Friday, October 30, 2015

A Room of My Own

"If you want a room to write in, just get a room...If it doesn't leak, has a window, heat in the winter, then put in your desk, bookshelves, a soft chair, and start writing."

"We make these exquisite rooms of silence and then long to write in noisy, chaotic cafés...It is natural in our studios to have books lying open, at least one cup half filled with old black tea, papers spread out, piles of unanswered letters, a graham cracker box, shoes kicked under the desk, a watch with a broken second hand lying on the floor."

-"The Writing Studio," Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg, p.103

I'm reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg as part of my preparation for NaNoWriMo, and nothing relieved me like reading the words above. I've been trying to perfect "my room" for more than a year now, and it's still messy and full of boxes and papers and piles on the floor (read: books). I've been meaning to pull it together for November, but now I feel like, maybe, it's better if I don't. Maybe my writing will be more natural if it happens in my natural state of mess. That's where I am right now. And that's okay if that's where my room is too.

Having a room of my own, both literally and metaphorically speaking, has always been important to me. While Virginia Woolf is not my favorite for numerous reasons (not least that she basically created the myth that women writers of Shakespeare's time did not exist), I agree with her basic premise that women (and everyone) need rooms of their own. People need space to create, to think, to be.

And this is mine.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Books Read in October

54. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I took Outlander when it turned up at the Little Free Library nearest me. I'd been meaning to see why it's so popular, especially after the TV show came out. Not enough to get it until it was right in front of me, though. I haven't seen the show, and I'm not especially eager to now, but if it came on a channel I was watching, I wouldn't say no.

That's kind of how I feel about the book. It's amusing, it's engaging--I'm one of those people who finds the idea of a 1940s woman who suddenly ends up in the 1740s interesting--but it doesn't go anywhere I especially appreciate with it, on an intellectual level anyway. Outlander, in my opinion, is extremely well-done costume drama *cough* erotica *cough*. For those purposes, it serves admirably. Gabaldon creates a convincing atmosphere of 1740s Scotland and a compelling chemistry between Claire, the 1940s English nurse, and Jamie, the 1740s Scottish outlaw laird. As a cherry on top, Gabaldon's rendering of Scottish accent into dialogue is actually pretty likable. I enjoyed imagining how all those "wouldnas" and "wee lassies" would sound. But, since I'm not a member of that culture, I don't know if that would be offensive or not. Anyway, if you want to dream of hunky Scottish men in kilts, this is your book. If you have more of an interest in time travel and history--meh.

55. Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jeanine Capó Crucet

My mom and I went to hear her read at a local author event, and Mom got the book for me. I was especially excited because she read a section about writing centers, and I really enjoyed hearing about how the book came about. One of the comments she made that resonated as I was reading was how, as a college counselor, her students asked her for a novel about first generation college students. There weren't she thought, I have to write it!

This is really that book. I imagine a lot of first generation college students relate, and as someone who works with a lot of first generation college students, especially students from immigrant families, it's both familiar and informative for me. I wasn't overwhelmed by the Ariel Hernandez (read: Elian Gonzalez) subplot, but it was interesting to get a Cuban-American perspective on that. It was strange to me though that the white people in the book were all like "obviously, he should go back home!" because that's not at all what I heard from most of the white or other people around me, but interesting. Really, though, I would recommend this book to first generation college students and people who are interested in that experience.

The message of the book is a bit depressing (it's not a secret, it's in the title), but raw and honest. We're all making our homes among strangers, but I hope someday we can conceive of ourselves more as belonging in many places rather than fitting in none.

56. Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear

I started Elizabeth Bear with the Eternal Sky trilogy, since that came out right when I first started hearing about her. While I've read a lot about her other works, I finally dived into the Promethean Age this month.

My observations from Eternal Sky and what I've heard about her work in general rings true here: Bear just throws you right in the deep end. You will spend the first several pages desperately trying to figure out what the heck is going on. You'll pick it up, but then it will get harder from there. You won't fully ever understand what's happening, but it will start to become so immersive you won't care.

To me, Blood and Iron is not so much a book as an exquisite smorgasbord of Celtic myth, faerie tale, and dark imagination. It's like Bear mixed it all up, threw it all in, and it It's unconventional, it doesn't all make sense, but it's so lovely and (if you're like me), you're just so happy to have kelpies and Morgan le Fey and the Weyland Smith all inhabiting the same space that you'll forgive any inconsistencies and callousness. I definitely think I detect a Mists of Avalon influence, and probably lots more I'm missing. Bear must be prolifically read in Celtic myth. Tam Lin is the most overt, but, really, everything.

Recommended to the special readers who live for the deep swirly pools of fantasy.

57. Taming the Star Runner by S.E. Hinton

I picked this up at the Bookcrossing booth at the Gaithersburg Book Festival just because I saw S.E. Hinton's name. I have feverish memories of the other two books I read by S.E. Hinton: Opened The Outsiders to read the assigned first chapter, finished it by midnight; Found That Was Then, This Is Now lying around the house (turned out it was my sister's), finished it by midnight. Although I've waited a few months to tame Star Runner (sorry, couldn't resist), I opened it one morning, and you guessed it, finished by midnight.

Star Runner doesn't have the same complexity as the other two books (That Was Then, This Is Now remains my favorite), but it's got similar ingredients: a writerly bad boy MC, cursing, shenanigans, and literary references. This one throws in a horse barn in Oklahoma and lots of horse riding girls (ironically, the MC Travis refuses to put girl characters in his book), but it's a reliable fast-paced story with Hinton's unmistakable spark. Also, apparently, there's a movie.

