“A Life” Faces The Truth

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128618A Life by Guy de Maupassant is the story of a woman who grasps the reality that life is rarely fair. While the premise is nothing new in terms of storytelling, the way in which Maupassant approaches it is revolutionary.

The story begins with a young woman who is full of dreams and bright imaginings of her future. Unfortunately, her innocent fairy tale mentality clouds her perspective. When real life begins to unfold she feels the pain of crumbling fantasies as life deals her a few cruel blows and her choices further entrap her into an existence she never imagined for herself. As she approaches midlife, she becomes jaded and full of self-pity. It’s only when old age sets in that she starts to sift through the memories of life with a new eye. Instead of tragedy, she finds herself remembering only the joys.

The beauty of the novel lies in how Maupassant contrasts different views of life. There is always something influencing the character’s point of view – whether it be the innocence of youth, scorn of adulthood, or impending death, never does she view life in an unbiased mindset. In the process, Maupassant unveils the universal emotions we feel when faced with our own mortality.

One of Maupassant’s strengths is his ability to transform a rather simple story into something beautiful with well-crafted imagery and flowing prose. Lengthy descriptions of nature are used to represent the feelings, emotions, and rites of passage for the main character. Rather than explore these realms the old fashioned way through the mind of the character, he creates magnificent and sometimes haunting images of emotion with landscapes, water, and plantlife. These passages are often long and sometimes drag, but I was swept into them as soon as I viewed them as part of the character and not just insanely long descriptions.

The last line is where Maupassant dazzles with subtlety. Never does he end a story with everything tied up into a neat little package. There is room to wonder what happens next, while saying goodbye to the characters. For a novel that depicts the often unfair attributes of life, he manages to put it all in perspective with a perfectly balanced dose of optimism and pessimism.

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c.b.w. 2014

22 Writers Worth Reading (Part 1)

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Every avid reader has a list of writers they’d recommend to anyone who will listen.  These are the writers readers look for every time they visit a book store or keep permanently on bookshelves and night stands.  Every list is different and personal, but also inspiring as nothing piques a reader’s interest more than the possibility of a new favorite author.

In keeping with the idea of 22 Things (see 22 Moments of Gratitude), I combed through my book collection and selected 22 writers that consistently have me turning pages into all hours of the night. They range from literary legends to phenomenal YA storytellers, but they all share the distinction of being great writers who know how to keep a reader engaged with great characters and plot lines. Over the course of two posts, each writer will get a moment in the spotlight along with my favorite pieces of work.

Writers 1 – 11 in no particular order:

1. David Foster Wallace
I’ve written of Wallace on a number of occasions, so its no wonder I thought of him first.  His writing is wholly original in terms of style, humor, and language.  Wallace tackles the truth with a point of view that is brutally honest, but also warm-hearted and humorous.  He’s not afraid to take readers on a journey into less glamorous parts of life, like grocery store lines or the cubicle of an IRS employee.  For that I applaud him and embrace every word.

Favorite Book(s): This is Water and Oblivion

2. Jane Austen
When I visited the British Library for the first time, I left a print of my forehead on the glass that shields Jane Austen’s journal.  No matter how many times I see her delicate handwriting, I am always in awe. Words were her gift and she never gave up on writing for a living – I love that about her.  Austen’s stories and characters are so beautifully crafted, they feel real every time I open her books.  No one can write the heart of a woman quite like Austen.

Favorite Book: Pride and Prejudice

3. Charlotte Brontë
Right next to the forehead print I left for Jane Austen, I left another one for Charlotte Brontë. There’s nothing quite as incredible as seeing the last chapter of Jane Eyre written in Brontë’s script. I almost cried as Jane Eyre is my favorite book of all time (so far).  Brontë’s stories are dark at times, but her heroines embody the kind of strength I admire greatly and strive to possess.

Favorite Book: Jane Eyre

4. Ivan Klíma
I discovered Ivan Klíma when I went to Prague a few years ago.  Klíma caught my attention because he knows the power of an idea and the necessity of voicing that idea. For years, his words were banned in an attempt to silence his view of the world. Communist Czechoslovakia had no tolerance for any truth beyond their own making.  Yet, Klíma kept writing. Word after word, he protested the injustice of suppression. 
The passion, love, and creativity in every human being is not something to be wasted or forgotten.

