Friday, March 23, 2012

Shakespeare and Co. a Book Lover's Dream

Reading today's paper, I came across this article by Barbara Bernard: Paris Bookstore Shakespeare and Co. is a Bibliophile's Dream

She tells how she came to experience the bookstore and it's owner, who recently passed away:

George Whitman was delightful. He was a few years older than we, and this article reported he was 98 when he died.

He was a true bibliophile who had gained the name of “Don Quixote of the Latin Quarter.” He had little money and lived in a small apartment above the book store with his daughter Sylvia and his cat and dog. He decided more than a half century ago that he wanted to have a haven for book lovers and a place where writers and would-be writers would always be welcome.

My husband told him that I was a journalist, and he immediately introduced me to several people sitting in various spots in the bookstore, reading or chatting and interesting. All were writers, some still unpublished but not discouraged.

The bookstore was also a library, and anyone was welcome to borrow books to read. I know he sold some books because I found a modestly-priced, small collection of Shakespeare that I couldn’t resist. In the many times we visited, though, I would hardly say I found it to be a booming book-selling business.

Whitman had a number of comfortable chairs tucked around the rooms of the store, and sometimes someone would be asleep in one with a book opened flat on his chest. Other times, you might find someone in a discussion with a person sitting in a chair opposite him.

I have never seen so many books. They were stacked from floor to ceiling with a system that only Whitman and his daughter seemed to understand. If you asked for a specific book, they could amazingly find it for you. Every year when we visited, Whitman had added a stray animal, usually cats that would wander the store and were apt to climb up into your lap while you were sitting in a comfy chair perusing a book.

The store was open long hours, and Whitman was always there. He was remembered in the obituary for “his free spirit, his eccentricity and his generosity.” Written on one of the walls of the store were some of Yeats’ words which summarize these qualities: “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.”

I also found this article about the history of the famous store: Down and Out in Paris

Thankfully, the bookstore is continuing, under the direction of Whitman's daughter Sylvia.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Book Review: Girl Reading

Girl Reading: A Novel
by Katie Ward
NY: Scribner, 2012

I had seen very positive reviews of Girl Reading: A Novel by Katie Ward and decided this was a book I definitely wanted to read. A novel about the stories behind works of art that depicted girls reading? This was a combination of several of my favorite things - history, art, and reading. When I saw a copy on the "new" shelf at my favorite local library, I grabbed it with enthusiasm. I eagerly delved into its pages.

The first chapter, based on Simone Martini's "Annunciation," painted in 1333 reminded me a bit of "Girl with a Pearl Earring" by Tracy Chevalier. The story was engrossing, but one thing kept jumping out at me. There were no quotation marks and no attributions to speakers of any kind. It was incredibly distracting. While my brain finally adjusted to the literary device and it became less noticeable, it still seemed to distract from the mission of the book - to reveal the secret lives behind the works of art.

A second question that presented itself was why this was called a novel when it was actually a collection of short stories. Admittedly, they were all united by theme, but that can be true of a short story collection as well. It wasn't until the last chapter that the stories were tied together and I understood why this was, in fact, a novel.

It turns out "Girl Reading" is actually science fiction! The last chapter takes place in 2060 when people live largely in a virtual world known as mesh. They wear i-specs almost all the time which allow them to interact with people and places in a simulated fashion. The previous chapters have been courtesy of "Sybil," a type of artificially intelligent being that could look at art (only these selected few works so far) and reveal glimpses of the mysteries existing beneath.

In many ways, the last chapter serves as a cautionary tale of what may happen if we continue to neglect real places and people in order to cultivate virtual relationships. In this future world, no one gets to experience the real art anymore. It is only available virtually so that it may be "preserved," rather than experienced up close.

"Girl Reading" was billed as inventive and unique. This it certainly was. I can see it as a good Book Club read - Ward touches on many feminist issues such as pregnancy as a result of rape, lesbianism, and a young girl coming into her sexuality. It would certainly foster much debate. I found this novel intriguing, if not what I expected. It definitely made me think.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Be the Invisible Author!

I've been reading the March/April 2012 issue of Writer's Digest. In "5 Story Mistakes Even Good Writers Make," Steven James writes, "Believe it or not, you don't want readers to admire your writing: You want them to be so engaged in the story itself that they don't notice the way you use words to shape it."

The story is what matters, and while all readers appreciate good writing, they don't want to be beat over the head with it. Anything that takes the reader out of the story is bad. I've had that experience recently with two books I've read. One author was so determined to make sure that the story took place in a given year that he threw in all sorts of unnecessary facts about that year. It took me out of what was otherwise a very good tale. A second book doesn't use quotation marks or attribute statements to characters. While I eventually adjusted to that, it was very disconcerting and detracted from the story.

As a reader, I want to lose myself in a story, escape from the world for a while. As a writer, I want to take this advice to heart. I should be the invisible author, weaving a memorable story without ever showing my face.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Some Writing Advice from Tom Clancy

I recently read the 1992 version of The Writer's Digest Handbook of Novel Writing (I picked it up in a library - there is a 1998 version on Amazon, but I don't think it is the same book.) It is basically a collection of articles that had appeared within the pages of Writer's Digest back in the day. While some of the advice has definitely changed, especially when it comes to how the publishing world works, the writing advice remains valid.

I liked this passage by Tom Clancy:

The only way to write is to write. You can dream about writing, make notes, make outlines, or sketch out your characters all you want, but the book will not get written until you write it. . . Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world. Maybe you'll get published. Maybe you won't. . . What success really means, I think, is looking failure in the face and tossing the dice anyway. You may be the only person who ever knows how the dice come up, but in that knowledge you have something that millions of people will never have - because they were afraid to try.