At the start of the pandemic, I decided to buy some long books (600+ pages) to read. The thinking was that by the time I finish, the pandemic will be over. Well, I completed Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (Amazon) this summer and the pandemic is still going strong. In fact, during the summer the virus got a second wind with all those variants spreading, so bring out Tolstoy, there is more time left.
Still, that didn’t diminish what I’ve accomplished. I read a big book. Infinite Jest was a tough read, not something I’d recommend for bedtime or at the beach. There were some very good parts, sure, but overall, it’s not one I’ll reread soon, at least not again during this pandemic.
Also during this pandemic, I’ve found time to revisit my childhood passion for animation. When I was a kid, before I wanted to be a comedian, I wanted to become an animator. As an adult — thanks to technology and free time in the evenings — I could.
Wanting to commemorate the achievement of finishing a book while seeking an idea for an animation project, I decided to pair the two together and present a scene from what I’d imagine a moment at an I Finished Reading Infinite Jest Party would be like.
Please enjoy my animated short: I Finished Reading Infinite Jest Party
John is a best selling author on tour for his latest story about Dinosaurs. He had written many stories before, stories about Aliens, stories about Monsters, and even stories about Lovers. Yet, it was the Dinosaur story that really caught fire and launched him into stardom. Book tours, movie options, and adoring fans. John had made it.
At a Q&A, a boy stands up and asks John, “You’ve written many books, many of which were flops. Now that the Dinosaur book is so well received and you’re getting new fans, are you embarrassed about everything you’ve written before? If you could go back in time, would you not write them and just write the Dinosaur story?”
John knew the Alien story was bad, the Monster story was unoriginal, and the story about Lovers was honestly just therapy for a break up. The boy was worried on John’s behalf that his new fans would recognize his name, read his old work, and be disappointed. Or perhaps John would’ve fast tracked his career by prioritizing the Dinosaur story before all the others.
“No…” John said, “Because when I read my old work, I’m transported to a moment in my past. I believe in the Butterfly Effect. If I was to go back and change anything, like writing the Dinosaur story first, and it was a failure, then I might have quit writing there. This book only exists because I’ve written all those others. Those books represented a phase I was in. Each idea, only when completed, branches off into others. My books are all part of a family tree, I gave life to them, I gave my life to them, even if the stories are different. They’re my family. In a way, the Dinosaur book is the latest generation and it exists only because of its ancestors. My previous books were all training. I wasn’t ready yet, and the audience wasn’t ready yet. I hope those who read it today can see the improvements I’ve made along the way. I wouldn’t have thought to write the Dinosaur book first, and if I did, who’s to say it wouldn’t be the Alien book that would become popular? It’s not the idea really, it’s the experience.”
“We always have to keep writing forward and not regret what we created in the past. Learn from it for sure, just like how we should learn from history, but we shouldn’t waste the present trying to change the past. A lot of the stuff we make won’t meet our standards. We might never meet that standard, even if we receive the approval of others. I’m being celebrated, but I know I can do better. We cannot regret what we’ve made in the past, even if people go back and judge us for it. We cannot control the response of the external world. I’m merely a passenger on this journey as much as you are. If I went back in time and even wrote one single word differently, I would’ve killed a butterfly, and everything would be different. I might not be standing here today. Heck, you might not even exist. We have to live with the work we’ve created, as imperfect as they are. But without them, we wouldn’t have this moment now, so no, I wouldn’t do anything different.”
The boy raised his hand up again. “Do you wish to edit those books now that you’re a better writer?”
“If you make writing a part of your life, then you’ll know that one word will come after the next. I keep moving forward with my work, because there are new interesting things I’d like to write about. I can’t do that if I keep going back to edit my old pieces and try making them better. If I do that, then I will never finish another story. And there is no saying I would make it better. The Alien story is what it is, and I love it for that. I had a great experience writing it and I was very proud when I was done. I don’t wish to tarnish that experience. I don’t even want to read it really. Only in comparison with the Dinosaur book in terms of sales do I feel shameful about it, but otherwise, I’m grateful for it. If I go back to edit the Alien story, I might be messing with what was meant to be. I’m focusing on what I’m interested in writing next, my next project.”
The boy’s hand shot up again. “And that will be another Dinosaur book?”
John simpered and said, “Only time will tell…”
How do you feel about the Butterfly Effect of writing? Let me know in the comments below. And if you are thinking about revisiting an old project? Maybe it’s not a terrible idea. Check out this article about the 4 reasons to revisit old work.
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Even though fantasy was a genre I’m familiar with, this project introduced me to a whole new world of stories I wouldn’t have found otherwise.
In doing so, I read some novels that surprised me and some that disappointed me. Having to share my thoughts about the book during and after finishing it helped me understand what I’ve enjoyed and what I didn’t. In the end, I read 10 books across the spectrum of fantasy, and here are 10 nuggets of insight I’ve unearthed from them.
1) Use Creative Verisimilitude: (American Gods by Neil Gaiman)
One way to colour your story is by bringing realism into your writing. This can be as simple as having your characters drink Coca Cola or eat at McDonald’s, but in American Gods, Neil Gaiman showed that you can push verisimilitude to the limits by understanding common human habits and traditions. Some things never change — at least, it doesn’t change that much. Take something that exists, something we all understand, and warp it a bit. Traditions have roots in every country and every culture. In American Gods, the characters find themselves in a town with a Groundhog Day-esque tradition. A beat-up car is driven out onto a frozen lake and citizens take bets on when the car will fall through the lake, and thus commencing spring. If you told me that such a tradition existed, I’d believe you because it’s as crazy as some of the traditions that do exist.
2) Leave Parts Open For Interpretation: (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol)
While a good story is believable that doesn’t mean you can’t include mystery and surrealism to it. Like life, not every aspect of your story needs to be explained. Leaving parts up for interpretations creates intrigue and gives your readers something to ponder after they close the book. Nonsense, when crafted in a way that’s interesting, becomes a puzzle for your readers to solve. Readers today are still offering their own interpretation of Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland. Take for example the riddle posed by the Mad Hatter: “How is a raven like a writing desk?” It’s never answered in the story, so it’s up to the reader to figure it out on their own, almost like a mental souvenir of the story.
3) Comedy is Best When It’s Relatable: (The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett)
If you want to write comedy, then you need to relate to your readers. This doesn’t mean you need to know all your readers’ interests and hobbies, but rather share an experience that is common to your audience. You know why stand-up comedians always make jokes about airports? It’s because most people have been to an airport. If nobody had been to an airport… it wouldn’t be funny. Nobody would “get it.” While reading The Colour of Magic, I found that the parts that made me smile and chuckle were the parts where I could relate to. For example, Twoflower is an insurance salesman on vacation in a magical world — I know what it’s like to take time off after working an unglamourous job to travel to a tumultuous destination. And for Rincewinder, the wizard, he’s always reminiscing about his time in university, which is an experience of my modern life that I too think about often. It’s with these relatable connections that support the comedy.
4) Use Foil Characters: (Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman)
To show off the strengths and weaknesses of a character, you can use another character with opposing traits to highlight the differences. These are called foil characters. In Soon I Will Be Invincible, a story about superheroes, we find that the hero and the villain are both intelligent, but it’s how they’re treated by their high school peers that sets them apart. Corefire was popular, while Doctor Impossible was an outcast. This helped develop the relationship between those two characters as well as establishing the roots of the characters’ motivations.
5) Every Character Serves a Purpose: (Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal)
When we think of fantasies, we often think of epic worlds with an enormous cast of characters, but I respect a story that has restraints. Being economical and ensuring that each character and each scene moves the story forward is a mastery that I hope to achieve one day. Shades of Milk and Honey is a localized story and each character (some of them foil characters) does exactly what’s needed to provoke conflicts, reveal details, or address solutions. There is no wasted energy or time introducing a character for the sake of it… there is always a payoff — and that type of creative control, I respect.
