Ian McEwan, Thanks for the Peanut Butter

On Chesil Beach

I’ve been doing really well with my personal commitment to read like a madwoman this year. So far, I’ve consumed 23 books, and I hope to end 2015 with a total of 30.

When I finish a book, I generally savor the last line and the feeling of accomplishment for a few minutes, and then I wander over to my bookshelf to pick out my next adventure.

I finished book #23 on Monday night, and I did not immediately go to my bookshelf. In fact, I couldn’t bring myself to pick up a new book until this morning. And even that action is largely due to the fact that I have to read King Lear by next Wednesday’s Juvenile Court Book Club meeting—not because I’m hankering for a new story.

I feel this way, because Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach has stuck with me the way peanut butter sticks to the roof of your mouth. I’ve had a hard time deciding how I feel about this book. I’ve had a hard time navigating my feels after finishing it.

On Chesil Beach begins with a telling first line, which sets the stage for the whole work: “They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible.” Instant tension, instant conflict, and oh my God, how intimate that we are about to join this couple on their wedding night!

I’ve admired Ian McEwan’s work for quite some time now. Atonement is a triumph—heartbreaking and beautiful. Amsterdam, which I read a couple months ago, is a darkly comic romp through ghosts and betrayal. McEwan has this uncanny ability to find the moments and experiences where vastly different personalities intersect in very interesting ways. He’s a master of those surreal emotions that can drive us to do the strangest things.

On Chesil Beach showcases McEwan’s abilities on a whole other level. You know from the very beginning, from that first line, that this couple’s first sexual experience is not going to be blissful—it’s going to be a disaster.

And it is painfully uncomfortable wading into the storm. Unlike the experience of reading some of McEwan’s other works, I felt like a true voyeur while reading On Chesil Beach. I felt like I was right next to Edward and Florence from the moment they met to the moment they wed. McEwan takes us uncompromisingly close to the young lovers—into their heads, under a skirt, within a touch or a gaze. And “being there,” unable to do anything about it—ugh, my heart!

Through McEwan’s descriptions, I re-experienced all the awkward, terrible encounters I’ve had with lovers over the years. I felt like I was watching a horror film. I wanted to call out to the young couple and warn them of what was ahead, what I could see coming but they certainly couldn’t. It was like watching an impending train crash—one that takes 130 pages to happen.

There were passages that were incredibly hard to read—a few that were uncomfortably anatomical and many that were emotionally exhausting. There was so much pressure to live up to a single moment and so many things at stake.

I wanted these two to beat the odds, to have an awesome first experience, for love (because they are most definitely in love!) to soften all the edges of the awkwardness that is first-time lovemaking.

But again, that first line.

Undoubtedly, those first 130 pages or so unnerved me. A lot. I considered putting the book down a few times.

But I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad I pushed through, because the brilliance of this book occurs in the aftermath of this one pivotal moment in time. McEwan handles the emotional upheaval of young Edward and Florence with such grace and honesty. As a reader, I understood both sides of this difficult life episode to such a great degree that I didn’t find myself siding with either one of them. I simply felt everything and wilted and wanted to scream for them both.

And the final line of the book—the final page, really—left an imprint on my brain and my heart, something muddy and imperfect. When I closed the book, I couldn’t really move for a few minutes. I let the waves of Chesil Beach wash over me, and I knew I wouldn’t pick up a new book for a couple days.

For that, I say thank you, Ian McEwan. For putting me in the hotel room with Edward and Florence on that life-changing night. For weaving me into their love story as an observer. For making me deeply, deeply uncomfortable as a reader—a veritable skill. For that sticky feeling of peanut butter in my mouth, something that made me pause and absorb what I’d just experienced before scurrying to find another story to devour. And for true dedication to your characters and their complex emotions, something I will always admire in your work.

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Fahrenheit 451 (AKA USA 911)

Photo by flickr user ".sarahwynne."

Photo by flickr user “.sarahwynne.”

A few nights ago, I turned the final page of Ray Bradbury’s seminal work Fahrenheit 451—and found myself wondering how and where Bradbury gained his awe-inspiring prescience, because the dystopian world he created in 1953 is a little too close to the real world of 2015.

If, like me, you were never assigned this classic to read in school, it’s a dystopian work that Bradbury wrote when the U.S. was ensconced in the Cold War and the television was a brand new invention. Bradbury essentially asks in Fahrenheit, “What would happen if society became morbidly obsessed with TV, discarding the emotional resonance and knowledge in books for frivolous, digital entertainment?”

Well, the world of Fahrenheit 451 happens, a world where firemen don’t put out fires, they start them—for the sole purpose of burning books, which have been outlawed. If you’re found to have books, the firemen come to burn them and you’re arrested. If you run, mechanical hounds sniff out fugitives and kill them.

But Fahrenheit citizens aren’t angry or fearful. Rather, they go with the status quo. Reading and writing aren’t taught in schools. Concepts like love and happiness don’t exist. Citizens are anesthetized with TV screens the size of walls, “seashells” in their ears that transmit constant noise, pills, and monotony. Suicides are frequent, but emotionless. And despite frequent flyovers by military jets, no one seems concerned that a war or destruction could be looming.

