Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Seeing: David Wroblewski at the DMA


On January 21, my friend and coworker, Stephanie, and I went to hear David Wroblewski speak in the Horchow Auditorium of the Dallas Museum of Art. Neither one of us had finished reading or read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (the bestselling debut novel of Wroblewski’s) at the time, so we didn’t know what to expect. I enjoyed Mr. Wroblewski’s lecture immensely because his theme was why do we read long stories (novels)?

He had a few questions to make us wonder:
  • Is a shorter work better? 
  • What makes a novel whole? 
  • Why don’t we write 100 small stories instead of one big story?
One of the ideas Mr. Wroblewski presented was that the main function of long works was to weave the story into a reader’s life for an extended period of time. For an example that I could use pertaining to me and the debut novel of Mr. Wroblewski’s: while I am at my desk figuring the areal extent of a particular petroleum property, I might also be thinking about how the animals in a family adapt to a new human baby in a household. Then I might think of the pet my family had when I was a baby (Rusty the dachshund) and that leads to another thought of how fearless and loyal he could be. That was one small example pertaining to me. Just think of the moral and ethical issues explored in books such as Crime and Punishment (no, I have not read it) or Les Misérables (yes, I have). The long narrative works well for those who like to be engaged in a book, even when we are not reading that particular book at the moment. As Mr. Wroblewski said, a reader can compare everyday life with life in the fiction world over a period of days or weeks, and elements of one often overlap with elements from the other.

Another idea Mr. Wroblewski imparted was how when you are reading a book, no one else is having that same experience you are having regarding the fictional life you are involved in versus your everyday life. Sometimes this creates a sense of loneliness and this feeling is often at its highest near the end of a book. Book clubs and blogs are the response to this feeling of loneliness, to quell that disconnectedness.

I enjoyed hearing these types of ideas from the perspective of a writer such as Mr. Wroblewski. He also said that the structure of a work is often misunderstood. The paradox is that a plot is easy enough to formulate or summarize, but it is the “braiding,” what is brought to the surface and then submerged and brought to the surface again is what is important. These “strands” often reinforce certain feelings and ideas and oppose others.

Mr. Wroblewski read aloud the whole “Almondine” chapter from his book and I was very impressed with his writing. I bought The Story of Edgar Sawtelle when it first was published in hardback as my book club was going to read it, but I think I was daunted by how thick it was and so never even began the tome. Believe me, it will soon be read.

Mr. Wroblewski took a number of questions after his discussion and reading. A couple of them were:

Did you know how the book would end as you were writing?

He knew it was about dogs, Wisconsin, a retelling of Hamlet, and was a tragedy. Therefore, it had five acts. However, he said he got the balance of everything right after the fifth or sixth rewrite.

Is this “braiding” conscious or intuitive?

He said a writer discovers these braids in editing and revising, and then they become intentional.

--photo by Marion Ettinger

After his lecture, I felt I had really learned some valuable information from this author. I was thinking that I wished I would have had him as an English professor in college. His picture does not fully capture his intelligence, humor, and warm personality.


4 comments:

  1. I was finally able to finish the book last week and I was sad to say goodbye to Edgar after he had become a part of my life over the past month. It was LONG but by the end I found myself wishing I could have one of the Sawtelle dogs that he wrote about (too bad they are fictional). Thanks for going to this lecture with me.

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  2. Your welcome, Stephanie. I am glad we went even though we hadn't read/finished the book. It was well worth it.

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  3. Wonderful post. I have looked at this book but have not read it yet. I am interested in checking out this book.

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