6) How to Show the History of a World: (Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas)
It’s easy to get carried away with world-building, especially in a fantasy novel. There is so much to deal with: the geography, the history, the language, etc. How do you share these scenic aspects of your story without pulling the cart completely off the rails? Well… in Throne of Glass, the story begins with a travel scene and then is continuously interjected with the character studying the history of the world. The world-building is scattered throughout the novel and is never unloaded all at once. The readers aren’t responsible for consuming the details on their own, but rather, they’re seeing their world from the character’s eyes. The discovery happens alongside the character as opposed to straight-up exposition.
7) Challenge Your Readers: (Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner)
Give your readers the tools, but don’t build it for them. There is something gratifying when you read a complex story with a bunch of stray dots and you’re able to connect them on your own. It’s like building a piece of IKEA furniture perfectly. A story that treats the reader as an intelligent person and reveals only the details necessary — leaving little bread crumbs or clues — without hand-holding offers a reading experience that feels so much more than merely an escape. As a writer, we should have confidence to challenge our readers. Don’t be afraid of tripping them up now and then as long as you can trust your writing to catch them before they fall. In Swordspoint, something as simple as giving different names to the same characters is enough to add another layer of complexity to the story.
8) Use Different Format: (The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami)
I often think of a novel like a musical album. It’s a collection of different songs with different styles created by the same artist. That is why I love it when a novel includes different prose or poetic styles. In The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, we see the story being told in letters, interviews, text on a screen, etc. These change-ups in the middle of a novel can behave like an act break or even create an unsettling feeling for the reader. Change is often unnerving and this type of disturbance is effective when applied at the right place and at the right time.
9) Transition Between Time: (It by Stephen King)
If nothing else, It was a great textbook on how to make dramatic timeline shifts. Going from present-day to flashback in a seamless way — especially repeatedly through a thousand-page epic — is not an easy feat. What King did was find unique ways to blur the time jumps. Instead of making a hard cut in-between time, what you can do is mimic the technique King used and that’s by transitioning right in the middle of a sentence. Have a character do or say something that is connected to something they will (or they have done) do or say in the future (or the past), and cut right at the end. This technique is common in movies (often known as a match cut) but it’s not that common in books.
10) Limit Your Scenes: (Stormfront by Jim Butcher)
Don’t overload your readers with too much information in the first act. In Stormfront, during the first half of the novel, each chapter took place in a single location and had the main character, Harry Dresden interacting with another key character. This type of confined scene establishes the relationship between the characters and their environments. How Harry Dresden relates to one character is different from another just like how we wear different masks in different situations. Slowly, one chapter at a time, the reader gets to go one layer deeper into the character and the plot.
There you go, those are 10 writing tips I learned from reading 10 fantasy books. I am continuing with my reading journey. Currently, I’m in the throes of reading the sci-fi sub-category with the suffix “punk.” Such genres include cyberpunk, steampunk, etc.
Follow me on YouTube to see how everything unfolds. And if you want to recommend some fantasy, “punk,” or any other genre of books to me, please share in the comments!
Read a lot and write a lot. That is the hot tip established writers will tell aspiring writers. Except, how do you balance the two? Should you split your reading and writing time 50/50?
So here’s the dilemma, you have this idea for a novel… but you also have that book over there that you want to read. What would be more valuable for your time? Reading? Or Writing?
This is a problem I have because my TBR list keeps growing and so does my list of story ideas… I’m known for biting off more than I can chew. Nevertheless, here is how I approach balancing reading and writing.
I like to think of it in the same way as exercising and dieting.
Ask yourself, what is your goal? Is your goal to finish writing a novel or submit to a writing contest? If so, then prioritize writing. Or is your goal to more intuitive? For example, if you want to write a blog that requires you to make commentary, then perhaps you need to read more to be perceptive.
Just like your physical health where you have to decide whether you are losing weight or gaining muscle, you need to start aligning your reading/writing habits to meet those goals. If you want to lose weight, you wouldn’t just be working out and if you want to gain muscle you wouldn’t just be eating salads.
First, figure out your goals and then slowly design a routine that enables you to write and read in order to meet it.
Reading is the healthy food you eat. TV or surfing the Internet or playing video games are less-than-healthy food when you are trying to be a writer. You can have your cheat days, but on most writing days, you need to refuel with a book.
So the two activities have to work together. It doesn’t have to be a perfect 50/50 balance. You can write more and read less one day and then read more and write less another. The key is to cut out all the other activities that don’t nourish you or doesn’t motivate you to write.
When you wake up: write, when you are on lunch break: read, when you get home from work: write, before you go to bed: read. Find little pockets of time here and there to commit to becoming a better writer.
Drain the well and then refill it. Exercise and then eat a hearty meal. Don’t think of your reading time as time you should be writing, but rather a necessary part of the writing process. You only have 24 hours in the day, so it’s not about picking one or the other, it’s about eliminating the other activities so you have more time to read AND write.
I like to read a few different books at the same time. I find it helps me motivated to read more and it generally inspires me to write a lot.
Don’t get too distracted, but here is my YouTube channel filled with writing inspirations and ideas to help with your creative process. Check it out!
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When something terrible occurs, we often try to make sense of it. We ask, “Why did this have to happen?!” This is especially true when the tragedy was the result of an unfortunate twist of fate: a natural disaster.
Katherine Paterson’s novel Bridge to Terabithia is an attempt to make sense of an inconceivable situation, one few of us are ever prepared for.
Writing a story is about answering a question. So that was what Paterson set out to do, she wanted to understand what we’re supposed to do in the aftermath of a tragedy. What can we learn after we have suffered a great irreparable loss? How can we go on? What she ended up creating was a story that gave the readers a rehearsal for the pains of life.
But it wasn’t simply Paterson’s life: Bridge to Terabithia was about her son, David L Paterson, as a child. When David grew up, he adapted his mother’s story — his story and the story of his childhood best friend — turning it from a book in literature studies class to one of the highest grossing movies of 2007, a year that included Spider Man 3, Transformers, and The Simpson Movie.
Lisa Christina Hill was eight years old on August 14, 1974. She was with her family: mother, brother and sister, at Bethany Beach in Delaware that sunny day. But on the horizon, a storm was brewing. Lisa was sitting at the edge of the water when a lightning bolt tore through the heavens and struck her. In an instant, Lisa, David Paterson’s best friend, was killed.
Since second grade, David and Lisa were close companions. David had a lot of trouble adjusting to the new class at the beginning. It was Lisa that he found solace in. They developed a relationship that was unusual for children their age where boys tended to hang out with boys and girls with girls. They would spend their time playing imaginative games behind the house in the forest and feeling comfortable enough to tell each all their thoughts.
While the whole community of Takoma Park, Maryland grieved for the loss of Lisa, David took the news as well as a boy his age could. His mother remembered him crying, knowing there was nothing she or anyone else could do to bring her son’s friend back.
In the following months, Kathrine Paterson wrote Bridge to Terabithia, a story about an artistic fifth grader, Jesse Aaron, and his neighbour, Leslie Burke, an eccentric and affable tomboy. Even with an overlay of fiction, Bridge to Terabithia was undoubtedly a story about David and Lisa. When she was finished with the book, she read it to her son. She wanted his approval, because it was ultimately his story to tell. One could only imagine that David was as moved as would the millions of kids that will soon read it.
A major change that the editors requested was the Leslie Burke cannot die by a lightning strike. This was a case of where reality is stranger than fiction. The editors requested that the death had to be caused by a more likely circumstance. It needed to be believable. The change was made and — spoiler alert — Leslie’s death would come from drowning in a creek after swinging from a rope within the kingdom of Terabithia, a imaginated realm the two children had created for themselves.
The novel was published on October 21, 1977 by Thomas Y. Crowell Co. It would win Kathrine Paterson her first of two Newbery Awards, an award given to “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”.
