Archive | October, 2007

The Historian

24 Oct

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Last night, I dreamed Dracula poisoned my dog. I don’t really have a dog nor do I believe in Dracula, but apparently Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian has left a deeper impression on my subconscious than I realized.

 

Earlier in the evening, I had attended my monthly book club meeting to discuss Kostova’s novel with my friends. Our hostess provided a Hungarian dinner with spicy goulash, a pungent cucumber salad, and a really garlicky flat bread that was enough to protect us all from the local vampires! Yum! For dessert we had apple strudel from the hostess’ favorite German deli. Oh how I love books, food, and friends all mixed together along with such stimulating conversation! It is truly one of the small pleasures of life that I relish.

 

As for the book, I have to say that I didn’t take pleasure in it at first. If I hadn’t been reading it for my book club, I might have lost interest in it, put it down, and never picked it up again. But I was determined to get through the 642 pages in order to preserve my honor with my girlfriends. Thank goodness I persevered because in the end, I thoroughly enjoyed this literary novel once I figured out what was going on. The first read through, I was twenty chapters into the book when I realized I was entirely lost. With all the flipping back and forth between characters, locations, and time frames, I didn’t know who was having what experience where. I ended up calling a friend in my book club and she straightened me out. This is definitely not a book one can read in a distracted state of mind I learned—it requires the full attention of the reader. I decided to start all over, this time taking copious notes so I could track the complex plot. Thirty-three pages later, I can say that taking notes was the only way I was able to navigate this book successfully.

 

Having said that, I think the book was well written and the impeccable research was what made the story plausible. For readers who love books, libraries, history and scholarship, this book is for you.  No doubt, the book was demanding in many ways, but this intricacy is what I felt made the read so satisfying for me in the end. Reading two novels back to back, both with nameless protagonists, was taxing on me as a reader, but it really placed me in the protagonist’s shoes. Kostova says she left her protagonist “unnamed as a literary experiment” She “wanted to see if [she] could give her a full personality without the handle of a name.” I think she accomplished that goal successfully.

There were times when I felt the book was overly heavy on the research–like the author was trying to include every fact she had ever uncovered about Vlad Tepes. At times, I found myself wondering, Are all these details necessary and significant? But shortly after asking myself that question, I could see that yes, everything the author included did enhance or propel the plot forward. Personally, I think The Historian is a work of genius. In this day and age, it is rare to find such depth in contemporary fiction. I applaud Kostova wholeheartedly for taking the time to write such a well-researched historical novel.

 

I’ve discovered after searching around on the internet that Elizabeth Kostova is a woman after my own heart. She pursued an MFA while she was writing The Historian! One of my friends mentioned that she thought she was a mother of three children, too which would definitely place her on my nomination list for the Brainy Mama Hall of Fame. I’d love to meet this woman sometime. I wonder if she’s coming to Denver anytime soon?

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Apparently, it took Kostova ten years to write this book so it sounds like she is a “slow cooker” writer like me. I’m always interested in the process of writing and this is what Kostova said about her experience in writing The Historian:

 I just wrote whenever I could. Each day, I looked at the next day’s schedule and tried to figure out where I could find time to write. Sometimes that was 20 minutes in a day, and I wrote what I could get done in 20 minutes. Sometimes that was four hours, and that was blissful. I really had to learn to be very flexible.I think in a way that was a great lesson for me.

Sometimes I had to get up very early in the morning. One summer, I was working hard and I wrote from 5 to 7:30 every morning. Often I wrote late at night. For instance, if I was on a trip I took a notebook and wrote a scene or two long hand. I wrote in waiting rooms, doctors’ offices, red lights… wherever I could. 

I love it! (We could be kindred writing spirits, Elizabeth and I!) She also enjoys reading many of the same authors I do and seems to have a similar reading style to mine. She says:

I’m always reading something. I’m kind of an undisciplined reader in that I’m always reading three or four things. I read rather slowly. I tend to read for craft and for the pleasure of language as much story.

Kostova is only four years older than me and has led the enviable traveling and scholarly life that I’ve always dreamed of. (Sigh!) But she has also paid the price to write an engaging novel and that is inspiring to me. Her efforts paid off with a 2 million dollar contract, movie rights, and her book translated into 28 languages. I’m not fond of gore or horror, but Kostova’s suspenseful, tasteful, and historical novel turned out to be the perfect intellectual read for October.

  

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Pushing Through Fear

14 Oct

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Yesterday we celebrated my husband’s 41st birthday by going to SkyVenture, an indoor skydiving place here in Highlands Ranch. We went to SkyVenture last year for his 40th birthday and had a blast. This time, it was just my 17-year-old son Josh, my husband Bryan, and I who decided to “fly.” Our first experience skydiving last year was incredible with our instructor Rusty. He helped us feel secure and safe under his guidance. I was so excited to try skydiving again.

 I thought since I had done this before that I would remember how to hold my body in the proper position. My first turn in the wind tunnel proved that I did not remember! I kept losing control and banging up against the wall or flying upwards out of the reach of the instructor. I was petrified, but of course, I couldn’t scream or tell the instructor I wanted out NOW! I had no choice but to keep trying. The instructor kept giving me hand signals, the guy in the control booth kept giving me signals, and the television screen in front of me had commands written in big bold letters saying: BEND LEGS, LIFT CHIN. I seriously thought I was going to be sucked up and out of the wind tunnel. I was wimpering, but I was the only one who could hear it. I felt like I was in survival mode. I truly believed I was going to die. I just wanted my minute and forty seconds to come to an end.

 As soon as I was done with my first flight, I sat on the bench shaking uncontrollably. I honestly did not want to go back in a second time. But then, I thought about my youngest daughter, Beth who is dealing with some anxiety issues right now. I remembered all the times I thought, Why can’t she just get over it? As my heart was pounding and my mind was racing with irrational thoughts, I also remembered my snorkeling experience in Hawaii years ago and how I had let my fears rob me of what could have been an amazing experience. I could see my daughter sitting out in the viewing area watching me. She waved and smiled at me and I knew I just couldn’t let her down. I had to find a way to push through my fear even though I wanted to quit.

My husband and son of course, had no problems in the wind tunnel. Both of them were so confident and didn’t seem to have any reservations at all. In fact, they were totally enjoying the experience while I, on the other hand, was full of panic and dread. While I perceived skydiving as a risky and dangerous event, both of them felt exhilerated and ready for more. It was one of those moments when I had to reach deep within myself and give myself a pep talk. After rationalizing that no, I would not be sucked up and out of the wind tunnel (because the instructor told us the wind dies off about eight feet up) and reminding myself to keep my chin up, I entered the wind tunnel a second time.

My second flight was much better as I tried to relax and change my perception of the experience. I focused on the instructor’s hand signals and was more successful at balancing my body on the wind. Then without warning, the instructor grabbed my arm and leg and whirled me up around and around then back down again several times. I couldn’t protest and tell him that I get dizzy easily or that I don’t like moving so fast. All I could do was trust and hope that I would end up safe and sound on the ground again and of course, I did.

Am I ready to go skydiving again? Well, maybe not anytime soon 🙂 Perhaps next year, when that dreaded feeling of apprehension has faded, I’ll only remember the thrill of pushing myself past my comfort zone and triumphing over my desire to flee in the face of perceived danger.