Friday, January 29, 2010

Thank you, J.D. Salinger

Like most of those who love the craft of writing and the joy of reading, I was saddened by the death of J.D. Salinger this week.

To the generations of students since the 1951 publication of his "Catcher in the Rye," he proved that not all classic literature was composed a century before their birth, that modern authors were deserving of study, that a gifted writer could create a character that could touch so many.

That teenage angst was universal.

His reclusiveness only added to the mystique.

We are all left with our interpretations of his works because he never dispelled any of our notions.

Salinger will live on in Holden Caulfield and Franny and Zooey.

He inspired many authors that followed. And while I have no doubt read and enjoyed some of those works, I think it's his inspiration of readers that may be more enduring.

This year thousands more students will be introduced to Caulfield. For many, he will be the first character in a required reading assignment they can identify with. And for some that revelation will spark a lifetime love of reading.

Thank you, Mr. Salinger.

- Tricia Ambrose

P.S., Jason, I'm going to guess he answer to your book summary is The Koran. I say that not because your clues were helpful, but because I know that is what you're currently reading.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Poetry smackdown

What’s the most appropriate, most Jasonesque way to end a string of poetry posts?

How about incorporating Jason favorites Sherman Alexie and FreeDarko?

Alexie, in addition to being an award-winning author, is a passionate basketball fan. He was so incensed that Allen Iverson was voted to start in the All-Star game that he wrote a poem for ESPN.

Then, Bethlehem Shoals of FreeDarko wrote a poem in defense of AI.

Alexie ended the slam battle by smashing on Monta Ellis, Vince Carter and Tracey McGrady and boosting Cavelier Anderson Varejao. (Tell those French authors that this is how you conduct a beef.)

I have not linked to Shoals’ poem as he is a sucker MC.

Next, much ado has been made out of Borders throwing away their unsold books. To explain, bookstores need only return the cover to receive a refund from the publisher for their overstock. (Note: this is why you occasionally see books without covers at secondhand sales. Don’t buy them. They’re essentially stolen property.) After mailing back the cover, they toss the rest of the book.

Well, that didn’t sit well with some people. They threatened boycotts — stuff like that. As a result, Borders announced they would be donating and recycling their overstock now.

I think the whole situation is pretty silly. Yes, Borders should recycle instead of simply trashing leftover books; but why are they being asked to give away products that they are trying to sell?

Do people picket restaurants and tell them to donate their leftover food at the end of a night?

The people who protest Borders are missing what I consider a key fact. It’s not difficult to get a book.

Intellectually starved children are not suffering because they can’t find Poe or Dickinson on bookshelves, as this Huffington Post writer implies. They can go to a library — almost any library. If it’s not in stock, they can order it.

No, children are intellectually starved because they do not have the desire to read. It doesn’t matter who donates how many books to what. If kids don’t want to read, they won’t. Borders’ announcement won’t change that.

Finally, Tricia, I’ll play your game. In fact, if you can guess my book without cheating (honor system), I’ll buy you a Frosty.

Sleepers of the Cave.
Night journey.

Jason Lea,

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

In summary ...

We wordies - wordsmiths implies a level I don't think we've reached - have our fascinations, don't we?

Jason has on more than one post shared his fondness for poetry and issued a challenge.

I'm more of a compulsive Text Twist player and Jeopardy! viewer.

In fact, our family habit is to eat dinner while watching the quiz show.

Last night's show featured a category called Word-by-Word Book Summaries.

Among the answers was:

Question: What is The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Check out all the questions and answers at this fabulous Jeopardy! archive.

So I thought I'd try a few myself.

How about:



Care to give it a shot, Jason?

- Tricia Ambrose

BTW, the books above are Gone With the Wind and Little Women.


Monday, January 25, 2010

'Why don't poems have more ideas?'

We’re talking about poetry again.

Not because I know poetry, but because people who do know poetry keep saying interesting things.

Elisa Gabbert, of The French Exit, calls out publications that publish mediocre poetry from recognizable poets.

Here’s what I’d like to see more of in submissions: IDEAS. Why don’t poems have more ideas? So many poems I read are essentially just descriptions. So you went outside. It was beautiful. Or not. I don’t care how creatively you describe it, if it didn’t trigger any thoughts beyond “Hells yeah I am going to describe this,” it’s not a poem. It’s just showing off to yourself, or as Matt Rass used to say, “masturbating to language.”