Paterson had written Bridge to Terabithia as an attempt to answer a life question, but when children started asking her why Leslie had to die, Paterson forced back the urges to cry for that was a question she didn’t have the answer to — even though, she was the writer. People began to find their own answers, or as Paterson puts it, “people brought their own lives to the book, their own images that creates it.”
With all the attention, Bridge to Terabithia began to receive some criticisms regarding the moral of the novel, becoming one of the most frequently banned and challenged books in the United States. There were references to witchcraft, atheism, satanism, and there was an ample amount of swearing. On top of all that, many adults didn’t want to put their children through such a heartbreaking story.
Over the years, Paterson would hear people telling her that after facing an emotional experience, they would reach for the pages of Bridge to Terabithia. In certain cases, people have given the book to children like David, who experienced the loss of someone they loved. Paterson sadly believed that giving the book after the tragic event may be too late. Bridge to Terabithia was a book to be read before that. It was an emotional practice. It’s not meant to upset the children, but prepare them for all the sadness and disappointments they have to face ahead.
While Bridge to Terabithia faced resistance, it also became a tool for English studies in many schools around the world including, Ireland, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Philippines, Ecuador, the United Kingdom, Costa Rica, Panama, South Africa and the United States.
From 1984 to 1992, The Walt Disney Company and PBS teamed up to produce a made-for-tv-anthology based on the critically acclaimed children’s books. This series was called WonderWorks, and it included such hits as Anne of Green Gables, Chronicles of Narnia, and another of Katherine Paterson’s work: Jacob Have I Loved.
On February 5, 1985, WonderWorks released the adaptation of Bridge to Terabithia. The 57 minute film was shot in Edmonton, Alberta. While Paterson got writing credits, the script was written mostly by Executive Producer, Nancy Sackett. However, the main criticism with the made-for-tv version was that the performances from the young actors were weak and unconvincing. On top of that, the dialogue was obviously dubbed over and gave off the impression of low production value.
In 2007, David Paterson spoke about the 1985 WonderWorks version of Bridge to Terabithia and said that the film is “like the crazy cousin in a mental hospital that nobody talks about.” Neither his mother nor himself were much involved with the project or even happy with the result.
At points, David felt guilty that now he was getting famous from the death of his best friend. David graduated from The Catholic University of America in 1989 and pursued a career as a playwright, with over two dozen published. Additionally, he holds the record for having three plays premiere on the same month in New York.
As a form of healing and honoring Lisa, and all the fortune she had given him in her passing, David approached his mother and asked for the right to adapt her story of Jesse Aarons and Leslie Burke. His mother granted his wish not because it was his story, but because of his abilities as a playwright. With the confidence and blessing of his mother, David went off to translate the emotional story from page to screen, having already seen how it could turn out. The adaptation became a project that consumed him for 17 years. He wanted to do it right.
Staying as true to his mother’s story as possible, David didn’t have the easiest time writing or selling the screenplay. At many points, he found that the story was too close to him. He approached screenwriter Jeff Stockwell to cowrite, as he would offer an outsider perspective to the story. What was most important to David was the spirit of the story and adapting a novel that spent so much time in a character’s head was not easy.
Selling the script posed another hurdle. Many production companies had a problem with Leslie’s death. In some cases, the executives even suggested to David that perhaps she didn’t have to die and that Leslie can simply fall into a light coma — and then she’ll wake up.
David took the role as a co-producer to ensure such a change would not happen at any stage of the process. But it was the president of Walden Media, Cary Granat that suggested Gabor Csupo to direct the movie. If you don’t know Gabor Csupo as a director or musician then you would most likely know him as the co-creator of Nickelodeon’s Rugrats and animator for Hanna-Barbera.
Gabor Csupo had an interesting career, but he had yet to direct a live-action movie. This was not a concern for Granat who saw the little kid inside of Csupo and knew that he would have the perfect approach to the story.
According to producer Lauren Levine, Csupo was inspired by the opportunity to create Terabithia. He wanted to approach it in a Tim Burton or Terry Gilliam type of way, going for a creative representation that went beyond the usual cliches of an imaginary environment. This got everyone very excited.
Casting was a difficult process and required compromise. Csupo didn’t have any particular actors in mind when he set out on the search, so that opened the door to discovering new talents.
AnnaSophia Robb had been a fan of the story and wrote a letter expressing her love for the book and the character to Csupo and the other decision makers of the film. Before casting began, Robb met with Levine to discuss the role. In that meeting, Levine was convinced that Robb would be perfect. She had the enthusiasm and the magical presence — the spark — that was Leslie. Csupo was onboard and AnnaSophia Robb was the first to be cast in the movie.
Finding the perfect Jesse was more of a challenge. It was difficult finding a young actor that can go through the transformation of an isolated introvert to someone who exhibits courage and leadership, along with the imaginative whimsy needed. Josh Hutcherson was not the first choice, but won the job because of his chemistry with Robb.
The leads and the characters in the movie were a few years older than the characters in the novel, but Csupo said that that change was perhaps advantageous as the story bordered on the idea of an innocent first love and upping the age allowed for that theme to rise to the surface a bit more.
The movie began production on February 20, 2006, with a budget of $20-25 million. In 60 days, they completed principal photography. Bridge to Terabithia was the last film for cinematographer, Michael Chapman who had been behind the camera for such classics as Taxi Driver, The Fugitive, and Space Jam. Chapman said that he wanted this movie to be his last because he wanted to end his career with a happy experience.
Post production took 10 weeks to complete and Csupo made every effort to keep the special effects minimal. Working with Weta Digital, Peter Jackson’s company famous for producing the special effects for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Csupo had a hundred team members working on the project with many of them on set during production to help create the unique creatures of Terabithia.
Perhaps the special effects got too much of a spotlight, this was a criticism during the marketing phase of the movie. As you may know, a trailer for a movie is often created by a separate organization that takes clips here and there from the movie to get the people who see the trailer to buy a ticket and see it in the theatres. The trailer for Bridge to Terabithia was laden with special effects moments in the movie to a point where many consider it to be false marketing. If you had read the book, the majority of the story takes place in the real world and is mainly a relationship between two pre-teens.
Many who were loyal to the book were appalled by how the story they loved was being presented on screen. It was a gross attempt at trying to sell computer-generated effects as opposed to the unpretentious story of loss.
When Katherine Paterson saw the film she cried — in fact, she cries every time she sees it. She sang praises to the cast and was impressed that such a movie was possible within their indie movie budget. She also spoke about the sacrifices and changes necessary in the movie, none of which spoiled her taste for it. She regarded her son for standing his ground and keeping the movie as loyal to the novel as he could.
Many writers can’t stand to watch the adaptations of their novels, because it feels so far removed from what they have created. Beside the age of the characters and the physical appearance of Leslie, perhaps the most notable change from the book was the time period, as the movie took place in a more modern era where Internet and cellphones exist.
Bridge to Terabithia was released on February 16, 2007 and earned a total domestic gross of over $82 million, $137 million worldwide. The movie cemented AnnaSophia Robb and Josh Hutcherson as young stars and household names. Additionally, it brought the novel back onto the New York Times bestsellers list, which Katherine Paterson commented to writers reluctant to sell the film rights thinking nobody would read the book if the movie was released, as being untrue. Lastly, the movie brought closure for David Paterson, who’s always thinking, in the back of his mind, about his friend Lisa, and how death lies behind every beautiful moment.
Every adaptation has a unique story, if there a book to movie that you’re interested in learning more about? Let me know in the comments below.
Imagine yourself in a war — a war as uncertain and violent as World War 2 — and in your pocket, you carried a piece of writing, six chapters of a precious and personal project. Occasionally, you would pull it out and rework in those brief — not so peaceful — moments.
