The Definition of Literature

The city I live in, lovingly called “The Bubble” by its residents, has an annual book club event in the spring called One City, One Book. Past books have included Farenheit 451  by Ray Bradbury and Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.

This year the book chosen for the event was The Mountain Story by the incredibly talented Lori Lansens. Lori is one of my favorite authors. She writes unique, compelling stories in gorgeous prose. Her writing gets to the heart of human emotions and her books always stay with me for a long time after I’m done reading them.

The-Mountain-Story-by-Lori-Lansens
Looking for a great read? Look no further!

 

Lori is a local resident so there was a real opportunity to have several One City, One Book events that started with a launch party where the book was sold a week before its release, a library event and finally a book club meeting a few weeks later held at our library. The city put a lot of publicity and effort behind the event and it was quite successful.

Do you want to hear something really cool? I’m actually friends with Lori. I met her years ago at the beach through a mutual friend after I was already a fan. Can you imagine what it’s like to meet one of your favorite authors and become friends with her? (I don’t have to imagine – I know! And it’s awesome!)

Anyway, Marley said to me the other day, “Mom, when your book comes out next year you can do One City, One Book.”

I smiled and said, “That’s sweet, honey, but my book would never be picked for One City, One Book.”

“Why not? We live here.”

“Yes,” I told her, “but you don’t have to live here for them to choose your book. My book is not the right kind of book. Lori’s book is literature; my book is a funny beach read.”

“What do you mean?” she asked. “Aren’t all books literature.”

Um… No.

“Not really,” I said. “There are lots of different kinds of books. Books that are literature not only tell a good story, but do so with beautiful writing. My writing is funny, but it’s not beautiful. Also, literature often has a deep meaning or complex theme. My book is not deep; there’s not much to discuss. Other than, you know, how freaking funny it is!”

“So do you mean that literature has big words?”

“Not always,” I said. “In fact, I think the best literature makes small words have big meanings.”

She looked at me with narrowed eyes.

“I’ll give you an example. Think of the John Green books you’ve read. He tells a great story with many layers in beautiful, quotable language. Someone who writes a book about kids with cancer that people actually want to read, and writes things like, ‘As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once,’ is writing literature.

“Now think of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Those books are great and incredibly funny, but they’re easy to read and aren’t very complex. I’m not saying that John Green is better than Jeff Kinney, both of those writers are among the best at what they do, and both of their books have value. But Diary of a Wimpy Kid ain’t literature.

diary-of-a-wimpy-kid
Hilariously funny. Not Literature

“So Lori Lansens is like John Green and you’re like Jeff Kinney?”

“Well, Lori Lansens is like John Green. I aspire to be as witty as Jeff Kinney.”

“I still think your book could be in One City, One Book.

“Well, that would be awesome, but I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on that one.”

She shrugged.

“Okay?”

“Okay.”

(If you’ve read this John Green book, then you know that in the right context writing an exchange as simple as “Okay? Okay.” is truly literature.)

 

Colorado Here We Come

5:51        We leave home 9 minutes ahead of schedule.  A Ross Family first.  It’s Friday morning and we are finally taking our long-awaited family vacation.

6:37        The sun pops up from behind the mountains and I realize my sunglasses are in my backpack my husband Dave has so conveniently placed in the back of the car where I can’t get to it.  (In his defense he was trying to give me some room for my feet.)  I have to resort to the ultra crappy pair I keep in the glove box for emergencies.  Sun directly in your eyes before you’ve finished your first cup of coffee definitely constitutes itself as an emergency.

7:20        Boredom has already set in for Marley.  She’s finished her entire breakfast – a peanut butter and jelly sandwich – and claims to still be hungry.

8:07        Our children are lucky enough to have a DVD player built into our SUV and have decided on a Star Wars marathon for our long trip. (Yep, all 6 movies in a row.)  Marley has announced that she is bored of Star Wars.  I hand her a banana hoping it will occupy her for at least a minute and a half.

8:32        We hit our first rest stop to stretch our legs and say goodbye to our morning beverages.

9:26        We cross the state line into Nevada.

9:28        I’m trying to rock out to Joe Jackson.  “Is she really going out with him,” my husband and I sing at the top of our lungs.  “Mom, mom, mom.” I hear from the back seat.  “What?” I ask in the nicest mommy voice possible to mask my annoyance.  “Blah, blah, blah, blahdy blah, blah,” my son says making a joke.  I fake a laugh and tell him he’s funny so I can go back to my music and relive my 80’s youth – hopefully without further interruption until we hit Las Vegas.

9:50        We enter the outskirts of Las Vegas in less than 4 hours.  Good timing.  The last time I drove to Vegas – about a year ago – it took me 7 hours to get here.  Apparently leaving at 6AM on a Friday is better than leaving at 2PM on a Friday.

10:10     Las Vegas Blvd.  Chandler is pissed that he forgot his camera and his cell phone.  His complaining pisses Dave off who is cranky because he’s been driving for 4 hours and really, really needs to pee. (Yes he did use the rest stop an hour and forty minutes ago but then he went and had a 3rd cup of coffee.) 

