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Everything I know I Learned From Art

 

Having just watched No God No Master, a 2012 film about the Palmer Raids of the 1920s and, peripherally, the railroading and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, it occurs to me that everything I know about history I have gleaned from movies, novels, and song lyrics. Before seeing

Sacco & Vanzetti (Photo: Wikipedia)

Sacco & Vanzetti
(Photo: Wikipedia)

this movie, I did not know that Emma Goldman was deported from the US, never to return. I had no idea what the Palmer Raids were, and though I knew about Sacco and Vanzetti, I was fuzzy on the details (though I knew a bit from Holly Near‘s song Two Good Arms.)

This is not the history they teach in American schools—at least, it’s not anything I was taught.

Thanks to Doris Lessing I know something about colonialism in Africa. I learned about the French Revolution from Marge City of DarknessPiercy‘s City of Darkness, City of Light. I know the history of India from dozens of novels by Indian writers, most notably A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth and A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, and, to a lesser extent, the film Gandhi. Recently I’ve gotten a dose of Nigerian history from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Lest anyone think I’m swallowing works of fiction or Hollywood productions whole, I almost always look up the facts online afterwards; even before the Internet, I did my homework, especially when writing book reviews: I compared Piercy’s details in the abovementioned book to those of historians Will and Ariel Durant—Piercy, who does exhaustive research for her novels, was remarkably faithful to the facts.

When I was in my teens, my twenties, and beyond, I read so many books and saw so many movies about the holocaust and slavery that they no longer fascinated but enraged and depressed me, until I finally swore them off; besides, I could probably write up a syllabus for each. Recently I added domestic violence to the list; having worked in a battered women’s shelter some years ago, I don’t need anymore painful education in that department either.

I don’t listen to music, read literature, or watch movies in order to learn, but because it’s what I love to do. Still, it makes me furious that I wasn’t taught important historical events in school, where they just threw dates of wars and generals at us, not to mention lies about our country. It just goes to show that in the end, as Virginia Woolf noted, it’s the artists who’ll save us.

 

Laika In Lisan: New Book

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Laika in LisanFirst : Immediate and Full Disclosure: I worked with Maron Anrow, this book’s author, editing Laika in Lisan. It’s because I liked the book so much that I’m posting it on my blog as a publicity shot. This is something I’ve never done with a book I’ve worked on: that’s how much I liked it.

Laika in Lisan is classified as “fantasy,” a genre I previously thought meant dungeons and dragons or monsters shooting one another with laser beams up in the sky—but this novel could have taken place in our world, in a repressive country like North Korea; in fact, Lisan is very much like that country, with its citizens forced to worship their leader; all resources diverted to the military and those in power while the workers starve; and extreme isolation from other nations.

My favorite part is the relationship between Laika and Rodya, an anti-government radical she meets in the woods after her journey into the capitol, where she’s been invited as a visiting scholar, is waylaid by violence. Their interactions, dialog, and progression of their relationship are unlike any other I’ve read, and it provides a welcome relief from the intensity of everything else that occurs. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy everything else; this book is replete with the kind of suspense that had me sitting on the edge of my chair the first time I read it, furiously clicking through my Kindle to see what happens next: in other words, it’s a real page turner—or screen clicker.

And now for a moment on my soapbox: Laika in Lisan is one of thousands? millions? of books that are part of the independent publishing movement, growing bigger every day. Some of these books are so crappy they make this movement look lousy, but I’ve found just as many genuinely good books as bad ones in the mix. This movement has the potential to remove the mega-sized publishing corporations as gatekeepers of what reaches the reading public, and to put writers in control of our work. For this to happen, however, indie authors must put as much careful precision into their final products as they would if they were working for a publisher, particularly one who’s paid them an advance. Laika in Lisan is one book, believe me, that’s gotten that kind of precise authorial attention. Climbing off soapbox.

Click over to Amazon and check it out; the book is now available for the Kindle; in a few weeks the print version will be ready. And it’s already garnered two

Maron Anrow

Maron Anrow

reviews, both of them positive!

Oops…I almost forgot to mention that Laika in Lisan is Anrow’s first novel, a fact I include because you’d never guess it’s by someone without more experience. I’m proud to have been a part of this literary endeavor.

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The Goldfinch: Book Review

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Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch (Photo credit: Images by John ‘K’)

 

The Goldfinch
Donna Tartt
Winner, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2014

Spoilers ahead.

 

“To write a novel this large and dense…is equivalent to sailing from America to Ireland in a rowboat, a job both lonely and exhausting…—Stephen King, reviewing The Goldfinch in The Guardian

If reading fiction is an escape from reality, I’m having trouble with re-entry. It’s been over a week since I finished The Goldfinch, yet it’s still one of the first things I think of in the morning and return to several times during the day. Somewhere around page two or three hundred I took up residence in the world created by Donna Tartt, and I’ve yet to move out. (“…with very great paintings it’s possible to know them deeply, inhabit them almost…” —from The Goldfinch.)

