Blog, Writing

Miami Book Fair International 2010

This is one of those busy weekends where several fall and/or literary events are going on and I want to go to them all, only that’s not feasible. We allocated Saturday to the Miami Book Fair International at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus is Downtown Miami, though we hoped to get there early enough so that we could go to Miracle on 136 Street Parade at The Falls Shopping Center with my son. That last part didn’t happen for two reasons: 1) had a crappy night the night before where my son didn’t sleep well (which means we didn’t sleep well) so we got to the book fair late and 2) we stayed longer than we anticipated.

The Miami Book Fair International is one of those events I look forward to every year. I stalk the website months before the event, looking for clues that detail the upcoming authors. I also look for workshops that may be offered in conjunction with the fair. This year, Cristina Garcia (Dreaming in Cuban) was giving a workshop on the first day of the street fair, Friday, but unfortunately, I had meetings and work that had to be taken care of. The Book Fair consists of both street fair and author readings. Everywhere you look you see authors proudly displaying their books and eager to sign them for you, if you buy them, of course.

The tents – with their red, green, orange roofs that contrast on the white shells – line up the street of MDC’s Wolfson Campus/Downtown in the shape of a cross. Book vendors include bookstores (like Books and Books), publishers (like University of Florida Press), self-publishing, electronic publishing, book T-Shirts (these were NEAT! They’re T-shirts that resemble sports shirts: a name and number on the back, only the name is a famous author! Some have images on them; e.g. Edgar Allan Poe’s shirt had a black raven on it. It was awesome!), literary magazines, the world’s smallest books, newspaper subscriptions, and so many more. Some of the booths house an author displaying his/her work.

There’s a Children’s Alley where characters from children’s stories walk through, getting pictures taken with children. Clifford the Big Red Dog, Olivia, Curious George, and others I’ve seen but don’t know were there. My son’s favorite was Curious George – when he saw him, my son squealed his name, jumped up and ran towards him with a grin on his face. In Children’s Alley, several larger tents, all themed, are set up with stations inside for stories, games, activities for the kids. These were a little too packed so we only looked around before continuing.

We mostly meandered throughout the street fair. I think we covered every side twice: Once before my son fell asleep, and once after. We spoke to authors, we bought books, and we ate ice cream and frozen lemonade. It was a hot day, but in the shade, a nice breeze kept us comfortable.

I enjoyed getting there rather early (not as early as I’d have liked, but before noon). The street fair hadn’t gotten packed yet (which it does), and we could comfortably move.

The best line of the day was my husband’s. When we arrived, a lady asked him, “What kind of books are you looking for?” To which he replied, without missing a beat, “One with words.” She automatically looked at her list only to stop and look at him quizzically; then she just laughed, and my husband laughed, and my son laughed (though he had no idea why he was laughing) and I laughed.

Blog, Writing

The Twilight Saga

I reluctantly embarked in reading the whole series: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn. I don’t know why I was reluctant. Something about now being thirty and reading a young adult series discouraged me somehow. It wasn’t meant to be proper literature, and after spending a decade studying “real” literature, I felt disconnected. Of course, this attitude was rather hypocritical on my part seeing as to how I’m an avid Harry Potter fan and that way back when I used to devour the Ann Rice Vampire Chronicle books. But that was eons ago, a different time and a different world for me. I think another reason I evaded Twilight, though, was the response my (female) students had to the books and, particularly, to the movies. So much was the teenage frenzy that, quite frankly, I didn’t know if I could relate.

Well, I was sucked into this Twilight universe so quickly I didn’t have a chance to resist! I read the first book, Twilight, in a few days. I read the second, New Moon, in two days (but really, about 6 hours, 3 each day); I read the third, Eclipse, in about 6 hours of one day. I became a Twifan, or whatever it is they’re calling Twilight fans these days. Breaking Dawn, the fourth and final book in the saga, I read in a day. I became obsessed, donning a have-to-find-out-what-happens attitude that I think mimics the frenzy with which addicts take to their drugs. It was wonderful and disconcerting, all in one, and it resurfaced bits of me that had been long dormant, that I had pushed away in order to tend to reality.
It’s not hard to get sucked in, though, if you remember anything about being 17 and in love. The intensity of first love, the power of finding out what these emotions do to you mentally and physically, is so vividly described in these books that I literally felt like I was 17 again, all giddy and giggly. I loved it! They’re not perfect, but I loved them nonetheless.
So here’s my take *warning: may contain spoilers*:
I loved the characters from the beginning. There’s a lot of criticism about the character Bella Swan, the damsel in distress who always needs to be protected by either Edward or Jacob. She’s a hazard to herself because she’s clumsy and a magnet for danger and trouble, but the connection between her and Edward is wonderful and Stephanie Meyer did a great job in writing and building the romantic tension between the two. Jacob doesn’t have much a role in this first book. He’s still a kid who has a crush on Bella. The main story here is Bella and Edward falling in love and figuring out that while they’re so different (um, yea, one’s human, the other’s a vampire!), they still realize how much they love and need each other. It’s a selfless, innocent love.

