I went into the Junkudo bookstore downtown yesterday, wholly expecting not to buy anything, as books in Japan (in particular, the English ones imported from abroad) are so horrendously expensive. It was, in fact, in search of a present for someone else that I wandered in. After finding--and deciding against--what I had come for, I thought, "What the hell. I'll just go up to the foreign books section and see what they've got." Something, perhaps the overwhelming task of sifting through all the new covers of Twlight and Harry Potter in an attempt to find something worthwhile, drew me away from the SF/Fantasy section and toward the rack of "new comers" to the store. Quite unusually, it took me less than a minute to slip something off of the shelf and open it up to have a look. Even more unusually, I found myself strangely captivated by the first few pages--of the preface
, no less--so much that it didn't even occur to me to put the book back. What I had found was The Forest for the Trees
, by Betsy Lerner (the new and revised edition that, according to her website, actually isn't supposed to come out for 4 more days, *ahem*). Lerner is an editor-turned-agent with enough years in the business to produce a book, not on how
to write, per se, but on how to overcome the demons that dance around a budding writer's manuscript with scary pitchforks and foul language enough to scare us newbies off. I find her style both comforting and informative, like reading an e-mail from a professional friend who gets you, and I look forward to getting to the latter half of the book where she talks about how to approach the publishing market... Needless to say, despite the ￥2,016 (priced at a cheaper $16US, of course) sticker on the back cover of the book, I went ahead and bought it.
I consider myself an extremely picky reader (a fact that I am both proud of and limited by, in turn). There are a handful of books, and only a handful, that I have picked up and thought, "...I shall keep this forever, for it is AWESOME." Stacked up neatly, side-by-side in the Holy Handful are Susan Kay's Phantom
(an almost unbearably compelling story), Carol Berg's Transformation
(a world where no character goes wasted), and Catherynne M. Valente's In the Night Garden
(most vivid and inventive description EVER). Not only are these three well
removed from each other in style and theme, even as they all more or less fall into the "fantasy" genre, but they're not hugely well-known, either. The only really obvious thing they have in common is that they're all written in first person, though each in very different ways, even then.
(Don't judge the middle book by its awful, AWFUL cover art...the story has nothing to do with lime green bat wings, nor is it even remotely as smutty as the misrepresented main character appears.)
The so-called "classics" (Frankenstein
, Catcher in the Rye
, and Fahrenheit 451
, to name a few) have been known to send me into an annoying rant on literary syllabi filled with works of assumed
greatness that's really nothing more than whiny schquible. (Yes. Schquible.) Indeed, the only fellow among the "greats" that I can think of who wrote something I absolutely loved is Hemmingway. I read The Sun Also Rises
(in high school, no less, where a plethora of blegh
is so imfamously forced upon the uninterested and/or lacking in life experience) and remember thinking, "...Why
am I loving this book so much?" For lack of a better reason to explain my confusion, it...doesn't really have a plot. Something just struck me about it, and though I remember little of the book itself, the feeling
of enjoyment it instilled in me while I read it has stayed with me since I turned the last page.
(...I would insert another pic here, but the version of TSAR that I read just had a plain, orange cover with the title of the book on it. ^^;)
All of this has often made me wonder...am I missing something? Or bound
to miss something? I'm not so concerned about actually not liking
the classics themselves as I am about what it says about my brain. Show me a writer who's been truly successful in his craft, and I'll show you someone who inevitably loves the classics. He/she will tell you how much they've loved reading since they first picked up a book, how they read through the entire XYZ-genre section in their local library before they hit the 6th grade (especially if they happen to be a genre writer), how they devoured the assignments their English teachers presented to them with ravenous gusto, and how they're on their upteenth copy of A Tale of Two Cities
'cause, damn it all, they just can't seem to stop reading the thing down to a pathetic, shattered spine of a book. Most writers (...and editors...and agents...), too, love regurgitating that old line about how "you can't be a writer if you're not a reader." By no means am I disputing that, of course--I do
believe it's absolutely necessary for writers to read, and read a lot. Reading generates ideas, helps hone the craft, allows for an escape from both this world and the ones writers themselves create for a breath of ink-tastic and papery air. It's not at all that I don't get the appeal of reading. I love to read. I just don't love to read everything.
I suppose that, as much as I love writing, I just don't feel like I'm quite the "artist" that so many writers consider themselves to be. I'm proud of my writing and confident of its worth, but not so convinced that mine is a delicate voice tossed among a sea of tumultuous waves...or whatever the angsty voices of that "greater" time might've said of themselves. I wouldn't say I'm a square peg to a round hole, but I might say I'm a square peg to a rectangular one--I fit, but...it's pretty obvious I didn't come from the same factory as all them other pegs. I suppose there's no way to know what will come of this until I actually get out there into the publishing world and see if my writing itself reflects my "issues." No matter what I put out there, there will certainly be someone who doesn't like what I have to say...but here's hopin' there will also be someone who'll stick around to my last page is turned.