Imagine having your work travel with you as you stormed the beaches of Normandy, survived the Battle of the Bulge and marched through concentration camps in Nazi Germany. What would this piece of writing become? In Jerome David Salinger’s case that piece of work is The Catcher in the Rye.
Imagine everything a person can go through in their early adulthood: surviving heart-breaking relationships, dropping out of university without a clear direction, and struggling to make it in a field as competitive as publishing. Salinger was that person before 1942 — before he was drafted into the Second World War.
Asking why The Catcher in the Rye was never made into a movie is a question about what a writer sees in his own work. How much of his soul lies in between those lines? The pages did not simply represent the story written, but rather the turmoil and the resilience of the author. It represented who Salinger was…
This is the story of why The Catcher in the Rye, one of the most infamous literary works, was never adapted into a movie.
JD Salinger began writing The Catch in the Rye in 1940, or at least, that was when he first spoke about it. In his early 20s, Salinger was an aspiring writer. Having completed a writing course with American writer, Whit Burnett, he had a lot of momentum, as many young writers do. Salinger wanted to become financially stable and maybe even famous.
In those early years, he even told Burnett that he was eager to sell the film rights to his work so he could ensure that stability. Dating Oona O’Neill, daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill, appeared to be a move in the right direction. He was 22 when he met her and she was 16. A year later they were officially dating and he joined her at the pinnacle of the social ladder in New York City, attending some of the most elite parties in the country.
Salinger was uncomfortable at these gatherings. He disliked the company — those pretentious socialites with their entitlement and their faux humility — those people were phonies.
Yet, he had a complicated relationship with Oona O’Neill. He would be hot and then cold. At times, he would show affection and then in a blink he would be stand-offish. This was grounds for O’Neill to find love elsewhere. And with a history of being neglected by her work-focused father, Eugene, she found the attention from a much older man, Charlie Chaplin. The superstar film actor was 54 when he married 18-year-old Oona O’Neill.
Jilted and heart-broken, Salinger sent her letters after she wedded a man 36 years her elder, criticizing her. He was hurt, and the pain lingered.
The 1940s was an intense time for Salinger as he began to navigate the world as a published writer. Each publication gave him a little bit of hope — although they came few and far in between — but even with the successes nothing elevated him to the level he wanted to be.
Then Pearl Harbour, the day that will live in infamy.
Salinger was drafted and sent off to war where he literally went through hell and back. With his proficiency in multiple languages (French and Italian), he served as an interrogator. Yet he never stopped being a writer during those dangerous times. Members of his counter-intelligence team could still recall Salinger writing, even once when they were at risk of enemy fire. Witnessing the death of many friends and the horrors of the holocaust aftermath, Salinger was hospitalized for post-traumatic stress after the war ended.
Upon returning to America from World War 2 in 1946, he brought with him back a wife, Sylvia Welter — a former Nazi Party member — and his writing, a work in progress. His marriage didn’t last, but the novel did. Holden Caulfield remained his closest companion.
In 1946, Salinger sought help from his old instructor, Whit Burnett, in an effort to get a collection of short stories published. The collection like many of Salinger’s attempts amounted to nothing. And in that, Salinger disengaged with Burnett — as he now had a tendency to do with the people in his life.
Life ebbed and flowed for Salinger, and in 1948, his short story entitled Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut was published in The New Yorker. Movie producer, Samuel Goldwyn purchased the film rights to the story, promising Salinger the career advancement that he had been yearning. On January 21, 1950, the movie — which was retitled My Foolish Heart, starring Susan Hayward and Dana Andrews was released to the American audience.
Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut was a dialogue-heavy story, and with that being the case had to be rewritten significantly for the film. In hindsight, Salinger would have wanted it to be a stage production, but the allure of the silver screens was too great. My Foolish Heart was very poorly received to the shock of Salinger, who had uncharacteristically relinquished all controls to Samuel Goldwyn when the producer bought the rights.
According to the critics, the movie was melodramatic and full of the typical soap-opera cliches. This gave Salinger, a writer already lacking confidence, another significant blow, leaving a bruise that would not fade.
The Catcher in the Rye was published by Little, Brown and Company on July 16, 1951. It received its fair share of positive reviews but would end up being one of the most influential novels of its generation for negative reasons. While many critics enjoyed the book, they found that the character of Holden Caulfield himself was immoral. This didn’t stop The Catcher in the Rye’s success, within the first 2 months of publication the novel was reprinted 8 times and would end up spending 30 weeks on the New York Times Bestsellers list.
By the late 1950s, the story of Holden Caulfield represented a group of brooding adolescence, which was coined The Catcher Cult. A rise against the novel began to form as those who upheld Christian morals found the 277-page novel to be a threat. The words “goddamn” appeared 237 times, “bastard” 58 and “Chrissake” 31 times. This was enough to get the book condemned in many high schools and libraries across America. By 1961, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book of its time and will continue to be one of the most challenged books for decades to come. Nevertheless, the novel sold over 65 million copies and rocketed Salinger into the limelight.
Salinger hated the limelight.
In as early as 1953, Salinger stopped interacting with the public and by 1965, he stopped publishing his works — even though, he continued to write regularly, hiding away from his family to do so. Why did Salinger stop publishing? It was the same reason he became reclusive. Publishing was an invasion of his privacy. He loved writing and continued to do so, but with the success of The Catcher In the Rye, he no longer needed people to read his fresh material: the 15 potentially completed manuscripts in his bunker in New Hampshire.
The Movie That Never Was
During this period, Salinger was solicited by many from the film industry who wanted to adapt The Catcher in the Rye and he would turn them all down. He had many reasons for doing so, but one that stood out was that he felt he was the only person that could have played Holden Caulfield honestly, and perhaps with Margret O’Brien as his co-star. That would be most ideal for Salinger. After seeing what someone could do to his work — as he had seen in My Foolish Heart — he was not ready to trust anyone.
In 1957, Salinger answered a letter asking about the potential for adaptation. He responded with “The Catcher in the Rye is a very novelistic novel. There are readymade “scenes”—only a fool would deny that—but, for me, the weight of the book is in the narrator’s voice, the non-stop peculiarities of it, his personal, extremely discriminating attitude to his reader-listener, his asides about gasoline rainbows in street puddles, his philosophy or way of looking at cowhide suitcases and empty toothpaste cartons—in a word, his thoughts. He can’t legitimately be separated from his own first-person technique. True, if the separation is forcibly made, there is enough material left over for something called an Exciting (or maybe just Interesting) Evening in the Theater. But I find that idea if not odious, at least odious enough to keep me from selling the rights…. And Holden Caulfield himself, in my undoubtedly super-biased opinion, is essentially unactable.”
Unactable — not even for The King of Comedy, Jerry Lewis, who tried for many years to acquire the rights to play Holden Caulfield. Salinger never even humored him.
The list of elite filmmakers continued to knock on Salinger’s door as the years passed.
In 1961, Elia Kazan famous for On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire wanted to produce a Broadway version of The Catcher In the Rye.
Billy Wilder of Double Indemnity made many attempts to communicate with Salinger, but it only ended up making the author annoyed and angry.
Steven Spielberg, Harvey Weinstein, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Ethan Hawke, and John Cusack, who famously said that he regretted turning 21 because he was now officially too old to play Holden Caulfield, were not alone. Many generations of actors and filmmakers came and went — none of them added Holden Caulfield or The Catcher in the Rye to their credits.
Acquiring the film right is the first step in adapting a novel to a movie; without it, there is no moving forward. No amount of money was going to sway Salinger, convincing him to relinquish the protection of his most precious work.
On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was shot and killed outside of his apartment The Dakota by what police deemed, “a local crackpot,” Mark David Chapman. On Chapman’s body was a copy of The Catcher In the Rye. The killer continued to endorse the book during his arrest and trial.
