Why You Write

A short manifesto I wrote for Causeway Lit, a literary magazine run by Fairfield University’s MFA Program.

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Written by: Loan Le – Fiction Section Editor

So, here you are. You have turned down invitations to parties and happy hours, because you cannot socialize when you have a character in your mind, her voice echoing like a message over a PA system in an empty hallway. You have endured strangers’ tilted heads, the sardonic curl of their lips, the upspeak “Oh, really?” when you explain that you are a writer. Your worth has been challenged and measured against already established writers. Your work is “not the right fit” for this journal or that magazine. All of this has left you despairing, wondering why you have chosen this particular way of being, which lately brings much more pain than reward.

5765352856_11ba0095ff_zCredit: John Liu

Step back. Somewhere, find a pocket of peace where your thoughts are your own, where you hear only yourself. Recognize, first, that by writing, you have…

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“Yeah, um, I don’t like to read.”

ConversationsI’m not that good at starting them. Some people might think I’m odd, but one of the questions I might ask a stranger is what she or he is reading. I was at a writing group one time, and met a girl who was close to my age. She had just read an excerpt from her fiction short story. Asking for her reading preference didn’t seem unusual to me, especially because we were in a writing environment, but then she laughed shortly and answered:

“Yeah, um, I don’t like to read.”

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I tried hiding my shock, but I’m told that my emotions show.

In general I’m not bothered by people who don’t like to read. It’s perfectly fine for people to consume information through a different medium. But it doesn’t make sense to me when I hear that a writer dislikes reading. For my entire life, reading and writing have always gone hand in hand.

Let me explain how I started writing. I read the Harry Potter series over and over again, and in between each book release I created elaborate stories involving Rowling’s characters (aka, fanfiction). Eventually, I realized that my plots involved little to no magic, and my characters were unlike the characters within Rowling’s pages, so I knew that I’d outgrown the Harry Potter world, and needed to create my own. I started writing because I liked reading so much and I wanted different things to read.

I can say that one of my main sources of inspiration stems from the books I read (Harry Potter is only one example). When I can’t think of anything to write, I find refuge in books. True, there have been times when I purposely stopped reading. I foolishly convinced myself that I should focus on my own writing, that I should create sentences and stories, not absorb them. I also worried that by reading and writing at the same time I might accidentally compose a sentence that sounds good, only to realize I had read it in someone else’s work. However, I’ve learned that inspiration doesn’t mean plagiarism (well, to Shia LaBeouf it might). It’s taking one small, compressed detail in an existing work and expanding it into a completely different piece.

Take postmodern literature for example. Wide Sargasso Sea explores the life of a character who later becomes the madwoman in the attic in Jane Eyre. You can also consider more irreverent titles like Jane Slayre, which re-imagines the title character as a demon-slaying heroine. While still relying on the bare bones of Jane Eyre, Jean Rhys and Sherri Browning Erwin‘s novels created something different from the original story.

Additionally, writers who read have a better sense of their place in the spectrum of existing writers, and this awareness helps when you’re trying to establish your writing career. In publishing, there’s something called a Hollywood formula. When pitching a book in a letter, sometimes it’s easiest to write, “This book is such and such meets such and such.” Inception meets 10 Things I Hate About You. Um, well, that might be a weird description. I don’t even know how to make sense of that . . . I hope you get my point. Just one sentence can help an editor understand the content of your work, but it’s near impossible to make comparisons without possessing knowledge of those who are deemed great writers in your genre.

By reading, writers also gain literary aspirations. Be jealous of great writers! I’m constantly envious of today’s writers; I’ve read works from storytellers like Kate Milliken and Denis Johnson, and I think, “Damn. These people are unbelievably good.” I endeavor to be like them one daynot for the fame, but for the ability to evoke powerful, lasting emotions in strangers. People often say that you learn a lot from life, but I’ve learned so much from writers. (I guess what I’m saying is redundant because writers essentially mold life and its peculiarities into plausible words and sentences). I learned about the economy in writing from Raymond Carver, the unnecessary existence of form and punctuation from José Saramago, and the art of writing fascinating disturbed characters from Vladimir Nabokov, Ian McEwan, and Bret Easton Ellis.

If I could meet this non-reader writer againdespite the size of New York, it’s still a possibilityI’d encourage her to read more and read well, and perhaps leave her with this quote from Stephen King regarding the synergy between reading and writing:

“The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor. . . .” (Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft)

I’m interested to see which books have influenced writers the most. I’m starting a page called A Writer’s Toolbox, and would love to hear your suggestions. Comment or answer the poll below!

