Friday, October 13, 2006

Something We Fumblingly Call True or Real

I'm reading a collection of essays by James Wood (The Broken Estate: Essays on Literature and Belief.) Heady stuff, but his writing is clear and vivid, and it's interesting to me as a novelist to look over the shoulder of someone whose life work is based on critiquing the art.

Here's how he opens:

"The real is the atlas of fiction, over which all novelists thirst. The real is contour, aspiration, tyrant...

[In] all fiction those moments when we are suddenly swayed, suddenly moved, have to do with something we fumblingly call 'true' or 'real.'"
I agree. As a novelist, I have mixed emotions about writers who piggyback on the creation of others. (Perhaps because I've been at the other end of that sharp pen, experienced both the panning and the praise?) I think that criticism helps illuminate aspects of the art, but I often wonder if most literary critics aren't frustrated novelists at heart. See question below...but first--

Great real-and-true reads from the past couple months:

Damned if I Do by Percival Everett, a collection of shorts. I'll get to meet the author in person next week - interesting to see the man behind the work, which I enjoyed.


Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. Picaresque coming of age novel about a thirteen year old in England. Loved it.

Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. How did I get through high school without reading this one? Intriguing that the author had never been to war. Little factoid: Crane's first novel was a dud and, in a creative bout of self promotion, he paid folks to read it on trains.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Maybe the most layered novel I've ever read. I'm still going back to re-read sections, struggling with meaning and symbols. Ellison's genius deserved the National Book Award.

Flying Home by Ralph Ellison. Short stories, less "difficult" than the novel, but no less powerful.

Coronado by Dennis Lehane. Short stories from the author of Mystic River, which provided the truth and the oomph for Clint Eastwood to make the Oscar-winning film. The best story is "Until Gwen" a second-person narrative about the relationship between a conman and his son. "Until Gwen" has one of the best opening paragraphs I've ever read. If you pick it up, I promise you won't put it down.

Question: Do critics secretly long to be artists? Have you ever bought (or stayed away from) a book because of a review? Thoughts? Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Books and Dogs

Back home from the quick trip to Houston - many thanks to the Words for the Journey writers' group for putting on such a lovely evening.

Among other things, I came away with this inspiring quote:

"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." -- Groucho Marx


Words to live by, my friends. Words to live by. Posted by Picasa