Category Archives: Thoughts on Reading

Words turn into pictures, when does it work?

Greetings again faithful readers,

(What can I say? I like old-fashioned phrases) I thought about what to say this month for a while. There are some big changes coming here at Distinguished Press but I ultimately decided this is neither the time nor the place. As for me, like everyone else I’m working on Xmas shopping (I buy what I can online), hoping snow doesn’t show up for a while (I lie, we’ve already had some here but thankfully it melted) and of course anxiously awaiting the new Star Wars movie (which I’ve had tickets for since October). Aside from all that I’m editing, doing blog posts, interviews and of course writing to you now.

WinterisComingStarWars

Which brings me back on point. With all the comic-book movies and TV shows I got to thinking, what is the successful formula for turning a book/comic book into a movie/TV show? I’ve seen hundreds of movies, my wife and I usually go at least 2 a month (often more) and I watch lots more on Netflix. If there’s a book I love, I often check to see if it was or will be made into a movie or TV show. I’m also a huge comic book fan, so the past 14 years it’s been a steady flow of comic book movie/TV shows/novelization movies, so I’ve had plenty of opportunities to compare, admire and contrast.

LOTRTrilogyPoster

There are so many I can’t go through them all but I think I have to start with Lord of the Rings. This is perhaps the most well known fantasy novel series ever, they have been around for almost 80 years and have inspired countless writers, other stories, toys, authors and also an enduring (and immensely fun) game called Dungeons and Dragons. I’ve read and loved them since I was a child and studied them in high school and university. Suffice it to say I was very pleased to see them turned into movies.

When I watched them I knew I couldn’t help but compare them to the books, there were differences and changes I didn’t like. Overall though Peter Jackson did a marvelous job, I fell in love with the story all over again as I saw the people, creatures and stories I loved so much brought to life. Then there came the plan that the Hobbit (the prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy) would be made into not one, not two but three movies!?!? For those that don’t know the Hobbit was written for Tolkien’s children, it was the shortest of the novels and certainly did not have enough material for three films.

Of course they said they would invent new material, take stuff from other Tolkien material and the appendices at the back the Hobbit, but really I knew the truth, 3 movies means a hell of a lot more money than 1. Don’t get me wrong I watched all three of them and I enjoyed them but I knew the truth, Jackson wanted get paid to do 3 movies and forced the story to fit. Sure the story of the Hobbit is there but it could have be easily told in 3-3.5 hours, not 8.

BooksVSMovies

Let’s take a different example where (at least so far) it wasn’t stretched out and an obvious example of Hollywood greed. I dearly love Batman (as you may know if you’re read my books The Newfoundland Vampire and Killer on the Road, both are on sale now for 99 cents!) and I was thrilled when my favorite comic-book story of his (well Frank Miller but you know what I mean) The Dark Knight Returns, would be made into an animated movie (I’m also very excited for the upcoming Batman VS Superman movie, which is also supposed to be loosely based on the comic). I loved this comic, I’ve read it many times and I think the movie (which was split into two parts as the comic is that long) was a masterpiece. I wouldn’t dare spoil the story if you’re unfamiliar with it, if you want to see story converted right into film, this animated movie is the one to see.

DarkKnightReturns

I had a big discussion on this with a friend of mine. What’s the best thing for a director/producer/movie company to do? Be extremely faithful to the source material or due your own interpretation? I think being too slavish to the book/comic can be a determent (though as a fan I love it when that actually happens). Some things are just not able to be filmed and I know that a movie is supposed to make money, in many cases the general public hasn’t read the book/comic and they don’t care how faithful it is. Then there are the big fans who will scrutinize the movie for not being close enough to the source (and I know I do that sometimes).  I think ultimately it’s a compromise between what is in the source material and what will work/be successful on screen.

To bring it home, what do you think about movies based on your favorite stories? Do you clamor for more or think enough is enough? I’m always willing to give them a chance and always want more. And I can dream, I know it would be a dream come true if one of my books was ever made into a movie/TV show/play. I know there would be changes but as long as the important parts stayed I’d be happy, well that is as long as I was getting paid…kidding! The struggle between creativity/integrity/money is a topic for another time, until then I’ll eagerly await Batman and catch up on a really good show based on a comic called Jessica Jones (which is on Netflix now, don’t let your young children see it though!). Until then I bid you all good night.

