Monday, August 24, 2009

Worse than sex scenes

by Rebecca Cantrell

This is the post I’ve been dreading writing. I’d sooner admit to my criminal past (OK, I actually finessed that one), than write about my favorite book.

It’s not that I don’t read. I do. I read constantly. I’m currently reading:

• HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISON OF AZKABAN (aloud. All the Harry Potters are much funnier that way. I’m sure they’d be even better if I could do accents).
• FIVE QUARTS (a great collection of essays on blood. Wonderful historical background and a sweet love story too.)

• THE NAZI OLYMPICS (a museum exhibition catalog I picked up at the Holocaust Museum in D.C. Lots of pictures. Grim ending, I know, even though I’m not there yet)
• THE XIth OLYMPIC GAMES BERLIN, 1936 OFFICIAL REPORT VOLUME I (646 page summary of the games written by the German government for the Olympic committee shortly after the games ended. I’m kind of skimming this as it’s pretty dense stuff, including a list of all the extra subway trains added, number of policemen added to various beats, etc.)
• THE DOOMSDAY KEY by James Rollins (a rollicking fun read and I always want to get some popcorn while I’m reading it)
• THE PAPERCLIP CONSIPIRARY by Tom Bower (a nonfiction book that details the rush after World War II to capture German scientists, whitewash their pasts, and bring them to the United States, Britain, and Russia to work).
• TRAIL SINISTER by Sefton Delmer (a lively and charming autobiography about a British journalist’s adventures in Berlin in the 1920s and 1930s).

Do you see a pattern? Well, except for the research stuff, me neither. And that’s my problem. I read constantly, shamelessly, and indiscriminately. And I always have. There, I admitted that on the Internet. Why do I still feel much more embarrassed than relieved?

I don’t have one favorite book. I have a thousand. And I can’t write intelligently about any of them. I get all bollixed up. I have tons of friends, heck everyone else on this freakin’ blog, I bet, who write beautifully about books. I can’t. For me, that’s as hard as writing sex scenes (and don’t get me started there).

Anyone want to analyze that? What can’t you write about that you feel you should be able to write about?


Jen Forbus said...

hmmm, that's an excellent question Rebecca! I often get frustrated when I want to write about something I feel passionately about in terms of "issues." I never seem to be able to articulate the idea the way I want to. I can get the facts out and present them, but sometimes it is lacking that "special something" to get across the value. I think this paragraph might be a prime example of it, as a matter of fact! ;)

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks, Jen! That's exactly how I feel about books. I get all tied up wanting to get it right and perfect. And that paragraph is perfect, BTW!

Beth Caudill said...

I hate doing reviews about books. I try to avoid it as much as possible. Why? Because I either like it or not and I couldn't really tell you why or why not. Some books flow, some don't. It's all personal opinion.

Don't feel bad, don't feel guilty...I'd rather read then right a review...pick up that next book and all the fear will disappear.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks, Beth! I hate writing reviews too! It's
a lot easier to wittily trash a book (which
I refuse to do, as someone who loves books,
I see them get beaten up enough) than it
is to articulate what's good about one without
sounding gushy and cliched. Wonder why that is...

Unknown said...

Hurrah for those who don't wittily trash books!!!!! Yay!

With me, it could be any of these things:

1. The question is ill-defined (tech writer's disease.) "Good" and "bad" aren't very interesting or meaningful when talking about what I got out of a book, or why I love it. I don't love books because they're "good," but because of some effect they accomplish.

2. I'm trying to find the "right" answers instead of saying what I really feel about something.

3. I wrote about it honestly once and someone told me that I was wrong (like me and the stinky ex-boyfriend who said "Oh, don't write movie reviews. You'd write the movie reviews I *hate*.").

4. I don't *want* to analyze something I've consumed as an entertainment. Don't want to wreck the magic of the experience.

5. I want to save my precious juju for my fiction/screenplay/scathing letter/short story.

I can't write about computers or the industry (software, cloud computing) at all -- everything I touch turns into a dull tech manual if there's a computer in the scene.

I think what you wrote about Harry Potter counts as very clear, succinct analysis and description. So, just do it when you aren't thinking about it :)

We did a ton of analysis in the MFA program (and I did tons of analysis of scripts before that). When you're asking the question "how does this work," instead of "is this good or bad," the answers come more easily, and are more interesting to read. Try answering the question "Why does the POV seem to shift for just one sentence in Great Gatsby?" and you might never feel bad about not writing about books again :)

My current question -- how do certain writers communicate warmth across a whole book, not just the protagonist.

But remember, they made fun of me in the MFA program for being the girl who counts things. And I've ruined movies for more than one person. Analysis carries its own curses :)


Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks for sorting that out for me, Mysti! I'm thinking #2 and #4.

The POV seems to shift for one whole sentence in Gatsby? Wow! Stop the presses.

BTW, your movie reviews are awesome. Back when you did them for The Stew, they got more comments and positive email than everything else combined. If you wanted to do that again, I think you'd find a ready audience...

Kelli Stanley said...

Loved this saloon, Becks and Jen and Mysti!! ;)

Having suffered through many a graduate class in lit theory (part of the Classics requirement--I come back to some stuff Chandler wrote about writing ...

"The dilemma of the critic has always been that if he knows enough to speak with authority, he knows too much to speak with detachment."


"Everything a writer learns about the art or craft of fiction takes just a little away from his need or desire to write at all. In the end he knows all the tricks and has nothing to say."

Thoughtful stuff ... Chandler's letters are amazing! :)