12 July, 2004

Current Reading

...long hours spent standing in front of the lavatory mirror, practicing the palmings, passes, slips, and sleights that made it possible to seem to hurl a coin into the right ear, through the brainpan, and out the left ear of a chum or relative, or to pop the knave of hearts into the handkerchief of a pretty girl, required a masturbatory intensity of concentration that became almost more pleasurable for him than the trick itself...- Michael Chabon

Based on my understanding of the phenomena, this is an accurate assessment of learning a magic technique. From Michael Chabon's book, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which won a Pulitzer,(pronounced Pull it Sir, rather than Pyule-it-ser, as my misinformed cohorts insisted)and raises the question, What is a golem?

I don't know what led me to think of Michael Chabon as a self-important putz who disavows his pedestrian Columbia, Maryland roots, but until recently, it prevented me from reading his book. That, and the fact that The Shipping News, another winner, and both of Wally Lamb's books, which clearly had aspirations, matched the following description of Pulitzer prize winning novels.

"First you come up with a love story. That's right, just like all the gaudy romance novels in the grocery, Pulitzer prize novels are pretty much all love stories, but they're in disguise. Sort of like buried treasure. And like finding buried treasure you have to go through a lot of stuff that isn't treasure to find it. Okay, so the author comes up with a teeny, tiny love story, just something as simple as two people meeting and falling in love. First of all, the main characters can't be beautiful. In fact they need to be homely. No smoldering eyes or raven tresses as those traits would disqualify the book. Not ugly and not grotesque. Maybe they have something like big ears.

The next thing you have to do is start hiding the treasure. Bury it so the reader can't find it easily. This means you can't have the lovers together very often. They can't be like in a romance novel where the hero and heroine are together on nearly every page. In fact, you can't even call them a hero and heroine. You have to call them 'protagonists.' It's just one of those little rules of literary life. People who think they're smart like to use words other people don't use.

You start burying your treasure of a love story underneath lots of quirky characters with funny names. You name them Sunshine or Rosehips or Monkeywrench, whatever, just so they get odd names. The judges probably have names like John and Catherine so they dream of being named Carburetor.

In romances, the protagonists are given beautiful names like Cameo and Briony, and the males are Wolf and Hawk, but those names don't win prizes. So after you get your names for your characters, you make up quirky personalities for them. Like Miss Havisham. Miss Havisham is a celebrated quirky character in literature, and people who award prizes love quirky characters. And they want the treasure- the story- hidden very deep, under lots of people with funny names doing lots of strange things.

In your story you also need to put a shocker, something straight out of a horror novel. The people who write these books need for you to believe that they're far above romance writers and horror writers and mystery writers. That's why they bury all those stories deep inside their books; they can't risk association with a genre writer. In fact, prize-winning authors have to bury the story so deep that the judges can barely see them. Let me give you an example. In a romance novel two gorgeous people meet and immediately start thinking about sex, right? That's how it is in real life, too, but if you want to win a prize, your characters must never think about sex except in a self-deprecating way. The judges love characters who think they're unattractive, and who've failed at most things they've tried.

And, by the way, the judges also love incomplete sentences. In a regular novel- one that's not about to win a prize, that is- the author would write something like 'After she said goodbye, she turned and went up the stairs.' A prizewinner would write 'Said goodbye. Up the stairs. Wished she'd said au revoir.' See? It's different. And adding the French helps, too.

Oh. And it helps to be a woman whose first name is a variation of Ann. No one named Blanche L'Amour will ever win a literary prize."

(Excerpted from Wild Orchids, by Jude Devereaux.)

Considering I, Robot: the movie bills itself as "inspired by" the book (actually a collection of short stories) by Isaac Asimov. Which means that those of us who know his work are likely to find the movie an irritant. Despite Will Smith. I had to re-purchase the book, (re-packaged, with Will on the front cover and movie blurbs on the back) as both Coco and I, who used to own minimum one copy apiece, have failed entirely to locate said tomes in our collections. I suspect a conspiracy.

Travels, by Michael Creighton, is pure enjoyment, delving into surgery, travel, self-doubt, broken relationships, and mysticism. Is that an odd mix?

Isn't everything?

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