“You are always in your skin.”

Isabel Allende is my new literary hero.  It has been years since I’ve read her books, but after listening to the Talking Volumes interview on MPR today, I want to revisit her old novels with the new vision of the author as a blunt and sassy lady–not really what I expected from a author of poetic sagas full of magical realism.

She spoke of changes.  “Every two years,” she said, “things change or you die.”  In her own life, things have changed many times over.   She was born in Chile in the 1940’s, and she grew up feeling shy and never quite fitting in.  Now she is an American citizen and a best-selling novelist.  Still, though, there is still that quiet little girl inside her somewhere no matter how far she gets from that point in her life.  “You are always in your skin,” she said.  You change, or life changes around you, but you are still you with your hopes, fears, and passions.   Just stronger and happier–hopefully.

houseofthespiritsThose magical sagas Allende wrote early in her career?  They aren’t her anymore.  She said she can’t even read The House of the Spirits now.  The worldwide bestseller that launched Isabel Allende’s career is “overdone” as she put it.  “Too baroque.”  I know how she feels.

My current journal is almost full, and in a few more pages, I’ll add it to my stack of old journals that I am afraid to look at again for fear of finding them “overdone.”  Perhaps even a bit “baroque.”  I’ve been keeping a journal since I was a teenager.  There are ups and downs of all sorts contained in those pages.  Maybe one day I’ll read through them, even the cringe-worthy teenage journals full of bad poetry, but for now they are better left in a stack gathering dust as I move on to a new book of blank pages.

I can’t help but wonder what the next two years will bring.

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Reading the Afterlife

This morning I listened to Chuck Palahniuk talk with Kerri Miller on MPR’s Midmorning.  His latest book, Damned, is written from the perspective of a dead girl, and the first excerpt he read from the book took on the afterlife and how it feels to be dead.  Madison narrates the story from Hell, and it is interspersed with asides that start “Are You There, Satan? It’s me, Madison.”  Sounds like Palahniuk’s usual subversive self is at work again, and I can’t wait to read it.

Though to be honest, I guess I have a strange affection for books narrated from the afterlife.  I hadn’t noticed before, but when I started listing books in my head I realized that off the top of my head I could think of several: The Lovely Bones, If I Stay, Sum (which I blogged about here), and Please Ignore Vera Dietz.

I mentioned Please Ignore Vera Dietz briefly in this post about teen fiction that addresses addiction, but I skipped the the fact that among the book’s several alternating narrators is Vera’s late friend Charlie, “the dead kid.”  He describes the afterlife as such:

“You’re surprised? You had a different idea of the afterlife? This goes against your religion?  Well, what did you really know anyway? No one living understands dying, and no matter what they dream up–from harps and heaven to pickles and Big Macs–they can’t prove a thing until they’re on this side.”

I guess that’s it.  When we don’t know something, there’s plenty of room for making up stories about it.  Those of you who read teen fiction may want to check out some of the titles on this list for various takes on what the fictional afterlife.  Everyone else: listen to Chuck Palahniuk read from his new book.  Tell me it doesn’t sound intriguing.