August 2009


When I’m on vacation, I really like to read books about the places I’ll be visiting. Right now one of my best friends and I are backpacking through Europe, which means tons of time on trains and lots of time for reading.

I read Night by Elie Wiesel on our way through Germany. It made the trip to Berlin a lot more meaningful because we were there for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall and saw lots of exhibits about WWII, the Holocaust and the end of the Cold War. The book is a very short, quick read, but a story that really gets to you. Wiesel, who lived in Auschwitz for a number of years toward the end of WWII, won the Nobel Peace Prize for his literary works, which raised awareness about the horrors of the Holocaust. Night is the story of his journey from ghetto to concentration camp to liberation. Definitely worth reading.

I was a little sad about my choice though because I think far too much literature about Germany focuses on WWII. I know it’s something that we all shouldn’t forget, but I really wish I could read something uplifting about Germany, especially because the country has become so much more than that period in time. Germany is by far one of my most favorite countries to visit, but I think there are still a lot of negative connotations associated with it. Does anyone out there have any great recommendations for a book with the setting in Germany that’s not about WWII or the Holocaust? I’d love to hear about it if you have.

The second book I finished on this trip was Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. This book has been on my reading list for years, but I could never get past the first pages. But, with a trip to Ireland on my itinerary, I zipped through it in a matter of days. McCourt’s Pulitzer Prize winning memoir details his early childhood and teenage years in Limerick, Ireland, where his family lived in poverty. McCourt is able to detail the horrendous living conditions of his childhood with a sense of humor that makes you almost want to laugh at the absurdity of the situation if only it weren’t so tragic. Although this book describes a less than desirable existance in Ireland, it did make me want to go to Ireland immediately. The descriptions of the place and the people were vivid and colorful. And, of course, the accented dialogues throughout the book made me want to hear the accent for myself asap. I’m really looking forward to my trip there and will hopefully find a copy of ‘Tis, the sequel to Angela’s Ashes, while I’m there.

Will write again when I have Internet access.

-Becca

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After reading Sic, the debut novel by Brin Friesen, I had a couple of questions for the author, which he kindly (and promptly!) answered. Below you will find my interview with him. You can also find a review of his book here and more of his writing here.

First, I’m curious about the name of the book. How did you come up with it and what does it mean?

The name of the book referred to the idea of Jasper Finch telling his story, an admittedly disturbing one, and knowing most adults don’t have any clue what their kids are doing (despite their own childhoods) and most likely would blame anybody who told/exposed the truth about it. Galileo and Rosa Parks weren’t thanked for their efforts in revealing the truth about an ugly situation: they were thrown in jail. With the subject matter of school shootings looming over this story, the aftermath nearly always leads to the knee jerk reaction of blame and attribution of fault. However, the profile of a school shooter is that there is no profile for a school shooter. There’s poetry in that fact. My protagonist is willing to tell his story but he doesn’t want to be blamed for the telling the truth.

And yet, not too many people know what “sic” even refers to, so it was probably a lousy choice. They assume I’m talking about calling for a dog to attack someone. Sic is about fault. Blame. If you talk about troubled kids you blame long before anyone attempts understanding. All the killings at schools and universities are called “senseless” at one point or another. Any rudimentary examination of the facts and invariably they immediately start making a whole lot of sense. They only way they don’t is through cognitive dissonance and negligence.

You mentioned in one of your TNB posts that the first part of the book is based on a similar experience you had in elementary school. Did you stay friends with your Norman Apple afterward? And, how did the fight effect your later school years?

I was lured out to watch a fight and swarmed once I was out there by everyone in attendance to one degree or another. I did patch things up with the real Norman Apple. I think the fight served me the way any traumatic event serves an artist: they’re unable to cope with their given reality and find the necessity to create for themselves a new one. Fiction has to make sense where real life doesn’t. So you’re obliged to make the details in the story something which for yourself and the reader can have more traction than real life. The impetuous for this is of course an attempt to rewrite your own history. I gave myself a fictional first kiss on the same day as the worst day of my real life. The details of the story have in many ways overtaken the real details of my life. Which is good, because that was an ugly space to occupy. People often forget that the three most popular kids authors for kids are Roald Dahl, Lewis Carrol, and JD Salinger. The three most banned books FOR kids are by Roald Dahl, Lewis Carrol, and JD Salinger. Innocence isn’t Disney. It’s complicated.

How much of the book is autobiographical? Please tell me there was no real-life Fresa.