In 1981, after an attempt to assassinate Ronald Reagan, the authorities found The Catcher in the Rye in the culprit, John Hinckley Jr’s apartment. In 1989, after actress Rebecca Schaeffer was murdered by Robert John Bardo, the novel was found on him when arrested. Perhaps it was all circumstantial and merely a correlation, but The Catcher in the Rye was deemed a book with unholy powers.
JD Salinger hid from all of this, as his novel continued to be both read and criticized almost four decades after its publication. To this day, The Catcher in the Rye holds a mystique. What power does it have over the readers, compelling them to do something so extreme? I believe if the novel was adapted into a movie, the power of the text would have been dampened. It would have been unlikely that these murderers would have been arrested with a DVD starring Marlon Brando or Jack Nicholson. Salinger knew what a poor adaptation could do to literature…
In 2009, a Swedish writer by the pseudonym of John David California published a book called 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, which chronicles Holden Caulfield’s life as a 76-year-old man. When Salinger caught a whiff of it, he sent his lawyer to sue California, real name: Fredrik Colting. 60 Year Later was banned in America.
Even near the end, Salinger did not want his work to be tainted and defended it until his last breath which came on January 27, 2010. JD Salinger died at his home in Cornish, New Hampshire. He was 91 years old. It was then that Hollywood wondered how long they will need to wait now until The Catcher in the Rye will be released in theatres.
In 1957, Salinger wrote a letter, toying with the idea of giving the unsold film rights to his family as an insurance policy. They could sell it if they were financially desperate. He accepted that he would be dead and cannot see the results anyways. But that letter was written long, long ago. He had since separated with his second wife, Claire Douglas. And his daughter, Margret had written a memoir with a not-so-flattering portrayal of her father. Understanding how Salinger tended to respond to slights, it’s unlikely that the rights would be in their hands at the time of his death.
In 1976, the copyright act changed, and it allowed The Catcher in the Rye to be renewed in 1979, extending its terms by 28 years from its original publishing in 1951. There had been two more extensions in the succeeding decades and 67 years have been added on top of the initial 28 year extension. Without getting into too much copyright detail, The Catcher in the Rye will enter public domain in 2046 — 95 years after the story was published.
2046. If you are eager to see The Catcher in the Rye movie that will be how long you will have to wait. However, many have claimed that a Catcher in the Rye-esque movie had already been made by director Burr Steers called Igby Goes Down in 2002, starring Kieran Culkin, Claire Danes and Jeff Goldblum. The movie follows a rebellious young boy who recently flunked out of prep school attempting to deal with all the relationships and circumstances required of him as he grows up.
Steers acknowledged the similarities but said that Igby Goes Down was inspired by his own experiences living in New York as a child. He had initially wanted to write a novel, but the project became a script and then a movie.
In 2019, Salinger’s estate announced that they are planning to release some of the late author’s unpublished works and in addition, finally bringing his available works to the digital form. Salinger had been against ebooks and audiobooks, but in an interview with the New York Times, JD Salinger’s son, Matt Salinger said, “He wouldn’t want people to not be able to read his stuff.”
With this sudden change in the tide, perhaps the movie may come sooner.
Would you go see The Catcher in the Rye when it comes out in theatres? Who should play Holden Caulfield? Let me know in the comments below.
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Life of Pi was published on September 11, 2001, perhaps the worst day to have a book launch. Nevertheless, it sold over 10 million copies and won author Yann Martel, the prestigious Man Booker Prize. It was a huge success.
Yet, it was deemed an impossible movie to make — and the 11 years in between publishing and the release of the movie directed by Ang Lee is a story about the complexity of adaptation.
Life of Pi is arguably my favorite book. I remember reading it as a teenager and feeling like I had a choice in what to think. Not often a case for a high school student. I remember my teacher asking me: which story did you think was real? The one with the animals, I responded.
I loved that book, because it wasn’t tarnished by a movie. My imagination wasn’t skewed. It would not have been my favorite book, if I saw the movie first. Yet, it might have became my favorite movie. This is the first in a series about adaptations: the story of how a book becomes a movie. It’s not about which is better, it’s about how such a feat is even possible.
In 1990, Yann Martel read a review by John Updike for a Portuguese book that has recently been translated into English. This book was called Max and the Cats by Moacyr Scliar. It was a negative review and Martel never read that book. Still the premise stayed with him: a boy trapped on a boat with a man-eating jaguar.
Reeling from the disappointing reception of his first two published books, Martel in the midst of quitting a work in progress about Portugal, travelled to India for inspiration. This was 1996 — five years before Life of Pi was published. It was during this trip that it all came together.
By 2002, Yann Martel had become a household name. Winning one of the biggest prizes in literature will do that. In addition, Life of Pi spent 61 weeks on New York Times BestSeller. While Martel received criticism for not acknowledging Scliar, eventually all that faded, when he stated it could not be plagiarism of any form, if he had never read Scliar’s book. When put side-by-side, most critics failed to see many similarities between the two: structurally and thematically.
In the same year, at the height of Life of Pi’s popularity, 20th Century Fox Pictures Executive, Elizabeth Gabler was on maternity leave, where she saw the novel everywhere. All the other studios had passed on Life of Pi, so when producer, Gil Netter called her and pitched the project — she recognized the complexity of the story: it takes place predominantly on the Pacific Ocean, it’s highly spiritual, it’s not a superhero sequel and it’s not easily summed up. These were all concerns.
Still, Gabler saw a lot of potential in the story, so she made the deal for the film rights with Yann Martel a little over a year after the novel hit the shelves.
When an author options their story to a production company, it is not always clear how much they will make. They may make a deal for as little to nothing with a promise of a percentage of the budget of the film (if it ever gets funding), or they may get an upfront payment for film rights all at once, perhaps $500,000. It’s hard to predict how much exactly Martel made from optioning the rights for Life of Pi, but one may wonder if the lengthy duration it took to make the film and the trouble it will soon have with the budget work for or against him monetarily.
In February of 2003, Gabler had officially acquired the rights to Life of Pi and pre-production began. Screenwriter, Dean Georgaris, known for Manchurian Candidate, Triston and Isolde, and Laura Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, was hired to write the script.
M. Night Shyamalan — yes, M. Night — was first to partner with the project as the director in 2004. He had just finished with his movie The Village and Life of Pi was tempting, after all, Shyamalan grew up in the very city, the character Pi did, Pondicherry. However, he would back out of the project worried that the twist ending in Life of Pi would be affected if he was to direct it. People will be anticipating the twist the moment it began. That would hurt the story, and so, Shyamalan would sacrifice himself and begin work on his next movie, Lady In the Water.
The project went in and out of limbo at this point. As of March of 2005, Alfonso Cuaron was rumored to have signed on to direct it — but stepped down to work on Children of Men.
In October of the same year, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, director of Amelie was hired by 20th Century Fox to take on the job. Jeunette jumped on the opportunity — after backing out of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix not long before — and began working on the screenplay with his partner from Amelie, Guillaume Laurant. Things were working great, Jeunet had a script that the studio liked, he built miniatures of the lifeboat, and even started location scouting in India.
Then a major problem materialized: the budget. For an Indian boy in open waters with a lion, the project would cost an excess of $85 million. According to Investopedia, the average cost of a major studio movie in 2007 was $65 million. So the mission was to get the budget to $60 million, however, that simply wasn’t going to happen for Jeunet. In frustration, the heads of Fox told him to produce the movie himself.
For 2 years, Jeunet had been working on Life of Pi. Suddenly the movie was at a standstill as the producers sought new solutions. Then time ran out for him. Jeunet did not want to spend the rest of his life working on Life of Pi and four months later he had a script for a new project, MicMacs. Life of Pi was once again without a director.
At this time, Life of Pi was getting a reputation as being an unfilmable movie. It was getting riskier and riskier for 20th Century Fox. With no marketable star and every money-sucking challenge imaginable for a filmmaker, the adaptation of Yann Martel’s Man Booker Prize winner seemed impossible.
