Saturday, December 29, 2012

It's About That Time

With the end of 2012 comes the summation of my reading for the year. Unlike in years past, this year I will pick out my top five favorites from my recommended books and even try to deem one as "best." Some of these books (most, in fact) were new to me, but some were re-reads. I think I may borrow the tradition of some of my friends and re-read LOTR every year. There are just so many books out there to read--we'll see. The books with asterisks are recommended for everyone in general. Anyone who has read Christopher Moore needs to read all he's written. He's my favorite authorial find this year. Absurd, hilarious magical realism. A Dirty Job, Lamb, and Fluke are my all-time favorites. Also, this list is subject to change because it's possible I may finish any of the four books I'm reading right now before January 1st.

Without further ado, here are the books I read in 2012.

1. Flight - Sherman Alexie*
2. Sula - Toni Morrison*
3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie*
4. The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Milan Kundera
5. The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams*
6. The Truth About Stories - Thomas King
7. A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man - James Joyce*
8. A Midsummer Night's Dream - Shakespeare*
9. Much Ado About Nothing - Shakespeare*
10. Tracks - Louise Erdrich*
11. A Wrinkle in Time - Madeline L'Engle*
12. Solar Storms - Linda Hogan*
13. A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin*
14. Ceremony - Leslie Marmon Silko
15. Lament for a Son - Nicholas Wolterstorff
16. Odd and the Frost Giants - Neil Gaiman
17. M is for Magic - Neil Gaiman*
18. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs*
19. Castle in the Air - Dianna Wynne Jones*
20. Out of Oz - Gregory Maguire*
21. The Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien*
22. The Two Towers - J.R.R. Tolkien*
23. The Return of the King - J.R.R. Tolkien*
24. The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien*
25. Good Omens - Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman*
26. The Sandman: A Game of You - Neil Gaiman*
27. The Color of Magic - Terry Pratchett*
28. A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess*
29. A Clash of Kings - George R.R. Martin*
30. The Princess Bride - William Goldman
31. The Once and Future King - T.H. White
32. Practical Magic - Alice Hoffman*
33. Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card*
34. The Cider House Rules - John Irving*
35. The Good Earth - Pearl S. Buck
36. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky*
37. Anansi Boys - Neil Gaiman*
38. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
39. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim - David Sedaris*
40. The Alchemist - Paolo Coelho*
41. Interview With the Vampire - Anne Rice*
42. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
43. Poetry 180 - ed. Billy Collins*
44. House of Many Ways - Dianna Wynne Jones*
45. Holidays on Ice - David Sedaris*
46. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez*
47. Practical Demonkeeping - Christopher Moore
48. Bloodsucking Fiends - Christopher Moore
49. Book of Shadows - Cate Tiernan
50. The Coven - Cate Tiernan
51. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood*
52. You Suck - Christopher Moore
53. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
54. Bite Me - Christopher Moore
55. The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver*
56. The Hotel New Hampshire - John Irving*
57. Have Spacesuit--Will Travel - Robert A. Heinlein
58. Fluke - Christopher Moore*
59. Picnic, Lightning - Billy Collins*
60. Possession - A.S. Byatt*
61. The Life of Pi - Yann Martel
62. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott*
63. Island of the Sequined Love Nun - Christopher Moore
64. The Tales of Beedle the Bard - J.K. Rowling
65. The Stupidest Angel - Christopher Moore*
66. The Silmarillion - J.R.R. Tolkien*
67. The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove - Christopher Moore*
68. The Dispossessed - Ursula Le Guin*
69. Diary - Chuck Palahniuk*
70. America Again: Rebecoming the Greatness We Never Weren't - Stephen Colbert*
71. On the Road - Jack Kerouac*


My top five favorites, in order of descending greatness.
1. The Dispossessed - Ursula Le Guin
2. A Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
3. The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
4. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
5. Possession - A.S. Byatt


I read many great books this year, but these five were absolutely life-changing for me. I was affected seriously by each one and wish that everyone who reads this will read each of these books at some point in their lives.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish?

Am I terribly old hat because that question terrifies me? Something tells me I'm not alone. I know self-publishing is no longer a last resort, a grudging alternative to "traditional routes," but something in me bristles at the notion of my actually doing it.

I'm currently compiling a manuscript of poetry. I thought with the wealth of poems I've managed to produce over the past several years that it might not be that hard. I was sadly wrong. As daunting as just putting things together to produce a cohesive piece and polishing it all up is, publishing is so much more terrifying.

