Monday, August 27, 2012

A Change of Sowul

Tomorrow, August 28th, is the 1-year anniversary of Words from the Sowul! I can't believe I've made it this far!

As the anniversary approached, I started to think about what this blog has meant to me, and what I've learned from it over the past year. I'm pleased with what it's given me. I've relished the opportunity to share my thoughts on books and reading, topics that I'm passionate and opinionated about. I've appreciated the recommendations from people who read the blog, and the new connections I've made with friends, family and strangers. Most importantly, I've re-learned a lesson I've known for years: writing about something clarifies it for me in a way that no other form of expression can. Putting thoughts and opinions into words, especially when those words are going to be shared with others, heightens and deepens those thoughts and opinions. Truly, they become words from the so(w)ul. You may think that process comes easy to me, but it does not. I am not someone who is easily in touch with her emotions. It takes excavation, and that's what writing does for me.

So while I hope this blog has been enjoyable for you- and I am grateful that many people, even across the globe, have found it to be- know that it has meant more to me than it could mean to anyone else.

This anniversary comes at an opportune time for two reasons. First, I may be taking a bit of a break, or at least posting less frequently, over the coming weeks. Today is my son's due date, and while he hasn't shown any sign of wanting to make an appearance yet, at some point very soon my family and I will be starting a whole new chapter in our lives (excuse the pun). I am committed to continue writing, no matter what, throughout the craziness that is to come, because I know it is vital to keeping my own sanity and helping me stay in touch with my emotions. But I also know I'll have more limited time, and I have to prioritize.

After my post a few weeks ago, A Fork in the Writing Road, I made the decision to take a second look at the novel I'd started last summer and fall. As I started re-editing the first 70 pages, I realized how much progress I'd made, and how badly I wanted to finish it. I've been working on it steadily ever since, and I'm determined to continue, even if I have to type with one hand on the keyboard and the other rocking the cradle. So when I have time to write, it will be primarily devoted to the novel. That's not to say I'm going to disappear from the blog, though. As I said above, this experience has been too valuable to let go.

The second reason this anniversary is opportune is that it gives me the chance to make some changes. I've been sticking pretty faithfully to the books and reading theme. There have been many book reviews, some general author reviews, discussions about types and styles of literature, and posts about everything from browsing the library to guilty pleasure reading. I've tried to mix things up and keep my approaches fresh, and I'm generally pleased with the results. But I've started to run out of fodder, as I suppose is inevitable. So I think it's time I expanded the blog's parameters.

Here are some topics I'm interested in blogging about:

- Adjusting as an independent-minded woman to a child-centered world
- Staying positive in the face of negative pressure from the outside world, particularly about parenting. I think our society is extremely judgmental about parenting.
- Keeping gratitude at the center of my life
- Music and education
- Other things I love and have certain tastes about: exercising and health, television, fashion, decorating, baking, makeup, household organization, travel

And of course, I'll still write about books and reading, because I'm still passionate about them.

I hope you're all as excited as I am about this new chapter. Stay tuned for the changes to come, and of course for news of the baby's arrival!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Exception to the Rule

I think most book lovers agree that the experience of reading a book is always greater than the experience of watching that book come to life onscreen. It's a simple reason: when you read, almost everything is left up to your interpretation and imagination. That's always going to be a deeper, more personal engagement than watching someone else's interpretation of the story, with casting of actors who don't look like the characters you envisioned, settings that don't capture the scenes in your head, and shortcuts to the root of the story so that it fits within a standard movie length. Movie adaptations can be enjoyable, however, if you take them for what they are. I enjoyed most of the Harry Potter series, even though they'll never live up to what I see in my head when I read the books. If they're really well-done, some movie adaptations will explore different angles and open up new avenues of thought in a story, and that can be interesting.

But basically, a movie is never greater than the book that comes before it. At least, that's always been my formula:


(I'd put the sign for infinity here, but I don't know how to make that happen on my keyboard.)

