Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Bad Book


From here.

I've adjusted to most of what motherhood entails, for me. I am used to waking up in the night, grudgingly used to being interrupted at the most exciting moment of the book or the writing. I am used to being asked for a snack, then having the same snack rejected for some inexplicable reason.

But I miss Friday nights.

My parents always went out on Friday nights. Always. Even if it was just to a neighbor's house. They could be fighting, shouting over the banging of the closet door and the dance music they always used to get into the Friday mood. But they would go out. Of that there was no doubt.

Thus, I think that same desire is encoded in my emotional DNA. TEG indulged it, pre-parenthood. We might stay home on a Saturday and cuddle on the couch with a movie. We might even go to bed early. But Fridays sang their siren song, luring us out of our house and into the red lit, unpredictability of the night.

So, even though the rest of the week I am (almost) perfectly content, on Fridays I get restless, staring at the ribbon of headlights streaking outside my window. We don't have babysitting, nor any family in the area, so my only outings on Friday nights are the ones in my imagination.

That's when I read chick lit novels, the more frothy the better—something festive, preferably with a stylized picture of shoes. Or a martini glass. That kind of book. It feels a little illicit, like I am cheating on the more serious novels and nonfiction I read during the week.

Now, the thing is...most of these books are perfectly satisfactory. The situations can be a little ordinary, but the characters are well drawn, instantly likable. They follow all of the rules stated in my writing books—setting up the situation, following through with plot suggestions, etc. And, as a bonus the books feel like a couple of hours sitting at a woozy bar table with my single friends, gossiping. They feel like, well, Friday night.

But every now and then you find a book that brings all of those “writing book rules” into relief, and you learn exactly what you DON'T want to do.

I read most of one of those books this last Friday night. It started out promisingly enough, two friends living in London, secretly in love with each other and wondering why their love lives never seemed to work out. And then guy's first love reappears, after having left under mysterious circumstances....

You get the idea. I liked the characters, mostly. I loved the descriptions of London. I settled into my Friday night...until I realized I was thoroughly BORED. For starters, the two main characters kept talking about how wonderful they thought the other person was, but all you saw between them was arguments and history. Their so-called wonderful natures were not SHOWN, but only talked about.

Their work existed only as a glamorous backdrop to their fraught (ha) passion. There was no substance to any of it, and it didn't forward the story at all.

And then there was the flimsy obstacle between them. There was no real reason for them not to just be together, no compelling force keeping them apart. So instead, they acted in increasingly idiotic ways in order to pull the book along. That reminded me, as we all know, that contrivance is not a novelist's friend.

Finally, after yet another drunken and foolish plot twist, I put the book down in irritation. This was no gossip session...it was more like listening to a close friend defend her relationship with a clod you know is no good for her. And who needs a fictionalized version of that?

It wasn't all time wasted, though. I got a few fun London memories out of it (TEG and I went there on our mini-moon) and the realization that all of these writing books are finally sinking in. Sometimes you can learn more from bad art than from good.

Best of all...writer friends..we can do this. This book served as a motivating reminder of that.

So, go and give me something better to read. I'll try to do the same for you.

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11 Comments:

Blogger Becca said...

Sometimes I feel frustrated knowing that I could probably write better than a lot of the stuff out there - and I KNOW you can! -but, as you point out, it's a good incentive to keep writing.

Here's to Friday nights - I hope you can have a real date night sometime :)

8:55 PM, September 25, 2007  
Blogger Lisa said...

Don't you love when all those writing books start to pay off and you know why you didn't like a book or movie? I've always known instinctively when a book didn't work, but until recently, I could never quite explain why. Oh, and we all have our guilty pleasures with books, I think. I'm way overdue indulging mine. I really like Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series and I've got the last two sitting on the shelf, waiting for me to give them a Friday night. :)

12:11 AM, September 26, 2007  
Blogger Jo said...

Which writing bible would you most recommend? Thanks!

5:34 AM, September 26, 2007  
Blogger Colorsonmymind said...

