Sunday, September 29, 2013

bad weather, good books

pic from
Today marks the start of the big lit week here in Portland. With perfect synchronicity, our first typhoon o' the fall is swirling around me as I type. Water, wind, falling tree limbs and flooded basements heralding the beginning of curl-up-by-the-fire-and-read season. At the moment, the sideways rain has abated, but those nasty bands of radar on my phone's weather app promise more misery. That's why I plan on staying inside with my arsenal of reading material until it's time for the Breaking Bad finale--when I'll crawl downstairs and snuggle up on the tv-room sofa with a hot toddy. All that's missing are the bon-bons,(because I've already eaten them).

But, I've gotten a jump on book fever this year. I've been devouring novels and chain-toasting bread like crazy - the two go hand-in-hand. I'm feeding the carb-craving winter girl that surfaces right about the time pumpkins replace petunias outside the grocery stores. The crappier the weather, the more I read and the more I eat (usually necessitating some sort of fanatic cleanse come January).

I just picked up the new Lahiri after reading today's review in the Oregonian. I don't know what Knopf is thinking with the white-paper-wrapper cover. Is it a form of hubris? Or is it simply confidence that even if the book came with a little bag of shit stapled to the front, since Jhumpa Lahiri wrote it, it'll sell? Well, I have to admit, even at the princely sum of $27.95, I marched quickly to my favorite indie bookstore this morning and forked over the cash. I love Lahiri's writing, and the quandary described in the jacket "Two brothers bound by tragedy. A fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past..." are the perfect ingredients to stoke my seasonal lust for books. And really, covers are only important if you've never heard of the author (so I'm hoping mine will be amazing!)

The other book on my desk is called "Writing in Community" put out by WriteLife earlier this year. It's a book on writing that encourages a deeper relationship with creativity and the act of writing in the spirit of Brenda Ueland's "If You Want to Write," and Natalie Goldberg's "Writing Down the Bones."

Although I'm all for working on craft (I better be, I'm teaching one of my boot camp dialogue classes at LitReactor this week), I can't stress how important "generative" writing encouragement is in the process of producing work. WIC begins as a prescriptive - there are exercises and optional assignments, and ideas on how to start a generative writing group - but the book goes beyond "how to." It taps into that magical space. You know the one I'm talking about, right? Where you look up from your desk and the day is gone? Where you've immersed yourself so completely in your work that you cross over - the words on the page seem to have come from someone else entirely?

The book is a sort of love story. It's about self-investment as much as investment in a community of others. It champions the idea of peer-generated encouragement as a way to crystallize authenticity.

It's this sort of encouragement (for sustained, deep thought and time with the page), that we all too often talk ourselves out of. I'm going on record here - I'm for it. Words. Lots of them.

So, is it raining where you live? Do you write more or read more when the weather sucks?


  1. Anonymous8:23 AM

    Oh, it's raining alright. I tend to write when it's really coming down, with the window cracked open just enough to let me hear the raindrops. The loveliest white noise, punctuated by the big boomers for drama.

    The Lahiri cover...I dunno. I'm all for simplicity but it may have been carried too far in this case. Although I can't imagine that it matters when you've got Winner of the Pulitzer Prize under the author's name.


  2. So how did you manage to write a book living in Las Vegas, deary?

    I so agree with the raindrops as white noise. And just now, looking out in my backyard at that green that can't even be replicated by an Instagram filter? Oh man. I will never leave the Pacific Northwest.

    I would LOVE to hear what Lahiri thought of her cover. Wouldn't you?

    1. Anonymous6:05 AM

      I'll never leave it, either. How I managed to function in Vegas at all is anyone's guess.

      You'd think Lahiri would have earned some veto power over her cover design, so I imagine she doesn't hate it. Or else she's very polite...

      - Averil


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