Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Book Review: Memories of the Ford Administration

I don't have memories about the Ford Administration, as I don't have any of the Buchanan presidency. In the latest case, probably I am not the only one, unless I am a historian or passionate about the US presidents. And I am not. For the Ford Administration left still fresh memories in the mentalities of many US citizens, as coinciding with the hippy happy times. 
John Updike introduced the recent and not-so-recent histories as part of the daily lives of his characters. The academic task of writing a memoir about Buchanan is the pretext to focus on the current daily challenges, consequence of the spirit dominating the "Ford years". Sometimes it is easier to write about the present you are part of, than to focus on a period becoming more and more distant and hard to understand, in terms of human and family relations. 
The text is very dense, with a literary style I was missing but that took me at least 50 pages to get used with again: cynical humour, detached (self)irony, including against the usual stereotypes of the academic life, belonging more to the Buchanan years than to the post-Ford period. 
From my point of view, it is very difficult sometimes to write novels with a history hard-core. The risk is to be overwhelmed about the topic you are addressing, forgetting the autonomy of your characters. Updike admirably avoided this trap.
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Book Review: Moskauer Orgasmus

Bookstores and libraries are a wonderful place to be. For me. In the world of books, everything is open and free and I forget about deadlines, time pressure and anything that have to do with "do it now" feelings. I always discover and instantly buy, new books, authors, literary temptations.
Before Moskauer Orgasmus, I never heard about Edgar Hilsenrath, but in two days I had the pleasure to read one of the best Cold War story and to discover a wonderful writer with an inspiring life.
The daughter of the Italian's mafia boss in the US fell in love, in Moscow, with the son of a rabbi. She is back in the States, pregnant and longing after his special lover. As it is a matter of honor, life and death, the Mafiosi mobilize all his resources to kidnap the wise man, blocked by security reasons on the other side of the Iron Curtain. The book was writtten in the 70s and still having fresh in mind Gal Beckerman's account on the Soviet Jewry I identified many references to the situation of the Russian Jews at the time. 
But beyond the tensed and dramatic context, the story is full of comic suspense, the writing style is very clean and the story is fresh. A "cherchez la femme" casus belli, very entertaining and with a coherent and good plot. You can write about terrible things smiling, as, at the end of the day, "life could be beautiful".
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How novels come to terms with the Internet

My morning lecture for today.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Still Lifes

A day-old chickImage via Wikipedia//The life of a chicken could be passionate
I am not always catching the best reading choice. Mostly since I realized that I need an extended German learning program, I am using the best of my time to improve my vocabulary and grammar. Thus, I take from the library various books, whose lecture is not planned in advance. 
This is was the case when I approached Still Life with Chicken, by Catherine Goldhammer. In a way, besides the direct grammar aspect, I wanted to explore new writing styles and subjects. Passionate about science writing, I was looking for a challenging literary insertion of the chicken lives. I also like the books about the idea of changing, (re)starting your life from the ground - and there are some elements about this in the book. 
The book is having a subject and the chicken are part of it. Some episodes are amusing: the one with the chicken living in the bathroom are hilarious. But, the dialogues are weak, the overall story is voiceless and the story in itself is lacking the force of producing you long lasting literary memories. 
And I am wondering how you could define the literary success? Simply approaching subjects of interest - the courage of a woman to change her life, single women with children, the passion for various pets? For me, it is important to write unforgettably and passionately good. 
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Friday, January 14, 2011

Science writing

Writing in simple words about wonderful big things is an amazing gift. Being able to explain the science, to a non-professional audience is extremely important for the general advancement of knowledge, bringing people closer to the nature, opening the interest for things whose theoretical uniqueness and loneliness might look scary at the first methodological encounter. In the last years, the expansion of the online resources reached the elitist domain and science as well, and the results are impressive: a lot of blogs and scientists present in the social media networks - Twitter, Facebook etc. 
Why do we need science if our background and interests don't have nothing to do with it? Because science is more or less about the world around and we have, as humans, the obligation to know it and respect it, but based on evidences and the reality. In this case, the science writer have an obligation deriving from the ideals of the 18th century Enlightement: bringing light and understanding of the world, for fighting against the darkness of ignorance. 
These are the thoughts coming into my mind a couple of days after a wonderful conference of Ranga Yogeshwar, I attended recently in Berlin, where he had read from his collection of short stories about learning to use the critical thinking. 
Science writing is a good instrument against self-induced and educated ignorance. Smart people need to understand that learning how to write for the public opinion is worthy for the permanence of the scientific spirit. 
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Talking in writing

Learning how to create dialogues and, by this, giving real life to your inanimated words is one of my priority for the next 12 months. In the last seven days, I' ve been terribly busy finishing - successfully - another interesting writing project I had in mind for almost one year, and I didn't devoted too much time to this, but among the few lectures dedicated to literature I had the occasion to read lately, one suggested me a hint: be real, know the language of the street, make your characters talk as human people do. So, more ground reports and direct observation - and careful listening of dialogues. This is the beginning of a long learning process.
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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Book Review: Let's be Chuzpe

