Tuesday, August 24, 2010

eating my words

One of these days I just might learn never to say never. What might finally teach me this valuable lesson? The iPad.

Like most writers, I love books. Not just the stories they contain but the books themselves. Especially hard-bound books. Especially hard-bound books with leather covers and beautiful end-papers. Opening such a book is a never-ending joy. Crisp, clean type on fine paper. The smell as you open the cover, the anticipation of the adventure to be had on those pages. If I've been lucky enough to meet the author and have him or her sign my treasure, it will get a favored forever-spot on the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in my library. Right at eye level among the most well-loved books I own. Right next to The Lord of the Rings.

Beyond being a lover of books, I'm an aspiring author. All my life I have dreamed of holding a book with my name on the cover, of seeing it in a bookstore, of autographing it for friends, of placing it in the most favored spot among those beloved books on my shelves.

For both of these reasons I have said -- vehemently, repeatedly, and publicly -- that I could never picture myself reading a book on a computer. I certainly couldn't picture myself enjoying such an experience.

And then I purchased an iPad.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

can you hear me?

"Sing, sing a song, sing out loud, sing out strong..."
I'm currently reading Eat, Pray, Love. I know, I know, I'm way behind the curve, but I've been reading a lot of romances and middle-grade/young adult fiction, filling the well of inspiration for my own work. I really want to see the movie -- I *love* Julia Roberts, and Javier Bardem looks positively yummy -- but for some inscrutable reason, I can't bring myself to buy a ticket until I've read the book. The Universe insists, and I've long since learned not to argue.

I don't read many memoirs. I think the last one may have been Joan Didion's National Book Award-winning The Year of Magical Thinking. Unfortunately, that book -- brilliant as it was -- quashed my desire to read more memoirs. After a year of almost daily miracles, which Didion moved past without seeming to notice, she concluded that there is no God, "no eye on the sparrow." It depressed me for weeks.

The movie trailers make it clear, though, that Eat, Pray, Love is a celebration, not a pity-wallow. So I'm reading it. And if ever there were an antidote for Didion's hopelessness, this is it.

Elizabeth Gilbert deals with weighty subjects, but the woman is hilarious. In real life we'd probably start shouting at each other within five minutes of meeting -- our politics are polar opposites -- but I love her on the page. Possibly because of the journey she chronicles in the book, she has a wonderful sense of the ridiculousness of her own existence, the insanity of taking herself and her life as seriously as we all tend to do most of the time. It's downright refreshing. But it's not just her outlook that entertains. It's the way she expresses it, the fresh similes and memorable images she uses to sear her truths onto the reader's brain. Her voice comes through, loud and clear, insecure yet brash, on each and every page.

As a novelist, I struggled long and hard to put my finger on that elusive must-have known as voice. Ask an editor to give you an example of voice, and it's likely she'll point you to a story full of dialect. But dialect is not voice; for someone grappling with what voice is, finding it in a book full of dialect is an exercise in futility. In memoir, though, nothing stands in the way. The writer doesn't have to be anyone other than who they are, so their personality is free to come out on the page, unfettered and true. I've never read a better, more in-your-face example of voice than Gilbert's. So if you're a writer who struggles to understand what voice is, read Eat, Pray, Love. I guarantee you'll finally hear it and know, on a gut level you'll never forget, what it is.