In early 2009, almost eight years after the novel was published, the fourth director for this film was hired, academy award winner, Ang Lee, best known for his diverse resume including Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain, and Hulk.
Screenwriter, David Magee, known for Finding Neverland, was personally hired by Lee to write the screenplay, working closely together. Writers, if you ever feel like giving up on a project, remember everything Life of Pi went through… In three and a half years of working on the movie, Magee and Lee wrote 170 drafts of the script.
Life of Pi was a story that is told primarily from the mind of the character. Pi alone on a lifeboat with a tiger. How can they translate it to the screen? Lee and Magee dove deep into the project: speaking with those who have survived at sea, visiting holy locations in India, and even setting out in a boat during harsh weather themselves to gain the personal experience.
Once again, it felt as though the movie was back on track. Yet, there was still the issue of the marketable lead. Finding a young Indian boy to play the role of Pi — a huge responsibility — was challenging and lengthy. It required a worldwide search with Lee auditioning 3000 actors. In the end, he found Suraj Sharma and placed him in a setting as daunting as a lifeboat with a tiger, his first impossible Hollywood movie.
Lacking a familiar name on the bill continued to be a concern for the studio, at least for the North American audience. At a time, Tobey Maguire, the original Spiderman himself, was cast as the author interviewing a much older Pi Patel, but Lee later felt that having a recognizable face would be more of a distraction than a benefit — much like having M. Night direct the movie.
On top of that, there was another worry for the studio. Yes, the same concern that troubled them a few years ago: budget.
In 2010, Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman, two chairmen of 20th Century Fox called Elizabeth Gabler letting her know that they were going to withdraw from the project — ending funding completely. Life of Pi the movie was on life support about to have its plug pulled. The proposed budget was simply too big of a risk for the studio.
Gabler called Ang Lee to deliver the bad news. Fox is off of the project and Lee was free to shop the film to another studio, a mammoth task to say the least — which may stall the film for another decade. Gabler was as disappointed as Lee. There was nothing else like it. Yes, it wasn’t the conventional movie with heartthrobs and superheroes, but that was what made it worth fighting for.
To her surprise and admiration, Lee did not give up. Before the call ended, he told her he will make his way to LA to discuss the matter in-person. With him, he had Suraj Sharma’s audition tape and a pre-visualization scene of the shipwreck, the pivotal moment in the story that left the character Pi stranded at sea. In addition to those two selling points, Lee was willing to accommodate with the expenses. Gabler was impressed and she bought it to Gianopulos and Rothman. Together, they cut $25 million from the proposed budget. This was helped by filming many portions of the movie in Taiwan.
In 2012, Life of Pi was released to rave reviews, earning the film 11 Academy Award nominations, including a nomination for screenwriter, David Magee for best-adapted screenplay and producer, Gil Netter for Best Picture, along with Ang Lee and David Womack. The film ended up winning 4 Oscars, including one for Ang Lee as best director. Not only was it well received by the critics, to the delight of the studio, the movie turned out to be a commercial success, grossing over $500 million worldwide, with a final budget of $120 million.
Ang Lee claims it was the hardest movie he had ever made, taking him nearly four years.
Not every adaptation will be deemed impossible or receive critical acclaim and be a commercial success. Yet, every adaptation will have their own unique story. Is there a movie based on a book that you are curious about how it got made? Let me know in the comments below.
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It always amazes me when a book can make me laugh. But there is no doubt that a one-of-a-kind type of laugh in life is the kind that comes from reading something, processing it in your brain, and emoting it through your body.
A great writer like any great artist or musician can make you feel emotions simply from the mastery in their craft. The problem is, there aren’t that many writers that have made me laugh through their stories.
Nevertheless, I have highlighted four of the funniest books I have read, and I’m going to share it with you today.
Michael Ian Black is best known for his role in Stella and Wet Hot American Summer, but few know him as a writer, even though he has written a few books now, including children’s books and some movies. Black also has a podcast where he interviews amazing people called How to Be Amazing, and if you look through the archives he did a revolutionary podcast series called Mike and Tom Eat Snacks.
When people talk about a book that changed their lives they usually talk about some self-help or emotionally impactful book, but this one really did.
This book is a collection of absurd essays. Some of them questions only a really famous celebrity like Michael Ian Black would know such as What I Would Be Thinking If I Were Billy Joel Driving to a Holiday Party Where I Knew There Was Going to Be a Piano and Hey David Sedaris — Why Don’t You Just Go Ahead and Suck It?
Michael Ian Black does such a great job playing with different genres in these essays such as erotic fiction, letters, and even a chapter from a novel that is sponsored by Barqs root beer. Each one of them is simply drenched in Black’s snarky humour and although I am certain it will go over the heads of some, it is all laced with intelligent observation of the modern world… or at least the world in 2008.
It’s hard for me to pick a favourite story from this book, because it’ll be trying to pick a favourite song from Green Day album American Idiot, but if I had to choose, I would say A Series of Letter to the First Girl I Ever Finger… where Black, as a middle age man, tries to reconnect through mail correspondence with the girl he had a temporary relationship with in summer camp as a child. It sounds uncomfortable, but that is the quintessential Black comedy that you can expect from this book. I’ll say no more.
Yes, that Bob Odenkirk — or better known as Saul from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Odenkirk has had a long history in comedy, and it is so refreshing to see, even when he has achieved the pinnacle of stardom with his dramatic television role, he still give his comedy fans something to sink their teeth into.
A Load of Hooey is a collection of short stories, poetry, comics, and unabridged quotes from famous individuals, including Walt Disney, Winston Churchill and Isaac Newton.
The beauty of this book is the commentary that Odenkirk has about the lives of those that have achieved and those that strive. What’s it like to be someone creating and what it is like to be someone aspiring… struggling… and critiquing. Believe it or not, I think we all fall into one of those categories, and that is what makes it such an approachable book.
By far the story that stands out the most in this book for me is the reimagining of what it must have been like that day the Beatles wrote the iconic song Blackbird. It amplified the drama within the room between an arrogant McCartney (who is said to have written the song solo) and the rest of the band (who leeches off his brilliance).
Please, if you are looking to kill a few hours in an airport or simply have nothing to do on a Sunday afternoon, pick up this book, instead of rewatching The Office.
Speaking of The Office, BJ Novak also writes books… and they’re pretty awesome. One More Thing is a collection of stories that touches on a many subjects including celebrity escapades, relationships, and the complicated yet mundane decisions we are dared to make in our daily lives.
Novak is a compelling storyteller who is supremely witty. He finds the nuances of everyday interaction and injects it into his story, reminding us of our idiosyncrasy. While unlike Black or Odenkirk, Novak’s writing style is a bit more refined — not necessary better or worse — but I can actually see some of these stories appearing in literary magazines or in the New Yorker.
My favourite piece from this book, or at least the one that has really stuck with me, is one called If I Had a Nickel, which goes through the narrator’s thought process as he tries to figure out how he can get rich if he gets a nickel for everytime he spills coffee on himself. As someone who is always thinking of a way to make more money, this one just hit the right note for me.
This along with many other stories proves that BJ Novak is more than simply a background character in a television show and Inglorious Basterds, he is a witty writer and genuinely relatable.
I don’t understand how so few people know about this book. Let me explain. You know Judd Apatow, the guy who produced Freaks and Geeks, Knocked Up, Forty Year Old Virgin, and Girls. Apatow is a comedic legend, no doubt about it — but he is also a fan of comedy.
Since an early age, he had a fascination with comedy royalties. A memorable story is that he was once driving with his grandmother and passed by Steve Martin’s house, with Steve Martin outside. Judd got out and asked him for his autograph, which Martin declined. He later wrote a letter to Martin pouring his heart out, saying he was a big fan and bought everything he had and the least he could have done was give him an autograph. In the end, Martin wrote him back saying, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know I was speaking with THE Judd Apatow.”
