Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry

First of all--great title.  I suppose credit must go to Blake but still, great title.  This book was interesting in an utterly atmospheric but oddly plotted sort of way.  You could see events coming down the pike from a long way off.  What fascinated were the images/themes of doubled selves, fractured identity and repeated history.  Every element of this novel was introduced and then revised and reinvented.  That fun house mirror quality, and Niffenegger's matter of fact approach to ghosts is what compelled me rather than the significant plot points of the story.

And then there is the cemetery.  Highgate Cemetery is spooky.  I lasted four minutes before I had to leave, George Eliot or no George Eliot.  It was winter, in my first term at Oxford (a university that has its fair share of spooky), and I was going down to London for the night with a friend.  She kept going, I waited outside the Western Gate.

It isn't cemeteries in general.  I can wander happily in Père Lachaise in Paris.  There is a rightness to Jim Morrison, Collette, Chopin, Edith Piaf, Balzac and Oscar Wilde hanging out together for eternity.  I love that it is customary to kiss Wilde's tomb only when wearing lipstick.  But Highgate Cemetery is different.  The clammy, grey damp and shady green overgrown quality sent me running for the road.  Her Fearful Symmetry captures just this decaying, grey green splendor and then slowly paints each of the characters from this murky palette.  The one character who grows brighter is the one I least expected to bloom.  It was a lovely counterpoint but the feeling of gloomy, ghosty, misty sadness still pervades the story.

A lovely book but never ever before bed.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Real Thing

It arrived!  The book!  The real one!  Touchstone did an early print run to get it out to bookstores and reviewers.  And it is beautiful!  The cover is sumptuous and matte and rich and lovely.  It wraps all the way around in a ruby red curtain sort of way.  It is my favorite red.

Touchstone made the inside so lovely.  The text is so pretty.  Every letter looks like a letter.  The recipes look like recipes.  The snozberries taste like snozberries.  And my tiny photo is on the back.  How bizarre.

In other news, I have moved from the low country of South Carolina to the grey damp of Highgate Cemetery.  I put down Pat Conroy for a minute (as I want to save the next one for the plane) and picked up Her Fearful Symmetry.  It is a book that must be read in full sunlight and never before going to bed.  It is that spooky.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Blog Birthday

I totally zipped passed it and forgot!  I started the Plum Bean on August 11, 2009.  Happy Extremely Belated Birthday!

I began writing having no idea how to write a blog.  How personal?  How truthful?  How much do I say about the book?  About my agent?  About my publisher?  About my life?  It was a gently roaming watermark.  And then, how to find other bloggers?  Do I just pop in and introduce myself with a comment? Is that presumptuous?  Do I leave a comment with no introduction?  Is that rude?  Do I invite them back to the Plum Bean for coffee and sandwiches?  No idea.  So, I lurked.  And lurked.

And then I gave up.  I stopped writing for weeks at a time.  I couldn't see the point.  It felt like marching outside and hurling random information at an uninterested night sky.  And so I decided to give it two more weeks and then call it quits.  And something happened.  That waiting finish line left me feeling like I could just pop by other blogs and say hello.  What did it matter if I got it wrong, as I had decided to leave the party anyway.

And I made a huge discovery: The natives were friendly!  The bloggers were sweet and welcoming and helpful and truthful and encouraging and fun and I was so very very happy to find them.  The watermark bloomed into a circle.  A sense of community grew.  

I want to say thank you: To the bloggers who are truly involved in my book and do stay for coffee and sandwiches--I hope they they know exactly who they are--and the more explosive sprite variety, the one stop shop sort of bloggers who pop in, charm, chat, and then go on their way.  Both are tremendously valued.  You have made this so much fun.  Thank you.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Outsiders

So, my wonderful eleven year old student is reading S.E. Hinton's, The Outsiders.  This is my second recent go round with this novel as one of my wonderful students last year also read it.  Ponyboy Curtis.  What a name.  Brother of Sodapop Curtis.  The three brothers are orphaned when novel opens but these names tell us so much about the kind of parents they had.  It is a genius stroke of doing so much with so little.

I remember reading it the first time as a seventh grader and totally revising the list of names I wanted to name my future pets and children.  You know how we keep those lists of names we like?  For me it has expanded to pets, children and characters.  I read The Outsiders and wanted wonderfully quirky names on the list.  I am not sure that sense ever left me as I still have truly quirky names on the list.  

Rereading it, it is a far more spare book than I remember from middle school.  The language is just enough and the balance never tips.  The reader wants to know these people.  The story is utterly compelling but secondary to these brilliant characters.  It is a deceptively difficult way to write.  To conjure complicated, likable people out of empty air using very few words is a tricky business.  And she was sixteen when she wrote it!  Wonderful.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Catalogue and South of Broad

At first I resented South of Broad for not being Beach Music.  I missed the town, the time, and the characters in all their peculiar, finely drawn specifics.  But then I surrendered.  I find I have to do that when I really fall for an author and want to read everything he or she has written.  I have to let go of one storied trajectory and put my faith in another.

Sometimes it does not work and the magic of one book is too binding to allow transgression into another written in a near but not congruent voice.  Sometimes the reader/author love affair requires a long break so that the soft focus process of erosion can set in.  In this case it was a leap from lily pad to lily pad and the resentment was fierce.  But then I tasted South of Broad's own brand of homemade magic elixir.  It is majestic: marvelous and whole and consuming.  It asks question of friendship and how your history is held in public trust by those who were there and who love you.  It explores the completeness of lots thrown in together when you are very young.

In other news: bang, it arrived on my doorstep.  Touchstone (now just Touchstone with a lovely new angel winged, reaching firefly sort of insignia and no longer Touchstone Fireside) Spring 2011 Catalogue.  I opened the first page first page is for the Black Eyed Peas singer.  The one with the name I can never remember.  The second page is for Exit the Actress.  Nell landed up on page two!  I am thrilled.  It is getting realer and realer.