Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Reading for Fun?

I used to love reading, then I started hating it but continued to do it anyway, and now I’m beginning to love it again--and here is why:

My love for reading began when I was in middle school. I could barely speak English at the time and didn’t have any friends. Back then there wasn’t enough on the Internet to distract me, so that I read to keep myself entertained and to learn English. I was lonely and had a lot of free time on my hand, so that it didn’t take long for my reading to improve. Pretty soon I graduated from picture books for little kids to young adult novels. Those were fun. I was almost always excited to discover new stories and get to know new characters. Oftentimes I was compelled to keep reading even when my eyes were exhausted. Anybody who loves to read probably understands what that’s like.

All that joy gradually decreased as my interest in literature became serious, probably somewhere around senior year in high school. I was obsessed with wanting to be well-read, wanting to read everything that I heard mentioned in films or television, as well as in conversations with others. Before I knew it I had majored in English in college, studying literature like my life depended on it.

I loved being an English major, and I love studying literature. However, it had taken the joy out of reading. I started choosing the books to read based on their literary significance, not because they interest me. In the past I would look at the cover, read the flap to find out what the book was about, and if it sounded good I would read it. Nowadays I don’t even know what most of the books I choose to read are about. I don’t take the time to read the flap because it doesn’t matter--the book is significant and that means I have to read it regardless of whether or not it sounds interesting. Most of the time this results in a boring and excruciating reading experience. I don’t get excited to read anymore as it had become a chore, and very rarely do I find a book that I truly enjoy.

Well, all that is about to change. Last week I went to Powell’s to kill some time. Browsing the shelves in the blue room, I remembered why I used to love reading so much. There were so many interesting books I had never heard of. I decided that it was time to stop being such a scholar and just be a reader, just pick up anything that might interest me and read with joy again. I still have a long list of books I’m trying to read by the end of the year, but I intend to make some time for the ones that didn’t make it to the list just to retrieve my love for reading once again.

And now I have to go. I have some reading to do.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Craft Issue: Expositions

Last week, during one of my “moments” (I suck at life; I’m not good at anything; I’m a failure and will be so for the rest of my life; etc.) I began to wonder what I really learned from all the books I’ve read. I read a lot of fiction--novels, plays, short stories--and convince myself that all this reading isn’t just for fun but absolutely essential to my learning as a scholar of literature and a fiction writer. However, I feel that most of the time I’m just trying to finish whatever it is I’m reading as quickly as possible and don’t really absorb much of what I’m reading. Once in a while I would spend some time doing close-reading or discussing different literary elements in the work, but that is very rare because I am such a slow reader and taking the time to do that just makes the reading take even longer. Well, on that day I felt that all the reading I had done had amounted to nothing, that it was all a waste of time because I had gained nothing in the process. (I told you I was having one of those moments.) In an attempt to not ever feel like that again, I have decided to spend more time paying attention to the things I read.

One of the problems that I’m constantly dealing with is the fact that I feel like I’m worse of a writer than I used to be when I was younger and knew less. It didn’t make any sense and it pissed me off. I studied hard because I thought it would help me, but instead it made me feel completely clueless about my craft. In an attempt to keep myself from just ending this life once and for all, I decided to deny the fact and change it. This is my philosophy: if you don’t like anything the way it is, deny it and make it good. That is, I refuse to accept the fact that all my hard work is worthless, and will now make something out of it--something grand. So, yesterday I decided to learn--or, rather, relearn--about one of the craft issue in fiction writing, which was how to write an exposition. I must have spent some time in college pondering over this issue in class or in my own private studies, but it had been a while so it wasn’t a bad idea to return to it once again. I went over a few short stories I had recently read in my new anthology of short stories and paid attention to how the authors started their stories. All I did was observe, and I spent very little time doing it.

Gaitskill’s “Romantic Weekend”
Began by introducing one of the protagonists (there are two) and her problem: she was having an affair with a married man and she had self-esteem issue. The story is about these two people and their S/M relationship, which isn’t introduced here just yet.

Ford’s “Rock Springs”
Began with introducing the narrator and another main character in the story, as well as the journey they are on together. Then it tells us the troubles each of them is in so that we get to know them and their situations right away. In one paragraph, Ford tells us the who, what, and where of the story, which I find pretty neat.

Dybek’s “Chopin in Winter”
The first paragraph is rather short in comparison to those of the other stories I’m discussing here. It introduces two main characters in the story, neither of whom is the narrator/protagonist. The paragraph didn’t tell us much about the story, but it was probably the best way to begin the story, since the story is about the narrator’s relationships with these two characters.

Braverman’s “Tall Tale from the Mekong Delta”
The first paragraph of this storIssuey gives us one piece of information after another. It introduced the narrator, where she is in life, and the time in which the story takes place. We learn more and more about her, then about another main character. It tells us a lot about the narrator and refrains from telling us what the story is about.

