Friday, August 8, 2014

Reading

Every once in a while I come across a book that is so breathtaking, I wonder whether I should even be writing. But then I remember that even my small, domestic stories have a place in the world, with the capacity to touch another heart, and I again resume studying and writing.

I assume most people know of the brilliant Artemis Fowl series of books by Eoin Colfer, but perhaps many do not know of AIRMAN. This is historical fiction at its best. We meet the hero when he is born -- in a balloon -- and follow him through his childhood on the Saltee Islands until he becomes a man. And what a devastating journey it is to manhood. We despair with him, we rejoice with him, we may even disagree with him and the choices he makes, but in the end, his good nature prevails over the vilest of men (and poetically too) and he saves his family from the murderous villain (aptly named). Boys and girls who love adventure, a tale steeped in science and lore, are sure to love this book.

I want to mention a couple of other books on writing. I had checked out Flannery O'Connor's MYSTERY AND MANNERS twice from the library and when I was thinking of it a third time, I decided I needed to own it. Her essay on Writing Short Stories is worth the price of the entire book. Reading this book is like sitting with a good friend and a master storyteller.

Some quotes from her essay:

"When you can state the theme of the story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one."

"When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning ..."

It should give us pause as to how we teach writing, no? I try to be mindful of this when I do workshops with kids, giving them tools to write and express themselves, but above all emphasizing the "habit of art" so that they can go about their day looking for meaning in all they experience. 

I am also enjoying the essays ON MORAL FICTION by John Gardner. He is provocative and does not hesitate to criticize his peers. This passage struck me deeply:

"I agree with Tolstoy that the highest purpose of art is to make people good by choice. But I do think bad art should be revealed for what it is whenever it dares to stick its head up, and I think the arguments for the best kind of art should be mentioned from time to time, because our appreciation of the arts is not wholly instinctive. If it were, our stock of bad books, paintings, and compositions would be somewhat less abundant."

Both authors speak about not being didactic or preachy, but allowing one to discover what is good, and true, and beautiful, so that the reader goes through the process with the writer.

Happy reading and writing folks.

4 comments:

Mirka Breen said...

I never bought the "art for art's sake" notion, because saying anything is saying something, and I choose to say something and look to those who say something of value. I think we're sisters in that, Vijaya.

Faith E. Hough said...

I haven't read this, but Mark really enjoyed it--and he's a super picky reader.
I loved Flannery's essays, too; true gems.

Gary Ludlam said...

Joshua enjoyed Artemis Fowl this summer. I'll have to get Airman for him, and maybe we can have a father/son book club. He's been thumbing through my old books, which is a funny feeling.
I agree that it is so important to have something to write about. So much out there is just writing to formula for the sole purpose of creating a commercial product. There is no joy in that. But O'Connor's comment gives me pause. I wonder if my writing will ever live up to such an ideal. I fear I sometimes wear my theme on my sleeve. Thanks for a great post!

Vijaya said...

Mirka, exactly! If you're going to make art, make it good.

Faith, Michael too is a super-picky reader when it comes to fiction. And he hardly reads any children's lit, but this is one I am confident he will enjoy.

Gary, when Max started looking through my books, I had to do some serious culling. I didn't want anything that I'd be ashamed to discuss with him. Only the best for children.

I'm afraid that I can only aspire to the level that Flannery writes. My problem is that I don't always know what the story *really* is about until several drafts into it. Still quite a newbie at writing novels.