New Moon
I started New Moon eagerly, wanting to know what happened to the Edward and Bella, knowing that somewhere I was going to understand the whole Team Edward and Team Jacob thing. And sure enough, when Edward leaves and Bella is plunged into the rawness of a broken heart, here came Jacob. I was a little annoyed at times in this book because the relationship between Bella/Jacob very much paralleled that of Bella/Edward in the first book. The same song and dance was going on. He (now turning into a werewolf) claims he’s no good for her while she neglects reason and safety just to feel loved. The dialogue gave me some deja vu. Still, it was endearing seeing their relationship grow from friendship to something more, even if Bella wasn’t admitting it. I do think if she’d never jumped off a cliff, and if Edward hadn’t thought she was dead, and if he hadn’t gone to the Volturi and she to go save him, Bella would’ve ended up with Jacob. As a human, Jacob was for her. But the events happened the way they did and, of course, there has to be some action other than just the romantic triangle. I was sad for Jacob in the end.

Of course, once I started with the series, I want – no, I need – to finish all books involved. In between getting the books, I read anything online I could get my hands on. I read the summaries, I read Stephanie Meyer’s website. I wanted more. I needed to know more about the characters. It was fun. 😉
So Eclipse I anticipated much more than the other two. The first, well, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. The second, I saw the movie first, so I had more of an idea of what was happening (more on the whole movie/book thing later). But when I started Eclipse, I had only an idea of what was going on because of the movie trailers (the film had come out recently, on June 30) and Stephanie Meyer’s website. So I took to it like air for my lungs and I read. This was my favorite of the saga. The raw emotions in this book were fabulous. The romantic triangle came around full force as Bella realized her true feelings for Jacob and, even though that didn’t change how she felt about Edward, it brought vulnerability to her character. The despair she feels when she has to tell Jacob good-bye is real and fresh. I was sorely disappointed that Kristen Stewart couldn’t give that same emotion in the movie and that those pivotal scenes were left out of the movie. Of course, the whole vampire + werewolf coalition was great and the fight scene was pretty well done. But my favorite parts of this book had to do with the way the characters really came to life while making sense of their feelings.

Breaking Dawn
Ah. Breaking Dawn. I read it because, in my mind, I had to. I could not start the series and not finish it. I liked it, sure. It gave me closure. I didn’t hate it the way some of the critics raged about it. I didn’t mind that they didn’t fight in the end; in fact, I agree that the symbolism behind the cover (the queen in a chess game) and the idea of mind over brawn was pivotal for this book. But I was disappointed. I wanted more. The romantic tension between Edward and Bella was so strong in all three previous novels that I was expecting more in this final installment where they actually get married, go on their honeymoon and *gasp* have sex. While I didn’t want to read porn, I did expect a little more build-up to the “sex-scenes” – if they can even be called that. I wanted more romance.
The birthing scene was a little too graphic, but it didn’t bother me as much. It’s hard not to have a graphic birthing scene with the type of pregnancy/birth that this was: a half-vampire, half-human that developed and grew at an alarmingly accelerated pace. I mean, she was ravenous the day after their first time together! Her pregnancy lasted a couple months, and it broke her, literally. I do like that this was how she became a vampire, though, because it was an act of love in a way.
I have mixed feelings about the whole shift in point-of-view in the second section. I like it because I love hearing inside all character heads. I read the part of Midnight Sun that Meyer has on her website, which is Twilight told from Edward’s perspective, and I loved reading The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner for precisely the same reason: I want to know more about all the characters. I have so much invested in this story, in these characters, that I want to know more about them. However, I don’t think that the voices are distinct enough. While reading Jacob, I still thought at times I was reading Bella. Still, it was nice getting that other perspective.
The third part of the book is probably my favorite for Breaking Dawn. I loved seeing Bella transform from clumsy human to agile vampire, and I loved that she was able to skip through the whole “newborn” phase. She had control; whether it was her own will or whether that was part of her natural power can be contested, but it was great. I loved the introduction of all the other vampire covens and seeing Bella become the savior for her family. She was no longer the damsel in distress but the knight, ready to defend her family and thinking logically for the best move. I am undecided yet about how I feel about the whole Jacob imprinting on Renesmee, though. I thought that was an awkward resolution to the Edward/Bella/Jacob triangle. I guess the magic of imprinting erases all past strings, and I know that’s what was being alluded, but still… I don’t know. It didn’t work great for me.
But I did get closure, sort of. I want to know what else happens to the new, happy family throughout eternity. 😉
Thinking ahead, I see so much possibility for using these books in my classes. It makes me giddy all over again! From making connections to the “classics” Meyer references in all four books, to philosophical questions about whether we really have free will to choose between right and wrong (or between what we’re born into/with and what we want to be), to the history of all the vampire characters and important historical moments they cover. It’s a goldmine!
Blog, Writing

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I just finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and, in simplest terms, I loved it – but it’s complicated love. I bought the book right before my Disney cruise, hoping to spend time rekindling my romance with the written word. I haven’t read much lately that didn’t have to do with essays, stories, poems, and even a graphic memoir – all for school. For work. Pleasure reading has been nonexistent. I think the last reading I did just because was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and even that book I will be using in my classes. I started reading Isabel Allende’s The Sum of my Days, in Spanish, but that is sitting now in my bookshelf, the Tinkerbell bookmark sitting about one-third of the way, collecting dust. It’s not happening.