There always has to be the exception that proves the rule, though, and after years of believing in the absolutism of the above formula, I finally found one: Julie & Julia, the book written by Julie Powell vs. the movie acted by Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. Both are based on Powell's blog about the year she spent re-creating all of the recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

For the first time ever, I enjoyed the movie more than the book. I attribute this to two things:

1. I dislike Julie Powell. I almost didn't finish the book. She's actually a good writer, but as a memoirist, her personality is clearly on the page, and I didn't like it at all. I liked her even less after reading a second of her books, Cleaving (I know, why did I even try? I'm either a masochist or an eternal book optimist). In that book, she intersperses stories about her learning the butchery trade with stories about her infidelities and crumbling marriage. While I'm not judging her marriage or her morality, I couldn't stand the fact that she hung her husband out to dry by putting all of their most personal problems, and every salacious detail of her affair, out there for the world to read. The whole book was exploitation masquerading as some sort of Eat, Pray, Love-type "journey." But I digress. The point is, I don't like Julie Powell, so I didn't like the book.

2. The movie was SO well done. Streep and Adams were both, of course, genius (and Adams was much more likable than her author) and the script/ directing/ editing were all superb. Plus, half of it was shot against the backdrop of 1950s Paris. How could I not have enjoyed that? The movie took a decent idea, that had spawned a blog, then turned into a ragged book written by a dislikable person, and spun it into gold.

So I finally found an exception that proved the rule. But I stand by my original formula 99.9999% of the time, and I defy anyone to argue with it.

That's right, I defy you. Comments?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Free E-books

When I bought my Kindle last summer, the biggest drawback in my mind was that I'd end up spending more money on books. Even though e-books are cheaper, I so rarely purchase books that cost was definitely a factor. At the time, I saw myself using it mainly for travel purposes, which made the additional cost worth the portability. Since then, I've tried a few times to figure out how to download e-books from my local library, but even though they do have a system, it's apparently so confusing that the librarians themselves don't understand it- or the three that I've asked haven't, anyway. So I've been paying for my Kindle books since last summer, which means I haven't been using it exclusively. I still read "real" books more often.

Fortunately, I recently stumbled on a few different methods of reading e-books for free. We recently signed up for Amazon Prime, partly for the free shipping, and partly for the free TV episodes. (Did you know that the thousands of episodes of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood are free with Amazon Prime? Well, they are! Not that this will be useful to the baby for a couple of years, but it was certainly exciting to us.) One of the other perks of Prime is a free e-book to borrow once a month from their Kindle lending library. I took advantage of this right away. You can't get any book that you want, but the selection is quite large. I found myself more willing to try new authors and genres because I wasn't worried about the price. The first book I borrowed was called Better Off Without Him- A Romantic Comedy, by Dee Ernst. I wouldn't have spent money on this initially, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was well-written, funny and light. Another romance novel success for this non-believer. (See A Fairy Tale Quartet for the full story on my romance-novel inexperience.)

Once I'd started borrowing from the Kindle lending library, I got a few emails from Amazon suggesting their other free book options (does that sound like a smart marketing strategy to you? I assume there must be some statistic that people who borrow for free also spend more money in the store). It turns out that there are thousands of books that can be borrowed either directly from Amazon or from other open-library sources. Most are public-domain kinds of books, like Huckleberry Finn or Northanger Abbey, but that is no drawback in my book (no pun intended). It just encourages me to read more classic novels, which has been a recent goal of mine (see my most recent post, Back to the Literature.) I started with My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse and a favorite childhood book, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I can't wait to read both.

It's an opportune time for me to discover this cache of free books, because I can see using my Kindle a lot more during those long feeding sessions in my near future, when reading a heavy book with two hands would not be possible, but a light one-handed e-reader would. Another check in the pro-Kindle column for this reader.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Back to the Literature

As per my usual pattern, because it's summertime, I'm finding myself drawn to lighter reads. But while browsing around Barnes and Noble yesterday, I came across the table of recommended literature for summer. I assumed the table was mostly targeted toward high school students, which made me realize that I read most of these great works when I was in high school myself, which was.... thirteen years ago. I remember most of them reasonably well, but I can't claim I'm able to carry on an involved conversation about any of them.