An editor’s perspective on writing

I went to a brown bag lunch the other day, and it was led by Colin Harrison, the Vice President and Editor-in-Chief at Scribner. Before joining Scribner, he was the deputy editor for Harper’s Magazine. He’s an accomplished novelist but edits mostly nonfiction because he enjoys the challenge, the journey that he takes with the sometimes nervous and overburdened writer.

These sessions allow young editors the opportunity to interact with someone who, before, had only been known by name. Example: an auction comes up and I can tell how serious the competition is by the way the editor says the other editor’s name. Who’s bidding on this, too? Oh, it’s so and so. Gravitas: I might lose this auction. Lightly: Oh, I’m totally winning.

Harrison is a middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper hair and a well-kept winter beard, and he talks with his hands. I expected the typical spiel about the business of books, but he actually provided an intimate account of writing and editing. I felt that some of his points might help me and you (whoever “you” might be) become better writers.

“What does it mean to be a writer?” he asked us. We all worked in different departments: editorial, marketing, finance, and legal. First thing that popped into my head is that writers need to be a bit bonkers. They need a small dose of insanity to conjure wild stories. Harrison definitely agreed, saying that a writer either wears this stereotype like a badge of honor or profusely denies it.

But, “writers are [also] criminals,” he remarked. While others aren’t noticing, while they are too busy obsessing over the superficiality of the world—the Kardashians, for example—writers take what they see as authentic and appropriate it to their own use. Without others knowing, these writers commit a slight theft, storing knowledge for later use.

I’m riding the subway and I see a mother and her sleepy child wearing a puffy pink-and-violet winter coat. The girl’s braids are coming loose, and her face is pressed against her mother’s left side. We arrive at a stop, and the mother shakes her child awake, but the little girl refuses to budge. The mother hoists her by the armpits, and drags her off the car. The girl is like a rag doll, the tips of her light-up sneakers skimming the floor.

See, this is something I would use in a story.

Harrison also discussed the challenges that writers encounter: the form, the story, and the process.

The Form. This should be the easiest thing to figure out, right? Wrong. Sometimes you’ll need the reader to point out that one form would benefit the story more than another. There have been plenty of times when I critiqued a writer’s work at my writing group and saw that the story could have functioned as a poem, rather than a short story.

The Story. Ugh, the struggle. I often ask myself why I’m telling this person’s story? What is the narrative that will grab the readers’ heart, hold them hostage until they become willing visitors to another world?

The Process. Every writer has a particular way of functioning. Harrison mentioned someone he knows who writes in the morning. And every morning, his wife would pour water on his head to wake him up. Funnily enough, this practical joke has become a step that the writer takes to jump-start his writing process. I haven’t developed a process that benefits me fully, but I will.

Oftentimes, writers mistake one problem for another. Example: I can’t figure out how to write this story in first person. Someone else asks: Why? Writer: Because the coffee shop where I write gets noisy and I can’t concentrate when that happens. What they think is a form problem actually turns out to be a process problem.

Finally, Harrison also talked about the definition of a book. He dismissed the normal definition that we all use, and of course, tweaked it with a novelist’s flair. According to him, a book is a machine of language. The beginning brings readers to the middle, which leads to the end; every part of a novel benefits the next. So, in this sense, editors are the mechanics. A book comprises a narrative, an argument, or a list. If you have trouble placing your book into any of these categories, then you might not have a book.

Well, it’s obvious by now that I love talking about writing! Perhaps too much. But I hope Harrison’s tips resonate with you as much as they resonate with me. Comment below to let me know your thoughts!

Other posts on writing: 

What I learned after working at literary agency 

In search of a writing community

What I learned from reading and writing fanfiction

What I learned after working at a literary agency

I worked at Folio Literary Management in Manhattan for about four months. It’s an agency that represents fiction and non-fiction authors. I’ve already experienced the publisher side when I was at Simon & Schuster  (where I will soon return), so I wanted to get a sense of where a book really begins: at an agency. I heard about Folio from a friend, and decided to apply in the summer of 2013. I didn’t get a response until the end of the year, but I didn’t care: it was a response!

While at Folio I maintained my agent’s query inbox. She’d get more than 20 emails a day, each with ten-page submissions for me to read. If I liked a query, I would say so (two paragraphs talking about narrative momentum, character, marketability – all things to consider when reading a manuscript), and then I’d get either a partial manuscript (50 pages) or a full manuscript. For a full script, I would have to write a one-page reader’s report listing the story’s strengths and weaknesses and a suggestion as to whether or not the agent should represent the client. I’d also research recent literary prize winners and see if their work could become a novel or if they’re already at work on a novel (making sure, of course, that they are not already represented). As you can see, I was given many responsibilities and I worked hard to complete  my tasks in a timely manner.

