Monday, January 31, 2011

"As I Lay Dying"

"I made it on the bevel." - Cash, "As I Lay Dying"

I read somewhere that someone (I forget who, now) is turning this William Faulkner novel into a movie. And I think - well, how? How will that be accomplished?


UPDATE: Here we are, awhile later - 2012, in fact - saw some photos of the filming by James Franco and company (another "Rabbit" named entity, I might point out - Rabbit Bandini production company folks). It looked good.  I will have faith, I will have faith....

I was 14 and a freshman in high school when I first read that book. Immediately, I fell in love with it. My teacher was part of the reason - he loved the book too, and he explained to us young 'uns what we were about to read - a stream-of-consciousness story of Addie - a Southern woman who had died - told from the points of view of her family - from their thoughts. So it's a head game, you see - and yes, there are pieces of a story too, so that you see the family go on the trip to bury her. But - the trip itself is just a vehicle. It's what the people are saying in their minds that is most important.

Take Cash, for example - the son who builds the coffin. He isn't Darl (who reads minds, and knows exactly what's what). He isn't Jewel (his name says it all - and more, as the book progresses). Cash is much more concrete - what he can tell you is how he made the coffin. "I made it on the bevel," he says, as the first sentence of his first chapter. That's how he can explain what he's doing, what it means to him, that his mother has died. (I must credit my teacher for pointing out that bit, actually - it has stuck with me all these years too - how choosing one sentence in particular for a character's opening line can be so definitive for that character).

I didn't like Addie much as the book progressed (the mom). Aren't you supposed to like the mom? And a dead one at that? There was nothing too warm and fuzzy about her, though. Especially as the book progresses.

The daughter doesn't stand out to me much either - Daisy, I think was her name (oops -it's Dewey Dell) - the dad, I'm remembering almost not at all. Darl was something else, though. It was Darl that kept me in the story the most. Imagine, knowing everyone's thoughts... knowing all the family secrets - and not because you have lived them - but because you can hear them, in the heads of those who you are supposed to love - and who are supposed to love you.

When I was in the midst of writing my baseball novel ("Until the End of the Ninth," about a team in 1946 that died in a bus crash) - someone suggested that I add a narrator. I had the Spirit Woman already, as a third person character - the one who helps the men transition from life into death. Suddenly I had a narrator too - who was semi-omniscient, who could read most thoughts and be basically wherever I needed the narrator to be - not identified as male or female - time period also unidentified - did he (or she) come from a different time period? and only the Spirit Woman was able to see him (or her). Interestingly, nobody has complained to me about the narrator. The narrator has seemed to give comfort without concern.

It was "As I Lay Dying" that inspired me to have such a narrator. Thank you, William Faulkner, for your courage back in 1930 to try the almost-unimaginable. Almost, but not quite, out of reach of the imagination - I mean, you thought of it, didn't you? It was there for the imagining. I hope - believe - I did justice to that style. And when they make "As I Lay Dying" into a movie, I hope they can do justice to what William Faulkner intended by telling that story - not just through the story's details, but by the way he told it, too.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Interesting Clip - SNL

Well, I wasn't actually awake to watch it - but this is a fun clip from Saturday Night Live last night - the first meeting between Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and the guy who played him in the movie -

I haven't seen the film yet - probably should - just because I do enjoy FB'ing itself - and also for that whole Best Picture Nomination thing. I think Mark Zuckerberg's a pretty good sport to do this at all - and I think he ended up with the best line, about inventing "poking." :)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Tenor of Politics (with update)

I just posted this comment on Huckleberries Online (a news blog at Spokane's Spokesman Review), after reading Kathleen Parker's column in this a.m. I'm cross-publishing it here.

Kathleen Parker has a column this a.m., giving Sarah Palin what appears to be a pass on saying “don't retreat, reload!” in connection with her gun-sights map from last year that targeted 20 democrats across the country (one of whom was shot in the head two weeks ago and has somehow survived), while simultaneously taking to task those who use the phrase “Nazi” when convenient (which was done this week by a democratic congressman).

Here's the thing: I don't want to give anyone a pass on this kind of language and imagery.

A year ago, when Palin's crosshairs map went up on line, I was concerned. When I heard recently that Democrats did something similar in 2004 (at least with regard to the map), I was concerned. When the Dem called Repubs a Nazi last week, I shook my head in disbelief. When I see photos of anyone with a Nazi moustache - most recently it's been President Obama who has been so drawn - I think, people are crazy (and am concerned when political leaders condone the drawings).

