Wednesday, February 20, 2013


We all know one or two prima donna diners. When you go to dinner with them, you are guaranteed a display of discriminating taste and high manners.

This is too… not enough… I didn’t realize it would be… I am not yet ready for that course … could I have it with this instead?...her portion looks bigger than mine … could you warm this up?….cool this off? … leave that out? …

You know those diners.  They are also quick to invoke authoritative support for their usually unreasonable, and sometimes, silly requests. 

When I was at the other restaurant… the last location… that other country, they…

Prima donna diners.

I love to eat --and I love to eat out-- but the prima donna diners can quickly diminish a pleasant dining atmosphere

Prima donna or picky readers, on the other hand, create an excitement, a contagious anticipation, and an ongoing,grand conversation around books.

I am a  self-proclaimed prima donna reader. I don’t read what I call grocery store books--- I was disappointed by page 10 with the one exception I made recently.  I was rewriting sentence in my head, revising page by page.  I read on because everyone insisted it was so good…… I kept waiting for the part that made everyone say that --- it never came. Needless to say I have not read Book 2 and 3. This experience confirmed for me why I don’t read grocery story books.

I compare this experience to reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell-- written with a structure like those Russian matryoshka dolls or nestingdolls—that have successively smaller dolls nestled inside.  

The delicious delight of discovering the connection between each new movement of the book and the pleasure in rejoining the characters for the second part of their story made this a distinctly pleasing reading adventure.  The language—the rhythms, all make me continue to rave to friends and fellow picky readers about this selection.

I also recently finished NW: A Novel by Zadie  Smith.  Her language drew me in from page 1.  And again the structure fostered connecting the dots, as you entered earlier chapters of each character’s history, and filled in the blanks of their evolutions.

 I loved these books, these jigsaw stories.

I wasn’t even sure in some parts what was happening, but the power of the language and the container kept me reading, backtracking, puzzling to put the pieces together and ----delighting me throughout the process.

And I am eagerly asking What else did these authors write?

I have always been fascinated with the variety of possible ways to tell a story. I love books that are made up of letters, and poems and postcards and journals and newspaper articles and other forms, all 'mosaiced' together to tell a story.  Even as a child, this is what appealed to me.

Laying in a drawer, there is my one attempt to write this kind of story.  My attempt is sappy and contrived--perhaps, I need to pull it back out and rework it with newer possibilities. Perhaps it could be successfully revised.

My fifth graders,and all those students I have ever read books with or to, also quickly became picky readers,  asking questions, expressing preferences, requesting specifics, just like the prima dona diners.

Who is this by?  What else did she write?   I don’t read fantasy. I read historic fiction. I am interested in…. Can you help me find… Have you read? ... You would like..

The one big difference is that this behavior moves them forward in their understanding of reading and does not humiliate or embarrass waiters or make for awkward moments for other diners (or readers) at the table.

Instead, I was proud of their exercise of choice.  Their discriminating tastes based on information gathered from much reading, their recognition of quality writing, relevant topics, humorous, creative and experimental writing ---and their desire to try to imitate such.

They read widely, becoming book reviewers and literary critics,  They borrowed  and lent books,  They sat shoulder to shoulder, head to head, poring over new books, rereading  favorites, waiting for the next must-read book to enter the classroom and their lives.

What questions do you ask as you approach new books? 

What expectations do you have as you enter the book store to select your next good read? 

What is your highest praise of a book?

What makes you gush over a book to everyone one you know?

What kind of reader are you?

 Today’s Deeper Writing Possibility

 What kind of reader are you?  What are your specific reading  preferences?

What genres and structures intrigue you?  Can you imitate those structures?

Can you write a poem or structured like the layered Russian matryoshka dolls like Cloud Atlas?

Can you write a story made entirely of letters like The Color Purple?

What other forms could be used, combined, invented to tell your story?

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