A blog for people who take books seriously, but little else.

Archive for July, 2012

A “Grave”ly Enjoyable Ghost Story

My eighth grade English teacher taught me most of what I believed about writing, until fairly recently.  Many conventions are dropping out with modern writers, and at the crusty old age of 42, I am sometimes irritated by the lack of respect these whippersnappers seem to have for our fine literary traditions. LOL. Obviously, as an Irreverent blogger, I do not believe in convention just for convention’s sake.   I do believe we all need to agree on the structures and conventions of language. If everyone wants to have only one “your” and not “you’re” AND “your”….. Well, I was going to say if everyone agreed, I’d go along, but there are simply some things about which I will go down fighting. My grammar is, I am certain, not perfect; however, I know the difference between “taut” abs and a subject I was “taught” in school.

One of the conventions that I picked up at that time, that seemed immutable to me, was that third person, past tense, omniscient narration literature was the loftiest form, and that everything else was rather juvenile.  And no one wrote in present tense.  When the trend of writing in the first person first became popular, it irritated me. I’ve grown to accept it, and sometimes like it, although it is hard to break the idea that the author’s name should be Mary Sue.  The slightly more recent trend of writing in present tense snuck up on me.  I didn’t know how to take it. However, I have come to believe I like it, although I can’t do it myself. I feel it lends a frantic immediacy to a work. Why am I telling you all this?

I just finished a book called The Grave Artist, by Paula Lynn Johnson.  It’s written in first person, present tense.  Here is the author’s blurb to tell you a bit about it:

“16-year-old Clare can’t stop drawing the bizarre, winged skulls she calls “Sammies”. Her psychiatrist assumes the compulsive drawings are just expressions of Clare’s grief over her father abandoning her. But then Clare discovers that her Sammies are exact matches for the Death’s Head on the grave of Samantha Forsythe, a teen who reportedly fell to her death over two centuries ago.

Before long, Clare’s drawings morph into cryptic writings that urge her to uncover the truth behind Samantha’s death. Together with Neil — the friend she might be falling for — Clare scours the local history for clues. She finds that, although Samantha was engaged to a wealthy landowner, there were whispered rumors of her involvement with a younger, biracial man.

Soon, Clare is haunted by disturbing dream images — a mysterious eye, a broken chain — that point to someone Samantha called her “Dearest”. But who is Dearest? And why does Samantha need Clare to find him so badly?

Isolated and carrying hidden scars of her own, Clare fears her obsession with Samantha will threaten her sanity and safety. But it seems she has no choice in the matter . . .”

With a 16-year-old protagonist, the work is automatically considered YA by many, although I will be glad if that convention goes away.  We were all 16 once. I refuse to believe that we cannot remember and empathize with young people in our literature. The WILD popularity of Harry Potter and Twilight with adults, as well as ‘tweens and teens, seems to contradict this idea. As a lover of all sorts of literature, I have kept up somewhat with books for children and young adults, and I think both have much to offer the adult reader.

With that said, I think that The Grave Artist is an excellent paranormal mystery that just happens to have youthful characters.  Ms. Johnson creates realistic characters, an intriguing mystery, and subplots which highlight human frailties and problems, not those specifically experienced by teens.  Clare and Neil are believable as people, who happen to be young. Let’s just leave it at that.

I feel that the present tense gives the exact sense of immediacy intended, and that the book rushes along because of it. It seems to fly by, not through any lack, but with intention of helping you understand Clare’s emotional state. I feel it is successful in that way, and in all other ways that count. There are touching bits, and funny bits, and the whole simply satisfies.  On the Imaqulotta Scale, I’d rate The Grave Artist as Heavenly!


What do Gay Muppets have to do with Ayn Rand?

I post many items like the above on my Facebook–too many, I’m sure, if you were to ask my friends.  I support many causes, and I share about them.   One of the joys of being incognito on the Internet is that my Facebook page accurately represents who I am and what I am about.   This blog is NOT about the causes. If you were to go to this picture as originally posted, you would see in the commentary that two people can look at the same thing and see something completely different.  (By the by, if you’re offended by my offering, this blog is not for you.  There will be reviews touching on this subject area.)  The point is that our world view colors the way we see things and that very little can be done to convince the other side of the argument that it is wrong. This is one of the reasons I give you background on myself in addition to reviews.  I want you to know what colors my world view because what I enjoy, you may not.  I am not here to debate the rightness or wrongness of any issue with you. What I am about to do is attempt to open your mind to some ideas that come from an unlikely source.

