The Kickstarter has been FULLY FUNDED (IN ONLY TWO DAYS!)

 

 

 

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I’ll be writing another post soon with more details, but for now check out the kickstarter page for more information and how you can help the project reach its stretch goals, which would allow us to produce a graphic novel version of the book, give out more paperback copies, and much more!

Thank you for your support! Regardless of what happens now, you’ve already helped make my lifelong dream come true.

 

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The “Saviors” Kickstarter Is Here…And I Need Your Help!

 

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A few hours ago the kickstarter for my novel Saviors was launched and, as of now, it has raised $320. As someone who is thrilled when I have enough money to spend on a paperback book, I’m frankly astonished. And if the novel actually reaches the $1,500 goal, I’ll probably faint. Beyond that, serious medical attention might be required.

I’ve recently read a number of great books, including Suite Francaice, Fire in the Blood, Jezebel, The Night Circus, Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe, and Prelude to Foundation (all of which I highly recommend), so I am hoping to write at least two (possibly three) posts on them in the coming week. But for now, I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for reading my blog and supporting my writing. And, of course, I wanted to talk about Saviors.

I’ll be blunt: I have wanted to publish novels for as long as I’ve been able to think. Childhood friends might remember me orally telling (and performing) fantasy adventures, high school classmates might recall the first novels I wrote, and those who have known me over the last year might recall evenings when I refused to go out because I needed to work on a chapter. Or maybe you’ve seen one of my youtube videos or just “met” me through this blog. Regardless, writing means more to me than anything and all I want is to share my stories with others. That’s why I’m eager to use kickstarter rather than go through a more traditional route. My hope is that, through kickstarter and social media in general, I can reach people like you who are truly interested in my work. To paraphrase Joss Whedon, I’d rather have a thousand people who really loved my stories (and with whom I could interact with and help whenever and however I could) than a million fans on facebook who were only mildly interested in anything I produced.

I want this kickstarter to be the start of something big. If Saviors is successful enough, I will undoubtedly use kickstarter again to fund the next novel (which I’ve already started working on – it’s tentatively titled Dust Covered Dreams) and I’m also considering finishing up work on a graphic novel. But beyond any specific projects, I want to really get to know my readers and help them out. Whether I can help by reading material or in some other way, I am just excited at the prospect of really engaging with a larger community.

That’s all I can really say for now – check out my previous blog post for more info on the novel or just watch the video on the kickstarter page. I’ve provided the links below.

Thanks again for everything and I’ll keep you all posted!

 

LINKS

 

KICKSTARTER PAGE

FACEBOOK EVENT PAGE

The Story of “Saviors” – My Soon-To-Be Published Novel

 

“I was always so relieved that anyone wants to publish anything I’ve written.” – Neil Gaiman

 

I was shocked when I first read the above quote from Neil Gaiman for the obvious reason – this is Neil-freaking-Gaiman.  Regardless of whether you think he’s a genius or not, I can’t think of many other professional writers who enjoy so much critical AND commercial success.  And what’s more impressive is that he enjoys this rare combination of acclaim in not one, not two, but more mediums than I’m probably even aware of.  Comics, graphic novels, novels, short stories, poets, screenplays – hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if he started directing soon or writing music.  The man is undoubtedly an extremely creative person and the idea that someone so successful and so beloved could be surprised, let alone relieved, that anyone would want to publish his work seems absurd.  It would be like someone in the 19th century hearing this statement from Charles Dickens (who I doubt would ever have said anything like this).  How could someone so great sound so, well, vulnerable?

Maybe I’m naive and any celebrity who talks about how lucky they feel or the like is merely posturing – but I don’t think so.  People like Gaiman and other writers (J.K Rowling, David Foster Wallace, and, in music, the unimaginably gifted Elliott Smith) sound – or sounded – genuine when they talk about the relief that comes with such success in interviews.  The fact that people like them might feel some the same anxieties I do about anything I write being accepted by anyone even after they have achieved a kind of cultural status that is light-years away from me (should I be equally lucky and earn it) is a source of constant comfort for me because it is a reminder that the people we idolize never cease just being people in their own eyes.  It is a reminder that no one should be afraid people will not like their work and that great writers are free from such fears.  Rather, the only way to stop worrying is to remember, “Hey, this is writing – it’s fun!”  And there you go.

