f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: 07/01/2006 - 08/01/2006

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Monday, July 31, 2006

Talking Through Books

We talk a lot about books here. (Not so much recently but that's because it's been, like, 197 degrees for the last month and I'm all melty. Go back to Houston, Bertrand, and take your dang heat out of my upper midwest.) Anyway, so we talk a lot about books. But for a day, maybe two, I want to talk about talking about books. Because if anything is going to keep this site vibrant (and keep the power of reading alive) it isn't our writing, I don't think, but our reading.

Anyway, I was in Denver and a friend recommended a book to me in one of those sort of baffled "I love this, nobody else has read it, and I really want other people to like it, but if they don't, a small part of me is going to die because I like it that much" recommendations. And so I read it. (It was The Book Thief.) And, unsurprisingly--because this is not a woman I envision giving indiscriminate breathless recommendations out like tic-tacs--the book really was good. Excellent, even. And so no little pieces of anybody have to die...and in fact she has talked to me through the book.

We are social creatures. We crave understanding and being understood. One of art's great functions are to pursue communication. But we talk to each other in recommending the art that speaks to us. I doubt there's many among us who hasn't made a well-intentioned (but often ill-conceived) mix tape for that certain special someone. Or tortured a friend with a favorite movie they'd never got around to seeing. Even among acquaintances we seek places of common ground.

"I've read The Book Thief. You've read The Book Thief. That is a thing we share."

So somehow I'd like to get back, a little, to not only talking about books... but standing together as we talk. Not necessarily from shared opinion (though you're out if you dislike Richard Russo) but at the very least from shared experience. I read this, you read this. Let's talk.

To do so, however, is going to require, well, a kind of commitment on your part to at least join in. If not always then at least now and again. Is this something you are interested in? (All ye vast sea of lurkers... would ye unlurk for something like this.?) Vote aye in the comments and we'll see where we're at.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Sucker

There are a few things for which I am a huge sucker. Olives and dark chocolate (though not together.) Non-fiction involving sharks. And movies dealing with meta-fictional stories. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was incredible. Adaptation rocked--at least the trailer, which may be my favorite preview ever.

And now this... Stranger Than Fiction.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Diversion: the Wonder and Power of Story

In my spare time at home I read a fair amount of children's fiction. Some of it I read for myself, some out-loud to my children. One subtext that's stuck out to me lately in a couple of works is the meta-theme of the power of story, the power of words, the power of reading.

The books that spring first to mind (though I'm certain there are many more) are:

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
Inkheart and Inkspell by Cornelia Funke
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

All five books cover completely different ground and genres but one thing they have in common is a reflexive examination of the power of books.

When I first noticed it, my gut reaction is that there was the slightest hint of desperation to this. We talk about the use of propaganda all the time and here these books are "selling" themselves, trying to coax little minds into drinking the Kool-Aid of reading. That's a cynical response and one I'm not overly proud of. And it dissippated almost instantly because the next thing to catch my attention was the enraptured face of my girls, sitting waiting to hear what a little mouse with big ears might do next.

The power of story to transport you isn't theoretical to children. It's obvious and immediate and above discussion. Of couse a mouse can become a knight. Of course a boy named Stanley can be pressed flat when a bulletin board falls on him. Of course a swan without a honk can learn to play trumpet. The world and what it can contain is endless.

So those themes on the glory and power of story...they aren't for the kids, I don't think. I think they're for the authors, or (occasionally) for the cranky sour-puss adult reader like me who dares to pick up the book. They're a declaration that says, "You know what? Bag it...I'm throwing my lot in with the kids. They had it right in the first place."

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tony Hines Gets Props From PW

Marcia Ford at Publishers Weekly caught wind of T. L. Hines innovative publicity and promotional strategies and was so impressed that she wrote an article about them. (I'm not sure if this will open for you or not. Let me know.)

To warn you, I'm quoted and am effusive so be prepared for a little bit of author love.

