books, Just bitchin'

Literary Candy

blogtaste1Inclement weather is a bookworm’s friend.

We have an excuse to stay indoors, pull the ‘Welcome’ mat in after us, and immerse ourselves in the printed word to an extent that would make us feel guilty on a bright, sunny day. I began my annual literary hibernation over the nice, long, stormy Thanksgiving weekend.

I was looking for a holiday read. You know… the kind of thing that will be a mild diversion and can be consumed with ease, or, alternatively, be abandoned without remorse at holiday’s end. The kind of book called ‘fluff’ or ‘inconsequential’ or ‘brain-candy.’

I also wanted something more, shall we say…meaty.

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I selected two novels. One was authored by a Pulitzer Prize winner. The other was a joint effort by two women whose steady day-jobs are in the fashion industry. You can probably guess which was ‘fluff’ and which was ‘meaty.’

But the read was totally unexpected.

I opened the Pulitzer’s offering to be greeted by a two-page family tree. Dozens of names, some of which were only mentioned in passing throughout the course of the long, long story. I had to bookmark this reference tool and return to it every few pages, working out the relationships of characters that drifted in and out.

It was well-written. It was richly written. The gamut of characters and dialogue and situations and eras was beautifully done. Yet I felt unsatisfied at the end. It required effort to read, but for me the finely detailed portraits didn’t go anywhere. It was masterful, but it didn’t touch me.

It was a Rembrandt painting hanging behind velvet ropes. I could appreciate it, but, having looked my fill, I moved on.

Then there was the brain-candy book.

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I couldn’t put it down.

It accompanied me everywhere so I could devour a few pages at every opportunity: stop lights…lines at the post office…lines at the store…waiting rooms…

It contained grammatical errors. It was completely predictable. It’s characters were thinly-drawn. But it was riveting, because it left enough blank spaces for me to fill in myself and realize I knew these people!! Everyone knows these people! And I know these situations!! Everyone does!!

It was thoroughly enjoyable and when I finished it, I was sad there wasn’t a sequel. I also wondered how many agents would choose the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s work over the crowd-pleasing fluff, if they didn’t know the author’s background and the impressive accolades she’d won with previous work.

It’s a puzzle. It’s also a statement about art.

I’m grateful that Rembrandts exist and are available, but a cartoon can speak volumes, too.

So, hats-off to the majority of writers who will never pen the Great American Novel. But their less-exalted work will touch our souls.

And sometimes you just gotta have candy.

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Just bitchin'

The Unfair Art of Entertainment

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I have a guilty pleasure.

A shameful, inexplicable addiction along the lines of many people’s shameful, inexplicable addictions. A trashy TV show that turns my eyes to saucers and my brain to fudge.

What a wonderful feeling.

So once a week I draw the drapes and close the doors. I turn the phone off and I put the cat out. I retreat into a world of unhinged ‘reality’ and flaring tempers and peculiar human politics. Really, it’s no different from any of the other myriad of ‘reality’ shows foisted on a hungry, viewing public. Except that it’s set against a dance background.

And I’m a sucker for dance.

Dance drew me in, but the outrageous behavior of the ‘stars’ held me fast.

Usually, I get my hour-long fix and resume my high-functioning addict’s life, and no one is the wiser. I leave the experience behind and navigate the paths of my own reality consequence-free of my habit.

But then one of the ‘stars’ threw her requisite tantrum, and I have to respond. Otherwise, I’m afraid the seed of it will grow and entwine, and then I really will be lost…purchasing DVDs and spending my time poring over my addiction. Forgetting to brush my teeth and put out the trash.

Scary.

The woman was pushing her daughter’s cause as a dancer within the juvenile group of performers. Her argument was that the girl had been with the school from which the performance company sprang ‘from the start.’ She said it was unfair to give solo performances to newer arrivals when her child had earned the privilege by virtue of her longevity. ‘Not fair,’ she shrieked. ‘Not fair!’

My saucer-eyes blinked.

My jaw dropped, spilling an unlovely drift of popcorn….another addiction, but we won’t get into that now.

Here’s the thing: There ain’t nothin’ fair about the entertainment industry, lady! And nor should there be!

