Thursday, September 9, 2010

Love at a Glance

I love a good remake of a prim, English classic. Bridget Jones is Elizabeth Bennet? Yes, please. Clueless is actually Emma? Done and done. So when I saw Jane, a Jane Eyre rewritten and repackaged for a teen audience, well, I couldn't help looking both ways, then shoving it into my bag (relax, I paid for it). Jane takes the classic tale of stoic, quiet love and spins it, the modern Jane being a young nanny who falls in love for her employer, a forty-something weathered rockstar/former addict. Ahhh, much like my own story of first love, but perhaps a story for another time?

While clearly written for your average Pretty Little Liars-watching teen, author April Lindner has definitely made some concessions to the original; the writing surprisingly skews towards the understated and Victorian, and the love remains nurtured by half-glances and phrases loaded with adoration (example: "You are good at your job". Well if that's not an invitation to bed, WHAT IS?). While I took to this seemingly outdated account of love like Chelsea Handler to vodka, my former roommate and soon-to-be colleague had other things to say (keep in mind, she likes Vonnegut and Kerouac. It seems there's no accounting for taste...).

"All of a sudden he's like, I love you, and then he sweeps her out of the woods and they go and she loses her virginity to this old man? And she's obsessed with him? How unrealistic is that?"

And while I tended to agree that love in this sense was a little over-dramatic (the lighting storm at the moment of, uh, first contact doesn't so much suggest mood as hit you over the head with it), I had to disagree in a way. I admit, love in real life is maybe not like this at all. But the love that we watch and groan and obsess over in popular movies/tv/reading, is it really so dissimilar? Today's heroine gets a cup of coffee at the local cafe and the tall dark and handsome stranger behind her in line orders the exact same tall with non-fat whip chai latte? How can she help but instantly know he's the one? On the OC, Ryan casts a squinty, sidelong glance at Marissa through perfectly tousled bangs and we just know. It's going down. On further inspection, I suspect today's narrative on love in popular entertainment speaks of love that is just as foundation-less and stalker-ish, perhaps just a bit less chaste than that found in the pages of Jane.

Why is it that we are so willing to lap up the idea of the brief, empassioned love affair as long as it began with a simple chance encounter involving saving someone's life, but are quick to reject the idea that two people, living together and getting to know one another over months would suddenly realize mutual affection and decide to take it off and get it on? I wish I knew.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hello, My Name is Sarah Wendell

What is it about writing as a stranger that is so much better than writing as yourself? For a project this summer, I was given the liberty to write as anyone who could speak as an authority on the subject of green building. I chose Sarah Wendell, a sustainably-minded San Francisco resident. And God, I loved it. I think I know why is was so invigorating, and I suspect it has something to do with choosing a life for myself. Sarah is older, settled, and completely sure in her voice. She works. Actually, she is a sought-after architect. She's got Lulu and Rob (dog and husband, respectively). And let me tell you, her husband is a looker. Women do double-takes as he walks Lulu down the city streets.

Me? I sleep in my Brooklyn apartment on a mattress on the floor, looking for work and dreaming of buying a set of drawers or a chair to sit on (may seem a small thing, but when you have nothing to sit on, you soon realize that the two options-standing and reclining- are vastly overrated). Bet Sarah Wendell's apartment has some damn seating. She is in a sweet, content kind of love. I am frozen in this new situation, waiting for my life to start again. I'm not unhappy, just waiting.

So here are the words I wish I could write from the kind of life I wish I had.
*Note the comment from a poor stranger who thought this fictitious person was real.