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This ‘n’ That

Almost too tired to write this up, to be honest, but here we go. It’s the start of another school year, and that leaves me with so little time and energy to write, edit, or anything remotely related. Not even blogging, obviously, since it’s been over a month since my last entry.

Kids are good. Quite a few are actually big, big readers, and they’ve been drooling over my classroom library with over 2,000 books and checking them out like they’re going out of style. I’ve had some kids make recommendations of books they’ve read and enjoyed, and their eyes about pop out of their heads when I flip open the iPad and One-Click them right then and there. So that’s fun.

One series I’ve started adding to the library on student recommendation is the Surviving Southside books. It’s a series of very intense hi-lo books–books with young adult protagonists that are written at lower reading levels for struggling readers. It stands for “high interest/low readability,” and they are a lifesaver for teachers of reluctant readers. Anyway, the first one, entitled Beaten, is about a teen girl who winds up in an abusive relationship. I read it, and I felt the topic was dealt with honestly and sensitively, providing positive, hopeful information and without sensationalizing the subject. I’ve already ordered the next few on the strength of that. My own interest was piqued by the fact the books in the series are all written by different authors.

I have an author event lined up in October at my local public library. Pretty pumped about that. They do tons of publicity in the libraries and online, so that’s exciting and a little embarrassing. It’ll involve some Q&A, a read-aloud, and book sales. I imagine it’ll also involve treats of some kind if I want kids to come out (and I do.) I’m thinking of having some bookmarks and posters made with the book cover on them for publicity and for give-aways. The big deal, though, is that it means real, actual books made of paper, and I’m going to be a screaming mess when those babies come in the mail!

I also realized a couple of days ago that National Novel Writing Month is just around the corner again. I made such a mixed-up hash of the second Were-Children novel last November by not writing in any particular order that I was hesitant to sign up again this year. Then I remembered how enjoyable it was to attend the write-ins and meet folks, that I decided I would. This time around, though, I’m going to be a “plotter,” rather than a “pantser,” I think. What I have in mind is a series of hi-lo science fiction shorts–eight or ten books–that I’ll write all as one thing to reach the 50,000 words. I figure it’s my “novel,” and I can make it what I want, right? I’m spending September and October doing some outlining, researching, and note-taking so I’m ready to go for that. It’s a long slog, and it seems brutal and relentless at the time, but it sure feels good to have it done. I’ve always gone by the Dorothy Parker quote: “I hate writing. I love having written.”

It takes five things to make a list, doesn’t it? Hrm. Okay. Here’s a picture of my dog.
luna

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Why I Want To Be Successful

One of my favorite joys as a professor is writing a student a wonderful letter of recommendation. That’s one of the surprises for which no one prepares you. I love the moments when a hard-working (we hope) student walks through my office door and asks politely and hesitantly, “Do you think you could write me a letter of recommendation?”

I smile and nod. “My pleasure.”

And it truly is. I get to work with the next generation of ambitious leaders as they pursue their dream jobs, and there is little else that gives me the satisfaction of being able to help them achieve that. And not just through classroom lessons, but through that essential reference, the teacher communicating with a future employer and saying, “You’ve got a great candidate here.”

My first novel, Rabbit in Red, releases on September 29. I wake up every morning and pinch myself. “Is this really happening?” But it’s terrifying, too. I ask myself, “Do I need this? Do I really want this?” People are going to see the inside of my head! There will be critics—oh, so many critics! Can I handle all of that?

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One of my college classes. I’m in the back with the maroon shirt. This is my dream job!

Yes. The answer is yes because I think of the smile on a student’s face after they read the rave review I had written for them. I’ve worked hard to be in a position where I am lucky to help others get to where they want to be. I’m lucky to already have my dream job. But I made the decision to never stop developing and chasing new dreams. I set a goal to be a published author, and now it’s happening. I hope for success, of course, but I have to ask: “Why do I want to be successful as an author?” It’s not ego or pride, is it?

No, it’s more than that.

I dream not (just) of being on a bestseller list (although of course I’d be thrilled!). I dream of a day when I can help other writers and artists accomplish their dreams. Isn’t that what would be the absolute coolest thing about being J.K. Rowling or Stephen King? They could get on a Twitter account any hour of any day and make someone a bestseller with a single tweet. Can you imagine?

