Thursday, January 22, 2009

Change brings more of the same

In this article by Mr John Blake I felt the feelings of Barbara McKinzie echoed those of my own heart, yet were vastly underrepresented if not completely brushed aside as fiction.

What is wrong is the perception of the black family in America in the eyes of black Americans.

“Obama didn't shout at his wife, Michelle, to shut up. The first lady didn't roll her eyes and tell Obama to act like a man. No laugh track kicked in, no one danced, and no police sirens wailed in the background.”

Was any other black American offended by that? To think that the above is the default perceived behavior for a black American husband and wife? I am a black American male, and the above is anything but my vision of a black family in America. When did people lower their expectations to the point of accepting what was shown to them on TV as reality? I’m aware of the culture, the lingo, and stereotypes... I also live in the real world where none of that surrounds me. I don’t watch the programs that portray blacks in that light, nor do I listen to the music that reflects upon those aspects. Once all of that is trimmed away there is a plethora of outlets from black Americans that more realistically reflect my reality; material that I wouldn’t be ashamed to watch or listen to among non-blacks.

Of course the Obamas aren’t here to entertain us. The fact that anyone ever thought they were is degrading. Perhaps that's your point Mr. Blake, but I should hope not. The perception of the Obamas should not be that of a standard bearer for a new way of being in terms of how a black family is seen in America, rather it should reinforce all the good that so many blacks have achieved that goes unheralded. The standard of the Obamas as the ideal black American family exist in the eyes of many Americans today, black or otherwise.

“America has often viewed the black family through the prism of its pathologies: single-family homes, absentee fathers, out of wedlock children, they say.”

Without having demographics to support me, I’d go out on a limb and say that the average television show Mr. Blake referenced with the exception of “The Cosby’s” is marketed to black Americans and isn’t kept on the air by the legions of Caucasian viewers. So using the above quotation as an example, who exactly is, “America” referring to?

If the Obamas are to the be new stars of the ideal black family–as it seems they are destined to be–then I would be correct in thinking that any who support a media that sends up these pathologies ( all of which are negative ) would be in serious decline. Now that Obama is in office surely “America” will start thinking twice when ever these pathologies come up in the context of blacks on television or in print and ask themselves, “Gee, I wonder if Barack and Michelle would be watching this?”

I don’t know who the above “they” are but the pathological problems that plague many black families are averted by just as many others, furthermore there are many wonderful success stories from blacks that grew up with such pathologies, and overcame the difficulties.

This new version of black intimacy that so many in Mr. Blake’s article supported was borderline comical: what prey-tell was the old version? Please, spell it out for me. Intimacy is a word; a noun to be specific. The definition does not change with the modification of ethnicity. That intimacy is expressed differently in different races, I don’t doubt, but is their an American ideal of what intimacy is regardless of race, age, religion or possibly even pathological upbringings? It would seem that nouns are less affected by influence and prove to be more structurally sound than some would believe.

I feel Mr. Blake is deceiving himself if he truly believes the “street lit” he mentions is sold or read en masse by anyone other than blacks. “The American public” as he states is not subjected to “Project Chick.” Without any evidence to support me, I will affirm that the buyers of those books are predominately, if not exclusively, black. Black intimacy and the perception of the black American family does need to change; mainly in the eyes of black Americans. Most importantly I would state that this perception--be it by black Americans, “America” as so vaguely defined by Mr. Blake, or anyone else for that matter--needed to change regardless of President Obama. He has many burdens and he is not the President of black America, or “America”, rather all of us as a collective whole ( for those of you who don’t understand subtleties, the entire USA ).

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Repetition redundancy saying the same thing more than once and a sequel to all the former

I’ve mentioned this before, but I feel it bears saying again, “Why would you need more than one book?” For whatever reason people are generally okay with trilogies. Truth to tell I have an immediate dislike for books that need a series of any duration greater than one to tell their story. Having said that three is my limit, perhaps this is because it is such a standard, but even at three I hesitate. It’s the reason I haven’t gotten around to Patrick Rothfuss, and I the same reason I’m just now buying Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. I’m sure the writing is good, and in Sanderson’s case I’ve read some of his other works, and I know the writing is good; but so was The Historian, and so was Anna Karenina. Furthermore both of the former books only took one volume to complete their story, granted both are incredibly long but one book nonetheless.

