genius2I’m a sucker for literary movies, movies that give me a glimpse into the lives of my favorite authors, the time period that they were writing, and their motivations for writing. Genius fell right into my lap one day and I knew I needed to watch it.

Genius tells the story of the relationship between Maxwell Perkins and Thomas Wolfe. Perkins was a book editor at Scribner, one who discovered F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, among others. Thomas Wolfe’s manuscript was put into Perkins’ hands by an associate who said that is was unique and that he should take a look at it. What follows is a deep dive into the psyche of Wolfe and Perkins’ relationship.

Wolfe is portrayed as a lovable American South writer who does not believe his novel will ever get published after he worked on it for four years. Perkins drops into his life right when he is at a crossroads. The two work together to carve down Wolfe’s massive manuscript into something the public will actually read. The scenes where Wolfe and Perkins are actively working on his manuscript are some of my favorite as both of their personalities shine as they rally for their favorite parts to be saved or for certain sections to be cut. Perkins’ relationship with his family as well as Wolfe’s relationship with his lady benefactor also play key roles in this movie.

Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald make frequent appearances in the movie, letting viewers see into their own personal lives and the struggles they were facing as writers. Seeing the characters’ relationships grow and change throughout the course of this movie really allows viewers to see how complex Wolfe and Perkins’ relationship was with each other and with the outside world.

This movie is based on the 1978 National Book Award-winner Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg. It’s important to remember that this is a dramatized version of a biography, so the director and writers strayed from the book a little bit. If you’re curious about what was left out or need a little more background, check out this New Yorker article entitled “The Odd Factual Gaps in Michael Grandage’s ‘Genius’ “and judge the movie’s authenticity and factuality for yourself.

upstairs-at-the-strandLocated at the corner of Broadway and 12th Streets near the East Village in New York City is an independent bookstore called The Strand. Its slogan boasts “18 miles of books.” The third floor of The Strand houses an opulent Rare Book Room. Here, dyads (or in one case, a trio) of writers were invited to sit and share their thoughts about life, work, and the things they love.

Upstairs at The Strand is a written collection of these intimate conversations.

As you read each chapter, you may be compelled to imagine yourself an unseen guest in the upstairs room, listening. If you have ever been to the Strand or are familiar with any of the authors included, you may find it especially easy to imagine.

Renata Adler. Edward Albee. Hilton Als. Paul Auster. Blake Bailey. Alison Bechdel. Tina Chang. Junot Diaz. Deborah Eisenberg. Rivka Galchen. A.M. Homes. Hari Kunzru. Rachel Kushner. Wendy Lesser. D.T. Max. Leigh Newman. Tea Obraht. Robert Pinsky. Katie Roiphe. George Saunders. David Shields. Charles Simic. Tracy K. Smith. Mark Strand. Charles Wright.

If you are not familiar with any of these names, by all means check out this book and acquaint yourself with some talented authors whose work you may enjoy exploring. There is something to be found by each of these authors in the RiverShare library catalog.

 

 

fangirlHave you ever read fan fiction? Fan fiction is when fans of television series, movies, books, etc. write fiction about the different characters present within that certain TV series, movies, books, etc. Quite simple. A famous example of fan fiction is Fifty Shades of Grey, which is a Twilight fan fiction story. (If you look online, there are many, many other examples, as well as popular fan fiction websites.)

Fangirl focuses on Cath, a teenage girl just graduated from high school preparing to head to her first year of college. Cath is a GIANT Simon Snow fan. While other people love Simon Snow, Cath lives and breathes him. She has spun a new world for Simon through her fanfic website, “Carry On, Simon”. Simon Snow is a character in a magical series that Cath and her identical twin sister, Wren, write about online. Once college starts though, Cath and Wren begin to drift apart.

This first year of college is rough for Cath. She and her sister are going to the same college, but her sister doesn’t want to room with her, a fact that Cath can’t understand. Rooming with Reagan, a much older girl, and somewhat-rooming with Reagan’s ex-boyfriend, Levi, who never seems to leave their dorm room, Cath struggles to find her balance between the real world and the fanfiction world of Simon and Baz. Cath’s relationships with Reagan, Wren, Levi, and her father all add necessary personal touches to this book, allowing readers to draw connections between what Cath writes about in Simon’s world and what is actually happening in Cath’s world during the day-to-day.

This book alternates between sections of the Simon series, sections about Cath’s real life, and sections of various fanfiction(whether it be Cath’s or someone else’s). While all this switching may seem overwhelming, the book actually benefits from the many different points of view. Don’t give up! Stick with it and soon you’ll be sucked into Cath and Simon’s world.