I tell myself that I can continue to submit to contests--single pieces, three poems, or even a chapbook or whole collection--and that once I'm comfortable I can submit a finished MS to "reputable" publishers. My mind flags them as reputable, even though I know the literary journals and other places I've been submitting are just as reputable in reality. Perhaps what my brain means is "prolific." Then I can start my slog up the literary ladder until I have a chance to spin that magic fame and fortune wheel.

As I sit back and ponder this line of thinking, I realize I've had it since I was in third grade, when I first decided I wanted to be a writer. But where do I go from here?

I felt a similar panic when I was confronted with the concept of literary agents a couple years ago. The idea of marketing my product was something which simply had not occurred to me. Doesn't the publisher do that? The inner workings of the literary world sometimes seem as complex as the worlds the books they publish reveal to readers. I hope this anxiety at the concept of self-publishing is a rapidly passing one. It seems that more and more people are open to the idea of it, but the practical aspects of it are still a mystery to me. A simple Google search yields an incredible amount of information regarding self-publishing: articles, blog posts, reviews of self-published books, books about self-publishing, self-published books about self-publishing.

It seems like I've reached the end of this post and don't have much in the way of resolution. Rather than pontificating further, here's a quote regarding the nature of poetry from Charles Simic, taken from the Poets Laureate Anthology:

                 I remember once--I was teaching in the schools in
                 El Paso, Texas. And a student had asked . . . me
                 what poetry was good for. And I was stunned,
                 because it's such a serious question. It's a difficult
                 question. And suddenly a hand went up. It was a
                 young woman. So I said . . . "What do you think?"
                 And she said, "To remind people of their own
                 humanity." That struck me as so sensible, so
                 moving, so poignant . . . . You know, I'm mortal,
                 I exist, I have my own conscience, I have my own
                 being, myself. Here I am with this universe. Maybe
                 there's a God; maybe there's no God. This is my
                 predicament, my human predicament. Poetry
                 reminds readers of that.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Official Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The first installment of Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy gives audiences a familiar, exciting glimpse into the world of Middle-Earth, with a twist. Those who have read Tolkien's books may notice a large difference in tone between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit was written before The Lord of the Rings and is intended to be read by a much younger audience, giving the narration a classic story-book tone. Readers unaware of this who read the epic saga of the Ring and then turn to The Hobbit as a prequel may be jolted by the difference in style. In the same way, audiences taking for granted Jackson's Hobbit as LOTR part 4 will find the tone vastly changed.

The film starts in the familiar, rolling landscape of the Shire and features Bilbo Baggins, played by Martin Freeman, as the quiet, unassuming protagonist who is swept away on an unlikely adventure. Joined with a troupe of Dwarves as well as the wizard Gandalf, played by Ian McKellen, Bilbo meets with harrowing danger and finds himself very much out of place. Bilbo's choices during the film further his character and foreshadow more great development for the entire arc of the Hobbit trilogy.

I saw the film in 3-D featuring the high frame rate and was amazed with the clarity these assets lent the film. While the 3-D element certainly makes things pop, its incorporation is not the bygone kind hearkening back to an image of a paddle ball being sprung in the audience's face. And while these elements make viewing the film an incredible treat, I do not believe they are necessary for one to truly enjoy the experience. The cinematography in the film is beautiful on its own, Jackson's familiar direction availing itself as grand once again.

The new technology utilized in creating the film may seem subtle to some, but it is just what the film needs, rather than scene after scene of dizzying flashes of epic battle scenes a la Michael Bay to baffle the viewer. The film relies on multiple new media including new performance capture technology for Gollum, played by Andy Serkis, allowing the entire performance to be caught all at once with live-action cameras filming the motions and expressions of an individual while retaining the actual footage used in the final cut of the film including the interactions with other actors.

Some may be concerned by the length of this film and the promise of those to come. For Jackson's vision, he relies not only on the original text of The Hobbit but also on supplementary texts such as The Silmarillion to add scenes such as the ones featuring the Necromancer, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. While these inclusions do add length to the film, they enrich it with back story and details immediately connected with the plot. Jackson's film also departs from the text in other ways, including the featuring of Azog, the mysterious Pale Orc, as a large antagonist.

