Voices of Your Generation

I’m still reeling from the death of J.D. Salinger, and have wondered if 2010 is going to be for writers what 2009 was for actors (it’s still January and we have already lost Robert Parker, Louis Auchincloss, Howard Zinn, and J.D.). The term “literary lions” has been popping up in various articles, as it had when Mailer and Updike died last year. It got me thinking about what this phrase even means, and if there are modern-day, or future, lions out there. 

I had a conversation with my sister yesterday and she told me with sad resignation there were no more Salingers writing today, as in, there are no more “voices of a generation” whose work has the same cultural impact. I disagreed by saying it’s impossible to name of voice of the current generation because it’s not over yet. We need time to determine what’s been said and how it reflects that time. Our judgment of our own generation is automatically, and involuntarily, biased. 

I’m not really sure which generation I’m in. I know I’m the “one after Generation X,” but whether that’s Gen Y, Millennial, or The Twitter Generation (which I read once and cringed), I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter. I was born on one of those weird “on the cusp of either generation” years anyway, so I’ll just go where they tell me. But, for the purposes of finding someone who speaks for me, I’ll make “me” be anyone between the ages twenty-four and thirty-four.

I suggested to my same-generation sister that Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney, could have been the-post Salinger novel of that time (again, that one “right before” our own), but as for our generation, I wasn’t sure. I think Cormac McCarthy is #1 on the current “literary lion” list, and Michael Chabon will probably win “Most Likely to be Studied in High School English” among his generation (sorry, Franzen). But, do either authors speak for me, child of the Clinton-era, pre-Internet 1990s and adult of the post-911, iTech new millennium? Not really.

Despite having declared finding a voice to my own generation a futile attempt, I’m still curious about your thoughts. Who do you think has the best appeal right now to the young, modern-day experience? There are several characters to whom we can relate our personal triumphs or tragedies, but what about those who represent our place in the world? If other generations can claim them for their collective lives, then there must be at least one out there for “me.”

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Glass Cases

One of the great writers of his – of any – time has died today…

J.D. Salinger was one of my favorites, as evidenced by the name of this blog and my never-ending affection for Holden Caulfield. I am truly saddened by his death, but am somewhat comforted to know that the world’s most famous recluse is finally at peace.

I hope those phonies who battle for his estate treat his works with the respect they so deserve.

We will miss you, J.D.

Things to Avoid

In the late ’90s and early ’00s, I noticed that the use of the rhyme “faded” and “jaded” appeared all-too-frequently in song lyrics and it made me want to scream. While (I hope) you don’t resort to rhyming in your prose works-in-progress, there are several words, phrases, and devices that show up in literature that I beg you to steer clear of. (Ending a sentence with a preposition is NOT one of them.)

1) Doing anything “with a start.” This phrase is most commonly used when a character wakes up. Has anyone ever used this phrase in real life? If it’s not said in life, it should not be said on the page.

2) “Ravenous.” In general, I’m a fan of this word. It always implies intense hunger, lust, or both (!). But, I see it so often in all genres of literature that it’s beginning to lose its impact. The thesaurus is your friend, which is how I assume the use of this word came about in the first place, and now it’s time to find a new “original” and amplified way to say hungry.

3) Describing silence as “deafening.” It’s not.

4) Wearing Cutoffs. Part of the reason why Tobias’ cutoffs on Arrested Development were so funny is because cutoffs in general are ridiculous and haven’t been worn since the days of Wham. Yet, more authors than you would think often describe their characters wearing cutoffs.  No gender, race, socioeconomic status, etc. are spared. Sorry, but unless your M.C. is attending a Village People reunion concert, painting a house in 90 degree heat, or is a never-nude, cutoffs are just not acceptable.

5) Prologues. This might be a personal preference, but I think using this device to tell your story should be abolished from literature. 99% of prologues can be turned into the first chapter and the other 1% can be revealed throughout the work in flashbacks, background info, character building, etc.

6) Pillow-fight fantasies. This is for the men out there who are attempting to write in the voices of women. Very rarely do I find a male author writing from a female POV who doesn’t make their M.C. get her period, masturbate, or look at herself naked somehow. Fellas, really? Do you think we all sit around drinking cosmos while talking about shoes and multiple orgasms too?

7) “Needless to say…” I attribute my dislike of this phrase to a former journalism professor who simply said, “If you don’t need to say something, then just don’t say it.” I completely agree.

Feel free to add to this list. I’m sure there are many more cliches and pet peeves to know and avoid.

