Friday Buzz - History + Fiction

I was visiting my local indie bookstore the other day, and standing before the rack of recently released paperback fiction, I noticed an inordinate number of titles related to historical personages. Here is a sampling of such--mind you, a sampling:

Dreamlife of Sukhanov
Memoirs of Helen of Troy
Anxious Pleasures (A Life After Kafka)
The Mercuy Visions of Louis Daguerre
I, Mona Lisa
Rasputin's Daughter
Secret Memoirs of Jackie Kennedy Onassis
Great Lady: The Notorious Gorgeous Life of Emma Lady Hamilton

Okay, I can accept some of this as a wave in the cyclic nature of publishing trends; after successes like The Other Boleyn Girl or The Dante Club, naturally publishers chase after more of the same and glut the market.

But why is the reading public hungering for fictional accounts of people who really lived? (Honestly, I don't get it. To me, the facts are infinitely more interesting. How could any author improve on the story of Marie Antoinette, for example? Wouldn't you rather know about the real Jackie O. versus some stranger's made-up account of her? And why would readers buy into a contemporary writer's interpretation of the memoirs of a famous historical personage?)

This is saying something about our society and culture, though I'm not quite sure what. I simply don't have enough pieces of the puzzle. To me, there is some sort of intersecting between the fictionalized personage trend and the recent spat of "dramatized" memoirs. Real life crossing over with fiction, that sort of thing. For some reason, we are not prone to distinguishing between "fact" and "fiction," "truth" and "theory": We are willing, maybe even eager, to blur the lines. Why?

On another tangent, could the fictionalizing of historical person's memoirs be a reaction to our own (recent) lack of tangible, permanent records of our days and thoughts and history? Think about it: We soon will have no more letters or lengthy correspondence and few written diaries to document the processes, personal musings, daily accounts of our great thinkers. No more Samuel Pepys or Viriginia Woolf diaries. No more letters between Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. (Yeah, I can just imagine how helpful Blackberry messages will be: RUwriting? :) )

Just some random, rambling thoughts. Something about this nags at me, though: Somehow, it's telling us something we must pay attention to. That's the feeling I get.

I'd like to hear some of your thoughts on the subject.


Thoughts for Thursday - Thinks & Links

"I usually steal a line from Yeats and it goes, 'Read what gives you pleasure, write what you must.' I think that’s pretty good advice. Read, read, read, and then explore your obsessions because I think that’s where the energy comes from. Especially when you want to do a novel because to sustain yourself through a longish project you really have to be, not just committed, but you have to be really interested in it. There’s nothing worse than starting something and then getting bored with it when you’re halfway through. "

- Vikram Chandra advises fledgling writers, in a long, unpretentious interview with Tony DuShane at Bookslut.

(Beryl Bainbridge, meanwhile, reprises the old 'write what you know' principle: "I don't think you should ever try to make things up. We all lead such strange lives that there is no need to. Use your own experiences and then twist it a bit.") (all of the above via Prufrock's Page)


"Writing is rewriting. A writer must learn to deepen characters, trim writing, intensify scenes. To fall in love with the first draft to the point where one cannot change it is to greatly enhance the prospects of never publishing." Richard North Patterson (via Sarah's Writing Journal)


International Women's Day Pioneering Women Writers Quiz (Cool, but not that easy.)

Salon's take on Oprah and The Secret (Shh, here's The Secret: Keep envisioning Oprah's show cancelled!)

Big thoughts: Evolution and religion (Could GW's God who told him to go to war be merely an evolutional byproduct?)


Bookaholic Step 4: Making an inventory

As an admitted Bookaholic, I decided to take a little inventory and post a few titles that are currently awaiting my attention on my TBR shelves. Maybe surveying the gluttony, like standing nude before a full-length mirror after a two-month couch vacation, will shame me into submission. Maybe I'm hoping I'll be able to skip back to Step 2 and believe that the Greater Power of Eyestrain will restore me to sanity.

Or maybe it will merely whet my appetite for more...

I keep finding that one book leads to another which of course begs me to investigate yet another that naturally refers to several others...I'm like a damned hunting hound on the scent of a pack of foxes.

But, just in case you're secretly wondering "which does LK have that I don't?" or "I could use a book on how to make time for writing myself," here are some of the good, the bad and the ugly from my current TBR list:

The Autobiography of Margaret Oliphant / Hester by Margaret Oliphant. Naturally, you can't read a writer's autobiography without reading some of her work. What intrigues me about Margaret Oliphant is that she suffered much but still wrote, against all odds. Born in 1828, she truly was burdened in the manner of 19th century women: nursing sick relatives, bearing six children (and losing 3 in infancy), being widowed and supporting her family with her incredibly prolific writing. The novel Hester is about an older woman who risks her own personal fortune to lead her family's banking business to safety. Will I ever get to these two books?

Twenty-eight artists and two saints by Joan Acocella. Somewhere I ran across this title and thought it would be a great addition to my Essays Month. I don't know, there's something maddeningly cool about portraits of Bob Fosse, Dorothy Parker and Mary Magdalene residing in the pages of the same book.

The Other House and The Outcry by Henry James. What can I say? NYRB had a sale. Two books by James that I'd never heard of. One a comedy of manners, one depicting uncontrollable passions lying beneath the veneer of civilized life. Tell me, truly: what would you have done?

The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist: A Book for Writers, Teachers, Publishers, and Anyone Else Devoted to Fiction by Thomas McCormack. This guy's the CEO of St. Martin's Press. I want to write, teach and publish. Not necessarily in that order. What else is a Kitten to do to avoid writing, teaching and publishing -- but buy a book about those endeavors? To further aid in my paralysis and guilt, I have A Writer's Time: Making Time to Write (a tip of the hat to Kate from Kate's Book Blog, who always posts tantalizing quotes from tantalizing tomes).

This is just a tip of the bookish iceberg, my friends. I pass along these titles to you in hopes that you might find a gem or two to pick up yourself in time...Now, off I go to enroll in an Evelyn Wood Speed Reading course.


New TBR: American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever

Oh, dearest God in heaven, another book for the TBR pile:

Susan Cheever's latest work, however, brings new life to the well-known literary personages who produced such cherished works as "The Scarlet Letter, Moby-Dick, Walden," and "Little Women." Rendering in full color the tumultuous, often scandalous lives of these volatile and vulnerable geniuses, Cheever's dynamic narrative reminds us that, while these literary heroes now seem secure of their spots in the canon, they were once considered avant-garde, bohemian types, at odds with the establishment.

I have no willpower, I must have it!

You know, I figured out why I've been so compulsive about book buying the past few months (and I mean a true bookaholic, like when you get into debt from book buying binges or get a hangover from too much reading over the weekends): I am avoiding writing.

Yes, just when you thought all forms of writer's block have been discovered and cataloged, yours truly comes up with another, potentially lethal (at least in the bank account) form.

In other news, if you live in the Bay Area, by all means see the Berkeley Repertory Theater's production of To the Lighthouse. It's a top-notch production and amazingly true to Woolf's novel.

Upon seeing it, I immediately rushed home to reread my copy. And I've started Julia Briggs' Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life (amazing) and found in a used bookstore a text called Virginia Woolf and the Real World.

I think I need to start a 12-step program just for bookaholics. Step one: Admit you are powerless over the power of the written word!