On summer or winter in books and writing

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich‬ and The Call of the Wild

“Do you prefer Summer or Winter in books and writing?” asks blogger Lea At Sea. What do you think? I had to think about that for a while.

I finished a few books recently by authors Ian McEwan and Barbara Kingsolver. Saturday, On Chesil Beach and The Bean Trees all have specific seasons and locations central to each novel. As I thought of how the seasons permeate a novel, two novels come to mind: ‪

by ‪Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn‬ and ‪The Call of the Wild‬ by Jack London. [1] It never occurred to me to read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich‬ because it begins on a cold winter morning. The character and narrative interested me. The gulag in winter is a prominent element of the story, but that isn’t the reason I read the book. It was the story.

By nature I’m a fall/winter sort of person. Maybe that’s why I recalled those two books:One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich‬ and ‪The Call of the Wild‬. But my reading choice is not directly influenced by that predisposition otherwise I would not have picked up a book set in spring/summer of the American southwest. However, I am curious to learn if your reading selections are influenced by that perimeter. Do you choose a book because it is seasonally based? Further, if you are a poet and/or writer, do you specifically write for a specific season?

NOTES: [1] Technically, ‪The Call of the Wild‬ and On Chesil Beach are novellas. Maybe I should refer to the works as books rather than their literary distinctions. Writing Forums offers distinctions between short story, novella and novel lengths. Basically, word count. Short Short Stories & Flash Fiction; usually under 1,000 words; Short Stories, 7,499 words to 15,000 words; Novelette, 7,500 to 17,499 words; Novella, 17,500 words to 39,999 words; Novel, minimum word count of 40,000 words. It is my understanding that a proper novel runs an average of 80,000 words. Since we’re on the topic of word count, Fiction Factor offers How Long Should Your Story Be? by Lee Masterson and Writer’s Relief presents Short Story Or Novella? What’s The Difference And Where To Publish Shorter Fiction.

Artifacts from the late 1990s

Hidden in the back of a closet, a box of audio CDs

Is it possible to keep secrets or hide treasure in such an open, immediate society? Think of the secrets between Edward Mayhew and Florence Ponting of On Chesil Beach. It was a different time and place. Or maybe the quiet understanding between Primo and Secondo in the final moments of Big Night. Again, those were different times. A world before the internet and mobile devices and social media. Even in fictional works, you recognize how culture changes and you change with it.

My thoughts kept drifting back to that theme this weekend. A week or so ago, I opened the cardboard box to find two neat rows of artifacts from the late 1990s. Compact discs. CDs. Seems much more tangible than finding two rows of “moving picture experts group” (MPEG) files when referring to audio music. (Even composing that sentence seems clunky and unsophisticated.) This collection of music was packed into a cardboard box and was supposed to be unpacked when I relocated to Asheville. The box remained sealed like a time capsule.

My Beauty and I rented  a space in Asheville that was twice the cost of our previous house and half the size. It was the most affordable place we could find at the time. A lot of boxes remained unpacked because there was no space to expand. Now as we pack things up again, I decide to keep this cardboard box open, listen to Tonic’s Lemon Parade, Goo Goo Doll’s Dizzy Up The Girl, and reflect on how different these times are compared to the late 1990s.

At that time, Bill Clinton was president of the U.S. and Boris Yeltsin was the first president of the Russian Federation. There was no Twitter revolution. Americans would get together in homes or apartments to share supper and snacks while watching the latest episode of the television shows ER, Friends or Party of Five. That was before the rise of the cult of white box worshippers [1] and the advent of Netflix. There seemed to be a greater sense of community. Or maybe that’s just 1990s nostalgia.

During that time, I didn’t own a personal computer or laptop. When I returned home from my job as a graphic designer, I would often read books or listened to Blues Traveler, Beth Hart or unknown indie bands like Spooky Tuesday on a CD player while I worked on illustrations or paintings. As I rediscover these albums, I recall paintings I was working on while listening to Days of the New for the first time. When I listen to Stavesacre’s album, friends I haven’t thought of in years fill my mind.

There was a specific evening with coworkers I recall. After work, we often meet up for dinner and a movie. While waiting for food to be served we were discussing the events of the day while enjoying our drinks. One coworker’s teenage daughter, who often joined us on those evenings, said, “There’s no specific movement in the 90s. Not like the 60’s or 70s. I mean, I grew up in the 90s. Even the music is boring. There’s nothing memorable about the 90s.” Maybe that’s teenage naivety, but I think there is much to remember of the late 1990s.

NOTES: [1] This is a reference to an article by Andrew Sullivan that I mentioned years ago in an essay, iPod, therefore iAm?.