Love it. Every last word of it. In fact, it’s not just poets who get caught “masturbating to language.” How much of Moby Dick is Herman Melville describing the scenery? The same could be said of James Fenimore Cooper and Nathaniel Hawthorne. An entire generation of American authors decided “Hells yeah I am going to describe this.” Yes, they had some ideas ensconced between the chapter-long descriptions, but not enough to justify their exhaustive exposition.

And, despite my love for Wu-Tang Clan, I have to acknowledge that about 65 percent of their discography is “masturbating to language.”

On an unrelated (or, at most, barely related) note, I want to thank Patrick Gillespie of Poemshape for responding to my post. He made a point during his reply that is worth revisiting.

He said: A poor poet, but brilliant marketer, will probably be far more successful than the brilliant poet (we see it all the time). However, marketing also goes where the money is. If a publisher sees money in a writer, they will market him or her.

Then, I said: This is true, but it also leads us to a circular argument. Marketing tends to follow money and money follows marketing. Yes, poetry would be more lucrative if it were better marketed; and publishers would market it better if it appeared more lucrative. A few extraordinary types — Gillespie listed Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss — might slide through, but that’s about it. But even Silverstein and Seuss don’t apply to this discussion because neither of them are current poets.

Finally, Bloomsbury has refused to learn its lesson. They, once again put the image of a white woman on the cover of a book whose heroine is described as having brown skin. This would have been a post by itself had Bloomsbury not done the exact same thing last year.

Bloomsbury has already apologized and said it will issue the book with a new cover — just like they did before.

If Bloomsbury does this again, I’ll be convinced that it is for the free publicity.

-Jason Lea,

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Another welcome surprise

Twisted Tree by Kent Meyers (ISBN 9780151013890) provided yet another surprise for this reader.

Based on the jacket description of a girl gone missing, I expected a crime novel.
What I got was a thought-provoking series of glimpses into the lives of a cross-section of folks in the South Dakota Town of Twisted Tree.

It almost reads as a collection of short stories. Each chapter can stand on its own; though when read together the vignettes form a powerful slice of life.

Meyers introduces us to the missing girl, the man responsible for her abduction, a grocery checker, a rancher, the girl’s best friend, a former priest and others.

Their lives overlap in the most believable of ways. I was reminded of Mitch Albom’s “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” and its theme that sometimes the folks with the greatest impact on our lives are not the ones you might think.

This is not a quick-reading page-turner. This is a novel dependent upon the nuances of character, not the suspense of plot.

- Tricia Ambrose

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Poetry is dead again

I’m sick of people declaring art forms dead.

Fiction is dead. The short story is dead. Three yards and a cloud of dust is dead. Crunk is dead.

Apparently, poetry died in 2003. Or it didn’t. Or maybe it’s alive but nobody cares.

Patrick Gillespie, the man behind Poemshape, skirts the argument of poetry’s demise by suggesting we pull the plug.

If poets and artists can’t make a living by writing poetry or producing art, then maybe they shouldn’t be writing poetry.
Let the fittest survive.
And, yes, I hold myself to that standard. I live it everyday.
Let Poetry Die
So that it can be reborn.
Make poets work for their bread and butter by being poets.
As it is, the state of poetry is dispiriting. The public is right to ignore it.

Gillespie argues that well-intentioned benefactors like Ruth Lilly hurt the art form by allowing poets to write material that will only be appreciated by other poets.

Gillespie makes some good points. One, written poetry no longer grabs our attention. I asked the newsroom to name a living American poet. A room full of people who write for a living could only come up with Maya Angelou.

Two, poetry is mostly the realm of academics and dilettantes. You either write for yourself or for your sponsor. There are no more populists.

But I have two basic problems with Gillespie’s argument.

First, Gillespie ignores lyrics. All lyrics are poetry. The only question is are they good or bad poetry. (I had one coworker who arrived after I had polled the newsroom. When I asked him to name a living American poet, he said Chuck D. He instantly became my favorite coworker.)

Saying poetry is dead is like calling dinosaurs extinct and ignoring the birds. You hear poetry almost every day, even if it’s only during commercials or on the drive to work.

Second, Gillespie assumes high-quality work will automatically entice the populace. That ignores everything we know about marketing. A brilliant poet will still have a hellacious time entering public awareness. Gillespie says he knows Wayne Gretzky and Tiger Woods even though he doesn’t care about hockey or golf, respectively. Well, hockey and golf are much better promoted than poetry. There’s no Poetry Channel. Def Poetry Jam was last time I saw poetry on a channel that wasn’t PBS.

