On Reading, On Writing, On Prancer and Vixen

First of all, let me apologize for not posting yesterday.  We are having epic server problems here at work, and have since received an helpful email from IT blaming us, the EMPLOYEES, of all people, on the fact we all store too many emails and, I quote, “your in-box, your delete box, and your outgoing mail box are NOT (emphasis theirs) appropriate places to keep email.” Which is entirely true, but funny nonetheless.  Also, for those of you following my printer woes, this excessive use of email by employees has apparently screwed up the server so significantly that my computer can’t connect to the printer, and I am unable to print anything. (“But I’m a writer,” she wails!)  Our IT department reminds me of the newsletter our condo board association sends out, which is nothing but a four-page list of poorly-worded accusations against the tenents for stubbornly insisting on breaking association rules by,say, putting our garbage out too early on garbage day and bringing beer to the pool.  Garbage and pool use are privileges, NOT rights, and we better not forget that!

Speaking of the pool, yesterday we found out the source of my continuous pink-eye. It is NOT Marigold Joyce, but rather that I swim in the pool shared by so many community children.  As I dragged myself into my doctor’s office yet again so she could ensure it was pink eye and not  some horrible fungus or something, she told me pink eye is like poison ivy, some people just get it, whereas my hardier friends can apparently frolick all-day-long with pink-eye infested babies and not even blink, literally. I, am not so lucky. Hence why I didn’t post from home yesterday; I was in a wretched mood, what with my pink, pussy eye (again!) and it’s purple lid.  But at least this problem is solvable.

Onto the meat of the thing…

Last night I finished T. Jefferson Parker’s novel California Girl. Normally I really enjoy Parker’s mysteries.  He’s one in a roster of authors my dad and I share, and I’ve never been disappointed.  He is particularly adept at setting, and he places all of his books in Laguna, California and the surrounding communities.  What I really enjoy about his writing is the way he establishes the settign without those long descriptive paragraphs I still depend on, ie “The ocean sparkled beyond the white sand bluffs; the sky reflected the ocean, etc…” instead, he continuously reminds you of where you are by driving you past the abolished orange groves, taking you surfing, inviting you out to eat in little dive Chinese and Mexican bars, the hot santa ana winds coursing over your body, etc.  He’s a detail here and there kind of guy, instead of great big chunks, and he does is particularly well.  Generally his main characters are detectives or journalists, often men but sometimes women, people who have not had easy lives, financially or emotionally, but they almost always have very altruistic senses of self. These characters like to drink and surf and sometimes smoke (I think parker must be a former smoker) and they almost always believe in true love, although the objects of their affection are rarely appropriate, and I enjoy every single story. I’ve read, in this order: Little Saigon, Summer of Fear, The Blue Hour, Where Serpents Lie,  The Triggerman’s Dance and Black Water.   Not one of them has let me down, so when my dad told me I just had to read California Girl, I did.

For me, the mark of a good book is how quickly I finish it. Books that really capture my attention will be prioritized before everything else; making the bed, exercise, cooking meals, cocktails with S., seeing friends.  I rarely stop reading books once I start because for whatever reason it makes me feel guilty, and I HATE feeling guilty.  This book took me 2 1/2 weeks to complete, and left me hoping this was a fluke for Parker.  The book began and ended with first person narration, which is fine, but the rest of the novel was told from the perspective of three different brothers, in the third person.  I’m not much for jumping back and forth between pov’s – I’ll deal with it if the story compels me, but I find it extremely disruptive.  I found the brothers’ voices indistinguishable from one another, so much so until I sorted out who was the minister, who was the journalist and who was the cop i had to turn back to the beginning of the chapter for a reminder.  All of the brothers’ had the same voice, which is to say they all spoke and thought in stilted sentence fragments, which also bothers me because WHO THINKS IN SENTENCE FRAGMENTS? This is a leftover Hemingway device used, in my opinion, to make male characters sound deeper than they are, and I while I actually think the device works well in short stories, for entire novels I don’t think it succeeds.  Oh, I wish I had the book here with me because then I could give a textual example. Since I don’t, here is an approximation: He looked around. Felt sad. broken. Like a part of him was missing.  Wind blew hard. Long day.He missed Kelly. Thought about her all the time. Wondered if she’d call.   This style wore me down, and made me realize that while we often probably speak in sentence fragments, we rarely (or, well, I rarely) ever think in them.  The novel felt contrived, in that sense.

Parker also took a lot of detours while telling the story, bringing in random encounters with Richard Nixon and members of the John Birch Society.  These encounters were meant, I know, to reflect the sign of the times, the sixties, LSD, Vietnam, etc. – and they also helped introduce an eventually central character, but what he did so well in Little Saigon polluted the story here.  I also felt like I kept missing important clues to characters…ie, the minister out of nowhere was suddenly gay. Either I am a very bad reader, or this was set up really horribly.  I’m not sure which as I did read a large section while drinking two glasses of red wine. 

This is the first book of Parker’s I’ve been really disappointed by, but I do understand why my dad enjoyed it so much – he has a fascination with California to begin with, and when you mix in his years in Vietnam and coming of age in the sixties in America, well, he was obviously the demographic for this book. 

On Writing

I had intended to continue a discussion happening over at www.litlove.wordpress.com and www.somanybooks.blogspot.com on memoir, blogging and the cult of celebrity, but it is now 11:00 and I think I’d better return to the world of science writing for the afternoon.   It pays my bills and for that I am extraordinarily grateful.   I’m sure the conversation on memoir will come around again, though – it seems to about every six months, and every time it does I get excited.  I will say, briefly, that in graduate school i learned that memoirs can really only be successful if they reflect on a certain period of time – ie, Tobias Wollf’s This Boy’s LIfe (or was it A Boy’s Life?), Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood, Willie Morris’s North Towards Home.  Most memoirs now don’t cut it. More on this soon.

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4 Responses to On Reading, On Writing, On Prancer and Vixen

  1. litlove says:

    It is funny, isn’t it, how conversations repeat in the blogworld. I didn’t notice this at first and naturally thought I was the first to discuss some topic, until further travel round other sites showed me that was not the case!

  2. Courtney says:

    Oh, I didn’t mean to infer that this particular conversation was repetitive – I meant to say that I seem to have this conversation, as a writer, as a student, as a teacher – every six months or so – this is the first time I’ve seen it in the blogosphere. My apologies!

  3. kj says:

    You seem to post more here than you did at 360. Why is that? I am happy you do, but curious as well.

    I like where you are headed with your writing. My little Court…growing and growing right before my eyes! It’s very exciting – seriously – your getting so strong with your words. It’s very pleasing.

    Bye for now.

  4. litlove says:

    Absolutely no apology needed! As you probably know from your writing conversation, it’s not so much repetition as productive return – a very good thing all round!

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