Favorite Book(s): No Saints or Angels and My Golden Trades

5. Dennis Potter
Potter is best known for his screenplays, but I’m a huge fan of his short novels.  He is a gritty writer, who dares to challenge our view of reality and human behavior.  His main characters are usually twisted and amoral, but his focus on emotion makes them relatable regardless of their faults.  Potter is a magician with original description and storytelling, which makes his work an experience unlike any other.  For example, in my favorite book he tells the story of a character who knows he is a character in a writer’s  novel.

Favorite Book: Hide and Seek

6. John Irving
Irving is an elegant writer that dazzles me with emotional honesty and wordplay.  His stories and characters are quirky, but they always hit upon a greater truth. Irving delves into difficult concepts such as challenging moral standards, societal expectations, and the human condition with engaging prose and sharp metaphors.  The last line of every book always leaves me pondering and questioning the world around me.

Favorite Book(s): The Fourth Hand and Cider House Rules

7. J.K. Rowling
I was very late the Harry Potter party, but once I read the first book I was hooked.  Rowling is the only writer who has ever convinced me to follow a main character who is a child.  Throughout the entire series, I was awed by Rowling’s imagination as she conjured an entirely new world filled with dynamic characters. Hermione felt like my twin and Ron an older brother I wish I had.  And Harry, of course, unexpectedly captured my heart.  Who knew a children’s series could work such amazing magic?

Favorite Book(s):  Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows

8. Stephanie Meyer
My love for Stephanie’s Meyer’s work started with the Twilight series, but it only grows as I read more of her work.  Meyer likes to play with convention and create stories that break all the rules. This is a writer who truly knows the meaning of fiction because she traverses all boundaries as if they don’t exist.  In Twilight, she decided vampires could sparkle when everyone else said “No, they can’t.”  I find that very inspiring and empowering!

Favorite Book(s): Twilight

9. Guy de Maupassant
One of Maupassant’s strengths is his ability to transform a rather simple story into something beautiful with well-crafted imagery and flowing prose. Rather than explore these realms the old-fashioned way through the mind of the character, he creates magnificent and sometimes haunting images of emotion with landscapes, water, and overall atmosphere.

Favorite Book: Bel-Ami

10. Vladimir Nabokov
Whenever I finish reading a Nabokov book, everything somehow looks a little different.  Nabokov likes to explore the darker corners of the human mind and he often dredges up parts of the psyche most people would prefer to ignore.  Many of his characters are extreme personifications of human behavior, but Nabokov paints them so realistically they could be the next door neighbor everyone knows, but would never invite for tea.

Favorite Book: Invitation to a Beheading

11. Peter David
Geek alert! Back in my Trekkie days, (Oh, let’s face it, they never ended), I always looked forward to any Star Trek book written by Peter David.  He portrays the main characters better than most Trek writers and he has a great sense of the overall scope of Gene Rodenberry’s creation.  Every one of his books had me at the edge of my seat with suspense, laughing from well-placed humor, and dreaming of The Final Frontier.

Favorite Book(s): Imzadi and Q-Squared

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Stay tuned for 12 -22!

c.b. 2012

Shame on Bel-Ami

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In Bel-Ami, Guy de Maupassant presents a sardonic literary exploration of social class and ethics through the antics of Charles Duroy.

Duroy, starts out as a sympathetic individual who lacks confidence and has a starving ego. He is a little down on his luck with no money and no job prospects. A chance encounter with an old friend leads to employment with a Parisian newspaper where he starts out at the bottom and stays there due to his lack of talent.  After a few evenings in the company of his friend’s wife, Duroy realizes the sure-fire way to climb professional and social ranks is through the affection of society women. Suddenly, his handsome face and charming demeanor become his most valuable assets.

When Duroy’s desire to make something of himself combines with a society rife with corruption, he loses all sense of morality.  A once empathetic and sensitive man degrades into a despicable sack of hypocrisy, lust, greed, and arrogance. He rises through the ranks of society through advantageous friendships, trysts, and marriages, caring very little for the destroyed hearts he leaves in his wake.  For Duroy, it’s all about whom he can use next to achieve his aims, even it means lying, cheating, and sleeping his way up to the top.  Regardless of his behavior, everyone he meets loves him the moment he puts up a shiny façade to hide his conniving soul.