Oh, I’m sure it’s a terrible pressure, too. But what a beautiful gift.

That’s also why I’ve fallen in love with my publishing home at Distinguished Press. We fight for ourselves, sure, but we’re also fighting for one another. I’ve told my students that when we collaborate with others, when we strive to help others, then we also help ourselves.

If we fight for the success of others, then we, too, will find success.

One day I hope that I possess the beautiful gift of recommending an artist to the world and consequently am able to help that artist achieve all of his or her dreams. THAT is my dream.

Fan art for Rabbit in Red, which releases on September 29!

Fan art for Rabbit in Red, which releases on September 29!

I’ll look back on all the enthusiastic people that have always been my side, and I’ll do anything I can to help them out.

That’s why I want to be successful. That’s why I fight to share my first book with the world and hope to share a dozen more.

I’ll hope you be with me as I take my first steps as a published author.

About the author: Joe Chianakas, 36, teaches communication at Illinois Central College. His first published novel, Rabbit in Red, releases on September 29. Like him on Facebook here, and follow him on Twitter for the latest exciting news!

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How Pregnancy Changed My Writing

In early March I experienced a very strange moment. My breasts had been hurting for a couple days, and when I mentioned it to a friend her immediate response had been to ask, “Are you pregnant?”

Well, I stared at the computer screen for awhile with this dulled, blank look on my face as the consequences of potentially being pregnant washed over me. There were the sort of concerns and fears most people have about being able to afford having a child, health insurance, and (selfishly) how it would change my life if my life wasn’t about me anymore. Would I even be a good mother? I’m a great mom to fur babies, but a human baby is completely different. I’d be responsible for raising a child who would have to interact with society. No pressure.

I’d never felt so many emotions as we drove to the store to stock up on pregnancy tests. Excitement. Fear. The purest of both that I’ve ever felt. We talked about names, jokingly, because joking is how we both deal with stress. I barricaded myself in the bathroom and drank glass after glass of water, and then I called him to the door. I didn’t say a word as he opened it, but he lit up when he said, “Are we having a baby? Oh my God, we’re having a baby, aren’t we?”

I told him I wanted more cold water. Yes, I survived that moment.

I didn’t call him to the door, however, when my bladder was so full I had almost no choice except to pee on the stick. I instead had a private little meltdown by myself that involved a few tears, lots of smiling, and borderline hyperventilating. I had a freaking tiny human growing in me who was utterly reliant on me. I was pregnant.

Before I became pregnant, it seemed like the half-assed way to add drama to a story. Dare I say…the easy way out? PREGNANT would always illicit an eye roll from me, even when it came from the best authors. Gwen in The Kiss of the Highlander by KMM? Blech. The mention of Xhex possibly being pregnant after being raped by Lash was marginally better, although (SPOILER ALERT) she wasn’t. It was with some (many) reservations that I decided to incorporate pregnancy into one of my upcoming novels. I loathe to be a  hypocrite, but was convinced that the end justified the means when it came to moving the development of the character forward. My understanding of pregnancy itself had been shallow and superficial. I greatly underestimated the experience. Perhaps that’s part of why it’s been sitting on my shelf, untouched, while people clamor for this sequel.

I’ve met a version of myself I never knew existed. One who swings through phases of eating all-organic and dotes on onesies before catapulting to the nearest Cinnabon, and laments her misery over a caramel pecanbon to whoever will listen. I’ve become multifaceted to the point of almost multiple personalities. My pregnancy hasn’t been terrible, although neither has it been smooth. My normally dormant Tietze Syndrome has become the bane of my existence and I endure pain 24/7, and my IBD is at war with most of my pregnancy cravings. Being pregnant had never been a viable “excuse” before in regard to how people acted. Now I’m riding a roller coaster where censoring myself into staying well-behaved is…hard. Just today, as I sat trying on my first ever pair of Crocs, some kids walked by and shouted into the store at me. It took almost more self-control than I could muster to not go running after them and berate them. I’m six months pregnant, my feet hurt, and you think it’s smart to mock me trying on Crocs? I’ll show you, you little whippersnappers! In fact, the only thing I think stopping me was the fact that my feet hurt too much to chase after them.