While this film is beautiful and enthralling, it certainly is not perfect. In the first few scenes of the film, featuring a retelling of the story of the Dwarves' loss of Erebor, the action looks a bit choppy, perhaps owing to time constraints meaning certain pieces of the film were sped up a bit, or maybe even the scrutinizing eye the high frame rate lends. The depiction of Radagast, the brown Wizard, played by Sylvestor McCoy, is debatable. Radagast is described as being odd in the books, due to his seclusion and love of nature, but the film portrays him as positively zany. With so many other humorous elements in the film, such as the natural banter of the Dwarves, Radagast's hyperactive bumbling seems unnecessary.

All in all, Jackson's vision of The Hobbit is enchanting, pulling viewers into the realm of Middle-Earth once again for a slightly different kind of adventure.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

10 Books Every Woman Should Read in Her Twenties

If you've been on Pinterest and browsed through popular pins regarding literature, you've probably come across a pin to the article "10 Books Every Girl Should Read in Her Twenties." I did not too long ago, and I must say, I was incredibly disappointed. The first book is Confessions of a Shopaholic. The rest are mainly "chick-lit" or self-help type books promoting being satisfied without a "BFF," a boyfriend, or a career. While self-actualization and satisfaction are worthy and good things, this pointed list tears at the image of an independent woman. The article's blurb about The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank says the book,  " . . . follow[s] heroine Jane Rosenal's search for what every girl wants in her twenties--a steady boyfriend, a fulfilling career, and self-identity." Does every woman really want that in her twenties? I know some who would disagree. Again and again, this article makes the assumption that women can only have one sexual orientation--heterosexual, and that this inherent need means they are incomplete without a man in their life. In fact, they're so incomplete, they need multiple guides just to get them through the short intervals between romantic trysts and significant others.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying every book on this list is "bad." In fact, there are some great books there. I just don't think they're necessarily appropriate for every woman, let alone every woman while she is in her twenties. Pride and Prejudice made the list. While it is a classic, and one of my personal favorites, this isn't a book I would push on a woman in her twenties. The social and class commentary is excellent, and the characters are certainly compelling; however, I would recommend this as a first read to a woman at a younger age--perhaps 16 or 17. The Joy Luck Club also made the list. It's a wonderful depiction of different dynamics in female-female relationships, mainly those of mother-daughter. I have no problem with this book being on the list. Amy Tan's writing is beautiful, and the personalities of the various protagonists within the book are very different, serving as an example of many things a woman could want rather than stuffing her into one tiny, conventional box.

Rather than continuing on about this list's girlish shortcomings, I was inspired by a couple friends to make my own. So, here is a list of books every woman should read in her twenties.

1. The Awakening - Kate Chopin
The Awakening is a novel set in southern Louisiana at the end of the 19th century. It follows protagonist Edna Pontellier as she struggles against society due to her changing views of motherhood and femininity in the South. The rich psychological nature of this novel alongside Chopin's dazzling imagery and her laudable presentation of women's issues marks this book as a true classic.

2. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
Set in rural George in the 1930s, this epistolary novel follows narrator Celie from age fourteen, as she pushes out against her position in society. She wonders about her sister Nettie, her first two children, whom she presumes her father either killed or took away, about her own nature, about society, and about her place in the world. She meets an incredible set of characters who serve as guardian angels, guideposts, and warnings.  This novel's exacting focus on black female life in the southern U.S. in the 30s along with its depiction of violence have made it the target of censors again and again. Its themes and characters have also won it praise over the years. It has been adapted into both an award-winning film and musical.

3. Sula - Toni Morrisson
This novel follows Nel Wright and Sula Peace, who meet as girls in Medallion, Ohio. Their devotion to each other is uncanny, but its strength is weathered by the burden of a dreadful secret and Sula's growing status in society as a pariah. This novel presents prejudice, questions of sexuality and friendship, and the themes of friendship, love and death woven throughout a beautiful and tragic narrative, which few other books can touch.

4. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale is considered a work of dystopian fiction, focusing on a near future in which a totalitarian theocracy has overthrown the United States government. Its narrator, known only as Offred, a patronymic meaning "Of Fred," referring to the man she serves, tells her harrowing story of subjugation and the choices she makes in both obedience and defiance to regain some personal power. Offred is a handmaid, a kind of chaste concubine kept in wealthy households for the sole purpose of reproduction in an era of declining births. She has already failed twice, and if she fails a third time, she will be deemed "unwoman" and sent away to a colony to either clean up radioactive waste or perform other hard labor. The novel concludes with a metafictional epilogue which renders the entire work complete.