Breaking Up Isn’t Hard to Do

Remember when the biggest media story ever was the Tiger Woods sex scandal? I know, who can even remember back that far, right? It feels like weeks ago.

More recently, our (well, my) attention has been focused on NBC. Unlike the Tiger thing, I actually care about this one. I know I’m usually book gal, but truth be told, I can be just as passionate about television. I get invested in characters and plots the same way I would about those in a novel (hello, Lost anyone?) I’m also an avid follower of all things pop culture, oftentimes regardless of whether I even care (e.g. winners of American Idol and losers of Jersey Shore, despite never watching either show). So, I’ve been staying up until the A.M. fanatically changing the channel from one monologue to the next, seeing who can rip NBC apart in the most clever and biting way. As with most things, Letterman wins.

Now, NBC has always been my favorite network, which contributes to my particular interest in this saga. Growing up, we watched Days of our Lives, not All My Children. Tom Brokaw rather than Rather. Today instead of GMA. You get the picture. NBC also had the best shows, invented Must-See TV, and has that catchy little three-tone jingle.

But, things have taken a turn for NBC. Aside from this current debacle, they recently canceled Southland, which will no doubt gain even more critical acclaim and viewers now that it’s on cable, and has relied on The Office and 30 Rock to provide all of their comedy needs, even though both shows garner the same exact audience. (Where is NBC’s equivalent to Modern Family or Glee?) Perhaps they are trying to relive their glory days by returning Jay Leno to The Tonight Show, but what worked in the past clearly is not working for them anymore.

I agree with Conan that moving the time slot would be a disgrace to the historic show’s legacy, but mostly I just want to see it (and Conan) stay put because it’s the right thing to do. Conan put in his time while Jay Leno (who’s never been funny and has probably always been a dick) made The Tonight Show a bland, horribly unfunny mess. NBC rightfully broke up with Jay for someone younger and all-around better, but they got scared. Yes, Jay didn’t ignite the same passion he used to (well, did he ever?), but Conan is a fiery redhead who unleashed Triumph and the Masturbating Bear onto America… surely the over-50 crowd (that oh-so-coveted demographic) will be much more comfortable with Jay.

So much like the way Conan is getting dumped by NBC, I think it’s time for me to sever ties with the network. Despite our history, this is just not the same network I fell in love with. But, I do wonder why NBC won’t cut the cord with Leno. Does he secretly own the network? Does he have their children locked in the basement? None of it makes any sense.

While Conan is clearly being treated unfairly, he is still coming out the winner of this mess. Jay, through his actions, has most likely alienated the majority of any audience who’d follow him back to 11:30 and has made himself the most hated man in late night. I’d love to see Conan and Jimmy Kimmel (who is inexplicably on at midnight) work out an 11:30-1:30 deal on ABC. After all, there is no greater victory in a breakup than knowing you kept your cool under the pressure, moved on with some grace, and ended up with a better partner (and better network) than your ex.

Jane Austen Has Destroyed Us All

Since it comes free with my new nook, I’ve been re-reading Pride and Prejudice (pay no attention to that print version on my shelf). Now, before I explain the title of this post, let me just say that this book is easily one of the best written of all time. Anyone who says otherwise is just trying to be different. It proves its timelessness in its prose and plot. Its characters remain complex and familiar and, let’s face it, perfectly constructed. Along with The Great Gatsby and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Pride and Prejudice would be put on my imaginary syllabus to my imaginary class called “This Is Everything a Novel Should Be!”

OK, now let’s trash it.

I first fell in love with Ms. Austen in college. I had never read her before, but through some turn of events, I ended up in a seminar devoted entirely to her. We read all six novels, some of her letters, and (get ready to swoon, ladies!) watched the Pride and Prejudice mini-series with Colin Firth. Before taking this class, I assumed that Jane Austen wrote the fluffy chick lit of her time. In fact, one might even say I had a prejudice against her for this reason.

But, even before her actual writing proved me wrong, I learned that Jane was a huge cynic when it came to love and hated being around children. Surprised and sympathetic, I respected her even more. In knowing her real-life feelings on marriage and children and “what’s expected,” I could see her winking at me from behind the pages when her characters inevitably got their “happy” ending.

Again, I say all of this about her with love and admiration. However, it wasn’t until reading Pride and Prejudice again that I realized the true extent of her cynicism. She is downright cruel in a way that I bet she didn’t even anticipate.