I Am Not Writerly

I am clearly not a writer
I do not own a mac. I see this as the first roadblock to me becoming a real writer. Sure, my computer connects to the internet, it writes and computes and all that. But it is not the machine of a writer. Get that smug look off your face. Yes, I look wistfully at your sleek, silver simplicity, but I am content to click away on the homely HP I got half price at Costco, decorated in bubbles that you might find on the walls of a child’s bedroom or a steel reusable water bottle.
Beyond the fact that I own a PC (Ee gads! Look away darling, that thing is the tool of a plebeian not an ar-teest!) I have decorated the background with pictures of my friends, happy and smiling at football games and dances. None of them are ugly nor are they understated. None of them are black and white or sepia. None of them are candid.
When I pull my hair back, the pieces generally settle into a sleek, athletic ponytail. I wish I had the hair of a devil-may-care hipster, with poetic stray hairs that fall artfully across my eyes as I tell you that you must, MUST read Dostoevsky. You know that girl. You see her and you just KNOW she has something completely original to say. Her taste in music is better that yours. My hair is not the hair of a novelist.
I do not fall into periods of tortured inactivity. Bite me, Keats.
I drink my coffee with ice, cream, and fake sugar.
I am not a regular. Yes, I can be found here regularly, but the man who pours my coffee does not greet me with a smile, and a how’s it going, Jenn? The only place I’ve ever been a regular is at my hometown Quiznos. Something tells me that had Jane Austen lived today, she would not have been known for her penchant for the oven toasted sandwich chain, although there’s a mental picture for you.
I not only see Amanda Bynes movies, I own them. Three of them. If you listen closely, you can almost hear the great screen writers of the past weeping.
I live in Brooklyn. Let me stop you before you get to thinking Brooklyn, well that’s more like it. I live in Park Slope. Think strollers, not bikes.
Great writers drink a little for inspiration. The only sentence the drink has ever inspired me to write was seven lines long, had no punctuation, no verb, and no coherence.
I took a painting class last year, in which the professor would often call certain students' work 'painterly'. As in "Class, look at the brush strokes on Keith's vase, they're in a very, uh, Piccasso-like, painterly style. Well done Keith". When you think about it, the adjective 'painterly' seems to mean 'in the fashion of a painter'. I tended to take this critique to translate roughing as "Class, look at Keith's natural talent. This boy is an artist, while the rest of you, in a word, blow." I mention this occasion of stumbling across a new word simply to say that, should the word 'writerly' exist, it obviously would not be used to describe me. My hair is too tame, my temperament too stable, my neighborhood too gentrified and my tastes too bourgeois.
The odds, I fear, are stacked against me.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

America's Love Affair with the Hapless Young Hero and Pretty Little Things

When looking for the first subject of this blog, I really couldn't help myself. All those titles, all those colorful covers, all those tales of first kisses and vampire boyfriends, how would I chose just one? The easy answer is that I couldn't choose just one. Let me preface this by noting how uncomfortable I feel trolling the isles of the Teen Reading section. 5'10" and noticeably, um, not 13, I don't exactly blend in. I usually amble in, hoping to look like I've stumbled in by mistake and, while furtively looking left and right, pick up books at random. I have to say, I'm surprised I haven't been flagged as a potential shoplifter. Anyway, I picked out Be More Chill and L.A. Candy, purely for aesthetic reasons and due to my inability to shake a shallow fascination with Lauren Conrad. What can I say, I grew up during the era when LC reigned queen over the real OC. As an aspiring writer myself, I had a sick desire to judge LC's ability to turn a phrase. And I've got to say, I really expected less of her. So kudos to Lauren, even though I suspect more kudos are due to her hardworking editors and proofreaders. Be More Chill? Well the cover art is great and the blurbs on the back are complimentary and that's all I need. Although these two books apparently have nothing in common-- LC's tome is a fresh and completely original "fictional" tale about a naive, young reality TV star navigating the shark infested waters of Hollywood, while Ned Vizzini's Be More Chill chronicles a socially stunted teen's rise out of obscurity thanks to the help of a super computer planted in his brain-- they together explore an important theme in teen reading and entertainment at large.

My theory stands thus: we, as a society (yes, chastise me for hubris, I am writing as society's mouth piece on the topic of teen entertainment) like our girls rich, beautiful,and if at all possible, famous, and our boys awkward and fumbling. I do not mean to suggest that the odd geeky female cannot win our heart, nor a rich, attractive guy capture our attention (it certainly wouldn't be the first time). I simply mean to challenge you to plumb the depths of your pop culture knowledge. Gossip Girl, A-List, the Clique, these are not your plain Jane classmates. Nor are the Michael Cera's nor your Lloyd Dobbler's (Say Anything? C'mon)your average heartthrobs. When it comes down to it, we don't mind our ladies on the vapid side as long as they're living the high life, yet we seem to be less interested in your WASPy, scowling hero. On the other side of the coin, the lady nerd is always less compelling than your average, retainer-wearing, sneaker-shuffling, never-made-it-to-second-base-bemoaning underdog of a boy. Still skeptical? Have a dive into pop culture... I'd love to hear about anything that beats your average fumbling yet lovable young man or infamous beautiful vixen. Look around at the shelves; it's what sells.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Down the Rabbit Hole: Diving into the World of YA Fiction

In the vain assumption that someone, ANYONE, besides my mom is reading this blog, I’ll explain its purpose. First and foremost, it’s somewhat of a necessity that I a) write and b) have an outlet for thoughts/stories other than my poor roommates who are constantly obliged to listen to the same anecdote over and over. And with the volume of new information I’m learning in and, more often, out of school (did you know that in New York duct tape placed across your nipples can be classifies as a ‘shirt’?), a blog seemed the perfect channel for such verbiage.

