Read This: Somewhere in Between by Katie Li

Somewhere In BetweenSomewhere In Between by Katie Li
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Katie Li’s Somewhere in Between is a Murakamiesque roller coaster ride through love, friendship, and time itself. (Not sure this “roller coaster” metaphor is working, but stick with me.) Magnolia, collector of lost things, and Rom, a shy gamer guy, form an unlikely connection as teens. Their friendship deepens when they discover a portal to another realm—the in-between place. Every time they visit, it’s different. When they go back to reality in their lovably ramshackle Boston neighborhood, the real world has shifted—sometimes in subtle ways, other times in major ways—as well.

Somewhere in betweenThis is no ordinary reading experience. It’s not the kind of book you can sit back and lose yourself in—but that’s a good thing. It requires the reader’s careful attention. In the Wizard of Oz movie, Dorothy leaves black-and-white Kansas and steps into the technicolor wonderland of Oz, giving viewers a huge visual clue, in case we didn’t quite get it: You’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy! In Somewhere in Between, the font switches from boldface to roman, helping the reader track the shifts from one realm to the other. At chapter breaks, the book’s pages are intricately designed, festooned in flowers and vines.

One of my favorite passages is a discussion between Magnolia and Rom in the In-between Place. “Do you ever imagine what time looks like,” asks Magnolia. Rom doesn’t exactly understand why she’s asking, but she tries to explain it to him: “I don’t know—it just dawned on me the other day that when I think of time, it has a shape.” She asks Rom to close his eyes and describe how he thinks of time. He thinks of a calendar, of pages tearing off one by one. She says she sees time differently—like a roller coaster:

It’s a roller coaster, but it’s not fast. And you’re not sitting down. You don’t even really have a body. It’s just the feeling of moving in a roller coaster, January starts, and then it moves forward, sort of—I guess toward you? If you were looking at it. And then February goes, like, upward. And March gets higher, but then sort of plateaus.

somewhere in between2I love this conversation because it’s exactly the way people get to know each other—really know each other. It’s how young people’s friendships deepen. They sit around and talk—not just about life and school and books and movies, but about how they think, how they view the world. You can’t have these conversations with just anybody—you wouldn’t want to! You reserve them for the people you trust. You feel like, if you just had enough of these kinds of conversations, you’d achieve some sort of perfect communion. They would get you, and you would get them, too.

Katie Li and I interviewed each other, author to author. As she said on her Instagram, we “chat about books, love, friendship, our cities, fomo, and the writing life.” Check out the interview here!

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Write It So You Can Read It

Here’s a little exercise I like to give my writing students: think of your favorite book or movie. Describe it with three adjectives. Then list three adjectives to describe your own writing. The point is to see how much the art you create matches up with the art you like to consume.

In 2009, I did the exercise along with my students. Three adjectives that describe one of my favorite movies of all time, Before Sunrise: affecting, insightful, and romantic. My writing—a blog and book about raising babies in an eco-friendly manner—would best be described as practical, informative, and useful.

As much as I loved blogging on the The Green Baby Guide (a lot), and as much as I had to say on the subject of cloth diapers (more than you can imagine), I simply wasn’t writing what I wanted to read.

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Amazon describes Before Sunrise like this:

A French grad student named Celine (Julie Delpy) meets an American boy named Jesse (Ethan Hawke) on the Budapest-Vienna train. They get off the train in Vienna and hang out for a while.

So basically, boy meets girl and they hang out.

Now, whenever I start wondering what I should write about next, I think about all the stories that have affected me. What do I like to read?

I like stories about suburban couples who risk everything for an unattainable dream and then end up miserable in the end.

I like stories about nuns who realize they aren’t cut out for the abbey and run around the Alps with seven children dressed in curtains.

I like stories about best friends who get married, get divorced, and try to stay friends.

I like stories about pioneers who battle plagues of locusts and long, cold winters.

I like stories about writers who date models and snort cocaine.

Years after my revelation, I finished Broken Homes & Gardens, a novel best described as a startling cross between The Sound of Music and Bright Lights, Big City.

Just joking. Broken Homes & Gardens is a boy meets girl and they hang out for a while story. My characters don’t snort cocaine or run around the Alps in play clothes made out of curtains. I have to save something for my next book.