Tuesday, December 02, 2014

November: Reading and Writing Cage Match



So, November was National Novel Writing Month.  Reading was to take a back seat, or perhaps get out of the car and take a bus.  But you know what? Reading did not go quietly.  When Reading saw an opportunity to triumph over writing, Reading was not shy about pressing the advantage. Here are the highlights:

1. Hangover Square - Patrick Hamilton.  Hamilton had me jumping every which way in this black comedy that's sort of like Mr. Hyde and Mr. Hyde.  George Harvey Bone, the main character, is an oversized alcoholic who idly spends his days at the cinema waiting to drink again in London with a particularly nasty bunch who barely tolerate his presence. His chief attraction to this group is Netta, a would-be actress whose beauty is only just skin-deep.  George Harvey Bone is also mad. With a click, he goes into "dead moods" in which he realizes how badly he's being treated by Netta and makes meticulous plans to kill her.  I didn't know which way to turn! Part of me wanted George to stay in his dead mood and finish off the despicable Netta and her equally horrible friends, and the other part of me wanted him drop that crowd and go towards the few people who appreciated him.  This unease about the character is heightened by the setting of the novel:  England is but months from war with Germany.  Neville Chamberlain has just made the "Peace in our time" speech.  Hamilton's writing is freakish and brilliant.  I couldn't leave this book alone till I finished it, NaNo or no.

2. Friends with Boys - Faith Erin Hicks.  YA Graphic novel.  Maggie, a homeschooled young girl in maritime Canada with three older brothers enters high school.  With all the awkwardness of starting high school and public school, she also is haunted by the ghost of a 19th century sea captain's widow. I love Hicks' art, that very clean looking black and white ink style.  I loved the family dynamics. I loved their Canadian-ness.  I loved that I had a library I could walk to and get away from my computer and NaNo.

3. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up - Marie Kondo.  The Japanese decluttering expert has a system for ridding one's life of clutter: Make categories (clothes, books, etc.) and individually handle each item asking: "Does this spark joy?"  If it doesn't, throw it out.  Sounds weird, but it works. Kondo herself has a weird sort of OCD charm.  Her favorite book is Alice in Wonderland.  It shows.  Oddly relaxing, like lying back with a cool cloth on my forehead after spewing words hour after hour after hour during NaNo.

4. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath - Sylvia Plath.  What a pair we made, Sylvia and I.  Running away from NaNo and my writing block, I fell upon the futon and started reading about SP's writer's block which seemed to leave her when she journalled. She always had plenty of words to beat herself up about not writing.  And this, always this as a refrain: "Learn German."  The only time she seemed quiet(er) in her mind was when she was observing something in nature. Maybe being a scientist would have saved her, although that is a preposterous thing to say 50 years on.

5. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up - Marie Kondo.  At this point NaNo was going reasonably well, but I still felt the need.  The need for read!  Especially on the subway.  So I read this again and basked in the idea of having so few belongings and so much space that things could be stored vertically. Even folded things like shirts and socks and underwear.  Then I would get off the subway and fly into a tidying frenzy. Even as I write this, I want to get up and start tidying now. This book is strange, and sometimes a little cheesy, but it got under my skin. Worth the Kindle price of $9.99.

6. The Slaves of Solitude - Patrick Hamilton.  In this novel, the war is on and rationing is making its painfully pinching self felt. Miss Roach has moved into a boarding house in a small town near London to escape the Blitz. Life is a series of small aggravations growing larger and larger, like the pompous old boarder with whom she has to eat dinner each night who has decided that she's fair game for his hateful remarks. There's also the American Lieutenant who sees all of England as his very own pub and brothel, and may or may not be Miss Roach's sweetheart.  Then there's Miss Roach's acquaintance, the German-born Vicki, who becomes the very definition of "frenemy".  As in Hangover Square, there is lots and lots of drinking, except with rationing, whiskey is in short supply, so it's mostly gin served up every conceivable way.

7. How Koreans Talk - Sang-Hun Choe and Christopher Torchia.  I was using this as a reference during NaNo since that project is set in Korea, but when the writing was going slowly, I ended up reading huge chunks and eventually finished it.

Still working on:
Insomnia by Stephen King.  I dipped into this novel at intervals, trying to absorb King's storytelling technique.  Trying to figure out how he avoids adverbs, only to find them cropping up here and there.  I was reassured.  More often than not, after a session with Uncle Stevie, I felt like I could NaNo again.

2 comments:

Unruly Reader said...

I wonder if the compelling appeal of the decluttering book was that it provided a virtuous way to avoid writing?
(I'm diagnosing you with my own condition -- writing avoidance tactics, even if it means housecleaning activity!)

Now I feel like cleaning a closet.

Susan Bybee said...

Unruly,
I think you pegged it exactly!