Tata Jesus is Bangala….a rant on writing
I admit up front that I really have no right to say what I am about to say. I am not a published author, I do not have some Hemingway-esque gift with words. My writing “expertise” consists of reading a whole lot, ever since I was very young. I cut my reading eye teeth on Tom Swift Jr books and the Bobbsey Twins volumes my mom had saved from her own childhood. I first read The Lord of the Rings in the 9th grade and I was hooked on that genre. I have read those books at least a dozen times, I have spent lots of time in Stephen King-land (dear Lord if you have not read the Dark Tower series you are missing pure genius and I kid you not).
I dabble in popular works like King, and also venture off into what I call “pop music” books, the popular stuff of the day just so that I am in tune with what many others, of many ages, are reading. Twilight. Harry Potter. Even those Shades of Grey. Dystopian fiction attracts me as well.
Which leads me to my rant. I read the easy stuff, the really-poorly-written stuff and then I wash myself in the sacred bath of the good stuff – Pat Conroy. Barbara Kingsolver. Classics too, but Conroy and Kingsolver, in my not so humble opinion, are the ones – the best living American writers as far as I am concerned. Their prose is amazing, their characters so deep and so real, the conversations striking and unrelenting and revealing. It’s life on paper, characters perfect in their imperfections, thoughts telling stories, relationships painting pictures, raw and exhilarating and evolved and true. I never want their stories to end. Have you read The Prince of Tides? Have you attempted to consume The Poisonwood Bible, my favorite book of all time? “Tata Jesus is bangala” (Barbara Kingsolver, the Poisonwood Bible, cc 2001).
Then I regress. I slink over to the easy side, the lazy fiction, the Brittany Spears CDs of books. I read Twilight. I dared 50 Shades of Grey with all the eroticism that made it popular and I am stunned by how poorly written it is. I even dabble in dystopian worlds because I like it, Hunger Games was enthralling and while Suzanne Collins is not a Conroy or Kingsolver, it was edible and even pleasing. So I venture a little further backwards on the chain and read Divergent. I read it, perhaps, to remind myself of my own feeble writing attempts.
Divergent is a cool idea, a different take on dystopian fiction, I commend Veronica Roth for that. But dear Lord in Heaven the writing. The characters are so shallow, the conversations so weak, and then the ending. Sigh. The climax of book one was so poorly done I could barely finish it, and only did so with the slight hope there would be improvement, something to redeem it. I couldn’t bear to take on the subsequent volumes.
And Roth is Dickens compared to EL James. 50 Shades of course is popular for the kinky. But if I read “my inner goddess” one more time, I would have yucked all over my poor Kindle. Folks this is so bad it’s almost comical. Yet like Brittany, who can’t sing a lick without studio enhancement, millions were sold, millions were made, millions more will see the movies.
So for Stephanie Meyer (really you think you can change the vampire rules and have them sparkle in the sunlight! That’s heresy!) and Roth and James, and for all budding authors out there, before you publish, before you go for the money vs. the gut wrenching beauty of well written works, go thee therefore to the Kingsolver and take this on:
“But something did follow them into the house, unsettling them both during supper with the children, making the air in their bedroom cold. He’d said good night as if they were friends parting ways, then rolled to his side and slept the sleep of a mountain range while she stared at black air, dividing the river of her desperation into rivulets until some of them seemed navigable. At moments she felt light and untethered, the same glimpse of release she’d had many times before. The thrill of throwing a good life away, she remembered thinking once: one part rapture. Outweighed by the immense and measurable parameter’s of a family’s life.” (Flight Behavior: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver, copyright 2012 Harper Collins, pages 529-530).
You don’t have to know the story to be mesmerized by the prose.
Go also to Conroy and be amazed:
“Later, long after my grandfather was dead, I would regret that I could never be the kind of man that he was. Though I adored him as a child and found myself attracted to the safe protectorate of his soft, uncritical maleness, I never wholly appreciated him. I did not know how to cherish sanctity; I had no way of honoring, of giving small voice to the praise of such natural innocence, such generous simplicity. Now I know that a part of me would like to have traveled the world as he traveled it, a jester of burning faith, a fool and a forest prince brimming with the love of God…..I would like to have seen the world with eyes incapable of anything but wonder, and with a tongue fluent only in praise.” (The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy, Bantam Books, 1986, page 277).
How can you not be changed deep in your soul after reading such words?
My friends you of course will and should read what you want. Sometimes the less “dense” stuff is ok, in comic book form anyway. But every now and then, stretch yourself. If the classics won’t do, read the Lords of Discipline, read Poisonwood Bible and Pigs in Heaven. You will be SO GLAD YOU DID. Let us insist on a higher standard because the Conroys and Kingsolvers are out there, let’s hear (read) them so that we may be transformed, inspired, thrilled, changed, improved, challenged and utterly swept away, not just by story, but by art.
“Tata Jesus is Bangala”, to quote Kingsolver in the Poisonwood Bible. I won’t spoil it by telling you what that means and how profound it is – but don’t you forget it! Words really do matter…..