Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Eternal Gaze

Alberto Giacometti's Three Men Walking
Last summer, my son and I took the train into the city for an impromptu photography session. Since it was also a free admission day at the Art Institute (and about 100° outside), we ended up spending a good portion of our afternoon in the air-conditioned museum instead—immersing ourselves in the newly opened modern wing, admiring and taking pictures of the displays we found most interesting.

Aside from my one "must-see" painting request (The Old Guitarist by Picasso), we also discovered some other pretty cool art along the way, including a limited selection of sculptures by Alberto Giacometti.

I've always had an interest in this type of art. Perhaps because when you're a writer, any art form depicting people provides a built-in writing prompt. For example, in my featured photo: Where are those three walkers headed? Do they know each other, or are they merely crossing paths on the street? What's the story behind the scene?

Fast forward to this week, when a friend of mine emailed me a short film called The Eternal Gaze, an imaginative story-behind-the-scenes of Alberto Giacometti's work. Not because she knew I was intrigued by his sculptures (in fact, she had no idea I saw them at the Art Institute last summer), but because she says the video reminds her of the way I always talk about my fictional characters as if they are real-life human beings.

The opening is reminiscent of a spooky Halloween movie, and when I first began watching it, I couldn't quite figure out why it reminded her of my relationship with my characters. I mean, I certainly don't write anything close to ghost stories or horror. But by the time the ending credits rolled, I understood. I think any artist (writer, painter, sculptor, poet, chef, et al.) would find this film touching, because it addresses the yearning that we creatives desperately seek to fulfill. The looming question over all of our work: Will my creation matter?

I came away with the realization that it is a blessing in and of itself simply to be able to create—whatever the end result may be: finished or unfinished, seen or unseen by anyone else but me. It also gave me the peace of mind to believe that, even if I never sell a single novel in my lifetime, it will be enough to know that what I've created from love can transcend me. And sustain me. And love me back.

Enjoy! ♡

Friday, September 20, 2013

Reading A-Z

Let’s just pretend I didn’t disappear for the past 3 1/2 months, shall we?

I saw a book meme on two different blogs this week (Amy’s and Melissa’s) and thought it would be a fun way to jump back into blogging again. So here we go.

Reading A-Z

Author you've read the most books from:

I have several who hover around the 5-8 books tally. Of that group, Emily Giffin, Sophie Kinsella, and Jody Hedlund are my go-to, comfort storytellers. With Emily, I know I’ll always get a controversial, thought-provoking novel with characters who are easy to empathize with. Sophie’s lighthearted books have cheered me many times when I just wanted to escape and find something to laugh about. And Jody always writes page-turning, action-filled, gotta-see-what-happens love stories. Perfect to satisfy this hopeless romantic (as a friend of mine recently labeled me).

Best Sequel Ever:

I have been so underwhelmed by sequels that nothing comes to mind.  What am I missing?

Currently Reading:

At the moment, I’m not reading any novels. However, I'm contemplating starting either The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, or Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple.

Everything is God: The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism, by Jay Michaelson

Drink of Choice While Reading:

Whatever I’m thirsty for. In the morning: coffee. Afternoon: usually iced tea or water.

E-reader or Physical Book?:

Physical book. I have a problem in that I'm unable to remember what I read on my kindle. The stories all blend together in pixel-land when I can’t flip paper pages back and forth. I've also come to realize that part of my appreciation for physical books is handling the glossy cover and studying the artwork, or even the font on the spine, the back cover copy, etc. And for some childlike reason, I prefer a physical bookmark too, so when I close the book I can see how much progress I've made.

Occasionally I'll revert to my kindle when traveling, but even then, I still pack physical books. Plus, (see letter N), with all the bookshelves in my house, what else am I supposed to use to decorate?

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated In High School:

Does this mean we have to choose from a YA novel (someone who is high school-aged or close to it)? If so, I'd have to answer Oliver from The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, because he was so sweet. And tall. But my fictional 20-something boyfriend for several years now has been Paul Hudson from How to Kill a Rock Star. I admire his passion for music, art, and truth. He is adorably quirky, too. Plus, I think he would keep me laughing. I love him the same way I love Nicholas Cage in his offbeat movies.

Glad You Gave This Book A Chance:

Never would’ve thought I’d read a graphic (comic book style) novel, but last spring I read Blankets, by Craig Thompson, and became obsessed fell in love with it.

Hidden Gem Book:

I’m going to give a strange twist to this answer. It’s not a book per say, but rather, a beautiful book within a book that I "discovered." FYI, it might be considered a mild spoiler if you haven’t read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak yet (in which case you should skip down to the next letter).