I just got out of a writers club meeting where Steve Berry--a very humble and extremely likable ‘I’ve sold eight million books in as many years’ Steve Berry--was talking, and someone asked if he would ever consider writing a series which he replied that he was currently on book four of seven in a series. Earlier this week I was reading something about Sanderson’s proposed ten book series when he picks up the pieces left/inherited from Robert Jordan and can go back to his own work. Also earlier this week I read a financial piece about video game developers putting there foot in the mouth prematurely by announcing a trilogy of games--development of which cost tens of millions of dollars, spanning years and possibly even multiple consoles--only to have the first installment of three come out and flop at retail. The trend in that industry is to kinda say “why don’t you prove to me that you can be successful with one project before you start announce your sequels.”

Now to this end, I understand that my examples of Berry and Sanderson are bad ones: they are both extremely successful both critically and at retail. But it pains me to think that Sanderson is one of my favorite living authors yet I have no interest and probably never will in a ten book arc. How much is padding, how much is fluff? Perhaps none and all ten books clocking in at God-knows-how-many-hundreds-of-pages-plus will be of astonishing quality. But I know me--as a reader. I will get bored. The story I want to read about all of sudden won’t be present in volume four and all I’m left with is a place holder for my interest that last the duration of one entire book. That’s why I put down Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, and why I have no interest in Berry’s curent seven book thing. I’m sure I’m missing out, but there is so much stuff out there that is complete within it’s covers that I’m always left to wonder why anyone would need more than one book to tell a single story.

I’m all about doing things differently and perhaps that’s why Sanderson and Berry need ten or seven books, just to get away from the standard trilogy; hats off to Stephanie Meyer for taking the “Twilight Saga” to four. I know it’s shallow on my part but this series idea actually affects my reading and buying trends. The list of stuff I want to read is long and I love crossing things off the list. I guess it also bears saying that not all series are the same. James Clavell’s series of five are all connected yes; but they are also all independent of each other. I actually heard of Clavell from a friend that had read King Rat--the last in the series--first and raved to me about it at which point I read Shogun--the first in the series. That’s different, and to their credit perhaps, Sanderdon’s, Berry’s and Meyer’s series are just like this; as of writing this I haven’t read those works.

Imagine for a moment that Lolita was the first book in a series of fourteen and our beloved, though eternally creepy, “Humbert Humbert” reflects on other ‘girl-childs’ he loved “in a princedom by the sea.” Do you think that the writing would be as effective? As poignant, or clear; would that story still have the same power if Lolita were only book one of fourteen? Would all that followed book one tarnish all that was good in in the first? Would things grow convoluted or perhaps even commonplace: “Oh, there’s Humbert again sleeping with another fourteen year old… when is something new gonna happen?”

I can acknowledge the positive side of a series for the sake of publishers and authors. Take a big name like Stephen King, Clive Cussler, or Nora Roberts and announce a series of eight and watch said big name top the bestseller list every year they release a book. You get a built in reader base, comprehensive marketing and many other positives. But like Too Human by Silicon Knights, what if the first entry sucks? No marketing guru in the world can help you then. But here is where you’re really screwed, you have to follow through, with all the rest of your soon-to-flop-entries in the series. You can’t bail. You have to finish dedicating your time and effort into a loosing endeavor. And if the price of entry includes having to go back and experience something that sucked, then I’ll pass. Berry, Roberts and Sanderson are all phenomenal writers but for as many readers as they get with their proposed series of “too god damn many” I know of others--me and my ilk--that are instantly turned off by them.

Now I know that someone out there is just waiting to point out to me that The Book of the New Sun doesn’t stand alone; that even when you finish reading book four you sit and speculate on what happens next. To them I would say you’re right, but we would be arguing the exception (at least in my mind) and not the rule.

I so desperately want to read Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Cause I love the idea behind, ‘Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came,’ but seven books? The series started in 1982 and ended sometime in 2004. People died before the end! How is that fair to your readers? Thanks but I can find less sadistic, and more concise literary satisfaction elsewhere.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Eponymous Libations

I read once that there were three names known all across the “civilized world,” (whatever that means): Hitler, Beethoven and Jesus.  Of those three I’d always decided Jesus was the greatest simply because he was is a member of a supremely rare cadre that long after death are still remembered solely by their first name.  There were, and are, many Buonarroti’s, and even more Sanzio’s, but there is only one, Michelangelo; only one Raphael.  If you leave it at, “Christ” most people think you’re swearing; which is an accomplishment in and of it self if you think about it.  When your name is synonymous with swearing, you can truly say you’ve left a mark on the world in one way or another. 

