Friday, March 26, 2010

Recommended Reading

There is a good chance I won't be back to blog until May when my semester is over, so in the meanwhile, I thought I'd point you to two great new books of poetry:

A Metereorologist in the Promised Land by Becka Mara McKay


Requiem for the Orchard by Oliver de la Paz

Full disclosure: Becka is my new friend and colleague at FAU, and once, in a movie theater, when I said, "I'd be warm enough if only I was wearing socks," Oliver gave me his.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Swimming by Nicola Keegan

It often gets said (by me, even) that fiction writing should make the familiar unfamiliar or it should make the unfamiliar familiar...but this is a novel that makes a case for letting the unfamiliar remain unfamiliar. What I mean is the protagonist is extreme--an Olympic swimmer who is not just great but once-in-a-lifetime, super-great---and the impulse might be to take this character who gets to have experiences that most of us don't and normalize her (making her more familiar) in lots of other ways, like through her personal life. But no, her personal life is extreme (a lot of tragedy). So you might try to create a heavy dose of realism through style or other details--but no, the style is zany, sometimes "the" gets dropped in the weirdest places, and the way of describing feelings is comic and nutty and really great. If you ask ten people what makes good fiction, nine and a half of them will say relate-ability. They want to relate to the character. Well, there's some of that here--she is a really vulnerable character, and we can all relate to that, but mostly she's weird and her life is nothing like mine, and the novel does nothing to make me believe this could happen to me...and yet I was moved all the same. I didn't need her to remind me of me; I liked that I was meeting someone different and my empathy kicked in just fine...

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

For my young adult literature class in choosing texts I pretty much went with things that are on the line between adult and young adult so that there would be enough to analyze and discuss in a lit class, but the more I read around in the genre, the more I realize my favorite books are the ones that are on the line between children's lit and young adult lit. Let's call that a new category--books for twelve year olds. Those books often have the strong cadences of voice that children's books have but also the more high stakes plots that young adult books have. This weekend I read both this novel, the first in a very popular trilogy about kids forced to fight it out to the death and The Mysterious Benedict Society, a less carnivorous but still exciting mystery. And as much as I love literary fiction for adults and all its accompanying grey areas, these two books did make me appreciate the pull of a lives-at-stake plot. And it made me realize one of the reasons y.a. lit can get away with these plots is that the characters are children and therefore less likely to behave sensibly. One of the rules in writing for kids is to get rid of the parents as fast as possible (thus the prevalence of orphans), and that's ostensibly so that the kids can be at the center of the plot, responsible for themselves (and often the fate of the world). But really it's because if their parents were around they wouldn't let them do the things that drive the plot. This points out one of the problems with writing about grown-ups. If they behave sensibly they keep themselves out of trouble, if they don't behave sensibly--we question why they are acting like children. So in order to create a high stakes plot you often have to figure out a reason to have your adults behave without sense but for a sensible reason ... or you have to write about characters who aren't sensible. There's no way in a novel for adults to get the adults out of the there?