Posts Tagged ‘Novel’

I don’t really get angry. I get irritated, I get peeved. But anger — no. It’s just not my style. I pride myself on my sense of patience. My endurance of uncomfortable situation. My grace, if you will. This is not bragging, this is fact. I fail, naturally, on occasion, but Hemingway’s “grace under pressure” is a condition I’ve aspired to since reading The Sun Also Rises for the first time senior year of high school.

Alas, the past evening has tested and tried and broken that resolve, if ever briefly.

One never really knows how dependent one is on the Internet (capital I) until it goes. Ours has been patchy for the past week, and wouldn’t you know it? It’s been patchy at night, usually when I’m trying to call Melissa back home or discuss something with my bank or mutual funds or the loan collection agency that’s been sending me e-mails for the past month. It’s usually something important. And then it cuts. And gets back on. And cuts. And no matter how many times I call the guy, there is always something. A list of the most recent excuses:

– The elevator in the building the router is in isn’t working.

– It’s the weather.

– Someone has stolen your wireless. (By this, he literally meant that someone had hacked into our account, stolen our IP addresses, and booted us out. Pal-ease.)

– There are really bad winds today.

– Unplug the router and reconnect it (this is his answer for everything. If I tell him I’ve done this thirty-five times already, he insists that the 36th time will do it.

To be honest, I heard all of these excuses (in succession) last night, until said Muhammad said, “It’s working! I see it here! The problem is with your old computer, Michael.”

Response: None of us has Internet, Muhammad. (Translation: don’t blame my f-ing computer, bitch.)

I have a problem.

Despite my electronic impotence in the matter, I think I stared at my screen for a solid hour and fiddled with the router trying (in vain) to fix things. I watched an old episode of NCIS, looked over an old journal, set up the translation of a quatrain, and read an H.P. Lovecraft Story (I short one, I confess: “The History of the Necronomicon”). Still nothing. I stared for hours, and when Melissa called my cell phone and asked me what was up, I continued my distracted fiddling.

I woke up this morning and more of the same.

I don’t exist until I hit GoogleReader. It’s pretty terrible. It’s my window to the world, and ever since I hooked my regular sites up to it, I’ve been reading more and more online. Within a month I’ve become an information addict, and keeping a blog doesn’t help.


I used to think that bloggers were pretty arrogant for assuming that they have a particular insight into the way the world works. After all, who the hell am I? Mike Mewshaw imparted some interesting wisdom on to me once upon a time: if you don’t write it, who will? How many people are in your position, after all? Most people are pretty ordinary and the only way they’re going to “experience” anything is through writing. Isn’t that what you’ve done? Write for yourself. That’s what that means.


On the surface, that seems pretty arrogant, I suppose, but it’s not to be dismissed. Sure, people can access the information without you — after all, this isn’t Iran, and you’re not coordinating protest movements through the streets of Tehran via Twitter — but for many people, you are their own window on the world. You’re positioned in a way that most people in your own community are not.

I get the impression that Ibn Battuta would have used Twitter and kept the Rihla in blog-form if he had the resources. Isn’t it interesting to make the parallel?

The hardest thing about blogging, I think, is writing about it. You can blog, sure, that’s no problem. But media is changing, the way people interact is changing. Photography changed the way that artists looked at the world; it no longer was about creating a realistic impression, art was no longer about accurately reflecting the world. It was about the artist’s perception, the act of creation. In the same way, with the Internet, with so much accessible to the world, the way we write, the way we view literature has to change. No longer is literature literature for the educated few, but for the masses. Books can be accessed in an instant. In my opinion, books, literature, novels, whatever, have two distinct paths that they can go down (shut up, Michael):

1. “Democratization”: This is the route that e-Books seem to be leading us to. Cell phones with books. A book at all time. You carry around all your photos on your iPhone, why not your favorite poetry, your favorite book? Think about what happened to music when you no longer needed CDs: it became cheap. I think about high school when I used to buy one CD: that would last me months. I would listen to each song and memorize practically everything before buying another CD — CDs were expensive, and I was on a limited budget. Nowadays, I’ve got music in my library I didn’t even know was there, because everything is bought in extremely cheap bulk (www.mp3fiesta.com) or is acquired from swaps, burns, or pirates.