This experience was so rewarding. I learned so much about the publishing industry, thanks to Folio’s Intern Academy sessions. When I finish my novel, I’ll know how to query an agent! If you’re reading this, you’re probably a friend, and you’re probably curious to see what I’ve learned from Folio. Or you’re a complete stranger, but want to hear about my experience at a literary agency. Maybe you want to get an internship at a literary agency. Perfectly fine!

Here’s what I have to say. Some are tips for authors, some are pet peeves that I had as an intern (a few are confirmed pet peeves and others are personal pet peeves). Comment below if you have any more questions!

  • Easy on the font. Use Times New Roman or a clear serif.
  • When writing your reader’s report, watch the tone. You’re trying to help the writer improve his or her story, so it’s important to maintain a cordial tone throughout your report.
  • When submitting one novel, don’t mention that you have another one in the works. If an agent really likes your writing, he or she will ask. But if you tell them right away, it’s like you’re telling them, “Hey, I don’t think this is good enough either, so here’s some other choices!”
  • Research your potential agent. Did you write a YA novel? Check if she or he is accepting queries for that genre at the moment.
  • Let your supervisor know what you like to read. I told my supervisor that I love reading literary fiction, so he would always send me those queries.
  • Queries are first impressions that agents get of clients, so proofread. It’s amazing how people can completely ignore that.
  • Never send a mass email. Always address one agent at a time.
  • Don’t mention how you got your novel idea. Agents don’t care if God told you to write something.
  • Have a detailed synopsis ready in case the agent likes what you’ve sent him/her so far.
  • Don’t compare your writing style to legendary writers like Ernest Hemingway or Jane Austen. That’s just pompous.
  • The first ten pages matter. They usually tell agents to read more. You might be asked to submit a  partial (50 pages) or a full manuscript. So, it’s important that you get to the point of your story.
  • Read the literary agency’s submissions guidelines. It’s that simple.
  • Include relevant writing experience in your query. If you’re writing mystery and you’re a member of a mystery writing club, let them know.
  • If you’re writing prescriptive nonfiction, have a platform. If you’re writing narrative nonfiction, you have to write well.
  • Interns: Take books from the book pile. Book piles are heaps of gold. Don’t pass up an opportunity to get FREE books (and no late fees from the library).
  • Know what’s going on the publishing industry. I recommend reading PubTalk, Galley Cat, Mediabistro – any site that relates to publishing.
  • Make friends, because you’ll never know what’s going to happen two years, three years, etc. down the line. Publishing peeps are fun.
  • ENJOY.

A literary semester

It’s my last semester at Fairfield, so I thought I should take all the classes that I’ve been wanting to take. Why not?

Advanced Portfolio Workshop

Led by former Crazyhorse editor, Carol Ann Davis, this class is a capstone course for creative writing majors. By the end of this course we are supposed to have a publishable creative project. I’m choosing to compose a collection of short stories, all dealing with family dynamics. I supposedly volunteered to have my work examined in the first workshop. Don’t ask me how that happened; it’s all a blur. I plan to submit a very dark piece about a man who fights but eventually succumbs to his demons. Vague? Good! I can’t reveal all the good stuff here. Based on my impressions, I anticipate that this class will be beneficial to my development as a writer. Everyone seems interested in their craft, and I look forward to our sessions.

Teaching and Learning Grammar

Ah, grammar. There are so many bad, horrific, terrifying, embarrassing (OK, I’ll stop) memories of my childhood encounters with grammar. I remember getting back essays with red pen marks all over the pages. I vaguely remember being enrolled in an ESL class, because my English was so horrible. I apparently couldn’t speak English because my parents only spoke to me in Vietnamese at home. I don’t recall much of that ESL class (I did learn Spanish?). Anyways, grammar is my weak point. Yet, in my future line of work, I need to know grammar, so I thought I should finally have a whole course dedicated to grammar. So far, it is really interesting. My professor wants to teach students not only the basics to grammar, but also the history of it.

Issues in Professional Writing: Multimedia Writing

I will have a lot of trouble concentrating in this class. Why? Dogs. That’s why – my professor has DOGS. They’re Huskies, and they are so well-behaved and adorable. But, the whole class seems interesting. I’ve always wanted to build my own website, and that’s apparently one of our larger projects. I think that if I want to go into journalism (right after graduation, down the line, etc.) I would need to know basic web design skills. I like that we’re using blogs, Twitter, and computers to learn. We’re actually applying what we learn in class and what we read from our books. I always enjoy courses with hands-on tasks. As with my other classes, I can’t wait to get started.