The Red Wedding in Game of Thrones is my worst nightmare. In my head I’m already reacting to situations with the sole interests of protecting the unborn young who is brutally hiccuping and kicking me when I’m trying to sleep. A car accident is my most immediate concern, and it’s constantly on my mind. I’d like to say I’m driving like a grandma, except I think we all know old folk are rather…reckless when they’re on the road. My own grandmother could drive blocker for a truck of illegal Coors. I was reading a book a week ago where the female MC learned she was pregnant, and didn’t tell the father on the basis that his previous (and likewise pregnant) fiancee had been shot dead by the mob. Before pregnancy I would’ve just rolled my eyes until they spun right out of my head. How cliche, how ridiculous. But now? It hit me right in the fucking feels. While I might not be pregnant with the spawn of a mobster (I try to take what blessings I find), I could understand. Or, perhaps a better way to phrase it, I finally understood.

I still intend for my character to be pregnant. I intend it more than ever now because instead of thinking it will change her a certain way, I know for a fact it will. And it will make my story fantastic.

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In Defense of Bess Marvin

As I’ve said many times before, I was a huge Nancy Drew fan when I was a middle-school reader. Nancy had it all and could do it all. This summer, since I own the first 55 of the originals, I re-read this precious and well-loved series.

And I came away disappointed. Not so much because of Nancy, although she can be a bit cloying to my adult sensibilities, but because of a character I have absolutely come to loathe: George Fayne. George, often touted by modern feminist writers for her traditional boys’ name and her bravery and athleticism, is, in short, a mean and horrible person. And she’s especially a mean and horrible person to her cousin, Bess Marvin.

So let’s talk about Bess for a bit. Bess is the girly-girl femme friend of the intrepid sleuth. She’s the one who is slightly plump, not as athletic as the others, and much more cautious. Let’s look at each of these traits, as they are depicted in the stories.

Bess is cautious. She’s also usually right about the danger. And yet her loving cousin, George, scorns her, scoffs at her, sneers at her, and shames her into doing things she doesn’t think are safe (and they usually aren’t.) If they’d just listen to Bess once in a while, they’d solve the mystery with a lot less danger.

Bess isn’t as athletic as George the Jock and Nancy the Exceptional at Everything, either. But you know what? Whenever they go swimming, or boating, or skiing, or horseback riding, or playing tennis, Bess is right there with them, keeping up. Does she live for it with the same competitive spirit the other two do? No. But she’s quite a competent athlete in her own right, if the story lines are anything to go by.

And, finally and most importantly, Bess is slightly overweight. The books always state that she’s trying to “lose a few pounds.” Get that: a FEW. Three? Five? The illustrations in the books show her to be just as slender as Nancy and George, so it can’t be more than that. But so what? What if it were fifty? Would that in any way justify the cruel teasing and fat-shaming her “loving” cousin inflicts upon her? I don’t think so.

Let’s take the 44th book of the series, The Clue in the Crossword Cipher, by way of an egregious example. On page 41, Bess remarks that she’s so very excited about their being in South America that she could burst. George, predictably, gets her dig in with this non sequitur: “Well, my dear fat cousin, that might be one way to lose some weight!” Again, towards the middle of the story, when the girls are sharing a meal with a Quechua elder, George admonishes her cousin, in front of others, not to eat so much in the thin mountain air, and according to story, gives her a “withering look.” Why not just a friendly reminder to the group in general? No, George intentionally shames Bess.

The worst, though, happens on page 57. The girls are out sleuthing and stop at a hotel for a lunch that includes slices of homemade bread. That’s when this happens:

As Bess reached for her third piece, George grabbed her cousin’s arm. “No, you don’t,” she said. Meekly, Bess put the slice of the bread back into the basket and finished her salad. (Emphasis mine.)

Honestly, that’s the point at which I wished Bess had taken her free hand, punched George right in the face, and said, “Shut it, jerkface. I’ll eat what I want, and you’ll have nothing whatsoever so say about it, or there’s more where that came from. Got it? Good. Now pass me the damn bread.” Alas, it never happens.

So here’s to Bess Marvin, the concerned, loyal, and kind friend of Nancy Drew. She doesn’t get enough credit for being capable and competent in her own right, and it’s all because her cousin George belittles her and treats her like dirt. Jerkface.

