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I took an online quiz the other day, and it asked me for my favorite hobby. I was torn between the more adventuresome options, such as exploring a city or going out for drink, with reading a book. I eventually chose the reading option, because I definitely read more than I go drinking. Although I don’t think the two have to be separate by any means.

At what point did I start to think of myself as a reader? Are there any qualifications for being a “reader?” I’ve always, I think, thought of myself as a reader, but there were plenty of times, especially when I was in school, that the only reading I was doing was for class. So although I was doing plenty of it, can I say I was a reader?

I’ve also only recently become in any way in tune to book news. This newfound interest in what’s going on in the world of book selling and publishing came immediately after I no longer had school reading to do. I blame my freedom. Now that no one is telling me what to read, I have to decide for myself, and I like to keep in touch with the news so that I can constantly expand my “to-read” list and not get bored. Otherwise, I envision myself sheepishly wandering around the fiction section, only to slouch over to classics where I know I’ll find something that, if not enjoyable, is “important.”

I read a decent amount. I average about one book every week, which I know is not an insane amount, but it’s not a small amount, either. If I read one book every month, would I still be a reader? What about every six months? Every year?

I think being a reader is a state of mind. If you only have enough time to read a page every day, then you’re still a reader if you enjoy it and it’s part of your identity. Still, I think it requires some upkeep, or at least an intention to continue. I don’t exactly consider myself a poker player, even if I occasionally play a game. Maybe that’s a bad metaphor. Maybe not. Maybe I’m in a Thursday.

At any rate, I take a lot of pride in my reading. Which I guess is clear, since I have a whole blog about it. And that pride is what makes me a reader, yo.

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Creative Writing for Readers

For this week’s Dream English Course, we’re looking at a potential Creative Writing course. For this one, I decided to make it very broad, but in the future I may create more specific sub-categories. Creative Writing the Novel? Creative Writing the Play? The possibilities are endless.

Creative Writing for Readers

Unit I: Fiction (4 weeks)

Texts: The Stranger by Albert Camus, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Assignment: Write a short essay which chooses a literary tool that either Camus, Morrison, or Ishiguro uses and analyzes what effect that tool has on the novel.

Unit II: Fictiony Nonfiction and Nonfictiony Fiction (5 weeks)

Texts: The Glass Castle  by Jeanette Walls, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, Lost in Translation by Eva Hoffman

Assignment: Write a longer piece of either fiction, nonfiction, or something in between, using at least three of the tools from any author we’ve read so far. Also write a companion essay explaining which tools you used, why, and what effect you hope to achieve with them.

Unit III: So Poetic (2 weeks)

Texts: A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan, The Collected Poems by Langston Hughes

Assignment: Write a short essay tracking one literary device throughout all four authors, discussing how they use it and what effect it has.

Unit IV: Short Stories (3 weeks)

Texts: Dubliners by James Joyce, Selected Stories by O Henry, The Complete Tales of Edgar Allen Poe by Edgar Allen Poe, The Portable Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker

Assignment: Write longer collection of short stories and/or poems. For at least one of them, analyze which techniques you used and why.

Unit V: So Dramatic (4 weeks)

Texts: A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, Endgame by Samuel Beckett, The Odd Couple by Neil Simon, The Children’s Hour by Lillian Hellman

Assignment: Write one act of a play, plus a short explanation of your process and some of the craft decisions you made.

Questions for every text: What literary tools is the author using, and what is their effect? What is the text’s structure? How does the author’s style differ from the other authors? How do different authors utilize the same tools differently? What is the theme, and is the author successful in conveying it?

Additional Assignment: For every unit, there has to be a daily writing journal which explores the current topic in some way or another.

 

 

Book Pairing of the Week: Alias Grace

I know I’ve been overusing this one for weeks now. I was hoping to be able to deliver a pairing this week with a fresh read from the weekend, either Then Comes Marriage by Roberta Kaplan or The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Now that I come to think of it, I’m on a real queer lit kick, with those two books up next on the list and Carsick just finished. Not that I’m complaining.

But this past weekend I was out of town, and I got absolutely no reading done, which is unheard of for any other vacation I’ve ever taken. Ever. The combination of it being a car ride (I don’t like reading in cars) and a whirlwind weekend of activity made cracking open the library book a complete impossibility. I didn’t think I could do a good pairing off of the little I had read since Carsick, so I’m bringing one back from the archives that I never got around to posting.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood immediately made me crave coffee. The earlier, slower chapters demanded more focus than my un-caffienated brain can provide, and the later chapters gave me chills that craved a little boost. For my coffee, I picked the darkest blend that my local coffee and tea shop had. I wanted the bitterness of the novel to reflect in the cup, and frou-frou flavorings seemed out of place when reading about a woman in prison. It’s called Northwest, which I also thought was appropriate considering that the novel takes place in Canada.

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But the main character is Irish, so I decided to give the old Irish Coffee a twist. I think I’ll call it a Canadian Car Bomb. Grace is, perhaps, a murderer, but everyone agrees that there’s something so polite about her. Indeed, she seems like the most well-behaved character from her recollections. I added a generous helping of a cheap Irish cream (again, can’t get too fancy here) and a shot of Jameson.