(I’d watch poetry playoffs. Get Harold Bloom to provide commentary. “Did you hear that imagery? Scintillating!”)

Until poets are willing to market their product beyond their core audience, it will continue to be an ignored art form. And, realistically, Ruth Lilly left the Poetry Magazine enough money for them to promote the entire art form and not just a few critically acclaimed, publicly ignored poets.

-Jason Lea,

P.S. There are bajillion blogs. None of them are vital. This one comes close.

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Blurring the lines

Oddly enough, "Remarkable Creatures" is in the stack I borrowed from Euclid Library last week. After reading Jason's recent post, I may move it up a few spots on my list...

I just finished "Her Fearful Symmetry" by Audrey Niffenegger. You may know her as the author of "The Time Traveler's Wife."

And if you're at all familiar with that novel or the movie it inspired, you know that you have to suspend a certain amount of disbelief when it comes to Niffenegger's work.

But it's worth it.

Symmetry is the story of twins who inherit their mom’s twin’s estate in London.

The move has them questioning their mother’s relationship with her sister, their relationship with each other.

Interesting as Julia and Valentina are; however; it’s the other folks in their aunt’s building I found most compelling.

There’s Robert, their aunt’s lover and now keeper of her secrets who’s finding a new love interest in one of the twins. And there’s Martin whose phobias keep him prisoner in his apartment even as he develops a friendship with the other twin.

The lines between life and death are blurred in ways both intriguing and a little bit creepy.

But that’s the beauty of Niffenegger’s stories; they get you thinking.

- Tricia Ambrose

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Spend some time at this Library

“The Ladies Lending Library” was a pleasant surprise.
Janice Kulyk Keefer’s tale of women summering at a lake is so much more than the light beach read one might think.
The women of this cottage community, Sasha, Sonia, Nadia and Zirka, gather to discuss the paperback novels they furtively pass around while their husbands are at work.
But these women are as complex as those in real life.
Their world is Kalyna Beach, Canada, circa 1963, the summer of “Cleopatra,” and the movie is almost a character in the novel. These women are a product of their times – and none too happy about it.
They chafe against what society (and their husbands! Yikes! ) tells them is accepted.
They are jealous of Nadia, not just for her wealth, but because she is not a slave to the duties that bind them.
As Zirka tells Sasha, “What matters is that you have to pay for everything you want, and that it’s better not to find yourself paying a whole lifetime for something you decided wasn’t even worth five minutes of your time.”
Their disappointments weight heavily on them and their families.
As one character says, “In spite of everything I knew, … I really believed that once you grew up, you could do whatever you wanted. That only people who were too dull or stupid or frightened to want anything better would end up working at a factory or office or in a hellhole of a kitchen all summer long.”
Keefer’s turns of phrase left me nodding my head in agreement as each of the women bumped up against her limitations, whether self- or societal-imposed.
What leaped off the page at me, however, was Sasha’s description of books:
“… what makes you fall for a book, fall as hard and fast as you could fall in love. Or about how, when you finish certain books, you feel as though you’ve been locked out of the house in which you grew up. And how you walk around as if you’re blind or lame and can’t get your bearing until you’ve found another book that will take you away to someplace you’ve never dreamed you wanted or needed to go.”
I couldn’t agree more!

This is Keefer’s fifth novel and I’ll definitely be looking for her previous four.

-Tricia Ambrose

P.S. My six-word memoir: Played the cards I was dealt.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Still hating on Dickens

In case you forgot, I hate Charles Dickens.

It’s nice to see someone much smarter than me — Icelandic author Steinar Bragi — agree. Bragi’s short story, “The Sky Over Thingvellir,” was included in the Best European Fiction 2010 anthology. In his Artist Statement at the end of the book, he wrote:

When it comes to Dickens, I weep with boredom over every single page he’s written; with time I’ve even begun to weep just seeing his books on a shelf. For those who haven’t read him, I would still suggest you do have a look, just so you can make up your own mind -- I’m not a fascist! But don’t spend too much time on it; really, it’s easy to make a quick survey: the first paragraph — of any of his books — is exactly like the rest of the book, and each of his books is exactly like the others. Nothing in Dickens will ever manage to surprise you. And if you want those characters, if you’ve really got a craving for those “Dickensian characters,” just go to a wax museum. It’s faster.

(Once again, I need to give credit to Bookslut for the initial post.)

On a completely different subject, the men of Three Guys One Book have compiled a list of 40 things a writer shouldn’t do. (Of course, these are literary men and not accountants, so they headlined it 50 Things a Writer Shouldn’t Do. These guys are no good with numbers. They call themselves Three Guys even though there’s four of them.)

