What a curious thing it is to be a blogger, and a writer (are they one and the same, or not, one wonders?). Yesterday was a weird day, emotions ran through me like water pouring through a drainpipe until at last I was so exhausted that all I could do was to sit and read through many of the blogs I have not kept up with for the past week. Which was tiring in itself; after two hours of reading some of your blog posts, dear Readers, I was in fullblown Overwhelm. Now it is a quiet, rainy Sunday morning outside my window. A grey and white cat sits on a green porch chair in the garden, cleaning its paws, then wanders away to find new cat adventures. Yesterday so many thoughts appeared in my mind, for blog posts, for sections of my languishing novel, such elucidation, yet I could not bring myself to write any words at all.
I have been giving some thought to the idea of Story lately. What makes a good story, one that others will want to read? But one that the writer herself wants to tell, that burns to get out of the soul and onto the page.
I spent some minutes in a Danish bookstore the other day, perusing the titles. As you can imagine, the majority of novels in Denmark are translated into Danish from the original language. Of course, here, as everywhere in the western world (which seems to be only growing larger and stronger, like an invasive weed, like garlic mustard on the roadsides) people are reading more or less the same stuff: vampire stories, fantasy, and of course, crime fiction is really huge around here, with quite a few Scandinavian authors getting top shelfspace. Here is a list of titles of some of the most popular novels published within this past year or so, according to GoodReads:
Fifty Shades Freed, The Fault in Our Stars, Insurgent, Crossed, City of Lost Souls, Gone Girl, Cinder, Pandemonium, Lover Avenged, I’ve Got Your Number, Lover Mine, Deadlocked, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, Defending Jacob, Shadowfever, Bitterblue, Rapture, Reached, Stargazer, Under the Never Sky, Lone Wolf, The Selection, Everneath, Grave Mercy, The Snow Child, Shadow of Night, The Golden Lily, Incarnate, Lover Reborn, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Hallowed, etc, etc, etc…..
Back to the bookstore shelves. I picked up one book, prominently displayed, with a cover photo showing a nicely built young man, his head raised high to heaven, arms outstretched, in a nearly crucified pose sans the cross. Curious, I read a bit of the back (in Danish, of course). It described a seventeen year old boy whose life was ‘deadboring’ until one day, a bizarre incident happens which changes him forever…. I ponder this newest phenomena in popular novels, that of your ordinary Joe or Jenny, tired of sitting at home bored out of their young minds, suddenly either meeting, or somehow being turned into, a super being of one kind or another. I suppose it is not an entirely new story, more like the 2012 version of Superman and Batman comics from the 40’s. Or something.
Now onto a different Best Of Fiction list. From a blog I just found, listserve.com, http://listverse.com/2010/10/10/top-10-best-novels-of-the-last-20-years/ comes this blogger’s picks of the best 10 novels written in the last 20 years. He or she writes,
“The ten novels on this list all substantiate the belief that books are the most elastic, introspective, human and entertaining form of media that exist. Not movies, not music, not art, not the theatre. A famous author once said that novels are the best way for two human beings to connect with each other. I believe this, and I believe that people who do not find pleasure in words have never had the opportunity to read one of the great novels. So, here I will present the ten greatest novels of the last twenty years, without apologies.”
Music for torching, A.M. Holmes (A. M. Homes deserves recognition for her amazing writing skills, her unique voice and her gloomy view of the world. We follow them in their search for happiness, or some form of contentment, which they never seem to find. Smoking crack in the dining room, having affairs, trying to burn down their own house…nothing seems to change their boredom and disappointment. They’re stuck. They’ve become strangers to each other, to themselves, to their children.)
Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk (I will say that nobody in the world writes better, sentence to sentence, than Palahniuk. His quick, intelligent prose keeps the attention of the worst ADHD-sufferers, and the themes in Fight Club of revolt, of going back to zero, of anti-consumerism are universal, accessible and desperately needed in the world we live in today.)
House of Leaves, Mark Danielwski (Danielewski made us question our own sanity. He led us through the 3-and-a-half-minute hallway and then left us there, shivering and alone, waiting for the monster, who we’ve only ever felt, but that we know (for certain for certain) is the most terrifying thing in the world.)
We Don’t Live Here Anymore, Andre Dubus (it gives us a rubric of how to live our own lives. Shows us that nobody ever has anything figured out, not really. That what we do and feel morphs and shifts. Shows us what to do when everything we’ve held on to for so long goes away, how to bear it. Ultimately it’s about what it’s like to live in a world where we get to make all the decisions, and have to bear the repercussions of what those decisions mean.)