I’ve also overcome many cases of self-induced imaginative paralysis wherein I would unfairly and unfavorably compare myself to figures past and present with help from another quote by Gaiman.  To paraphrase, he said that while other writers might be better than him, none of them could be him.  This echoes a feeling I’ve long held – that successful writers are those who discover and explore terrain uniquely their own – and for the first time in my life I feel I might be on the road to finding out how to be (or at least sound like) me.

Over the last few days I’ve had a chance to look over my past seven novels and while on the one hand I’m proud of the work I put into them, none of them are total reflections of myself. Saviors, however, is something that I can proudly say is not derivative of anything, and is the closest I’ve felt yet to achieving a voice of my own.  Now, with the help of Jeremy Gotwals and his talented crew at Holon Publishing, I have the chance to share my story with you…

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Emily Kalen has just turned twenty-five and, like many in our generation, is suffering a quarter-life crisis.  She’s uncertain about her career, unsatisfied with her social life, and to make matters worse, her mother is in a coma after being in a car accident, while her brother offers little to no help from nearly a thousand miles away.

In the midst of all this enters Tobias Welles, a confident, intriguing man who has all the qualities Emily is looking for and makes her feel, for the first time in too long, like she’s not alone.  After meeting Tobias, Emily finds herself unusually optimistic that their encounter is only the beginning of a serious relationship that might be able to sustain her through the difficult times ahead, as her mother’s fate remains uncertain.  Meanwhile, after meeting Emily, Tobias kills two teenagers who pick on a homeless man and refuse to apologize.

Saviors is the story of Emily and Tobias and how their relationship utterly transforms each of them.  For Emily, her love for Tobias helps her develop from a meek, insecure girl into a strong, independent woman.  For Tobias, the transformation is not so helpful, as through Emily he gradually sees that his uncompromising moral code might not be so moral after all.  And as his world-view becomes unstable, so too does his own identity.  Is he a servant of God avenging the weak and saving the souls of the wicked by teaching them to understand their sins before releasing them, pure and renewed, to Heaven?  Or is he just a killer satisfying his own blood lust and need for a purpose to his lonely life?

As the two grow closer and closer, family conflicts and unexpected disasters will test Emily’s new-found strength and force Tobias to decide whether he is willing to fulfill his sacred work if it means losing the woman he loves forever.

That, as succinctly as I can put it, is “Saviors,” and I hope that, should you choose to read my novel, you will have as much fun reading it as I had writing it.

 

PERSONAL MESSAGE TO NEIL GAIMAN, SHOULD YOU EVER READ THIS POST:

Hi, Mr. Gaiman,

We met briefly at the University of Chicago where you read from your novel Neverwhere and then took questions from the audience.  You were kind enough to answer one of my mine and, afterwards, I happened to run into you.  Now, prior to the event I told myself that someone who has gone to as many events and spoken to as many fans as you has no doubt grown tired of hearing how great “Sandman” is, etc. etc.  so I was determined I wouldn’t say something banal.

But I failed.  I asked if you were excited about the upcoming third Batman movie because in an interview you talked at length about the first two.  In retrospect, if you did recall that interview, I probably only seemed creepy for having known about that instance at all.  And then, realizing my mistake and uncertain how to gracefully leave you in peace, I did just what I said wouldn’t – I said how much I liked Sandman.  You gave me a smile and said, “Thank you,” but in my head all I heard was, “Oh God, how many times do I have to hear that?  Do you really think I’m unaware how great those comics are?  I’ve won every bloody (you’d say being an Englishman) award there is for them and have done nothing but win awards since!  Get out of my sight you sycophantic tool!  Out I say!  OUT!”

I can’t be sure whether that is what you really meant by, “Thank you,” but regardless I wanted to say sorry for…anything.

Sincerely,

-Matt

 

There – now I can stop cringing and at least hope one day you might stumble on this paragraph because you’ll say, “Hey…Matt Seidel’s blog…you know, I think I’ll read the sixth entry and pay close attention to the ending…”

I mean, there’s a chance.  Right?