The Goldfinch however, is no escape: it thrusts us into the awareness, always just beneath the surface, that the only way out of our troubled lives is death, a truth most of us tend to avoid. When forced to face it, our reactions can range from depression to terror to thoughts of suicide (as in might as well get it over with). I don’t know if this was Tartt’s intention, but it was, at least for me, the novel’s ultimate statement. Not that she doesn’t offer glimmers of joy and hope along the way, particularly in her long summary-like ending: but the dark side decidedly overpowers the light.

A plot-driven novel, The Goldfinch is full of twists and turns and moments of heightened suspense. Unlike most plot-driven books (see John Grisham, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, et al), in which the action is fueled by stereotypical cardboard characters, The Goldfinch is populated by multi-dimensional  human beings: Theo, the narrator around whom all others spin; Boris, his chief sidekick, dragged all over the world by his abusive businessman father; Pippa, the girl Theo falls in love with moments before a bomb goes off in the New York Metropolitan Museum, setting the plot in motion; and dozens more. I can still vividly picture every one of these characters, though Tartt, thankfully, allows readers to fill in most of our own visuals—which is odd, considering she’s so heavy on other kinds of description.

As both a reader and writer I’ve never been that interested in description, whether of city streets or country roads, lavish mansions or run-down hovels. Thus, Tartt’s long, elaborate word paintings of whatever’s going on while what’s really going on goes on annoyed the hell out of me—that is, for the first hundred pages or so, until I fully surrendered.The plot is so engaging that I’d impatiently scan the page (or rather Kindle screen), my nerves twitching with the feeling of Come on, get to the story already! For instance, just as Boris is about to tell Theo (and us) what’s become of the treasured painting at the center of the plot, Tartt leaves the conversation momentarily to let us know what’s showing on the TV set in the bar. She’s also big on that famous plot device, the flashback: after the explosion, when Theo crawls through a collapsed passageway seeking an exit, Tartt flashes back to a time when he was stuck in another tight space. Sometimes she even writes a flashback within a flashback.

At such moments I became distracted and annoyed, and read as quickly as possible to get past what I saw as “extra”s…but then a funny thing happened on my way back to “the story”: I began to notice that my impatience was similar to what happens during suspenseful passages; Tartt’s long flights of description left me literally suspended. I was desperate to know what would happen next: I had to turn the pages. Eureka! Are these literary devices—the descriptions, the flashbacks—purposeful techniques employed precisely to create suspense? Is her deftness with these methods partly what makes the book so compelling? Perhaps. No, more than perhaps: probably. It’s worth noting that The Goldfinch is only Donna Tartt’s third published novel, and that she spent eleven years writing it. At a time when would-be authors attend workshops on “How to Write A Bestseller in a Weekend” and toss off a book in six months’ time, Donna Tartt is holding down the fort of literary excellence.

 

 

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Five Sentence Fiction #2

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English: Icon for lists of science fiction authors

Icon for lists of science fiction authors (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I really like this 5Sentence Fiction writing. Lillie McFerrin posts a word, and we write whatever comes to mind, using the word or not. I tend to use it, or have both times now. Also, I don’t know how everyone else does it, but I’m writing them pretty fast, off the top of my head. I’m curious as to what emerges.

This week’s word is “whimsical” and here’s my little ditty:

What Was

A whimsical girl in a whimsical tree with whimsical chimes above her. She swings on a tire and throws back her head for the dizzy sensation she loves. Her heart is light and her smile is gay; she’s young and she lives for today. The sun is out and the sky is blue and it’s only 1952. Smog has not yet smothered the planet.

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News From The Laundromat

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Coin-operated American Dryer Corp. clothes dry...

Coin-operated American Dryer Corp. clothes dryer in a laundromat in Daly City, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two news items from my laundromat:

•  If you’re not too tired of reading  interviews with me—there’ve been quite a few lately thanks to my new Goodreads connections—another one is up at Troy Jackson’s blog. Troy’s another indie self-publisher whose interest in others of the breed has led him to give us a platform. So check out his space.

• I want to publicly acknowledge and thank sister and follower Juanita Rice for taking a suggestion on the  All Over CreationHelp Me Do My Laundry page where I list ways for my readers to support my blog. Juanita sent me a book from my Amazon Wish List, All Over Creation, by Ruth Ozeki.

That’s all the Dirty Laundry for today. It’s already almost 5:30 (a.m.) so I’d better g0 stretch these old bones, jump in the shower, and put on my editor’s hat for one of my favorite jobs, editing someone else’s novel.

May the rain keep comin’  and slake California’s endless thirst.

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