The Reading Life: The History of My Body

The thing that struck me most about Sharon Heath’s The History of My Body is the deep authenticity of the protagonist’s voice.

The story is told in first person by Fleur Robins–daughter of an extravagantly wealthy fundamentalist nutjob politician father and alcoholic mother–who, at first, exhibits signs of being touched neurologically (never officially diagnosed, her disengaged parents and their far-more-engaged staff assume that she’s autistic).

Though we meet Fleur when she’s barely pre-pubescent, she recalls her early childhood for us, including her propensity for list making and journal keeping, her friendship with a small, imaginary man named Uncle Bob (from the phrase Bob’s your uncle), with her comatose grandfather, and with language and increasingly difficult books.

When she’s eleven, after her grandfather’s death, she gets a seventeen-year-old male tutor, called Adam, who is also the son of a politician and so a kindred spirit, who turns her on to physicists and philosophers and literature, and from there, Fleur’s life improves, with some wrecking ball detours that I’ll leave to you for the reading.

As the story unwinds, Fleur supplants her masochism with masturbation, finds a remarkable mentor, solace in Campbell’s Chicken Soup body odor, doubt, a relationship with her mother, and finally friendship with a girl her own age.

Somehow, the protagonist’s voice is so genuine that it manages to obliterate any potential pretension in her precociousness, or in her love and grasp of quantum physics, or in her references to Sartre and any number of other famous (and not-so-famous) philosophers, scientists, and authors.   Even as the story lands her a highly prestigious scholarly award at a very early age, Fleur is chronically sympathetic.

I will attribute this unlikely success to Sharon Heath’s unbelieveably graceful rendering of Fleur’s very believable cadence, even despite her unthinkable intellect and constant personal and social blunders–at least as she perceives them–, her unique personal lexicon which includes semantic doppelgangers such as tweeter, flapping, ugga-umphing, voidish, Sister Flatulencia, etc–endears her to the reader again and again.

Too, the vividness with which Heath conjures the emotional experience of being a young female is unfailing.  The book is often funny, even when dealing with the dull ache of adolescence, rejection, death.

Heath weaves in social issues like abortion and alcoholism and political issues like war and big oil with equal light-handedness.  The narrative never gives the reader a sense of being judged, nor does it indict anyone.  Heath manages to garner good will for parties on both sides of each issue (if not for each issue).

Fleur often finds herself personally sullied on both sides of issues, but she does not whine.  She introspects.  She wallows a little. Then she emerges stronger and just as clever.

Heath renders the crass and the philsophical, the olfactory and mundane with equal aplomb.  I have rarely read a book that was so consistently beautifully rendered, and I would implore you all to order a copy today.

Sharon Heath, image used with permission

I leave you with the following passage:

For the next week or so, I was forced to go about my daily routine with the handicap of keeping at least one hand covering my chest (which is not so easy to do when you need to eat, drink, pet Jillily, and wipe your poo and pee) just to make sure Grandfather’s ghost didn’t leak out and float over to Father’s house to haunt him forever for killing our tree–in some respects not such an unsatisfying prospect but for the fact that it would leave me with a chasm in my heart I could never hope to fill.

Sharon Heath is a Jungian analyst and novelist residing in California.  Visit her online at http://www.SharonHeath.com

This post is cross-hosted at http://www.billtownbluelit.wordpress.com

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Sweet Williamsport Treats: Events, Classes, and Culture

This town I live in gives me a LOT.

I want to give stuff back to it.  So on certain Saturdays, I’ll be posting images, announcements, events, classes, and other extraordinary stuff.

February 28, 2012: TEDx Event

Register here

Fiction & Memoir Courses a la moi

A Brief Study of Story: Reading & Writing

Personal Narrative & Memoir: Going Deep

Cooking Classes!

Click here for info/registration

Fiona’s Folklore Podcast

New Podcast from Fiona Siobhan Powell

The Williamsport Guardian Fundraiser Event

Download or Print this PDF

Workshops at the Pajama Factory

Click Here

Wildcat Comic Con

Wildcat Comic Con

Download or Print this PDF

Download or Print this PDF

Hyper Productivity, Sleep-deprivation, Shit parenting, and Sex!

We had one of those hell-parenting nights last night.

I sleep like a boulder, and Fella sleeps like a feather.  Child gets nose bleeds in the winter, and every year I talk myself into believing that this’ll be the year we’ll make it through without the humidifier.

I am always wrong.

But at 3 this morning, when Child had a nosebleed, she wandered into our room, and poked me for at least 45 seconds before getting bored or exasperated and giving up, laying down on the floor next to our bed–god bless her–and waiting.  For somebody to acknowledge her nose bleed.

I didn’t put that together until dinner, when Fella gave me the run down of our interrupted sleep.

What I remember hearing is, “Child, why are you in our room?”  This from Fella, who asked in his rarely disoriented by sleep voice.

“I wanted to tell mommy I have a nosebleed.”