 

 

 

 

 

As a Barnes & Noble Employee, I have to include the following:

DISCLAIMER: None of the views expressed in this post or blog reflect those of Barnes & Noble in any way.  They are my opinions and ideas, which I alone am responsible for, and are in no way connected to Barnes & Noble whatsoever.  

And if that isn’t clear enough – I am speaking in this post and blog only for myself, Matt Seidel – NOT anyone else or any other entity, including but not limited to Barnes & Noble.  They are mine, and mine alone.

(I think that should suffice)

 

 

Why Do Geniuses Always Seem to Come In Groups? My Answer

 

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“People like me are aware of their so-called genius at ten, eight, nine. . . . I always wondered, “Why has nobody discovered me?” – John Lennon

 

Shakespeare, Jonson, Marlowe, Kyd, Fletcher.  Bach, Handel, Mozart, Haydn  Beethoven.  Dickens, Thackeray  Eliot, Trollope, Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, Hardy.  Spielberg, Lucas, Scorsese, Coppola   Whether or not you’ve ever read, listened  or watched any of these artists’ work, my guess is that you know precisely who I’m talking about by their last names alone.  Now, one might say “Of course we know who they are – they’re the best in their fields in their times.”  Sure, I agree they’re all great talents, but can you name five great classical composers off the top of your head?  I know I can’t – and even if I know the names of a few composers I honestly have no idea whether professionals consider them so great as to be worthy of standing alongside Mozart.  How about painters?  Writers (aside from  David Foster Wallace who everybody immediately goes to)?

My point is simply this – while we obviously know certain artists for their talent, the ones who immediately associate with genius tend to live around the same time.  In some cases, their birth years are hardly ten years apart, as is  the case with Dickens and the other Victorian writers I mentioned.  Hell, even the ninja turtles lived in the same era – Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci produced their best work around the same time, they were closely preceded by Donatello, and Raphael was just becoming a rising star when Michelangelo was an old man.

Why?

I’ve thought about this question on and off for some time, and after seeing that my girlfriend didn’t think it was that bad of an idea, I’ve decided to post it and see what you think.

(I’ll note now that neither theory has anything to do with God, fate, nature, destiny or anything so vague – besides, saying this is so simply because God has a thing for grouping geniuses together isn’t very compelling to me.  Or satisfying).

 

To begin with, it’s reasonable to propose that the main reason geniuses in a particular field seem to crop up around the same time is that every generation is naturally predisposed to exalt a single kind of art.  For example, we don’t have any great directors in the 1600s because the technology simply didn’t exist.  Maybe some peasant could have been a Spielberg, but lacking a basic camera would pose a problem.  Thus the farther back in time you go, there are fewer and fewer fields where one has even the possibility of achieving greatness until the only way you could be seen as a genius would be to become to best cave painter around.

If you accept what I’ve said so far, then I find it equally reasonable to believe that we are likely to find that the geniuses we know were working at a time when their specific field had just started but was well enough along to capture the public’s admiration – I include this caveat because even if you were  a Beethoven when the first piano was invented, it would take some time before it ceased to be merely a curiosity, the idea of paying to see a single man perform his work made sense, etc.

Not being an expert in all the fields I’ve alluded to, I still think my hypothesis holds out so far.  To use another example, scientists like Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler all lived during a time when scientific instruments were being invented, while Einstein and Bohr were becoming well known when it became possible to study subatomic particles as well as the universe as a whole.  It also didn’t hurt that they were working at a time when science, particularly physics, was responsible for some of our greatest breakthroughs and our deadliest weapons.  A certain bomb comes to mind.

To summarize, the reason geniuses seem to appear around the same time and in specific fields is the result of a natural bias to extol those who excel in a field when it is first taking shape (these are the people who are shaping it, after all) and when social conditions are such that their specific field is best able to capture the general public’s imagination and influence popular culture.  There may indeed be a composer out there who deserves attention, but he or she isn’t likely to grab as much attention by the public as an actor, especially when an affair’s involved.

I could use one of my previous examples to test this idea, but it turns out it’s unnecessary – we are living in a time when we are literally witnessing this process occur.  I am talking about video games.