Who listens to the radio anymore (aside from our parents)? New music is acquired through Pandora and other websites dedicated to the “customization” of your tastes. You need never listen to pop again. In fact, things like Pandora make me wonder if “pop” is actually a relevant category anymore.

Kindle, iPad, the Sony thingamareader (whatever), these are hailed as the “future of reading,” but I’m not sure. The Internet is. The Internet is free, and people will always read what is free and popular and spread easily and quickly by their friends. Literature’s future is on the Internet, only no one can figure out how in holy hell to make money out of it.

The problem with the freedom and accessibility of all that information is that it changes the way we view literature and the written word. Ours is a generation of multitaskers, chatting in one window, talking with a friend via Skype, writing an e-mail. There is no focus, no calm, for the traditional novel in this context. So writing must change from the fluidity of the longer narrative to the shorter, more succinct spitfire prose of online articles. Part of the reason why Dan Brown’s fiction is so successful is its readability — the short chapters make it easier to pick up and trek through and pause for a rest when we’ve had to much prose, too fast. It’s a result of information obesity: we need to stop for a breather on long narrative runs.

As a consequence, this kind of prose also appeals to the lower spectrum of the literary field. Some time back, Lev Grossman wrote a pretty terrible article for the WSJ on the “death of the literary novel.” It’s really bad. Grossman argued that plot had over taken “style” and “difficulty” as the priority in contemporary fiction, basically pushing forward thrill-fueled rides like The Da Vinci Code and romantic entanglements as Twilight as the “new literature” of the latter half of the twentieth century. People didn’t want beauty, they want interest. They don’t want difficulty in reading, either.

In large part, I can see Grossman’s point. It’s hard to imagine a world where it was easy to read “The Waste Land,” or pick up Joyce’s Ulysses for fun. It’s hard to imagine why they were successful when they remain closed or incomprehensible texts to so many. The Internet is the Great Democratizer. It levels the playing field, and while it makes all things accessible, it also makes clear that some things people just don’t want to access. If something doesn’t appeal to you, it’s not labeled as “boring,” but “bad.” The difference is pretty clear between the two. As a consequence, if the future of the novel is one based on plot, and not beauty, are we to see the decline of literature in the future?

That was a long tangent.

My point: how do you write about blogging in a literary fashion? I think the nature of the novel has to change drastically in the next fifty years and adapt to changing attitudes about the written word. People don’t read blogs for beauty; they read blogs for content. How will the next generation of writers adapt to the changes and incorporate new media into literature? If Hemingway had written about blogging the Spanish Civil War and Lt. Henry tweeting updates to Catherine Barkley, A Farewell to Arms might be a different story. High school reunions have become irrelevant; Facebook allows us to follow our entire high school/college class up until the point they die, really. Our ideas about writing and human relationships (the core subject, if not the foundation of literature) have changed so drastically in the past ten years with the advent of social networking and public-blogging that it is difficult to imagine the first novel that will incorporate those elements into its infrastructure with grace, poise, and sensibility.

2. “Decadence”: This post has actually gone on a little longer than I would like. But I can’t end this post with at least nodding to the other possibility: informational “decadence.” Analogize it to the music industry: when an indie band signs with a major record label, they are instantly shunned by the indie community (perhaps not the die-hards, but you understand). In the same manner, with the complete democratization of literature — a book on every phone, etc. — literature will cease to be about the words and will become confused with the objects. Books will become more and more valued as material objects, and literature pretension will reach heights never before imagined: “You read Shakespeare for class on your Kindle? Well, I read him out of a 2002 reprinting of the Oxford text on simulated vellum paper with gold edges in red morocco leather. Can you imagine? Reading Shakespeare bound in leather is the only way to read him, I think.” Those people that claim that Coltrane is better on vinyl (he is) — imagine that, times ten, with books. “True” enthusiasts don’t dip to the level of ebooks; they read real books. If the world suddenly turns paperless, the act of reading won’t matter — nor even the text — but rather the fact that the connoisseur is reading an actual, physical book.