Introduction to Poetry

Well. It’s poetry, so I am terrified. But hopefully I’ll survive?

Honors Thesis/Independent Writing Project: Novel Writing

I AM WRITING A NOVEL. That’s all I can say, because, apparently, it’s bad to talk about your writing. It’s the same novel I’ve been working on for over a year, and I am hoping to make serious progress with the help of Dr. Michael White, who is the MFA director at Fairfield.

Internship: Folio Literary Management

Folio Literary Management is a literary agency in Manhattan, so I commute Wednesdays and Fridays to work in the office. I’m an editorial intern so I read, read, read, take out the trash, read, refill the water cooler, read, read and, yes, read. I love it so far.

Work: The Mirror

What can I say? Working at The Mirror has become second-nature to me. It’s a part of my life, and I wouldn’t want to change anything. Of course I am nervous about this semester and the next, when the new staff will have to take over. I’m extremely overprotective of my baby; I think I’ve taken good care of it, so I don’t want things to change. I’m also trying to convince people that working at The Mirror is a rewarding experience. It doesn’t have to be a chore, I say.

We have a lot of competitions that are open to submissions. The first deadline is Jan. 24 for the Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Awards. I hope we win.

Wagner

Don’t ask me why the editor-in-brief, Leigh Tauss, had named it “Wagner.” I guess it’s random – just like the creation of this journal. Leigh has a vision for it – she’s still figuring it out – but I’m glad to be a part of it as the Spelling Witch! Boom. Greatest title ever. If you want to submit, please do.

Convention Craziness Part I

I’ve been waiting months for spring break to come. But don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t anticipating a vacation in some sunny resort or a cross-country road trip. No, I was looking forward to attending conventions!

Even though I’ve been so busy, I have no regrets. In just six days, I feel like I have grown exponentially and I cannot wait to apply what I learned to both my journalistic and creative writing. For the sake of my readers (if I even have readers), I’ll split my accounts into two posts. Here’s the first.

TableFrom March 7 to 8, as one of the managing editors of Dogwood: A Journal of Poetry and Prose, I attended my first Association of Writers and Writing Programs convention (AWP). The AWP Conference and Bookfair is the largest literary conference in America with more than 10,000 attendees and 600 bookfair exhibitions. This event is so important that the next four conference dates and locations have already been decided.

So, yes, this conference is like a mecca for young and established writers. I’m extremely ashamed to admit that I had just found out about it last semester. Dogwood has been preparing for AWP since then.

I have to say, we had an awesome table. I think that we were unique in our approach of luring in interested writers. We offered a spa treatment for the creatively inclined to decorate and to ‘glitterize’ (yes, I just did that) their badges. We had cute animal erasers that a lot of moms picked up for their kids (though I worried about the choking hazards). Then we let them choose between two inspirational quotes: “You are not your author’s bio,” and “You win the awesome award for this year.” I loved hearing the delightful laughs and seeing the smiles of all of the attendees who decided to partake in the treatment. We also had cool bookmarks that we handed out to everyone; I felt proud to see the new typeface that I had helped choose for the upcoming issue, and I cannot wait until the spring issue (April!) comes out.

I also think this was a great opportunity to people-watch because writers and editors are just so interesting and eccentric (cue the jokes about writers straying from their natural habitats).

You could see the ones trying too hard with their Starbucks, Chuck Taylors, and plaid shirts.

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I got jealous of the brazen writers who went to every MFA program table and bragged about their working novels or collection. I hope to be as brave as them one day (but also wish for my ego to remain tame).

The bookfair had to be split between two floors because so many exhibitors had signed up. I learned that it was okay to get lost because you were bound to find something interesting no matter what. I walked around in awe, astonished to find mags that I absolutely love (Ploughshares, Bomb) and curious about the other mag (Mad Hatter’s Review, Guernica) that I’d never heard of. I packed my awesome AWP tote bag with notebooks, literary journals, magnets, and postcards – so much ‘swag’ that they were happy to give away. You have to know that some exhibitors had come from the West Coast and did not want to lug all of their leftovers back on the plane.

