Monday, October 18, 2010

"It's a barbarity that clarity is a rarity."

News: the Fire paperback is coming out on January 25, 2011 and is available now for pre-order on Amazon and BN.com. I don't have any timing information regarding Bitterblue, but I promise to post it here once I do.

So, my subject heading is a line of dialogue I enjoyed from last week's episode of Bones. More specifically, I enjoyed Bones's reaction to it. Bones (a.k.a. Dr. Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist who catches murderers with the help of FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth and an excellent team) is one of my favorite ladies on TV. If you're looking for a show full of satisfying murder mysteries that make any sort of sense, then I wouldn't particularly recommend Bones. But if you're looking for funny dialogue and strong characters and relationships, well, I think this one fits the bill. I can't get enough of Bones and Booth -- they're the perfect foils for each other -- and I love Bones's extreme logical nature combined with her sudden bursts of passion. Plus, she's absolutely correct that babies like dancing phalanges.

Anyway.

I am beside myself with happiness about the rescued Chilean miners. Here are some fabulous pictures. Welcome back to the surface, gentlemen!

The Cambridge Public Library had a display of Bollywood movies at the front desk the other day, so I picked one up -- one called Chak De! India that had a picture of a woman's hockey team and a soulful-looking man on the front. I LOVED this movie. How is it that sports movies like this can be so predictable, yet still create so much tension? I recommend it, especially if you love sports movies and especially if you love sports movies about women (like Bend It Like Beckham, which I also LOVED and recommend). In the meantime, I'm planning to watch more Bollywood movies, including more starring the soulful-looking man, who turned out to be the actor Shahrukh Kahn.

I also saw a documentary called In the Light of Reverence, which is about three tribal nations, the Hopi, the Winnemem Wintu, and the Lakota Sioux, and their struggle to protect sites that are sacred to their people. I recommend this one, too. Here's a little more about the movie from the PBS website, and here's the website of the Sacred Land Film Project, which is "a community dedicated to protecting the Earth's sacred places through education and action."

And I reread Pamela Dean's Tam Lin. I love this book, even though I don't understand all of it, even after my reread. In particular, the in-story production of The Revenger's Tragedy continues to fly above my head. I'm unable to follow the play itself, and am subsequently unable to appreciate how it relates to the book's greater plot. I'm hoping one of my friends will read this post and take it upon him- or herself to explain it to me. :D? In the meantime, for the uninitiated: Tam Lin is a modern retelling of a traditional Scottish ballad that is frankly also rather hard to understand, but despite all this lack of understanding on my part (your mileage may vary), I highly recommend this book. It's one of those long books that sucks you into another kind of world, and when the book ends, you hate to leave. It takes place in the 1970s at a Minnesota college that is awfully reminiscent of Carleton College. (Dean, a Carleton alum, remarks on the similarities in her own author's note.) It stars a fascinating cast of characters (including a lot of beautiful men) who have, in my opinion, a superhuman ability to quote (flawlessly) relevant (lengthy) passages from classic plays and poems at just the right moment, which is amusing and enriching and sometimes even fascinating, as long as you're able to stop feeling inadequate for not being able to do this yourself, despite being an English major.

You don't need to recognize all the literary names and references to enjoy the book, though it would probably enrich your reading to have some familiarity with Hamlet. In fact, I've been thinking that the next time I read Tam Lin, I might reread Hamlet first. There's a weekend of play productions in the book that the protagonist goes to; I would just die to have been able to go along. It's Hamlet and Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, one after the other, performed by the same production company. (If you love Hamlet and have not yet read or seen RaGAD, you are in for a treat, btw. It exists as a film, too.) Here's a Tam Lin quote from the scene during which the protagonist, Janet, is attending the performance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, after having attended Hamlet the night before:

The Hamlet scenes, when they got around to them, were played exactly as they had been the night before. This was jarring at first, but became progressively less so as the play sobered itself up, until by the end the scenes with Hamlet in them were funnier than those with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Janet began to feel afflicted with mental double vision. Last night, you were made to feel, all this hilarity, spotted with philosophy and twisting itself around to despair, had been going on somewhere backstage; now you were backstage, and on the other side the tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, was taking its accustomed course.

I just love the idea of the two realities happening simultaneously, hilarious and tragic, unaware of each other but different sides of the same coin.

I do have a small bone to pick with Tam Lin, and that has to do with something I hardly ever complain about: the design of the version I read (the 1991 hardcover edition published by Tor, with the cover I show above). Specifically, the font. The periods and the dots that make up the colons and semi-colons are too small, so small that in my speedy reading, I kept missing them. Too often, this caused the sentences to seem to make no sense whatsoever, so that I had to backtrack and search for the punctuation I'd missed. I know it's a metafictive book that's all about reminding the reader that she's reading a book and blurring the lines between real realities and book realities, but not like this! This is just annoying. I showed it to a friend who also loves Tam Lin, and my friend said that the characters in the book would hate that font choice. I thought that was pretty damning. If I decide I need to own this book, I'm going to look for an edition with a different font. It's too bad, because I love this particular cover.

I'm going to close with something awesome my editor told me last week. It was about something she heard someone else say, and then she told me, and now I'm telling you, so I'll try to be faithful to what was actually said (!). Basically, my editor heard the author Nicole Krauss (The History of Love) say something like this (and apologies to Krauss and to my editor if I mangle this -- any errors are mine!): when you're writing, there's a sort of existential abyss nearby. The writing process often feels like “working very close to failure -- things could fall apart at any moment” -- and that place feels very alive to Krauss. She likes to “carry the abyss in her pocket.” Isn't that hopeful? Anyway, I found it to be.

Have a good week, everyone.