I had an argument with myself in my not-sleeping-sleep brain about whether she said she wanted to tell me about her nosebleed or that she loves me.  She is always traveling from one end of the house to the other to tell me she loves me.  It is her procrastination/avoidance tactic.

Still, I could not rouse myself from my sleep coma.  In my brain, I knew what to do.  But my body would not cooperate.  I sometimes also have this problem when I need to pee in the night.  I estimate that it takes me an hour to make my body move with my brain’s commands.

At one point, Child was in the bed with me.  I did eventually get up, but I don’t remember if I did anything for my kid.  Fella asked me if I had my phone.  It was confusing and surreal.

But today–even though the amazing traffic to the Blue Lit blog, this blog, and my email inbox has kept pace with yesterday–I have had difficulty maintaining my energy and focus.

I should have proofread at least 100 pages today.  I did 40.

I was as distractable as a mosquito.

I was productive, but on a rapid succession of small projects, not with the focus and intensity with which I am happier.

But I met a new writer.

And I made this happen.

And I read stuff my friends wrote.

And stuff my fellow community volunteers wrote for the Williamsport Guardian which I am assistant editing in case our regular editor has to run away to her snow-covered hill and be a ski matriarch.

And I did one of my Zumba DVDs.

Now, as the day is nearly over, and I realized with panic that I’ve forgotten the awesome post idea I had early today, I’m jabbering on about being a crappy mom and a sidetracked social entrepreneur.

But maybe you will feel heartened by my disorientation, simpatico with a fellow over-extended, self-employed parent, or just an ambitious, writerly person.

Thanks everybody, for following, for visiting, and for your overwhelmingly positive response to and support of the Blue Lit project, this blog, and the literary community.

And oh yeah.  Sex in the title?  That was bait.  Worked, didn’t it?

My Life as a Sound Editor

This is Julianna Baggot's upcoming release, Pure

By which I mean, of course, podcast editor.

But the double entendre strikes me now: Sound-minded editor.  I’m that, too.

I’m so sound minded, in fact, that I resist the temptation to gouge out my own eyes as I truck through Romance manuscript after romance manuscript.  As I feel simultaneously insulted and envious that people whose idea of swell writing is a hopeless monsoon of cliches and tropes and shallow characters get to write books for money.

Those of you who just joined me today will be pleased to know that I’m not typically whiny, and even this bout of green is being countered by positive action.  Podcasts.  With authors who write good books.  Whose genre fiction is riveting.  Who have taken the time and care to study the craft before hitching pants with RWA and shitting same novel after same novel into the greedy mits of the “reading” public.

Tomorrow, the podcast with Julianna Baggott will go live.  Next week, I interview Smoky Trudeau Zeidel who has a terrific and  revealing anecdote about her literary fiction book whose title and label changed–nothing more–and is now selling.  Later this month, John McNally, author of Troublemakers, and After the Workshop.

And this, friends, is only the beginning.
Shameless Plug: Swooped in to save my life and my wallet: http://www.podbean.com.  The interface is smooth and modeled after WordPress.  If you podcast, you can get a free account.  If you get to podcasting like you mean it, they will sell you tools at a reasonable monthly price.

The Reading Life: Bossypants

I took this picture. This is a picture of this book as I physically possess it

Here are some facts I learned from reading Bossypants that heightened my girl crush on Tina Fey.

1.  Tina Fey’s first child, Alice (also a cool, old name, like Child’s), is the same age as my child within weeks.

2.  Tina Fey was also an adult virgin.

3.  She loves Williamsport.  Or I extrapolate that she loves Williamsport in that creepy, fan-person way.

4.  She is a good writer, and smart.

5.  She exhausts herself to a greater degree than I do.

6.  She worries about being a working mom, about being rich person, about having a nanny.

But what else?

What is this book?  Is it a memoir?  Is it a collection of essays? Is it a feminist tome?  Is it just funny?

I mean, yes.  It’s funny.

But that’s really all it is.  It’s not especially challenging or literary.  It does not reveal great truths, and often I found myself kind of both appreciating and getting worn out by Fey’s neurosis.

I enjoyed reading it, yes.  And reading it the same year it was published (by only 2 days, but still), is a luxury indeed.  A luxury I hope to have with more books in the very near future.

It also reminded me why my work with Billtown Blue Lit is so very, very important. More on this after the last heading.

Best Parts

The first third and last eighth were the best.  The first third was about Tina Fey’s childhood and journey through adult virginity and Chicago improv and landing as a writer for SNL.

The last eighth was about her current family, her relationship with motherhood, traveling across PA and OH at the holidays, and whether or not she should have another baby.

Those parts of the book were honest and funny and they made Tina Fey like a real person with whom I would like to have lunch  in ways that are brave for a public figure.

The middle remaining fraction (I am not good at math) had some good jokes, but it was about a world that only about 1,000 (this estimate is based on nothing, the point is it’s a small percentage of the actual population) people in the world will ever encounter: the world of making TV.

