Tag Archives: Writing

Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, a book review

“STATE OF WONDER,” is a 21st century fairy tale. The Ann Patchett novel explores, among many things, the potential for human excellence, the power and consequence of romantic love, the implications of paternal presence and absence. Perhaps most importantly, the story reveals our willingness to deceive, disappoint, and betray one another. But also our ability to persevere and survive.

Read State of Wonder twice. It’s that good. I missed most of the message on first reading. I’m planning to give it a third go, a few years hence. I can’t wait to see how the story stands the test of time. After two readings, I think it has “classic” stamped all over it.

State of WonderOne reader called State of Wonder “A life-changing experience.” For anyone paying attention, it is a life-informing experience, at least.

As a story, State of Wonder is a tale of grand adventure, bordering on science fiction, in a faraway and dangerous place.

The journey takes us from frozen Minnesota to steaming Amazon jungle. It’s the archetypical plot of ancient and modern literature. To wit: The hero leaves home; the hero returns home.

First the hero, Dr. Anders Eckman, departs on a great quest, which includes birdwatching and searching for a disappeared mad scientist. Dr. Eckman contracts a tropical fever and perishes.

Now comes the heroine, Dr. Marina Singh, an unwilling volunteer on a mission. The heroine departs partly because she’s guilt-tripped into it, and partly because she’s in love with the anti-hero, a CEO named Mr. Fox. He stays home, at least for now. What a man! Mr. Fox must remain behind to keep the ship from sinking. In this case, the ship is a corporation. But never mind.

Is the brilliant (mad?) scientist, Dr. Annick Swenson, seemingly lost in the jungle without even a telephone, the true heroine? Or is she the villain? Whatever, Dr. Swenson understands the hard truth, when it finally slaps her in the face.

I don’t know another story to match this,” says she.

Correct. There is no story to match this, at least not since Homer. Or maybe Adam and Eve. Forgive my hyperbole.

The icy Dr. Swenson inspires unwavering loyalty, admiration, and fear. She’s a central character here, but not THE central character.

The central character is our overeducated and slightly naive heroine, Dr. Singh.  All the leading characters seem to be doctors, if you don’t count the endearing little boy, named Easter, who happens to be deaf.

Marina Singh is a humble but daring protagonist. She wanders alone in a sweltering, alien city, braving deadly insects and malaria day and night. She travels by small boat down unknown tropical rivers, deep into the dense Amazon jungle.

Our heroine is fearful, but overcomes all fears. She battles a fire-breathing dragon. And slays it with a machete.

(Time out for truth in book reviewing: OK, it’s NOT a fire-breathing dragon. It’s ONLY a poison-spitting boa constrictor, powerful enough to squeeze the life out of a child, and possibly also devour a grown man. This snake is a creature of mythic proportions, a perfectly good stand-in for the archetypical dragon.)

Dr. Marina Singh performs life-and-death surgeries under primitive conditions. She ingests the bark of the tree of eternal fertility, but eschews the hallucinogenic blue mushrooms.

Most importantly, Marina discovers a great truth (I’m not giving it away!) and uncovers a great deception (read the book!).

After all these labors, Marina finds and rescues our original lost hero (Dr. Birdwatcher) and returns him home at last to his family in Minnesota, where it is now springtime.

Ann Patchett has written five other novels and a couple of non-fiction memoirs. She’s only of a certain age, so probably she will write many more books. State of Wonder is, I believe, her masterwork. My review of Ann Patchett’s novel “Run” is here.

I’m tempted to nominate State of Wonder to be a Great American Novel, except that most of the story takes place in the Amazon jungle.

Tell me, have you read State of Wonder? Or Run? What did you think of Ann Patchett’s work?

— John Hayden

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Meanwhile…

I stumbled upon this post, “Meanwhile” serendipitously via Michelle at “The Green Study.”    Thanks to Michelle and also to Wyrd Smythe for putting into words the thoughts I’ve been repressing. Maybe bloggers of a certain maturity are all channeling the same frustrations.

It feels like cheating, but since I can’t force myself to write a worthwhile post of my own this week, at least I can repost a really good post by someone else.