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The extra kick from the whiskey really brings out the novel’s dark underside. As I sipped, the three layers of coffee, cream, and kick really highlighted the various layers of Alias Grace, the suffering, the femininity, and the violence. Plus, one won’t get you drunk. Not making any promises about two or three.

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Or ten.

Making Friends with Time

I often think of the Mad Hatter’s friendship with Time, and how he is perpetually stuck at tea. I think about Time and I wonder what he is doing with all my reading time?

I used to live about an hour away from everything via public transit. This distance meant that I would have about two hours every day exclusively for reading (and travel, of course). I would tear through books at lightening speed, because whenever I was on the train I’d have my book.

I recently moved, cutting my commute time in half. Not only that, but a lot of that time is just me walking, meaning I can’t be reading at the same time. While the new location is convenient, I find myself missing my train reading time. I had to go back to the old neighborhood today, and I found myself actually excited for the long ride.

I’ve had to find new times to get my read on, since I get grumpy and lethargic if I don’t. When I’m sleeping alone, I read before bed, but that can be problematic. I rarely can read myself to sleep, and often I suddenly realize that half the night has passed. I started reading Room by Emma Donoghue at 10:00 at night, and I was finished by 10:00 the following morning. So bedtime, the time that so many readers use for their hobby, is not the best time for me.

I’m also a morning person, so if I wake up too early (I know…that’s ridiculous, but it happens), I go to my reading nook and read by lamplight.

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I also utilize this space throughout the day if I find myself drowning in meaningless activities (mainly involving the Internet). It’s everything I love about coffee shops in the comfort of my own home. It gives me an excuse to read, which I sometimes need when my brain is frying on Netflix.

I got my full two hours of reading today during the commute, and it felt so good.

Library Shame: The Sequel

I previously wrote about my immense shame after losing a library book. If you care about my moral floundering, check it out here.

I wasn’t completely honest in the post. The book is indeed a book of Grimms’ fairy tales, but what I neglected to mention was that it is in fact an edition from 1945. We’re talking so old, the copyright date is in roman numerals. Plus it has some gorgeous color illustrations. It’s not like I misplaced a copy of The Girls. This book can’t exactly be reordered off of Amazon.

But I found it!

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Well, rather, it was found. It turns out that my boyfriend’s grandmother had picked it up, assuming someone had thrown it out, and had been storing it this whole time. And what a relief, because I got the “lost book” notification from the library, and the fine was $150. No way. I had the boy ask everyone in his family who uses the infamous car in which I left it if they had picked it up. My money was on the little cousin, who wouldn’t have read it anyway.

As it turns out, if I return the item, the fee is wavered. Which only means that I have to get on down to the library and slip this baby into the return slot. I don’t even need to go into the library and show my shamed, shamed face. So basically, I’m one lucky ducky.

Plus I found the bookmark that I thought had been in it (another one shamelessly copied from Pinterest). So all things considered, I’m cool.

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Life in Location

Some of my favorite, favorite types of novels are those which feature many different characters living in a specific place at a specific time, leading lives which are completely intertwined without their knowledge. In such novels, the place becomes a character unto itself, influencing the characters’ lives and shaping their experience of life. This week’s dream English course features these long, intricate stories about living in a place.

Life in Location

Unit I: The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende (2 weeks)

Book Specific Questions: How do the lives of the women change throughout the generations? How much of their behavior depends on their time and place? What about the men? How does politics affect their daily lives?

Unit II: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (6 weeks)

Book Specific Questions: What role does the law play in the characters’ lives? How do they use it and abuse it? How do their moral codes differ? What is a criminal? What systems are outside of the characters’ control? What is the role of religion? How do their lives change throughout the generations? How does their attempted revolution compare to the revolution in The House of the Spirits? Does the city exist in a liminal space?

Unit III: Middlemarch by George Eliot (4 weeks)

Book Specific Questions: How does Middlemarch’s isolation affect its culture? What role does gossip play? If the novel is essentially a romance, why is it titled Middlemarch? How does Dorothea’s outlook compare to the women in The House of the Spirits and Les Miserables?

Unit IV: City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (4 weeks)

Book Specific Questions: How do the different areas of 1970s New York compare to the different areas of 1830s Paris? How does a character’s location affect his or her behavior? What revolution is happening, and is it similar to the revolution in The House of the Spirits? What about to the one in Les Miserables? Are the Hamilton-Sweeneys the same as the Truebas?

Overarching Questions: How are the different parts of the cities/towns characterized? Do they directly affect the characters lives, and if so, how? What role does social class play? How do the titles relate to the text? What are the novels’ narrative structures, and are they similar? How does the structure affect the story and the place? How are the places changing? What is the effect of seeing so many different viewpoints? Are seemingly universal experiences–such as eating, sleeping, and sex–the same or different across the novels?

Book Pairing of the Week: Carsick

Let’s talk trash, shall we?