Who could have guessed in the 1800s that one of the best known artists in America would be a Japanese game designer (Shigeru Miyamoto) working in an industry that is more profitable that movies or television?  If you buy my answer, it shouldn’t be a surprise this is now the case.  Consider that it wasn’t until the mid 1980s that video came arcade machines, let alone consoles, had the power to run something like the original Mario, which in retrospect seems primitive.  As I’ve said before, it wouldn’t matter if in this case you were a Miyamoto.  You could only shine when the tools you needed were available.  He happened to be one of those people who arrive at just the right time, for his first creation, Donkey Kong, was able to include a feature never before seen in gaming – the ability to jump.  A year or so later, he was able to create one of the first games to allow the power to move in a world bigger than a single screen.  And with Zelda, gamers could play a game where the goal wasn’t to score points but to complete a story.  Plus, they could save their game and come back to it later.

I could point to other artists, such as Gunpie Yokoi (whose Metroid featured the first female heroine), John Carmack and John Romero (all of whom released their best work within fifteen to twenty years of each other), and but what I want to stress is that being the first game designers gave them to the unique ability to influence their field in a way that could never be repeated.  It doesn’t matter if a Shakespeare of video games comes along – people like Miyamoto will always be praised because whatever amazing games this Shakespeare makes will necessarily be influenced by the foundation his or her predecessors laid.

One other interesting case with this area is indie games, which are now becoming more and more popular, as well as more mature.  “Journey”, for instance, by thatgamecompany (that’s literally their name) has been described in reviews in ways you would expect people to criticize a novel.  Distribution methods through the internet, as well as funding sources, have never been at a better place for indie developers, so I wouldn’t be surprised if, twenty years from now, you’ll be able to rattle off a few indie gamers’ names as easily as you could Dickens.

 

So what do you think?  Am I onto something or have overlooked a fatal flaw?  I would sincerely like to know if it’s the latter, though I admit writing a new post refuting everything I just said wouldn’t be the most fun thing to do.

Anyway, it’s getting late and I’m getting to be an old man now (turning twenty-five soon) so good night and thanks for reading.

 

 

 

As a Barnes & Noble Employee, I have to include the following:

DISCLAIMER: None of the views expressed in this post or blog reflect those of Barnes & Noble in any way.  They are my opinions and ideas, which I alone am responsible for, and are in no way connected to Barnes & Noble whatsoever.  

And if that isn’t clear enough – I am speaking in this post and blog only for myself, Matt Seidel – NOT anyone else or any other entity, including but not limited to Barnes & Noble.  They are mine, and mine alone.

(I think that should suffice)

 

David Foster Wallace, Elliott Smith, and How Men Becomes Myths

 

“We are what we pretend to be…” – Kurt Vonnegut

 

 

David Foster Wallace.  You can’t escape him lately.  Regardless of your opinion of his work, the obvious fact is that there is an ever growing base of fans who have come to regard DFW as a kind of mythic figure, which is no mean feat considering he hasn’t even been dead a decade.   The way he has become symbolic of the 90s, or his entire generation, reminds me of the similar deification of musician Elliott Smith.

As an avid Smith fan myself, I can understand his appeal, for his music ranges from soft melodies played on a single guitar to complex, experimental songs that defy easy categorization or analysis.  His lyrics, however, are what I believe really make Elliott Smith the icon he remains today.  He might be respected for his music alone, but listen to a random Smith song (especially from his first and last, posthumous album), and you’ll be amazed.  Critics might dismiss many of his songs are “sad” or “depressing,” but fans know the truth.  These songs are not about making the listener depressed – they are about conveying what depression is.  By exposing all the stains of his soul, Smith allows those who could never imagine the toll psychological damage can inflict to become more sympathetic people who are eager to heal rather than hurt.  They are also about comforting the depressed or lonely or scared.  And they do – ask melancholy as some of his lyrics are, ask the average fan what they feel after hearing one of his songs and the answer will likely be calm, hopeful, or just a little bit less alone.

My point is that the reason Elliott Smith is so beloved goes beyond his music.  Everything from his fragile voice, insightful lyrics, and unassuming, slouching demeanor elevate him from an alcoholic drug addict to the archetypal alcoholic drug addict.  He comes to symbolize the kind of suffering his songs ironically help others endure, and thus takes on the trappings of a martyr.

