Category Archives: reading

Overthinking

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I am spectacularly terrible at interpersonal relationships. I have several theories as to why, but I think my primary source for the exquisite ways I manage to damage my relationships stems from my inability to stop thinking.

The very first time I read “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot, my first thought was “That’s me!” I probably should’ve reigned in my enthusiasm because poor Prufrock is a mess. He wanders through the whole poem noticing details that bear no weight in his life and asking himself if he should act to change his course. And at the very end of the poem he hears the mermaids signing and remains so indecisive that he doesn’t act and the moment passes. Prufrock over-thinks his entire life and so ends up caught when the human voices wake him. Which is funny in that sad way funny moments in stories often are when they ring too true.

I also really love Prufrock because of his similarity to another of my favorite characters: Hamlet. But Prufrock doesn’t see himself as the lead in his own life. In fact, Prufrock explicitly states he’s “no Prince Hamlet”. For those of you playing along at home, we call that irony. Because Prufrock is Hamlet in poem form with less blood on the stage. Neither character can make a decision to save their lives. Hamlet just has the weight of the realm on his shoulders, while Prufrock has a dinner party.

Both of these men have to decide but find themselves stuck in their indecisiveness because they are thinking through every possible situation and possible outcome: they over-think.

And this is why I love both of these characters.

Because I frequently find myself stymied when it comes to making a decision. All of the layers of information weighing on my decision slows the process. Just to decide what I want to eat takes evaluating numerous elements, and that’s just for me. I turn the decision over to someone else when I’m with a group, because I’m never able to decide out of fear of making a bad choice. So I think over the question and my many possible answers for a long time. But, most of the time, this thinking ends up wasted because I always second-guess my decisions. The human voices wake us and we drown.

And so, when I read Hamlet and Prufrock my first semester as an underclassmen, I knew I was finally in a place with kindred spirits who take their decisions very seriously. And while this realization that such sad characters reflect such an innate personality trait might lead other to despair, I found comfort in knowing that others have felt like me. Probably less often, but, still, other existed who understood.

It is not, however, all doom and gloom. There is always a pathway for connection through the indecisiveness. I have met some interesting people along the way because I’ve hesitated, which allowed them the space to stop and chat. And, actually, the easiest way I’ve found to get a stranger to stop and talk is to look a little lost.

I’m still not entirely sure what to do when the human voices speak, but I’ve decided to try to look a little lost more often to try to meet those real people who can relate to Prufrock and Hamlet. And I’ve decided that it’s time to start sharing my thoughts on this poem that has so captivated me I want to pin pieces of it around me. I’m sure I could write books on the different meanings the poem has had for me over the years since I first went wandered through the half-deserted streets with Prufrock. But this post will suffice for now. I would love to hear your thoughts on the poem, so please do share in the comments!

My final thought will be to you with the recording of Eliot reading the poem himself below.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAO3QTU4PzY]

On reading tough books

My new project at work concerns drafting a mini-curriculum set for The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman as an independent reading project with either 1 or several upperclassmen because one of the 11th grade English teachers at a local high school is spending a significant portion of the class teaching cursive writing. This limits the amount of time the class reads which presents some difficulty in keeping the kids reading who dislike the activity. So I decided, along with one of the students, to create an extra program to keep him reading.

The project presents many challenges, not the least of which have to do with not overwhelming the students in the work load. So I went to the most helpful, general resource available for all daunting projects – Google. And what I discovered is that no one really uses Neil Gaiman’s series in a classroom setting.

But one post in particular caught my attention and spurred me to write some thoughts on reading. The post comes from The Graphic Classroom and is written by Kevin Hodgson, who does not recommend the series for K-12 and is hesitant about using it at the college level. I guessed at his recommendation from his introduction.

There are a handful of books that I purposely tuck away from the eyes of my children when I am done reading, for fear that the allure of a comic book will expose them to some unsettling things. Continue reading On reading tough books

Wired’s One Book, One Twitter

Did you miss that Wired magazine is doing a big read this summer?  They are organizing it around Twitter, trying to get everyone to read the same book this summer. There’s not a lot of commitment, just read the book when everyone else is.

Which book? Well they’re having everyone vote on it now. There’s 10 to on the list, and they come from a variety of different genres (with a healthy dose of science fiction/not easily categorizable). If you want to help pick the book, head here.  It has all the details and fills you in.

