Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Words and Things

I am currently reading three books. This is not uncommon.

The first is the current Book Club book, which happens to be "Sweet Valley Confidential." Say what you will; those of us who grew up on Francine Pascal's fairytale stories of blonde twins in Southern California were chomping at the bit for this latest incarnation which sees both girls in their late twenties, Jessica already married and divorced, Elizabeth living in New York City and working as an off-Broadway reviewer. The writing is absolutely, undeniably horrible. Jessica prefaces every sentence with "Like," and Pascal seems to have schooled herself in the Harlequin School of Literature when it comes to cliches and descriptions. The story is predictable, the characters laughable. But it's perfect summer reading because it plays on nostalgia and, well, it's completely brainless. The kind of thing you can easily process after a three-martini happy hour.

The second is Junot Diaz's "The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao." And it is utterly fantastic; hands-down one of the best books I've read all year. This book has been following me around for years- literally. I was gifted a paperback copy, and it sat on my nightstand from 2008-2010. I finally donated it in a fit of ridding my life of things that made me feel like a failure: unread literature being chief among them. Almost immediately afterwards, Joel gifted me a second-hand hard copy of the book, and I decided that the Universe really wanted me to read it. It had come highly recommended, but for some reason it was just one of those books (like my copy of "A Moveable Feast" - another potential life failure on my part, unless I get cracking soon) that sat around and never got opened. Eschewed for a new Jane Green or the Book Club book I was supposed to begin three weeks ago.

The third is my lunch break book, "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin. It's a delightful piece of nonfiction that I nibble away at in thirty-minute increments, when I don't have errands to run or have to work through lunch, that is. I embarked on my own Happiness Project a year or so ago, and now find clean delight in principles I'd come up with on my own that I see reflected in Rubin's research. Reading this book now is a reminder to return to the constant practice of those principals, for which I'm grateful. If I had tried to read this book in the past, I fear it would have struck me as preachy or, worse, unrealistic. But having carved my own path to some steady flow of happiness in my life has opened my mind to other peoples' journeys as well. Sure, I might have thought, Rubin has the resources to go about studying her own happiness: she's not a twenty-something bartender laid off from her freelance job due to the media outlet's pending bankruptcy. She probably even has luxuries like "health insurance" and a retirement plan. What audacious wealth! Those years are, blissfully, part of my past now. It's a little easier to contemplate happiness when you're involved in a job that brings you fulfillment, and living a lifestyle that blends much better with your personality.

I go back and forth on the subject of writing my own book. Part of me wholly believes that I lack the life skills and determination to come out with a solid body of work at this point, and part of me sees this as procrastination. The things I learned in my twenties could certainly fill a book, and a funny one at that, but humor requires a certain amount of distance from life experience. I am just now coming around to the idea that decisions I made at 22, 23, 24 are downright comical in how uninformed and dramatic they seem now. But to parse through all of that and come up with a solid plot line requires a little more tying together of loose ends; something that I'm still dealing with.

I will say, I am no fiction writer. Real life is too rich, too amazing, too eerily coincidental for me to make things up. Certainly, I see a definitive value in dressing up the truth as fiction (because, let's face it, I'm also a consummate over-exaggerator-slash-storyteller), and I have a feeling that at some point whatever work I come up with will be a curious blend of the two, if that's possible. I fiddle around with word choices, with story ideas, but nothing yet has compelled me to sit down and churn out a solid book.

I've been told multiple times to just compile all the emails I write for trivia and turn them into a book, but I fear that my audience would be...two hundred individuals living in or around Baltimore City. Which is nothing to sneeze at, but in terms of royalties...not ideal.

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