Book Cover ~ The Great Gatsby

December 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

the great gatsby

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, first published by Penguin Books in 1950

So far, all the book covers I have talked about are my own copies, scanned by me. I think you can tell with this one, given how battered it is at the corners. I studied The Great Gatsby in my penultimate year of high school and it was a bit of a revelation. Or perhaps my brilliant teacher made it one.

The style, filled with nostalgia and roaring twenties charm is beautifully captured by this picture. Or rather, this half-picture. One can guess what the other half is. And in a sense, it’s very fitting that the man should be forever separated from his lovely partner with short hair and fine eyebrows  since Daisy remains forever and always out of reach – right there, inches away, on the other side of the cover -other side of the world, other side of his world. And so my opinion is that this cover is both beautiful and very clever.

Quotation #11

December 27, 2012 § 1 Comment

dr seuss

Merry end-of-year celebrations to all!

Just Read ~ The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy (1997)

December 21, 2012 § 2 Comments

the god of small thingsAll the people I talked to about it loved this book. I’m usually the book-lover and I hate being the book-skeptic but I have to say, just this once, I’m not entirely convinced. I love the title, I love the cover, but there’s this little something that stops me from saying I love this book. And it’s the kind of book I wish I could say I loved.

Some of the topics described here are more than heavy and I found myself feeling nauseous for quite a few days after reading some passages. Not that I haven’t read books dealing with tough subjects before (say for instance, in Toni Morrison or J.M. Coetzee), and not that difficult subjects should be banned from literature – on the contrary – but somehow, in this case, it was more than disturbing – it was disgusting. My previous encounters with ugly truths were usually done through a style imbibing a certain humble grace into the subject, a certain degree of – maybe not modesty because they were still quite crude and made me shiver and hurt, but rather perhaps colder, clinical sentences that, whilst dispensing the horror of the fact, gave it a clean varnish.

Roy is in the corporeality of the body, in its ugly ‘humours’, its waste that people tend to modestly hide. Sometimes beautiful and soft, it is generally unashamedly alive, producing sweat, feces, semen. Even in moments of tenderness, the body is something that lives, with stretch marks bearing witness to past pregnancies and kisses that leave spit on your skin. So much more could be said on this subject, and it would certainly make for a very interesting read – it might reflect a will to show us a place where the body is a lot more part of people’s lives, accepted and not hidden away under clothes and impeccable hygiene like in western societies today. But nevertheless, whether it be pedophilia, physical violence or the decaying, dead and living body, after reading some bits I had to close the book for a while. Be warned.

That is not to say that some passages are not beautiful. There are moments of rare beauty but they are spoiled – voluntarily by the author, I would argue – by the everyday, the passing of time, the disappointments of life. There is one fleeting moment, and then it’s gone. Some images strike exactly the right chord and she captures that peculiar voice or way of thinking of children very well. But something else bothers me. Some have talked about her style as ‘exuberant’; I am sorry to say that at times I would have called it forced. Her use of unusual metaphors can be very powerful and touching but it sometimes almost feels like it’s too much, like she’s trying too hard to have a peculiarly distinct voice. Don’t get me wrong, unusual metaphors are great – in fact, usually, unusual metaphors are the ones I like best. I’ve talked about this before. But perhaps one needs different points of reference, a language that is out of the ordinary to convey what is so terribly hard to understand.

Maybe it all makes sense at the end, when all the knots are tied, when the patterns weaved throughout, repeatedly, in what was barely understandable at the time, finally come together to form an – almost – coherent whole. Roy is a seamstress, weaving many, many threads at a time, and somehow, she never seems to forget where each one comes from or where it is going. It reappears, every once in a while, with its purpose, its place in the larger piece of cloth. This puzzle-like story is hard to describe and only makes sense as you read it – this patterning is so subtle and yet is the very fibre of which the work is made. One has to give her that. Roy can weave. Perhaps in a way similar to Woolf. Infinitesimal details that matter, that might be at the root of everything instead of the big things – so small and unimportant and yet absolutely axiomatic. This book is about the Small Things.

And maybe the rawness has to be there to understand how utterly shattered one can be – one’s mind and one’s body, like a glass jar dropped on the floor. Maybe the horror and the pain have to be there to delineate the beauty of a moment, so short, but worth it all? I still wonder.  Maybe I haven’t loved this book. But maybe it’s not the kind of book that can be loved. Perhaps that’s not even what they meant when they told me they ‘loved’ this book. And maybe I’m starting, as I write about it, to realise what it is that they meant.