Second, this blog will serve as a medium by which to explore themes and trends in YA fiction. I wish I could say that this second, more critical role is the impetus for reading these novels and writing this blog. As an Adult with a capital A, my days of curling up with the latest series addition (Will S and B remain friends? Will Georgia snog Robbie? Will the Sisterhood ever find their beloved PANTS?!?) should be long behind me. Still, I find myself sneaking into the Teen Reading section of bookstores, staring lovingly at the glossy bindings, and planting myself on the ground to scour the large type of the latest hormone and angst-fueled teen craze. Sadly, at the end of the day I return them to the shelves and walk out of the store with my so-called age-appropriate reads. The difference between me and the thirteen year old to my right, arms bedecked with silly bands, telling me about the latest Zac Efron movie? 4 years of sociology classes and a healthy dose of skepticism. My hope is that I become immersed in the market, that I find what makes a YA novel something teens really do read, remember, and tell their friends about. I promise to keep the sarcasm in check… kind of.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Stein v. Magritte

I feel that before delving into this post, I must make an admission: I change my mind quickly and frequently (a woman’s prerogative, is it not?). I’m not talking about life’s most important decisions, it's more akin to that last minute panic when the waiter comes and you suddenly find yourself once again scouring the menu, the words seeming to blur together as a single thought races across your mind: “Oh my God, what if what I THINK I want to order is, IN FACT, the wrong dish for me?”. The perennial victim of ‘food envy’, I tend to change my mind almost as soon as I think I’ve come to a firm decision. One day I wanted to go to school in California—the day I found out UCLA has a Wetzel’s Pretzels on campus—the next I was packed up and shipping up to Boston. At first I was convinced I would be studying abroad in Paris. No, Rome. No, Amsterdam. Maybe London. Then Venice? Oh, and when Venice wasn’t enough, I moved on to Dublin. I didn’t eat cheese or fish for years. Now if you pitched me the idea of a cheese encrusted fish dish, I’d be the first to sample despite my predilection for painful heartburn at the ripe ole’ age of 21.

Given this history of flip-flopping, I should shy away from absolute statements. But a life without absolute statements? What kind of life would that be? Which brings me to my latest not-so-unchanging attitude towards eReaders, eBooks, or what I affectionately thought of as eBlasphemy, or eTechnologyistryingtoruinmylife. I started NYU’s Summer Publishing Program making bold statements about my love of holding that paperback in my hand. I needed to turn pages, make notes, dog-ear chapters and pass them to friends. When considering the future of my reading experience, I couldn’t help but think of my waterlogged copy of Redwall, which I gracefully dropped into a bath in fifth grade. Would a Kindle survive such loving albeit abusive treatment? (Yes, I see the apparent contradiction in those terms. It’s almost like the books are stuck in an abusive relationship with me, which I suppose is not entirely untrue…) I digress. I declared my love for the print version of the written word, and vowed to never use a Kindle or other iDevil’splaythings. Hours later I ate my words as I stared agog at dazzling images of the ipad, the Nook, the Kindle and (taaahh-daahhh!) the futuristic digital paper. “Digital Paper!” I texted my friends immediately following the lecture, “they are making DIGITAL PAPER! THE FUTURE IS NOW!” Needless to say, I not only drank the Kool-aid, I was passing it around.

What makes a book? What makes the experience of reading a paper book, holding it in my hand, that makes me hiss like a protective goose at the mention of a digital replacement? This is where my friends Gertrude Stein and Renee Magritte enter the ring. Surrealist Magritte painted a pipe, then turned around and told us “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (This is not a pipe). And I suppose he is right, it’s a painting of a pipe. He got me on that one, that tricky devil. While this may not seem the most provocative statement, its application to the eReader can be. Yes, you can read the book on it, but the ipad is not a book. The Kindle is not a book. The Nook, while you may slip it into a hardcase will not survive a dip into my bath as did my intrepid copy of Redwall. No matter how many “book-like” features these products have, they will never be that book I read as a young girl, tucked in late at night, using clip on book light for no other reason than I could read with the covers pulled over my head like a cave. And just when I’m about to side with Magritte, to pledge my undying love for print, Gertrude gets her word in. That nosy bitch.

A no-nonsense ex-pat, Gertrude Stein is infamous for her bold absolute, (See! They’re not so bad, are they?) “a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”. No matter how I may stomp my feet on the ground and sulk, I have to see that she’s got a point. A book will always be a book. Do I really love a book for it’s physical properties? Although I feel like a sullen teenager when I admit this, No. No, I love it for the words. I love it for the crazy instant connection to another person, another world. For the beauty of a well-placed word, for the thought I never conceived of that enters my brain and becomes my own. I read for the author who keeps me up till four, till I get to that part that makes me grin and gasp and frantically kick my bare feet, wrapped in blankets and often sweaty from a long late night of devouring a book whole. And a book, not matter the form, will always be a book.

So who got it right, Gertrude or Magritte? I may never be sure. All I know is that we all win, don’t we?