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Tony Grist

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Remembering What One Reads [Apr. 23rd, 2018|08:57 am]
Tony Grist
 I've started Winter- the second book in Ali Smith's Seasons tetralogy- and I've been trying to remember what happened in the first. I know I enjoyed it, but.....  Let's see: there was a girl... and she was being mentored by a delightful older man who had been a dancer I think... and he was very wise... and...no, it escapes me....

It's only a few months since I read it.

Immediately after finishing Autumn I read Smith's earlier book- Why Not Be Both? I remember that a lot better. It's about the Renaissance painter Del Cossa- with whom I rather fell in love. Does this mean that Why Not Be Both? is the better book- or simply that it spoke to me more nearly? I wonder whether Winter will stick? It has a highly promising opening- with an elderly person- a  prim retired businesswoman- being haunted by the head of a child. It's not a disagreeable haunting; in fact the head is really rather charming, and bobs about like a balloon and performs aerial acrobatics and makes big doggy eyes at its hauntee....

I get through quite a number of books. Some stick, others don't. I try to pick substantial books- ones that are more likely to make an impression- because what's the point of spending time with them if they don't? One might as well be doing crossword puzzles. Even so, some of them fade very quickly. I get Graham Swift mixed up with Julian Barnes because I find them equally forgettable. 

Unforgettability: perhaps that- when all else is said and done- is what makes a book a classic. Books can be beautifully written, skilfully constructed, technically brilliant- and as insubstantial as mist. Style is never enough- not by itself. Neither is psychological insight- or any of those other things that critics praise. The classic is the book that sticks like a burr. It may have all sorts of things wrong with it- it can be really badly written- but there's something about it- a character, a situation, an atmosphere- that clings to the mind as if it had claws. I have a pretty good memory for Dickens, for the Brontes- those sort of people. Wuthering Heights is a horrible book but I defy anyone who isn't suffering from dementia to forget it.
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[User Picture]From: matrixmann
2018-04-23 02:30 pm (UTC)
Is something that I tend to stick with when writing any fictional piece.
I admit, I may not be the best writer in the world when it comes down to the skill set - doing big verbal embroideries is something I'm really too uninspired for, names I'm also not good with, but, on the other hand, I also feel like this is there for filling the pages unnecessarily without letting much action happen or letting the story progress. It's better when it's not there...
But then, I do put big emphasis on doing something original, like doing a very individualistic story or at least doing individualistic rhetorics (latter is the case when it's songs or poems - be sure, you'll always find a line in between which sounds very directly spoken, perhaps even cheeky, but without becoming disrespectful). Why writing anything down that many other people have already put on paper - and then perfect in that way which they did it like?
My younger self already learned this doesn't work. Don't try to copy anyone else, that's going to go wrong...
Much better it is if you put it in your own words and if you maybe add some aspect to it which was missing before.
And somehow in that position, I seem to have a habit to express it a little bit like the plebs... Direct, snotty, uncompromising, maybe even brutal. Not talking way much around things, just calling them by their names.
But, when I think back, not only that I found the lines that I dropped then, styled like this, really good, but also the praise from others also seemed to like just this kind of style. This daring, this... not giving a fuck about hierarchy or thinking "I'm not supposed to touch this".

For songs, I think this exactly is the recipe for writing real hits. Plucking up courage to deliver something iconic... Something that people will sing along and shout along because it hits the spot.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2018-04-23 02:46 pm (UTC)
One never knows what the public going to like. The best books are always original. Who knew until it came out that the public was going to lap up something as odd (because it was odd at the time) as Lord of the Rings? Great writers create their readership.
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[User Picture]From: matrixmann
2018-04-23 03:01 pm (UTC)
At the time when that story was released, it sure would be regarded as "odd" because such stuff wasn't common at that time...

A little bit I also try to think of the ridiculous and bizarre stuff from mangas and animes from Japan these days, which so often totally doesn't meet what people would make up in stories that were born in the West.
(I guess that's also what makes them so successful in the West.)
Don't think of your cultural patterns as universal and common everywhere around the world - allow yourself to go get a little crazy. Also you can play with cultural stuff that you know yourself that more is bound to the country you grew up in or the local area you grew up in. Why always covering only American figures and habits?
Annoying I only find if people come up pointing at various things of your stuff "that stuff you took from there, that stuff you took from here...", citing it to undermining you weren't really individual, you were just doing copyright infringement.
Like - do you think you can invent the wheel anew for a thousand times?
Every writer in this world gets inspired by stuff that he's surrounded with at the time he lives!
When people which do a big commercial project get away with that it's seen as nice references and nods to other great stuff, but when someone unknown does the same thing, then it's stealing from other peoples' ideas? I don't get that argumentation chain. And it's not like that people which come around the corner with that claim are the very abled to do a better job without that. Or they do a terribly boring job that's like "just heard - immediately forgotten".
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2018-04-23 03:17 pm (UTC)
Basically you should write what you like. What you enjoy writing. I don't think there's a formula for success. Not really.