Given the emergency of upgrading as soon as possible my German, I preferred to read Lily Brett's book translated from English. Her first book that entered my life, New York, was again a German translation, and I loved so much the style and the wording - always the right word at the right place - that I decided to write my own literary/travel journey. (still in process of conception)
The original English title is "You Gotta Have Balls", the name of the restaurant that the 87 year old Edek, together with Zofia and Walentyna, the two Polish ladies, opened in New York. The German "Chuzpe" means "taking the risk of doing something against the all odds". The restaurant, opened with the "modest" - according to the standards of the Big Apple - contribution of 30,000 USD is getting an amazing success in a very short time, without using the tips and tricks of the PR and advertising, and without a professional and scholarly business plan. The strong point is an amazing range of meat-balls (vegetarian included), carefully prepared by the handsome Zofia, Edek's future wife. The key of success: simplicity, taking the risks because somebody have to, getting the best of life without thinking over and over again. this means being creatively "Chuzpe". In comparison, Ruth, its daughter - owner of a business of writing cards and letters -, is extremely cautious, reluctant, worried and insecure, despite the general status of wellbeing she is enjoying - a husband and good children, a good financial and professional situation. Without being faced by displacement and lost of the dear ones, as the generation of its father, Ruth - and the other women of her age appearing in the book - is facing a deep feeling of melancholy and sometimes inadequacy to the world. Taking a decision for a change is the result of careful scrutiny of risks and advantages, marketing study-wise, at the end of which it is most probably that I decision will not be taken. In exchange, the two Polish ladies widows and more than 60, Edek and Ruth met during a trip in Poland, decided to move in a new country, learning a new language and getting into the business of the meatballs (Klopse). It is a very interesting light and shadows vision, separating the two worlds and closing the Edek's world of the one of Ruth's children. 
The dialogues are very natural and the words are, in general, used in the right dosage, as the plot of the story is very simple and covered by a good content Jewish story.
The book comprises various references to Brett's life, as sequencies about Australia, where she used to live before moving to NYC, the memories about Shoah and some subtle mentiones about Germany, where she was born. The novel's life cannot be strictly separated of the author's life and richer the author's life, more challenging the writing and the pleasure of reading.
PS: At the end of the book, there are a couple of recipes of "Klops", easy to prepare and tasty.
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A software for writers

Scrivener for Microsoft Windows - Public Beta, with a special price for NaNoWriMo finalists. To be released soon, very soon.

US Kids, waiting for subscriptions

The rules and conditions are listed here. There are some interesting offers and I will not hesitate to participate. Not at all. 
Good luck to those who dare!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

10 Novels of 2010, by TIME

This is the selection. I got to hurry up finishing Freedom...An the other 4-5 books on the waiting list for this week.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Words: novella and novelette

Reading all the time gives you not only the pleasure of always being connected and finding new and interesting things, but also could create a certain confusion. 
For today, I have the two new entries on my list of question and difficult answers:
Novella and Novelette.

Novella — 17,500–39,999 words. Here is a list of them, and here a British variant. A very good company, isn't it? 
Warren Cariou, in Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada (ed. by William H. New, University of Toronto, 2000, p. 835) gives the following description:
"The novella is generally not as formally experimental as the long story and the novel can be, and it usually lacks the subplots, the multiple points of view, and the generic adaptability that are common in the novel. It is most often concerned with personal and emotional development rather than with the larger social sphere. The novella generally retains something of the unity of impression that is a hallmark of the short story, but it also contains more highly developed characterization and more luxuriant description".

Novelette — 7,500–17,499 words, is not enjoying too much articles and references. It is used also as for a short piece of lyrical music, especially for the piano. 

My big question now is what I am supposed to write? A novel, a novelette, a short story, a novella? For sure, an article...
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Literary Tweets

Being on Twitter, as an author, is not an extravaganza, but a necessity: beyond the clear marketing objectives - the potential of increasing your audience, and by thus, your readers - you have the occasion to talk about your and your books. It is more than personal branding, is direct dialogue.
Here is a list, via Mashable
Happy tweet-ing my dear literary friends!
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Monday, January 3, 2011

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Found the animals

North American Opossum with winter coat.Image via Wikipedia//His family will be in my next children bookTo be more precise, the kind of animals I would like to have characters of my children story: opossums. I watched recently a BBC documentary about them and I decided they are the best fit for the kind of story I would like to write.
What's next? Starting to write the synopsis and then the book?
I don't think so, at least for the next week. All I need is more documentation about them: video, photo, scientific articles.
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Saturday, January 1, 2011

750 words

Those interested to have a fresh and productive writing in 2011, 750 words site might be an incentive. And, in general, any occasion and time spent for writing, even one sentence per day is a good occasion for  improvement and personal success.
See you soon! Got to continue blogging for another two hours!

