I’m still fascinated by the potential of stories that come out of subways

Millions of people ride the subways each day, and many of them read English. In fact, you’ll see many of them are deep into books as they’re transported. Yet I’m surprised how little writing reflects this experience. Where else can you see so much humanity sitting right in front of you or dashing past?

Well, my Subway Visions tries to convey my experiences, real and imagined.

Two significant nonfiction books are Jennifer Toth’s 1993 The Mole People, based on her year of reporting on the plight of the homeless people who took to living in the tunnels under Manhattan in the Reagan years, and Jacqueline Cangro’s The Subway Chronicles, a collection of essays by the likes of Jonathan Lethem, Francine Prose, Calvin Trillin, and Lawrence Block. By the way, Block admits a fondness for including subway scenes in his prolific output of novels.

My survey of ebooks at Smashwords has added others to the list, not all of them in New York City. One tells of a year playing music in New York’s stations. Another of collecting umbrellas in Tokyo. There is a fondness for seeing the underground as the gates of hell, with one volume in particular standing out as a masterful fantasy that’s meticulously researched.

To see what I’ve found and my reactions, go to the reviews at my Jnana Hodson at Smashwords page.

Got any related transportation books to recommend? Trains, buses, airplanes? Other?

 

New Adult should be a much more popular genre

When I was reflecting on genres for my novels What’s Left and Nearly Canaan, I found myself perplexed that Young Adult Fiction is geared mainly for preteens and early teens. Nothing adult about the books at all. What happened to Truth in Advertising? And that’s before getting to the reality that a preponderance of the books falls into romance, fantasy, paranormal, sci fi, or some mixture of them. The master John Green seems to be the big exception.

The genre Coming of Age is too cliché, especially when a work stretches into the main character’s 30s, but I am intrigued by what happens to many young adults in their years between college and raising children. For some, it’s a pretty intense struggle of establishing a career and a solid partnership, one where values also are in conflict.

That’s what I would expect of the New Adult category. Instead, it’s typically more romance, fantasy, paranormal, and sci fi, straight or blended. Especially Romance.

So where would the big books of broader content go?

As my reviews at my Jnana Hodson at Smashwords page reveal, I’m not averse to reading good entries in the genre – some are actually quite delightful and instructive. It’s just that I keep hoping for more that stretch higher.

Got any New Adult books to recommend?

Looking for more fiction revolving around yoga

My Yoga Bootcamp novel, and its earlier incarnation, Ashram, seem to sit in a rather slim niche on the bookshelf. There’s simply not a lot of fiction reflecting the experience. Devan Malore’s The Churning is among the exceptions.

Most of the books I’m finding are nonfiction, often dry doctrinaire texts from the perspective of a particular lineage. For that matter, relatively little is about the physical exercises, or hatha yoga.

With the fiction I have found, a handful books have yoga as central to the events, and each one is different. Not all of them head off to India, either. Some have a strong element of fantasy, while others are about living in the everyday world, often humorously. Well, and then there’s romance. I still think there’s more to be told, given the popularity of the practice.

For the particulars of what I’ve read, go to the reviews at my Jnana Hodson at Smashwords page.

Got any related books to recommend?

Envisioning your reader

One of the basic bits of advice given to a writer is to envision your reader. It’s one that’s always troubled me, though. Could it be because I carry multiple identities as a writer? Poet, novelist, Quaker, retired journalist, with overlapping interests?

As a poet, I can’t describe the audience that shows up for a reading — the individuals seem to represent all types. Picture my readers? They could be anywhere in the subway car I’m riding!

OK, maybe it’s a younger, or at least more hip, crowd, but not entirely.

Continue reading “Envisioning your reader”

Trying to deal with a foreign language

When we have foreign guests staying with us, I have to watch is the need to speak slower and more distinctly. (Well, that’s obviously on hold during the Covid outbreak, though we have heard from one back in China assuring us she’s fine.) The exchanges can start to sound comical, even before I face the difficult challenge of using smaller words. Me? Smaller words? Look, we have more than 200,000 in the English language for a reason!

You can imagine our situation when they’re Chinese students here for a month or so as they volunteer at ono-profits internships. Somehow, shorter visits just don’t seem to rise to the more complex communications.

~*~

My daily Spanish lessons raise the translation issues from an opposite direction, but I think I’ve crossed an important threshold there, one that goes beyond vocabulary.

Have you noticed how a spoken language becomes a musical line rather than individual words? My wife remembers her shock learning that “come on” was two words, not one, as in “cumon.”

When the Duolingo voice tells me, “Type what you hear,” I know to write what I’m supposed to hear rather than what I actually encounter at fast speed.

You could say that in common usage our sentences lose all of the spaces between words. In Spanish I sometimes notice this more as a rhythm across where a word should be between two other words rather than hearing that word or even a letter itself.

Somethinglikethispoorexample.

Rather. Than. Some. Thing. Like. This.

I’m also noticing that the endings of some words are vanishing, as they do in so much French, especially a final “s.”

Must happen in English, too, ‘cept we just take it for granted and naturally fill in the meaning.

Now, as for all of those hearing-aid solicitations I keep getting in the mail? I doubt they’d help my Spanish any.

What do you have to say here? (Please type slowly and distinctly.)

Apparently, Tolstoy never knew about kefi

In my novel What’s Left, Cassia’s clan wasn’t like a typical happy family. Hers was more like a hippie circus extending from the restaurant they jointly owned and operated. Much of their joy sprang from the fact they were different.

Only when tragic events rocked their course did they begin to resemble others around them.

It’s an inversion of Tolstoy’s great opening to Anna Karenina.

Likewise, their road to recovery includes their distinctive application of kefi, a Greek approach to living that defies precise translation. Still, I try in my novel. Cassia’s aunt Pia embodies it.

What would you suggest as a secret to happiness?

Do we really mean the same thing?

I’ve had to learn the hard way that a word can mean something quite dissimilar for two people. Sometimes it’s based on assumptions or misunderstandings. Sometimes, on deliberate deception.

Either way, one person can be deeply injured by the outcome.

Take “I love you” as an example.

A used car is in “perfect condition.”

“I’ll be right there.”

In the hippie era, we had a raft of phrases that glossed over differences – “Hey, I’m cool with that,” “Don’t hassle me,” “I dig,” “Chill out.” Meaning?

It comes up especially with “God” or even “peace.”

There are plenty of other examples, some of them keeping lawyers in business.

What’s one from your own experience?

 

Why settle on one explanation?

In developing sections of The Secret Side of Jaya, a novel upcoming this fall, I found myself applying a technique I’d developed in a genealogical project. There, as I had conflicting accounts regarding a specific instance or detail, rather than trying to lean toward one over the other, I let them all stand in contrast to each other. Sometimes there were two sources, sometimes three, each seeing a person or event quite differently.

It makes me recall the way forest fires are located from lookout towers. Each observer has a horizontal azimuth for determining the direction of the fire from the tower. Once two other lookouts can zero in on the plume of smoke or the flames, the position can be triangulated on a map and forest firefighters dispatched. My technique resembles looking along that line and seeing what comes in front of the fire and what lies beyond.

By acknowledging the different observers in my stories and histories, I also allow for the wider terrain and error in positions. (The smoke might be rising from an unseen valley or be blown by wind.) In these applications, I feel the alternatives make for a richer, more lifelike story.

Well, that’s how it looks from here.