There was indeed a Fresa; though I took from another incident that actually happened and combined the person with the event that killed him. The curbing happened while I was in 8th grade and the perpetrators were never found while 100’s of kids knew exactly who they were. It was a scary time. The real life Fresa went on to become a paramedic, which seems entirely appropriate. A great deal of the book is autobiographical, however I used an extensive amount of composites. Once I had my finger on the pulse of the story much of it wrote itself.

What inspired you to write a book like this? Did you set out to write a book that focused so much on the state of mind of a bullied teenager?

High school is very attractive to me as subject matter since most people who leave it spend a tremendous amount of energy either clinging to or running from who they felt they were perceived to be during that time in their lives. I’m interested in a time where the events that mark people mark them for life. First kiss, first beating, heartbreak, etc.

That’s where I started with this story: give a kid his worst day and best day on the *same* day.

Bullying was obviously a major theme also, but also examining bullying not just from the main bullies but those complicit and rooting it on. The German’s were fairly recently allowed to join in on the VE Day celebration which was very interesting when they expressed the argument that they were “liberated too” from Hitler. Finally the legacy of what happened during WWII will be Hitler bullied everyone into it. The real lesson, in my view, is how regular, decent, law abiding, family loving people were persuaded of the legitimacy of genocide. In schools suicide is one the major leading causes of mortality, especially among boys. And naturally it’s an under reported statistic also. Newspapers print murder stories but not suicides.

In a society that holds the “pureness” and “innocence” of children above all else, I don’t have a sense that society even *likes* kids. They can be tried as an adult for a crime but can’t vote. They can be legally assaulted.

Growing up the kid of a child protection lawyer a lot of this stuff has been discussed at length.

How did things end up with your Marie? Or are they still in the happenings?

Ten years later she contacted me about whether or not I became a writer and asked if I’d written anything. I said yes. She asked what it was about. I said, YOU. She read it in a night and flew from Scotland to move with me the week after that. I’m not going to spoil the ending. I
think without ever having a meaningful conversation with the real girl I didn’t come up with such a misguided stand-in. But I never wrote the book to find her. It just ended up that I did.

Lastly, can you tell me a little more about And/Or Press?

And/Or Press was started by my friend Dan Starling. D.R Haney’s book Banned For Life is the latest book with the And/Or stamp of approval. We’re both crazy about D.R Haney.

(I’m crazy about D.R. Haney too!)

Again, to read more by Brin Friesen (or D.R. Haney), you can visit www.thenervousbreakdown.com. And, no, I don’t get paid to promote the website (nor to write for it), I just love the authors and their stories there.

Best to you all,

Becca

Sorrow Wood is kind of a difficult book to explain. The book centers on the lives of Reva and Wendell Blackmon, documenting much of their life together. The two live in Sand Valley, Alabama, where Wendell is the town sheriff and Reva is the local judge. Throughout the book we are transferred from the present time (1985) back to previous times in the Blackmon’s lives, as well as into their past lives (as seen in Reva’s dreams). Mostly, the book is the story of their current life together, their difficult childhoods, and how they eventually came to be together. In the midst of learning about the destined love of the Blackmons, there is also a murder committed in Sand Valley with Wendell Blackmon trying to track down the murderer.

I really loved reading the stories of the two main characters. Much of the book takes place during the World War II era, with Wendell Blackmon serving in the Navy at the time. Raymond L. Atkins did a wonderful job of re-creating the feeling of duty many Americans felt at that time, as well as showing the sacrifice that many people made. There were also scenes from the Korean and Vietnam Wars in the book as we moved through the decades.

As with his debut novel, Atkins has created a cast of colorful characters with his latest novel. I really enjoyed his choices of words and the overall love story found in the book. I found the second epilogue to be a little bit over the top, but I think it was probably the quickest way to wrap up one of the storylines found throughout the book.

I know, I know, this is a common complaint among those of us who read, but I’m going to bring it up anyway. I just saw Angels & Demons in theater and I just couldn’t believe the number of things they changed while making the movie. I realize that some of it was to make the story flow better, but, even major things were changed (like having Cardinal Baggia live). I also recently saw the new Harry Potter movie and I was just really not impressed by it. However, it has been quite some times since I read that book so I wasn’t able to pinpoint the major changes they made while turning the book into a movie.

I know I can’t expect the movie to be the same as the book, but why am I always so disappointed by the big screen version of books I loved? It really, really makes me not want to go see The Time Traveler’s Wife or My Sister’s Keeper. I just know they’ll let me down. I mean, honestly, how could they possibly make The Time Traveler’s Wife into a movie and keep the major story line the same? Has anyone seen these new ones? What did you think?