Saturday, July 21, 2012

Writing is not a business and books are not consumer products.

To me, writing is an art and only the truly talented people can claim the privilege of being called writers. There is no course, no school that will teach a person how to create magic with their words. I'm not a very assertive person, have always had problems due to trying to please everyone and will most likely suffer mental anguish from worrying over what others think of me for the rest of my life. That is the reason why I may write a comment here and there about the sad state of writing world/culture but I never really outright talk or write in full length about all that bothers me. But I have to now. I see it as a duty to myself to speak up now, even if no one reads a word of it.

I've been asking myself some questions. One of the things I wanted to know was what my beliefs were. And then I became worried that I might not have any (the process and what led to it, and the outcome are all a lot more complicated but not the subject of this post, hence the very simplified version). Thankfully, I do. I believe in the power of the written word to save lives, to change a person, and to influence change in the world. Great literature can, and has done all that.

Sadly, fewer and fewer people seem to believe that. And I think about why true gift is afforded so little regard and respect, every single day. It's killing me. Especially when I see my fellow readers, self-proclaimed lovers of books state that at the end of the day, 'It's just a book.' But then, I get a kick in the wound caused by readers comments because I see writers say exactly the same thing.

I want to ask the scribblers of the world who so profess their love of reading and writing:

Why the fuck are you writing?!

I have my answer but I hope that maybe readers will stop and look for one too.

And then, the most important question needs to be answered:

Why do you read?

Do you know what art does to me? It speaks to me in ways that not one person has ever spoken to me. I couldn't ever explain it to anyone who hasn't experienced it as well. One sentence in a book can break my heart. A description of a country's landscape will have me reeling with homesickness, and sarcastic humor of a character will make me laugh, regardless of where I am or in whose company.

Not all books are like that and not all people can write in such a way. But what I described is magic and magic is rare nowadays and all the more precious for it.

What has been happening recently online with readers and authors attacking one another is disgusting but also useful to me. I now know that not all readers are equal in their love for books, some of them may not even like reading so much as showing their questionable prowess in the usage of offensive language, snarky remarks and general nastiness. I also realize now, with greater clarity than ever, that a disturbing number of authors see their books as products and themselves as business 'owners'.

I don't even want to think in how many ways this 'writing as entrepreneurship' concept is wrong. Writers are artists. Most importantly, books are precious pieces of art, not a product to be sold alongside household devices.

I want absolutely nothing to do with this 'business' of putting out books. The books I read leave an imprint on me, make my life better, even if in a small way. Your products won't, because you're not really writing your souls into them, you're just trying to make money.

I know this blog is not a crazy popular site with tons of visitors a day. In an age when good writing is considered pretentious and you're only right when you agree with the majority (and called uppity, condescending, judgmental and arrogant when you don't), controversy reigns. Most importantly though, reading has always been a solitary activity for me, certainly not a means to socialize more. I want to write about books. I don't want to socialize, especially with people whom I can't even look in the eyes when we're conversing. I'm not criticizing any of it here, it's just not me. I'm an introvert through and through, I have no interest in virtual exhibitionism. But I appreciate gifted writers, I know talent when I read one and wish to convey that here by sharing my thoughts on fantastic novels that are classics and those that are just being published for the first time. I believe in literature and that it will live on, long after the 'scribbling business' folds.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama


* * * * *
The book's description from the publisher's website:

China, 1957. Chairman Mao has declared a new openness in society: “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend.” Many intellectuals fear it is only a trick, and Kai Y ing’s husband, Sheng, a teacher, has promised not to jeopardize their safety or that of their young son, T ao. But one July morning, just before his sixth birthday, Tao watches helplessly as Sheng is dragged away for writing a letter criticizing the Communist Party and sent to a labor camp for “reeducation.”

A year later, still missing his father desperately, Tao climbs to the top of the hundred-year-old kapok tree in front of their home, wanting to see the mountain peaks in the distance. But Tao slips and tumbles thirty feet to the courtyard below, badly breaking his leg.

As Kai Ying struggles to hold her small family together in the face of this shattering reminder of her husband’s absence, other members of the household must face their own guilty secrets and strive to find peace in a world where the old sense of order is falling. Once again, Tsukiyama brings us a powerfully moving story of ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances with grace and courage.
Quietly unassuming. I have always wondered how to best express what Tsukiyama's novels are like and with A Hundred Flowers I have  finally found the right words: quietly unassuming, until at the very end the true beauty of it stunned me.

What can I write about A Hundred Flowers that I haven't already praised when writing about The Street of a Thousand Blossoms and The Samurai's Garden? I've loved them both and although I approached Ms. Tsukiyama's newest 'jewel' with trepidation (I was anxious about how it would measure up to her other 'jewels'), I love A Hundred Flowers. I love the writing, I love the tone, and especially, I love the message it carries: the hope that keeps us humans going despite the almost equal despair and unfairness of life. 

I could give you a rant about the deceit and cruelty of communism (living through the last decade of it myself), a socialist movement that may sound good in theory, but it never, ever is good in practice. But I won't. A Hundred Flowers will hopefully compel you to research further and learn about Mao's
Hundred Flowers Campaign and Great Leap Forward. Trust me, it's worth it. This greatly talented writer will show you the truth in words such as these:

Kai Ying tried to imagine what it must have been like to have servants doing all the things that now filled her days. It was the bourgeoisie lifestyle Mao and the Communist Party had despised and fought against, declaring victory for the people. And yet, why was there never enough rice or oil or coal for the people?

