Curious Rat

Listen to This: Gilbert Gottfried Interviews Robert Osborne →

TCM’s Robert Osborne sits down with comedian Gilbert Gottfried for an enthralling discussion about being mentored by Lucille Ball, seeing the Rat Pack live at the Sands, and escorting Olivia de Havilland to a party for Bette Davis.

I’m a huge classic film fan (and cite TCM as the main reason I still pay for cable) and Osborne, a font of knowledge, is an absolute pleasure to listen to. I hope he writes a memoir soon. I can’t imagine all the stories he has to tell.

New on the Books Page: ‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt

I’ve finally finished The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and I keep wavering between a 4-star and a 5-star review on Goodreads. On the whole, the book was brilliantly written. As a writer, I learned so much from Tartt’s Dickensian plot turns and her ability to describe a setting or a feeling so vividly, I couldn’t help but see, or smell, or feel the same things the characters were seeing, smelling, and feeling. Tartt is a terrific writer. Without a doubt.

However, this book needed an editor’s hand—a hatchet in some spots, a scalpel in others. Some passages rambled for paragraphs and pages, repeating the same words and phrases throughout to drill a scene into the reader’s skull until he was able to draw it from false memory. I’m pretty sure I have a clearer image of Amsterdam’s many glimmering canals than I’d get from actually traveling there. Minute details were described so thoroughly and frequently, it was hard not to skim over them just to get to the point.

Other times, Tartt left plot points wide open—times when she should have gone into more detail and perhaps reduced her descriptions of rain-soaked streets and the smell of the furniture repair shop where he semi-apprenticed. There’s also the matter of nearly every non-white in the book holding a servient role and working for free or coming in on a day off just to see the main character, Theo (a white male). I don’t know if that was a specific choice on the author’s part, but it did feel awkward and pulled me out of the story.

I don’t mind a long book (The Goldfinch clocks in at 771 pages), but only if the length is warranted. A good editor could’ve knocked out a hundred or so pages and tightened things up significantly. What’s unclear is why an editor didn’t do more. Was it because of Tartt’s reputation and past critical/commercial successes? An “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality? Or was it because of the Margaret Mitchell-ian length of time it took to finish the book in the first place. “She took 10 years to write this. It must be perfect!”

I’m not sure, but what I am sure of is The Goldfinch is definitely worth a read. Tartt’s a true talent and she has weaved a magical, if depressing modern fairytale that should be a lesson to novelists everywhere on several levels. They should study her writing—what she leaves in, what she leaves out, and how they can hone their own manuscripts to be as tight and well-paced as possible.

It was a long, sometimes tedious journey, but one that left me feeling satisfied after I’d turned the final page.

Writers and Their Margin Notes →

A collection of notes written by authors in the margins of other authors’ books. I wish the pictures were bigger, or at least the notes transcribed below each photo, but it’s fascinating to see how intense some writers got with their notations.

Opening Lines →

Jonathan Russell Clark:

I probably fetishize opening lines because, well, I’m a reader and a writer. As a reader, a really wonderful opening line makes me giddy with excitement. I nestle myself as deeply into my couch as I can go, and I accept the deal the novel has offered me. Yes, I will read the rest of you. You’ve earned it. As a writer, the opening line is the purest, most unadulterated part of a work. Before it, the blank page. After it, the whole of a story, a novel, a book. It is the division between nothing and something, the bridge between emptiness and fullness, between something in your head and something on the page. The opening sentence is the first utterance of life, the initial gasp of air that birth forces out.

'George R.R. Martin is Not Your Bitch' →

A reader wrote to Neil Gaiman asking him if he was justified in his disappointment that George R.R. Martin was doing things other than writing the next A Song of Ice and Fire book.

Gaiman’s response was spot on.