I know I’m joining in on this insanity. I missed the first announcement in the noise, but I won’t anymore because I started following the organizer, Jeff Howe. I hope to see your #1b1t tweets too! Nothing like the internet to bring us together from around the world.

image from Wired’s original post.

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Reading with High Schoolers

I have a new job tutoring high school students in English at an after-school, non-profit academic center.

Today is my third day and I’m enjoying it already.

The center is trying to create some sort of fun program to encourage the students to read more on their own.

My current suggestions extend as far as have books that are fun to read and not school work. I’m also thinking of how to make some of the amazing podcast novels easier for the students to access.

What I am really needing are brilliant ideas on how to get the students reading in a way that actually makes them want to read.

So how would you get high school students to read? What sort of program would you create? Please leave your suggestions in the comments, and feel free to throw in suggestions for what to have on the shelves!

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authorship

This will probably be a recurring title as I work on finishing my MA. I love authors. My favorite authors also tend to be literary critics.eliot
LikeT.S. Eliot. I love him. Yeah he was kind of a jerk (or really, whatever), but not only was he a great poet, he was an excellent theorist. Decades before Barthes, Eliot advocated for authors to be disregarded while reading a work.

I don’t do this.

It’s not because I don’t like Eliot (see above), it’s just that I can’t! I love to learn things, anything, and when it comes to authors I really enjoy learning about them and their time. It opens up so much for me when I read their work.

But I don’t get bound by them either. I think only red-herrings are more annoying to me than an author trying to control how I understand the work they’ve created. I don’t completely discount them, but authors aren’t God (sorry authors). As much as some of you would like to think you’re omniscient, especially concerning your works, you aren’t. I think it would be impossible. Even in this post, a relatively non-creative work, I will see ideas, insights, flashes of stories, brief reflections of brilliance, and so much more that I am not intending in this moment as I write.

Why don’t I know everything if I’m the author? Well, partly because I’m not smart enough to keep track of all of my thoughts and influences consciously, but also partly because language is dynamic. These words might not mean the same thing to me tomorrow that they do now. Don’t believe me? What did September 11 mean in 2000? What did it mean in 2002? What does it mean today? What will it mean in 3001? Language, even seemingly static language stuck on a page, changes.
So while I don’t disregard the author completely, neither do I worship the author. I simply add all of that information that informs the text to my reading of the text this time around and then let it blend together in the sieve of my mind. And as I add more information and readings and life, I run it all through the sieve again.
Maybe I feel most comfortable discussing literature from this platform because I like to read and edit and analyze and enjoy literature. I think the editing is particularly helpful for this.

See, when I edit I have to keep track of the story. This may sound simple, but it’s really not. I have to keep in mind the scope of the story as a whole, something complete and finished even as it is in progress. But I also have to keep track of the tiny details. And to use my time effectively I have to keep all this in my head on top of my own reactions as a reader and thinking as a more generalized reader, while I read the story once.

As if this wasn’t hard enough, I also have to keep in mind the voice and tone of the work when I offer suggestions and try to prevent my own voice from dominating. I can never take myself out of a work, but I can do my best to minimize my presence so that it can fade into the background and emphasize the brilliance of the author.

But does that make me a co-author?

This was the question I found myself asking today while I was reading through another draft of my friend’s story. The question probably would have wander back and forth like a ten year-old trying to attract parental attention before wandering away, except that this version was ensconced in an email that mentioned each draft of the story had been completely re-worked based on my comments.

At first I was taken aback by the comment simply because I don’t think of myself as offering insight that powerful. I honestly felt a little bad, as though somehow I had destroyed another’s creation through mis-guided attempts at help. But then I realized

this is what editors often do for authors.

And in a way it was kind of freeing.

Because I know that I have not forced or coerced these changes in the story (for the most part), I can rest assured that this story still belongs to the author and that I haven’t destroyed anything.

But that doesn’t make my relationship with the text any less complicated.
There is only one part of one line that I created in the story so far, and I offered it amongst several options for a phrase that didn’t seem to fit. Other than that, the story has changed and shifted because I provided my questions/thoughts/reactions/associations/opinions/ for the author to consider. Any changes steming from that are completely authorized.

And yet, they still reflect me. Certainly they reflect more my immiatation of the author, but they still reflect me. And the story exists in the form I read through today in part because I read it, and also because I shared my thoughts.

And when I read this story I see the author almost distilled and reflected in it, which I expect without acknowledgement. But I also see today, with all our hopes/fears/pains/loves/concerns/joys/lives also distilled and reflected in this story. There are phrases that if I weren’t living today I would never read as allusions. I see the political environment, our economic environment, our world precariously balanced as it is in this story. And the hope for a better tomorrow also shines in this story. But they are so slight as to be overlooked should this story be read in 30 years.