It made me take a second, harder look at the poor, little girl being dragged through this production. She is intelligent, eloquent, and has a certain noble grace unusual for someone so young. But she doesn’t have a dancer’s body. She doesn’t have a face that reads well from the stage. She doesn’t have the finely-honed technique that the other girls have.

Maybe she’ll be a ‘star’ as her benighted stage mother vows. But it won’t be as a dancer.

Another vignette had a choreographer/dance teacher snarling that her student was a ‘stronger dancer’ than a competing company’s entrant in a dance-off. When pitted against each other, the ‘stronger dancer’ lost.

It was easy to see why.

Her opponent was a softer, more lyrical dancer, but more importantly…she was prettier. Plain and simple. Her opponent has huge eyes that could be seen from the back row. She doesn’t. The opponent captured the judges. She didn’t.

I know…Not fair!

But the entertainment industry looks for performers who fit the bill. And that has more to do with native talent and genetic fortune than anything else.

Longevity, personality, work ethic, and so many more ingredients have an influence, but they don’t earn you that coveted ‘star’ status in and of themselves. A combination of them all might. Might. But it would still be necessary to have luck and timing. You’ve got to be what ‘They’ want, when ‘They’ want it.

I’m convinced my last words will be ‘NOT FAIR!’  I’ll rail against the injustice of life ‘til the end. But looking for an even playing field in entertainment, in Hollywood?

Not a realistic expectation.

And just another facet of the unreality of reality shows.

Lord help those poor, little children being publicly flogged for what’s nobody’s fault.

Too bad I can’t look away…

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Fear of Success

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I used to scoff at the concept. But lately I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

Once upon a time I worked in New York. At CBS. At Joseph Papp’s Public Theatre, aka, The New York Shakespeare Festival. At New York City Ballet. At a host of other venues with innumerable other denizens of the entertainment industry. Among the hundreds of people with whom I had contact, two performers stood out. One was a struggling comedian. The other a struggling actor.

Both were tall, dark, handsome men. Both were talented. Both had that depth and grace of soul that merits the label ‘genuinely nice guy.’ Today, the comedian lives in Atlanta, working as a headhunter for technology corporations.

He didn’t ‘make it.’ A couple of weeks ago I asked him why. A thoughtful silence ensued. But then, with the perspective of years… “I didn’t know how to market myself. It wasn’t enough to want it, or to be good at it. I needed to be a business man, too. I just wasn’t.”

Who knew when or if we’d talk again, so I took the plunge with what I considered much more important questions. “Are you sorry?”

“I wonder about it sometimes; what life would be like if I’d kept at it.”

And then the biggest question of all. “Are you happy?”

Not much hesitation this time. “Yeah, I’m happy. The way things turned out? I’ll take it.”

The actor, on the other hand, is by industry definitions, successful. He has television and movie credits under his belt. He’s climbed higher than he ever expected. He supports himself and his family solely by practicing his craft. In a strange quirk of fate, I found myself going over the same ground with him a short time ago.

“I don’t know why I made it.” His voice was low and contemplative. “I know I’ve been lucky. Maybe I was hungrier for it than the others? I needed it. Not sure…”

“But you’re happy, right?”

A longer pause than I expected from such an overtly ‘successful’ man.

“Sometimes. Not always.”

Maybe it’s because I’ve been contemplating success and its attendant obstacles. Maybe it’s because I have recently touched bases with those two very similar, yet extraordinarily divergent men. But now I watch others who are caught up in the throes of having their work acknowledged, and I see them discovering how different the journey is from what they dreamed and expected. I wonder even more. Does Fear of Success stem from an innate desire to sabotage ourselves, or is there something inherently scary about achieving it?

Why is success frightening? Why do we think we want it, if it is? Is it that any change, even when it’s what we’ve been striving to attain, is scary? Or are we afraid of finding ourselves trapped in a situation in which we feel obligated to remain, because everyone else thinks we’d be crazy to abandon it?

Answers are as numerous and varied as the situations and people involved.

As for me, I’m still struggling to reach that golden pinnacle where the air must surely be sweeter. But what if it’s so rarefied that breathing is impossible? I guess I’ll never know until I get there. In the meantime, I keep wondering.

It’s kind of scary…

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