Speaking of books, it’s time to get back to writing mine.


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Flagrant Exhibitionism

So, I’m going to do something new with this blog.

In addition to updates (which are pretty much at a steady pace of every three days), I’m going to start posting some of my favorite tracts from the book. Initially they’ll just be the descriptions or character musings, sketches, or perhaps just random bits. Whatever. Think of it as a workshop. It’s all quite rough (blah blah blah), but my intent is to “try out” a few things I’m either super confident are good or are still trying to work out.

Enjoy: MJN.


It started to rain again.

Days passed. Music.

He was protective of the music, the oud and the kanoon and the delicate fingerwork of the reesha as it picked its way across the strings. He was protective of the music because it reminded him of the desert—it echoed across caverns, places he remembered, things that he had lost, the sand in the boots and the smell of dust salty with time and wind and he sat and he listened and he remembered and nothing could keep him from it, especially when the world turned chill and the wind blew in and he could almost taste that same unrelenting air. He remembered the places where you could not escape the wind: you shut the doors and you wrapped the scarves around your neck and shoulders tighter, you put your hands into your pockets or put on leather gloves as you kept going on on horseback, on camelback; you wrapped kuffayas around your head and neck in longer scarves and yet you felt the draft, you felt the wind come in and lift up your garments, slowly trying to strip you down to your body. She tickled you with her fingertips which were the grains of sand, cold kisses that sent shivers down your back and arms. You exhaled heavily to feel the hot breath on you face, hoping that the warm hot air of it would lodge between you and your scarf, but nothing. Nothing but the wind slipping her hands under your clothing, and you ran, your ran faster than Joseph outrunning Zulkhaya, you ran to fire and warmth and holiness the entire day, but every inch until sunset was one more grab she made, and the cold got more intense, her grabs took hold of more clothing, and always you were running until the next day, until warmth returned and you could rest, weary, sweaty, exhausted by the cold and what she wanted of you. There was no outrunning her, though. Eventually you would have to meet her with boots off, and lie on the soft sand that only grew colder as your fires died, as your tea gradually was defeated by the surrounding air, and she took you, shivering, to bed. Night would cover you, and in the silver light of the White Desert, you would rest only briefly, before the cold once more wakened you, and her hands were on top of your shivering body.

He remembered, and was protective of the music he remembered. And this was strange, because he had carried no music into the desert. There were the memories of songs, the things he sang in his head, the Rachmaninov concertos, the wordless versions of songs in Libyan Arabic he had never learned, the songs from church, the familiar Mass of Creation and hymns he learned in choir. He carried music with him, but the music he carried was within him, and he had come to terms with it, and now he was out of the desert, he matched music to it, the scenes replayed in his mind like a movie, and the soundtrack played over what he might have, at an earlier time, closer to the event, remembered as a silent film, one marked by much staring out into the desert, much reflection, much solitude. It was not loneliness, because it was taken in stride, and on the road, he was his own master for the first time, he kept to himself or spoke as he wanted, and never shared a tea unwanted or a smoke unoffered or a word with someone who was not worth talking to. And as he went from place to place he was like the ancient mariner, aimless and hollow-eyed, he was stopped by random strangers and asked what he was doing there. He became a wanderer of ancient places, and he tried to feel out the jinn in the deserted spots in the desert, walking out from the oasis towns to the Muslim cemeteries until he could no longer feel the lights, until the lights became stars and he had to find his way back to them from a world distant, apart, and lonely.

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