Like The Queen
Whatever happens to strike my fancy, but surely some sort of fiber content.

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One of our fav. hangouts in Okracoke is Howard's Pub. Wonder if it's any relation to the Howards Boarding House?? Jane

By Blogger jane, at 5:02 PM  

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Friday, March 25, 2005  

There has been a tactical victory in the war raging within my body. After camping out in front of the dr.’s office I managed to purloin a prescription and after waiting for the reserves to draw up behind the flag, I dosed the bloodstream with AlergaD and within hours I could tell the evil histamines were retreating. One tonsil is still doing its weird thing and the eyes still burn, but the threat of full blown bronchitis has been averted.

Total victory is in sight.

Just in time for the weekend. Heh. And the Bead Class da Capo which I will be taking with GD. Sweet sweetness.

But I am pondering today. Thinking about an interesting article in the NYT book section, by William Grimes, about the plethora of memoirs available out there. He assures us there is something for everyone in the genre of self revelation: the druggie, the hippie, the slut, the soldier, the beltway bandit, the beltway victim, the mom, the one who walks among us, the one who walks with angels. You name it, someone is telling you about his experience with it.

It got me to thinking about writing and why people write and why we read what they write and how memoirs are different from fiction and how they are different from other kinds of writing. It got me to thinking about blogging too - and why I am compelled to write mine and why anybody would want to read it.

When we sit down to talk with loved ones, or get together with friends, or even when we meet someone new at a party, we put out little trays of ourselves, like human hors d’oeuvres; prettily arranged tidbits of information telling our stories. The closer we get, the larger the banquet. Unless we are instructing or demanding, in which case we are still letting ourselves be known, but for a different purpose, the act of conversation is always the revelation of self or the comprehension of another. We hope we will be found worth knowing. We fear we might not be. We dread having to find out about the unworthy, the offensive, the dull.

We are all living the memoir we will at least contemplate, when we are older. We may never write the thing, but we are very likely to tell it, if only to our grandchildren. Some of us will write it as it is happening - hence the blogging phenomenon. Who doesn’t have a blog? What topic isn’t fringed with enthusiasts, journalling daily - with digital photos and animated smilie faces to keep it colorful?

For that matter, who doesn’t love interesting, funny, poignant, witty tales of others lives? Don’t we have our favorite blogs, novels, movies - our favorite party guests, raconteurs and bossom friends? I venture to say that the enormous popularity of fiction isn’t because of the events that move the plot along, but because of the characters - the personality of the hero or heroine, with whom we identify, who thinks and acts and speaks the way we wish we would do in the same situation. We just love fascinating people and want to know more about them. We get ideas of how to behave, what to say, what to admire from these sources.

We write to communicate. We communicate to validate ourselves. We long for proof that we are desired, and worthy of desire. We find that proof when others respond to our words. We find it again, when we respond to theirs. We want to matter and we want to know we do.

So why does Mr. Grimes find the shelves of memoirs in his local B&N dismaying? Why are they worth a whole column? I suspect it is three things. First, the cynical and mercenary hooks upon which so many are hung - the a la carte variety of topics available from which the reader may select. Most of the authors are fairly insignificant in any global sense. They are largely your next door neighbor type, though a few, in the Hollywood or political arena will have at least had the opportunity to orbit other stars. And frequently these famous types have hired a ghost writer to do a vanity bio. But most of these authors are Like You Only More So. More into sex or drugs or travel or spirituality or nostalgia.

Second, and of greater importance, is the fear that the quality of writing will be low or even bad. A promise of titillating details in the life of a prostitute is supposed to lure in the reader. It is a supposedly guaranteed but exceedingly low common denominator. But in fact, it takes a Madame du Bary or a Barbara Villiers to really make reading salacious chatter worth one’s while. Nothing can so waste a day like trying to read bad writing on a prurient topic, hoping and hunting for the good stuff, be it content or style.

Third, and perhaps most important, is the fear that from the experiences of the author, we shall learn nothing. What does a teenage drug addict have to teach me? I am neither a teen, nor a drug user, AlegraD notwithstanding. Worse than that, I don’t like to think of teens and drugs. Not that I am in denial about them. They just don’t hold a place in my roster of recreational activities. But the likelihood of profundity arising from a Zoloft gobbling newspaper reporter or a Salsa dancing soul seeker is fairly slim. And if I have to slog though the tale of depravity, I want to find something worth holding on to at the end.

We still have a deep regard for the printed word. Every person who brings her old books to the library, because she just can’t throw them away, proves the lasting hold a bound volume still has on the human psyche. We cringe at the thought of burned books, when really, it is the burned idea that is the loss, not the item itself, not in this world of mass production. We still believe that just having the book in some ways imparts its mystical preciousness onto ourselves. In conflict with this deep belief, though, is the fact that it’s the ideas that are really important. And when we hold what our cultural memory promises will be special and find within it only dross - we are disappointed. And the more one reads, the more one finds this to be the case. And that, I believe, is the real issue Mr. Grimes has.

For that matter, it’s my real issue too. In my job. In my own reading. In what is offered to the rest of the world. I haven’t given up all hope, yet. I am not a cynic. I still have faith in the ideas of mankind. I still discover the gems, the jewels, the golden nuggets. I have merely had to don a finer meshed filter as I sift through the literary offerings. I’m willing to take some chances. I allow a certain percentage of disappointment and failure and I give myself one great permission, most especially when it comes to books. It is all I have to offer anyone who is still reading this.

You are not required to finish the book.

If you suspect there’s not much to it - you are probably right. There is no test at the end. You are truly in command of the ship when it comes to books. Steer yourself where you want to go. Read as little or as much as you please. Nobody will know. Your opinion is right. You are the boss.

And when you are done - you can write your memoir about your journey through bookland.

posted by Bess | 7:55 AM
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