I enjoyed making the connections between the stories she tells in the book and episodes of 30Rock, in particular the pee jars.  And I found her pretty constant amazement that she gets to keep making this super smart, weird show to be refreshing and sweet.  It made me think that Tina Fey is humble.

I also particularly enjoyed the chapter about the photo shoot, though it was a little like reading about visiting the Moon.  There is no universe in which I will ever be a Moon-goer.

People who get to write books by popular demand

So Tina Fey is a writer in real life, and that’s the only reason I’ve read this book.  Will I ever read a book by Karadashians or by Snookie?  No.  But Tina Fey is also like Karadashians and Snookie in that she is a public figure who is also a pretty, young (in regular people years) woman.

She wrote the book because her agent or publicist or somebody told her she should.  Because her fans wanted to read it, and because Sarah Palin also wrote a book, and that matters to people who have no powers of logic.

She does improv and writes comedy because that is what feeds her soul.  Is this book soul food for anybody?  I kind of think not.  But I bet it sold more copies in hardcover than the book that’s sitting next to me that I got for Christmas, Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell.  But I bet Blueprints is a way, way better read than Bossypants.  I’ll let you know.

Tina Fey’s book is smart and thoughtful, even though it’s not literary.  I’m counting it as evidence that the world will read better books if somebody bothers to stand up and shriek about them, invite their authors to do interviews and podcasts, and writes blogs about them, and in some future happy land where the literati have a greater societal influence, interview them on The View and Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

And that’s the long-term objective of Billtown Blue Lit.  To help the world see books that are smart and literary and feed souls.  The way to do this is with people: a community of people who think this is an important goal.

Come join us.  Invest in your future as a reader, in literary authors, and in the American Literary Canon.

Surprise truth for today: I am not a literati snob.

this is from arts.nationalpost.com

The thing is, I think that Literary fiction is not public enough.  It does not have the same PR people as the genre stuff.  And while I do, myself aesthetically, prefer to read literary fiction, I think there’s also a place in the world for genre fiction.

I want people to have better access to smart books.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t ever want them to read genre fiction or nonfiction or silly, entertaining books full of cartoons of Bunny Suicides.

I want people to be able to access smart, literary fiction at the places at which they can access Nora Roberts’s latest: the grocery store, big box retailers.

And the opportunity exists right now, as the publishing industry is evolving by the day, to reclaim a slice of the media pie for literature, literary fiction. Smart books that presently have print runs of under 5,000, and whose authors would die for a $5,000 advance on a book, let alone the $15,000-$25,000 some genre authors get, should be more visible.

They should expect to receive royalties, and expect their book publicist’s efforts to be as rigorous as any other author’s.  Because the thing is, it’s not like every literary author is inaccessible.  Literary fiction has a severe PR problem. Most of it–especially the literary realism–is beautiful and smart, yes, but also fun and not especially difficult to read!

Excellent meeting with a guy who wants you to have his book, free.

I’m working on becoming a nonprofit slave.

I am a nonprofit slave, actually.

Running two blogs, tweeting and facebooking with intention, meeting with people, networking, hatching ideas, and doing graphic design is really more than I have time to do.  But I’m managing so far, and once we get some funding, I can hire a couple of interns to take over some of the marketing stuff.  I need some help with the marketing, the social media.  That stuff can really, really suck time.  But I’ve discovered two cool things:  Tweet Deck, and Twuffer.

I launched my StartSomeGood campaign, and this is SERIOUSLY awesome.  I am so excited about the responses I’ve had.  We’re already close to $400 on our way.  People are so warm and receptive to the idea.  I keep scoring meetings with awesome people who are well-connected, full of ideas, and who Want to Help.

One such dude: Peter Damian Bellis.  He wrote that book pictured there, and it was in the running for nomination for the National Book Award.

Click that book.  You get a free present from him.  You can read it on the train during your holiday travels.  Or read it to escape from the obligatory familial torture you’ll endure in the next few weeks.  Or maybe you can just let it junk up your hard drive till you get around to reading it.  But you should definitely grab it.  And tell all your friends, too.

Also, the book is special.  I’ve read maybe 6 total pages of it, and it’s really kind of teetering on the precipice of avant garde, I’d say.  But delicious, and it grabs you.  I’ll write more once I’ve read more.  But for now, you should read it too.  Then come back here, or go to my other blog and talk about it.

I was so freaking energized after meeting with Peter.

It’s been a long time since I had a meeting that gave me a nearly uncontrollable urge to write.  Peter reminded me to listen to myself.  To just let the writing happen.  That was a good reminder.  I’ve been so focused on ends and means lately.  Too much so.  Peter reminded me that I didn’t start to love reading because I like stories.  I started to love reading because I love language.  That’s why I started to love writing, too.

It was a great meeting.  And Peter’s going to be a terrific ally for Billtown Blue Lit.  Which, in case I didn’t mention yesterday, you can go donate by clicking here.