DFW has the same problem.  To the general reader, who enjoys Brief Interviews With Hideous Men but can’t get past page 5 of Infinite Jest, he is the emblem for the insecurities that have made it practically impossible to convey, or even feel, sincerity.  That is, ultimately, how I see DFW’s work – for all the complexities and nuances of his individual fictions and essays, beneath the surface there is always a yearning for something more than the cynical world we live in and make worse by our own cynicism every day.  DFW strikes me as a man who was too aware of his own thoughts to the point where he could see the reasoning behind everything he said and felt.  Naturally, once you understand the reasons for thoughts and feelings, it becomes impossible to act sincerely, to know yourself.  To give a quick example, imagine you are hitting on a girl you like, but the whole time you are aware of how what you are saying is affecting her, how further comments would be taken, and what her own actions signified until it all became nothing more than a game.  Could you be sure that you really want the girl when you’re aware of every possible motivation, including negative ones, that might be driving you?  And you can’t help being aware of negative possibilities, like you’ll toss her away as soon as you’ve had sex, even if you’re not that kind of person at all.  Why?  Because maybe the reason you don’t believe this is the case is because you know that if that were the case, you wouldn’t be the person you think you are, in which case everything else you believe that is predicated on this notion of self deteriorates and…

My position that the longing for sincerity in a nihilistic world comes only from having read a portion of his entire corpus, along with biographical materials like Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, which includes many interviews with DFW that may have deeply affected my opinion of the man.  But that is precisely my point – I could easily explain why I like his works, but at the same time I’m aware that I may be too influenced by the dozens of youtube videos and interviews I’ve seen and read concerning him (I suggest you check out this interview or at least this key segment, the first of nine parts).  All I know is that, like Elliott Smith, DFW has become a hero to those who bemoan the state of our atomized, ignorant, intolerant world yet lack the means to articulate their frustration.  They are inextricably tied to an era that represents everything they hated most, making them part of a category that includes them, writers like Dostoevsky, and all the way back to the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes one might term a literature of doubt.

It all comes down to this – I believe only by producing a counter literature of sincerity – composed of works that, certain in themselves, make us more certain of ourselves – will we move beyond our own cynicism.  And we have that opportunity, for the DFWs of the recent past have eloquently expressed our inner and social demons.  But it will take effort on our part to produce literature that is equally eloquent in asserting a new-found sense of self.  The other choice is to indulge in our self-hate, as DFW’s heroine in “The Depressed Person,” does (whom DFW himself literally said he disliked in one of those youtube videos of the interview I linked to above).

I am well aware that there are authors who are doing just that now, but there are also many writers who make little attempt to produce literature of merit, and the general public is far from deeply influenced by literary works as they were in past times.  If they are, it is usually for the worse (can anyone really say Fifty Shades of Gray and its ilk, which has had a major impact on popular culture, has advanced us in any way intellectually or emotionally?). Maybe dumbed down entertainment’s wields such social power because not enough artists have tried to overcome the fear that the world we live in cannot change.  But with all the social movements in the world going on right now, my pessimism due to issues such as the state of education and global warming is tempered by optimism that we’re finally starting to build communities and not just networks.  I truly cannot wait to see the kind of literature my generation, shaped so profoundly by 9/11, the recession, political gridlock, and class struggles currently being waged – it’s going to be great.

Before concluding this post, I want to say that all the while I was writing this, a voice was muttering, “Are you insane?  If you post this people will tear you apart, pointing out all the authors you haven’t apparently heard of or for being too simplistic or idealistic or vague or scattered or…” etc..  And maybe some of you will do just that.  But you know what?  It’d be a hell of a way to pay homage to what I believe are the nobler aspects of both DFW and Elliott Smith’s art, which retains its power without the mythologies, to censor my own writing because of what I think others might say.  On that note, here are DFW’s own words, taken from an article in “Consider the Lobster” titled, “Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky.”

 

[after exhibiting a sample of Dostoevsky’s writing where a character discusses theological and ethical issues, he writes the following]

“Can you imagine any of our own major novelists allowing a character to say stuff like this (not, mind you, just as a hypocritical bombast so that some ironic hero can stick a pin in it, but as part of a ten-page monologue by somebody trying to decide whether to commit suicide)?  The reason you cant is the reason he wouldn’t: such a novelist would be, by our lights, pretentious and overwrought and silly.  The straight presentation of such a speech in a Serious Novel today would provoke not outrage or invective, but worse – one raised eyebrow and a very cool smile…who is to blame for the unseriousness of our serious fiction?  The culture, the laughers?  But they wouldn’t (could not) laugh if a piece of morally passionate, passionately moral fiction was also ingenious and radiantly human fiction.  But how to make it that…to get up the guts to even try?”