All of the guys give good advice, even if you’ve heard most of it before. Jonathan Evison makes my favorite suggestion:

Don’t hide behind sarcasm.

Agreed, sarcasm is not clever and has not been clever since the early 1990s. Sarcasm is what happens when people run out of wit.

-Jason Lea,

P.S. New Year’s Resolution Update: Had to snowshoe with my night reporter Saturday for work YMCA program. Didn’t kill him, didn’t even threaten to. My managing editor suggested the night reporter and I were becoming friends. Threatened to kill managing editor.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Your Life in Six Words

I’m in a hurry — melange, welcome.

Smith Magazine has made an industry of putting a twist on the Hemingway Challenge.

It invites people to write 6-word memoirs, instead of Hemingway-style 6-word fiction. It compiled some of these memoirs for It All Changed in an Instant. Some from names you recognize — Junot Diaz, Malcolm Gladwell, Gay Talese, Amy Tan — but it’s James Frey who gets the best line.

So would you believe me anyway?

Clever, very clever, but I still don’t forgive Frey. It irritates me that Frey suffered no penalty for lying. What happened, instead? He got more headlines, another guest appearance on Oprah and another publishing deal because of his name-brand recognition.

Moving on:

It’s old news by now, but I’m fascinated by two dueling French novelists.

Camille Laurens wrote a memoir in 1995 about losing her son. Then, Marie Darrieussecq wrote Tom est Mort, a novel treading the same territory a decade later.

Laurens accused Darrieussecq of psychological plagiarism. At the time, she wrote, “I had the feeling, in reading it, that Tom est Mort had been written in my room, with [her] arse on my chair or sprawling in my bed of grief.”

Curiouser and curiouser, the authors shared a publisher and an editor. After her complaints, Laurens was dropped by the publisher.

Now, after the feud has lain fallow for two years, both authors fired fresh shots via their latest publications.

Laurens wrote a novel about a writer who accuses her younger rival of plagiarizing her and is dropped by her editor. Darrieussecq has published a psychological study on writers who are accused of plagiarism. (She’s been accused once before.)

While dueling texts are all well and good, I take vendettas seriously. I’m expecting one of these ladies to drop Ether. What vitriol does Darrieussecq muster in her interview with the Guardian?

“I have discovered that literature is a very unwelcoming place.”

That’s it? Laurens said you had her arse in her chair! You’re going to take that from her?

Laurens may have lost the editor but she wins the beef. By default.

Finally, I give you The Word’s words of 2009. (My favorite: gleng. I have glenged so many times and am relieved that there is a word for it.)

-Jason Lea,

P.S. My 6-word memoir: I have not done anything yet.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Chevalier on Jane Austen and Dinosaurs

I almost titled this post Revisiting the Nonfiction of Fiction, but I have two problems with that headline.

One, I don’t know if either of our readers are committed enough to remember the original Nonfiction of Fiction post, which discussed Dave Eggers’ What is the What.

Two, who would click on anything titled Revisiting the Nonfiction of Fiction?

Everything about that title bores me, and I wrote it. You can bold it, italicize it — nothing makes it interesting.

Instead, I went with the unpretentious Chevalier on Jane Austen and Dinosaurs, even though it’s factually incorrect for reasons that become clear by the end of this post.

I’ve now wasted four paragraphs without explaining the purpose of this post. Let me take it from the top: I read Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures and it’s another one of those let’s-turn-history-into-fiction novels.

I already explained in my Eggers post that I don’t care for the tactic, but it bothers me less in Chevalier’s case, because there is no charity attached. (Not that I think the Valentino Achak Deng’s charity is an unworthy cause. I just question using a fictionalized account of your life to promote it.)

Instead, Chevalier only wants us to enjoy her story and once more ponder how unfair the Victorian era was to women.

Chevalier writes the story of Mary Anning, Elizabeth Philpot and their friendship. Anning is a fossil hunter in the early 1800s who discovered the first complete skeletons of an ichthyosaur and plesiosaur (neither of which were dinosaurs, rendering my headline incorrect.) Anning is a working class gal with little formal education. Yet most of the paleontologists of the day sought her specimens and advice.

Philpot is another fossil hunter. She is older, richer and from a more respected family than Anning, but the two became friends because of a shared hobby.

Chevalier said it was Philpot and Anning’s friendship that drew her to the source material, but she doesn’t emphasize it. Instead, her focus meanders between the fossils, sexism, science vs. faith, and the romantic mishaps of the characters.