The Road, Cormac McCarthy (It’s full of McCarthy’s terse dialogue, minute detail,stream-of-consciousness, masculinity, and an excruciatingly intense violent plot (win!). Not to mention that, in addition to all of these things, it’s also overwhelmingly sad, which is not an easy thing for a novel to be.)
Rules of Attraction, Brett Easton Ellis (It’s about sex and drugs and horrible, self-absorbed, incomplete people, trying to get laid and quit smoking in a fictional University in New England. The things they do are despicable and immoral. There’s nothing redeeming about any of the characters in the entire book, no hope, and yet this book stings because nobody could write this well about people like this if they did not, in fact, exist in real life.)
Strong Motion, Jonathan Franzen (Franzen is a historian, and he tells us exactly why the world is bad, how it came to be that way. He goes all the way back to the colonization of America, but not in a preachy or boring way. He personifies a raccoon for five pages, which is strangely one of the most poignant parts of the whole book.)
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz (Diaz blends Dominican history and folklore, humor, love, sex, death, revolutions, Castro, and dictators into one of the best freshman novels of all time. He employs current pop references, historical footnotes, a bad-ass original refreshing writing style, a mysterious narrator, Spanish, a blazing humor, age-old plot devices, and one of the most heart-breaking characters in existence to make this an instant classic.)
Tree of Smoke, Denis Johnson (This mammoth odyssey about the Vietnam War transcends all other attempts to write about Vietnam, and makes them look like Hallmark greeting cards. This is Johnson’s masterpiece – a book you can imagine him writing under a succubus’s spell in a fallout shelter—hair long, unshaven, chain-smoking, frenzied to get the words out.)
Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace ( Ultimately, this book is about addiction in every form you could possibly imagine: Heroin, alcohol, cannabis, crack, cocaine, Diludiad, Percocet, sex, sports, cleaning, and on and on and on. Wallace created his own world in Infinite Jest. This is not something you finish and then say, “Well that was a really great book,” and then move on with your life. This book deserves its own cannon. It cannot be categorized. This book genuinely redefines the boundaries of what a novel can do.
Dear Readers, need I say more? Obviously we are living in the middle of Apocalyptic Times. The books on this person’s Top Ten list are all about death, horror, destruction, debauchery, evil, ennui and the deepest, darkest aspects of the human soul. And, the perennial favorite vice, sex. To be honest, there is only one book on this list which I would like to read. You can probably guess which one, the Dubus book of novellas, and here’s why: Ultimately it’s about what it’s like to live in a world where we get to make all the decisions, and have to bear the repercussions of what those decisions mean. I guess the human condition interests me the most when it is in its higher forms, meaning stories which show people striving ultimately to become better, higher, more moral versions of themselves, instead of exploring the worst of what a human can contain.
Towards the end of the 5th century A.D. The Roman Empire fell. “From the eighteenth century onward,” Glen W. Bowersock has remarked, “we have been obsessed with the fall: it has been valued as an archetype for every perceived decline, and, hence, as a symbol for our own fears.” (Wikipedia)
By now nearly everyone living in the contemporary world knows that the times we are living in are the equivalent of those faraway days, with a breakdown in nearly every sphere of society. No wonder that writers are writing such stories, tales of horror and strife, suffering and loss, as the decline of the human spirit itself grows around us like bindweed, spiraling around our souls and binding us to the darkest regions of humanity.
But. What is happening in the ostensible world needn’t drag us down into its murky depths permanently. I am not an advocate of living with one’s head stuck in the sand by any means. And yet we do not have to collectively dwell in despair, nor revel in it nor feed it. We have the choice, because we are still free human beings. In our souls, we have the freedom to choose which stories we will write, read, watch and listen to. We do not have to only be entertained by horror and evil. How the world would change in an instant if the majority of us chose to entertain and educate ourselves with stories which enliven and lift our humanity, instead of keeping us bound by the chains of darkness. I am not interested in lecturing about morality, not really. But I simply see so clearly how our society’s constant diet of death, destruction and utter degradation brings us only deeper into despair. Junk stories, like junk food, destroys the human body and spirit. What kind of world are we collectively creating?
Sunday Salon: Top 10 Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels (shelflove.wordpress.com
11 Books You Should Read If You’re A Woman In Your 20s (thoughtcatalog.com)
My Fearful Symmetry and Women Scorned (horroraddicts.wordpress.com)