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Each table had its own personality. The people behind the table were even more fun to meet because some were students like me and others were volunteers or actual editors! I ran into one man from The Laurel Review twice and we started talking, and I found out that he was the fiction editor. He also gave me an issue for free even though I’m sure he wasn’t supposed to…

There were certain tables that looked empty just because the people running them chose to talk to one another instead of welcoming other attendees. When I approached a few, they’d turn to face me and stare me down as if I was disturbing  an important conversation about the weather. Yuck. I stayed away from those tables.

On to the nighttime activities. AWP actually sponsored a dance in the Sheraton Hotel and let me tell you: the dance was both awkward and magnificent. Writers usually don’t express themselves through dance; we mostly socialize in our heads (amIright?). I guess the free wine and beer selection encouraged people to come out of their caves. I enjoyed seeing older attendees test their dance moves by swaying their hips and laughing when they realize that they “still got it.” I liked watching the circle of young writers and editors jumping up and down (at times I thought we’d break the dance floor). The DJ played a mix of 90s and current songs, trying to appeal to both groups. I am normally shy when I start dancing but after awhile, I no longer cared. I figured no one would notice my arms failing if everyone else was doing the same thing. Anna, one of the managing editors, definitely had fun – she started the “dancing on the stage” trend and made friends with the DJ (getting his beer once in while). Thank god there was no grinding.

The conference had scheduled over 550 readings, lectures, panel discussions, and forums. One thing I wished I had done more was attend the seminars, but unfortunately (but in retrospect, fortunately) I had to leave early for another convention. One of the few sessions that I did attend was called “Crossing Boundaries: Landscapes of Childhood and Adolescence,” and the panel discussed the importance of setting in adolescent literature. The panelists argued that the setting is actually the basis for character development. Leading the panel were authors like Australian novelist Lucy Christopher (Stolen) and hilarious Midwestern writer Kerry Madden. I also got to hear them read excerpts from their published and working novels.

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Afterwards, I realize that Dogwood has a lot of competition and areas in need of improvement. I think that Dogwood needs to be more present online, because in reality that’s where a lot of magazines and journals are going. Perhaps we can update the site more regularly and interact with our readers through social media.

Right now, however, I am so proud of what we’ve done so far. We were both lucky and unlucky after the hiatus. We had clean slate and could have messed up, but we didn’t! With the help of willing writers and Dogwood‘s awesome staff from Sonya’s World of Publishing classes, we’ve grown so much.

After leaving the convention and on my way to New York, I texted my good friend Esther and said that I had finally found “my people” at this convention. That might sound weird, but honestly, I really felt like I belonged because everyone who attended frenetically pursued writing and reading. Everyone I met saw the importance of writing and the therapy that it could provide. I felt liberated – so much so that describing my feelings towards AWP goes beyond my breadth of vocabulary. In all, what a fantastic experience. I hope to attend another one in the future.

My Reading Resolution (Thanks, Random House!)

Retreat, a blog from Random House of Canada that seeks to help the average reader “read, retreat, and relax,” recently posted a fun activity for the year 2013. I can’t tell you how many times I tell myself to read instead of sleeping until noon every day during school break. My laziness is seriously inhibiting my resolution to read more. But I am also hesitant because I don’t know where to start. What’s in and what’s out in the publishing industry?

Luckily, Retreat understands that life gets in the way of pleasure reading, which is why the bloggers decided to provide motivation with their new Reading Bingo 2013 Challenge. The bingo card has 25 boxes that describe different books. I can choose a book because of its cover, because it’s a book recommended to me, because it has a great first line, and etc. Apparently I can try to fill a row or diagonal (like in the actual game) or I can conquer the whole card. I’m choosing the latter, since I know I’ll be seriously challenged by that number. I like that this game allows me to read books from different genres. I typically read thrillers and contemporary fiction, but I’ll have to read a book of poetry and a book by a Canadian author (of course: this is Random House of Canada).

After a lot of research and an hour of memory retrieval, I’ve planned out my bingo card.

Books

Sorry, my handwriting is so messy. But at least the image is clear–thanks to my iPhone.

This is a long post, so if you are interested in seeing a few books, look at this list and press a bullet for a more detailed description. If you have time to spare, read on, my peeps.

 

A book you chose because of the cover: “Obsession,” by Leonard J. Davis

Summary from Amazon: We live in an age of obsession. Not only are we hopelessly devoted to our work, strangely addicted to our favorite television shows, and desperately impassioned about our cars, we admire obsession in others: we demand that lovers be infatuated with one another in films, we respond to the passion of single-minded musicians, we cheer on driven athletes. To be obsessive is to be American; to be obsessive is to be modern.

