Sunday, February 17, 2013

Read that Again

I'm not one of those people who does a lot of rereading; if I read a book once, even if I like it, I don't generally want to read it again. Because you have to put a lot of hours into reading a book the first time and, well, there's a lot of other good books floating around in the ether/library/bookstore that I haven't got to yet. Besides, I already know everything that happens so there won't be any surprises.

Yes, I actually have a list of books I've been meaning to get around to reading. And yes, it keeps getting longer and longer.

Of those I have read more than once, there's a few I consider worthy of being read again (and maybe again and again ... on a yearly basis or something). One of those would be Kalpa Imperial by Angelica Gorodischer because, well, it's a really weird book (meaning you have to read it a lot of times to understand everything), offering multiple narratives and giving the sense that each one means nothing and yet a whole lot at the same time. If I read it once more, maybe I'll figure it out. Also, the author is from Argentina and so the book was translated into English by Ursula K Le Guin. Which on its own is pretty cool.

Second would be Robin Wayne Bailey's take of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser (two of my favorite characters): Swords Against the Shadowland. I love the original stories by Fritz Leiber, too (have read many of them more than once), but for some reason this one sticks with me. Maybe because it's more in line with contemporary book/writing styles? I don't know if it's that or the ever-tacky reader's assertion that "I could visualize everything exactly as he wrote it" (an assertion that proves tacky because of course when the author wrote about a red table the reader visualized a red table ... etc). Or because he channeled the characters as if he'd invented rather than borrowed them.

I don't know what it is, but in both cases even though I know everything that happens, even to the point that I remember some snippets (or close enough) of the writing, I wouldn't mind reading them through again. I think all books should be such a pleasure to read that you want to read them over and over--and of course every author probably thinks so, too--and yet, if that was true, I'd never get around to reading a new book, would I?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Not Knowing

They (yes, the eponymous they) always say you should write what you know. It's one of those pieces of advice that makes sense and yet, when you think about it, sounds unremittingly dull.  I mean, I know things, but what do I know-know? What do I know well enough to write about?

Sometimes I think it's a shame that I don't know very much about my cultural heritage because if I did, I could use it. I can tell people I'm Irish and Czech but aside from a few amusing-yet-useless words, I know nothing about being Czech, or Czech culture (slivovitz, anyone?). Anything I know about Irishness comes from movies or books, not from family history.

I guess this is because the Irish side of my family has been American so long that, yes, we're just American now. The Czech side (or quarter) is only a few generations removed from the motherland so that's why a couple words are still passed down from my mom (from her dad; from his mom). Not that they have any use whatsoever. Also, I'd give you an example but I'd spell it wrong.

So yeah, I wish I knew anything about these cultures but they've been forgotten as generations have become culturally assimilated as American. It happens. And, unfortunately, American culture isn't one with a lot of solid traditions.

So my interest in different cultures comes from the fact that American isn't much of a culture in the traditional sense, and I can't claim to know anything about other cultures except what I've read in books and studied in anthropology. Is it fair to say you know something if you got it out of a book? Is it fair to write about a culture or group of people other than your own?

Well, maybe a better question is, is it fair to me if every story I read is from the same cultural perspective? If I wouldn't want to read it why would I want to write it?

According to them, I'm not qualified to write outside of my own cultural experience--which would make a painfully narrow window if I bought into that. As it is, I feel there are some things you have to write even if you don't know them. Because how do you get to know if you don't?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Less Time, More Writing!

One of the problems with being so busy I don't have time to write is ... well ... I don't have time to write!

Let me amend that: I have enough time to write whatever papers are due in class. And then, just when I think I've got a free minute, a new assignment pops up.

In the past couple weeks I've managed to get about 1-2000 words of fiction out. But here's the part where that's not so bad: I've only had about 3 hours in which to sit down and do this writing. Ideally I'd spend more time at it but, compared to my previous ratio of output to time spent, I've actually increased productivity! Whoa!

Why, you may ask? (Just as I did when I realized what I'd accomplished) I'll tell you why--because the story I'm working on right now has a deadline coming up in less than two weeks. And, if I'm going to get it done in time to be sent off (Oh I hope so!), then there's no time to goof around and check Facebook in between sentences and go back and read what I just wrote and look up word definitions and browse fun and interesting facts that may be useful ... In short, I have to cut to the chase and just get working!

I'd have a lot harder time doing it without the urgency. I never realized it was so hard to keep focus until putting aside all the time-wasting and just getting to work.

Which reminds me, I have to get back to homework!