Through Duroy’s story, Maupassant illustrates the frightening influence of media over public opinion, the inequities of stratified society, and the travesty of fame and fortune achieved without merit. At one point, he artfully uses a quotation from Erasmus “In the country of the blind the one eyed man is king” as an explanation for Duroy’s success.  From a modern standpoint, Maupassant attacks the same wanton elements of society that plague humanity today.   Amoral beings still gain power and wealth, while the masses watch with envy. Unfortunately, those who embody deplorable traits are often idolized and respected if they have enough money, fame, and reside in the upper echelons of society.

c.b. 2011

A Bookshelf of Organized Chaos

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Recently, the photograph that runs along my sidebar was a topic of conversation with a friend.  It isn’t something I pulled off the internet, but rather a photograph I took of my personal bookshelf.   The shelf is one of the more noticeable features of my home as it covers the an entire wall in my dining room.  It reaches all the way to the ceiling and it is rammed with hundreds of books.  With such a large collection, it would make sense to have  a sophisticated system of organization – like alphabetizing or Dewey Decimal – to make it easy to find any book.  I’ve mentioned my highly organized nature, so naturally there is a system in place, but no one really knows how it works except for me!   Nothing is alphabetized or numbered and genre based categories are not utilized. Everything is neatly shelved, but aside from that it looks like a haphazard stack to the untrained eye.  Despite my unorthodox ways, I know where each and every book is located.  Below is a larger scale photograph of my shelf and a list of the categories I use to keep everything in working order.

Writers I Admire
Location: Second Shelf

I carved out a special section to store the books of authors who I hold in high regard as a reader and as an aspiring writer.  The likes of David Foster Wallace, Ivan Klíma, John Irving, Michael Chabon, Paul Auster, Dennis Potter, Guy de Maupassant, Vladimir Nabokov, and Paulo Coehlo populate this area of the wall along with a few other new recruits.  I keep these writers grouped together because they inspire me to continue experimenting with my own style of writing.  I don’t want to emulate them, but rather write with the same spirit of courage, creativity, honesty, boldness, and heart.

Books I’ve Read
Location: Second Shelf (far right, part of which is not visible in the picture), Third Shelf (1/4 way in from the left and extends to the far right which is not visible), Fourth Shelf (From the left edge up to The Da Vanci Code).

If you have visited the “My Bookshelf” tab, you’ll probably spot several of those titles stacked on my shelves.  I keep most books I’ve read if I enjoyed them, (some are double stacked behind what is visible).  Whatever I don’t keep is sold to Half-Price Books where I usually have the cash in my hands for an entire five minutes before buying something “new.”

The books are grouped in such a strange pattern on different shelves in order to link different categories without creating too much disruption.  I tend to read YA at a fast pace, which means just about every book in that section has been read.  That creates a nice meeting point to start stacking all other books I’ve read.  The other meeting point connects to Authors I Admire as the vast majority of those books have also been read.

These books are shelved in the order in which they were read.  Books on the right are the most recently read, which makes it easier to distinguish them from the next category . . .

Books I Haven’t Read
Location: Third Shelf (far right, starting after Martin Amis and continuing to a point that is not visible in the photograph), Fourth Shelf (starting after The Da Vinci Code and extending beyond the scope of photograph).

The largest category by far, but I would rather have too much to read than not enough.  The books are stacked on different shelves for a purely logistical reason – size.  The hardcovers are too big to fit on the third shelf and the collection as a whole is too big to fit all on one shelf.

Almost Finished Reading
Location: Third Shelf (in the middle, right after Water For Elephants and stopping at The Collected Short Stories of Anton Chekov)

These are books that for whatever reason I never got to the last page.  Perhaps another book caught my attention or I just didn’t get into the story.  I can usually remember where I left off and almost always return to them at one time or another.  I figured the perfect place for them was right in between read and unread, like a buffer zone of sorts.

Young Adult

Location: Third Shelf (left Side) and Fourth Shelf (left Side)

Ever since I read Twilight, (yeah, I’m one of those people), I found myself drawn into the YA genre.  There are a number of series of which I’ve become a devoted follower.  What I love about YA is the storytelling aspect.  The writing may not be fine literature, but the stories are usually very original and always a good bit of fun.  After reading something heavy or difficult, I love jumping into a realm where I don’t have to analyze every single word.

The series I’ve collected include, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games Trilogy, Twilight series, (which has actually turned into anything by Stephanie Meyer), Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices series, Lauren Kate’s Fallen Series, Percy Jackson, and Claudia Gray’s Evernight series.

I tend to mix read with unread, but only because I go through them so quickly.  At the moment, there’s only a few I haven’t read, which means it’s time to start stockpiling again!

Size again plays a role in why YA occupies two shelves instead of one.  Harry Potter and parts of the Twilight collection are too tall to fit the third shelf, while the rest of YA is too short to properly fill up the fourth shelf, (sometimes aesthetics have to be considered).

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