Kathleen Parker says that Sarah Palin didn't mean that people should use their guns. But isn't it irresponsible to talk that way in the first place? And if the Dem from last week says that he didn't really mean Nazis - isn't it irresponsible to use the phrase? These are words, people - being said out loud, or typed into a computer. It takes personal action, choices, to reach the point of saying Nazi or of saying “reload.” And if it was just an accident - if Sarah Palin didn't “mean” to evoke the imagery - then why did she leave the map up in spite of people's protests at the time?

I don't care if Sarah Palin's crosshairs map - and her follow-up to “reload” - is what triggered the shooting two weeks ago. If it did, or if it did not, her advocacy for using gun targets on a political map, and her violent rhetoric, was and is a tee-up for potential violence. I don't choose sides when I am concerned about violence metaphors used by our politicians. I don't want ANY of them to do it. But she doesn't get a free pass from me on her graphic symbolism. She gets all the credit in the world - at a minimum, for upping the ante on the vitriol.

I guess what we're saying, if we accept all of this, is that our politicians are immature and/or should pander to the basest emotions in us all. That, my friends, is part of what causes reasonable people to turn away from the entire mess of politics.

When our country first began, we used to hold town halls, where the details of a politican's plan were outlined, and people could evaluate from there. That system has given way to our current soundbite culture. It is what it is. But as the president said at his speech in Arizona, I would rather see us live up to our children's expectations.

I added this:

On the same topic as above: I very much appreciated this op-ed piece by Senator John McCain in the Washington Post recently:

Speaking substantively - having intelligent debates - is a heck of a lot harder than throwing mud. But if you have the debate, I promise to listen.

UPDATE: We went back and forth on the Huckleberries posting yesterday - one thing that struck me as we wrote - few out there know much about that rifle target map - it did list names - and there were three red "splats" on the districts where the Dem had decided to retire - as I mentioned on Huckleberries, I decided to look at the map itself back last March because I thought the article I was reading about it was exaggerating - when I saw the map, I remember thinking: who is going to die as a result of this map? So for me, the concern about that map has been around a very long time.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"My Favorite Band Does Not Exist"

Two Saturdays ago now, I was in San Diego at the American Librarians Association mid-winter conference (I believe is the title), standing by my baseball novel at the top of every hour for about 10 minutes, and then wandering the rest of the time.

On one of my wanderings, the robot hit on me. Seriously - asked me to marry him. But that's a story for another post - perhaps never to be written. (Don't know. Haven't decided.)

On another one of my wanderings, I happened by the Houghton Mifflin publisher's table - Clarion Books section. There was a black book propped up there. Lack of color notwithstanding (or maybe because of its starkness?), I picked up the book and casually flipped through the pages. There was darkness, and then crinkles, on the pages' edges, as though the pages were torn on the inside - except it was just the way the pages were printed to look. It made me curious. So I turned the book over and read the back. "Being trapped in a book can be a nightmare - just ask Idea Deity," it read.

How cool is that? "What a great idea," I said out loud (or maybe I said "how cool is that?"). I sort of startled the two women standing at the counter. We started talking - one of them was the book's editor. She offered to give me a copy. "I'm not a librarian," I warned her - I can't be either buying or distributing the book to a wider readership. She told me to take a copy anyway. I do suppose that anyone that excited about a book's concept should receive a free copy when free copies are being distributed...

So I took a copy, and read it on the plane. By the time I landed, I had only a few pages left to read of "My Favorite Band Does Not Exist," by Robert Jeschonek.

MFBDNE is worthy of its concept. And when it comes out (which isn't for a few months yet), I highly recommend it - if you're intrigued by the ins and outs of what it means to imagine someone thinking that they are trapped in a book in the first place.

The reason for the caveat? There's a lot in this book. Its whirlwind effort, and choice to bounce between several worlds via pithy, Dan-Brown-like short chapters, means that I read it both too quickly and not fast enough - I knew I was missing things along the way, but I really wanted to know what happened. Perhaps that means I will read it a second time? Perhaps. And that is not something I normally do.

The fact is, I wanted to know what happened. Sometimes, today's authors do not keep my attention, especially when the main characters are so much younger than I am. But here, the author's view of a bigger-picture concept made the story's details interesting to me.

There's Idea Deity, as one main character - and Reacher Mirage, who Idea thinks he's created, and who is annoyed that Idea keeps posting things about him on the Internet. There's the goddess-like girl who is with Idea, and another goddess-like girl who is with Reacher - there are the things that the two goddesses seem to have in common... there's a green sky and a blue one - and then there is the book within the book - "Fireskull's Revenant" - ...

Let's just say it's complicated.

