Thoughts of an Author in Training
Probably my seventh or eighth Sedaris book, but they never seem to get old. This one is quite short only 140 pages but it’s no walk in the park. Easy to read yes, but some of the stories were heavy and I had to take a moment to digest them. Most of the stories were personal essays on the craziness of the holidays, told and experienced by Sedaris himself, but he included stories that puzzled and bewildered me like “Season’s Greetings.” It starts out addressed as a letter to the family much like a yearly update you might get from family around the holidays. It’s fictional nature has some obvious clues and the more I read and write I recognize the difference between writing like you would talk and writing. This letter uses around twenty extra question marks and exclamation points which almost reach out and smack you when you’re reading as a writer. Sedaris does this to make a point, to poke fun and become the voice of a desperate housewife and he does it so flawlessly. The letter starts out somber yet very optimistic that they will over-come this dark time in their lives.
You can tell in the beginning that there has been a terrible accident or death in their family and respectfully the letter only grazes the topic, at least for the introduction of the letter. But it gradually develops as a gossip letter from a selfish housewife who eventually divulges too much information only in the hopes of gaining sympathy and asylum from her readers. The suburban housewife drama turns ugly when we find out her grandchild has been murdered by her Vietnamese step-daughter and the mother is being charged with the murder because Khe Sahn doesn’t speak much English (of course just enough to say it was her step mother who did it). The story’s twist had me conflicted. At first I disliked the mother because she seemed selfish an ignorant towards the indifference of culture. She was taking out family tension on a 15-year-old because the mother resented that her husband had an affair while on leave in the Vietnam. But then it flips and you can’t possibly take the child’s side either, because she’s a foolish, money-hungry girl with daddy issues that just murdered in innocent baby by putting it through the rinse and dry cycle of the laundry. It was depressing to read and I couldn’t decide whether the message was that you get what you give or never trust people with daddy issues?
I think he’s trying to say something about both sides, illuminating issues in both flaws of females in the story: the perfect housewife and the wounded child.
Aside from this story and one other that took a moment to process, we still get the humorous Sedaris who pokes fun at how terrible children plays are and how you can find salvation in being Santa’s elf at the biggest Macys in the world. It’s a nice read for the chilly holiday season approaching and it’ll provide a little cathartic relief over the difficulties of the holiday season.
I’d seen the movie and decided that because of the transition success of so many other book-to-movie adaptations that I would give this one a shot. I found the movie to have a riveting plot but it was very different from the book. The movie takes on more action as well as the opposing powers (rebellion vs. Warden) seem to be more generalized in the movie. It’s just the general public against a dictatorship. It was still a masterful imagination in creating a dystopian world because the last generation of children has now aged to their mid-twenties. The world of man is sterile.
The book picks up in the center of the drama as mankind’s youngest generation develops a theory that killing, stealing, and destroying are better than dying off silently and without a fight. This is not the consensus of the older, might I add wiser generation that grew up having experienced the world as we would know it. Theo, our distraught and desensitized protagonist is set to be a hero to the first pregnant women in nearly twenty years. Ironically Theo lost his own child in a car accident and now has a chance at redemption if he can successfully help Julian escape the eyes of the subtle but effective dictatorship in England.
The political dynamics in the book attack one another but drag Julian and her unborn child in to the middle of all of it. The rebels plan to use her as blackmail in a sense, to demand an end to un-cruel practices against men and better treatment of the elderly. These are all seemingly good ideas, but they lose focus of what’s more important and as they’re slowly killed off they see Julian as a tool to become ruler of all England. The Warden wants Julian to save mankind and to study how they can repopulate the earth, but he plans to breed her like an animal stripping away any dignity in the act of child birth.
Theo, Julian, and their mid-wife Miriam must travel the country to find safety against the government, the alphas (youngest generation that only wants to rape and pillage for some reason) as well as the rebel parties. They must deliver the baby in peace and out of the hands of anyone that would use the baby for power and control.
What I enjoyed about James was his willingness to attack the vulnerability of human nature. We’re all fighting for survival but he unveils that in times of desperation we forget how to be human, to be sensitive and thoughtful and instead we are blinded in the temptations of ultimate power. Topics of love, dignity, and peace are lost as both sides realize the importance of power that being father to the first born baby would hold. They lose sight that Julian is the answer to survival, a beginning to their hope but that she is also vulnerable and human. Most interestingly throughout the novel is the lack of discussion over religion, though I would have assumed this to be a key time in questioning the theories of humanities first beginning. End of the world, natural disasters, they usually bring up some questioning of a higher power. It’s not until the very last sentence that the reader is introduced to a notion of religion. Theo christens the new born baby boy with a bloody cross on his forehead, almost a recreation of a Christ-like figure. In the beginning of a new world, a new race their still stands to be religion. Without thought from Theo, religion has to be present for such a miracle. There is no extreme explanation or detail, Christianity just sneaks in to the last few sentences of the book and suddenly everything’s ok. This subtle detail encourages a thought provoking continuation of the story from the personal reader’s standpoint. It offers a push off for the reader to fill in the blanks on what will become of the new human race. It almost suggests that without belief in a higher power, mankind would cease to exist.