So I decided to indoctrinate myself into my summer “vacation” with a memoir (my genre of choice) that could balance between chick-lit and seriousness, romance and truth, dreams and reality, humor and spirituality. I think I’ve hit the mark with Eat, Pray, Love.

I had received numerous, mixed reviews from friends who’ve read it (and a somewhat Sparks Notes report from a student) and I was intrigued. But I hadn’t really read what it was about. Not really. I envisioned a plot similar to that of Under the Tuscan Sun, only transcending three countries.

My reading journey began a few days before we left for Cape Canaveral; I just couldn’t wait to start reading. And I was disappointed – at first. I started reading, expecting a literary fluency akin to Madeleine Blais’s Uphill Walkers, and I was disappointed. The language was okay. The writing was at times clichéd. At one point I felt I was reading my students’ papers. It was a disaster.

But so was Gilbert’s life at that point. I think there was a correlation. During the time she spent in Italy, in pursuit of culinary pleasures, the writing was superficial and basic. But there was humor, and her story surrounded me, transported me, and soon I was forgetting about whether the metaphor was silly or whether her description was basic, and I was immersed in her experience. When I finished the first third of the book, aboard the Disney Wonder in the Bahamas, I was sad to say good-bye to Italy. I love Italy, and my desire to learn Italian intensified.

And then Gilbert took me to an ashram in India, a place I have never thought of visiting – ever. I actually have very limited knowledge of Eastern meditation and religions. And when I say very limited, I literally mean very, very limited. I know of Hinduism and Buddhism, but that’s it and on the surface level. Gilbert’s account in this ashram in a remote village of India, and her explanations of spirituality, captivated me more than the pleasure of eating pasta in the many historic Italian cities and towns. It left me yearning and wanting that spiritual peace. And her way of making sense of the diversity of religion and how it’s all the same – and how in that ashram, people of all religions were there in order to get closer to their Gods (Christian, Jewish, Muslim – it didn’t matter) – it made sense to me. Actually, a lot of what she said during her spiritual journey made sense to me. Not all, but a good amount. We’re all in this search for divinity, for spiritual and religious belonging, whether we want to admit it or not. We need something, and what we call that something varies. We are so focused on our location in the map of society that we become lodged on this canvas, without realizing that it’s not flat, but round, ever existing, ever changing, ever merging into itself. We have the freedom to move – yet we don’t. It’s an interesting concept. This section also made me think of the juxtaposition of those two terms we sometimes use interchangeably: religion and spirituality. They’re not interchangeable. They’re different. One can be uber religious and not find spiritual peace. Crazy concept, I know, but think about it. We all know someone who prays every day, attends religious services all the time, and proclaims to be “holier than thou” but at closer inspection, the spiritual storm that exists in this person’s heart is tumultuous and it’s seen in actions, in words, in subtle hints that alert us to the true spiritual nature of this person. He is not at peace with himself, his life. She is not at one with her creator, whoever that creator is for her. Different words for the same thing – this is what I took from Gilbert’s experience in the Ashram in India. Let go and let God is what I learned at an Emmaus retreat. Let go and let God, in different words, is what Gilbert learned in the second section of the book.

And her writing was changing skins, just as she was changing, rising through meditation from her worldly suffering to the divine.

The concept of “same-same,” as her Balinese Medicine Man, Ketut, says it, is brought to the center in the third and final section of Eat, Pray, Love. In Indonesia, Gilbert attempts to find balance in her life. After four months in Italy searching for pleasure (non-carnal pleasure as she’s on self-imposed celibacy), and after four months in India searching for spirituality, she arrives in Bali equipped with some newfound confidence and ease of being with and by herself. She sets off at figuring out how to combine pleasure and spirituality, and in doing so, stumbles on love.

Her writing style towards the end is different, or maybe I was so engrossed with the story that I forgave. Maybe there was a purpose – write for the masses with humor, especially for women who are hurting – and the style is overlooked. In reading reviews, I saw some call her writing a form of whining, and at times, I agreed. But I think it was needed. When we’re so neck-deep in our own pit of sorrow, it’s hard not to whine. In the beginning of her book, Gilbert was in that place. The wallowing, self-pity, snot-inducing place. By the end of the book, she wasn’t, and her ascension to that place of contentment becomes evident in her writing. It was well done, I think.

In another post, when I have some more quiet time, I’ll point out a few passages I absolutely loved – especially one in which Richard from Texas explains his theory about soul mates to Gilbert. It’s definitely one of those things that make you pause and ponder.

So now I want to read Committed which, lucky for me, was recently published. It starts where Eat, Pray, Love left off, and I can’t wait. I’m also looking forward to the movie, starring Julia Roberts, that’s due out this summer.