Thursday, December 31, 2009

Joyce Maynard's "Why I Read"

As I'm still recovering from the holiday rush, let's dip into the "Why I Read" files for today's blog entry, shall we? "Why I Read" is an occasional feature of our email newsletter and a personal favorite of mine. We've been gradually posting them online for all to see. In short, we ask authors why they read.

Today's entry comes from Joyce Maynard, a local author whose works include her memoir of growing up in the 1960s (Looking Back), her early 1990s novel To Die For (later made into a movie) and many more. Her latest book, Labor Day, came out last summer. NPR said that "apart from being a successful thriller, this book is a fascinating portrait of what causes a family to founder, and how much it can cost to put it back on the right path." Here's her original essay:

Truth to tell, I didn’t start out as much of a reader. I watched TV as my own private rebellion against the world of English literature. Child of two English teachers who quoted Shakespeare and eighteenth century poetry at the dinner table, I favored “Father Knows Best” and “Gilligan’s Island.” Still, every night before I went to sleep, my father sat at my bedside, reciting poetry. Sometimes he had me memorize Wordsworth. Sometimes Yeats or Blake. And the rhythms stuck in my brain, even as the sitcom stories faded.

I thought about our old practice of memorizing poetry just the other day, when (having come, a little later than some, to the joy of reading great literature) I had reached that scene in Ian McEwan’s novel,
Saturday, in which the young daughter—with her whole family held hostage and a knife at her mother’s neck—recites the poem “Dover Beach” and so disarms the man responsible for the crime that he releases them all. It wasn’t brute force or the heroic arrival of a SWAT team that brought about the family’s release: it was Matthew Arnold’s words.

My father could have recited “Dover Beach.” My mother, too. If I had been a more willing student, I would know the poem better than I do. But the rhythms of poetry—the poetry that was as much a part of dinners in my family as the food set on the table—sustain me still. Poetry can save your life, was McEwan’s message. Not just poetry, either, but language, words, the sound of syllables, the music of sentences.

Link I will never be a physically powerful person, but with words, well chosen, I take on strength. I know this, as a writer, because I know, as a reader, what other writers’ words have done for me. They open up the universe. They lift me out of myself, revealing a larger world.

Words can save your life, is the lesson. I believe it. That’s why I read.

Thanks, Ms. Maynard. Want to read others? On the blog so far: Beth Lisick, Susan Choi, Peter Rock, Dave Eggers, Daniel Handler, and T.C. Boyle.

Monday, December 28, 2009


We don't talk about film on the blog much, and being that Green Apple houses a formidable selection of movies, I'd like to touch on some Hollywood news today.

This Christmas, as great as it was for me, was overshadowed by an insurmountable loss. On Christmas day I learned that, on December 17th 2009, Dan O'Bannon was taken from this world by Crohn's disease. For those not familiar with the man, O'Bannon was the brains behind the scripts of some of the best sci-fi & horror films of the last forty years. He is the man who penned Alien, Lifeforce, Return of the Living Dead, Total Recall, Screamers, the two best (and in my opinion only watchable) animated shorts featured in the 1981 Heavy Metal movie, and a lot more. He worked with both John Carpenter and George Lucas at different points in their careers, collaborating to create some of the most visually stunning special effects of the seventies.

So for what it is, goodbye Dan. I wish word hadn't come to me so late. You were a true brutalitarian and your efforts to make quality films will be greatly missed. It's time to revisit your work.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Just In Case Our Word Wasn't Good Enough...

Yes, Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s Running Away was our November Book of the Month, fully guaranteed, and 16 of you bought it in November...

Of course we had our Book of the Month Video that went with it...

Today's New York Times Book Review, might be a good indicator that you really, really, should read this book.

See, I'm not the only one who loved this book!

So come on in and experience this awesome book from Dalkey Archive.

You should also check out this other article in the New York Times about books in translation and Open Letter Books.