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The Trouble With Love

It’s a well-known fact that I don’t write much in the way of romance. When I was writing the short story “Space in the Fall” for Persephone’s Song, I brought in my friend Jadeleath to help me out with the parts that were supposed to sizzle. When the Gloves Come Off is an exercise in growth, but still very much plot driven. There’s action. Boxing! Mobsters! Drama! I’ve realized in my ‘old age’ that I’m an author who doesn’t mind including romance…so long as it furthers the plot. So long as it fits the situation and the characters, and wasn’t thrown in for the sake of having a sex scene.

Even though I don’t write much romance, I love reading it. Some of my library staples are Karen Marie Moning and J.R. Ward. Many of my favorite books are love stories. I watch promoters online like a hawk, looking for romances to go on .99 cent promotions or — even better — free! I hoard them and go on reading binges when I am running out of steam for my own writing. Sometimes it’s nice to step out of the worlds I’m building and just live in someone else’s for awhile. The problem I’ve been encountering lately, however, is that everyone else’s worlds…kind of suck.

I have been suffering a drought of love stories. My Kindle, brimming with them, contained only about three or four who deserved even a four star review on Amazon. The consistent problem I found was that the story itself was taking a backseat for the smut.

I don’t mind characters having sex. That’s what people do! My problem is when authors bend characters into doing things that people don’t do. Mob boss kidnaps a girl as collateral for her father’s unpaid debts? Makes sense. Girl immediately hops into bed with said mob boss? Not so much. Or–and this one killed me–girl studying abroad is making eye contact with this handsome, debonaire stranger from across the museum gallery. He approaches her and has the mouth of a pig and is a complete dick. Naturally she’s going to just go for it! Right? Because isn’t that was people do? I can’t speak for anyone else, but not any people I know.

Authors are coming up with great, vibrant ideas. Mobsters might be fading out, but motorcycle clubs and Russians are all the rage right now. I love it! But when your leading lady falls in love after knowing your hero for only a day (generally immediately after having sex, no less), you lose the romance. Part of what I love about authors like KMM and the Warden are that they BUILD the relationship. It doesn’t happen in an instant. They let the characters banter and sizzle and get to know one another. They let the characters fall in love with each other because of who they are. Not because their leading lady needs to sleep with the leader of the MC to guarantee her safety and she lays there after thinking he’s the One. Let your leading lady sleep with him for whatever the reasons might be, but let the lovebuild. Let the love happen naturally. And don’t let that love be overshadowed by the sex.

Dear romance authors around the world, please stop forcing the love through physical encounters and please, please, please stop letting the plot take a backseat to that forced love. If you really want to leave your audience truly hot and bothered and begging for more, #romanceyourreaders

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Book Review: The Gathering Storm, Book 12 of Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Hello everyone,

I hope you’re making it through the doldrums of winter. Our winters (I live in eastern Canada on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean) drag on and on (I’ve seen it snow in June) but I’m doing fine. The snow is melting (at least for today) and my back is getting a welcome rest from shoveling. More importantly winter gives me some time to catch up on reading (I’ll admit a lot of comics but some novels too) and the “Wheel of Time” series is one I’ve been trying to finish for years. All the books are out and I’ve got just two more to go. Here’s my thoughts on “The Gathering Storm” and some of my feelings on the series as a whole.

p.s. be sure to check out the re-release of my first novel “The Newfoundland Vampire” by the great people at Distinguished Press. It will be out March 27th, mark your calenders!

The Gathering Storm: Book Twelve of the Wheel of Time

Robert Jordan , Brandon Sanderson

Initial Thoughts:

Ahh “Wheel of Time”, this is for a lot of geeks a fantasy classic, a truly epic tale that sadly outlived it’s own author (Robert Jordan) and was completed (with his widow’s guidance) by Brandon Sanderson. I’m not going to get into a long discussion about the series as a whole. I was late picking it up (book 7) and I’m such a slow reader that I’m still not finished despite the fact that the series has been over two years. Suffice it to say not matter how long it takes me I will finish reading the series and this book was one I completed a few weeks ago.