I did find that both the title and that first line about being trapped in a book do not fully capture the fullness of the book's journey through reality possibilities - but it's a decent jumping-off point. If I complained at all, it would be two-fold. First, there comes a point towards the end of the book where the author ends up explaining a lot of what is going on. (This is probably a complaint unique to me - I have found out in recent years that I'm in the minority on wanting mysteries like that to remain unsolved and/or left to my imagination.) Second - well, the characters are really young, and so are a little - mmm - limited in their view of what stands out in life as most important. (Did I mention I'll be 50 in a couple of months?) (omg - when did that happen?) But this publisher, and its Clarion Books section, is focused on youth, so it makes sense the main characters are young. And the story itself - and its underlying concepts - overrode those two elements for me, making the book accessible not just to young people but to old folks like me too. In other words, it's definitely worth the read.

This is a fantasy book, or so I believe - I don't read a lot of fantasy, so I can't say for sure. I do write in a way that's been called "magical realism" though, so I was drawn to the author's imagining of worlds beyond what we know already. Perhaps one of the book's best strengths is its ability to write fantasy while staying very grounded in reality - or multiple realities, as the case may be.

One thing I really liked is the allegorical nature of the various characters' names. If someone is called "Idea Deity," and someone else is "Reacher Mirage" - what can we learn from that? Though I must admit - I was too busy getting through the novel to spend a lot of time wondering about it. Which is where it might behoove me to re-read for nuances, now that I know the ending.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tucson Tragedy

I thought a few days' time would help bring words to me. But I'm still just horrified. Saying nothing at all, however, makes it look like I'm unaffected. So, here they are. A handful of words for the victims of the shooting in Tucson. I wish I had more. The depth of my emotions - and the emotions of so many - stretch beyond words. And then - Jon Stewart - what he said last night was the best I've heard so far:

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Huck Finn (with update)

So in Huckleberry Finn Land, they're taking out the "n" word and replacing it with "slave" (and changing "Injun" to "Indian," is what I hear). Hmm. The idea, as it's explained, is to create an elementary school level version of the Huck Finn story without distracting the young students with a discussion of the "n" word in general, and why their anti-hero Huck is using it in particular. It makes sense, right? Sigh...

This commentator makes a good point - that we study literature both because it's brilliant and because it gives us a view into a time in history that we otherwise wouldn't know. Classics are both classic and tied to their time periods.

The purist in me prefers the unabridged version. The realist in me acknowledges comments from Twain scholars (Mark Twain being one of my favorite authors) who say that primary and even secondary school teachers have opted out of teaching Finn because of the awkward conversations it provokes. I'd rather see Mr. Clemens read. Right? But - at the cost of a major part of the book?? because doesn't it cost the book, to take Huck's real friendship with Jim and then contrast it with that ugly "n" word that was Jim's societal label? and that's just for starters, when it comes to editing a classic like "Huckleberry Finn."

It reminds me of studying "My Name Is Asher Lev" in high school. I loved that book. It is by Chaim Potok, and is about a young boy growing up in New York and grappling with his dual, at-times contrasting identities of artist and Hasidic Jew. I don't remember why I loved that book so much, though it may have had something to do with my less-obvious but still-conflicting existence of being an aspiring writer with stoic Northern European roots (where flights of fancy are just not understood). (Thank goodness for that touch of Irish and Cherokee - and Viking - blood in me, all of which give permission to sparks of passion beyond practical common sense.)

In class discussion, my teacher stated that - regardless of quality - "Asher Lev" would never be considered a classic because it did not have a universal theme. It's a specific story about a specific theme, and would not stand the test of time (he said). I was dumbfounded. That didn't seem fair. So, no matter how well written a novel is, it can't be considered a classic if it focuses on one person's unique cultural and religious struggles?

I do think my teacher was wrong - would have to re-read "Asher Lev" to see if he was wrong about that novel in particular. I do appreciate the above commentator's point of view - that classics give us both something timeless and something about that time. And with "Huck Finn," I wonder if eliminating the "n" word takes away from both aspects of that classic in particular.

UPDATE: I received an email yesterday about this posting from Rosa Sow of (a website that attempts to gather diverse viewpoints on a particular issue and condense them in one synopsis), chatting with me about this post and then asking me to consider embedding the following video into the post. Sure, why not? Though I think it's a really shortened version of the whole argument ... it does give some interesting soundbites, if you're looking for a quick summary. (And while I'm at it, these two letters in the New York Times - by writers unhappy with the change - are really interesting too, in that they point out (a) it sanitation is the goal, you also need to edit out the thievery and mayhem, and (b) "slave" is the least optimal word to use as replacement since a major point in the book is that Jim is finally a free man.)

Here's the video:

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