But obsession is not only a phenomenon of modern existence: it is a medical category—both a pathology and a goal. Behind this paradox lies a fascinating history, which Lennard J. Davis tells in Obsession. Beginning with the roots of the disease in demonic possession and its secular successors, Davis traces the evolution of obsessive behavior from a social and religious fact of life into a medical and psychiatric problem. From obsessive aspects of professional specialization to obsessive compulsive disorder and nymphomania, no variety of obsession eludes Davis’s graceful analysis.

 Just look at the cover. This is designer porn right here. I don’t have a zoom function, but apparently the obsession typeface was not produced via Photoshop; it was handmade by poking “tiny pinpricks through heavy cardstock.” Credits for the design and lettering go to Isaac Tobin and Lauren Nassef, respectively. The summary is also intriguing. The line “to be obsessive is to be American; to be obsessive is to be modern,” caught my attention, leading me to ask: “Are we really defined by this phenomenon?” Reading this nonfiction book will surely be an eye-opening experience.

A book you saw someone reading: “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” by David Foster Wallace

Summary from Amazon: “In this exuberantly praised book – a collection of seven pieces on subjects ranging from television to tennis, from the Illinois State Fair to the films of David Lynch, from postmodern literary theory to the supposed fun of traveling aboard a Caribbean luxury cruiseliner – David Foster Wallace brings to nonfiction the same curiosity, hilarity, and exhilarating verbal facility that has delighted readers of his fiction, including the bestselling Infinite Jest.”

I haven’t spotted anyone reading a physical book in a while. See, the negative aspect of e-readers is that you can never figure out what a stranger is reading! However, I’ve consulted one of my favorite Tumblrs called Underground New York Public Library. Moroccan/New Yorker photographer Ourit Ben-Haïm takes pictures of people reading in the subway. Though she puts in e-reader up once in a while, many of the pictures show people and the books they’re reading. On the front page, I found “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” by the famous David Foster Wallace.

A book that will help with your career: “Object Lessons,” by The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story

Yup. That’s me with “Object Lessons.”


Some chose classics. Some chose stories that were new even to us. Our hope is that this collection will be useful to young writers, and to others interested in literary technique. Most of all, it is intended for readers who are not (or are no longer) in the habit of reading short stories. We hope these object lessons will remind them how varied the form can be, how vital it remains, and how much pleasure it can give.”

My sister gave me this book for Christmas, and I’ve been perusing it occasionally. I’m excited to dig deeper. I’m considering both journalism and publishing careers, and I see no better way to learn writing than to read select stories from masters. I also admit that I’m not one to read short stories for fun, even though I aspire to write them. I mostly read short story submissions for Dogwood and my Fiction I class. It’s sad, I know, but I’m trying to change. This past summer I picked up a collection from Ernest Hemingway, and I loved it. My next collection after this book is “Tenth of December,” by George Saunders. I never heard of him until I read this ridiculously well-written article by Joel Lovell in The New York Times.

A book you saw on TV: “The Beautiful and the Damned,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald


Summary from Goodreads: “… the story of Harvard-educated, aspiring aesthete Anthony Patch and his beautiful wife, Gloria. As they await the inheritance of his grandfather’s fortune, their reckless marriage sways under the influence of alcohol and avarice. A devastating look at the nouveau riche and New York nightlife, as well as the ruinous effects wild ambition…”

A friend tells me that this novel was mentioned in an episode of “Gossip Girls.” Fitting, I believe.

A book with an animal on the cover: “Disgrace,” by J.M. Coetzee


Summary from Goodreads: “…tells the story of David Lurie, a twice divorced, 52-year-old professor of communications and Romantic Poetry at Cape Technical University. Lurie believes he has created a comfortable, if somewhat passionless, life for himself. He lives within his financial and emotional means. Though his position at the university has been reduced, he teaches his classes dutifully; and while age has diminished his attractiveness, weekly visits to a prostitute satisfy his sexual needs. He considers himself happy. But when Lurie seduces one of his students, he sets in motion a chain of events that will shatter his complacency and leave him utterly disgraced.”

I only know Coetzee as a post-modern writer, but ooh la la, what a plot. By the way, the animal is a dog on the cover.

A book from the library: Random!

A book that is out of your comfort zone: “Stranger in a Strange Land,” by Robert A. Heinlein

Summary from Amazon: “…an epic saga of an earthling, Valentine Michael Smith, born and educated on Mars, who arrives on our planet with psi powers—telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, telekinesis, teleportation, pyrolysis, and the ability to take control of the minds of others—and complete innocence regarding the mores of man…Valentine begins his transformation into a messiah figure. His introduction into Earth society, together with his exceptional abilities, lead Valentine to become many things to many people: freak, scam artist, media commodity, searcher, free-love pioneer, neon evangelist, and martyr.”