The mini-story that Max wrote for Liesel brought me to tears. It was such a tangible expression of love from one person to another—from an adult to a child—a declaration of hope by someone who was "chained" externally, but freed internally because of a little girl's compassion and tenderness towards him. However, what I loved even more than the story was the aesthetics—the actual art—displayed on the pages. All along we knew Max had been painting over things because paper was scarce during the war, and so, the way the publisher made the pages look as if you were viewing actual newspapers that'd been painted over left me breathless. I've never seen anything so creative within a novel. Not to mention the simplicity of the art, which, in turn, made me feel deep things. To this day, it remains one of my favorite hidden gems within a book!

Important Moment in your Reading Life:

The time I read Native Son by Richard Wright in high school, and I realized there are circumstances behind every human being’s life that are not in his control which contribute to his destiny.

Just Finished:

The Bronze Horseman trilogy by Paullina Simons. The first book was gut-wrenching and beautiful, but left off with such a cliffhanger that I had to go on to the second. After that I just had to see how she wrapped up these characters' lives. This series was not perfect by any means, but there was something so captivating and hopeful about a love that stood the test of time. I must have lived in Russia in another lifetime, because I am so drawn to big, sprawling, passionate epic sagas. And snow.

Kinds of Books You Won’t Read:

I tend to steer clear of political novels and horror, but still, if someone whose opinion I value recommends something from either of those genres, I'll read it.

Longest Book You’ve Read:

Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much is True, and Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. (I also have Stephen King’s chunky 11/22/63 on my TBR pile which I hope to read this year).

Major book hangover because of:

One Day, by David Nicholls

Number of Bookcases You Own:

5 (7 if you include my kids' bookcases)

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times:

The First Husband, by Laura Dave

Preferred Place To Read:

The cushioned and canopied swing on my deck.

Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you’ve read:

From How to Kill a Rock Star:
“I am of the theory that all of our transcendental connections, anything we're drawn to, be it a person, a song, a painting on a wall—they’re magnetic. The art is the alloy, so to speak. And our souls are equipped with whatever properties are required to attract that alloy. I'm no scientist so I don't really know what the hell these properties are, but my point is we're drawn to stuff we've already got a connection to. Part of the thing is already inside of us.”

Reading Regret:

Most of my reading regrets are sequels.

Series You Started And Need To Finish(all books are out in series):


Three of your All-Time Favorite Books:

How to Kill a Rock Star, by Tiffanie DeBartolo
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
The Storyteller, by Jodi Piccoult

Unapologetic Fangirl For:

The Bronze Horseman. It’s a no holds barred love story from a writer who threw all the supposed writing rules out the window, and created a story that made me weep and laugh and bask in the hope that, ultimately, love will prevail.

Very Excited For This Release More Than All The Others:

Hm, I can’t think of any novels at the moment, but ever since Amy wrote about Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof, I’ve been looking forward to its release this fall.

Worst Bookish Habit:

I really hate that I can’t savor a book—that I become relentless about plowing through to the finish. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the last 10-20 pages left, and instead of setting it down and coming back to it when I have uninterrupted time to soak it in, I end up obsessively reading it while cooking dinner, or in the car on the way to a kids' sporting event. Or the worst is in the wee hours of the morning when I should be sleeping and my eyes can barely stay open. So either there are all sorts of distractions from the family ruining the moment, or I am so tapped out from exhaustion that I am incapable of appreciating the parting words and last sentiments of an awesome story.

Btw, this is why I read books more than once. I can relax into the story and let my guard down since I already know how it will end. And then I can absorb all the beautiful details I missed the first time around. :)

X Marks The Spot: Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book:

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

Your latest book purchase:

Rebellious Heart, by Jody Hedlund

ZZZ-snatcher book (last book that kept you up WAY late):

Hopeless by Colleen Hoover. Some of these YA stories are like crack.

Whew! That turned out to be wordier than I thought. If you'd like to join in, feel free to share your list in the comments or let me know if you do this meme on your blog. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

Before Midnight is Finally Here

This weekend I plan on seeing Before Midnight, the third film in a series by Richard Linklater, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.

I've been following the love story of Jesse and Celine since its first release, Before Sunrise, back in 1995, and I am just crazy about this couple. They're well written, and realistically portrayed, and so lovable and authentic in all their flaws; I've come to feel like they are my dear, dear friends. I can't wait to see what their latest life adventure is all about.