Gail Tsukiyama will first and foremost, however, help you understand what the truest hardship is, how decisions of one person (in this case, Chairman Mao Zedong's) have the power to shake the foundations of whole families, the power to cause suffering of wives, husbands and children, who quite possibly suffered the most just like little Tao. He couldn't fully comprehend what was happening, why people he loved disappeared from his life or caused him heartbreak. And in the end he had to grow up faster than any child ever should. But those decisions will never break those people. As long as there is hope, they'll persevere. And therein lies the true beauty of A Hundred Flowers.


FTC: I received an e-galley of A Hundred Flowers from the publisher, St. Martin's Press, for review.

Monday, July 16, 2012

High Summer Read-A-Thon

Today is the first day of the High Summer Read-A-Thon (07/16-07/22) and I have decided to participate because of two things: fun and a stack of books that will topple soon, if I don't do anything about it. If you'd like to join, the link above will get you to the right spot. The action takes place at the Seasons of Reading blog hosted by lovely Michelle, owner of her personal book blog, The True Book Addict. Who knows, maybe you'll even decide to hang around for the future read-a-thons :-). I think I will.

Books I really want to get read:

1. In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner
2. The Prophet by Michael Koryta
3. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
4. The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

My plan is to stick to physical copies this time and stay away from my kindle for the whole week. I hope it works.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey


* * * *

The book's synopsis from the publisher's website:

I threw my neck out in the middle of Swan Lake last night.

So begins the tale of Kate Crane, a soloist in a celebrated New York City ballet company who is struggling to keep her place in a very demanding world. At every turn she is haunted by her close relationship with her younger sister, Gwen, a fellow company dancer whose career quickly surpassed Kate’s, but who has recently suffered a breakdown and returned home.

Alone for the first time in her life, Kate is anxious and full of guilt about the role she may have played in her sister’s collapse.  As we follow her on an insider tour of rehearsals, performances, and partners onstage and off, she confronts the tangle of love, jealousy, pride, and obsession that are beginning to fracture her own sanity. Funny, dark, intimate, and unflinchingly honest,
The Cranes Dance is a book that pulls back the curtains to reveal the private lives of dancers and explores the complicated bond between sisters. 

I have never had anything to do with ballet. Not much with dancing even. Hence, The Cranes Dance should have been a novel outside my interests and not held my attention. But it did. As I knew it would, when I requested it. I believe ballet is just a springboard to dive from into a complicated relationship between sisters, a maybe even more complicated relationship with one's parents, and generally into how dangerous one's passion for something, anything, can become to that person.

In Meg Howrey's novel, that person is Kate Crane and she is one of the most interesting and endearing heroines I've met in the past few years. She is flawed, the years of her life dedicated to ballet having taken a major toll on her, and most importantly she's been struggling with living with, loving, caring for and competing with her younger sister all her life. I think I appreciated the sisterly love tinged with envy and competition the most. I am, like Kate, the older of the two sisters, and understood how such a relationship is never simple. We love our sisters to death but yes, we do struggle with more unwelcome emotions as well. I really liked that the author managed to deal with those without making Kate or her younger sister, Gwen out to be ungrateful, disturbed or dysfunctional siblings.

Yet another side of The Cranes Dance that makes this novel so appealing, is the beautiful writing. It's sharp, it's simple and when you think there's not much meaning to it, all of a sudden you discover there are layers of meaning in one sentence or a paragraph - I suppose that's what profound may be:

Keep making noise, I prayed, laughing. Bang drums. Clamor and ring bells for I cannot stand to hear the tired beating of this almost heart.

I am here. I am in the present tense. I'm not always here, and sometimes here is a very difficult place. Sometimes it is a labyrinth, or a Minotaur, or a rope I can neither let go of nor follow. It's hard to find the right words, but I guess I would say that it's something like feeling the floor. And that it is my privilege  to feel it.

It's just like the whole novel. The Cranes Dance is a story with many layers and many meanings. If you get to enjoy it like I did, chances are you'll want to read it more than once and with each reading, there'll be more to discover and appreciate. True, I did find the ending a bit too tidy for my personal tastes (maybe I'm a morbid kind of reader) and rather difficult to believe, but who knows, maybe when I read it the second time, I'll find that that too had something hidden I just didn't get the first time. 

FTC: I received an e-galley of The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey from Vintage Books, an imprint of Knopf Doubleday via NetGalley.

A free short story by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Carlos Ruiz Zafon's newest book just hit the U.S. market on July 10th. I have not read it yet but will hopefully have a copy in my hands soon. I think almost everyone who loves books and reading is excited about The Prisoner of Heaven.

The publisher, HarperCollins, has released a short e-story by Mr. Zafon, The Rose of Fire and it's free!
If you want to get a taste of this author's talent or just love his writing and can't get enough, hurry up and download it, and read it. I already got my own copy and will be 'sinking my teeth' into it shortly.

All you do is go to the publisher's site, click links corresponding to your e-reader (if you don't have one, just read online or download to your computer) and you're pretty much done.

Now, just enjoy!