Quotation #10

December 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

kerouac

That mythical passage from On the Road. The energy, the vibration, so full of life, of hope, the freedom, the expectation… the beat. Nothing else sounds quite like it. Written in three weeks on a single piece of scroll? That’s how the legend goes…

Let’s hope this productivity and vibrant prose gives me the energy to get through the end of revision and of the semester.

I have yet to read ‘Howl’ – anyone seen the film they did recently?

Instead of a good week, let me wish you a lovely weekend.

Interview with A. R. Deleanu, Romanian writer and friend

December 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

a.r.deleanu

A.R. Deleanu, or rather, Flavius Ardelean by his real name, is a Romanian author of short stories and more recently of a novel, Îmblânzitorul apelor, published earlier this year. In this book, the dark secrets of a family unfold as they float away in their  house taken by the flood (very few copies are still available here and the eBook can be found here). We can only hope it will be translated into English soon… He also has a non-fiction monthly column in Revista de Suspans. More information about his work can be found here and you can read two translated short stories here and here.

I am very proud to call myself his friend and because I have a lot of admiration for his dedication and his passion, I was very eager to ask him about his journey as a writer. He kindly agreed to satisfy my curiosity.

When you write… 

Laptop or notebook? Moleskine notebooks for the first drafts. Laptop for the later editing and rewriting.

Morning or evening? Evening. Morning is for reading.

Tea or Coffee? I love coffee, but avoid drinking it in the evenings, and, the evenings being my favourite time for writing, I don’t drink coffee while I’m writing. I usually don’t drink a lot of tea.

Alone or in public places? Alone, it has to be very quiet.

Schedule or no schedule? Not for short pieces, but yes for novels. One hour every day, but it’s been harder recently with the second novel. Getting the schedule right is one of the hardest things to do.

Character-driven or plot-driven? Character-driven for the novel. I didn’t intend it to be because it’s not autobiographical, but it’s good because novels should be character-driven. It’s tricky however, because it’s difficult to write in another voice than your own. Rather plot-driven for the short stories.

What are you most proud of about your novel?

The last five pages. The whole book builds towards these pages. And the fact that it sold out in three months.

If you had to translate the title of your novel into English, what would it be?

The Water Tamer.

Are there things you wish you could change about your novel now?

No. I’m not one hundred per cent happy with it, but it doesn’t mean I’d want it to be something else. It is what it is. It is the result of the time when I wrote it, and who I was at that time. Wanting it to be different would mean wanting to be different myself, so it would be a lie.

a-r-deleanu-imblanzitorul-apelor

How much of a say did you have in the book’s final aspect?

I chose the image on the cover. And they wanted to have my handwriting on it, so I wrote the title and the author. In terms of size, it’s the same as all the books of ‘Casa de Pariuri literare’ [the publisher] in their list of prose. I like this format.

Why this publishing house?

I chose this publishing house because I like it and I believe in it. It was founded in 2010. It’s very small, three to four people and they do it in their free time but they’ve still managed to publish forty-five titles so far. They’re the only publishing house I sent my manuscript to. I approached them in March of 2011, they replied in December. I had lost hope after four months but the editor eventually took my manuscript out of the pile by pure chance and liked it.

What do you look for when you write?

When it’s commissioned, the editor says what it should be about. For instance, the first anthology of zombies will be coming out soon in Romania so I wrote a piece about zombies. But mostly, I don’t look for anything, I am very much inspiration-driven. I never try to understand why I thought about something and I never question my ideas. There probably is a common denominator to all my writing, but I’m not truly aware of it. I would say my fiction is supernatural but not very straightforward. There is something more to our existence that we don’t see but can sometimes feel.

Do you have a source of inspiration or a model for the way you write?

Writing is a very lonely process, it screws you up. You start asking yourself a lot of questions that can affect your writing. I would say the most important thing for a young writer is to read a lot – you must read more than you write. I learned from every book I read; not necessarily consciously, but I was inspired by some of them. When I find a powerful voice, I can feel it creeping into my writing but I am very aware of it when that happens and I am very careful when it doesn’t sound like me. You can only find your voice if you read and write. If you’ve found it and you’re sure of it, you can do whatever you want. I like the fact that people recognise my prose even when they don’t know I’m the author. If I had to give a source of inspiration, I would say that Roberto Bolaño helped me with the way I write my prose.