Main Points:

I just don’t have the patience I used to, as such I find a book of this length (over 1000 pages) very hard to get through. Don’t get me wrong this book has some amazing action scenes, some lovely quiet moments, good character development and advances the plot at a much better pace than some earlier ones (7-9 in particular) but still here it just gets bogged down in parts far too often for my liking. I love Rand and I enjoy Matt and Perrin (along with some other characters) but I think the authors do Matt and Perrin quite a disservice here.

I know that Perrin doesn’t like to kill but he KNOWS the last battle is coming and yet he is paralyzed and unable to act on almost anything in his life. He is a wolf brother (I think that’s the term) and his inability to embrace this (or speak truthfully to his wife) is incredibly frustrating and makes his parts rather dull. The same goes for Matt, all he seems to do anymore is complain about his wife to be, Tuon and women in general. He does have a good scene with town of people who go insane and can’t stay dead but overall I think both of the characters are wasted in this book.

The book does show a lot of different places in the world and is slowly drawing the main characters together. I also especially enjoyed how the Dark One has a much larger impact on the world at this point. Crops spoil, rooms shift, people die mysteriously, weird accidents, it all makes everyone aware that something bad is coming.

I also thought a lot of the time spent on Cadsuane Melaidhrin is wasted. She is rather dull and do very little until almost the end of book. The same goes for a lot of the happenings in the rebel camp and with early chapters with Egwene al’Vere in the tower, there’s just so much buildup that seems unneeded to me. The ending, however, is a little odd so I’ll say…

SPOILER ALERT!

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Okay so Rand thinks about killing a large portion of the Seanchan, doesn’t do it, then thinks about destroying the whole work and (of course) doesn’t do it. He does finally destroy the Choedan Kal and silence the voice (Lews Therin) in his head along with quelling his madness. All that’s fine and good but why does it work? Rand was driven mad (at least partially) by the tainted male half of the power. Even though he cleansed it my understanding was that it was too late for him. So his madness is cured because he can no longer channel unheard of amounts of the one power? I just don’t follow this reasoning. Sure it was a temptation and he was obsessed with the access key but I don’t think destroying it would suddenly make him all better.

Final Thoughts:

I enjoyed this book but the length and several frustrating passages (and a weird ending) takes away from my overall thoughts on it. Also I like to see characters go to a dark place, I liked emotionless/more crazy/decisive Rand, though I guess one of his companions would have tried to stop him eventually. I think Sanderson is a worthy successor to Jordan and I am looking forward to the two last books. A friend of mind pointed out to me that almost all of the male characters are dismissive towards women and immature. As I read the book closely I do admit this comes through in several places. This may be due to the fact that WOT is aimed at a younger audience (thought they aren’t YA) who are primarily men. Well this has gotten long. So I give this 7.5 out of 10. I do recommend it to anyone who has read the Wheel of Time (though not readers under 12), though obviously if you’re starting with this book you’ll be quite lost.  Wheel of Time is one of those series that will have moments and characters that stay with you and that ultimately makes the series a modern classic for me. Until next time, have a great week everyone!

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Reader Interview Results: Tensing

As I’m finishing my first book and a number of supplemental stories, I’m hearing a lot about this. Some readers can’t get passed the first page because it is written in present tense, while others have been draw in to the point of distraction. Obviously this has had me reflecting on the books I’ve read as well. It’s left me with the question: What tense do most find appealing? To resolve this curiosity, I conducted informal interviews with many avid readers about the topic. I’ve included information from 3 of the lengthier conversations I had.

