It is only through the confining act of writing that the immensity of the nonwritten becomes legible.
– If on a winter’s night a traveler
Katherine Mansfield, in “The Garden-Party.” I’ve been wrapped up this week in NaNoWriMo, about one-tenth of the way into the novel I will supposedly have written by the end of this month. So far it’s been going quite well; after some early jitters regarding pacing – I felt I was moving much to fast – I have settled into a good rhythm. I hope by next week I’ll really hit my stride. Like most people, I think, I look for inspiration and help in lines and quotes from my favorite authors, little things to provide motivation or jostle the brain into literary life.
One of my most inspirational quotes as a writer is this one from Katherine Mansfield’s short story “The Garden-Party.” Mansfield was a writer who dabbled in epiphany, years before Woolf and Joyce had really stepped into that realm of writing. Here in this example the main character has been slapped on the head with epiphany so profound she’s rendered speechless. I think we’ve all had these moments; where you look out on the world and find it so beyond description that you’re dumbstruck. For me, as a writer, this is what I seek. The irony, if you can call it that, is that it’s obviously quite hard to describe something that is indescribable, so the writer is left in a bit of a quandary. Still, though I think this is what really good literature does, or tries to do – it describes the indescribable.
By the way, if you’ve never read anything by Mansfield and you enjoy books by Woolf, Joyce, poetry by Eliot, etc. – do yourself a favor and pick something up of hers. I guarantee you will love it.
Oh, she says, well, you’re not a poor man. You know, why don’t you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I’m going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And, and ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don’t know. The moral of the story is, is we’re here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don’t realize, or they don’t care, is we’re dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we’re not supposed to dance at all anymore.
Kurt Vonnegut, on telling his wife that he is going out to buy an envelope. Ironically posted and read via computer. Sorry Kurt! I’ll go outside now and play.
I have tried to make a story of adventure in which there should be absolutely nothing ‘timely.’ The present time disgusts me, even to describe. It is sufficient merely to endure it. I wanted to make a book with new mountains, a new river, a country, forest, snow and men all new. The most consoling thing is that I have not had to invent anything at all, not even the people. They all exist. That is what I want to say here. At this very time when Paris flourishes – and that is nothing to be proud of – there are people in the world who know nothing of the horrible mediocrity into which civilization, philosophers, public speakers and gossips have plunged the human race. They think only of adding to their comfort, heedless that one day true men will come up from the river and down from the mountain, more implacable and more bitter than the grass of the apocalypse.
– Jean Giono, 1937
This quote can be found on the back cover of the paperback version of Giono’s French adventure/pastoral novel Song of the World. Not only does it explain, in a roundabout way, the purpose of his novel, but it gives precise definition to his overall philosophy and motivation as a writer. His motivation is not unusual: the motivation of most writers is to create a world that is parallel to ours, but molded in the authors own image. The author wishes to play god in his own little world, so to speak. What strikes me in Giono’s statement is the ferocity with which he expresses his motivation, and the anger he throws at the “modern world.”
The first thing I’ll say about this book is that I have rarely experienced so intensely the feeling, after finishing the book, of not wanting to leave its confines. In this case, my desire to stay in 18th century Nagasaki was so intense that even though I finished the book about two weeks ago I’ve been unable to start reading anything new; any other set or scenery just bores me after a few pages. I have the same feeling whenever I finish something by Jean Giono (report forthcoming) – leaving his mythical world of Provence after diving so deeply into it is jarring to the system. Similarly, reading something like Anna Karenina, which envelops you for hundreds of pages in its cloak of wintry Russian aristocracy, is hard to leave behind. I think that might be the highest praise you can give any book.
Pardon my French, as the French say, but COME ON, Nicholas Sparks. It’s bad enough that you inundate our Barnses and Nobleses with your awful, awful, AWFUL books, and you sear our eyeballs with the horrible movies that get made from said books, but now:
I write in a genre that was not defined by me. The examples were not set out by me. They were set out 2,000 years ago by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. They were called the Greek tragedies. A thriller is supposed to thrill. A horror novel is supposed to scare you. A mystery is supposed to keep you turning the pages, guessing ‘whodunit?’ A romance novel is supposed to make you escape into a fantasy of romance. What is the purpose of what I do? These are love stories. They went from (Greek tragedies), to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, then Jane Austen did it, put a new human twist on it. Hemingway did it with A Farewell to Arms.
I’m sorry, did you just put yourself in a category with Sophocles, Shakespeare, Austen, and Hemingway all at once? Are we comparing The Notebook to Electra? Have you ever read Sophocles? He did not write “fantasies of romance.” Unless you count Oedipus Rex, and if you do, that’s just sick buddy. Also, do people actually say “whodunit” out loud, ever? This guy is such a moron even Roger Ebert rips on him. You know you truly suck when even Roger Ebert feels the need to lob some potshots at you. And Ebert’s zingers are just so great.
Then the Lord of the Romances continues:
Sparks pulls [a book] off the shelf. “A Farewell to Arms, by Hemingway. Good stuff. That’s what I write,” he says, putting it back. “That’s what I write.”
Asked what he likes in his own genre, Sparks replies: “There are no authors in my genre. No one is doing what I do.”
Hahahaaaa. Crying and laughing and vomiting together is making my face hurt. I’m sending you my doctor’s bill. Good stuff.
You know, I take it back. I guess you are in a category with the above authors. If the category is “people who use words to construct sentences.” You know who else is in this exclusive club? This six year old kid. Writing books is so easy even a six year old and Nicholas Sparks can do it!
To make matters worse, Nicholas Sparks makes himself a third enemy (the first two enemies are Humankind and Literature, for those keeping score) in Cormac McCarthy by ripping his book Blood Meridian. This man is not even worthy of being on the same continent as Cormac McCarthy. He should be shipped to Antarctica, except then I would feel bad for the penguins. Cormac McCarthy is such a badass I doubt he even gives two shits what some hack like Sparks has to say about him. He’s probably sitting in New Mexico getting drunk and saying, “Nicholas who?” while he spit-shines his Pulitzer. Where’s your Pulitzer Prize, Nicholas Sparks?