Friday, July 2, 2010

You are what you read (Lisa's version)

Mark is brilliant. After surveying my dearest reading memories, it is so obvious that the writers and novels I've loved have absolutely filtered into the ways in which I'm telling Beryl's story. (Or at least the ways in which I'm trying to tell it.) And now, after following Mark's lead, I see my own history as a reader and a writer much more clearly. Again, that Mark: brilliant.

Creating my list, I realize that I'm drawn to certain types of books, certain ways of telling stories. Specific themes/ideas/narratives just push my pleasure buttons. So rather than a listing of authors, you're getting Lisa's First List of Favorite Literary Features (hereafter: LFLFLF). Subsequent lists will be forthcoming.

Telling The World from A New Perspective
These are stories that we all know. We probably know them by heart. Our elders told them to us; we tell them to our young. We know everything about them. Or so we think. Until we are told the story from the perspective of a minor character. Someone who hasn't yet been allowed to speak, someone we haven't been listening to. Like the story of the current world from, say, the perspective of a bear. And then we see the story, our world, with new eyes.

Favorite examples:
Till We Have Faces - C. S. Lewis. A retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth from the perspective of Psyche's ugly sister Orual. It was Orual who convinced Psyche to look on Cupid (forbidden!) because she was so jealous of her sister's beauty and her scoring the luscious Cupid. Except that's not what REALLY happened, which you would know if you'd heard Orual's side of the story. This was the first book I read that switched a familiar story. It twisted my mind and it felt so lovely, twisted up that way.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing - M. T. Anderson. A retelling of the Revolutionary War from the perspective of a black boy/young man. I always catch myself trying classifying this series as an alternative history. But it's not an alternative history. It's my American history, fictionalized, yes, but not alternative history. But I never learned my history this way, from this perspective. So my brain has to do this dance with itself: Woah, imagine if this was our history. Uh, Lisa, this IS our history. But in high school I learned... and everyone always says...and we won the revolutionary war and.... Lies, Lisa, half-truths: Who won that war? Who was freed from imperialism? Not all of us. Woah, everything I thought was true.... Yup.

Nested Stories
Stories inside stories inside stories. Layers. Chocolate Cake, Ganoche, Raspberry Jam. So, so yummy. Obvious connection to Once We Were Bears: A potato tells the story of three teenagers who are reading a journal written by Beryl.

Favorite examples:
Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell. Six different stories, times, places, narrators, and even genres. Wildly different (futuristic sci-fi to mystery to farce to....) Each story emerges seamlessly from the previous until you've gone from the past to the distant future (which resembles the past in some very unsettling ways) and then back again. And throughout them all, a sustained exploration of a single set of questions.

The Orphan's Tales - Catherynne Valente. The most intricately interwoven stories. An orphan tells a story, the character in her story tells a story and on and on and on. The stories dive downward through many storytellers and then come back up through each again, only to dive down again. As I was reading them, I pictured the structure as a score, with notes running down and up a music graph. Down, down, down, up, down, up and up and up and down. Up. Down. File this one also under stories that twist, retelling familiar tales (princes questing, for example,) but turning them inside down and upside out. Breaking them in ways they were aching to be broken.

Choose Your Own Endings
Choose Your Own Adventures: a series of books first published in 1979 (I was eleven). The reader is the protagonist; you read a scenario and then get to choose what action you will take. I had this one (and many, many others):

I am giddy writing this! I so loved these books. I devoured them. I inhaled them. I systematically went through them to make sure I read every possible scenario--my system involved using my fingers as bookmarks so I could trace where I'd been, and where I still needed to go. It might seem hard to read a book when you've got all your fingers stuck into it in various places, but it sure didn't bother me one bit. What will happen if I make this choice? The logical choice seems to be the first option...oh no! Let's try the second option..ok, better, but now which option? Again, the connection to my WIP a strong one: when things go bad (very, very bad,) time travel allows Beryl to try another option by erasing her journal, (rather than flipping back pages.) Will she choose better this time?

I'd pretty much forgotten all about these books, until I saw a promo for a graphic novel that uses the technique: Meanwhile, by Jason Shiga. I'll be reading it soon.

Okay, I gotta close with that one. My brain is doing cartwheels. Whee!


Mark Teats said...

Lisa, great post. You are too kind--thanks for the mention. Also, you've given me some more books to look into. I must also say, mmmmmmm ganache. Happy 4th!

Jon said...

I loved the choose your own adventure. I'd always peek ahead: Did I die by making this choice? Yes...? Lets try another route. The Ninja one was my personal favorite.

Shawn Enderlin said...

So what does it say about me that the only book on your list that I recognized was The Cave of Time? LOL!