Continue reading

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Influential Books — with Matt Posner #1: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree is at once the most beloved and hated of all children’s books, perhaps along with Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. But what’s it about, anyway?
I did not read this book growing up. It was published in 1964, and I was born in 1969, and yet I never heard about it as a child. I learned about the book when I was in graduate school in my 30s, several years after Silverstein’s death in 1999, and eventually bought it to try to figure it out. It’s a picture book, and the words are easy, and the pictures are simple, and it is stunningly difficult to figure out what Shel Silverstein is trying to say.
The story is about the relationship between a boy and an apple tree. The apple tree is female, constantly described as “she.” When the boy is a boy, he plays in and around the tree, and the tree is happy, and they talk to each other.
As the boy gets older, as shown by drawings, his needs become more complex, and every time he comes back to the tree, he refuses to play like he did when he was a boy, but instead takes things from the tree, progressively apples, branches, and then her trunk. When she is only a stump, Silverstein breaks the pattern of saying the tree was happy and modifies with “but not really.”
In the end, the boy comes back as a broken-down old man (still referred to as “the boy”) and sits down on the stump, and because he is there, the tree is happy again.
So what is one to make of this story?
The book was written for children, so looking for an interpretation from the adult perspective may be a misguided strategy, but I’m doing it all the same. Children do think differently than adults, but what even would a child make of this story?
A natural assumption would be that the story is allegorical — in other words, the tree is not just a tree, and the boy is not just a boy, and they both stand for something else. And from that moment, you can easily enough interpret that it is about mother and child. And so the book could be seen to have a certain meaning and moral which, I must warn you, once you read, you will not be able to shake off. Don’t read the next paragraph unless you are prepared to have me influence your understanding irrevocably.
“A child makes the mother happy when young, and she gladly gives to that child all that she has as he grows and is happy just to know that he is happy. And then in the end, she is ruined and disillusioned because he seems to have abandoned her. And then when her child, an adult, comes back to see her just for a little while, she gets some happiness just from seeing him for that time and having the feeling that he still needs her .”
Let us say that it is necessary to embrace this very dark view of the mother-child relationship. The question then becomes — why illustrate it for children? Why would Silverstein want to make children upset, to make them feel guilty for their relationship with their mothers? Is he doing it to purge negativity from within his own life? (I know nothing about Shel Silverstein’s personal life.) I will gladly stipulate that the message I have written above is a persuasive narrative about the human condition, which is to say that there is an inevitable decay in the mother-child relationship which, though it may be healthy in the end, occasionally becomes as dark and bitter as this book might be seen to portray.
But again, why tell this story for children?
I’ve gathered some quotations from others who have interpreted the book, and predictably, they have seen it differently than I have in some respects.
Common Sense Media: ” But the tree can also be seen as a masochistic female who doesn’t know how to set limits. (Or could the story even be a warning about greedily using Mother Nature’s resources?)”
From a 1973 review by William Cole, who knew Silverstein: ” The book, to me, is simply a backup of “more blessed to give than to receive.” My wife’s interpretation, not surprisingly, is that the tree represents a mother, giving and receiving with not expectation of return.”
From christine79 at epinions: “This is an excellent story about unconditional giving. I have found that my children need some guidance in understanding the underlying message – that giving does not come with a promise that you will receive something in return. I explain that the tree, while giving everything of itself, is happy knowing that she had done something for the boy, which is enough of a reward.”
From edutainingkids.com: ” Some find The Giving Tree to be a sad tale of codependency–about a tree that doesn’t stop giving, and a boy who doesn’t stop taking. I tend to think of the book as a story about the unconditional love a parent gives a child–the parent gives what he/she can, fully aware (and mostly happy) that the child will grow to be independent of the parent. The boy/man clearly develops a life of his own. This in itself is not sad. However, that the tree is reduced to a stump is not exactly fun; and, that the boy only appreciates the tree near the end of his life is indeed sad! The story can be viewed as one that makes people stop to think.”
So on the one hand we have a parable –the preferred storytelling method of Jesus in the New Testament — about unconditional giving, an attempt to teach Christian values of generosity and unselfishness. And then on the other hand, we have the specter of codependency. Codependency means that the codependent person feels an obligation to solve another person’s problems and neglects the self in order to take care of the other.
Where to settle in this mess of interpretations I don’t know. Perhaps you will choose to comment on the matter yourself.

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Take me into your dreams.

When writers write we want to draw the readers into our world, show them the wonder and splendour of it. As readers, we yearn to be dragged into the world within the book, to lose ourselves in its pages. Have you ever read a book without being truly conscious of turning the pages?

This is a writing exercise, anyone can join in.

In 200 words, or less, please take me into your dream.

I don’t want you to tell me about your dream, I want to be sucked in and experience a dream with you. Take me by the hand and show me what’s happening, set the scene, share the action.

It could be a real dream you’ve actually had, and often that works best, or you can make something up. But, seriously, actual dreams are weird enough and you know how you felt while dreaming them, make me feel it too.

But, and this is really important, DO NOT tell me what it means! Half the fun is analysing it later and maybe we’ll do that in the comments.

 

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