Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I do a lot of thinking in the shower. I'm not sure why, but I think it may have to do with the fact that I've always been attracted to, and soothed by, water. I loved swimming as a child and would brave the coldest waves if it meant I'd have my freedom in the ocean. As an adult I still enjoy swimming (although in much warmer temperatures), and I also love baths, showers, hot tubs, even drinking water (it's definitely my drink of choice). My favorite activity in the world, both as a child and now, has always been snorkeling.

So water provides me with fertile ground for thought. Sometimes I'm planning a scene for my novel or an entry for this blog, sometimes I'm creating a lesson plan, and sometimes I may just be having a philosophical discussion with myself.

This was a "philosophical discussion" morning. I'd just been working out, and I'd
been listening to the GooGoo Dolls' "Better Days". I'd gotten it mixed up with another song I have on my iPod, a different song that's terrific, but will probably be the "one-hit wonder". And I was reflecting on how many one-hit wonders there are these days, both in books and music.

We are speeding, hurtling through communications with incredible rapidity. We have so many choices in music, books, movies, TV, food, clothing that I think it's hard for anything to seem really special. I wonder what this says for our musicians and writers - how do they make something stand out? Of the masses and masses of "stuff" we have at our fingertips these days, what will we still want to retain 10 years from now? 20? And why, with the ever-increasing numbers of books and magazines in publication, do we see the same authors in the best seller lists? Are they really the best, or are we so tired of new choices that we grasp for anything familiar? And is this also true for music? How do songs or stories sift to the top?

So now, dear readers, I turn the question back to you - what do you think of all this? What makes something a classic, and why do you think our "top" lists in the arts contain the same names over and over?

And now for some BOOK TALK in advance of Day to Read, January 10, 2008:

Today's topic is author, scientist and producer, Kathy Reichs. I chose Kathy because when I wrote an earlier entry, several of you expressed similar joy in her books. I am just a huge fan. I love Tempe Brennan in her book series, and the very different Temperance Brennan of Bones. I love Andrew Ryan, the love interest of Tempe Brennan from the books, and Seely Booth, Temperance Brennan's partner (and maybe love interest?) from Bones. And I love the fact that Temperance Brennan of Bones writes a mystery series about a forensic anthropologist named Kathy Reichs.

For those who are not familiar with Kathy Reichs and her work, she is one of the fifty or so forensic anthropologists in North America. She works for UNC as a Professor of Anthropology, for the state of North Carolina's Chief Medical Examiner's office and for the province of Quebec, and at these last two, in her capacity as a forensic anthropologist. Her book character, Tempe, shares those jobs, and I'm particularly partial to Reichs's books that are set in Montreal. She brings Montreal to life with great affection, and it has now become a dream of mine to go there. Tempe is also in her forties, separated from a wandering husband to whom she's still attracted, and has finally allowed herself to fall into a relationship with Det. Andrew Ryan of the Montreal Police. She also has a college-age daughter. Themes of family are front and center throughout the series, as are timely issues. Since this is book talk, and not TV talk, I'll leave you with information about Bones via this link.

Kathy Reichs has fun with her world and her projects and it shows. I'm grateful to her for the many, many hours of delightful recreation that she's given to me and so many others.


painted maypole said...

i think we do, or at least I do, tend to go back to the known quantity. we find someone we like so we check out their next book or album.

with music, especially, i have to confess to consuming mostly what others put out there for me on the radio - although here in new orleans i've been doing much better about finding local stuff i like!

Jenn in Holland said...

What a great shower discussion with yourself! I am intrigued by the question and wonder along those lines just what it is that gives stuff it's staying power. Indeed in this age where SO MUCH is SO AVAILABLE, I really do wonder how the discoveries get made at all. What singles them out to be singles (if we're talking about music) and what is the magic combination of things which rockets them to the top?
I do gravitate to the familiar. Really I tend to stay with what's most comfortable to me, to my ears. At this point in my life what that stance does is simply increase the generation gap. Cuz you know kids these days? I just don't get their music...

Luisa Perkins said...

I think a lot of people only have one hit in them.

I hope I'm not one of them, although I'd rather have a one-hit classic like Gone With the Wind or To Kill a Mockingbird than a string of forgettable projects.