Pynchon: a Novelist Made for the Internet

Here's an interesting little article about some hoopla surrounding Thomas Pynchon's as yet untitled upcoming novel.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Updated Links

For newer readers or those who are interested in exploring the archives, I've done some updating to the links on the right. The bolded topics are "new" to the archive. I've also added our discussion of Christ the Lord, Ezekiel's Shadow, and Abide With Me to the book discussions.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Day 1 of The Traveling Death and Resurrection Show: Making Faith Real

Before we talk about the book, has anybody else noticed that a goodly number of general fiction ABA books are on the slim side? Apex just topped 200 pages in small format hardcover. TDaRS tops in at 215. More and more, I feel like my options are either slim books of probably 60,000 - 70,000 words or big honking tomes like The Historian.

Now, onto the book.

Real early on Frankka, Ariel Gore's narrator in what will henceforth be called TDaRS, says:

You're given a mythology in this life, the way you're given a body, a family, a country. You can reject it if you like--starve it, laugh in its face, run away into exile--but it's still your mythology. There's always the chance of redemption.

Frankka's mythology is Catholicism. She's a lapsed Catholic, recovering Catholic, and indeed the book is steeped in that capital-C tradition of saints and signs, happily co-opting, converting, and corrupting these depending on the situation. That said, it also takes many of the traditions and sacraments on their own historic, sacred terms and the book, if it is about anything, is about finding the authentic in the mythologic. And not just the authentic but the True in the capital-T sense of that word.

It underscores--if it needed highlighting yet again--the particular way that modern American evangelicals have somehow rid themselves of any sort of lasting mythology. And not even mythology, but really any link to the historical church. The liturgies, the hymns, the Holy days that passed unchanged through generations fell out of favor in recent decades, replaced with, really, nothing tangible.

Dissection of the current church feels more like poking fun at old yearbook photos, (ie, Wasn't it funny when we all thought Carmen's "The Champion" was the coolest thing out there? Wasn't it neat when we all said that prayer with Jabez in it?) than some confrontation with anything of much lasting power. Like much of the culture around it, church tried to be relevant by simultaneously being disposable. "Don't like it this week? Don't worry, you'll find something that resonates."

In either scenario, believers are left with the same difficult question: What's real? What's True?

Is it better to have 2000-years worth of jerry-rigged tradition that sometimes seems to be held together with little more than a string of beads or a vacuum in which apparently waits the gleaming Son of God, but which often seems more like the void of space--boundless, silent, cold, and intimidating?

As good post-modernists I know we're not supposed to read author intent into anything, but within literary critique post-modernism had it's fifteen minutes of fame. We're an interactive world and more than ever writers are saying something to us, whether they want to or not. And more than ever we're able to talk back.

TDaRS is certainly an engagement with the Catholic church. But my concerns that it would just be an angry dismissal never bloomed. Frankka confronts her mythology in a way that suggests we all must if we're ever to be real about what we believe. The next big question is: What then is to be redeemed? Us or the mythology itself?

More Cover Weirdness

Drenched in Light by Lisa Wingate

The Last Time They Met
by Anita Shreve

Accidentally noticed these two books two rows apart at a bookstore in the Minneapolis airport. There's always a danger in using stock photography.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Tenth Time You've Heard This...

Multnomah has been sold. Details are still forthcoming, including the only thing that really matters--announcement of the buyer. The market continues to consolidate.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

2006 Christy Award Winners

Contemporary - Dale Cramer, Levi's Will (BHP)

Contemporary Series - Vanessa Del Fabbro, The Road to Home (Steeple Hill)

Historical - Liz Curtis Higgs, Whence Came a Prince (Waterbrook)

Suspense - Athol Dickson, River Rising (BHP)

Romance - Deeanne Gist, A Bride Most Begruding (BHP)

Visionary - Karen Hancock, Shadow Over Kiriath (BHP)

First Novel - Nicole Mazzarella, This Heavy Silence (Paraclete)

Congrats to All!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Waiting for a Moment That Never Comes

I know you likely don’t care about Apex and Colson Whitehead enough to want two days on the book, but I’ve got ICRS this weekend and so this is all I’ve got going in terms of extracurricular thoughts.

