Thursday, August 19, 2010

My favorite summer book. Of all time. I don't say things like that very often.

I've written about The Summer Book before.  I first read it in 2008 and fell in love.  The post is so short because I had no words to describe how much I loved it.  I have recommended it, given it as a gift and reread it every summer since then.  Pure joy. You should be on your way out the door to find a copy by now.

Each chapter is a separate vignette style story that distills the essence of summer, childhood and adult sense-and nonsense-ability.  Sophia, her father and her grandmother have an easy way about them, as they live quietly and adventurously all summer. Sophia is six, feisty, and pays attention to all of the small details and mysteries of life for the first time.  Her grandmother is 85, equally feisty and is paying attention to the small details and mysteries of life, but with the kind of wisdom only age can give.  I have found myself falling for the way that Jansson captures Sophia's awakening to life and the endearing patience with a side of crankiness with which Grandmother watches it happen. These are just a few things I was thinking about today as I was reading:

In "The Robe," Sophia is going through a "rebellious" stage.  This is the part that makes me love Grandmother with all of my heart: "...she played cards with grandmother.  The both cheated shamelessly, and their cardplaying afternoons always ended in a quarrel.  This had never happened before. Grandmother tried to recall her own rebellious periods in order to try and understand, but all she could remember was an unusually well behaved little girl.  Wise as she was, she realized that people can postpone their rebellious phases until they're eighty-five years old, and she decided to keep an eye on herself." 

In "The Tent," Sophia tries to sleep all night in a tent outside and comes in under the pretense of wanting to hear about her grandmother's experiences in tents. "A very long time ago, Grandmother had wanted to tell about all the things they did, but no one had bothered to ask. And now she lost the urge...That's strange, Grandmother thought. I can't describe things anymore. I can't find the words, or maybe it's just that I'm not trying hard enough...unless I tell it because I want to, it's as if it never happened; it gets closed off and then it's lost."  This is kind of random, but this speaks into my writing life: although sometimes a little discipline is required, I've found the best time for me to write about something is the moment in which I am excited about it.  That is when the most passion is conveyed in what I'm trying to say.  It also made me think about how sad it is when stories get lost because the moment it should have been told or written has passed.

Jansson does not let the moment pass, though, because this short book crystallizes so much. Seriously. Find a copy. Curl up somewhere summer-y: I'm predisposed to the porch at my parents. A lake would be ideal. And love.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Fiction as Eye Opener.

I've mentioned before that I love mystery.  The literary genre held court in my elementary school life (Nancy Drew, R.L. Stine) and middle school life (Mary Higgins Clark), but then dropped out of sight until recently.  Inspired by my love of mystery shows from The Closer, which is great in every aspect, to Bones, which isn't, and all the Law and Order, CSI:NY and Lie to Me in between, I was ready to get lost in the literary genre once again.

 I just finished the second of the three Steig Larsson books, The Girl Who Played With Fire.  There are many literary aspects that set these books apart from a lot of the pulpy bestsellers, most notably the complex characters who are developed over the course of all the books. But. What I want to focus on more is that the main mystery of the book revolves around trafficking and the sex trade.  This book was originally published in Sweden in 2004, which means that the original research was completed years before.  Larsson was ahead of his time in making the public aware of what is happening worldwide.

In the past few years, trafficking has become a more well known issue, but I remember first becoming really informed around 2005 by a friend who helped to found Restore NYC (in 2004), which "aims to provide safe housing and special legal, medical and employment services, as well as optional spiritual activities" for women who have been sexually trafficked into New York City. In the early days, my friend spent a lot of time educating everyone she could about the issue of trafficking--and one of the main responses were jaws dropped in horror that one, this was occurring, and two, that they didn't know about it. 

All that to say, I am glad that there are books and authors who aren't afraid to delve into the darkest corners of our existence (for the issue of trafficking, see also the young adult Sold by Patricia McCormick).  I am a firm believer that fiction is one of the greatest ways to understand the complexity and depth of the hardest issues in society.  Fiction forces the reader to not just read statistics or facts, but to know the physical and emotional impact on individual characters.  Not facing these issues leaves us utterly ignorant and only promotes living in a bubble of safety, unaware of anyone else's needs but our own. Go. Read.