Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Rearview Exits

I'm piling them up, shuffling the stacks as I come to realize that a good portion of these will only have the first few pages read and some of them barely that. Like decisions that I could have made differently years ago, these are books whose reading time I've bypassed.

Especially when I'm at Half Price and the books are thinner and the artwork on the covers familiar, I'm tempted to believe that they will read easily. Some do and some begin with the willful wistfulness that dissipates as the story moves into its track. Usually it's the story of a girl or of a warrior. Gossip flows around the character and I start to become restless.

By this time, I'm already at home and the book falls into a stack of things I "need to read, sometime." Stacks teeter and sometimes leap out at dogs that aren't careful enough of them. After they jump back, I look at covers that I haven't seen in months and grind my back teeth. Each unread book is an accusation that I moved on without proper care or consideration, that I have a rather slutty approach to reading that does me no good.

Several years ago, I was buying books while participating in a writer's group, hung up on the notion that we paid for our "free" space in the bookstore by book purchases and Frappucinos. I didn't finish anything nor did I sell anything, but I paid dues in stacks of unread novels, natural histories, and how-to-write books.

When I'm tempted to write now, I think of those books. I think of people with more willpower just walking past the shelves and ignoring the effort that pleads like a lost kitten for a warm bookshelf and perhaps a cozy reading. I imagine abandoning my ideas to mewl on the shelves and decide to neither read nor write, but to put a CD in the stereo and wash the dishes.

Perhaps I will shuffle some of the books to the shelves in the back, where I don't look for reading material because it's either already been read or rejected. My husband will eventually give in to the piles and reorganize the books. He's thinking about getting a library program that will track them, similar to the one he has for his comics. I will be able to search for author and title and tote up the randomness of a reading list that stretches like the highway--places I've been, those I missed, and those I hope to get to eventually.

Seeing the exits in the rearview as they stack against the shelves, time becomes heartbeat underfoot, tires spinning beneath me.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Have you ever wondered what kind of bauble machine would appear in the kind of grocery store that caters to people who jog or bike over from their bayou-side condos? One of them would be the art-o-mat, a re-jiggered cigarette dispenser that now provides boxes the size of a deck of cards filled with the flotsam of creative people.

It's genius. And a good excuse to stash the Pumpkin King in the car and drive down into the the city and remember what it was like to not be afraid of the freeways, to deal with the constant construction, and to see the new face of Houston as it swells out along I-10. For me, this counts as a vacation (meeting the following criteria: I haven't been to this particular store and I hadn't driven this particular freeway in at least a year and it was at least an hour away from the house).

We had a fun time playing grocery store tourist and I had a blast deciding on the piece that we would bring home. My brother the art snob thought it was hilarious, but I think it's easy to miss the point when you're fenced in by criteria (or possibly just have to look at a lot of "draft" art). This happens to me when I'm writing, when I forget that I'm telling a story to someone.

The piece that I have is by Klop and it consists of a copper wire that holds two strands of found beads within its web. The artist included a brief note regarding where the materials come from, how they found themselves tangled in this egg-shapped armature that looks like art nouveau sieve that accumulated wooden beads that have lived through washing and fumbling fingers and one clear blue plastic bead that functions as the soul of the piece--it is the one thing that will not change or wear as even the metal will over time.

I can look around my desk and open drawers and see the kind of flotsam that I acquire. I am the Sargasso Sea, a still spot that spins around the things that come to it until there is an imagined ecosystem that gathers rather than wanders. But...that's just the structure of how I chose to interpret the things around me, including this new piece that seams to be a metaphore for the whole. The truth is that everything that I hold close is proof that I've slipped out at times. Even if the escape was no further than to a suburban dream of an urban grocery store.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Library Day

The odd thing was that I thought reading Saberhagen would be painful, then picked up a short story collection of his anyway. I thought the stories might be garishly grotesque or grimly technical, mechnical devices that ground the reader through an interstellar mill until you were a fit flour to be baked back into human form by the intensity of your reaction.

What I found in the book is far better than I deserved. These are entertaining stories and they give you at times that snap at the wrist of great fiction, the kind that reawakens you to the memory that you used to read for pleasure, rather than just to get through that tremendous stack by the bedside.

It is clear to me that being a writer is something that I couldn't have learned from all the lectures that my former writing group gave or from all the books on creating interesting first lines, etc. Not that those things weren't helpful. Rather, they encouraged in a vague way the things that are crystal clear in a good story. Catch the reader's attention and keep it long enough to tell the story. Remember that you're writing for humans and we know the difference between artificial and real decisions.

This last is the most persuasive and sticky thing from the book so far. In a story about an alien world that bent my brain a bit trying to imagine it, there was a man who did something...stupid? rude?...and then repeated that action, separating himself from his actions with potent lies conjured out of nostalgia.

Reading that chain events I felt the slight sickness that comes when I recognize the dark gravity of my personality tugging at me. This is something that I have done.

Characters human enough to induce guilt are well-tuned. You might not have the same reaction to that character's actions, but I think he was written well enough that you would at least recognize the reality of his impulses.

Library day is rarely this successful and I'm looking forward to seeing whether the entire collection and the rest of the books are this good.