What I’m trying to figure out is if I’m being fair to Whitehead in my reading. And my concern is that I’m slightly disappointed in Whitehead for not giving me a scene I expected to read.

What I’d read about Apex is that it featured a nomenclature consultant who specialized in naming products. And that he’d worked on Apex a brand of bandages whose special selling-point is that they came in a spectrum of skin colors to match humanity’s wide-range of pigmentation.

I didn’t read much more than that. Didn’t need to. Given Whitehead’s foray into race with Intuitionist I was fascinated to see what he’d do here. I was particularly fascinated to see how the nomenclature specialist pulled off naming each and every color in the spectrum of skin-tones. It seemed dangerous territory, a minefield for a novelist to tip-toe through. But it also seemed ripe for satire and their seemed to be potential to somehow move beyond race. Wouldn’t it be better to move beyond white, black, yellow, and red to thirty-five brand new skin tones?

Anyway, these were some of my thoughts before I picked up the book. I’m assuming you realize Whitehead never broaches the topic. The bandages are given stock numbers rather than names and, well, that disappointed me. (It also seems unlikely in the uber-marketing universe he sets up. Or at least it should be addressed. Why didn’t they name the colors? Am I just fixated here?)

I don’t have much of a point here other than to say, “Poor authors.” Not are you beholden to readers for what actually makes the page, but sometimes you’re beholden for what doesn’t. I don’t know that you can prepare for that—unless a number of early readers warn you and you ignore them. So that’s why I feel I may not be giving Mr. Whitehead a fair shake. Sorry, Colson. (But I’m still disappointed.)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Weird Consolation of "Just Good" Fiction

First, before she's forced to post a lone shout out again...congrats to Mary DeMuth and, well, the country of France for their one-nil World Cup win that advances them to the final against Italy. Based on cuisine alone...I'm sorry Mary, but I'd have to go with Italy. Based on cool bald guys, I'd go with Zinedine Zidane and France. Mostly I just want to forget that neither the US nor the "Please Don't Call Us Ivory Coast" Cote D'Ivoire made it past round one.

(If you have nothing but time, go to YouTube and watch any Argentinian goal you can find. They had some incredible scores this year.)

Okay, onto fiction.

I read an encouraging book this weekend. Encouraging because it wasn't the greatest thing I'd ever read. It was interesting, definitely thought-provoking. But not one of those immaculate masterpieces that spoon out equal doses of awe and self-doubt. It was Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead.

I'm not insinuating Whitehead's not a terrific author. I've heard nothing but good about John Henry Days and his Intuitionist is one of the most unexpected and intriguing books I've read in recent years. In fact, I still mull over that odd little mystery now and then...and when it comes down to it, I know there's no way I could've written that book.

Usually, I'm just glad to be along for the ride, but occasionally there's an odd poignancy to such a realization. It's one thing to acknowledge I'm a limited writer, but it's another to think I may not even be close to thinking the right things to write about. The Intuitionist, The Gold Bug Variations, Kavalier and Clay--I'm not even in their neighborhood when I'm thinking of ideas.

Then comes Apex. Something in the theme resonated with thoughts I've had myself on nomenclature, the mystery of names and words, and a handful of other topics. This was a neighborhood I finally recognized. And while Whitehead took his own emminently justifiable path through such locales, I didn't feel like they were the only path he could have taken. He didn't "own" this territory and, perhaps it's just egotistical of me, but part of me thinksI could lead a pretty interesting tour as well.

Has this happened to you? Again, please, in no way take this as me saying I'm an equal to Colson Whitehead as a writer. Or really even close. But in Whitehead not fully owning the ground he tackles it feels like there's a whisper of hope. "I could come close to this." Scheudenfreude is an awful, anti-Christian emotion...but it can spark the competitive juices. Or it does in me at least.