5. Love Medicine - Louise Erdrich
Louise Erdrich is a celebrated Native American author, and in this work set on and around a North Dakotan reservation, she tells the tale of intertwined families--the Lamartines and the Kashpaws. This novel centers around a group of women who are united by their strength in the face of tumult and also the diversity of their love. It continually juxtaposes individual desire with the pull of blood ties as well as affection for old ways and the enchantment of the new. This novel is a sequence of braided narratives which teem with culture and life.

6. Prodigal Summer - Barbara Kingsolver
This novel is set over the course of one humid summer amid the mountains and farms of southern Appalachia. It follows the story of three protagonists, Deanna, Lusa, and Garrett, alongside an overarching theme of connections, both to one another and also to the flora and fauna with which they share a life. Amazon describes it as "a hymn to wildness that celebrates the prodigal spirit of human nature, and of nature itself."

7. The House of the Spirits - Isabel Allende
The story of this novel details the life of three generations of the Trueba family in Chile, revealing both its jubilation and its sorrows. Allende weaves magical realism throughout the novel, creating touches of ethereality in the narrative. Its story is told mainly through two protagonists, Esteban and Alba. Esteban is the patriarch of the Trueba family. His bravado and political enthusiasm are checked only by the love for his wife Clara, who has been touched by powers such as clairvoyance. Their daughter Blanca's forbidden love infuriates Esteban, but it results in his granddaughter Alba, his greatest joy. Alba's ambition leads the Trueba family into a radical future.

8. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith
This book is an American classic, a coming of age story which reveals the young, sensitive Francie Nolan in her formative years in the slums of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It is split into five "books," which cover a different period in in the characters' lives. It opens in 1912 when Francie is just eleven years old. Its story is filled with bittersweetness. It is heartbreaking, uplifting, filled with compassion and cruelty, and raw with honesty. Its themes are universal, although its narrative absolutely captures a unique time and place.

9. Rich in Love - Josephine Humphreys
From Amazon, "At the age of seventeen, Lucille Odom finds herself in the middle of an unexpected domestic crisis. As she helps guide her family through its discontent, Lucille discovers in herself a woman rich in wisdom, rich in humor, and rich in love."

10. The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupery
This may seem an odd choice for this list, but I believe it is one of the most important pieces. The Little Prince may ostensibly be viewed as a children's book, however, it makes many poignant observations about life and human nature. I believe everyone should read this book at least twice in their lives, once as a child, and once as an adult. Its themes are universal, and the startling profundity of its declarations serves as a much needed grounding for so many adults who forget how to truly appreciate things. The story is that of the narrator whose plane has crashed in the desert. He meets the little prince, who is traveling from planet to planet, finding out more and more about life. The narrator is dying of thirst, but finds a well with the prince's help. The prince warns the narrator not to watch him leave, when he wishes to return to his own planet, as it will make the narrator sad. The prince's exit is a staggering scene full of both conflict and hope.


You may have noticed that a couple of these summaries I completed with a bit of outside help. It's true, I haven't read all of these books yet. I am twenty-two, and I'm still wading through vast pools of literature. I look forward to reading Prodigal Summer, Rich in Love and many more wonderful books in my twenties. I've read books from both authors before, so I'm excited to read more of their work. For those of you who want more from Kingsolver and Erdrich, I'd recommend The Poisonwood Bible and Tracks, respectively.

I feel I should also note that while this list is mainly intended for women, I believe these books would be absolutely appropriate for anyone who wants to read them. Just because a book focuses on women's issues doesn't mean it automatically is irrelevant for men, and vice versa. As to why I selected all novels as opposed to interspersing them with non-fiction, I'll leave you with a quote from William Faulkner. "The best fiction is far more true than any journalism."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Forgetfulness

Have you ever gone through some of your old writing and stumbled across a file that absolutely rings no bells? I just did. I sat there for ten minutes asking myself, "When the hell did I write this?" I still don't know.

The title of the poem in question seems so oddly specific, and yet I don't remember it at all. I've had this happen before, but usually I finally have an "Aha!" moment and realize it was something I scribbled down during an adolescent writing phase, promptly forgot about, retyped years later, and forgot once more. This is different though. It feels like something I would have written around 2010.

Here it is for your perusal, amusement, and judgment if you wish.