Though there’s no hard evidence for it, Chevalier decides to link Anning in an ill-fated romantic relationship with Colonel Birch, one of her collectors.

(Chevalier explains in her afterward: “Of course, I made up plenty. For instance, while there was gossip about Mary and Buckland and Mary and Birch, there was no proof. That is where only a novelist can step in.”)

More than anything, Chevalier seems to want to write Anning’s life as a Jane Austen novel, one in which the heroine does not get her man. Chevalier echoes her tone and language, and her version of Elizabeth Philpot shares some attributes with Elizabeth Bennet. Both struggle with a culture that marginalizes women and both suffer from presumption. Philpot’s relationship with Birch is very Bennet-Darcy.

That’s interesting; because Philpot, who Chevalier writes as a pragmatist, makes a point of disparaging Austen and her happy endings. I’m not suggesting Chevalier has a problem with Austen. Not every opinion espoused by a fictional character is one the author endorses. If anything, I wonder if Chevalier felt the need to differentiate between Austen’s stories and her own.

It’s true that Chevalier’s story is more firmly based in reality. There are no improbable marriages in Remarkable Creatures, but that doesn’t make it better than a weel-written, if frivolous, love story.

Chevalier is a good writer. Her language flows; but her focus meanders, and she’s unable to build any momentum. If we were to break out the old Jason Lea Rating System [seen below], I’d rank it as a 3. Remarkable Creatures will not be anyone’s favorite, but it would be too harsh to call it bad.

Jason Lea Ranking System:
5 - Wu-Tang Clan
4 - Delonte West YouTube interviews
3 - Celebrity guest appearances on sitcoms
2 - Olive Garden commercials
1 - New York Yankees

-Jason Lea,

P.S. In light of Delonte West’s recent personal and legal struggles, it seems tactful to take him off the scale. Likewise, the Olive Garden commercials that offend me no longer air, so it’s a dated reference. It may be time to revise the ranking system.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

A cautionary tale

The overwhelming message of "The Water Giver" is wear a helmet.

I don't think that was the intent of its author Joan Ryan who subtitled this story of her experience with her son "The Story of a Mother, a Son and Their Second Chance."

But that was what ran through my mind constantly as Ryan recounts the months of surgeries and rehabilitation her son, an experienced skateboarder, endured after his fall on a San Francisco street.

She is surprisingly unsentimental through it all, something she credits to her training as a journalist. Where some of us would be reduced to tears and hand-wringing, she is spurred to note taking and crafting plans.

I admired that about her.

Her prose has a certain way of making the reader pause. You're just reading along, following the journey, when you reach a sentence that stops you in your tracks and makes you say, Hmmm.

Things like:

"We were beginning to understand how different the rhythm of illness was from the rhythm of life." or

"We think everyone else has it all figured out. But we're all stumbling around in dark rooms bumping into the furniture and stifling our cries so no one else will know." or

"43 percent of all deaths among five- to nine-year-olds are from traumatic brain injuries."

A sobering statistic to say the least.

And while Ryan's story does speak to the power of second chances and the bond between parent and child, it's that statistic that kept coming at me.

- Tricia Ambrose

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Advice for first time authors (Not from me, don't worry)

New Year’s resolution update: I have not assaulted my night reporter, either verbally or physically. The true test will be this weekend when he have to bowl together for BFit4Life.

I’d welcome you all to the melange; but I’m in a surprisingly coherent mood.

I want to talk about a specific topic today, a topic that comes up whenever I attend a lecture or reading by a writer — any writer.

Inevitably, some person will raise their hand, stand from their chair and contritely ask the writer, “What advice would you give a first-time author?”

Also inevitable, the writer will give one of two replies:

“Write a lot and expect rejection.”

“Pick another career.”

Both suggestions are honest, but they are also glib and less helpful than more specific advice.

It was nice to see poet Christian Wiman give a more thorough answer. (Shout out to the Bookslut blog for providing the link.)

Read deep into your own tradition and memorize poems from all eras. Read literatures other than your own. Read history, philosophy, theology, science. Travel the world, if you can. If you can’t, travel deeply into your own neighborhood, training yourself to see what other people miss. Find some way of supporting yourself that’s apart from your art. Hopefully, this will feed your imagination and bring new material into your work, but at the very least it will create a useful buffer zone between what you do and what you earn. Keep in mind that all this is coming from someone who edits a poetry magazine for a living, doesn’t like to travel and has forgotten three-quarters of what he’s read.

