Sunday, August 14, 2011

Growing With Your Favorites

I recently finished "Lying Days" by Nadine Gordimer.  For those just tuning in she is my favorite author.  About a year and half ago I thought I managed to read all her novels and felt pretty accomplished as a fan.  But upon acquiring a critical work of hers that listed all her titles I was delighted and surprised that there was almost more than a handful of her novels I had only not read, but did not even know about.  These turned out to be her earlier works, the titles you won't find in most bookstores and have to search for online.  I asked and got many of these titles for Christmas that year.  "Lying Days," was among my gifts and what thrilled me even more about receiving this title was that it was her first novel.  Having it in my possession felt inspiring and like finding a "golden ticket" in a Wonka bar.

When I sat down to read the book I soon felt deflated.  It usually takes me about five pages to really lock into one of Gordimer's novels.  Her writing has an air of assumption that is not always easy to slide into.  Her first lines typically volt the reader right into the story, a character, or setting.  It takes reading through a few pages to acclimate oneself into that world and learn the subtle cues in her writing that add depth to her story.  I was shocked upon beginning the "Lying Days" to discover how bored I was as a reader.  There was significant time and attention spent on describing an opening scene.  Rather than an insightful description of place the writing came off indulgent and wordy.  It was a sharp contrast to her later novels that tend to be shorter with more concise language.

I tried to begin reading the novel at least four different times, never getting past the first twelve pages.  I had many other distractions at the time, one including my thesis so that may have contributed to my lack of devotion.  About a year or more later I decided to revisit the novel again and felt better about sliding into the story.  Those first twelve pages finally seemed to be filled with some riches upon reading them the fifth time.  I was still bored in some places, but I was letting myself really read the book instead of just trying to absorb the book.  This may only make sense to dedicated readers, but sometimes when one sits down with a book they are just absorbing it or trying to get through it without even knowing it.  This is also another reason many people advocate for re-reading books.  So that one can go back and see the things that they may have missed or overlooked without knowing it. 

I managed to finish the book between reading it to and from work and at night when I allotted the time.  It's not one of my favorites of her, BUT I found it very insightful to her as an author.  Gordimer's novels tend to focus on the lives of people in South Africa living during political turmoil.  Her stories focus entirely on the character and not so much the political atmosphere, yet, it makes the reader feel the important struggles and choices people in that world had to make daily.

"Lying Days" on the other hand was more a coming of age story.  It focused on a girl becoming a woman and facing that pivotal point in her life in South Africa where she had to decide if she was the type of person to join the cause or live outside of it.  I liked the novel and the story as I could relate it to Gordimer herself.  I don't think it was any coincidence it was her first novel.  Everyone's first novel seems to tell something of themselves one way or another.  And reading about her life in an interview online also makes me believe it was an important story for her to write.  What was also different about this story compared to her other works is the uncertainty her lead female protagonist feels about herself.  Most of Gordimer's woman character (that I have read of) come off strong or at least at peace with themselves and who they are and the lives they live.  Helen, in "Lying Days," at first seems she is this way too, but is really fighting herself to be the woman she thinks she should be. 

Gordimer's writing stayed indulgent, wordy, and at time very lofty throughout the novel.  I think she could have cut some of her philosophical tangents and achieved the same affect she wanted in her story.  True, young character coming of age do tend to over analyze, but that's not what readers want to indulge in with them.  Readers rather indulge in the character's choices and consequences of their choices.  That is the juice that helps carry a reader through the story.

I'm glad I finally managed to put "Lying Days" on my read shelf.  It helps me see Gordimer's transformation and growth as a writer more clearly.  It gives me motivation to sludge through my first novel and the ambition to see past that novel and on to the next one.  I have several more of her early works to read still and hope I can break into them faster than I did "Lying Days."

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Big Birthday Post

I'm another year older and I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up.  Well, that's half true, I have too many things I want to be when I grow up, its silly.  Pictured above are some of my favorite gifts related to this blog my friends and family gave me.  Not pictured is the Barnes and Noble gift card I also received, but wasn't skilled enough to hold for the picture.  Excuse the shirt, you'll have to read the message backward because I'm not crafty enough to flip it around.