Especially recommended to teens, but older fans of Hinton's other books will enjoy this too.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Top Ten Things That Scare Me in Books

Happy Top Ten Tuesday!

Ok, I could only come up with four. But they're doozies.

1. Threats to the reader

Look in the margin. I can't even talk about it.

2. Madwomen in the attic

3. Being Trapped in Animal Form


4. Roald Dahl

Involves characters trapped in animal form, among other things.

Friday, October 23, 2015

How I Read Poetry

So, it's not National Poetry Month anymore, but I read poetry anyway! I liked individual poems I'd read by Billy Collins, specifically "Introduction to Poetry," so awhile ago, I picked up Sailing Alone Around the Room. Probably when I was in that phase a few years ago when I thought I should read poetry, but I didn't really want to. I picked up The Romantic Dogs by Roberto Bolaño around the same time. I remember buying the latter at Kramerbooks.

So, earlier last month, I put both books in my purse and walked around with them for a while, like I did Leigh Stein's Dispatch from the Future and Liliana Ursu's Lightwall. I guess I must read books of poetry in twos, one in English and one in translation? No, I have no idea what the reason is for this completely random trend. I also bought both of those books way before I read them.

But I think the trick with poetry (for me) has been both forcing myself into the opportunity of reading poetry AND giving myself permission to say no. For both Leigh Stein's and Liliana Ursu's books, I read and liked almost every single poem. At first, this was the case with the Billy Collins book, but in the middle, a lot of the poetry just stopped interesting me. So, I skipped it until I found ones that I liked. With the Bolaño book, I really wasn't into a lot of it. I liked reading the English and Spanish side-by-side, since I could actually understand some of the Spanish, but with the exception of a few, and some fascinating wordings, I couldn't get into it. And that was okay. Maybe I'll try again someday. But I feel like I'm finally getting the value of trying to appreciate art that isn't immediately gratifying, or perhaps depends more on accumulated life experience. It feels like growing. And that's something I never want to stop doing.

How do you read poetry? Do you make an effort to read genres you find challenging? Has your perspective on types of art changed over time?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

#WhyIWrite for the 23rd Century and Some Kind of Genetic Compulsion

So, today was the National Day on Writing. I participated in an event for it at work, and observed the hashtag #WhyIWrite on Twitter today.

There are simply a lot of answers to why I write, and what I wrote on Twitter is kind of cliche: Because I have no choice.

I remember at a very early age wanting to write because that was how I knew I would be remembered after death. I saw that as my legacy. I wanted to write because I wanted people to know I was here. I had been here. I've always thought of myself as writing to future generations, because I always read books from the past as having been written for me.

It seemed so obvious to me. Why would you NOT write? Why didn't everyone write? If I'm being honest, that's something I still don't understand! =P Writing is a time capsule: evidence of our existence. When I write, I picture a future human, a cyborg, or an alien reading and relating to my work. Maybe thousands of years after I am dead. Maybe millenia after humanity is dead. Yes, I definitely watched too much Star Trek as a kid (or maybe everybody should?)

But, also, like I said, I write because I can't seem to stop. Even before I knew how to read and write, I was making up stories and dictating them. It was just something I did. Something I never considered not doing, something I never thought about how I knew how to do it. I have some kind of genetic compulsion toward narrative communication, specifically in written symbols, but I'll improvise if I have to. I feel like it's "written" in our bones. At least in mine.

Even though I have a long history of disliking and not reading poetry (which is now changing), I still wrote a ton of it. Not because I wanted to. I just couldn't stop.

And though both of these feelings have been innate in me as long as I can remember, there are two author quotes I've more recently come across that most accurately encapsulate my feelings:

"You should only become a writer if the possibility of not becoming one would kill you." -Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Annnnd, another one about being remembered after death that I can't find and it's driving me crazy! Please leave suggestions for what you think it could be and why do you write?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts

Haven't posted in a while since I've been so busy, so it's a great opportunity to do Bookishly Boisterous's Thursday meme (which I mostly creep on instead of participating).

1. Yesterday, I did a presentation for a bunch of kindergarteners on how to write a story. I think it went reasonably well. Fernanda, a five-year-old girl, and Lenny, a 21-year-old cat who has escaped from the South, embark on a journey to space, but get stuck in their rocket and crash-land on the Seastar Planet. Unfortunately, they are attacked by starfish wielding lasers, who kick them off the planet. Rocket ship miraculously working again, Fernanda and Lenny travel to Mars, but are interrupted by crashing meteors (everyone knows there are lots of meteors on Mars, according to one five-year-old boy). Following their Mars adventure, Fernanda and Lenny may or may not have traveled to Jupiter and the moon, but the upshot of it is they land on Earth and are glad to be home and safe with Fernanda's loving family. Also, Fernanda never fights with her sister Camila and unnamed little brother.

2. My dog is an unrepentant book eater. Recently, I took a picture of a book I was sent for review, left it sitting on a low table, and returned to find it partially devoured. Yesterday, my dog started treating the lower shelves of my bookcase like a buffet. I've currently moved everything to upper shelves, but that will no longer be an option once I've finally got all of my books out of boxes.

3. I am (hopefully) finishing a now more-than-a-year-long saga of unpacking, mostly books. Despite the fact that I've donated and given away a substantial numbers of books in the past couple of months, I'm afraid I still have more than can fit on my bookshelves! How is this possible?

4. Also, I am seriously considering cataloging and organizing my books according to the Library of Congress system. Has anyone else done this?

5. I will probably talk more about this on the blog later, but I'm planning to do NaNoWriMo for the first time this year. This might mean I have even less time for blog posts, or perhaps that I will post more in inspiration/procrastination. We shall see.

6. Here is my dog, pretending to be innocent before a book rampage.