Archive for May, 2014
Not everyone can win gold, and sometimes bronze makes you happy enough. I’ll get back to that.
The first hurdle I had to surmount when I started writing seriously, or at least when I started thinking seriously about writing was that there wasn’t just one winner. It took me a long time to emotionally realize that more than one book was published each year and beyond that, more than one book was published in each category. Agents took more than one manuscript, and editors usually did, too. So even though I would have to produce a good book, I didn’t have to produce the very best of the year or the best ever written.
In the Olympics, though, only one athlete or team wins gold in each sport. I’ve heard that placing second is the least satisfying because the athletes often are down on themselves for not winning gold. The bronze winners are said to be glad they medaled, but it is likely that some of them feel they weren’t good enough because they didn’t place first. They weren’t the best, so they were a disappointment to their country, themselves, or another nameless entity.
In the documentary The Other Dream Team,
the Lithuanian men’s basketball team recounts the story of their success in winning. Four of the five gold medal winners in the 1988 Seoul Olympics for the Russian team were Lithuanians. In the intervening years Lithuania won its freedom from the USSR. During that time frame, many Lithuanian players had been drafted to play for teams in the US and elsewhere. After freedom, the international players decided to form a team of Lithuanians to compete in the next Olympics. Although their country rallied behind them, they had no money to support this effort. An unlikely benefactor turned out to be The Grateful Dead. The band outfitted the basketball players in tye-dyed teeshirts in the colors of the Lithuanian flag and helped support the team financially. During the 1992 games, Lithuania, like the US dream team with Michael Jordon, Charles Barkley, and other household names, beat their opponents in embarrassing fashion. The two teams met in the semifinals. USA prevailed. This set up a consolation match for bronze between Lithuania and the former Soviet Republic.
Not only did the team want to win this game for self respect–and remember in the last Olympics four of the five starters on that Russian team were Lithuanians–but the whole country rooted for them. When they prevailed and climbed the podium wearing their Grateful Dead teeshirts, the players admitted that winning the bronze meant more to them than the earlier gold.
As in basketball, in writing the circumstances surrounding a “win” can determine how one feels about a success.
I wrote the above as a draft post more than a month ago. At this point I don’t remember exactly what my point was going to be, but it seems important to remember that not everyone can be on the bestseller list or win the Man Booker prize. Sometimes the act of publication and the congratulations of a small number of friends and readers is enough. Sometimes it is worthwhile to remember that certain teams start with an advantage–more money, a larger cohort to choose from to form the team, etc. Sometimes bronze is more meaningful than gold.
I was bored, or at least I was procrastinating, so I went to Twitter and what do I find but this:
Book Quotes @BooksBestQuotes
“A half-read book is a half-finished love affair.” – David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
This strikes me as a rather silly thought, so I hope it was a character’s and not David Mitchell’s. I immediately thought:
“Or a boring discussion abandoned.”
“An unnecessary fight resolved.”
“An inadvisable relationship terminated.”
Okay, I actually only thought the first immediately, but I don’t, and never have, understood the necessity of reading a book, once started, all the way through. Granted, there are books I had to start and restart that once I did read them, I was grateful. Confederacy of Dunces is my prime example. I’d been told it was funny, but until I was stuck at my mother-in-law’s with nothing else to read, I couldn’t get into it. I’m sure by abandoning books, especially books whose topic didn’t appeal to me at that moment, books that sagged too much in the middle, or books I misplaced, I missed some wonderful books.
Possibly that last category is the one where this is most likely to be true. I have the unfortunate habit of losing a book at least once before I’ve finished it. For me, the most notorious example of this is A Suitable Boy. I still can’t figure out how I’ve managed to lose a 1349 page book not once, but at least twice. At one point I even bought a second copy. I did eventually find the first book with the flap marking my place—page 111—but many years had passed; I didn’t think I could pick up the story there, and I didn’t want to start over. Someday I may finish this because for me, this one is like a relationship that never quite got off the ground. Lots of kisses and late night discussions but nothing more.
I’m glad I’m getting this post out of the way. I’m going to post it early in the hope that I stop procrastinating and actually do a little work tomorrow. I leave you, oh dear one or two people who happen to stop by my blog, with the questions:
Do you agree with the tweet above? Why do you soldier on with any book, and if you do, is it more often worth it or a waste of your time?
