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A Magician or a Workman?

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I came across this article yesterday. It’s brilliant. Read it, then return to me.

Or if you’re lazy, I’ll summarize:

People are apparently annoyed that ‘Birdman’ beat out ‘Boyhood’ for the best picture award. I wouldn’t call myself annoyed–movies, like all stories, are very subjective–but I actually did see both films, and have formed opinions about both.

My reaction to Boyhood: simply put, beautiful. Like all of Linklater’s films (the Sunrise series are some of the best movies I’ve ever seen, ever) Boyhood was light on plot, heavy on these slice-of-life scenes and characters that felt so real. Making fiction resemble reality as close as possible, is, I think, the ultimate achievement.

My reaction to Birdman: well-acted, incredibly shot, well-written … and really pretentious and overwrought. It just wasn’t enjoyable to me. I think the point of fiction is to get your reader/viewer so immersed in your story that they forget what they’re reading/seeing is fiction. With Birdman, I was aware that every scene I was watching was a work of art. Painfully aware.

And there were other people who think Boyhood was boring and pointless and Birdman was brilliant. To each his own.

But what I loved about the article is how the author brings it back to “the classic debate”:

“Should art be dazzling and inventive or should it be stripped-down, simple, and honest? Should the artist be in-your-face with her talent, or should she recede into the background of the work? Should she be a magician or a workman?”

As a writer, I am firmly in the workman-receding-into-the-background camp. I like my fiction stripped-down, simple, and honest.

Or do I?

I just made a listing of my all-time favorite books to figure out if I prefer sad books to happy ones. (Spoiler alert: I do.) Looking at it again, I see that most of my faves do fall in the “simple, beautiful fiction” category (One Day, The Catcher in the Rye, anything Stephen King.) However, a few others do not.

The Book Thief is up there as one of the greatest books I’ve ever read. If you haven’t read it yet what’s wrong with you it’s the story of a German girl in Nazi Germany who likes books, among other things. And it’s narrated by Death, in a very distinct voice. Some might call this a gimmicky, showy way of presenting one’s story–in fact, most of the criticism I hear about this book is about Death’s voice–but I thought it was beautiful. The voice, the story, everything. In this case, showy worked for me.

We Were Liars is a recent read, and again the voice was very distinctive. It jumped around in time, with a somewhat unreliable narrator, beautiful prose but with odd line breaks that could be distracting. Again, I loved it. It worked for me.

Another more “showy” book on my favorites list: The Little Prince. It’s a children’s book, drawings and all, but it’s so much more than that, with its odd little metaphors. It’s been a favorite of mine since middle school.

On top of that, I’ve never liked Hemingway. Too boring.

What it ultimately comes down to is personal taste. Find things that make you feel things, then find more of those things. Then, if you’re so inclined, go on to make things like that.

“And really, as an artist, that’s what matters: finding the art that makes you want to make more art.”

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“Why Is Every Book You Recommend Sad?”

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A friend recently asked me this and it got me thinking.

Do I really only like sad books?

For help, I turned to my Goodreads and decided to make a list of my all-time favorite books to see how many end up in the “sad” category. So here it is… (slight spoilers if you don’t want to know which books have happy endings…)

Happy Ending!

A Wrinkle in Time

Sad Things Happen, but Ultimately a Happy Ending

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Harry Potter (as a series)

The Stand

The Giver

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Sad

Tuck Everlasting

The Little Prince

The Catcher in the Rye

The Spectacular Now

The Art of Racing in the Rain

Devastating

The Likeness

In the Woods

The Book Thief

We Were Liars

The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Fault in Our Stars

Cutting for Stone

One Day

…okay, so I like sad books. What does this say about me?

I don’t think it means anything bad. I like things that make me feelSome days I feel like I walk through life kind of numb to stuff–I talk to people on the elevator about the weather, I tell my significant other about my day at work. Most of us–actually, I shouldn’t speak for others–I do not experience high highs and low lows in my every day life. I’m fortunate to have never been involved in war, or murder, or dealt with the loss of a significant other.

But that’s why we read. To live more lives. To feel.

Do you also tend to prefer sad books? Why do you think this is?

On Travel Nostalgia

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“Let’s never come here again because it will never be as much fun.” —Lost in Translation

I’ve mentioned before that I lived in Normandy for a year after college, teaching English. This was before I met my other half, and as it was such a big part of my life, he’s heard me expound on the beauty of Normandy for four years now. I’ve always thought I wanted to bring him back there and show him the beauty of that region. Now we’re actually talking about going! And I find myself … reluctant.

You see, I was in Normandy 8 years ago now (8 years!). I was in my early twenties, alone, doing things like staying up all night dancing in tiny shady clubs with high-schoolers, taking impropmptu weekend trips to Honfleur and Étretat (pictured), staying on farms and helping feed the newborn lambs, getting in long discussions in broken French with people aged 16 to 60 at Raclette parties … It was an amazing year, but the kind of year that could only have happened once, if you know what I mean.

I wonder if going back to all those places, without the same people, finding them changed, finding me changed … will make me not only nostalgic, but sad. And sadness is really not what I’m going for on vacation.

I could be totally wrong. The joy of showing the person I love most in the world one of the places I love most in the world could be an amazing experience. But maybe I need to wait for more time to pass. Or maybe I’ll always feel this way. I don’t know.

Do you revisit your favorite spots in the world? Or do you leave them safe inside your memories?