I’ve only read two science fiction books in my life: Ender’s Game and Shade’s Children. It’s not that I don’t want to read in that genre; it’s just not on the top of my list. For the spring semester, I will be enrolled in an Introduction to Science Fiction class and I will have to read “Stranger.” There’s no better motivation than mandatory reading.

An award-winning book: “Tinkers,” by Paul Harding

Summary from The Pulitzer Prizes: The novel is “… a powerful celebration of life in which a New England father and son, through suffering and joy, transcend their imprisoning lives and offer new ways of perceiving the world and mortality.”

I like depressing books. I like happy books. Makes sense to me.

A book recommended by your local bookseller: “Tenth of December,” by George Saunders

There’s already praise in the book description on Amazon: “Writing brilliantly and profoundly about class, sex, love, loss, work, despair, and war, Saunders cuts to the core of the contemporary experience. These stories take on the big questions and explore the fault lines of our own morality, delving into the questions of what makes us good and what makes us human.”

Taken from Lovell’s article, Saunders on David Foster Wallace and what it means to write: “I admired him so much,” he said about Wallace. “His on-the-spot capabilities were just incredible. And I thought, Yeah, we’re a lot alike. We’re similar, nervous guys. And then when he died, I thought [of myself], Wait a minute, you’re not like that. You don’t have chronic, killing depression. I’m sad sometimes, but I’m not depressed. And I also have a mawkish, natural enthusiasm for things. I like being alive in a way that’s a little bit cheerleaderish, and I always felt that around Dave. When he died, I saw how unnegotiable it was, that kind of depression. And it led to my being a little more honest about one’s natural disposition. If you have a negative tendency and you deny it, then you’ve doubled it. If you have a negative tendency and you look at it” — which is, in part, what the process of writing allows — “then the possibility exists that you can convert it.”

A young adult novel: “The Fault in Our Stars,” by John Green


Summary from Goodreads: A girl who has tumours in her lungs meets a guy who is, for some reason, attracted to her. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.”

This was recommended to me by my good friend, Ali, who texted: “Yeah, it’s really good. You would like it especially.” Since Ali knows me very well, I’ll trust her judgment. I think I’ll like it because I already love John. Let me tell you: John and his brother Hank are some of my favorite YouTube Vloggers. They’re the epitome of nerds (followers are called ‘nerdfighters,’) and they are awesome. Based on the summary, I can expect to get a huge dose of angst, romance and life lessons.


A book that’s been on your shelf for more than 5 years: “The Book of Fate,” by Brad Meltzer


“Washington, D.C., has a two-hundred-year-old secret. Six minutes from now, one of us would be dead. None of us knew it was coming. So says Wes Holloway, a young presidential aide, about the day he put Ron Boyle, the chief executive’s oldest friend, into the president’s limousine. By the trip’s end, a crazed assassin would permanently disfigure Wes and kill Boyle. Now, eight years later, Boyle has been spotted alive. Trying to figure out what really happened takes Wes back into disturbing secrets buried in Freemason history, a decade-old presidential crossword puzzle, a two hundred-year-old code invented by Thomas Jefferson that conceals secrets worth dying for.”

And I ask myself: Why has this been on my shelf for five years?

A book someone recommends to you: Random!

A book with a great first line: “Metamorphosis,” by Franz Kafka

Summary from Goodreads: “It is the story of a young man who, transformed overnight into a giant beetle-like insect, becomes an object of disgrace to his family, an outsider in his own home, a quintessentially alienated man. A harrowing — though absurdly comic — meditation on human feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and isolation, The Metamorphosis has taken its place as one of the most widely read and influential works of twentieth-century fiction.
As W.H. Auden wrote, “Kafka is important to us because his predicament is the predicament of modern man.”

First line is: “One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin.”

A book written by a celebrity: “The Pleasure of My Company,” by Steve Martin

Summary from Amazon: “Daniel resides in his Santa Monica apartment, living much of his life as a bystander…It is through Daniel’s growing attachment to Clarissa, and to Teddy, that he finally gains the courage to begin to engage the world outside, and in doing so, he discovers love, and life, in the most surprising places.”

You’ll never catch me reading Snooki’s biography. So, I chose a funny man named Steve Martin instead. In addition to acting in comedic films, Martin also writes and makes music.