I had never aspired to have my name added to the above short list; rather I wanted my face on the US one dollar bill—smiling, teeth blinging a pearly white that could be seen from outer space, both middle fingers raised with a picture of the globe wreathed in flames behind me.  While I’m not giving up on my dream of brandishing my mug in the memory of every American from now until eternity as a decent person suffocating in this new age of insanity, I have recently turned my mind to something that is more substantial than paper money and perhaps as old as swearing.

Tom Collins, Papa Dobles, the dubious Matt Dillon; I want to leave this world with a drink named after me as a constant reminder to people of my legacy.  Not a bottle of wine I could craft nor a spirit I could distill, but a mixed beverage of universal acclaim that would linger on the tasted buds, and consciousness of people everywhere long after I turn to dust.  Anyone from Jay-Z or Jerry Garcia can put their name put on a bottle, but what did Hemingway do that made his nick name synonymous with “Daiquiri?”

I feel this is the loftiest of aspirations I can can set for myself at the present.  There are a few things made by men that can truly endure, no matter how substantial.  There will come a time when War and Peace is forgotten and become even less than the memory of The Kebra Nagast or Outlaws of the Marsh; when 7 Samurai and Casablanca fade, what will people be drinking as they watch the new film classics?  

The Martini, The Manhattan, A Cosmopolitan.  These are the cockroaches of the bar; their strength and longevity have endured and will continue to flourish for generations to come.  Taking a tangent back to Jesus, the Holy Eucharist isn’t too far off the mark from what recognition I’m aiming for.  

The Eponymous Libation.  What more can man aspire to achieve ?  

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Liberation from the Bad

This is a New Year’s Resolution of sorts: I am not putting up with anything bad.  I was overcome with this feeling of intolerance—ironically a feeling I’m almost always brimming over with—as I was cleaning up my apartment the other day.  I picked up two books that were on the couch, both half finished, and finally said, “fuck it” and put them away on the shelf.  

I felt good after doing this.  It was like shedding unneeded weight.  The list of stuff I want to read never seems to get any shorter and to be slowed down with stuff that isn’t of interest to me doesn’t make any sense.  I used to finish everything I’d start only for the satisfaction I got from completion.  From here on out, I need to receive some manner of pleasure out of completion, no more suffering through crap just to say I did it.  

I tend to read a book I like in three-seven days depending on duration and subject matter.  Most recently I finished The Virgin Suicides.  I didn’t like it but read in it three days because I thought it was well written and occasionally made me laugh out loud.  The story’s “plot” for a lack of a better word wasn’t to my liking as well as a host of other “Chad-conceived” shortcomings…  If I no longer put up with all the bad stuff it’s kinda scary to think of what I could get done in terms of reading and life in general.  So exhilarating was this new found yet inherent freedom that the night I liberated myself I started a few ebay auctions for ‘Chad’s Bad Pile of Bad Books that Suck’, in addition to getting through one hundred and twenty pages of John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things.  

When I’m writing and struggling in the “re-reading/revision” portion, I look to see if there is an idea or one point that is worth saving: I try to justify the struggle.  If there is something of merit, then I’ll copy and paste the whole section that presented the problem in another file to struggle over another day as to not impede my progress.  If the portion of material I’m looking at has no quality at all, I’ve gotten really good at highlighting the whole thing and hitting the delete key.  It took me a while to be able to do that as in the beginning I thought everything I wrote was gold but now, there really is not a more liberating feeling for me than cutting out all the bad stuff and moving on to use my time more efficiently.  Now, the same is true for me reading material.  All that’s bad shall not linger.

Quantifying what is bad is a little tricky.  Henceforth, ‘bad’ will be subject to my whims and temperament, my pre-buying/screening process, feelings I have about previous works I’ve read by the author, and what ever I’m drinking at the moment.

This is probably something that most people have lived by or at least followed through with for all of their adult-reading-for-pleasure lives, but for me it was a revelation of sorts. I’m done with all that’s bad in life, and going forward I’ll hate accordingly: “strongly, exclusively, steadfastly.”