So far, I have spent my birthday being almost assaulted and spending more money on myself than intended.  That's typically for 20 somethings right?  I got up early and made myself cute to renew my driver's license.  Because I have not changed my address on my license since I graduated college (for two reasons I am lazy and one of my best friends still lives in that apartment) I did not receive my renewal reminder.  Luckily, my boyfriend got his the other day and it reminded me.  I had the day off work so it wasn't that big of an inconvenience.  Strolling into the municipal building, there was a woman ahead of me carrying several bags and wearing a...rather revealing outfit.  I hesitate to state it that way because if fitted properly I don't think the outfit would have normally been revealing.  But in any case, her shorts were a size too small or just too short to begin with and they rode extremely high up her backside.

There was a moment when I was trailing her into the building and trying not to notice the more than half exposed bottom of hers that I thought, "should I tell her that her shorts are riding up or is that impolite."  I decided it was impossible for the lady not to know the situation going on behind her and concluded perhaps, she didn't care.  So I carried on to the DMV.  She seemed to be going in the same direction and at one point I was making my way past her.  I glance briefly at her as happens when you past people walking or perhaps I looked out of sheer curiosity.  Either way I soon found I needed to throw up my arms in defense.

Maybe the woman was having a rough morning and didn't enjoy the attention of others (review wardrobe choices), or maybe she was having a bad hair day.  Either way when I was passing her she took the arm closest to me holding several bags and swung it towards me.  She then proceeded to yell at me and tell me I smell like alcohol and more obscenities.  In turn, I told her she was crazy (reflecting back now never tell a crazy person they are crazy, it promotes craziness).  I increased my walking speed and turned into the DMV glad to be rid of her.

Naturally, she was going to the DMV too.  She swaggered in, dumped her bags into an empty chair and moved to the back of the line directly behind me.  Like any seasoned city person I ignored her hoping her crazy wouldn't fare up again.  Wishful thinking.  I felt her lean in touch the back of my hair, and take in a good sniff.  When I turned around and told her not to touch me she started in again with the comments of me smelling like alcohol.  Now, while I admit I like a good glass of wine, I typically only drink after noon.  It was only 9:45am at this point so I had to refute her claims.  Luckily, I didn't have to stand in front of her too long before I was able to be called to a counter and complete what I had came there to do.

Not the way I planned on starting my morning.  But I made up for it with some retail therapy.  And although I had a gift card for the store I went to I still had to hand over more of my own cash than I intended to give up today.  Yet, when it's your birthday, its makes for a great excuse to indulge in the things that make you happy.

The rest of the day should go much better.  I plan on drinking the rest of my coffee out of my new mug/over sized teacup (see above pic), taking my pup to the dog beach, and dinner with some great friends tonight.  And right before bed I hope to pick out some books to spend my gift card on.  If you have any suggestions send them my way.

Thanks everyone for tuning into "Write Now" and making my birthday a day to remember. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Slow She Goes

Writing has been going slow.  Waking up in the A.M. is still very hard.  I admit some days I just can't do it.  I've now pushed the time back to 6:45 A.M. and thats just so I stay a nice person.  When I tried to get up any earlier too many days in a row, I felt like a person I didn't even know.  But the good news is, whether I'm getting up early or not, I am still trying to make time for the writing.  This of course is why its so slow.  I can only get snippets of time to do the writing before I'm off or distracted by anything else.  But it feels good to at least make these attempts.

BUT if I had to find something else to blame other than myself I'd pick the heat.  I love the heat Chicago has been having.  The downside, though, is my dog doesn't go for as long of walks, but we make sure to get him out as much as he can stand.  And even though the heat can be unbearable sometimes, it's preferable to the below zero weather Chicago can get in the winter.  But here is how the heat can work against (me at least) a writer.  You start typing.  You stop to think. Sweat drips down you arms and little sweat pools form on your computer where your wrists sit.  You get up to wipe yourself down, to get a cold drink, to switch locations.  Maybe you even turn on the air conditioning.  You cool down.  You sit back down.  You think about what you wanted to write.  You get distracted, maybe even sleepy.  Sitting on your couch cooled by the AC and beautiful weather out your window sleep seems natural.  You're content with yourself and the day, but the writing, the writing has to be done.  You will get it done right after your little siesta.  Then you pass out. 

In my defense, I drank a cup of coffee trying to fight sleep off, but it didn't work.  Next time, I'm going to get stronger coffee, move off my couch, and maybe take some speed.  Kidding! No after school warnings please.  Heat, I love you, but cut me some slack.  I appreciate not getting sunburn, yet, this summer season, but I would also appreciate a gentle breeze even now and then to keep me awake.