Why is this pig whining?

News about bars in Central Phoenix is typically similar to blockbuster movie trailers – we know so far in advance that we are constantly lamenting the unopened doors, imagining the delicious cocktails and lively conversations we are not having because of the construction delays. Ironically this period of intense complaining did not occur for The Whining Pig. Instead, this tiny wine and beer bar opened abruptly. One day it was a tattoo parlor, and the next it was filled with local imbibists (yes, I made up this word. Those who imbibe.)

Joe and I noticed the sign and scrambled to try and find time to get there. We pride ourselves in being one of the first people to find a new hangout, and were slightly panicked that one of our less-child-infested friends might beat us out. We read the Yelp reviews (which are all quite positive) and juggled our calendar.

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We made it! I was not only pleased to finally get there, but to know that when I finally had a conversation with my friend Mark I could speak intelligently about the place. He is equally as fascinated with the local eating and drinking scene as I am, and we spend a great deal of our friendship judging the changes that are afoot. (We are both excited about Baby Kay’s coming to the corner of 16th and Bethany, and have discussed at length what they are possibly going to do about parking. It’s already a nightmare and I sometimes have to skip my trip to Luci’s in the morning because of this limitation. Mark’s theory is they will have to work out a deal with the office complex next door. But lunch will still be an issue no matter.)

There is a lot to like about The Whining Pig. A lot. I am most impressed with the fact that Greg – the owner  – has been smart about his choices. He knows what he is trying to be – a small shop, low overhead, repeat business, and great drinks. He doesn’t have a kitchen, so snacks are limited to a meat and cheese plate and delicious looking desserts. When someone orders food, Greg’s dad goes in the back to chop and prepare the plate.

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The menu – written in chalk on the wall – is extensive compared to the size of the room. Now that we’ve been back a few times I typically just tell Greg what I feel like and he picks something for me. Our last trip over he poured me a white blend from France that I’m still dreaming about.

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Those pennies on the bar were assembled by Greg and his wife. I didn’t get a photo of the pig they created, but it is impressive.

I hope you’ve had a chance to make it over as well. But if not I wouldn’t worry, Greg and his pig will be around for awhile.

Hemingway was not a hack

One thing I hate most about literature classes (and I’ve taken so many of them I have a long list of things I hate), is that the response “I didn’t like the book” is not a valid one. As a Lit student you are expected to slog your way through all sorts of horrible stuff in order to learn how literature as a whole fits together. I am glad I read Beowulf, Paradise Lost, The Fairy Queen….but I did not enjoy the reading. These books weren’t written with me in mind, and whether I liked them or not is not the point.

So a friend of mine claims his daughter hates Hemingway. That the book she had to read for school – The Sun Also Rises – has no plot. And its just about some guy with a broken penis who goes around Europe with some hooker. Hemingway is a horrible author. He sucks.

Her dad might have embellished this story to some degree, but the fact of the matter is she was required to read a “classic” and she balked.

I’m not mad about a teenager hating Hemingway. I’m actually glad she took the time to read the book and hate it, and it’s a perfectly reasonable reaction. The way our education system is these days I’m surprised they are actually still teaching people how to read things other than test questions. Yet. The book in question happens to be one of my go-to books when thinking about writing, how to write, and how to be great. It’s difficult for me to set aside my own love of the book and think about its importance in the greater stream of writing.

Maybe there are two kinds of writers. Those who write a “story” and those who write. Now I sound incredibly arrogant, but the story writers are raking in the dough, and the writers are waiting tables.

To back up my theory, I took out this book:

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This tiny guy is a collection of things the man had to say about writing. In letters, in books, in conversation…back when people wrote letters I suppose. Here is what he has to say about plot:

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Well. He has nothing to say about it apparently.

Hemingway does have faults. He didn’t understand women and they turn out flat and unlikeable in his prose. He was a drunk. He liked to kill stuff. But he wrote The Snows of Kilimanjaro, The Old Man and the Sea, and yes, The Sun Also Rises.

I’ve struggled the past few weeks trying to articulate why this particular author made such an impression on me. I read him, Fitzgerald, and Steinbeck all in the same year, probably 1988. They wrote about what was real to them, what was going on in the world, they tore off scabs, threw open bedroom doors, lifted up the skirts of the ladies. I wanted to write just like them all, in their swagger and confidence and minimalist language.

Lady Brett Ashley loved Jake Barnes. But she also loved her independent life, and her freedom, and her matadors. It’s interesting to me that a teenage girl would find Lady Brett offensive. I find her a bit tragic, very fun, and interesting. Never in a million years would I call her a hooker. And if I could have some form of income, I would rather be her than any of these insipid, needy, annoying girls in modern literature. At least she did what she wanted to do, instead of what everyone told her to do.

In thinking over Hemingway, teenage girls and their opinions of literature, my friends, my life, and what it really means to be a successful writer, I became discouraged. I am discouraged.

Twilight. The Hunger Games. Harry Potter. Fifty Shades of Grey. The Notebook.

These are the successful books of our day, and they are so badly written it makes me wonder if our new electronic age has fried the brains of every editor in every publishing house in the world.

And then I pick up Donna Tartt’s Goldfinch – all 700 some-odd pages of it – and my faith is restored. Good writing does matter. It’s not always about quick plots, sparkly vampires, cliches and bad syntax. Someone out there does still care about crafting fiction that is beautiful, and for that I am grateful.