Jean Henry Mead has also collected some genuinely good advice from other writers on her blog.

From Elmore Leonard: The first thing you have to learn is how not to overwrite.

Pulitzer winner A.B. Guthrie Jr.: I would give one piece of advice to would-be writers: if you don’t love the language, forget it!

Janet Dailey: Probably the greatest way for a writer to break into the business is to write in category, whether it be western, romance, mystery, or science fiction; that’s the place where the publisher has already learned there is an audience. That’s where fledglings can establish themselves and become a Stephen King, Mickey Spillane, Louis L’Amour or Agatha Christie. Excel and go beyond the so-called limits of the categories.

Parris Afton Bonds: Talent is cheap. The difference between a professional and an amateur writer is persistence. Selling is a matter of luck, really.

Irene Bennett Brown: A writer shouldn’t broadcast a story’s theme or wave it in front of a reader like a banner. That’s too much like teaching and preaching, which readers hate. I give my characters strong goals, and tough problems. Theme isn’t something you plan, it just is. It’s what your story proves and falls into place when you’ve done everything else right.

-Jason Lea,


Along for a journey no one wants to take

The novels that affect me most are those in which I feel a sense of empathy for the characters.

Such was the case with "Still Alice" (ISBN 9781439102817) by Lisa Genova.

Alice is a 50-year-old Harvard professor who is diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

How the disease affects her relationships with her colleagues, her husband, her children, and even herself, proved fascinating.

The reader is drawn on Alice's journey, all the while wondering, what would I do? how would my spouse react?

Genova also offers food for thought on how we as a society treat those with dementia.

"She wished she had cancer instead. ... And while a bald head and a looped ribbon were seen as badges of courage and hope, her reluctant vocabulary and vanishing memories advertised mental instability and impending insanity. Those with cancer could expect to be supported by their community. Alice expected to be outcast."

Alice will stick with you, and may make you more aware of the horror of dementia.

- Tricia Ambrose


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Regrets, I've had a few ...

... Not really, I just like that lyric.

Not surprisingly, Jason, I can't think of a book I regret reading.
Much as I did not enjoy Twilight and thought it was poorly written, I'm not sorry I read it.
In my broken recordness ... how can you fully appreciate the good without a little of the not-so-good? If "Twilight" were the only book you had ever read, would you have thought it better?
Who are these people who wish they had not read works as diverse as Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" and Lamb's "She's Come Undone" and Eugenides' "Middlesex"? What is it they wish they had done instead of spending time with these novels?
I can see I've asked too many questions - talk about poor writing! - but I am truly baffled.
There are so many books on my list for this year I can't wait to get cracking.
I'm sure some I will enjoy more than others, some will be better written than others, some will have better plots, some will speak to me for inexplicable reasons.
But, regret reading any of them? That's not my way.
- Tricia Ambrose

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Monday, January 4, 2010

Guess what I regret

My New Year’s resolution is to stop taking my anger out on my night reporter.

Let’s see how long that lasts.

The end of the holidays is a great time to talk about regrets. Maxed out your credit cards? Drank your weight in egg nog? Hooked up with the wrong person at the office Christmas party? There’s plenty to regret by January.

GoodReads is asking people what they regret reading.

Unsurprisingly, Stephenie Meyer’s polarizing Twilight series own the four of the five top slots. The list was littered with bestsellers. (It makes sense. The more a book is read, the more it can be regretted.)

I was more surprised that Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones and J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye took the seventh and eighth slot, respectively.

A few other critical darlings appeared on the list, which was compiled by popular vote. Ayn Rand, Toni Morrison and Thomas Hardy all made the top 50. (I guess some vengeful high school students could have voted, but how many of them are trolling GoodReads?)

I rarely regret reading a book, because I usually get something — a character, quote or single turn of phrase — that I like. For example, I loathed much of Finnegan’s Wake, but I still enjoyed some of Joyce’s coinages. (My favorites were caligulate, meandertale and lustsleuth.)

A book’s bad would have to severely outweigh its good before I regretted reading it. That having been said, I could see why Meyer would be an easy target.

She got some critical buzz, raising people’s expectations, and her plots deal with high-school concerns and move at a glacial pace. In fact, Twilight is one of the few books that I would say I regretted reading. (Heart of Darkness, voted 94, would be another.)

I imagine Tricia, with her no-book-is-good-or-bad policy, would regret nothing. Am I wrong?

-Jason Lea,

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