(Regarding our shared perception of few readers and still fewer commenters, the WordPress blogger “Time Thief” has some insight — over at “One Cool Site”  — on the possibility that people are seeing our stuff on the WordPress Reader, so they no longer have to visit our actual blogs.) Thanks to Michelle and Wyrd Smythe for helping me understand the “loose ends.”
— John

Logos con carne

tangled I find myself feeling “at loose ends.” If you search on that phrase, you find a big part of the definition involves the idea of “not knowing what to do,” although sources differ a bit on whether that’s due to having nothing to do or due to not being able to decide what to do. More to the point, most identify the main feeling: being restless and unsettled.

A key reason my ends are loose is obvious given my last post, but this river has other tributaries (I never met a metaphor I couldn’t mix). Certainly in my case, the problem isn’t having nothing to do; I have plenty of projects. The problem is the utter lack of fulfillment in doing most of them.

And, sadly, this blog is turning out to be high on that list.

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Freshly Pressed AND Mauled By A Polar Bear On The Same Day

Has anything in the blogosphere ever created as much angst and envy as “Freshly Pressed?”

Folks, we’ve got to stop obsessing about Freshly Pressed. Consider the following from WordPress.com News:

WordPress.com bloggers published 39,705,625 posts in January . . . “and we featured 190 of them on Freshly Pressed.”

Think of it. McDonald’s hamburgers, billions sold! Blog posts, millions and millions! Freshly Pressed, 190 in January. Continue reading

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Lawyer Fiction: John Grisham and Michael Connelly, Part 2

books headerWriting without an outline is like walking a tightrope without a net. Dangerous! I should know better.

But the truth is, I nearly always write without an outline. It’s more exciting that way. When I start a story, I think I know where I’m going. I often end up someplace else entirely. (Kids, don’t try writing without an outline in English class; it makes the teacher crazy.)

On New Year’s Eve, I set out to compare authors John Grisham and Michael Connelly.  Turns out the two men and their careers are as similar as Coke and Pepsi. But when you open the covers of their books, there’s a definite contrast, like salt and pepper. If you’d like to read Part 1 of this extended post first, click here.

Grisham and Connelly are writers of the same generation, both productive enough to wear out a reader, but good enough to keep customers coming back for more.

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Lawyer Fiction: John Grisham And Michael Connelly, Part 1

So many weighty questions remain unresolved as this miserable old year runs out the clock.

Who’s the best at writing lawyer fiction: John Grisham or Michael Connelly? That’s the question keeping me awake on the last night of 2013.

John Grisham

JOHN GRISHAM (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve read more of Grisham than Connelly. In fact I think I’ve read all of Grisham’s stuff, except his recent dabbling in the juvenile market. I just finished his latest, “Sycamore Row.” It’s classic Grisham with a deep-South setting, Clanton, Miss., a town caught in a racial time warp. Clanton is modern enough to have an elected black sheriff, but the rural backwater keeps producing court cases highlighting its history of racism.

A Grisham trademark is fast-paced suspense — maybe a chase scene — after a long buildup. Many of Grisham’s novels delve deeply into a particular legal quagmire, such as the death penalty, product liability, environmental pollution, or class-action suits. You feel like you’ve been through a law school seminar, except it was fun.

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In 12 years of blogging, the more things change, the more they stay the same

This essay by Om Malek is a comprehensive status report on social media and especially on blogging. A most valuable read for everyone who’s serious about blogging.

Hold these tho thoughts: “Point of view” and “Curating” — I’ll be pondering both items between now and Jan. 1. — John

Gigaom

Last Friday was the 12th anniversary of day when I posted my first blog post on gigaom.com, and starting what would later (in June 2006) become a company. (Up until Dec. 13, 2001, GigaOM was nothing more than a repository for my previously published articles and résumé.) These have been an interesting dozen years, where we have seen blogging go from a niche curiosity to a mainstream activity to becoming a catch-all phrase for news — casual news, if you are being nit picky. The concept of blogging as we knew it has lost some of its meaning and even a bit of meaningfulness.

When I started blogging, it was to share a point of view — mixing news with musings, with pictures, links, and later videos. It started and ended with that point of view, one that was open to adaption and adjustment, but always informed.

I told the…

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Confessions of an Aging Blogger

I have this habit of disappearing without warning. It’s one of my many deficiencies as a blogger.

Egret

Some days I walk around wondering, “Where did I put my head?”