Above photo by me. Étretat, Normandy, May 2007

Friday Things

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This felt like the longest week ever. The day job monster was trying to get me down. But I persevered in preserving my writing time, and I hope you did too!

Here are three things that helped me through my week:

1. Are you a Whedonverse fan? If you say no, I can only assume you haven’t yet seen any of his amazing TV shows. I just started watching Firefly on Netflix. As is everything Whedon, it’s amazing. I think I held off so long because it’s his last TV show I haven’t watched and I wanted to savor it. Joss, if you’re reading this, make more TV shows, please! But until then, at least the Whedonverse is alive and thriving on the internet. For your enjoyment: a definitive ranking of all of Willow’s sweaters.

2. I’m thinking of going back to France this year. I haven’t been since 2012 (a record for me!) This list of 10 things not to do in Paris is pretty comprehensive. I’ll make my own list someday :)

3. Have you heard of Medium? I first read about it here, and since then I feel like so many interesting blog posts I click on lead me back to that site. I’ve started my own blog over there (because I’m not on enough social media platforms). If you’re on Medium too, let’s be friends!

Have a great weekend!

Above photo by me! Segovia, Spain, October 2006

Wanderlusty Wednesday: Madrid

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Madrid was a city that really surprised me. I’d already been to Barcelona, and didn’t think anything could top the amazing weekend I had there. I was wrong!

I saw Madrid in the best way possible–living with locals. My childhood friend had been living there for years, and it was she and her Auberge-Espanol-type roommates who showed me around. I stayed for 2 weeks in October and by the end I did not want to leave.

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There are the world-class museums. There were some amazing collections at The Prado, El Reina Sofia, and El Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. The Prado even has these beautiful botanical gardens outside of it. All of it well worth a visit.

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In general, Madrid is so green, in that there are so many parks. There’s El Caso de Campo, El Campo del Moro and the Sabatini Gardens, and of course, El Retiro Park (above). El Retiro is one of my favorite urban parks of all time. In this warm city, I can’t imagine a day without this park being full of people (but not too full), locals and tourists alike, sitting near the water or on one of the gorgeous monuments, just relaxing in the sunshine.

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The Royal Palace was also well-worth the paid tour, as was the Palacio de Cibeles. Madrid’s also a great jumping-off point for daytrips. Toledo is nearby (think Don Quixote) as is the less popular but in my opinion more beautiful and less touristy Segovia.

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But the best thing to do in Madrid is just walk around. Stroll down the Paseo del Prado, wander around one of the many town squares, sit down and have a cerveza and a tortilla. Sit in the town square on Sunday evenings with the entire city, smoking and drinking and enjoying life at a leisurely pace.

Oh, and one more thing if you ever go to Madrid: BYOTP (bring your own toilet paper–there’s often a shortage :)

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Friday Things

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Happy Friday!

It’s been a long, frigid week filled with high highs and low lows. We’re in the doldrums of the year: short, cold days, no (real) holidays to look forward to, nothing to break up the monotony of the season. The older I get though, the more I’m learning to appreciate this time of year; less to do = more time to read and write and generally improve areas of life that need improving.

Here are three things I’ve learned this week:

1. If you are obsessed with a certain sports team, and that team wins the Superbowl for the first time since you were in college, it’s way more fun to celebrate with people who care, rather than be the only one jumping up and down on the couch yelling like a maniac true fan. Brooklyn needs more Massholes.

2. I’m all about using shortcuts in life so I can spend more time writing. Poach It is a site where you can flag things you want to buy, and then they send you an email as soon as it goes on sale, so you don’t waste precious time scouring the internet for deals. It’s the only way I shop now.

3. I’ve been feeling like I suck lately. Not at life, but at writing. It’s a sucky feeling. This quote by Ira Glass always helps those times I’m feeling like I’ll never get where I want to be.

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Have a great weekend!

The lovely image above found on Tumblr but the source URL is broken–please let me know if you know where it came from.

Good Reads Lately

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January is a great month for reading. (Then again, what month isn’t?) If you need some recos, here are some good ones I’ve read lately:

Where the Moon Isn’t is beautifully written, heavy, and pretty depressing. Think The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night with a Flowers for Algernon kind of tone. It’s a quick read though, so at least you’re not mired in Matthew’s fascinating but heartbreaking mind for very long. Definitely read it, but have something lighter ready as a digestif.

Like some light YA. Lola and the Boy Next Door was lovely and sweet, just like Stephanie Perkins’s previous novel, Anna and the French Kiss. Charming, well-paced, well-written, and with a predictably happy ending.

Then I picked up Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, since I really liked Eleanor and Park. I liked Fangirl even better–it’s a romance that also dealt with growing up, family issues, and best of all–being a writer! I don’t know much about fanfic–I’ve always found there is too much actual fiction out there to get into it–but I became curious about it when I started reading Cassandra Clare. Now I think I’ll explore it a little more. (Any suggestions?)

Side note: I didn’t know you could classify a book as Young Adult if the protagonist is already in college–doesn’t that fall under New Adult? But I’m happy about that since in my current WIP my protagonist is 18, but a young, naive 18, so it definitely belongs more in the Young Adult world than the New Adult one.

I decided my next book needed to mix it up a bit more, so I picked up a book with a non-teenager protagonist (who is also male!) I’m about a quarter of the way through Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and I’m really enjoying it so far. It’s kind of like a modern Shadow of the Wind (loved that book). I really need to quit my corporate job and start working in a bookstore.

Happy reading! And if you have any suggestions for me, please leave them in the comments!

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