T.S. Eliot said "Good writers borrow, great writers steal." Everyone takes from the common store; the difference between good and great is the confidence with which it's done.
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[User Picture]From: matrixmann
2018-04-23 03:37 pm (UTC)
Hm, so I guess I'm the type "a little bit of standard (just average life/people), a little bit of madness (that which can also live round everyone's corner)".
Madness is actually a good feature in this in the right dosage - 'cause it prevents you from getting boring. From thinking in too predictable patterns.
Predictable patterns actually is something that bores me a lot and why I'm also so uncontent with the market around fiction (be that movies too).
In the end, I get too much "doing the same stunt again with little variation". But that's not what's exciting. In fact, that's where completely commercial work starts. Doing the same over and over again with the least in development perceptible.
This may be fun for a while, as long as an idea or concept is still new, but after edition 5 or 6 it starts to get boring and unrealistic. I mean, why should the same tragedy happen 5 and 6 times again in very short time episodes and people don't get able to learn to prevent it? Sounds like some strage hocus pocus to me, and like someone's trying to ride a dead horse.
You can do that, but then just try to prepare it at least a little more exciting - try to change some more patterns of the whole story... Even copycat killers, while they do the same like the original, still they're somewhat a bit different than him 'cause they're different personalities with different backgrounds.

Okay, I guess then I should be just confident about what I'm doing, every time I do it, right? "Copycat" everyone can scream quickly, but who can deliver you the same product and effect while creating the wheel anew?
Not even to say - that's how I see it -, who can deliver you the same wicked-ass combination of differing things that some wouldn't consider ever be able to go together? I even guess that's something nobody ever delivered me an answer to, if he had anything to critisize by using that scheme.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2018-04-23 04:40 pm (UTC)
I soon get bored with repetitive fictions- and have little appetite for TV shows that go on and on for season after season. I made it to the end of The Wire but I've skipped most of the other big name US TV series. I don't start watching because I know I'm likely to lose interest before the end.
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[User Picture]From: matrixmann
2018-04-24 12:18 pm (UTC)
Series indeed I have no experience with...
But maybe that is because, if you're trying to do a series, then better you have a good concept which both satisfies this "repetition of patterns", but also keeps on adding new stuff every time so it doesn't get boring.
It's not like you shouldn't have that plan in mind anyway, but maybe that kind of contents that I aim for mostly don't suit this concept of presenting a story.
More likely I'm to do something separated into continuous parts which are simply much too big for one whole job. (If that's able to make out a series too?)
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[User Picture]From: oakmouse
2018-04-23 11:54 pm (UTC)
I've forgotten Wuthering Heights, but then I haven't read it in... *counts carefully* somewhere between 35 and 40 years. And in the interval I suffered a severe illness that affected my memory.

Generally, I'm in the same boat you are: some books stick very well, some just never really make much of an impression. Last December a friend gave me two long paperback novels by a popular fantasy writer, Patrick Rothfuss. The two books are 2/3 of a trilogy, the third book of which is about 8 years late in appearing, and these two total nearly 2000 pages between them. I read them both in about three weeks, and found them a mix of brilliant moments and tedious quarter hours (yes, I'm cribbing the famous review of Wagner!). The books were overlong and self-indulgent; four months later I remember a few general details and a handful of spectacularly over-the-top scenes, and the rest is gone.

On the other hand, when I read a story by Sarah Orne Jewett, it sticks and gives me a lot of food for thought into the bargain. So her works are among my classics.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2018-04-24 08:08 am (UTC)
I've read Wuthering Heights three times in the course of a lifetime- the last time quite recently. At least, I think it's three times; it may only be two.

I'd never heard of Jewett so I looked her up. Sounds interesting.
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[User Picture]From: oakmouse
2018-04-24 11:00 pm (UTC)
I think you'd like her work. It's quiet and contemplative but it contains worlds. "The Country of the Pointed Firs" is hr best-known work; I believe it's available legally for free on Project Gutenberg. (All of her work is long out of copyright, of course.) If you're interested in reading some of her writing, it's a good introduction, and will give you a feel for her work.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2018-04-25 07:23 am (UTC)
Thanks.
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