As he got older, the task of sitting down and speaking with his peers and idols became easier.
Yes, this includes Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, John Stewart, Seth Rogen, Ben Stiller, Jim Carrey… and it goes on. If you have any interest in, what I feel is, the golden age of screen comedy then you need to pick up this book.
There you have it, those are 4 funny books you should read. Please let me know if you have a book that always makes you laugh. I’d love to read it.
Correction: there is no time to read literature, poetry, and other creative writing.
Work and school life don’t present a lot of opportunities to explore new literature. But in order to achieve imaginative growth and find new perspectives, we need to read more than instructional documents and textbooks. How though? How can we incorporate stories into our lives after an exhausting day of reading everything else?
A Book is a Relationship
Reading while commuting, in waiting rooms, or even during television commercials are fantastic ways to make use of potentially wasted time. And as Bruce Lee says:
“If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what makes up life.”
So, if you love life and you want more lives to live, you got to read!
Carry a book with you wherever you go. That’s an order. Sure it might take up space in your backpack or purse, but when the opportunity arises, you’ll be glad you have it.
When Kindle and other e-readers first appeared on the market I was a bit skeptical because I loved the feel of pages between my fingers. However, I’ve learned to appreciate having a library in the palm of my hands. The technology also allowed me to “cheat.”
If you can enjoy two or more television series, you can read two or more books. I don’t follow any rules; I read what I want for however long I want. The key is to always have at least one book you are passionate about. If not, keep searching.
Because No One Book Can Fulfill All Your Needs
Having different books on the go allows you to read different genres, formats, and authors through a period of time — days, weeks, months, years. Our attention span has shrunk because of mass media, but that doesn’t mean we can’t counter it. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet; don’t fill up on the salad.
Audiobooks have also found a place in my life. Sometimes music exhausts me and all I want is something to keep my mind off the monotony. While driving my car or going for a run, audiobooks are a fantastic companion. Hours fly by even if I’m cleaning the house or preparing food, having an audiobook playing in the background makes me feel twice as productive, which is an awesome feeling.
Make Every Page Count
Make a timeline for the books you read. Create goals and set milestones. Track the novels you’ve finished and even keep a record of the ones you’ve abandoned. Make a game out of it. Forty percent of Americans admitted to not having read a book last year. Perhaps they didn’t have the time or perhaps they didn’t feel like there was a reason. But it’s about personal growth. Like fitness, books train your brain and give you strength where dumbbells and squats don’t.
I used to see my friends as an escape from the real world. They were a little treat I gave myself. If I deserved it, I get to hang out with my friends.
As we got older, what was once a treat has now become a bit of an obligation. That’s growing up. I used to meet up with my friends for pleasure, now I meet up with them because I know how important it is to keep the ship afloat. “I should be resting,” or “I should be working,” says my guilty self. Still I go and I have a good time, often. It has turned into an expense, a holiday, an indulgence. I’m paying to keep them. I need them for a rainy day as if they are insurance. And like insurance, even if nothing bad happens, it’s worth having.
The idea that these important people can fade like an old memory is heartbreaking. But it is the way it is. A good friendship like a good investment, compounds. You have to keep attending events, buying gifts, showing that you care so that you keep making memories. You need to keep money in savings, and only withdraw when necessary. My life is not split into events, but rather the people entering and exiting my life — depositing and withdrawing.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, that I read multiple books at the same time. I’m a polygamous reader. The same way I can have different relationships with different people, I feel the same way with books. Some books teach me, some books make me laugh, and some books make me empathetic. Friendships are the books of you, written in partnership with another, and should that partnership ends, the book goes unfinished — unread.
In one way or another, we’ve all gone through a situation where a friendship met its demise. This could be because of irreconcilable differences. This could be because of geographical changes. This could be because of the volatilities of life, things that are out of our control, twists of fates that pull two people — two groups — apart, stranding them on their own. In this world, we pick sides, what are the chances that your friends won’t pick yours?
This article, I pose that question to you…
I want to discuss three novels where the loyalty of friendships and families are tested, pulled to very limits, and allowed to snap.
The Slap is one of those stories told through the perspective of multiple characters. Each chapter, the vantage switches and we see through the eyes of someone we thought we couldn’t possibly feel sympathy for. That’s the beauty of a good book, it can make you love and hate many characters individually. One moment you are rooting for them and the next you are cursing them.
At the heart of the story, The Slap asks us to pick sides when an invisible line is crossed. It ask you where you yourself set the lines. Would you cheat on your wife with a younger woman? Would you use a racial slur without malice? Would you hit someone else’s child in order to protect your own? Where is that line for you in this gray world? And should you cross it, how will you live with the consequences? What if it was your friend who crosses it? Will you stand by him?
There are numerous themes coursing through the veins of this book, and when I finished it I happily, but without confidence, claimed to my fiance (now my wife) that this was the best book I have ever read. I said it like this, “I think it’s my favourite book.” This one found me at exactly the right time in my life, as I watch two of my best friends make their way into parenthood.
Whenever I hear that one of my friend is going to have a kid, I put on a smile and congratulate them. It is what they want and I am happy for them. In my childfree life, I’m saddened to know that those wild late nights with those individuals have officially ended. I will see them on key occasions throughout the year — birthday parties, Christmas, etc. — but otherwise, we aren’t going to hang out like we used to. Even if we lived close by, it becomes a long distance relationship. We now see the world differently. But that would have happened otherwise. Different jobs, different neighbourhoods, different gender of the child you bear will lead to different life values.
Time is not the only thing that is gone. What they want to talk about also changed. What they were once proud of has changed. I look at the pictures of their children as they show me, and I smile… once again happy for them. We are friends still, yes, maybe even family in some way, but we aren’t sharing the same qualities that friends share. You see that when friend circles gather together, at say, a BBQ, like the characters of The Slap were when the conflict occur, when the child was slapped.
Parenting, like food or politics, is something that every person has an opinion on whether they have children or not. People with kids are quick to dismiss the thoughts of those without — and those without see parents as fixed in their ways. It’s easy to be fixed in your ways because the consequence is so far away. You don’t know your child will turn bad until later on in life, and even then, can you really say parenting was the fault?
I digress. We, as our own person, just like the eight characters we enter the minds of in the book, we don’t feel what other people are feeling. We can never know what it’s like to be a parent without having kids, we can never know what it’s like to be ethnic if we are not, and we cannot know what two people are like when they are alone, so how can we judge someone for adultery — when in the same situation, in the same life, we would do it as well?
Watching my friends have children made me realize that from this point on, I’ll never see eye to eye with these people. We’ll have different politics. What is good for them will no longer be good for me. What makes them happy, will not be the same thing that makes me happy. Yet, beyond all that can we still be friends? Of course. But what happens if I cross the line? How great is our loyalty then?
There is a way of thinking that says, if your friends can’t propel you forward, they are holding you back. I think that’s true. What’s the point of having friends if they are just going to make you miserable or keep you from reaching your potential? The key is to notice this before it’s too late. Loyalty in friendship is honourable, sure! But it’s not always healthy. Recognizing your friend’s values as they change will save you from crossing the line in the future.
But of course, like the obligation of going to work, we are at times obligated to see our friends. They are family. We enter the social scene and at the end of the night, we leave breathing a sigh if nothing bad has happened. The Jenga pieces that are our friendship wasn’t destroyed, but each time we see each other we are forced to pull a tile from the bottom and move it to the top. That’s progression. But what if it does fall? Is it tragic? What if it wasn’t you that knock down the pieces either? It was someone else, another friend. There you watch as two friends bite at each other… their relationship is sent to the fringe. By staying neutral, you lose both of them… what do you do? That is the case with many of the characters in the novel The Slap. Friends are told to pick sides and in that — loyalty and value are tested.
