Monthly Archives: March 2014

Love Story

lovestory

Before Nicholas Sparks’s The Notebook, there was Erich Segal’s Love Story: the tragic story about Oliver and Jenny. Tragic because Jenny dies. That’s not a spoiler. It’s the first line of the novel – What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl that died?” It’s almost comical how simple the story is. Boy meets girl. They fall in love. She dies. The end. BUT THE PEOPLE LOVED IT. You’ll never find this book as a major discussion point in any English class, but does its own simplicity have something valuable to say about story-telling?

I found a 1970s copy of the book at Goodwill for two dollars. The funny thing is the original price from 1977 was still printed on the front – $1.75. I guess not everything at Goodwill is a good deal. I hadn’t seen the film and though the story wasn’t very exciting for my tastes, the novel seemed like a quick read. Plus, the story of how Love Story came to be is quite interesting from a writing perspective. Erich Segal wrote the screenplay first. In hoping to market the film, Paramount wanted a novel to be released before the film. Maybe this is a lesson for all screenwriters today. Once you finish the original screenplay, create a backup novel version. I mean, what’s the last film you saw that wasn’t based on something else?

In One Sentence: It’s a love story.

Favorite Line: “She closed her book softly, put it down, then placed her hands on the sides of my neck. ‘Oliver — wouldja please.’ It all happened at once. Everything.” pg. 34

Review: The novel reminds me of Twilight. I liked it more than Twilight, it’s a better love story than Twilight, but it has the same literary lore of being a bit too sentimental and plot-less. I had a screenwriting professor who when her students bemoaned the success of the vampire series, she made us reevaluate the discussion. She said, “You don’t have to like it, but you have to understand it.” This seems to me to be the same strategy of how to approach Love Story. Even though I knew the ending, it was a page-turner. Even though the prose is short and to the point, lacking description and quite honestly written like a screenplay, it’s effective. There’s no fluff, besides perhaps what happens in the scenes. I read this over two days, and I enjoyed the pacing, but was left dissatisfied with the ending. Why was this book and film so successful? Because when we read it, we could relate to that feeling of loving someone so completely you can accept them for who they are. “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” is a terrible relationship lesson on the surface, but what it really means is that we can make mistakes and be ourselves and the point isn’t to never make mistakes, but to grow up through them and with each other. I recommend this book, not as a great work of literary genius or even much structural merit, but it won’t take up much time. Plus, even if you don’t like it, it’s important to ask yourself by the end – why did others?

The Book Would Have Ended a Lot Sooner If: Jenny and Oliver had never gotten coffee.

Let’s jam instead: I was going to mention the sequel Oliver’s Story, but this seemed like a more important find.

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

absolutelytrue

There’s a reason why coming-of-age stories remain staples in literature. Whether it is through classic like Catcher in the Rye, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Outsiders or modern tales such as Youth in Revolt — we read these books early or late in life, and either way when we are finished they stay preserved on our bookshelves. They are the books you read, and you see yourself. 

Did you know there are Goodwills EXCLUSIVELY for books? No clothes. No VCRs. Just books. I drove by one with my family off of Foothill Blvd between the Walmart shopping center and a closed tavern. I found about four or five books that cost about ten dollars total. One was Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I had recognized the name from writer’s quotes and short stories, but had not read any of his novels.  It seemed like an interesting find – a funny novel filled with comics like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, except with more awards and, hopefully, poignancy.

In One Sentence: A junior high cartoonist leaves his Indian Reservation school for better opportunities at an all-white school.

Favorite Line: “It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you’re poor because you’re stupid and ugly. And then you start believing you’re stupid and ugly because you’re Indian. And because you’re Indian you start believing you’re destined to be poor. It’s an ugly circle and there’s nothing you can do about it. Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.” – pg 13

poor

Review: A young boy has to deal with the natural struggle of identity but with the added complications of being the only Indian in an all-white school. He becomes the outcast not only in his new school, but also to his friends back home who see him as a  “part-time Indian.” Hilarious. Hard to put down. Totally inspiring in its ability to make you laugh and cry at the same time. This novel is all about voice. It masterfully captures the voice of the narrator and main protagonist, Junior. “Literary fiction” usually sets a certain expectation for a caliber of language, but there is also so much control and craft in a writer’s ability to create a convincing voice. Part of this success in Sherman Alexie’s novel is due to his own admittance that much of the text is auto-biographical, from his experience growing up on an Indian Reservation. I’ve come to discover that the best forms of art are not necessarily about a central theme or overall impact on society, but about honesty. Even in fiction, if I can feel a writer’s true intention and honesty – I’ll likely remember that book for the rest of my life. Everyone should read this book. Most importantly at schools where, unfortunately, it has been banned.

The Book Would Have Ended a Lot Sooner if: People were more willing to look for things they had in common, rather than what made them different.

Banned: Throughout the country this book has been introduced into middle school curriculum, cursed by parents, and then swiftly banned (sometimes removed as required reading, other times taken out of libraries all together.) Why? The narrator, as a prepubescent boy, talks about masturbation. Watch Sherman Alexie’s reaction:

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