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Monday, January 28, 2008

Books and Airplanes

I was off to a couple places recently meaning I spent a good deal of time on airplanes. These are the places where I see more people reading books than anywhere else. Don't be too impressed yet. The majority of them, the books, are new and they, the readers, are about fifteen pages in.

I managed to knock off five books, two terrible reads and three pretty interesting reads. If I'm feeling a bit cynical today it's because I received a couple rejections lately that I was really hoping for. But such is the writing life. So on to the books.

The first was an attempt at broadening my knowledge of Canadian Literature, The Republic of Love by Carol Shields. What a bit of tomfoolery that is. It's really pulpy romance wrapped in a better cover and told with what I see as a strong voice. And I like her voice, it's everything else that really gets to me, from wooden characters, hairy dull men, hyper intuitive women, terrible if any plot, no regard for the play of language. It's not that it's as bad as Evanovich, but certainly this is not what I consider high literature. It's a pseudo stream of consciousness romp that gets completely bogged down in details. A character can hardly pick up a salt shaker without the author going into pages of the last time she used salt, why the ex husband of her old friend used too much or too little, and on and on until you just want to OD on the salt to get it over with. I'm sorry but in my opinion, based on that one book, Shields is mass market romance pawned off as literature. Hey look on the bright side, I tell myself, even Janet Evanovich gets rave reviews from the New York Times. It's all a system of payola.

Well, the second book was even worse. Unstuck: A Supportive and Practical Guide to Working Through Writer's Block. This has to be one of the worst writing books I've ever read. You can see my list on this blog for one or two others that share the cesspool. The problem with this book is it offers about nothing helpful. The author shares anecdotes about her own previous blocks and the blocks of others. But we learn nothing about what causes blocks or how to conquer them. She claims blocks come from past trauma where someone was critical about your work. I don't believe this since some great and famous authors also had writer's block at times. And she offers really about nothing that I found useful in helping writers get over blocks, she says work a little each day, don't try to do everything at once. My god, even my cat knows this stuff. So now it's time for fifty more pages of anecdotes and repeating basically what she already told us in anecdotes. My god it didn't end. The white paper flower on the cover is the most appropriate thing about the book, like when you take flowers to a funeral. Bury this one and run from the stink.

Now on to the decent books. Joan Didion in Play it as it Lays is a wonderful, if dated, read and stylistic investigation. It's like happy hour on speed, and the plot, well leave that out of it, but focus on Didion's terrific ear for tone and language. She really nails the way I expect many of these people speak. I can't say it's a work of genius, but it's good and worth borrowing from the library.

The short books continue with Mark Leyner's Et tu, Babe, a romp into the egomaniacal jizz-factory of the self obsessed writer, ML of course who flings his usual word crunches at us in typical form. Whoops, once in a while he uses a combo we've seen in another book, cracks in the flippant dam methinks. Still, Leyner is one of about three of us, Myself, Leyner (yeah he's second on the list and I say so and if you want to make something of it you come see me) and then Scott Bradfield who wrote Hot Animal Love, a book of stories. The last book was a great read in many respects. My absolute favorite stories in the book were the first about a poet duck, and then one about dogs writing personal ads, and finally a two part story about a dog named Dazzle. These four stories are worth every penny of this wonderful read.

I can't say I remember much about the airplanes, bad seats, bad air, bad company, cramped quarters, no food, rancid pretzels, but what a great excuse to do a lot of reading with knees to your nose and book in your face.