If you're not familiar with the series and you're interested in a movie with "two nice kids [who are] literate, sensitive, tentative, intoxicated by the fact that their lives stretch out before them, filled with mystery and hope, and maybe love . . ." (Roger Ebert's words, not mine), Before Sunrise will be right up your alley. Then after watching that one, you can fast-forward nine years and connect with these two again in Before Sunset as young adults, where "They have responsibilities. They no longer have a quick instinctive trust. They are wary of revealing too much. They are grown-ups, although at least for this afternoon in Paris they are in touch with the open, spontaneous, hopeful kids they were nine years before." (Ebert)

These are the movies made me want to be a writer. I not only fell in love with Jesse and Celine as a couple, but also with the depiction of a love between two people that is earned, rather than instant. It's refreshing to find this gem among all the clich├ęd story lines out there, and I'm beyond curious to see where Before Midnight takes them.

Have you seen Before Sunrise and/or Before Sunset? Do you have a favorite movie series? What are your plans this weekend? 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

On Reading Book Reviews

For some strange reason, which I don't fully understand, I seem to have become addicted to reading book reviews (Amazon, Goodreads, book bloggers, you name it). And I can't tell if it helps me or hurts me when it comes to life, liberty, and the pursuit of resonant fiction.

Just for kicks, I’ve looked up my favorite, most beloved books, and sought out the nasty negative reviews. And when I read the reviewer’s reasons for blasting the book and giving it one star, sometimes they’re the very same reasons I would give it five stars. Which makes me realize how two people can look at the exact same thing and see it differently. So that's helpful; perhaps in some way I'm developing a thick skin by osmosis, and by the time I'm published and come across a terrible review about my own book, I can call to mind all the previous terrible reviews about stories I’ve loved, and remember that this is just the way the world goes round.

I also seek out one star reviews of the books I’m considering, but haven’t yet read, just to see how they measure up (to someone else's standards, I guess). And I’m sorry to report that sometimes the objective (not mean-spirited) negative reviews seep into my subconscious and stay there. So when I attempt to read that particular book, I’ll find myself aware of the “problems” the reviewer gave it. Would I have noticed those things, had they not been pointed out in the review? I can’t exactly answer that because it’s not like I can unread them.

Then there are the reviews that convince me to not read or buy a certain book at all. The influence of other people’s opinions in this instance bothers me. Since when, and why, am I rejecting a book that I didn’t even give a chance? It’s bad enough that studying the writing craft has birthed a nasty internal editor in me who seems to be much more nitpicky than I ever used to be when reading for pleasure—and now I have to contend with outside influences as well?!

Is the lesson to ignore reviews altogether? In which case: Help! (“Hi, my name is Barb, and I'm a book-review addict." “Hi, Barb . . . ”)

Or should I simply save review-reading for after I’ve finished a book, so as not to corrupt my reading experience with someone else’s opinion? Let it be known that I enjoy reading five star reviews of my favorite books, too. It doesn't matter if it's after I've read them; it's fun to see what I have in common with other readers. But I'm also aware of the echo chamber effect, and don't want to cocoon myself with group-thought (says the woman who reads the thoughts of a group of reviewers on a regular basis).

I don't know . . . I think there’s great value in reading reviews. One look at my 2013 books-read list showed that 70% of what I read so far this year came from the book review world. Part of my fascination is that I’m drawn to learning what speaks to people, what moves them. And I suppose, for that matter, what repulses them. Book reviews are a great window into these passions.

This post was, in part, inspired by Susan Chambers' post: Why I Don't Give Bad Reviews She made me think about the way I read reviews, and why. Her closing words were eye-opening, as I, too, wonder how many good things I may have missed because of bad reviews.
Today's discriminating public uses the internet to blast everything it doesn't like--from people to products. Some would argue that this is good for consumers, but when it comes to highly subjective material like film, music and books I'm not so sure. I wonder how many good things I have missed--that I would have liked--because of bad reviews. 

Do you seek out book reviews? Before and/or after you read a book? What are your thoughts about their influence over your decision-making?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Same As You

photo credit
The other day my husband and I were driving behind a minivan that lurched to the right side of the road before it came to an abrupt stop. As we passed it, I noticed the driver had a phone pressed to his ear and a furrowed brow.

"Oh no," I said. "I hope he didn't just get bad news . . . I mean, who would pull over so quickly like that if it wasn't for something terrible?"

My husband, giving a cursory glance in the rearview mirror, chuckled and said, "Only an author would come up with something so dramatic."