Egret

My photography skills leave something to be desired. The new Canon has a miraculous zoom lens, but my hands are unsteady. This egret is quite a distance off, and I can’t for the life of me capture all of her in one frame. So I try to salvage pictures using iPhoto. Powerful hardware and software should not be left unattended. Or, as a wise manager told me long ago, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

Egret

I nearly had her, that time! My goal is to write short and sweet. But often I’ll go on and on, trying to capture an argument that’s as elusive as an egret at 100 yards.

Egret

I need to learn to be satisfied with an incomplete picture. Incomplete and fuzzy writing. That’s my style, more often than not.

princess lola

I frequently veer off topic on a whim. That’s a blogging no-no. Which reminds me, have I posted a photo of Princess Lola recently?

Long-hair cat

Once I get into the zone, I could blog all night. It’s not as if I have a shortage of ideas. Definitely no shortage of cute and regal cat pictures. (When I really get going, I throw in random adjectives and adverbs, not to mention parenthetical references.)

cat on sofa

I have a compulsion to cover the subject in depth and variety. Cats come in so many interesting shapes and sizes. They’re so cute when they’re sleeping. I’m not above stating the obvious.

150px-democratslogo

Lastly, I frequently write about taboo subjects. Not religion; I’m talking politics. Boring.

Now that I’ve retired from gainful employment, I’ll have more time for blogging! I’m trying to decide on a course of action. Should I start a new blog? I’m searching for the perfect niche. Preferably one that will draw a wide audience resulting in astounding statistics and minor income from the WordAds program.

While I’m awaiting inspiration, I’ll probably write about retirement. And that’s all I have to say tonight.

— John Hayden

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Rambling On About Writing, Editing And Blogging

English: Stephen King's House in Bangor, Maine

Stephen King’s House in Bangor, Maine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nearly all bloggers are interested in improving their writing. You can find an interesting post about criticism and editing — and how bloggers respond to same — by Michelle at “The Green Study.”

English: Hands collaborating in co-writing or ...

Hands collaborating in writing or editing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Which calls to mind a Baltimore Sun blog, “You Don’t Say,” by John McIntyre, a curmudgeon and drudge, as well as a longtime Sun copy desk chief.  If you’re interested in language and editing, you could do worse than to follow his blog. It’s always informative and sometimes amusing. Continue reading

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Looking Forward To Old Age

Me too. Hoping to write something worthwhile, that is.

Hold that thought. You’ve already written a bunch of posts that no one else could have written, Ms. Sled. You could probably mine your blog for a good eBook. — John

Sixteen Tons

I am not any kind of big fat fan of David Brooks, but this offering in a chat feature he shares with Gail Collins made me sit up:

The great art critic Kenneth Clark once wrote an essay on what he called the “old-age style.”  He noticed that some artists peak young but others, like Michelangelo, Titian, Rembrandt, Turner and Cézanne, peaked in their elderly years. These artists shared what he called:

A sense of isolation, a feeling of holy rage, developing into what I have called transcendental pessimism; a mistrust of reason, a belief in instinct.

Holy rage? Transcendental pessimism? I’m there. Not sure about the mistrust of reason, but after reading this, I’m clinging to the hope that as I get older, I’ll write something really worthwhile.

Hit the link to the chat; it’s a bagatelle worth your time, over a morning caffeine infusion or while waiting for…

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Steve McCurry On Photography And Blogging

You too, could be a blogger. Or even a photographer. It’s interesting to me that in the age of video, words and photography remain irreplaceable. I wouldn’t want any photographer to miss Steve McCurry’s work. His advice to budding photographers is also good for budding writers. To paraphrase: Find a particular place or subject, and dig deep into it. In a way that’s like my motto, “Write what you know.” — John

The WordPress.com Blog

Steve McCurry, a professional photographer and author of several photography books, shares his reasons for why he blogs on WordPress.com. His iconic photo, Afghan Girl, graced the cover of National Geographic and was named one of the 100 Best Pictures of the magazine. McCurry has been recognized with some of the most prestigious awards in the industry, including the Robert Capa Gold Medal, National Press Photographers Award, and an unprecedented four first prize awards from the World Press Photo contest, to name a few.

You are a world-famous photographer. Why do you blog?

Steve: Who would even dream 20 years ago that we would even have the internet? Clearly the internet is changing the landscape of publishing, news, and entertainment. There are countless channels on television, infinite content on the internet, and stimuli literally everywhere we turn. . . . There is so much competition. My blog is just my way of…

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