When I first grabbed, rather rescued this book from the local thrift shop, it was almost secretive. I don’t know why but it felt as though there was a taboo surrounding this book. When I began reading, there was hesitation and the only way to describe it was shame. For some odd reason the book, it’s title and representation among my age group was not accepted, and so I began reading it quietly. But in fact after the first few chapters I couldn’t put it down. It was exactly what I wanted to read. It surged me with all kinds of hope and furthered my love for travel. I thought Gilbert was incredibly brave and badass for doing what we’re all too afraid to do sometimes: follow our hearts.
It’s a story about a writer who leaves her unhappiness in NY behind in order to travel to three different countries and find a way to balance the unhappiness she’d been left with. She leaves behind a marriage of eight years and any expectations of the American path (school then getting a job, getting married having kids and then done) in order to seek self-preservation and pleasure. I love to travel and I want to write so thinking that I wouldn’t enjoy this book was completely ignorant of me.
I was reading in my local coffee shop one night and several friends came to comment/hassle me on my book choice but by this point I was fully prepared to stand up for this book, to throw arms over someone who thought it was stupid. Throwing arms for a book nerd just means getting out your literary guns and having a standoff for who can defend their side. All I had to do though was ask if they had read it. When the answer was no I knew I had won, because I can’t respect your opinion of a book if you haven’t read it and are just taking other people’s ideas on what to say about it. Plus if they had read it, they would have loved it. The only reasons I could pinpoint as to the strange resilience of the novel would be the over-commercialized nature of making it just a love story on screen, the strong female voice that could seem winey, the assumptions that the protagonist is selfish or simply that people of my age group didn’t think they could relate. All this ideas are bullshit as Gilbert does a wonderful job at addressing all these issues, she’s very aware of the outside perception of her situation and addressing it, exposing herself to ridicule from others required a great talent in writing and it opened her up to the greatest possibilities in life.
Enough of my soap-box rant. I obviously like the book not just for its voice and pure nature, but the way she handles the topic of religion. This book could very well have been a religious-quest-preachy-type novel because she does set out to find peace and balance within herself and her life, but she doesn’t get bogged down on the nitty-gritty of religious discussions. She recognizes that writing about such a topic, if done poorly and close-minded would exclude a great deal of readers and that was not her intent. She’s able to be open to everyone, yet be personal and intimate when she needs to.
Other things I loved included the dedication to help others in need, the senile medicine man in Bali and the flawless connection between yoga and life.
“Yoga is the effort to experience one’s divinity personally and then to hold on to that experience forever. Yoga is about self-mastery and the dedicated effort to haul your attention away from your endless brooding over the past and your nonstop worrying about the future so that you can seek, instead, a place of eternal presence from which you may regard yourself and your surroundings with poise. Only from that point of even-mindedness will the true nature of the world( and yourself) be revealed to you.”
Apparently this month I was obsessed with books that became Hollywood entertainment. But it is interesting that as of the last decade I feel that a lot more books have been taken for screenplays. Are we running out of ideas in the movie world? But of course every story is recycled anyways as we make our way through the same themes and plot lines just changing up the characters and setting. But I digress.
My coworker traded me two books for one- I’m apparently stingy when it comes to books. It was a quick read simply because it’s one of those books you don’t want to put down. Every chapter is a cliff hanger and so you continue on. The premise is a combination of Orwell’s over-powering, delusional government and the caucus of Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Thomas arrives clueless to a new world of boys trying to survive and make their way out of a deadly maze. They must maintain order, farm, feed, work and use their intelligence to try an escape. The system they us to govern one another is strict and the consequences cruel.
Much like Lord of the Flies the children mimic only what they know and fear, not having learned yet how to balance humanity, peace, and justice. They banish a character named Ben in the book as he’s simply a lunatic but the way they do it shouldn’t be justified for anyone. They inhumanely attach a collar around his neck and force him in to the maze by way of a ten foot pole, leaving him to be eaten by the monsters that lurk in the maze at night. Ironically the collar is always left right outside the entrance gate that closes every night. In the morning the door opens and they find that the boy has been eaten and somehow the creature is smart enough to leave the collar behind for the next victim. The Gladers (the boys call themselves that because they call their world the Glade) see this as normal.
It’s like the creators, the people watching and monitoring the maze do this as a sign of approval. They provide the tools for the young Gladers and condone their actions of “justice” by returning their supplies after it’s done. I found this and their messages very powerful in the book. The author does a great job of creating caucus and forcing our youngest and most vulnerable state of being, children, to pick up the pieces. Their actions are natural, instinctual, and even though they don’t have memories of any adults, they seem to reflect what they feel adults would do. The creators are conditioning these children for something important. Unfortunately, we don’t get what that importance is until the second or third book so I’ll have to get back to you on those details.