Stephen Fry: The Stars' Tennis Balls

This is my first encounter ever with Stephen Fry. A very pleasant one, I dare to say. I finish the book in two days, while trying to be more careful to the dialogues - one of my weakest points in writing - without acknowledging from the very beginning that the story might be a modern remake of the Comte of Monte Cristo. A book, that in fact, I never raved for, anyway. The first half of the book I've read a bit as an obligation - I rarely gave up after starting a book - and I was curious if something extraordinary will go on after 200 pages. The waiting was worthy, as once the main character is preparing to leave its recluse mental hospital, everything is going better and better: more action, more spontaneous decisions. The revenge part of the book - maybe here I have to give credit to my latest thriller lectures - is the best, including the introduction of Internet as part of the life framework of the story and of some of the characters. The rhythm is becoming more and more alert and colourful - with lots of blood stains. 
I finished the book with a big question: how can we still read stories as Comte of Monte Cristo in the age of Internet? A couple of days ago, I asked my daughter, who is an avid reader, if she ever read Tartarin of Tarascon or Baron Munchhausen. Not, she didn't and when I told her in a couple of lines what are these stories about, she didn't look too tempted to find them at the library. So, maybe re-writing them, by combining the eternal human feelings - hate, envy, love, friendship (and Shakespeare is mentioned a couple of times in Fry's book). After hundreds of years, who will know what is Comte of Monte Cristo about, but rewriting his story will always be interesting.
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Stefan Zweig: Confused Feelings

Every time I am opening a book by Stefan Zweig - and fortunately, I didn't finish all his books - I am impressed by the delicate description of feelings. Wheter I am reading it in English, French or German, I am delighted with the precision of words and the strong power of the wordly images. Maybe I am lucky to read the best translations. Confused Feelings, which I had read as of today, in French - as I wrote before, I had a very successful reading day by now, and hope to be a successful writing day as well - is the memoir of a former student about his philology professor. A reclused mind, trapped in his ambigous sexual feelings, translated at the level of intellectual emotions. The student and the teacher are sharing the same powerful connection, in the Socratic sens perhaps, but until the end of the story, they don't give it the name: the perfect attraction, marking their lives for ever. At the end, the student will ran away and will carry the weight of this revelation years thereafter. For ever. The written testimony is his confession to the world. Feelings are always confused and confusing and we, as humans, we are very often drived by them, even we avoid to call them their real names. Even the power of reciving and discovering knowledge is yet a feeling. Our inner equilibrium is so precarious that it is enough the touch of a feather for being thrown in the middle of the vortex of our incertitudes. Intellectual spirits are closer of this tourbillon that they think and Zweig is always reminding as on the fragility of our human natures. 
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Bonjour, Nicholas

I knew for a couple of years Nicholas, but before reading it (today) I first saw the movie. Not too easy to be understood by the 21st century Western children - as, for example the separate school for boys. But, from a boy point of view, it is an eternal experience in the world of growing ups all over the world. The movie didn't change too much from the book, maybe the order of the stories - the story with the boys trying their first cigar is left out, from politically healthy reasons, perhaps -, but we have the same candid and funny stories of the boys having a terrible funny and messy time at school, making the adults crazy, but without having complicate feelings of being misunderstood or not understood at all. In all they do, it is a natural simplicity of games and anti-social behavior, without being presented purposely as such. No need of a psychiatrist or of a special care, just stories and normal children. We all need to go through this, because otherwise we will never be able to appreciate our freedom. And we never have to be condemned to be perfect. This is a lesson for us, as parents, from le petit Nicolas. 

More Pocket Poems

I purchased More Pocket Poems at the beginning of 2010, as preparing for a class on children writing. From the whole pack of books I bought then, this one was the only one that I didn't read. I never considered myself too good to write poetry, including for children, and I went more and more busy with other ("serious") writing projects. But, as I am keen to start working on my own children projects as well, I decided today, early in the morning, that it is about time to dare opening and reading this book.
Nothing to regret. Great rhymes, wonderful illustrations, even in some cases the wording sounded a bit complicate for me, but maybe it is because English is not my mother-tongue and I have any idea the linguistic level of an English-schooled child in its 10-12, the maximum age target of the book, in my opinion. On the other hand, I think the book is very useful for use in the English classrooms, for children of any age learning English. 
What might be the ingredient for a successful poetry book for kids? I think that to encourage your imagination to go far far away, to think in colourful and happy images while keeping it simple and with a spontaneous connection of words, the main trait of the children's world, we are too much disconnected sometimes.
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Reading today

I had a wonderful reading time in the last 24 hours, and I can't wait to finish with the blogging for continuing the lectures. I am not a strong believer in the New Year's Eve, but as it is about beginnings, any occasion for doing it is wonderful for me. So, let's say that I wish that every second of my next 365 days will be used at their best. And I will have at least 365 interesting posts on books, writing and everything related to the world of words.
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