked her take on it:
It just doesn't feel like there's a point. But maybe therein lies the genius, because life is futile and pointless as well...Some days life is lovable but it's still ultimately pointless and futile. And the lives that Chekhov writes about are usually not lovable. There's a lot of poverty and peasantry in there. That's not lovable.
Well said. But of course, she writes a blog about being bitter, sooooo...there's that.

Do short stories always have to be so sad? Hemingway's story "The End of Something" (a relationship) is just devastating. The lack of expressed emotion during such an emotional event simply escalates the depressing moment. But I suppose if writers wrote about rainbow and butterflies, it wouldn't be nearly as interesting.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Found: Electric Literature

I have to give a shout out to the Virginia Quarterly Review blog for this find. Electric Literature is a new short fiction journal that publishes in all forms: paperback (on-demand), kindle, iphone, and online.

Here's their blurb:

Electric Literature is just that, electric—five great stories that grab you. We are a bi-monthly anthology of short fiction. We select stories charged with wit and emotional gravity right from the first sentence. You choose how you want to read them. We deliver content in every viable medium.

I'm going to download this to my kindle ($4.95 as opposed to $9.95 in paperback) and check out the stories. The first issue has Michael Cunningham (who i LOVE) as well as others I'm not familiar with, but I'm looking forward to.

Update to follow when I can get to these. Always love an exciting new lit journal.

They also publish one-sentence animations on youtube. They are kinda artsy for me, which just means it goes over my head completely, but still a very cool and enjoyable concept. Here's the one for Michael Cunningham:

Friday, September 18, 2009

100 "Shots of Short" Reading

My Kinsman, Major Molineux
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Ever since I "read" The Scarlett Letter in high school (I use quotations because I don't think I ever finished) I have steered clear of Hawthorne. Boring. Boring. Boring. What could possibly be more boring than Puritans? Well, for my short story class I had to read a book of Hawthorne's stories, and I was seriously dreading this. And I did have a hard time getting through it. His language is very thick and formal, not my favorite at all.

But in class we discussed this story, and I have to admit, it's a pretty genius and well-crafted story. It's a very interesting and nuanced take on coming-of-age and the rough-and-tumble birth of American independence. Some great allegorical and symbolic things happening in this story. I really suggest a reading of it and you can find it easily online. Here's one link.

I wrote a short journal entry for class on this story, which I'll copy here, in case anyone is interested. If anyone has read the story, I'm totally up for any discussion.


After the in-class nudge towards the mythological context of the story and my subsequent rereading of “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” the story, which at first just seemed to be a boy’s desperate search for his kin in a strange place, suddenly bloomed into a complicated story. I was struck by the recurring light and dark images that contrasted the Edenic country with the hellish city, which underscored Robin’s coming of age journey.

In the first scene where Robin has crossed the river, a ferryman and a solitary passenger, immediately called to my mind Charon ferrying the dead across the river Styx into the underworld. Without knowing anything else, we can see that Robin’s journey begins at the gates of hell. The ominous nature of his entrance is underscored by Hawthorne’s use of light and dark imagery. Robin has arrived at night and his entrance is lit only by the moon. However once the ferryman raises his lantern, this man-made light combines with the moonlight to reveal Robin’s physical features to the reader: a curly-haired, bright-eyed country boy.

Throughout Robin’s coming-of-age journey, Hawthorne uses moonlight, man-made light, and the dark to reveal Robin’s psychological state. This interplay between light and dark is most prominent when Robin encounters people in the city. When Robin meets the old man with the sepulchral hems, he is only able to get the man’s attention as they step into the light escaping from the barber shop. In the inn, he exchanges glances with a man whose eyes glowed “like fire in a cave” only to meet him again later on the street in the shade of the church steeple (30). But Robin only recognizes the man when he steps out of the shadow and into the moonlight revealing his singular countenance. Similarly, when Robin meets the prostitute all he sees is “a strip of scarlet petticoat, and the occasional sparkle of an eye, as if the moonbeams were trembling on some bright thing” until she steps out into the moonlight fully revealing herself (33). The watchman who threatens Robin with the stocks and ignores Robin’s entreaties carries with him “a lantern, needlessly aiding his sister luminary in the heavens” (35).

Despite being literally and figuratively illuminated at each meeting, Robin misinterprets the situations. He assumes that the old man isn’t well-bred enough to act civilly, that the men in the barber shop think he’s na├»ve for questioning the old man, or that the innkeeper values money over a good name. It is only after Robin begins to break down from exhaustion, hunger, and rejection that he begins to approach the meetings with less naivety: he recognizes the prostitute for what she is and almost forgets to ask the watchmen for his kinsman he is so distracted.

This combination of illumination and misinterpretation ends once Robin begins his revelation at the church’s steps. He looks into the church for comfort, but does not find it. This is in direct contrast with the scene of his childhood worship in the outdoors where the “golden light that fell from the western sky” illuminates the Scripture, because in the city church even the moonbeams trembled and only “one solitary ray had dared to rest upon the open page of the Bible” (38-39). There is nothing familiar about this place of worship, his faith being his basest instinct during desperate times, and it is therefore no comfort for Robin. He daydreams of his family so clearly that he becomes confused as to what is real and what is imagined. It is only then, when he’s given in fully to disillusionment, that he discerns a man in the shadows of the Gothic home across from the church. He calls out to the man in an unsure, peevish, and desperate cry, which is very distinct from his earlier confidence. The man comes to him in the shadow of the church and, unlike previous strangers, this man is kind to Robin and wishes to help him.

The final revelation comes to Robin when the crowd of familiar figures presents his uncle to him: “There the torches blazed the brightest, there the moon shone out like day, and there in tar-and-feather dignity, sat his kinsman, Major Molineux” (45). Finally Robin can no longer misinterpret the situation. The truth is lit up so bright by both fire and moonlight he finally breaks into uncontrolled mirth as his past misinterpretations are revealed.

If this coming-of-age journey is used to describe the burgeoning nationalism in America in the period of the story, then Hawthorne is making an interesting comparison. It suggests that he perceived America’s journey to independence as inevitable, yet fraught with chaos and darkness. As America grew into a nation, the journey was hellish and wrought with mistakes. He seems to be condemning the vigilante justice of the period by highlighting its horrific nature, while at the same time emphasizing that to truly come of age one must face difficult and hellish truths.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ugh I'm the worst book blogger ever.

Ok so I haven't been doing such a great job keeping up here. And now I started a class on the short story that is totally monopolizing all of my time!

Here are some updates:
  • I saw Kelly Armstrong and Melissa Marr speak at the Borders near my home, back in June. I have a picture, which I'll post later and hopefully talk about the experience. I was so nervous to meet them, but they were both so awesome and confident.
  • I went to LA with my sister to visit my uncle. This was a very big deal for me. My uncle moved out to West Hollywood in the early 90s because he needed to be involved in the gay community--in our area it wasn't (and still isn't) really that acceptable. I'm sad that he wasn't a bigger part of my life growing up, but I'm really happy for him because he has a great life out there with lots of great and supportive friends. Getting to spend time with him and meet his CA family was such an amazing experience.
  • He convinced me to walk into LA Ink--and I ended up getting a new tattoo! Best of all, he suggested a bird, and I found a Japanese silk screen with a bird, which was PERFECT. The birdie is kinda hard to see in this pic, but he's perched on the branch. The tattoo was amazing, a guy named Adrian at the shop did it for me, and he was totally cool and fun.
  • I read some books, which I'll post on in groups (probably) soon.