True, that. My head was indeed swimming with the various tragedies that might've befallen the driver and his family to cause such a sudden removal from traffic. Sometimes it's so hard to shut off a storyteller's brain. Even after I could no longer see the van, part of me remained preoccupied with the plight of this stranger.

A raconteur, an artist, a sensitive soul. Empathizers who hover on the edge of oneness because our imaginations insist on dropping us (note: usually not of our own volition) into the shoes of another, where we walk and wonder: What if I were her? What if that happened to me? And so, we scribble out our answers, sometimes only in our heads, tweaking and revising until we have become one with other people's journeys.

Enter Death Cab for Cutie's song: Cath. I heard it for the first time a few weeks ago, and its narrative continues to haunt me. I can't stop thinking about what I'd do if I were in the same situation as its namesake. There are various explanations about the backstory of the lyrics—one of which says Cath is short for Catherine (a la Wuthering Heights)—and while I haven't read that novel, I know enough about the story to see this as plausible. Yet listening to the lyrics, I believe Death Cab wrote something more universal than one particular character's story. Then again, the reason a classic is a classic is because one woman's story is another woman's, is another's . . .

I'm ever-aware how personal music tastes are, and how overbearing I tend to be when I want to share the love of an inspiring song, so I want you to know how much restraint I'm exerting here, trying not to bombard you with teenage-like gushing (OMG, you've GOT to listen to this!). Let me just say that the whole point of my post is inspired by the last line of the lyrics:

"I'd have done the same as you."


To me, an expression of compassion after reflecting on a person's internal struggle (rather than judging her for her external actions) is the prettiest melody in all the world.

It's the reason I'm a writer. And a reader. I want to step into the skin of another and go inward—backwards, if you will—and learn where you've been, what you've endured, how you've experienced life. This pastime of telling and reading stories? Maybe it exists so that I, too, will one day understand that, had I been born in the same place, from the same parents, and with the same lot in life, I would have done the same as you.

Don't you love when a song tells a story? What song has been haunting you lately?

Here is the Cath video by Death Cab for Cutie. I hope you enjoy it. (For some reason, even though it's embedded it might make you click on the youtube link to watch it. Please do. I really love the way the official band video complements the song.)

Cath, she stands
With a well intentioned man
But she can't relax
With his hand on the small of her back
And as the flash bulbs burst
She holds a smile
Like someone would hold
A crying child

Soon everybody will ask
What became of you
'Cause your heart was dying fast
And you didn't know what to do

Cath, it seems
That you live in someone else's dream
In a hand-me-down wedding dress
With the things that could've been
All repressed

But you said your vows
And you closed the door
On so many men
Who would have loved you more

Soon everybody will ask
What became of you
'Cause your heart was dying fast
And you didn't know what to do

The whispers that it won't last
Run up and down the pews
But if their hearts were dying that fast
They'd have done the same as you

And I'd have done the same as you.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Withdrawing from the War and Peace Read-a-long

Hangs head.

Yep. I got off track, oh, say somewhere around the second month of reading it, and no matter how much I love Tolstoy, and how much I want to be a part of this read-a-long, I just don't have the desire to read this book at this point in my life. Since about page 100, I've felt panicked, then resentful, every time I picked it up, knowing there was no way I'd ever catch up to where Amy and the others are at, and so, I'm letting it go for now and sticking with the hope of: maybe someday . . .

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

To Be a Giant

There is no shortage of tree-love here on my blog, and today I'm adding to it with one of my favorite poems. A while back I told my artistic sister how much these words spoke to me, and she surprised me with this beautiful drawing of an elm tree, Nemerov's poem embedded into its trunk.

It hangs right next to my writing desk and inspires me every day.

Thanks, sis!

To be a giant and keep quiet about it,
To stay in one's own place;
To stand for the constant presence of process
And always to seem the same;
To be steady as a rock and always trembling,
Having the hard appearance of death
With the soft, fluent nature of growth,
One's Being deceptively armored,
One's Becoming deceptively vulnerable;
To be so tough, and take the light so well,
Freely providing forbidden knowledge
Of so many things about heaven and earth
For which we should otherwise have no word -----

Poems or people are rarely so lovely,
And even when they have great qualities
They tend to tell you rather than exemplify
What they believe themselves to be about,
While from the moving silence of trees,
Whether in storm or calm, in leaf and naked,
Night and day, we draw conclusions of our own,
Sustaining and unnoticed as our breath
And perilous also—though there has never been
A critical tree—about the nature of things.

~Howard Nemerov