In Fahrenheit, we follow Guy Montag, a fireman by trade who is married to Mildred and working hard to get her a fourth TV screen for their living room. One night, while walking home, Montag meets Clarisse, a young girl who simply strolls around town at night (unheard of in this society) and doesn’t own a TV, instead choosing to spend time talking to her flesh-and-blood family (also unheard of). Montag is immediately fascinated by Clarisse and at one point, calls her a “mirror.” Something is awakened in Montag and his emotional stirring hurtles him into a dangerous awakening.

When Montag starts to wonder about the taste of rain and the impending war and the words on the pages of books, he begins to set himself apart—and in doing so, makes himself a target for his neighbors, employer, and even the government. Will Montag be able to break the shackles of this oppressive society? And if can, then what?

While the story of Guy Montag and the society of Fahrenheit is fictional, the parallels to modern society are uncanny. We’re living in a world where books are fading into the background and TV reigns supreme. Even the format of books is changing. Everything is going digital, impersonal, intangible. Pretty soon, I fear the firemen of Fahrenheit 451 wouldn’t have anything to burn in our world. Perhaps they’d consider that an accomplishment.

The character of Mildred, Montag’s wife, is an extreme caricature of societal influence—and yet she doesn’t seem like such a stretch in today’s world. Mildred is always plugged in. Those “seashells” don’t leave her ears (can you say ear buds or Bluetooth devices?). Instead of spending time with her husband at night, Mildred goes into the living room to spend time with her “family,” the characters that talk to her through her TV (complete with name personalization, because that’s not creepy or anything). How many people watch the Kardashian family on TV instead of having dinner with theirs?

And, of course, Mildred takes handfuls of pills to “help her sleep,” and can’t remember when she overdoses. She shrugs off her brush with death and continues to live her life drugged and deluded. How often do we push pills instead of dealing with larger issues like depression, unhappiness, and restlessness organically? We often turn to anesthetization—a quick fix for a larger problem, because it seems simpler. But at what cost?

I finished Fahrenheit 451 a few days ago, but I think I’m finally getting around to digesting it today. It’s a hard pill to swallow. But also an important one.

Now I wonder—if Bradbury wrote another dystopian novel based upon the society of 2015, what would be next to burn?

 

Photo license.sarahwynne.

 

Read “Life Without Harry” Today – FOR FREE!

Cover by Katie Purcell.

Cover by Katie Purcell.

Fledgling writers stick together. We read and critique each other’s work. We bitch to each other about how hard it is to get published. We send each other writing prompts. We inspire each other.

And when one of us publishes something, we celebrate and make sure as many people as possible have access to said work!!!

So, today it’s my pleasure to inform you that my dear, dear friend Sara Dobie Bauer’s first novel, Life Without Harry, is now available to you all – FOR FREE!

No e-reader, no problem. The book is available in ePUB, MOBI, and PDF formats.

And let me tell you, it’s worth a download, especially if you’re a fan of Harry Potter, quirky romance, magical realism…and beautiful writing. Seriously, this girl inspires me. I want to read every word she ever writes. And to be brutally honest, I don’t support things unless I believe in them and I think they are quality work. So, you know, it’s really, really good.

Go over to her blog and request a copy. I promise you won’t regret it.

Into the Woods

woods

I have been having some funky dreams lately. They’ve been really weird. Like take Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and turn that on its head. Yeah, that’s about right.

Some have been terrifying…and some have been tons of fun.

In one, I was living in a society where those who were accused of crimes had to swordfight to the death. They would pit pairs against each other and most of the time, it was an unfair fight. I happened to be friends with a guy accused of…something…and he happened to be madly in love with me. I, sadly, was not in love with him, but he said the hope of us being together one day would protect him from the battle. I nodded stupidly. Of course, he didn’t win and I was distraight.

I clearly had The Hunger Games on the brain.

A week or so ago, there was a dream about a girl who was getting married to the wrong guy, but luckily an attractive woman singing a Melissa Etheridge song (“The Only One” – stereotypical, I know) swooped in (via helicopter, naturally) and whisked away the bride to be to this alternate world where you can travel by a single red balloon and aquatic flippers.

Photo by flicker user "james studiosushi."

Photo by flicker user “james studiosushi.”

Lord only knows where that one came from.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Something along the lines of, “This chick should lay off the cough medicine”?

I do feel drugged, but it’s not from cough medicine…or wine…or weed…or sugar. I’m high on creativity, because I’m spending a lot of time in the woods these days – metaphorical woods, not literal ones. And that is because I’ve finally decided to write a legitimate novel – and actually finish it this time around.

It’s a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but much darker thanks to buckets of magic, love triangles, and some vicious plotting. My imagination has been working overtime and thus, my dreams are the crazy aftermath of spending my day in landscapes crafted by magical realism.

Photo by flickr user "andy castro."

Photo by flickr user “andy castro.”