I do have a list of ‘principles’ when I write, that I define before I start. But they’re technical, about the way it should be written. And I’m an outliner – I outline everything, the story, story arc, character development…

How long did it take you to write this book?

I don’t know… One year to write and a year, probably one year and a half to re-write. I wrote my first two drafts on paper. Hardly anyone does this anymore, it’s too much work. Ten people read it before I sent it to the publisher and he hardly edited it.

Did your reading throughout inform the writing process?

No. Some people don’t read while they write because they’re scared it might affect their voice; and it’s good that they don’t if they know they’re easily influenced. You shouldn’t copy something because you like it. You should only use it if you think it works for you and your work. But I don’t stop reading while I write.

What about the influence of other things you were writing at the same time?

I try not to write other pieces at the same time as my novels. That’s why I took a break from my new novel last month because I had to write other things. I get a bit obsessed with producing new pieces for my readers, but I need to stop.

For those who can’t read the novel because they’re not fortunate enough to understand Romanian, could you tell us about the message it is trying to convey?

I can tell you what it’s about, but I can’t tell you what the message is, because I don’t know what it is. I wrote the book in such a way that everyone can build their own meaning in it. I leave things open; it allows the reader to go much more into the story. But I’ve only had positive reviews for my novel so far and this concerns me.

Your book is quite dark. Why?

I think it is my role in this world to write like that. It would be irrational to try and stop it. It doesn’t mean I have a skull under my bed, but it does reflect my attitude towards life. I don’t know why. I have a predisposition for the darker side of things, but I’m a very nice guy, haha.

I enjoy making the reader feel uncomfortable but I’m not trying to be provocative. It makes me sad that people have preconceived ideas about some of the things in my work, they can’t separate the narrator from the author. But nothing and no one will ever stop me from writing what I write. And I am lucky because my family is very supportive of what I do. I’d be very happy being left alone but I have to publish what I write – it can’t stay in my head. Everything I’ve written has always been published, I’ve never had a publisher say ‘no’ to me. I’m a very fortunate writer. Even when I started, when I published some poems in 2003 – they were silly, but that’s how people start.

What got you writing in the first place?

Like most artists (the word is sometimes frowned at but it’s the definition of what I am), I feel that my soul doesn’t correspond to the world – and I need to find an explanation for that. Being an artist is a way of filling the gaps for some. For me, it’s turning excess feeling into a form; I feel more than the universe allows me to feel.

Why should people read your book?

They don’t have to read my book. There are a lot of great books out there. When they’re done with them, they can read my book.

~Images: courtesy of the author 

Quotation # 9

December 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

Like Blanche du Bois in A Streetcar Named Desire, I have resorted to looking up so as not to think about all that needs to be done. My situation is obviously very different from poor Blanche’s but as she says, it’s nice sometimes to look up at the stars and forget about the rest…

Have a wonderful week!

Book Cover ~ The Hobbit

December 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1975

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1975

Technically, this should fall in the ‘Just Read‘ category but The Hobbit‘s book cover in this edition is so famous that it felt more appropriate to discuss the book here. It seems particularly appropriate when we remember that Tolkien made the illustrations himself.  I think the fact that the maps, drawings and runes alphabet are all his only makes it easier to dive into this imaginary world. It certainly testifies to the depth of this man’s imagination. What I liked about it was how unassuming this imagination was. It sounded like he was letting us into this world he’d created for himself as a child and had escaped into ever since – it was like sharing his playground. I say child’s world because the songs and occasional nursery-rhyme rhythms help create this impression – and he did read the stories to his children after all.

As someone who hasn’t read the Lord of the Rings trilogy and watched the films only very recently, I do not believe I have the knowledge to say much about what has become an institution. I can only say I have lot of respect for the author who based a lot of the fantasy of this novel – or rather this world – on real ancient myths and languages: Tolkien was a professor of English language and literature and a specialist of linguistics, especially Anglo-Saxon. I appreciate his enthusiasm whilst writing something that was clearly a way to use his field of study in a playful way. The story itself takes on a Gandalf-like aspect or tone, full of sparkle and fireworks, yet revealing only a fraction of what it knows. I am not much of a fantasy kind of reader but I think this book goes beyond that category anyway. It stems from something very ancient, mystical; a heritage that we have almost forgotten about, echoing times passed.

the hobbit back

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