While I’m sure this has been pointed out before in the thesis papers of English and Film majors alike, Pride and Prejudice has been arguably the template for almost every piece of women’s fiction/chick lit novel and romantic comedy ever produced. Not all, but a lot of them. Man meets woman; woman hates man; man hates woman; both find each other attractive; both resist; they keep running into each other; sexual tension builds; man and woman get married.

By creating this formula, Jane Austen was inadvertently responsible for today’s stereotype (reality?) that women fall for jerks. In essence, she’s been ruining the lives of women for 200 years. Sure, it’s paid off in some ways. She is, after all, responsible for Sam and Diane’s banter on Cheers and the careers of Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, and Sandra Bullock. But she’s also responsible for Bridget Jones’ diary, for all of our diaries that lament over the man who just won’t change his ways. She’s why Carrie ends up with Big!
Even in my favorite Austen novel, Emma, Emma plays the role of the jerk who needs changing, while Mr. Knightly, oh perfect, love-of-my-life that he is, plays the role of the wise outsider, disdaining Emma’s superficiality while falling in love with her. Perhaps Jane was trying to explore the question, “Why do the hot, kinda bitchy girls always win?” But that’s a topic for the men to analyze. I’ll stick with women and our Darcy-complex.

As I’ve said before, sometimes people just suck. In reality, unless something particularly profound happens to them, these people rarely change, so why should we expect anything more in our books or films? I know, I know. Now, I’m sounding like the cynic. So I’ll clarify by admitting that I do see the value of the hope Jane’s formula provides and I believe that love sometimes can be that profound thing that happens to the aforementioned “jerks.” However, these constant, poorly executed remakes are making women appear dumb. I think this needs to stop. If reality reflects entertainment which reflects reality, then one of these things needs to change.

I’m left with two questions:

1) Why has this notion – that is, the notion that we will be the one to change him because deep down, he’s really just Mr. Darcy – been perpetuated for as long as it has?

2) Which came first – literature influencing our relationships, or our relationships influencing literature?

Maybe it’s both, but one thing is for sure – We can drop all the zombies we want into Jane’s work. We can even allow Anne Hathaway to make Jane fall in love on screen and let the malnourished Keira Knightley destroy everything holy about Lizzie Bennett. And no matter how many times we roll her over in her grave, she is clearly getting the last laugh.

Things I Learned Over Christmas Vacation

Happy New Year, everyone!

I hope you all enjoyed your holidays. Due to New Year’s/life plans falling through, I ended up spending a whole extra week at my parent’s house in upstate New York. It was the longest amount of time I’ve spent there since the days of college breaks. Intensity. But now I’m back (!) and here are some bits of knowledge I’ve gained about myself and life in general:

When I’m away from New York for too long, I get twitchy: After the excitement and overall family craziness of Christmas wore off, it took me all of a day to begin pining for NYC. Parental home is all well and good; I just feel better when I’m in New York is all.

When I leave city limits of any kind, I get twitchy: My hometown is technically a city, albeit a very small one. However, compared to its surrounding towns, it might as well be Paris. I crossed the border exactly twice, once with me driving and once a friend drove, and both times I stared out the window with equal parts confusion, awe, and terror as the streetlights became fewer and farther between and bars that look like houses appeared more and more alongside the road. Call me a city wuss, but that much darkness and open space scares me.

More Human than Human by White Zombie is the greatest song of all time: The single best moment of my week, and possibly life, was driving by myself on the NYS Thruway blasting this song and singing along when I could. Now I know what Tom Cruise felt like when he did that ‘Free Fallin” scene in Jerry Maguire.

Craig Ferguson is funny: Has this always been the case? Was I blinded by Conan that whole time?

I don’t read when I’m away from home: I know; it’s a travesty, but apparently I need the ever-relaxing quiet of the New York City subway system to enjoy a good book.

Coffeehouses make everything better: On a lazy day off, I usually head to my local cafe, sit down with a book, and hang out for a few hours. Having to ask permission to use the car made this luxury a little harder to satisfy, but I managed to support my favorite local business and get some much-needed coffee breaks at the same time. For me, going to a coffeehouse isn’t so much about drinking a cup of coffee as it is a lifestyle choice essential to my mental survival. I’m not exactly sure how I became this way, but I will guess that the “favorite local business” I speak of was directly responsible.

The gift that keeps on giving is definitely a nook: Seriously.

Well, folks. I guess that’s about it. It’s good to be back. I’m excited for sharing some new stories, seeing more of YOUR work (that’s right, I’m talking to you, people who haven’t submitted yet!), and starting a new decade!