I don’t get to go to author events often (mostly because of my work schedule, and partly because, even though Boston is a big city, book tours don’t often take authors this way), so it’s a rare treat when someone I’ve read comes to town. This past week, I was able to see David Levithan (whose book Will Grayson, Will Grayson I just reviewed), as well as newcomer Hannah Pittard.
I’ve only read two of David’s books, and the first one was about eight years ago. It was his first novel, Boy Meets Boy, a sort of alternate reality town where gay is okay, cheerleaders ride motorcycles and the quarterback of the football team is a dragqueen named Infinite Darlene who is also elected prom queen. I thought it was a unique story and have held onto it since first reading it, though never really pursued the author.
Cut to a couple of weeks ago when I read Will Grayson, Will Grayson. I absolutely loved the book and decided to look into the co-authors to see what else they’d written, and what should I find? Not only did David write Boy Meets Boy, but he is also the co-author of another book that was recently turned into a movie, Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist. So of course when I had the opportunity to hear him speak, I had to jump at the chance (I even passed up going to an advance screening of Just Go With It, the new Adam Sandler/Jennifer Aniston romcom).
I got there early and felt my heart sink, because there was only one other person there. I’ve been to author events before where almost no one shows up, and I can only imagine how I’d feel in a similar situation, so I was really nervous this would turn out similarly. Luckily, the slow trickle turned into a rush of last minute arrivals, and there turned out to be standing room only in the end.
Having come for David, I hadn’t realized there would be two authors, so I was surprised when they put another book on the front table that wasn’t one of his. The novel was called The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard. I’d never heard of it or her before, so didn’t really think about it. I was there for David.
When 7 o’clock rolled around and the two authors took their places, it was Hannah who went to the reading podium first. She’s a tall girl with long, dark hair and a slightly imposing voice, so when she started talking I honestly wasn’t paying too much attention. Hannah explained that her book is about a girl named Nora who goes missing, and a couple of boys fantasize about what might have happened to her. Then she started reading, and I couldn’t take my eyes away from her.
In the portion she read, she unfurled a tale of a girl who got pregnant and fled her small town in embarrassment, and winds up married to an older Mexican man and raising twins. She’s not happy, but she’s not sad either, almost indifferent in the direction her life took. The stability is comforting, and the Mexican cherishes her kids, yet she can’t help but wonder about the people she left behind. It’s a dark tale, one I fully intend to read in future.
Next came David, promoting his new novel The Lover’s Dictionary. In explaining the premise of the book, he said he literally opened a dictionary and picked a word a page, and used the words as inspiration for snippets and insights into one couple’s relationship. The entire book is laid out in these short dictionary entries and follows no chronological order, yet when you finish the book, you’re supposed to have a full understanding of their relationship. The entries range from single sentences to a couple pages, laugh-out-loud funny to heartbreaking. His reading encompassed one word per letter, and the emotions I felt in those few minutes ran the full gamut, fully aided by his masterful reading skills (I’ve never seen a more engaging author reading his work before). Another book I’ll have to buy very soon, because I can’t get it out of my head.
The real treat came when the two sat down to talk. They began by asking one another questions about the other’s work, which brought out some really intriguing insights not normally revealed at such events where questions are audience driven (since the same ones are usually asked, no matter the author… Where do you get your ideas? What advice do you have for young writers?). They’d never met before, but had a surprisingly natural chemistry together that was intoxicating to watch. And both were so articulate about their work, in such a way it almost made me nervous to think of my own (hopefully) eventual book tours and the kinds of answers I’m going to have to come up with. Will I be able to dissect and analyze what I wrote with such intelligence and thought?
Most any author event is worth going to, though not all of them leave you with such inspiration flowing through your veins. I loved hearing David in particular talk about his writing habits, and how he always likes to work with challenges. With Will Grayson, Will Grayson, the collaboration had him and his writing partner writing blind of one another’s work for the first few chapters before they came together to figure out what they had. On The Lover’s Dictionary, he went through the dictionary and pulled out words and formed a fully realized relationship between two people with only these short entries to work with. His next novel is a different sort of collaboration altogether, where a photographer friend of his would give him a random picture and he’d have to form a story around it. He continued to receive random photos throughout the writing and had to incorporate them into the book. David never knew what photo he’d get, and his friend never saw what he was writing, so they wouldn’t be able to influence each other. Brilliant writing challenge, and changing it up with every project helps maintain the freshness of his work, which is surely a factor of his success.
