Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How I'll Spend My Summer Vacation

You should know that since graduating college in December, I've been reading with a similar compulsion to two-packs-a-day oral fixation (cigarettes, gum, toothpicks), so this summer, I've decided to lay down some parameters: fiction. I'm planning to get current with a lot of fiction—so, actually, I've decided to lay down a parameter. Some time ago, I fell in love with nonfiction—memoir, personal essays, and the edu-tainment of Mary Roach. Until last fall, when I read Myla Goldberg's Bee Season, I hadn't read a novel since...let's move on. After spending a considerable amount of time contemplating the shelves at Village Books, I've put together a list of 15 or so books I hope to read this summer. Really, the project began as sort of an acquainting—afternoon tea, really—with novelists I'd never read, most specifically Nick Hornby and Neil Gaiman, but then it spiraled out of control from there. And now, I know you're thinking that if my idea of getting current with fiction means acquainting myself with Nick Hornby and Neil Gaiman, then I've really got my work cut out for me. I'll concede there, but, to be fair, I just saw Good Will Hunting for the first time two months ago. I've always figured I was a little behind the rest of the class.

What I wasn't expecting was the godsmack delivered by Hornby's How to Be Good, like Hornby had read my mind and scripted it directly into the mental interior of an adulterous doctor, married to the very definition of Type A Personality, mothering children like night and day, housing a spiritual revolutionary, and, I imagine, resembling a pre-Seastories Minnie Driver. So, those specific details that aren't like my life at all aside, I'd like to think that How to Be Good is about me. Both Dr. Infidelity and I struggle with what it means to truly have a positive influence on the world around us; we sometimes get tired of the people in our lives; and, we get right beastly with ourselves over it all. Eventually, it drives us both to church, Dr. Mom and I getting rather varied results. While she resolves by settling on a sort of good enough, I manage what I can and hope there's someone bigger than me picking up my slack. I think, in practice, it looks very similar; the contrast lies in our mentality—and, boy, have I got mentality to spare.

Now I'm nearly finished with Gaiman's recently awarded Graveyard Book, but that's a story for another time. I'm still thinking a lot about Hornby and am planning to revisit his catalog later in the summer for A Long Way Down, the suicide-jump comedy. What I'm still rolling over is the idea of the novelist who explores a point, or way of thinking, without seeming pushy or one-dimensional. Perhaps encountering benevolence and philanthropy from the perspective of the skeptic—the irritable, unbelieving martyr for sensibility—lends merit to a story that could so easily succumb to lecturing if left in the wrong hands. As a writer, reader, and person of faith, I'm still figuring out how to blend conviction and well-crafted story-telling, but Hornby gives me hope, not that I can attest to any specific beliefs held by Hornby himself. No, what I see in How to Be Good is the complement to what I felt in Leif Enger's Peace Like a River—where spirituality was the backdrop for a beautiful story of family. I like them apples. These books make me excited about writing, reminding me that my voice is worth raising in whatever way I can manage. They also make me excited about reading: after I finish The Graveyard Book, I'm thinking I might reestablish my ardor for Myla Goldberg with Wickett's Remedy, or press on into the unfamiliar with Peter H√łeg's History of Danish Dreams. All I know is that this summer my bookshelf is All Fiction All the Time, except for the occasional essay collection. I just can't give them up cold turkey.


Susan Isaacs said...

"Peace Like A River" was the last piece of modern fiction that moved me; before that it was "The Lovely Bones." I want a story that asks a deeper question -- asks, not yells or hammers me over the head. But asks it, while the story is going on.

Restless Barb said...

"How To Be Good" -- how I loved that book; especially loved the good doctor's dilemma, how she has just assumed she held the higher moral ground and finds herself suddenly thrown totally off her game. I also throughly enjoyed "About a Boy," another confrontation with morality and questions about adulthood. I'll be interested in your take on "A Long Way Down."