And I will, more likely than, not never be known in association with this story, so my reflections will go unnoticed and understood differently. Which leads me to another question – would I still be an author in that time when my fingerprints are smudged?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. They are ones I think about often, not only because I enjoy editing, but because I am an English academic with an emphasis in textual criticism and authorship theory. The questions don’t get any easier when applied to dead authors. But the complexity is fun. I will probably be thinking of answers to these questions, especially as I move into fields where my livelihood depends on having a definite answer to what role I’ve played in producing a work, for the rest of my life.

And I’m quite content with that.

favorite book moments

This will have to spread out over a few posts because I probably won’t remember all of them, and I’m sure I’ll add more as I read more. This comes from a conversation that I had with a friend about moments that stand out to me in books. Since I read obsessively, there are many moments that I’ve read that stand out in a way reminiscent of my lived memories.

So the first favorite moment comes from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis. {Side note: It should be the third book, but since most of the publishers annoyingly number by the story chronology, it is often number 5}  There’s a character named Eustace Scrubb and he is obnoxious through the first part of the story. Like super obnoxious. Most of the story takes place on a ship (hence voyage) and the first time I read it, I wanted to throw him overboard. That was until the middle of the story.

See Eustace turns into a dragon and while the mean part of me thought he deserved it for being such a jerk, he’s so miserable that I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for him. And I felt really sorry for him when everyone starts to get ready to leave the island they were on because they would have to leave Eustace behind, and I don’t like for people to be alone.

So here comes my favorite moment.

Eustace meets Aslan and Aslan tells him that he needs to take off his dragon suit so that he can get all cleaned up. So Eustace begins to peel off his dragon skin, but he can’t quite get enough of it off. So Aslan offers to help, and Eustace lets him. Aslan pulls off almost his entire dragon covering in one go, and Eustace goes through a lot of pain, but it’s the kind of pain that helps him to grow. And he even helps pull of the bits that he can despite his pain because he knows that this is the only way that he can stop being a dragon and reconnect with his friends.

I love this part because I know I have much that I hold onto that I don’t really like simply because I’m too chicken to face the pain of letting it go. But when I read this part of Eustace’s story I feel that maybe I can face that pain too and come out better for letting all that other stuff go.

So there’s part one of my favorite moments in books. I’ll post another later.

Break time!

I decided that once I had finished grades and the dolls from Ana Paula that

I made for Christmas I would take time off and just do fun things until after the first of the year. For most people this would mean going places, but since I’m boring and poor, this meant catching up on the fun things that I’ve been wanting to read but haven’t had time. So this is what I’ve read so far…

Sandman by Neil Gaiman 1,2,3,4 (I borrowed these from my friend and I read the first 4 vloumes in about 3 days. Luckily she myspaced me and asked when I wanted more. I loved them and Dream!)

The Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer (I got the whole series for Christmas and finished it by the Saturday after. See the post on that to read my thoughts on the subject.)

The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite story by Gerard Way, art by Gabriel Ba (I heard about this on the radio because Gerard Way is the lead singer of My Chemical Romance, and I loved their last album The Black Parade, so I checked this out and I loved it. It’s like a noir superhero story and I just want to read more.)

Vampire Knight (My friend recommended this manga because I said that I like vampire stories. It is really good and feels like it’s finishing up, so I’m hoping that it won’t drag on too long. I like the characters, and I want to know how their story ends.)

Now I’m gonna start in on DVD series and Agatha Christie mysteries because I can take my time with those since I need to start working again. I really need to submit articles for publication and I need to propose papers for conferences. Break time is almost over…

Twilight books

Ok, so first off, there will probably be spoilers in this post. If you don’t want to know anything about the series, know that I enjoyed the story and stop reading.

So I got the books for Christmas. I opened them Christmas morning, and I started reading them around 6pm that night. I finished the first book about 3 am, started book 2 around 8am the 26th, finished book 3 around 2am the night of the 26th, and finished book 4 (and thereby the series) on Sat., 27 Dec.  Yes, I had nothing better to do. And I also wanted to read books 2 & 3 in one day because I thought it would be a fun goal. I also liked the story as a whole.