Of course, there are a few that I've re-read over the years, such as The Handmaid's Tale and the novels of Jane Austen. But it's been too long since I've experienced The Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men or The Bell Jar. I've also never read Brave New World, which was required reading in my dad's English classes but not at my high school. To be fair to myself, I read most of what was lying around the house in addition to my English class assignments and went above and beyond the recommended reading lists at the time, but there are still a few books left on my book bucket list.

So I'm putting Brave New World on my list, and I also pulled out a great summery piece of literature, Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. I can't wait to get into the Wharton again. I remember her being witty and snarky, and I love her New York socialite characters, so relatable to today's characters, even though they're living in the early 1900s.

(Fun fact: some of Wharton was cribbed for Gossip Girl scripts. One of the characters in The House of Mirth, Lily Bart, can be directly traced to Lily Bass, who was married to Bart Bass. Other references to Wharton abound in the first season, and the characters are often seen holding her books. There's a lot more to Gossip Girl than a teen soap opera.)

Anything else I should add to my re-reading list? What books did you read in high school that you think it's time to review?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Fork in the Writing Road

I've reached a new stage in my pregnancy. I'm hitting 37 weeks on Monday, which pretty much means I could go into labor any time within the next 5-6 weeks. That's a long period of time. I'm not going back to work, since the school year starts after my due date. I'm as prepared for this baby to come as I can be, both physically and mentally. At this point, all I have to do is keep taking good care of my body, rest and relax, and play the waiting game.

But I've never been good at either waiting or relaxing. I like to keep my mind engaged. I can only watch TV for so long, and I've already done quite a bit of reading. I can't travel far or make any elaborate plans outside the house. What I'd like to do is take advantage of this time to write something.

For a few years now, I've been trying to find my writing niche. First, I started researching a novel, but had to backtrack when I realized I had no idea how to go about it. So I read a lot of books about writing. Then I took some fiction writing classes, where I started working on short stories. I even tried to get one of them published, but I gave up after a few attempts. I returned to the novel-writing with more skills and a new topic that I was excited about. I wrote about 75 pages before taking another writing class, which took some of my time away from the novel and devoted it back to short story writing. And then I got pregnant, and haven't felt well for most of the pregnancy, and so I haven't written much since, other than blog posts and my daily journal entries.

At this point, I have two problems with my writing:

1. I am interested in many different styles and genres of writing, and find it difficult to decide what to devote my time to. Novel? Short story? Memoir? Magazine articles? I have ideas and interest in all of these. But I can't produce anything of substance without choosing a path and sticking to it. What goal do I choose for myself?

2. I find it very difficult to work on any project that has no set deadline or accountability standard. I know myself to be a goal-oriented person and a hard worker. I was very good at school, because I knew what was expected of me, and I always delivered. I'm good at my job for the same reason. But with writing, something that for me is more than a hobby but not quite a career (yet), I have no goals, no deadlines, no expectations beyond what I give myself. Taking writing classes is a great way to create that accountability for a short period of time, but I can't go broke taking endless classes (especially when they don't lead to a degree) and I won't have the flexibility to take anything other than an online course for the next year or so.

I don't see myself coming up with a solution to either of these tonight, but the act of writing them down clarifies it for me. I do want this pre-baby time to be productive and personally fulfilling, and I think writing is the way to make that happen. It may even keep me sane after the baby is born; writing is a proven fighter of the "baby blues." I just need to choose something to work on, make some small, achievable goals for myself, and stick to it with some blind faith that it will turn into something good. And if it doesn't, I have to believe that I'm doing it for a reason. Even if that reason is just to call myself a writer.