I was very ill recently, to the point of literally lying in bed for 3 days.  During and after this time, I could not turn my mind to new books, being mentally and physically exhausted.  So I looked over my Kindle for things to reread, so as not to challenge myself. However, I was with you in spirit, because I got this idea during that time as well.  I am not going to review one book for you today, but make a point from two books that might inspire you to dig a little deeper into what you think you know.  One of the books I reread was Anthem, by Ayn Rand.

Wait a minute, you say? The Right Wing Nut Jobs’ poster child? Really? This is the notion that I am about to challenge.

I read Anthem for the first time when I was 9 or 10. It absolutely blew me away.  I didn’t know a damn thing about politics.  Ayn Rand was just an author who meant a lot to my mom. If you become interested, it’s free on your Kindle, and very short. As an adult, it took me a couple of hours to reread it. I’ve read it 20 times at least. It depicts a horrible dystopian future, where the individual has been subsumed in a nightmare collective, and has lost the word “I”. To a future liberal wing-nut like me, this thought was terrifying.  As when I read 1984 later in my life, I could totally see it happening.  Anthem says very loudly, I am who I am. I will not be a slave to my “brother” nor will I conform for the sake of conformity.

Momma always said I needed to read Atlas Shrugged but never did till last year.   It’s a lengthy tome, which does not ordinarily intimidate me, but it required more knowledge and understanding than I was able to give it when attempting to read it previously.  Ayn Rand was at that point labeled a nut, and her sensible ideas were drowned out by her lunacy. However, she had no use for Jesus, which immediately makes her irreverent, and she lauded ACCOMPLISHMENT, which supposedly led to riches. The fat, bloated plutocrats who were her antagonists are not so far from modern politicians, and if they actually understood what the book was saying, they probably wouldn’t like it so much. Anyhow, I think there’s a lot of good there, in between the craziness.   Do I think that everything she said should be taken as a guidepost for life? No.

Let me give you an example of the idea, similar to that of Anthem’s theme, which I took away from Atlas Shrugged. Have you ever been the only efficient person in an entire organization, or even one of a few?  As a former state employee, I was surrounded by people who did very little, and did it badly.  I cared about my job and so I often felt as if I were standing in a burning building, shouting FIRE at the top of my lungs!  This is central to the heroine of the novel, Dagny Taggert, with whom I am certain my mother felt a keen kinship. I did myself. She is efficient in an inefficient world. She refuses to be mediocre to please others.  She stands up and fights for what she believes in, and ignores the idiots who say it cannot be done.  She is surrounded by slackers and moochers, and does her best regardless.  She is fighting a fire which will lead the world into the hellish future depicted in Anthem, and she’s doing it almost completely alone.

Now the Right, who somehow manage to claim to be Christian, a religion that asks one to serve his brothers (We will not argue here that “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” presupposes that you LOVE YOURSELF.) and to embrace Rand’s ideals, which are diametrically oppositional.  I think they perhaps did not understand.  Rand lauded accomplishment, and neither fundraising nor inheriting Daddy’s money and good name qualify.  They claim Rand supports their avarice, and says they may do what they like, no regulations, no answering to anyone, and on the surface, they are correct.  However, Dagny Taggert ,and the few others like her in her world, ACCOMPLISHED things, built things, got things done.  The politicians who claim to worship her do not accomplish a hell of a lot.  Her heroes were rich, certainly, but they did not live on the backs of others. Rather they similarly rewarded accomplishment amongst employees.  The trouble with this is that Taggert and her spiritual brethren did the right thing and the efficient thing, not due to any ideal of supporting their “brothers” but because that is what should be done.   Real life people cannot be expected to live up to this.  When some 1 percent-er claims to support this ideal, look at how he treats his employees. Look at how he works to improve things.

Ms. Rand, sadly, took these ideas too far. Should we dumb ourselves down for others? No. Should we euthanize every “subnormal” child? Of course not!  As moral beings, I believe we should assist others in reaching their potential, not push them down even further.  I’ve been a teacher, and a social worker, and I still believe this.

Regardless of Rand’s failure to be a human being in the end, there are valuable and noble ideas in her work, and I’d encourage anyone to pursue them.  These works, Anthem and Atlas Shrugged, have both Heavenly and Hellish qualities. Nonetheless, as with our political cartoons, you will take from them truly only what you brought with you.