Archive for March, 2012

Review: “Memoirs of a Geisha”

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Memoirs of a GeishaMemoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had wanted to read Arthur Golden’s “Memoirs of a Geisha” ever since seeing the movie several years ago. When I finally did, I discovered that the book is filled with just as many lush visual details but that the story is a little less romanticized than in the film. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since Hollywood movies tend to heighten drama, but the most striking part of this book is how much of a geisha’s life is mundane.

Far from being a glamorous existence, Golden’s novel exposes this bygone profession as both painstaking and heartbreaking. The rewards were few for most of the women who spent their entire lives training to entertain; spending hours perfecting their appearances; and maintaining strict codes of behavior. For those who managed to make the right connections and climb the social ladder, they could hope to secure a wealthy benefactor. Others struggled, especially as they aged.

This book has been the subject of some controversy, since Golden based it on interviews with geishas, one of whom objected to the way he portrayed events in the book. Yet, fictionalizing the book allowed Golden to pick and choose details and to focus the story in a way that lent the most drama. These were wise choices, and the book, while it may not tell any one geisha’s story, nevertheless tells the story of many woman whose profession, like their stories, has slipped into the past.

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Handling Rejection

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Writers become used to rejection, but despite making snarky comments about papering our bedrooms with rejection slips, few of us really enjoy hearing “no.” Whether it’s a letter with a hand-written note from the editor or an impersonal slip of paper, rejection notices are never fun to read. It’s hard not to view them as a personal assessment: an indication that perhaps we’re not the writer we thought we were.

Losing a contest is no easier, especially in the cases where we were certain we had a chance. Perhaps we imagined how much of a difference the cash prize would make, or exactly what we would do with the free time that a grant would allow us.

So how do you get something positive out of rejection? First of all, if possible, find out what beat you out. In a contest, read the winning works. In the case of a literary magazine, check out the latest issue. Compare that to the pieces that you had submitted and try to figure out what the published pieces had that yours might have lacked.

About 90 percent of publication has to do with finding the right fit, with 10 percent being professionalism (proper spelling and grammar, polite cover letters, following all guidelines). So when you’re rejected, try not to take it personally. Instead, try to figure out where your work might fit better.

I compare it to trying on clothes in a department store. As any woman knows, this can be a disheartening experience, whatever your body type. A long time ago, I learned a technique for saving my self-esteem: rather than blaming myself for every ill-fitting outfit, I tried to assess what it was that made the outfit a poor choice. Then, when I returned to the floor, I looked for items that might be cut in a more flattering way. In other words, don’t blame yourself; just accept that the clothing is wrong for you and spend your efforts finding something that works.

You can’t avoid rejection, but you can change how you respond to it and find a way to turn it into something positive.

Goodreads Author’s Blog Post

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

I’ve written a Goodreads author’s blog post about how I’ve recently found inspiration, as a writer, from reading “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” Give it a read!

Review: “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After receiving “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” as a Christmas present, I let it sit on a shelf for a year before reading it. I must admit: the prospect of reading about a child who lost his father on 9/11 did not excite me. Perhaps it was best that I waited, because this lyrical, fearless book has inspired me at a time when I, a stay-at-home mom of a toddler, am feeling overworked and under-inspired.

I have not gotten so excited about an author’s creative use of voice since I read William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” in high school. Rather than concentrating on 9/11, author Jonathan Safran Foer tells a multitude of tales from a family, all dealing with separation, guilt, grief, and an inability to communicate with loved ones. These are, of course, universal concerns, and they elevate the book above the simplistic ways we often talk about tragedy.

The characters include a young boy mourning his father’s death on 9/11, as well as his grandmother and his estranged grandfather. Each tell their tales in distinct ways. The boy keeps a scrapbook of pictures that speak to him and seeks meaning by engaging in a city-wide scavenger hunt for the lock opened by a key his father left behind. The grandfather, who left while the boy’s father was young, has not spoken aloud since the Dresden bombing in World War II, where he saw unfathomable tragedy. He “speaks” through writing short sentences to people in blank books. The grandmother shares her deepest thoughts through letters which, apparently, she leaves unsent. At times, the different voices descend into nonsense or take an unusual approach to describing experience. This constant discovery and renewal is exhilarating and thought-provoking.

I highly recommend this book to any reader, but especially to writers seeking inspiration. Reading this book will make writers think about narrative and how to construct it differently, as well as how to use voice and character to tell a story and build dramatic tension. This poetic, insightful book speaks volumes about the human experience.

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Review: “Angels & Demons”

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Angels and Demons (Robert Langdon, #1)Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Where Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” feels revolutionary, in terms of its incorporation of real-life settings and historical documents into a thriller, “Angels & Demons” treads the same territory with less impressive results.

I read this book primarily because I’d seen the movie, and it was interesting to compare the differences between the book and the movie. There were a number of key changes to the way the action played out, and the book frequently made more sense (even if it was less dramatic and visual). But those changes aside, the book was a fairly traditional thriller. Yes, there is a religious conspiracy unveiled, but the “evidence” is less convincing and the end result far less plausible.

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Review: “Kare Kano, Vol. 8”

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances, Vol. 8Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances, Vol. 8 by Masami Tsuda
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Picking up where the previous volume left off, author Masami Tsuda’s manga romance/comedy continues to follow the stories of a number of high-school students. The artwork in this installment is so strong that it actually changed my mind about the story involving Tonami, the transfer student introduced in the previous volume. I’m particularly fond of the flashback sections featuring Tonami as a chubby boy; they help to explain his low self-esteem. In this volume, Soichiro and Yukino, the main characters, come to the foreground again, with Soichiro trying to reconcile two different aspects of his personality: kind and giving, and angry and possessive.

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Review: “Kare Kano, Vol. 7”

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances, Vol. 7Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances, Vol. 7 by Masami Tsuda
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My love for the anime series “Kare Kano” brought me to the books, and the first several volumes offered the same mix of humor and poetic introspection that made me love the anime. In Volume 7, however, author Masami Tsuda seems to be running out of steam. She spends more of the book dealing with the side story of a transfer student and his love-hate relationship with secondary character Sakura (a girl who happens to look a lot like the male protagonist Soichiro). I realize I’m not the target audience for these manga (preteen girls), but if this volume had been the first one I’d read, I never would have read more.

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