22 February, 2010

Movies. And Books.

I used to be a voracious reader, consuming pretty much anything but westerns at the rate of roughly a book a day. That pace slowed considerably after our daughter was born, and I finished college, and went to work full time, and, well, life happened. But I still read lots and lots, a couple of books a week or so anyway.

Until I 'became a writer' in more than the casual sense and began to understand how good prose works, and grammar and layering and theme and all that stuff. Selling (and going through the process of being professionally edited) pretty much ruined me for reading, at least for reading like a wild thing. It became WORK and there was that rotten need to red-pen everything, just like I had to do every day with my own prose. I had a great deal of trouble separating my writing brain from my reading brain because, for me, the two are incredibly linked.

All this resulted in, oh, about 7 years where I rarely read at all, unless I had to. I'd read friends' books for quotes and things - sometimes making myself finish them, often just skimming. I helped aspiring writers tighten up their prose and find their voice (but only by critiquing a few pages or a chapter or so, never a whole book, oh no). I started I dunno how many books, got a few pages in, then set them aside to never pick them up again, a practice that was utterly inconceivable before I'd published. I read a few magazine articles here and there, skimmed plenty of internet news items, and stuff like that, but I'd essentially stopped reading for pleasure. Every now and then a book - or rather the rumor of a good book - would sneak in and send me out to get it, only to leave me closing the cover and setting it aside well before the beginning turned into anything more than an intro.

I am now a HARSH reader, and it bothers me. If a book doesn't grab me immediately and not let go, I simply won't finish it, despite my best intentions. It's that damn writing brain. Stupid thing.

But, I still love movies.

Laura and I used to go to the movies every Saturday and we'd see all kinds of films. Horror, humor, thrillers, SF, romantic comedies, whatever. Being a storyteller often made it difficult to be surprised by a movie's twists and surprises - I can see a plot twist or dishonest character coming a hundred miles away - but, somehow, seeing a film didn't provoke my writing brain into wanting to 'fix it'. I'm just a visual person, I guess, or sitting in a theater helps drown out the pesky 'oooh, that's not what they did at the beginning! They're cheating! part of my brain. Watching on TV or DVD? Not so much. The writer brain kicks in and I often end up turning it off or changing the channel.

Except for movies Clint Eastwood directs. I can happily watch his stuff all day, but that's another topic for another post.

Anyway, since Laura has grown up and gone off to college - and now moved back home - I have no one to go to movies with. Bill is not a movie person at all - he fidgets in theaters and sighs a lot, it's just not his thing - but I don't want to go to the movies by myself. It's just not as fun and, frankly, it seems kinda sad. I've missed several movies this past year or so that I really wanted to see because I couldn't find anyone to go with me. Dammit. So no books, and now no movies? Gak, that SUCKS!

However, I have discovered that many of the movies that I've wanted to see started as books. And, memory informs me that, in the past, the books used to be BETTER than the movies. So, beginning in January, I've been purchasing books for the movies that I didn't get to see, but really wanted to, starting with PUSH by Sapphire, which was turned into a movie called Precious.

The book freaking ROCKED. I read it straight through, cover to cover, in essentially a single sitting - had to pause to cook supper or lunch or something so the family wouldn't starve, but otherwise I was riveted. Totally great read, but it's brutal and harsh and awful in its awesomeness. I bawled. It was great!

Next, I read Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. I actually started it in January, right after PUSH, but, well, I wanted to red-pen it and set it aside before I'd finished chapter 1. I'd tried reading Lehane before - Mystic River, another book-that-became-a-movie, that I'd purchased BEFORE they even started to make the movie because someone told me it was OMG amazing. But it wasn't - I think I lasted two chapters before I gave up. The movie, however (thanks, Clint!) WAS awesome.

Dennis Lehane's prose makes me really want to get my pen. There, I said it. He has diarrhea of the comma. His sentences go on forever in convoluted madness and it drives me apeshit crazy. His dialect speech is spotty at best - sometimes it's there, sometimes it's forgotten, and it rarely reads true to my 'dialog ear'. Human nature and plausibility fly out the window frequently, circle the story once, then flutter off for more stable pastures. I found his prose torture to read, sometimes so much that I wanted to chuck the dang thing into the paper shredder.

I'd managed to endure the first couple of scenes of the book then grumpily set it aside. A few weeks passed and I was home, essentially alone, and totally freaking bored with the internet. Didn't want to sew. Too awake to sleep. And here's Shutter Island, on the shelf in the living room, staring at me.

Fine, you bastard. I'll read.

I don't ever want to say that I enjoyed his prose - it still drove me nuts - but once I got used to the clanging between my ears, the story was really, really good. Finished the book in two days. I think. Might have been one. And while I figured out the 'twist' about the time Teddy goes down the cliff, it was still a good read. I just really wish Lehane would tighten things up a bit. But he's successful and all, so my quibbles surely aren't a concern to him or anyone else.

Some people might wonder why I bitch about Lehane's prose but not the nearly-illiterate narrative of PUSH? Well, I thought that Sapphire's prose worked for that story. It was PERFECT for that story, told entirely from the POV of the main character - Precious - who is herself illiterate and abused. It took a bit of getting used to, I admit, but only a page or two, then the errors disappeared into the story. Yet, with Shutter Island, I still cringed and grumbled over the prose, even as I neared the end. When I have to read a paragraph three times to make sense of it, it's a problem, at least to me. Also there was that 'bullshit factor' of it, the sense that the story was all nonsense, that made it hard to suspend disbelief and really fall into the story so that all the issues disappeared. Moving, twisted plot and all, the issues never disappeared.

I'm glad I read Shutter Island, however, because I knew no one would go see it with me. And I was right. Sigh. So, great story, but it drove my writer brain a bit batty.

Anyway, next, I picked up The Blind Side by Michael Lewis. Totally not what I thought it would be. From the movie reviews, I was expecting a heartwarming story of a suburban family and a poor inner city kid. Um. No. It's a book about football. There's some of that warm family story in there (only the heartwarming suburban family were actually evangelical gated community rich snots who may or may not have had an agenda of their own, and the poor inner city kid never really opened up enough to be a real character with depth and emotion, heck, NONE of the characters ever opened up enough to be more than flat, one-dimensional props) but, mostly, it's a book about football. It's about the history of the passing game and coach Wallace and Lawrence Taylor and sacking quarterbacks and free agents and did I mention it's a book about football?

I read it - again, I had nothing better to do - but, really, I don't give a shit about football. The warm-family-story part was miniscule compared to the football history lesson. I now know more about Left Side Tackles than I ever wanted to know. And I don't think I want to know even now. My writer-brain didn't want to grab the red pen, though, so that's something. My fledgling reader brain, however, pretty much fell asleep. Total disappointment. I hear the movie is awesome, though, and I wonder how much football is in it.

Next up, I think I shall read Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, another must-see movie that I've missed. I saw the book when I was at Target yesterday and I'll pick it up next time I go into town.

Does anyone have suggestions of books that I might like but won't drive me and my red-pen to distraction? I'm really TRYING to get back to reading again.


Krista said...

Right now I'm reading In the Night Garden by Catherynne Valente. It's different. Very fairytale-ish in its execution, sometimes to the point of feeling forced. Despite this, there is something very charming in its purple prose. Not sure if your writer's brain would be able to cope or not, but maybe the next time your near a bookstore, you could check it out.

Don't know how you feel about short story collections, but I'm finding Alice Munro's Friend of My Youth a delight. She uses a lot of embedded stories and paradox, yet her writing feels very uncluttered and is easy to read.

Tammy Jones said...

Thanks, Krista! :)