Thursday, January 28, 2010

J.D. Salinger 1919-2010

J.D. Salinger died today at age 91, having lived the last half of his life in virtual seclusion ("the Garbo of letters" as the NY Times has called him) after the phenomenal success of Catcher in the Rye. I was only two years old when that book was published, so it was already well-established as a classic of teen angst by the time I read it, and there were other books by then imitating its radically caustic teen voice. I wish I could say I loved that book, as so many people can. When I read it as a teenager, Holden Caulfield made me hugely uncomfortable - so messed up, so self-involved, so mean-spirited  and negative and flat-out unhappy, squeezing his pimples and calling everyone else morons.  I never for a minute believed it was due to his adolescence - instead, I believed completely Holden would grow up to be a self-involved, caustic, unhappy man who looked at himself in the mirror too often.  Even when I was 15, which is probably about when I read the book, I thought life was too short to read it again. But I'm tempted to read it now. I've heard from so many men that that they read it and loved it, and that it's a boy's book. So just to put that perspective on it, I'm going to read it again. I'm also going to read Franny and Zooey and Nine Tales again, which I remember enjoying not long after tossing Catcher in the Rye. When I read those stories about the Glass family, I remember thinking with some relief that I would be able to say I liked something written by J.D. Salinger, because when I was a teenager, you couldn't NOT like Salinger.

I've never, not once, seen a photo of Salinger other than the one posted above. So I've always thought of him as an unrumpled and anal-retentive version of John Cassavetes - the resemblance is striking. Rather than being passionate and creative, as Cassavetes seemed to be, Salinger was (according to my misconceptions) conservative and repressed. But look at the jacket cover of the book below, a memoir written by his daughter. In it, he's a good-looking dad, with a wide grin and a certain Jon-Hamm-of-Mad-Men charm, happy and comfortable in his own skin. Not at all Holden-Caulfield-esque. Amazing, the way we (I?) turn writers into protagonists from their fiction. Shame on me.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Semi-Hiatus - I'm Off for Vermont!

Time for the Vermont College of Fine Arts and our semi-annual MFA-Writing for Children and Young Adults residency - here's a shot of College Hall in beautiful snow-blanketed Montpelier. My postings on The Drift Record for the next two weeks will primarily address the students gathered together here - in Noble Lounge - to hear lectures, readings, announcements of workshop assignments along with lost gloves, hats, mufflers....

If you've ever considered getting your MFA in Writing for Children, you can see my summaries of the summer activities which start on July 11th (click here) and go on for a full nine posts to end on July 25th. From those posts, you'll get a good idea about the level of conversation, the intelligence and good cheer that are in full view during the residencies! I'm very proud to be on the faculty there. This semester, I won't be summarizing events (though I think Cynthia Leitich Smith will have a "quotable moment" each day over at Cynsations - oh, I see Cyn has already begun her VCFA posts!) I will be posting a bit about my own lecture - mostly visuals of the maps I'm going to use to illustrate my points in my lecture topic: GETTING THE WORLD RIGHT: MAPPING THE FICTIVE DREAM.

As a preview, here's a map of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. He made his original (this is a copy he made because his publisher lost the original) before he ever wrote one word of his novel.

This is my premise: That by mapping your fictional world, you can waken your imagination, deepen your characters, affect plot....a "sense of place" is not peripheral but central to fiction. 

Friday, January 1, 2010

Poetry Friday: Robert Louis Stevenson

FIRST THINGS FIRST (Be patient: the sound starts about 18 seconds in....)


                               Photo: Christopher Thomond

Picture-Books in Winter

Summer fading, winter comes-
Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs,
Window robins, winter rooks,
And the picture story-books.

Water now is turned to stone
Nurse and I can walk upon;
Still we find the flowing brooks
In the picture story-books.

All the pretty things put by,
Wait upon the children's eye,
Sheep and shepherds, trees and crooks,
In the picture story-books.

We may see how all things are,
Seas and cities, near and far,
And the flying fairies' looks,
In the picture story-books.

How am I to sing your praise,
Happy chimney-corner days,
Sitting safe in nursery nooks,
Reading picture story-books

- Robert Louis Stevenson

The poetry round-up this first Friday of the year is being hosted by Mary Lee over at A YEAR OF READING.Be sure to go over and see what other people have posted this week.