I’ve always been a little bit (or a lot bit) in love with John Waters, a man whom anyone would be proud to call Filth Elder. His witty, funny, and completely shitty films inspire me to be as trashy, stupid, and perfect as I can be. Sooooo I gave in this week and popped into the bookstore to buy Carsick, which was on sale! Actually, it was a really good day for the Queer Lit sale section, so I wound up walking away with a little bundle.

I’ve enjoyed the experience of Carsick thus far. I’ve enjoyed putting my John Waters bookmark (which I embroidered from a pattern shamelessly stolen off of Pinterest. To whomever came up with it first, you the man.).FullSizeRender_1

I’ve enjoyed reading it whilst subway preachers railed against fornication (I believe I had just reached the point where he’s giving a hand job to a guy during a demolition derby). And I’ve enjoyed pairing it with “Getting Too Old for Trash,” a drink I invented by raiding someone else’s liquor cabinet! In the true spirit of hitching, of course.

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Basically, it’s a cocktail with half a shot of Fireball (for a little kick, but not too much) and half a shot of Grey Goose vodka (because geese migrate and stuff…seemed appropriate).

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The rest is ginger beer. Don’t overload it, or you can’t taste the booze. The goal is to say you’re drinking while still keeping your head. Kind of like hitching with money.

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I fully believe that John Waters helped to shape my love for all things stupid. Carsick combines all of his humor with great, short tales from I-70, a twisted version of Kerouac’s On the Road (less misogyny, more penises).  And I therefore read his book with all the respect it deserves.

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I love you, John Waters.

 

Limbo

What do you do when you’ve finished all your books, but haven’t gotten a chance to go to the library? My problem.

I finished Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood today, despite my lengthy rant about how I was abandoning it last week. And I wound up adoring it! I believe I said something like “GET TO THE PSYCHOANALYSIS ALREADY,” and indeed once it got to the psychoanalysis, I got hooked. The suspense, the irony, the misogyny! I couldn’t put it down. Which turned out to be problematic, because now I’m out of books.

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In general, I tend to avoid bookstores, only because I know that if I go in a bookstore, I’ll be there for at least an hour and my bank account will deplete. But now that I’m in limbo, it was all I could do from running to the indie bookstore around the corner and snagging Carsick by (the one and only King of Filth) John Waters, which has been taunting me in the window.

I’ve also been eyeing those other reads which I abandoned “for now,” but I’m not interested. For the first time in a really long time, I got on the bus today without a book.

I’m also trying to locate Actual Air by David Berman, which I want to buy rather than loan. First of all, my library system doesn’t have it. Second of all, I like owning books. So consider this a teaser for my epic indie bookstore hunt for this collection of poetry. It’s sure to be a party.

In the meantime, I’m going to find something, anything, to read. Will I succumb to the window display around the corner? Probably. Will I regret it? Probably not.

Overwhelmed!

It’s official. I’ve had to start a whole new section in my “Books to Read” notebook. Some people have a list; I have a whole notebook, organized by author’s last name. My M section overflowed, so I made a new one. That makes 48 books on the M list alone.

I’ve just recently started on Goodreads. I like it, but I like my notebook better for keeping track of future reads. It gives me a tangible list I can watch grow, and giving a little check mark to the ones I have finished is extremely satisfying.

I also don’t know how to exist without a list. I couldn’t possibly keep in my head the hundreds of titles that I want to read in my head. Plus it helps me select the next one based on genre, author, or whether or not it’s in a series. I feel the power!

But at the same time, if I read one book every week, I won’t finish my list until at least 2022. And by then, there will probably be a whole lot more books I want to read. On the one hand, yay lifetime of reading, but on the other hand, agh!

I don’t think of my list as a finite goal. I think about it has a whole bunch of suggestions for future me when she finishes a book.

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The only weird part of my list is that I have no authors on it with last names that start with Q or X. I can see where X may be challenging, but Q? Seems doable. And so the hunt continues. And let my list continue to grow!

Women and Race in America

For this week’s Dream English Course, I picked several reads to explore women of color writing in America. I wanted the books to capture different types of women and ideas, but they all somehow involve cultural struggles and conflicts. So without further ado…

Women and Race in America

Unit I: What is blackness? (6 weeks)

Texts: Quicksand by Nella Larson, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Questions: How does each author interact with and represent blackness? How do their viewpoints differ, and what is the same? How do they present bodies and femininity?

Unit II: Growing Up Latina (6 weeks)

Texts: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez, Almost a Woman by Esmeralda Santiago

Questions: What types of integration to American culture do the authors relate? How do they represent childhood? What does it mean to grow up? How does each author deal with being different? Which parts of their cultures do they maintain, and what do they lose?

Unit III: Forgotten Asian America (6 weeks)

Texts: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

Questions: How do the authors use point of view to tell their stories? How do their experiences compare to the Latin American experiences? How do the cultural struggles compare to the political struggles? How do the texts reflect the authors’ backgrounds?

Overall: How does race affect femininity in America? How do the authors deal with difference? Which themes cross the different units, and which are unique? What changes between girlhood and womanhood?