A book with more than 400 pages: “Anna Karenina,” by Leo Tolstoy

Summary from Amazon: “…tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and must endure the hypocrisies of society. Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, the novel’s seven major characters create a dynamic imbalance, playing out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness.”

This is a classic. I bought my copy at a book sale, and I’ve gone through maybe a hundred pages already. Yeah, I know, I need to get working. You don’t have to tell me that again.

A book of poetry: “Theories and Apparitions,” by Mark Doty

From The Independent: Urbane New York peregrinations and conversational musings from the prizewinning American.

Again, I am not a poet; the best I can do is a haiku–a sorely, horrible, and uncreative haiku. This book of poetry can go in hand with the “book that is out of your comfort zone.” I found this book on the Independent website as part of their ‘Ten Best-Selling Poetry Books,’ and I usually trust their judgment.

A book you heard about on the radio: Random!

A book with pictures: “Watchmen,” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Summary from Amazon: “This Hugo Award-winning graphic novel chronicles the fall from grace of a group of super-heroes plagued by all-too-human failings. Along the way, the concept of the super-hero is dissected as the heroes are stalked by an unknown assassin.”

I’ve only read “Fun Home,” by Alison Bechdel and “Stitches,” by David Small (both from my college English courses!), but these two have spurred my love for graphic novels. I’ve heard of “Watchmen,” and its raving reviews from graphic novel fans, so I thought I’d hop on the bandwagon and check it out. As long as the storyline is compelling and graphics are amazing, I’m sold. Then again, that can be pretty hard to do.

A book recommended by barista: Random!

Hold on – looking for a barista. Contact me if you can suggest a good person or received a great recommendation!

A book recommended by a celebrity: “Gone Girl,” by Gillian Flynn

Summary from Amazon: Marriage can be a real killer. One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong.

I’m not sure if ‘unputdownable’ is a word, but I’ll let it slide, Amazon. Anderson Cooper and I have a close and personal relationship, and he told me once over a cup of Chai Latte on the streets of Paris that I should read this novel. Andy, I hear you now. Will I like it? I don’t know; the ‘suspense’ is killing me 😉

 

A book by a Canadian author: “Life of Pi,” by Yann Martel

Summary from Amazon: The son of a zookeeper, Pi Patel has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior and a fervent love of stories. When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes. The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker for 227 days while lost at sea. When they finally reach the coast of Mexico, Richard Parker flees to the jungle, never to be seen again. The Japanese authorities who interrogate Pi refuse to believe his story and press him to tell them “the truth.” After hours of coercion, Pi tells a second story, a story much less fantastical, much more conventional–but is it more true?

Canadian, ey? JOKES! I honestly don’t know what a Canadian accent sounds like, but I bet Canadians are super nice. I always thought of this novel as a kid’s book because of the cover, which is why I stayed away from it. However, people have been telling me to read this, so I will. Guess I’ll see the movie after.


A book you (should have) read in high school: “The Heart of Darkness,” by Joseph Conrad

How dare you, Random House! Of course I’ve read–well, kind of-not-really–OKAY! You caught me, sneaky publishing house. I’ve perused HoD and watched the totally tripping movie version, but I’ll try and get a closer reading of it when I have the time.

From Amazon: Heart of Darkness tells of Marlow, a seaman and wanderer, who journeys into the heart of the African continent to discover how the enigmatic Kurtz has gained power over the local people.

A book you would have picked up as a teenager:  “A Tale of Two Cities,” by Charles Dickens

Summary from Goodreads: After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the aging Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil roads of London, they are drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror, and they soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.

A book “everyone” but you has read:  “Lord of the Ring” series by J.R.R. Tolkien

At first I wanted to read “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E.L. James, but then I decided against it. “Everyone,” in that case, only applies to the female population. My next choice is the LoTR. I used to be a total “Harry Potter” snob. I said, “No, HP is the best!” (Not that it’s a bad thing, but now that I think about it, that assumption sounds so narrow-minded. Luckily no one punched me.) I’ve grown out of that phase and now I want to go back and read what everyone seemed to obsess over in middle school and high school. I saw the movies–fantastic–but I admit I still don’t understand the whole evil eye thing.

I really hope I can complete this challenge. Rereading this post, I’m getting excited about buying and borrowing these books! And you’ll be glad to know that I am sticking with printed books. Reading on e-readers actually cause strain on my eyes. Also, e-readers cannot replace the sensation of paper between your fingers.

Now, I am curious…what will you read? Comment below, you brave souls who stuck around.

Many of these images were found using Creative Commons