It’s not about who you share the most precious memories with that holds a friendship together. It’s about who you will keep as friends as one by one each of them crosses that line you drew for nobody but yourself.
The painful idea of having to pick sides between friends led me to my next tragic novel by Haruki Murakami. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (a mouthful), for me, falls into the category of mystery. In The Slap, it’s so obvious what happened. The knife that severed the bond of the friendship was clear. But what if the situation wasn’t? What if suddenly one day, all your friends stopped talking to you?
To me, when I talk about wealth, I’m not always talking about money. Sometimes, wealth can be having a supportive group of people around you. When you are ill, is there someone that will come and take care of you for free? If no, then you are poor. If something great has happened to you and you want to celebrate, is there someone you can immediately call and share the news with and know that there won’t be any jealousy or animosity? If not, then you are poor.
Like money, the friends in our lives are currency. You don’t need money to pay for movers if you have a group of burly friends with freetime and a truck. You don’t need money to pay for dinner if you have a friend that is a culinary fiend and just wants you to taste his latest recipe. You don’t need to rent a hotel if you have a friend who has relatives in New York or San Francisco or London or Tokyo and they are happy to have you for a few days to a week. Not that you bother all those friends all the time — being a good friend, and a smart investor, is knowing when to cash out.
Wealth in any form can be lost. One morning you can wake up and find that it has all disappeared. Like you had been robbed, all the friends you thought you had. The friends, like your savings that you were hoping will be there for you until your old age, will be gone. That is exactly what happened to Tsukuru Tazaki.
Like a poor investment, the same feeling is felt with people. You wonder where the mistake was made. If your core group turns their back on you, do you have more in the reserve to call upon? Will you demand to know what happened? Will you take it as the natural forces of growing up? A painful lesson. If a friend decides to stop showing up to parties, if a friend stops responding to your messages, if a friend disappears from your life completely, will you be okay with it? If you lose a hundred dollars, wouldn’t you want to know where it went?
Every person within a core friend circle needs to fill a role. You might not consciously recognize this, but it’s true. Like a community cannot have too many bakeries or too many tailors, it cannot have too many members with the same characteristics, skillsets, or functions before they start stepping on each others toes.
For example, in a group of five where three are male and two are female, it’s going to be tricky for the third boy if the two other are paired up with the two girls. The boy will ultimately be forced out, this is especially true if he has feelings for one of the girl as well. When you pick your core group of friends, the ones you want to be sustainable for the rest of your life, ask yourself will you betray one of them for your needs — will they betray you? And if they should, will the others join you — or will you be the odd man out?
With friends, we often think in the short term, we walk into a party, we see a group of people and we join in. Slowly we learn the dynamic of each person within the circle, but is this the group where you want to put your chips down? Sure you can invest a little in this group and a little in that group, and create a lot of little bonds and feel that when they are looking around at the stakeholders of the group and wondering who they should buy out, most likely it’ll be the one who only chipped in a little. Like accumulating monetary wealth, generosity is a necessary quality for establishing friendships that is sustainable. It can’t all be fun. If you want someone to take care of you when you are sick, you better be willing to do the same for them. Getting wealthy with friends is not about winning the lottery, it’s about investing, it’s about paying insurance, it’s about putting funds in every day, week, month, year, and knowing that when shits hit for you, they will be there tenfold.
In The Slap, we witness what happens when friends turn against each other. In Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, we see what happens when friends turn against us. But what happens when we turn against our friends? Like a dog with an incurable itch we scratch at ourselves, and when our friends, our companions, attempt to block our nails from another vicious scratch to the face, the neck, or the wrist, we bite at them.
A Little Life is hands down the saddest novel I have ever read — and thus making it a book that I encourage anyone that needs a heavy dose of empathy to checkout. It may cripple the light hearted, but those that are having trouble feeling grateful for the simplicity of life, they need to read this epic novel based around a group of male friends living in New York, growing old together.
We are all troubled. Every one of us. Everyday we wake up and we face our demons. Your demons might be addiction. Your friend’s demons might be a repressed childhood experience. Your other friend’s demons might be a relationship he or she is trapped in. We are all facing our own battles. Sometimes, we lose and our friends have to watch as our defences, our fortress that they so proudly built with us: our confidence, our happiness, and our successes — they watch it all crumble. Nobody will really know what it’s like to be you. Nobody can ever save you from yourself. But a friend is one that hopes — a friend is someone who doesn’t give up on you. They wait across the moat, watching the dust settle and for you to emerge from the ashes ready to lower the bridge, ready to let them back in, and ready to rebuild.
Jude, the protagonist of A Little Life, had built a facade, a shield he hid behind. For the majority of the story, we only learn what he tells his friends, especially his closest friend, Williem. His childhood injury that has caused spinal damages and affected the way he walks was merely addressed as a misfortune. His self-mutilation was hidden because he will never be seen by others without a shirt or with short-sleeves. His inability to be intimate was shrugged off as him not feeling any sexual desire for anyone, male or female.
When we build a fence or a wall, we do two things: we keep people out and we lock ourselves in. What Jude has done is that he has build a wall around his castle in ruins. He is there alone trying and failing to repair himself. His friends want to enter to help, but for much of the novel, he shuns them with one reason or another: he cannot trust that they are not Trojan horses entering as a gift and dismantling his world ever worse. Additionally, for the friends he knew who were loyal and noble, he did not want them spending their short life on Earth, helping him salvage what little life he had. His friends were all successes in their profession: artist, actor, architect. They deserved better than him — he did not want to be a charity case.
I have a problem with empathy. In day-to-day life, I’m failing at that trait — maybe barely passing. I am not the most empathetic person I can be, which at times, I feel can make me a less than perfect friend. When I was in high school, there was a class… actually, it was more of lecture, because it wasn’t so much of a course, as just a social worker coming into talk to us. We watched a movie where the main character went through some trauma and was cutting herself. I uttered out loud that indeed this movie was fiction. At that age, without having ever faced trauma of my own — misfortune yes, but nothing I can call trauma — I couldn’t understand why a character had chosen to hurt herself. The social work failed in empathy that day as well. All she said was, “I hope you never have to understand,” which was a weak attempt at educating, as if a math teacher will say, “I hope you’ll never need to use long division” after I failed a test. Empathy is such an important skillset and I feel like I was handicapped at an early age, because it was not something that came naturally. I had a hard time practicing empathy, so now when I see my friends in trouble, I wish I could do more, but I merely stand at the perimeter, from my tower, looking in their direction, hoping they will figure it out before it’s too late.
A Little Life taught me more than what that high school social worker teacher (or whatever she was) could. It taught me that loyalty goes both ways. A dog defends its master and the master feeds the dog. The thing is… in this scenario, sometimes the master gets sick and there is nothing the dog can do. Sometimes the master dies and there is nothing the dog can do… That is the lesson I got out of A Little Life, we might end up being the dog without a master. We are all hanging to life by a rope or a string or a piece of thread, awaiting to drop into oblivion. If we only have one person to rely on for our needs: food, shelter, love, then we are merely hanging by a thread.
Empathy becomes the knotted tether. Empathy gathers other threads and strings and binds them. If we want loyalty. If we want lasting friendships. If we even just want to be nicer to strangers, it all begins and ends with empathy. If we can’t do that… then we don’t deserve it. To have friendship without empathy is theft: theft of trust and loyalty and will ultimately lead to a sad heartbreak. We can’t always know our friends truly, but when things get bad — and they will, because the world is hard — we must lower our weapons, because our friends are fighting a must tougher enemy, one that you can’t see. We can help them instead.
I recommend these three books to anyone feeling the pull of life dragging them away from the good times. I recommend these three books to those who have lost a friend, be it through betrayal, misunderstanding, or tragedy. I believe sometimes the best way to cry is in the rain, so that nobody can see, but we can’t control the weather, so let it pour from the heart.