(By the way, just coincidence that my dreams are all wonky while I’m writing a new version of Sleeping Beauty, the chick who slept forever? Yeah, I think not.)

Other symptoms of novel writing?

The feeling like there aren’t enough hours in a day. Professional novel writing is a full-time gig, but since this is my first and I have yet to grace the New York Times Bestsellers list, I have to balance my regular job with caring for my dog, and being a great girlfriend, and maintaining a social life, and cupcake orders and, oh yeah, sleeping. I took my laptop to get my oil changed last weekend. Lunch breaks? Writing time! It may be a far-fetched goal with my lifestyle, but I’d like to have a solid draft of this novel done by the end of June. Eek!

Yet another symptom is fear. When you embark on a project this big and it’s so personal (as any writing is), you start to question yourself. Is my writing good enough? Will I actually be able to finish this thing? What happens if I love it, but no one else does – especially since this could very well be the first piece of writing with my name attached to it that I shop around to publishers? Is my story good enough? Are my characters compelling and likable? Is it too dark?

Of course, I choose to bat all of these questions to the side, because at the end of the day, I believe in myself and my writing, come what may. Finishing will be half the battle and I intend to crack open a very special bottle of wine when I do. What happens after that…well, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I have a story I want to tell and it’s time for me to tell it. That’s enough to keep me going.

I really want this. I really want this to be my moment.

And I want to continue to have weird ass dreams, because that means I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing – living in a fantasy world that someday I’ll share with all of you.

Resolving to Have FUN!

Photo by flickr user "Clay Carson."

Photo by flickr user “Clay Carson.”

Yes, it’s that time of year – the time where we all make resolutions to lose weight, stop smoking, quit swearing, or stop watching marathons of Smash on Hulu at 2am.

BOR-ING!

You wanna know why most people can’t stick to their New Year’s resolutions? It’s because resolutions are generally negative. Think about it – “I’ll quit,” “I’ll stop,” “I won’t,” “I promise not to.” Instead of promising ourselves we’ll embrace life and new adventures in 2013, we get so caught up in saying “no” to that weekly bear claw from Rainbow Donuts.

Photo by flickr user "smiteme."

Photo by flickr user “smiteme.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating the complete dismissal of healthy changes in 2013. But what I am doing is challenging you to challenge the status quo. Yes, set some resolutions that will make you a better person in 2013, but also indulge in some silly goals and resolve to have some fun so that you have something to look forward to. Otherwise, you know you’re just going to crave that bear claw like mad, right?

Gosh, I’m hungry now…

Anyway…drum roll, please. Here are my resolutions for 2013. I’m really looking forward to this year.

1. Slow your roll. I am all too often asked by my friends when I sleep. That’s because my planner is booked with dance classes, rehearsals, photo shoots, hot dates, concerts, and social events months in advance. I only know one speed – TURBO! I learned a couple of years ago how to say “yes” to opportunities and I have a hard time saying “no” (although I’m getting better at that). This year, I resolve to scale back substantially. I don’t need to be elbows deep in four projects at once. I’m going to focus on one thing at a time and really being present instead of worrying that I need to be somewhere in 30 minutes. This is going to be my year to relax. I plan to reintroduce yoga to my world, focus on my writing, and drink copious amounts of wine in my bathtub.

2. Host twelve 50 Shades of Chicken dinner parties. While Christmas shopping, I came across this gem, 50 Shades of Chicken. Part cookbook, part hilarious parody, it’s absolutely genius. So, I feel like it’s my duty to share this revelation to the world this year. Once a month, I’ll be hosting a 50 Shades of Chicken dinner party, during which I’ll do a reading from the book, I’ll serve one of the recipes, I’ll mix up some lasciviously-named cocktails, and maybe there will be a round of Cards Against Humanity.

50 Shades

3. Health and wealth. With my recent back injury, it’s time to focus on my health, which means a nice, clean diet, lots of stretching and yoga, and lots of core strengthening exercises. My goal is not to lose weight; I don’t need to do that. But I do need to get my body into better shape so that my back is properly supported. Fiscal health will be important this year, too. I’m resolving to cut back on social outings that are pricy and to start putting away a decent amount of money into savings.

4. Cupcake challenge. My boss got me this awesome cupcake calendar for Christmas since she knows I bake. These cupcakes are fun and spicy…and there are directions for how to make them all right on the calendar! So, there will be a cupcake of the month in my house. I’ll be chronicling these baking adventures here on this blog. God help me, because flavor is more of my forte, not decorating. This should be fun!

5. The write stuff. I’ve started a novel – a novel that I actually think I’m going to finish, which is a new and exciting concept for me. In the past, I’ve grown hyper-critical of myself and basically squashed writing projects before they’ve begun. In 2013, I’m following through. I’m going to finish this novel. I’m going to edit it. I’m going to love it. I’m going to shop it around. I’m going to start calling myself a “writer.” And I’m going to work on believing it. I’m going to be published.

What are your resolutions for 2013? Tell me the fun ones about strippers and rum cakes and travels around the world!

Licensing info for Clay Carson image.
Licensing info for smiteme image.