Don’t Cry, Violet

Spring faces push up, burgeoning,
bursting into common air;
while fingers are petals and patinas and wishes,
the wind floats by without notice
and scrubs the patina away.
If fingers are petals and patinas, our hands
Are withered
And whittled
And wrung.
Hate blows the pollen of despair across our faces;
faces fade and fester in the winter of the soul
and bury tomorrow under a silt of woe.
It comes up yesterday fresh and young;
fingers stretching to the sun.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Good Earth

This book came recommended to me from a number of people. I can appreciate that it was extremely different from what was being written in America at the time, and I think it gave great insight into the lives of poor Chinese during the time in which it was set. However, I didn't love it. I may just be bitter about the ending, but it felt like a letdown to me.

Here be spoilers!

After everything Wang Lung has worked for and accomplished, all thanks to his land, his sons have the audacity to lie to him on his deathbed and agree to sell the precious land away.

I couldn't believe it. I guess considering the eldest son's frugality, being a grain merchant, and the middle son's friction with Wang Lung's traditional ideals, I shouldn't have been so surprised, but I was.

The descriptions of the earth itself were wonderful. I loved the sections where Wang Lung was out in the field. My heart hurt for O-Lan and then again for Lotus Blossom, but I know women were treated very differently in this society and age, so I can grit my teeth at the injustice and bend my head in acknowledgement of Buck's capturing a society. I was glad to see such good treatment of Wang Lung's eldest daughter, even though she will ever only be called Poor Fool.

Side note: I read somewhere that this book produced feelings of strong kinship between Americans and Chinese before the start of WWII, thus giving the U.S. a firmer basis with which to consider China allies. I don't have a source for this and don't know if it's completely factual, but, if so, I'm glad.

It is a good book, in many ways. Just not one of my favorites. I would love to hear from someone who would place it among their choicest selections of literature though.

Friday, March 30, 2012

So Close

My remaining Capstone tasks are: minor edits to reflective paper, lengthen critical grounding, print, bind, speechify.

Spring Break seems to have done something strange to the space-time continuum. It's as if the semester was on a roller coaster slowly clicking up a hill until one week ago, and once I got back to campus it was all downhill from there.

I have other assignments, sure, but Capstone inevitably weighs heaviest on my mind. I got my Commencement tickets yesterday. My mom is talking about buying a dress to wear to the ceremony. It's all become very real.

And, I am reminded time and again, "Poems are never finished--only abandoned."

Monday, March 5, 2012

Reminders

So, I've noticed all these little cryptic notes lying around my night stand and the papers and books around it. Apparently I've been waking up at night and writing myself things on the notepad close to my bed. The latest one says "Darkness within darkness. The gate to all mystery." I think they're ideas for poems. If not, I'm worried.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Richard Russo is Ruining My Life

Anne Lamott told me to listen to my broccoli, and I did. Or, at least I thought I did. In actuality, I was listening to Richard Russo's.

You see, I wrote a short story a couple years ago called "Trespassers" about a group of children in an orphanage who escape to the abandoned convent across the field. The main character has a safe word he mumbles to himself whenever he's scared. For this, he thought of the least scary word there is: broccoli.

The unfortunate thing here is Richard Russo thought of it first. And what's more--somewhere in the back of my mind I knew this. Why I dislike Russo is another blog post altogether. Anyway, I may not like him personally, but even I can admit he's a damn good screen writer. This being said, Keeping Mum is one of my favorite movies. It's a fun, silly British comedy with Maggie Smith, Rowan Atkinson, and Patrick Swayze to name a few. In it, Rowan Atkinson's son is being bullied at school. Maggie Smith signs on as a nanny, and one day she tells him to think of a magic word--any word. He chooses broccoli.

I remembered this scene abruptly about two months ago while riding in my boyfriend's car. I became outraged. Richard Russo stole my broccoli! And then I thought back to the date the film was made: 2005. No, no. He didn't steal anything from me; I stole from him. This man whom I am loath to admire is the one from whom I plagiarized.

There are no grand revelations in this post other than the fact that my mind likes to screw me over now and then by prompting me with things I think are original, when, in fact, they aren't. This includes, but is not limited to, titles of poems. I wrote a poem about fall in New England a little over a year ago and couldn't think of a good title. I thought of the leaves crunching on the ground beneath winter boots, and my brain said, "Eureka! 'Trampled Under Foot.'" On the score of its originality, I think Led Zeppelin would disagree.

You might protest and say, "Well, Russo isn't the one ruining your life. You are! Or, your brain, anyway." And you'd be right. Just let me have my drama for now. It's apparently all I have.