Colleen Hannegan

Finding the words....and the perfect pair of glasses.

Reading other writers........

Colleen HanneganComment

I just finished reading the almost 900 page Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. The non-fiction story follows Theo, a sensitive and thoughtful boy who loses his mother in a bomb blast while visiting the Metropolitan museum with her in NYC. Theo survives (hence the story), mother does not. His alcoholic father had left home previously so Theo must learn to survive the devastation of his mother's death alone. Just before the bomb explodes, he meets an interesting man and young girl who will change the course of his life; and, he (barely) walks out of the museum unnoticed with the famous oil painting, The Goldfinch by the 17th century Dutch artist Carel Fabritius, under his arm. Together, Theo and the painting, begin an odyssey of hardship, foster homes, adventure, love, disappointments and  resurrection until the climatic end. You'll have to read the story to find out what happened to Theo and "his" painting.  Was the story deserving of 900 pages? I'll leave that up to you, should you decide to read it. Experts gave it a Pultizer prize! Who cares what I thought of it.

But this is my blog about writing and more, so here are my thoughts! Author Tartt's dedication to her craft of story-telling with an almost tsunami approach to details and description had me feeling overwhelmed and drowning frequently; glaze eyed at sections. I realize now, my preference for fiction of 300 words or less better suits my short attention span as a high energy, fidgety, impatient speed reader. My loss at times, I know. I judge myself here as a reader and as a memorist. My editor had me kicking and screaming to expand where descriptions and details were weak and a bit lackluster in my own story. I wanted to write in the way I enjoy reading....get to the point. It was and still is, very difficult for me to expand. The effort though, is completely rewarding.

Boredom to me is sheer torture. I'm always concerned my readers will feel like I do. Just tell me what happened!

What I appreciated about Tartt's work, is knowing she took seven years to write it and in doing so applied every descriptive paragraph and each detailed dialogue, leaving no adjective, simile or verb forgotten. Her in-depth characters were all stand outs. As I worked hard to be patient through her story telling, I marvelled at the discipline successful writers posses to work their craft of words and stories. I could not write a story like this. It's not in my DNA, to stay seated so long or return so often to the same seat.  

But here's the rub............ four years ago I read a 900 page novel based on true events in the authors' life.  Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts.  From the first sentence..."It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured.",  until the climatic end, I rarely skipped a paragraph.

Hollywood is going to make a movie of The Goldfinch. I'm amazed Shantaram never made it to the big screen.

I've always chosen autobiographies, memoirs, true stories that inspire me. Only in the past four years have I found myself  enjoying reading novels regularly. Up until then, with occasional novels that found themselves on my nightstands, my reading time was all about discovering my spiritual path. Read it all. Twenty+ years later.....I don't feel I need more instructions. Seems I've graduated myself, along with those early eighteen years of religious education.

Get to the point! I cheer the writer, any writer, all writers, be it a 1,000 word essay, a two line poem or a 900 page story that takes us around the world and leaves us exhausted from the journey.... it's all about the story. The cheering on, the hopes and dreams and rise and fall, and heart pulling, devastating, life affirming chaos that has every reader wanting to know how will it end. And when it finally does, will the reader be better for having taken the trip and will the writer make us feel like we've read some of our own story within those pages? If you can answer yes, then every word was worth it. Every     single        word.

That's my point, exactly. 

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