Thursday, March 11, 2010
Yesterday, inspired by an Elif Batuman book and a James Wood essay in The New Yorker, I wrote about novel names. I absolutely adore those of you who shared your own perspective on this. Sarah and others wondered how I name my characters, and I will admit here that sound has so much to do with my decision making. Sophie suggests a particular kind of person to me—internally focused, quietly questing, curious. Riley, for me, is an artist. Tara is wise, winningly sarcastic, eager for the next thing. Like Melissa, I don't question a name once I find it, and I don't overly freight it with meaning. My own name, Beth, means House of God. That's a whole lot to live up to (I certainly haven't yet), and I've never named a character that.
In focusing on names in this blog yesterday, I did not have the opportunity to quote from the beginning of the Wood piece ("Keeping it Real: Conflict, convention, and Chang Rae-Lee's 'The Surrendered'") which also struck me as rich with conversational possibilities. Here it is. I'd love your thoughts:
Does literature progress, like medicine or engineering? Nabokov seems to have thought so, and pointed out that Tolstoy, unlike Homer, was able to describe childbirth in convincing detail. Yet you could argue the opposite view; after all, no novelist strikes the modern reader as more Homeric than Tolstoy.... Perhaps it is as absurd to talk about progress in literature as it is to talk about progress in electricity—both are natural resources awaiting different forms of activation....
Wood goes on to make some very interesting statements about the "lazy stock-in-trade of mainstream realist fiction," but it wouldn't be fair of me to quote him at greater length here (buying magazines helps continue the livelihood of magazines). I encourage you to take a look. I'm eager for your reactions.