I cannot tell you how important getting a ababysitter has felt lately.

My son is 2 1/2, we have never had a babysitter for the evening-except his parents maybe once. Usually when visiting family it feels wrong to split for the evening.

I have just recently gotten a sitter for one day a week to get some work on my business done. I don't have any family close by either. I do have some mommy friends though-that have passed a name or two a long.

One recommendation that I haven't followed yet but plan on-is looking at the education grad chools-for babysitters that are majoring in early education programs. At least you know they like kids.

5:50 AM, September 26, 2007  
Anonymous Frida said...

i always noticed that my friends who are writers gave the very best reviews in our book club. especially one who is now an award-winning novelist. i can talk in some detail about the characters, whether they work for me or not, and to a certain extent whether i care about the story or not. but she - like you - could articulate WHY she didn't care about the story, or conversely why she did.

your friday nights sound about as exciting as mine in Ghor... no where to go but into a book, DVD or blog world....

9:18 AM, September 26, 2007  
Blogger Amber said...

LOL! EVERY time I read a suck book I think, "If that bit-o-shit got published..." Ha! Or even, if that author could stick with it and see it out, then I can do better.

I TOTALLY believe in your talent. Totally.

And I have one of those chick-like stories in my head. I started it years ago. So unlike what I write, but it is fun. I think someday I may go back to it. (For now, I am writing darker things).

:)

12:16 PM, September 26, 2007  
Blogger Amber said...

Also, I was going to ask you if they have a drop in "play place" in yoru area? We just got one here, and because we are like you with no family around, I have found it really wonderful. The kids have fun, it is safe, and I have been using it for G when I work in Wyatts class. Ask around. Ours is a chain, and it is called "Kidz Play Place".

Sucks not to have family around!

;)

12:19 PM, September 26, 2007  
Blogger caro said...

Isn't it great to read writing that's attained the holy grail of being *published* and not only know you could do better but know HOW you could do better?

I miss Fridays, too. Weekends, vacations...

4:05 PM, September 26, 2007  
Anonymous bella said...

I just started going out again on a Friday night. It's not every week, but I'll take what I can get at this point.

9:59 PM, September 27, 2007  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

Do you ever wish you could stop reading like a writer for even a moment??? I do this all the time and wish, now and then, that I could just enjoy a book without trying to dissect it and understand its inner mechanics (sigh). Yes, restless weekend nights strike here sometimes as well...
Love,
D.

11:49 AM, September 28, 2007  
Blogger Mardougrrl said...

Becca: I am looking forward to having date night again...maybe by then I will have written something I like! :)

Lisa: YES, I love being able to take apart a book after reading some of the writing books...even though some of them (the writing books) still confuse me. They are like math.

Jo: I would recommend "Writing Fiction" by Janet Burroway, "On Writing" by Stephen King, "The Situation and the Story" by Vivian Gornick, "From Where you Dream" by Robert Olen Butler, "The Art of Fiction" by John Gardner...and oh, so many others. :)

Thea: Ooh, that is a good idea...I live in a big University city...I'll have to check that out. I need some free time. :)

Frida: Your book club sounds wonderful! And you are so wonderful at analyzing blog posts, I am sure you are with novels as well. And you can be my Friday night book-reading twin. :)

Amber: You have the PERFECT voice for chick lit, I'm just saying. I'd read it in a heartbeat. And I will check that play place idea out. Madam usually gets overwhelmed at playgrounds, etc, but we are working on that. Thanks!

Caro: How is mommyhood the second time around treating you? And doesn't it feel like we'll NEVER have Fridays again...but they'll be back sooner than we imagine, I expect.

bella: Thanks for showing me the light at the end of the tunnel! I can't wait to get Friday nights back.

Delia: I can usually lose myself in a book, without dissecting it, if its succeeded in creating that "fictional dream" but this book was just AWFUL, so I wanted to understand why. Like a post-mortem.

12:51 AM, October 01, 2007  

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