We’ll start with positives. I liked that Bella was very rational and yet still emotional. This might also be because I find myself reflected in her character. What I especially like is that she just goes with the crazy in her life. Vampires? Were-wolves? No problem! Sweet, what are we having for dinner? I like that kind of approach to life. I like the love and connection between Bella & Edward. I LOVE Alice & Jasper. I wish that they were around so much more. I would love to know more about them and hear about them before they met up with each other and the Cullens.

So what I didn’t care for so much in this story will take more time because I feel the need to explain why I don’t care about these parts. So here goes…

I don’t like that Edward requires Bella to marry him. I can kind of see where that fits with Edward’s character since he was born in the beginning of the 20th century and that would be something that would be part of his cultural upbringing. But he’s a freaking vampire who wonders about his soul! And I really don’t see how that fits with his character. It feels forced.

And speaking of Edward, I feel like his character is the one that I don’t know very well. I understand Bella; I understand Alice; I even understand Jasper and Rosalie! I don’t understand Edward as well as I would like for a major character. Why does he really want to marry Bella? Why does he get along with Alice so much better than Rosalie? Why didn’t he find someone to bond with earlier? What did he do during his rebellion? What were his parents like? How was he brought up? Why is he always smirking?

But really what I don’t like about the story is that it ends too happy. I know that Americans tend to really like happy endings, but this ending is close to perfect for them. Everyone we care about survives, and she doesn’t really loose anything. She even figures out how to become even more intimate with Edward by figuring out how to let him see her mind! Life doesn’t happen that way! It only works to perpetuate the fallacy of the happily ever after. The ending to the series in Breaking Dawn is the exact reason that people keep their kids from reading fairy tales because it sets up unreasonable expectations. And maybe I don’t like this overly happy ending because I’m slightly morbid, whatever; I think it’s over the top.

All-in-all I do like the story as a whole. I like a good vampire story, and this series develops the mythology of vampires in some interesting ways. If you read through this whole post, you’ll probably understand more about me than the books, but who knows…maybe you’ll see what I’m talking about.

“We Are Wizards”

The Christian Science Monitor has a blog post from Marjorie Kehe about a new documentary on the world of Harry Potter fans called “We Are Wizards.” She says in the introduction:

When it comes to Harry Potter enthusiasts, it’s a wacky world out there. Parents, of course, want their kids to learn to love to read. But could it really be a good thing for anyone to obsess over any books the way some young readers do over Harry Potter? This is a question you may find yourself asking as you watch “We Are Wizards,” Josh Koury’s documentary film released in theaters last week about some of Harry Potter’s more, well, let’s say “dedicated” fans.

I’ll be honest – I’m excited for this. I enjoy documentaries, and I have found that the ones that follow people who are completely devoted to fantasy worlds are fantastic. I hope it’s as good as “Trekkies” because that will only make the Harry Potter fan-world even better, especially for Harry Potter scholars.

The Graveyard Book

So I’ve just finished Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and it’s fantastic. And by finished I mean that I just finished watching it here. He’s put video of himself reading his book on his book tour last week on his website (so many ‘his’ in that sentence). So when I found out that this book (that I’ve been excited about since I read a small bit somewhere on the web) was out, I had to listen to it immediately.

 

And it was like I was reading it.

 

Though slightly frustrating because he didn’t read quicker through the tense parts to get to the resolution of that action like I do. But as I listen to Gaiman read his story, I still felt as though I walked along side Bod through the course of his adventures.

 

Really though, I love Gaiman’s use of language and the way he blends these beautiful images and characters with the inanity and insanity of the life that I see everyday (which I find particularly astounding since he’s a middle-aged man born in England living in Minnesota). His characters talk in a way that I wish I could, and yet it sounds real. They talk in a very literal style and respond with acceptance of whatever circumstances the conversation presents. It’s a book for younger readers, that does not shy away from difficult topics, and the speech patterns seem to reflect that audience.

 

I can’t wait to pick it up and get to read it for my own self, and this is after listening to Gaiman read it completely. I love Bod and the way that he interacts with all of the characters, as well as the way the characters are and aren’t what I expected. I read a lot of fantasy and have a rather macabre view of life, and this story surprised me in several places and made me smile in others. Gaiman usually makes me laugh out loud at least several times while I’m reading, and The Graveyard Book definitely fell into that quite a lot. I also decided that I really need to read The Jungle Book because this apparently riffs on that story, just in a cemetery. I was describing this work to a friend as a mix between Tim Burton, Monty Python, and Douglas Adams, and I mean that as the best possible view since I love them all.

 

So there’s my nerdy share for the day. Enjoy this beautiful cemetery!