As if I'm Margaret Mitchell or Harper Lee. Snort.

As far as music goes, it's hard to know who is going to have staying power when you're in the moment. It's easy to see why The Beatles and Bruce Springsteen will never die.

But will Fountains of Wayne ever surpass the pop brilliance of "Stacy's Mom?" Can the Killers and Coldplay keep writing 'instant classics' like "Can You Read My Mind?" and "Clocks?" Only time will tell, imho.

I LOVE to snorkel. Let's go.

Wholly Burble said...

In literature it is said "classic" is defined as something that is "timeless" and "shows the human experience" in a light that helps to make it understandable, or as a means to open areas of human experience showing the "universality" of the condition.

I would say that's what drives most of us in literature and music--we want something we can relate to--where we can "see" ourselves in the characters, in the lyrics.

How we get to know of these things, well, there we go in this day in age to a good publicity campaign. There truly are so many marvelous, magical things that just go under the radar because of lack of exposure to the public. How can you fall in love with something you've never heard of or known existed? Can't be done.

The "known" authors are, or have been, discovered and become "trusted" by the public to deliver again and again. And rather than do the work, sometimes we just put up with "lesser" works, hoping the next one will be another "great".

But I think things like blog sites are beginning to be a "leveling field" as more of us are able to share about what we've found out there--and perhaps there will be more exposure for those authors and musicians who don't initially have the finances or backing.

Good thinking, there Lady--glad the water was on at your house today.

And thanks for the book intro to an author I haven't read yet--emphasis on "yet" ;-)

anno said...

You came up with all this in the shower? Wow!

It's late, and I'm feeling kind of slow. More comments maybe at our next coffee date...

Luisa Perkins said...

PS--I love Kathy Reichs.

Betsy said...

Interesting question! I was wondering that this morning when NPR did a piece on "Citizen Kane" and called it the best movie ever made.

I wrote a paper on Citizen Kane for a film class when I was at UF, and enjoyed the cinematography and all the symbolism involved. I wonder, however, how much it appeals to people today in a world where films are fast-paced and technologically enhanced...

I'll be interested to hear about the continuation of these ideas that you and Anno come up with when you get together for coffee! Be sure to take notes! ;-)

Unknown said...

It seems that a discussion of "the classics" these days easily shades off into questions of politics...Or at least that is what I recall from the MFA program I was in. My own definition includes a notion of enduring value to humanity.

soccer mom in denial said...

How inappropriate is it for me to want to hang out in the shower with you during one of these discussions? Can I at least sit on the toilet and talk over the shower curtain?

I also have similar conversations with myself in the shower. Well maybe not as smart as you.

But to your query, I think the familar becomes "classic". I'm not sure why Ian McEwen's novels keep getting raves.

I'll have to check out Kathy Reichs.

Goofball said...

whaaa haaa SMID is funny :p. Once again I get weird visions of you and SMID sharing the bathroom and very phylosofical discussions ...and afterwards you can join Anno over exotic coctails :p

I think the answer to your question is: marketing & hypes, people being lazy and not coming out of their comfort zone and then marketing again.

Have you ever tried scuba diving?

Leslie said...

Wow, you shower thinker! There's much more happening in your bathroom than in mine.

Interesting questions. I wonder the same. I tend to go with what's familiar. New things usually come to me through people I admire - if they recommend something, I usually check it out. But honestly - I don't seek it out.

Linda said...

One thing that you have overlooked, I would prefer to deny, is the impact of advertising on creating both best sellers and classics. New books often already come with a blurb somewhere that refers to "a modern classic" or "classic for our time". I am not sure exactly what either of those mean, but they get into the minds of folks. Those of you who have tried to get a work published know how the publishers want certain topics and styles at a given time, thus maniupulating what we even get the chance to read. Even "old" classics are manipulated when Oprah and publishers and others decide to promote them again. Then we hurry to read the new thing that everyone else is reading because the advertisers have told us that it the right thing to read--even if it is not a great work at all. This means that there are so many truly wonderful, deserving of classic status books that are lost in the piles of books and never reach the people who should and could be reading them. Ah, the agony of it all.

Betsy said...

I had to laugh when I saw this quote today. It made me think of this post and I thought you might enjoy it too:

"A classic is a book which people praise and don't read." - Mark Twain