10:46     We are back on the 15 and passing Nellis Air Force Base.  Fighter jets are mock fighting and doing cool fighter jet turns.  This holds the kids attention for about 30 seconds as they’ve moved on to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

11:44     We cross the state line into Arizona.

11:55     We enter the Virgin River Gorge.  Dave gives a science lesson on sedimentary rock.  Oddly enough this holds Chandler’s attention longer than the fighter jets did.  The mesas are stripes of gold and yellow and Grand-Canyon-red.  It is a magnificent sight.

1:08        We cross the Utah border.  We changed time either here or in Arizona (who knows what goes on with the time zones in Arizona – I can’t keep up) so it’s 12:08 in driving time, but 1:08 in actual time.  Does that make sense?

1:20        Dave and I hit the drive-thru at Arby’s and take our food into Burger King where Marley wants to eat.  I have vowed not to gain weight on this vacation (good luck right?) so I give my 2nd potato cake (minus one bite) to Dave (apparently I don’t care if he gains weight).

2:15        We see a landscape of mesas so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes.  (One day I’ll blog about all the unbelievably ridiculous things I cry about.)  To quote Baz Luhrmann it is ‘Spectacular Spectacular.’  What a gorgeous miracle.  I want to bring it to the kid’s attention but Chandler is actually reading which is a miracle in itself.

3:04        We’ve moved on to the Best of Hall and Oates and Dave and I are now belting out ‘Rich Girl’.  This song came out when I was in 8thgrade and my best friend Dale and I would whisper the word bitch when we sang along because we didn’t want to get into trouble.

3:54        While the scenery is breathtaking the air in the car is a different story.  I mean two kids, a husband, and a fast food lunch…  While there are many giggles coming from the backseat it sure would be nice to be able to roll down the window.

4:39        Chandler just read me an excerpt from his book “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” – that truth be told is little more than a comic book, but as I said before the kid is reading (for about 2 hours now!) without being coerced or setting a 20 minute timer.  It makes me laugh so hard that I have to read it to Dave who couldn’t hear Chandler’s sweet, quiet voice behind him.  It is so stupidly funny I laugh so hard I cry and snot starts coming out of my nose.  I have definitely been in this car way too long. And good news – we only have about  6 more hours to go – you know – if we don’t stop to eat!

5:45        Utah I70 mile marker 125.  Incredible beauty.  I wish I could write beautifully descriptive prose that would give you some idea what the beauty outside our car actually looks like.  (See I just used a form of the word beauty 3 times in 2 consecutive sentences.  I am pathetically unimaginative.)  I’ll say this:  there are a lot of mesas and cool rock formations.  A lot of red, green and gold.  Even my husband’s insistence of listening to his Utopia CD can’t annoy me (too much) with such beautiful scenery to look at.  (See there it is again.)

6:49        I look out the window and see a rainbow confirming that those big, puffy, white clouds to the right (south?) of us are indeed rainclouds.

6:50        I look over our accommodation amenities and notice that Internet access is located nearby (within 5 miles) and not on site.  Not quite sure when to break the news to Dave as he’s got to be online at 6AM tomorrow for work.  This will obviously not go over well.  Maybe things have changed since this was printed out in March.  I mean, hello, we’re staying at a Marriott and it is 2008.  They’ve got to have Wi-Fi.  I decide not to mention it just yet.

7:06        After 12 hours and 16 minutes we cross the Colorado border.

7:12        We see rain clouds on the horizon – big ugly, black ones, unlike the cute, fluffy, white ones that made the rainbow.  And this time they’re in the actual direction we are heading.  I realize I forgot to pack Marley’s raincoat.  (She only has 3 and we live in a place where it never rains.) Dave – the person who has to pack for one, not three (oh and I planned the meals and packed the food too because we’re in a timeshare with a full kitchen) – seems flabbergasted.  After all we did talk at length about raincoats.  And yes I know I should make a list and I did – lots of lists – just not a list of what to bring for myself and the kids.  So there ya go, another point for me in the crappy mom column.  And now that I think of it I may have forgotten Chandler’s swimsuit (2 points) but at least he has a raincoat.

7:32        We stop in an adorable downtown area of Grand Junction, Co and have dinner at a brew pub.  Dave and I both really want a beer.  I tell Dave, who has driven the entire trip that I’ll take over driving.  He has a beer and I order a Diet Pepsi.  Back at the car he tells me that he’ll drive. I try not to be annoyed that I drank a Diet Pepsi for nothing.

8:45        Marley has packed it in and has cuddled up to her pillow and fallen asleep.  Chandler has opted for a movie.  The full moon lights the highway and we can see that this drive would be really beautiful if it were light.  I’m over the beer and put in a Todd Rundgren CD (ugh!) for Dave to reward him for continuing to drive and to keep him awake. 

9:37        It starts to rain.

10:57     16 hours and 6 minutes after leaving home we arrive in Vail, Co. I take back all the mean things I said about my kids in my last blog as they were amazingly (almost) PERFECT on this long, long trip.  The timeshare is beautiful, the rain has stopped, I did remember Chandler’s swimsuit, and – Thank God – we are set up in our room with the Internet.

*This post originally appeared on skirt.com on August 17, 2008. I have archived it here after learning that skirt would be shutting down the blogging portion of its site.