Now I’m going to have to invest in his backlog of work, as well as Hannah’s debut. I truly recommend checking out both. Here’s David’s website, twitter and facebook, as well as a link to Hannah’s book on Amazon (I haven’t found any web presence for her just yet!).
Kyle W. Kerr
Wide Release: March 4, 2011
Rango is a slightly neurotic chameleon who gets lost from his owner on a trip through the desert. He’s been alone for a long time and doesn’t really know how to act around other “people,” though his penchant for theatricality gets him into dangerous territory when he runs afoul of some nefarious gangster-types in the animal run town of Dirt. There’s a shortage of water and most of the town’s inhabitants had to sell their land in order to survive. But when Rango comes in and claims to be a vigilante who killed seven bandit brothers (with one bullet, no less), he unexpectedly finds himself appointed sheriff and has to play the part in order to protect the town’s inhabitants.
Johnny Depp voices Rango with the deftness of the great character actor he is. He’s able to switch back and forth between eccentric and tragic, fearless and lonely. Though his is the only developed character in the movie. Isla Fisher (Wedding Crashers, Confessions of a Shopaholic) plays Bean, another reptile trying to keep her late father’s farm afloat. She’s fierce, and has a weird habit of freezing during stressful situations (literally, she just freezes in place and can’t move, some sort of defense mechanism?). You also have a corrupt government official and a wicked rattlesnake whose bloodlust is only outweighed by his two-dimensionality.
I guess the story was cute (especially for the youngins), and the graphics were great for a special effects studio who’s never done a full-length animated feature before (ILM, who did CGI work for Iron Man, Harry Potter, Transformers, Terminator, the list goes on). But the whole thing felt stilted to me after a while. I was mildly curious about the ending, but got bored midway through. And about three-quarters through the movie, Rango has an existential hallucination akin to the desert/stone crab scene in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (if you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about), and couldn’t help but wonder if director Gore Verbinski has run out of ideas… Maybe that’s a little harsh, but nothing in this movie felt original.
It’s a decent movie to see if you’ve got some kiddies to take (to be fair, the kids in the audience laughed a lot and seemed to enjoy it), but save it for your To Be Rented pile otherwise.
Kyle W. Kerr
The premise of this book is really what drew me to it. Authors David Levithan and John Green co-wrote the novel, each writing about a separate teenage boy who both happen to have the same name, Will Grayson. They don’t know one another, but after a few chapters their lives converge at pivotal moments for each of them.
Will Grayson is trying to find his place within the social castes of his high school. His best friend is Tiny Cooper, an imposingly sized, flamboyantly gay football player who falls in and out of love faster than most people can blink and always tends to steal the show. He also befriends Jane, a member of the GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) who turns out not to be a lesbian but isn’t exactly free, either, which proves to be an unfortunate complication when Will decides he likes her. He feels unappreciated as a friend, pressured by his parents to pursue their idea of the perfect career, and doesn’t know how to navigate his life as it seems to spiral around him.
will grayson hates life. he only has one friend, maura, who also hates life, and they only hang out because they have nothing better to do. will lives alone with his mother, his father out of the picture. they’re poor and he has to work to help pay the bills. the only thing good in his life is isaac, a boy his age he met in an online chatroom, and they happen to be in love. no one in his life knows he’s gay, but the two arrange to meet face-to-face for the first time after a year, and will heads to chicago with breathless anticipation. but his happiness is only short-lived.*
The boys meet at a porn store in downtown Chicago, and their lives are changed forevermore.
I think you can see what I mean by an intriguing premise. The authors agreed on the structure of writing about two boys with the same name, that they would be in high school, and that they would equally write half of the book (alternating chapters). They went off and wrote the first couple chapters of their own Will Grayson/will grayson’s story without talking to one another about what they would write, then convened once they were done.
The resulting product is a mash-up of friendship and love, angst and depression. You can’t depend just on yourself in life, and sometimes the people you rely on disappoint and hurt you, but sometimes the ugly precedes the good.
I didn’t know how it’d like this book, but ended it with that happy sign of satisfaction that comes from finishing a good book. The characters have stuck with me in the couple weeks since, and it’s one of those stories you wish you could continue reading, if even for just another couple pages… but alas.
Both authors have written numerous other books, and I will delight in perusing them in future.
*David Levithan wrote his will grayson chapters completely in lowercase. I can’t find the interview I read about it in, but it’s supposedly because the character thinks so little of himself that he doesn’t think he deserves it (capitalization). Very unique!
Kyle W. Kerr