Just by observing these works I feel more confident in my ability to write expositions. I think I will be spending more time paying attention to these craft issues and see how it helps me. At the least it should make me feel more secure in my knowledge of fiction writing.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Reading List 2011

Middlemarch - George Eliot
The Illiad - Homer
Tess of the d’Uberville - Thomas Hardy
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler - Calvino
Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
Pastoral - Philip Roth
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test - Tom Wolfe
Dandelion Wine - Ray Bradbury
As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner
Anna Karennina - Leo Tolstoy
The Spanish Tragedy - Thomas Kyd
Walden - Henry David Thoreau
Don Quixote - Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Ghosts - Henrik Ibsen
Catch-22 - Joseph Keller
The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
This Side of Paradise - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Memories, Dreams, Reflections - C.G. Jung
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman - Mary Wollstonecraft
The Prince - Machiavelli

Realistically I don't think I will be able to read all of these books this year. Even though I read a lot, I am kind of a slow reader. And I read a lot of things that aren't books, such as essays and short stories. Averagely I probably read fewer than 20 books a year.

As a student of literature there are always books I feel I should have read. This list is a compilation of 20 titles that I have always been meaning to read and felt I should have read long ago. There are a whole lot more that I leave out. I didn't include a lot of plays, just because there are way too many to list. In other words, I'll be doing as much as I can to read these books while spending a whole lot of time reading ones that aren't on the list too. Thinking about this makes me feel overwhelmed and excited at the same time.

It's already March. How the fuck did we get here?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

"The Stupidest Angel" by Christopher Moore

It was time I allowed myself to read some contemporary novels, and since Christmas was rolling around, I thought it would be fun to read a novel about Christmas. I went with Christopher Moore's "Stupidest Angel." I hadn't read anything by Moore before and had been curious about him for quite some time, seeing that he was pretty popular. I listened to an episode of Live Wire where he was on, and thought he was pretty funny. I didn't expect this to be great writing, and I thought I would get some laughs and entertainment out of it.

I was wrong. This book is stupider than I could ever imagine. I didn't even think this kind of writing was allowed to be published. The plot is pure trash, comparable to really bad TV shows or straight-to-DVD movies. The writing style is immature and cheap. I don't remember the last time I read anything that was this awful, and can't imagine what kind of people find this kind of writing worth the time.

To sum up the plot without giving too much away, the story is about the citizens of a small town that was visited by an angel on a mission to grant a child his wish. A lot of people hating each other. A lot of troubled relationships. A lot of over-the-top characters inspiring cheap jokes. Zombies. Et cetera.

I wouldn't have as much problem with the plot if the book were well-written. Moore does have a great imagination. The talking bat and the conversations among the dead in the graveyard could be clever. Unfortunately he lacks the talent to breathe intelligence in to his creations. They all seem to have come straight from sitcoms. Sitcoms characters, however, belong on TV and nowhere else. Translating that kind of storytelling into the written form can only produce crap. Moore's writing sounds like it was written by somebody who watches a lot of TV and doesn't read much. He cites Steinbeck and Vonnegut as his influence, which isn't really apparent to me.

It was a quick read, and I'm glad I didn't waste too much time on it. It did teach me a thing or two about writing, and it was nice to read something heavily plot-driven once in a while.

I went to the library yesterday, wanting to check out some more novels. This time I know enough to open each book up to a random page and read a few paragraphs from it to see if the writing style is worth my time. You may or may not enjoy the plot--there is no way to know that until you read the book and find out--but the writing style is, to me, is more important. An intelligent and eloquent writing style is not only enjoyable to read but also beneficial to the brain and the soul. Why read if not to better oneself? What book is worth the time if it doesn't help you to grow?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"A Dialogue on Love" by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

What fascinates me most about this book is how much I enjoy reading it despite the lack of enticing story or characters that I care about. I just really love the way she writes.

Sedgwick, who passed away not too long ago, is truly an inspiration. I was used to her intellect as a literary and cultural critic, but had no idea she was such a poet. This book isn't about queer topics or literature--although there are, as should be expected, references to those things and their roles in her life; instead it is about herself as revealed in a series of therapy sessions. I'm not sure if she arrives at any conclusions about any of the topics she explores here, but there are great insights offered here in such a captivating way there is no need for closure.

Biographies are always convoluted. Autobiographies, though generally regarded as more accurate, are possibly even more convoluted. What you read is what the author wants you to know, and how can you know if they want you to know the truth? Fortunately the truth isn't what I'm interested in; Sedgwick's intelligence is, and that is what we get here. As she explores her childhood, beliefs, and dreams, we get incredible insights into her thought process, her struggle as she turns her critical lens toward herself.

It is purely a pleasure to read, an experience like no others I have had before.

About the Absence / 100th post

Things that have always been difficult: reading and writing about what I read. Yet I chose to make it my profession.

It takes me forever now to finish reading--but then again, hasn't that always been a problem?

I stopped blogging because I just didn't know what to write anymore. I'm back because now I know--for now I know.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"On the Road" by Jack Kerouac

Oh, where to begin. It took me way too long to read this book, and way too much effort. I didn't enjoy it at all, and think it is among some of the dullest books I have ever read. Seriously, what is there to like about the story? There isn't a single event in the novel that I think is even slightly intriguing. His prose is rich with descriptions about people and places that I cannot care less about. I kept expecting a Cyclops to show up. I've talked to several people who loved the book and asked them why they liked it. The answers were similar: they liked it because it is a fantasy, because we can't hitchhike across the country and go on adventures with barely any money in our pocket anymore, and because he goes to these interesting places and meet these interesting people. Well, interesting isn't the word I would use to describe anything in this book.

I wish I had enjoyed it more. It is on so many lists of great books that I feel like I should like it. I don't even like it in context. The last paragraph is gorgeous, though.