I Hate the Tattered Cover (Although I Hate the New Flagship Store Less than the Cherry Creek Version.}
Of course I don’t really hate the wonderful independent Denver bookstore, but like the quote from Amadeus, “there are too many books.”
As well as too many recommendations. (Not really.)
The original store opened in 1971. That small store had 950′ and two employees. In 1986 the expanded store moved across the street. This was the store I hated.
My memories of the Cherry Creek store: People bustling in from one of the various doors. You’d grab a map and have to hold it this way and that to figure out where you were since the mountains weren’t visible. (An orienteerer I’m not. I didn’t learn right from left until 6th grade and only know my way around Colorado when I am on one side or other of the mountains.) Then, usually up the wide staircase, which had books on the landings, books piled on the sides of the steps. Something would always catch my attention so I’d have to stop and skim it. Sometimes I’d get stuck in the magazine section, which included every conceivable topic in various languages. Too poor to buy a book? Try an obscure journal.
This incarnation had four floors, with a well-liked restaurant, The Fourth Story, on the top. There were information desks on each floor, chairs tucked in corners, and people everywhere. The lower level held the smell of coffee from the busy coffee bar. Six miles of shelves! You could get lost, and pre-cell phone days, you might wander for hours amongst those 150,00 titles, looking for the person you arrived with. I was overwhelmed, and remember plopping myself down, depressed that I could never read all the books, not even all the books that sounded really good and interesting since a good half of the titles would have met those criteria. Scanning the wall of recent arrivals, I despaired I’d never have a book displayed there. Unless I went into the store looking for a particular title, or had narrowed down what I wanted to a particular topic, it was too daunting to enter. Of course, a normal trip resulted in a large purchase since no matter how determined I was to buy just one title, something else jumped out as a must read.
When the branch store opened in LoDo, I liked shopping there better. It still had a ton of books, three floors (since consolidated to two) with books displayed or stacked on the landings, the wall of recent arrivals, and lots of magazines, but its smaller size felt more manageable, and you could met up at the coffee bar since it normally was less busy than the other store.
Since the Cherry Creek store closed in 2006, I’ve mostly shopped at the Colfax location. The new Colfax store has two floors, with fewer nooks and hiding places but now it has history as it resides in the renovated Bonfils-Lowenstein Theater. The building had been vacated about twenty years before it was converted to a bookstore. Udi’s Cafe faces the side street, with a coffee shop in the opposite corner. The website says there are about the same number of titles as in the old store, although the open space makes the overabundance of volumns look more manageable. This store has very tall shelves, but preserves many of the historic details of the old theater. I wasn’t aware of some of these features until I read the website. Most of the books are shelved in the proscenium. A bank of theater seats, as well as many other chairs, remains for reading pleasure. A new feature is used books commingled with new titles. On my recent trip I bought a used title, two discounted books I’ve been meaning to read, a discounted French Vegetarian paperback, and a hardback hot off the presses.
The history of the store includes numerous author talks and other events, which continue to this day. Its hallmark is customer service and a knowledgeable staff. On my recent trip, I tapped into the expertise of the head buyer, Kathy. Ordering titles online or by phone is another longtime service. Truly, the bookstore is a friend to any writer and beloved by the Denver metropolitan community in any of its incarnations. You can like them on FaceBook, order online, or, when in Denver, shop at any of their three locations. (Colfax, Lodo, or Highlands Ranch.)
A few months ago I wrote a short post about what some are calling “the new smoking.” Research seems to indicate that sitting for long periods can be one of the worst inactivities for your health. Now a Stanford study finds individuals are more creative while walking. It seems that in the past people might say they were more creative if they spent time outside, and that might be a first reaction to that statement. “Of course I’m more creative after coming in from smelling the flowers.”
But the study Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking implies it is the act of walking, not the outdoors itself, that produces more divergent thinking. Some study participants walked indoors and still produced more creative ideas, while others were pushed around in a wheelchair outside. Presumably these individuals did not produce an equivalent number of creative ideas. The effect seemed to last for at least a short period of sitting after a walk as well as during the actual activity. Here is a summary of the study http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/april/walking-vs-sitting-042414.html.
Just one more reason to get up and out of your chair when you’re writing. Maybe you’ll come up with a new solution or create an astounding dilemma for your protagonist. And what an excuse to walk around the building or down the street in the middle of the day. Don’t forget your sunscreen. Could a new walking desk set up be down the line?