Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Book Review: Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho


Reading Paulo Coelho’s novel Veronika Decides to Die was enjoyable, but it failed to be truly eye-opening for the same reasons that Coelho’s other novels fail: they are too allegorical. From the beginning, the reader—if he has a passing knowledge of Coelho’s work—knows more or less where the novel will end up. I made a private wager with myself, and if it had been one in Vegas instead, I would be a rich woman right now.

Nevertheless, Veronika Decides to Die remains a compelling and fascinating book, if only for its tour of a mental institution. Coelho himself was institutionalized several times as an adolescent for wanting to be a writer, so he knows of what he speaks. I personally spent a short term in what would now be referred to as a mental health facility, so I particularly enjoy these descriptions for how precisely accurate they are. When we think of mental institutions, we tend to think of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (which, admittedly, so did I—before). I’m sure such facilities exist, sadly, but thankfully my experience was much closer to Veronika’s. I believe for people who have not been personally affected by mental illness (or those who have), this book is worth a read for no other reason.

That Coelho got the details correct is important because, as I alluded to before, the story itself is rather simple: Veronika decides to kill herself by taking sleeping pills, but fails to complete the job. She awakens in a mental institution where she is told that although the pills did not directly kill her, they so damaged Veronika’s heart that she only had about five days from there. Carrying on, we see how Veronika deals with her self-inflicted death sentence amid a host of mental patients.

Per usual, Coelho’s themes are explicitly stated, numerous times, by numerous characters. This can get annoying: Coelho essentially beats you over the head with what he wants you—and his characters—to take from the experience. The theme is one that I think most of us can agree upon, and it has some elements of a “feel good” book for that reason (plot and setting aside).

In the end, I enjoyed Veronika Decides to Die, but likely largely for the ways in which it touched upon my own experiences. Although I believe that anyone can learn from it, not everyone will want to—which is perfectly okay, and something to keep in mind,

Monday, June 8, 2009

Writing in Unusual Places: Manhattan's M79


I have discovered the perfect (and the worst) place to write: the M79 bus. Twice a day, for twenty to thirty minutes of constant interrupted pleasure, I can write to my heart’s content, inspired—or distracted—by the many characters, ranging from business men to foreign high school students. This particularly bus line starts and stops constantly, giving my writing the same jerky feel. My handwriting suffers horribly, and often I’ll record something that feels raw and powerful to discover that it is entirely unreadable.

During the wait for the bus, I listen to music, attempting to let my mind go and not focus on any one particular thing. Invariably, somehow, inspiration strikes the second I sit down, and it is a matter of catching up; I enter into a race with my hand, bracing myself against particular hard stops, then starting right in again.

I’ve had my slow days, and my completely impossibly days, but the vibrancy of the starting and stopping, the entering and exiting, fills my pen with something that isn’t always good but is usually never-ending (until, of course, it has to). The great days are the ones where I, ever impatient, completely lose track of stops and only barely make it off where I’m suppose to.

This week, I will likely end my (daily) excursions on the M79. I don’t know yet what bus or subway line I’ll be moving to. I suppose my message here is this: cherish the locations you are given to write, even if they seem less than ideal; there is a tremendous amount of gold to be found if you are a talented sifter.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Why I'm "Falling Into Words"

A brief bio about me: I'm a mid-twenties reader and writer currently residing in Manhattan's Upper West Side.

I'm an avid, life-long reader, spurred on by time spent in my grandmother's used bookstore when I was very young. I tend to work my way through "classics" lists (Time's 100 Greatest English-Language Novels, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, Pulitzer/Booker/PEN/Faulkner prize-winners, etc.) in what is probably a futile attempt to be well read. For what it is worth, here are my top five favorite books (in no particular order):

1. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
2. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
3. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
4. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
5. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

I hope to post brief reviews of the books I read here (as much as for me and my horrible memory as for others!).

On the other hand, I am a much newer writer, slowly working on a novel about family dynamics, and particularly about how a brother and sister raised in the same household can turn out very differently. At the same time, to work my writing muscles and develop my voice, I am working on a number of short stories. As I find they all center around one main idea--identity--I hope to collect them into a book at some point.

I may post some short pieces of my own writing over time, but mainly I intend to post my thoughts about the writing process: where to write, how to develop your voice, creating characters and dialogue--essentially all issues that I'm wrestling with, and that I hope will be found generally helpful.

The blog's title comes from the idea that when I'm particularly engrossed in either a book or a piece of writing, I feel as though I can't catch up and that sense of falling you get before dropping off to sleep occurs. I'm sure the same happens to many of you, and I'd love to hear your experiences. Either way, I hope you find my blog interesting or helpful, and please let me know if there's anything I can add. Have fun!