 

If you take away nothing else from my post than this, let it be that the final sentence of the passage above, that puzzled cry, is NOT a rhetorical question.

 

 

As a Barnes & Noble Employee, I must include the following:

DISCLAIMER: None of the views expressed in this post or blog reflect those of Barnes & Noble in any way.  They are my opinions and ideas, which I alone am responsible for, and are in no way connected to Barnes & Noble whatsoever.  

And if that isn’t clear enough – I am speaking in this post and blog only for myself, Matt Seidel – NOT anyone else or any other entity, including but not limited to Barnes & Noble.  They are mine, and mine alone.

 

 

 

 

 

Why JK Rowling’s New Book Could Be Just What Literary Fiction Needs

 

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture.  Just get people to stop reading them.” -Ray Bradbury

 

Rather than write (another) post related to Russia, I wanted to discuss something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately – J.K. Rowling’s upcoming novel, “The Casual Vacancy.”

Now, like many twenty-four year olds, I grew up reading her “Harry Potter” series, so you might think me looking forward to her new work is only natural.  I mean, why wouldn’t I buy something from an author I like?

But Rowling is a special case, at least for me.  She isn’t like Haruki Murakami, my favorite living writer, whose books I love every time I reread them because, with him, I know to a certain degree what I’m going to get before I even read whatever his latest novel is.  Don’t get me wrong, all of his books are surreal and unique in their own ways.  But aside from the presence of cats and stoic male protagonists (who seem to resemble Murakami himself, or at least the image of himself he gives off in interviews), the real thing that his books have in common have to do with mood, style, and a mysterious way he has of making you feel that, from the moment you open one of his novels, you are entering a world that is distinctly his own.  Just hearing the name Murakami makes me think of dreams, the same way hearing Poe makes me think of cemeteries, crypts, and dead young women who won’t stay dead.

My point is that Murakami has essentially stuck with the same themes he has since he started writing – developing them to be sure, but never straying too far.  That’s not so with Rowling.  Asking me why I like her is the same thing as asking me why I like Harry Potter – the two are inseparable to me, and not only because she has only written Potter books.  It’s no secret that Harry Potter has made such an indelible mark on the consciousness of an entire generation (and more to come, to be sure) that his character is not confined to seven books, for he can be found in pop-culture everywhere (theme parks, toys, etc.)  He stands like a colossus, overshadowing even his creator, much like Frankenstein’s monster might be said to overshadow Mary Shelley.

But that’s about to change.  Come Thursday we won’t have to discern Rowling’s themes and styles from one fictional source alone.  We’ll have another book to draw on, and it’s no Harry Potter.

“The Casual Vacancy” is not a children’s book by any means, and I can’t wait for it for a few reasons.  First, as I’ve made clear here and in past posts, I’m very interested in how authors shape and are shaped by their works, so I’m looking forward to having something else from Rowling’s imagination to help me understand her and her literary intentions.  Second,I’m curious whether the book will be good or not – I don’t care much what the critics will say, since I’m guessing many will be outraged that it isn’t Harry Potter 8, or that it doesn’t recreate the experience of reading Harry Potter 1-7.  But I want it to be good for more than my own satisfaction and it’s that deeper hope that made me want to write this post.

In brief, I believe that the success of “The Casual Vacancy” could help turn the public back towards denser, longer, psychological fiction.  Why do I think this?  Because of what Harry Potter did for children’s books.  Can you imagine a children’s book that was over 600 pages being successful today if the Potter books had never existed?  Speaking for myself, I can remember finding it hard to wade through some extremely thin books over a month but blazing through “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” in a single night.  Rowling made many children interested in reading who otherwise might never have become serious readers at all.  And in precisely the same way, I believe her new novel could interest adult readers in the kinds of novels they might otherwise never consider.