This book is also available in the following formats:

  1. OverDrive ebook
  2. OverDrive e-audiobook
  3. CD audiobook

I read Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (inspired by Whoopi Goldberg’s character in Sister Act II: Back in the Habit ) when I was sixteen and wanted to be a writer. Then I read it again a few years later when I still wanted to be a writer, but was faced with the reality of paying bills and making career decisions.  It always amazes me how much a book can transform you, but also how much your perception of a book can evolve as you change. I’ve never stopped wanting to write, but I have become much more aware of the things that I’ll probably never say.

“Things aren’t all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life.” – Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke

So, since it is National Novel Writing Month, I thought I’d make some reading suggestions for my fellow writers-in-waiting out there.  There are plenty of style books and how-tos saturating the market, but some of the best manuals for writing come from writers themselves.  They’re filled with humor and pragmatism, and may help you learn to find your voice, rather than your marketing plan.

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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White
Why I Write: Thoughts on the Craft of Fiction edited by Will Blythe
Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin
Why I Write by George Orwell
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

lacuna

Lacuna: 1)an empty space or a misssing part  2) a cavity, space or depression.

This new novel by Barbara Kingsolver was worth the wait — it’s been nine years since her last novel, the very popular and acclaimed Poisonwood Bible.

The Lacuna takes place in both Mexico and the U.S. with most of it written in journal format.  Kingsolver also throws in some actual newspaper articles and other documents which add credibility to the time period (the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s).  The main character, Harrison William Shepherd, is the son of a dull Washington bureaucrat and a flamboyant Mexican mother, who has left her husband to live with a current lover on a Mexican island.  Without school or friends to occupy his time, Harrison spends many hours swimming, where he discovers a lacuna in a sea cliff which leads to a secret,  hidden pool.  As Harrison matures, his particular set of skills gains him employment with the famous artists, Diego Rivera and his wife, Frida Kahlo.  Since they later harbor the exiled communist Leo Trotsky, Harrison ends up working as a secretary for him as well.  This part was especially interesting —  perhaps because of the real personages in the book, it was easy at times to forget that this was a work of fiction!

After Trotsky’s murder, Harrison comes back to the United States (accompanying some of Frida’s paintings) and settles in North Carolina, where he finally realizes his dream of writing romantic adventure novels.  He becomes a hugely popular author, but his luck turns sour when he is later cited as a Communist sympathizer.

It’s not until the ending that we discover the significance of the title.  As both Kahlo and Shepherd are fond of saying, “The most important part of the story is the piece you don’t know.”  Read it and enjoy finding  out for yourself.

Fall of the SparrowFresh on the heels of Elizabeth Berg’s visit to the Quad-Cities, comes Robert Hellenga, author of many best selling novels. He is the keynote speaker Thursday, June 25th at Midwest Writing Center’s annual conference. This year, events are held at St. Ambrose University.

My favorite novel by Robert Hellenga is The Fall of the Sparrow, which is partially set at a liberal arts college in Galesburg (the author is a Knox College  literature professor), and partly in Italy.  Though there’s a insider feeling of intimacy when you’re familiar with the local references; the novel resonates with many themes. The main character is a classics professor  and the reader learns about Latin, Greek, Persian rugs, as well as the blues,  and shares Woody’s deep appreciation of Italian culture.

travel-writerThe Armchair Traveler is starting a travel writing series; Part I focuses on writers who excel in describing both the place and the process of travel.

The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton

de Botton excels in capturing the alternate reality and mindset that occurs when you leave home, especially when you are a solitary traveler. He describes the sensation of pleasant isolation and anonymity you experience on a train; or the phenomenon of marveling at the smallest differences in a foreign city.

As the Romans Do by Alan Epstein

This is Rome from the American point of view; the author moves his family to the city to experience the daily life of a Roman (getting an apartment, enrolling his kids in school, grocery shopping, etc.) as well as absorbing the cafe culture, soccer obsession, the Italian sense of fashion, and the passion for evenings spent in the piazza.

Best American Travel Writing

These pieces from newspapers, magazines and websites are edited by a Who’s Who of travel writing (Bill Bryson, Frances Mayes, Anthony Bourdain, Ian Frazier) and range from the lighthearted (David Sedaris on an ariport layover and Bill Buford sleeping in Central Park) to New York post 9-11, and extreme adventures in Uganda and the Australian Outback.

Italian Journey by Jean Giono

This small book is both an appreciation of post-war Venice and philosophical reflections of why we travel. A Frenchman, Giono finds an oasis of beauty and quiet after experiencing the more obvious attractions of Naples and Capri.