Journal Entry #10

#10, January 26, 2008

Jane Eyre is one of the novels I never got to during my school years. It's been on my reading list for half a century. Recently, I received an invitation to attend a local book club, and Jane Eyre was the book of the month. The novel, of course, deserves its classic status, but I was struck by the stylistic differences between it and a modern novel. Writing today, Charlotte Bronte would have to fix the dialog (Characters sometimes go on for the better part of a page), and cut back on the literary and biblical allusions. People just don't talk that way anymore. If they ever did. Jane, by the way, is the smartest 18-year-old I've ever encountered.

The novel is, of course, a powerhouse. I kept coming away from it outraged at the behavior of Mrs. Reed and her kids, and the idiot who ran the religious school, and St. John, and a few others. I've always felt that one way to gauge the effectiveness of a piece of fiction is how annoyed you get with some of the characters. But occasionally, Bronte plays games. Jane, lost and alone, stumbles around a town that won't take her in, won't provide a meal, won't do anything for her. She's near death when rescue finally arrives. She's 18 at the time. I tried to imagine a teenage girl left in such circumstances. Weren't there even any guys in that town?

Bronte repeatedly refers to Jane's plainness. I couldn't buy that either. She's extremely bright, and obviously animated. Those qualities are going to show up in her eyes. There's no indication that any of her features have gone awry, no big ears and no extra 100 pounds. So you add a smile to what we know, and she has to look good. No 18-year-old female packing what she obviously has is going to look plain.

Incidentally, I was the only male present at the book club meeting. One of the young women commented that they can't find guys who read. My advice to single guys: Hang out at libraries. It reminded me how much I like SF cons, where everybody's a reader. Sometimes you forget that a vanishingly small percentage of the US population actually reads a book during the course of a year. That might explain a few things.

Chicago journalist Sam Weller has given us The Bradbury Chronicles. It's a perceptive and emotional ride through the grandmaster's life. And instructive for anyone who aspires to write. Persistence helps. But I guess ultimately there's no substitute for sheer talent. When you read Bradbury's fiction, it's impossible to imagine he was ever clumsy. Anyhow, if you're a Bradbury fan — who among us isn't? — , this one is well worth picking up.

Spent part of the day yesterday with A. E. Housman. My favorite poet. I've been reading Elaine Pagels' Beyond Belief, which is an account of the struggles among the early Christians to establish a unified dogma. Pagels uses the gospel of Thomas, discovered in Egypt in 1945, to demonstrate some of the divisions. Then I came across Housman's "Easter Hymn." After spending so much time with people convinced they were being guided by a higher power, I came close to understanding how you could come to believe that.

Our computer was in the hospital until yesterday and we were offline for a week. Curiously, on the day we took the computer in, we also lost our landlines, and the cell phone died. This at a time when the cell phone outlet had just moved and we didn't know where. It felt a little as if we were living in the 19th century. With a TV, though.

My last act with the computer before shutting it down was to finish "Molly's Kids," a story for the Lou Anders anthology, Fast Forward II. Actually, I'd finished the story, or so I thought, the day before, and asked Maureen to read it. (That's our standard procedure. Get a second pair of eyes to take a look.) She didn't like the way it ended. I was uncomfortable with it too, but for different reasons than she had. Eventually, I added four pages for a climax that is directly opposite to the original plan. In case anyone's wondering, the story's about the first launch to Alpha Centauri. The ship is completely automated and will take several thousand years to get to its destination.

When I was in college, back in the fifties, a friend suggested I see a British film, "The Ladykillers." I think I'd heard of Alex Guinness. Certainly had no idea who Peter Sellers was. But I went, and it was another of those life-altering experiences. I fell in love with British comedy, with Alistair Sim and Terry-Thomas and movies like "Lucky Jim" and the St Trinian's films. Unfortunately, in the next decade, they changed and began playing for American audiences and lost much of the tone that had made them priceless.

Last evening our local library sponsored a showing of "The Ladykillers" out on the island. We went, and I was surprised to discover the theater was jammed. The film was every bit as good as I remember it. But Maureen and I were among the youngest people in the building. The local kids don't know about these guys. What a pity.

We're approaching the end of January, which is the time of year I usually start writing a novel. This would be a book that will appear in November 2009. (The Devil's Eye, an Alex Benedict mystery, will be out toward the end of this year.) Usually by now I have a good idea what the project will be. People disappearing out of a starship, or a flight to the galactic core, or whatever. I have to confess that, at the moment, I haven't a clue.

— Jack

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