From what I’ve been able to gather (mostly from a New Yorker article), “The Casual Vacancy” is a 500+ page book centered on a small town that focuses on the lives of a small number of characters.  Very vague, I realize, but without going into the plot at all it seems to me that just that structure makes it sound like a 19th century British novel of the kind George Eliot might write.  I’m not comparing Rowling to Eliot – what I mean to say is that if “The Casual Vacancy” is anything like the classic novels of Eliot, then perhaps people might start considering reading more challenging works than they might otherwise, which would make publishers more interested in psychologically dense stories.  This would furthermore encourage writers who might now believe their stories to be unmarketable, and literary fiction might appeal to a larger audience than it does today.

Am I being too optimistic?  Maybe.  I am not expecting Rowling’s one novel to transform literature overnight.  But lightning did strike with “Harry Potter”, which certainly transformed the way children’s books appealed to the public (I wonder if “The Hunger Games” novels would have been successful had “Potter” not existed”).  Lightning striking twice might be pushing it, but as a person who loves books and wishes more people were open to the immense power and excitement contained in classics, I can certainly hope that Rowling is able to work her magic again.

 

As a Barnes & Noble Employee, I have to include the following:

DISCLAIMER: None of the views expressed in this post or blog reflect those of Barnes & Noble in any way.  They are my opinions and ideas, which I alone am responsible for, and are in no way connected to Barnes & Noble whatsoever.  

And if that isn’t clear enough – I am speaking in this post and blog only for myself, Matt Seidel – NOT anyone else or any other entity, including but not limited to Barnes & Noble.  They are mine, and mine alone.

(I think that should suffice)

Dostoevsky: The Author You Never Knew Was Funny

 

 

 

“Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.” – Peter Ustinov

 

I know some people who would agree with me that Dostoevsky is a great writer, but none of them think he’s as funny as I do.

Funny is an understatement – as my girlfriend has witnessed many times, reading certain sections of his work make me laugh harder than almost anyone I know personally.  While she finds this amusing, others are not so understanding.  For example, I was once laughing on my stoop while reading Demons when I kindly looking old lady passed by.  Curious as to what author could be so funny, she tried to see the front cover.  Obligingly, I tilted the book so as to allow her to see it clearly (without stating my reasons for doing so out loud).  This turned out to be a mistake, for when she saw what the book was, her smile vanished and she walked on a bit more briskly.

So what do I find so funny about a man most people associate with gloom almost as much as Edgar Allen Poe?  The answer is that I have never read an author who can write such hysterical scenes.  But I don’t mean hysterical as in funny; I mean hysterical as insane and even surreal. To give one instance of what I mean, the entirety of The Idiot is dominated by less than ten conversations, one of which lasts almost a fourth of the novel.  By the end of each one, a normal, civil discussion among reasonable adults has devolved into a madhouse of screaming, shouting, epileptic fits, and threats ranging from simple curses to attempts at physical violence.  And when almost every sentence ends with an exclamation point and you think, “Surely this can’t go on for much longer,” that’s when things really get crazy.

It is this excess of passion, this wildness in his writing that I love so much.  When I read such scenes, I feel as if I am watching an author strip away our reason bit by bit to expose the beast within.  It is this same surgical precision that also allows him to write such sobering scenes, for while it is amusing to see ridiculous characters be driven to extremes, it is equally heartbreaking when sincere, pure characters become just as desperate.  In fact, as I write these words, it occurs to me that what the graver scenes in his work have in common is that the characters are usually alone or in a small group.  When at a party or some other social event, the bedlam that erupts invariably involves at least one ridiculous person making a fool of himself.  But Ivan Karamazov’s mental breakdown when he confronts the Devil occurs when he is alone, with no one to come to his rescue.  True, his final (and most crazed) speech occurs in a courtroom, but even here it is as if he is alone, faced against a world as uncomprehending as his own Devil is sadistic.  The same goes for Alyosha, whose urgent prayer to God following the death of his beloved teacher is sad in private.

Regardless of whether the scene is tragic or comic, public or private, Dostoevsky cannot help but infuse his characters and even the fabric of his plot with the viciousness and madness that he came to believe lurked within our souls (the reasons for this require a separate post).  And because of this, reading his novels is like being half-awake, one moment aware of the order of reality, the next submerged back into the realm of dreams, where no order exists at all.