Posts Tagged 'Reading'

Best Reads, 2010

Sure, I may have increased my online involvement in 2010 (tweet, tweet), but I still found time for some good paper reads. …Except for Strong Motion, which I admit that I read on my iPhone Kindle application during my morning bus rides. Also, I left out most of my class-assigned reads from early 2010. These are my pleasure reads ūüôā

Clockwise, from top left

  1. Midnight’s Children (Salmon Rushdie). A re-read; This is one of the few books that is complex enough to re-read over and over
  2. Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace). 1100 pages of small-font heavily-footnoted brilliance. My theory is that the first 100 pages is just a test to see if you have the brains/work ethic to read the whole thing.
  3. Close Range (Annie Proulx). Remember Brokeback Mountain? This is the collection that contains the original short story. Some of the most stunningly beautiful prose I’ve ever read.
  4. Strong Motion (Jonathan Franzen). After reading Freedom (see #7), it’s clear that this is a younger, less-developed Franzen who’s writing.
  5. Spoon Fed (Kim Severson). The memoir of NYTimes’ food writer Kim Severson. She traces stories of eight cooks (both famous and not) who helped shape her life and career.
  6. Absalom, Absalom (William Faulkner). As an English major and a Southerner, I love/hate/love Faulkner. You know.
  7. Freedom (Jonathan Franzen). Brilliant, Read It Right Now, Enough Said. Also, note the similarity in cover design for this and Infinite Jest..?
  8. The Poems of George Herbert. Reformation-era poet who wrote “architectural” poems, both in the content and the structure of the poem. Super cool and geeky.
  9. Wieland, or The Transformation (Charles Brockden Brown). Family curses, religious fanaticism, vulnerable women, and madness! …Supposedly this is the first official American novel.
  10. The Journals of Joyce Carol Oates. Smart lady, moments of insight, but gets repetitive quickly.

In the News – InkGeek / ArtGeek Version

¬Ľ¬†50 best blogs for watercolor artists (via Web Design Schools Guide)

¬Ľ¬†The Lost Art of Letter Writing (via The Guardian)

¬Ľ¬†Reading, Writing and Revelation (via Ode Magazine)

¬Ľ¬†I’m utterly¬†infatuated with the watercolor-calligraphy hybrid on¬†this wedding invitation. I think I want to get married just for the crafting possibilities.

¬Ľ The¬†New York Times came out with their 100 Notable Books of 2010. Yummy reading.

¬Ľ Um, On the off chance that you someday need to know how different types of paper affect the waterproof-ness of waterproof inks, read this thread!

¬Ľ General Inquiry: Has anyone ever bought¬†a fountain pen from Etsy? They’re always so beautiful; I just want to read a review first…

¬Ľ¬†Also, look at¬†this beautiful watercolor!*

¬Ľ¬†Russell Black is a watercolor artist based out of Utah. I love the way his bright, blocky style works with the softness of watercolor.

Russell Black

¬Ľ¬†I’ve been seeing¬†Marion Bolognesi linked a lot around the internet over the past week. (I wonder what caused the sudden jump on the hip-meter?) I first caught her work a few months ago; she’s got that great fashion-vibe.. and super technique when it comes to facial features.

Marion Bolognesi

*¬†Can you tell I spent a few hours on Etsy yesterday? As a rule, I rarely let myself browse Etsy because I can easily waste an entire day browsing instead of oh, say, actually creating something. But it’s good to indulge every once in a while, and thus the linkage love.

Sigh, I should open up a shop myself one of these days… it can’t hurt to try, right?

Spots, Nooks, and Spaces – The Porch

Sometimes I like to show off little corners I’ve found: places with good feng shui, places that invite you to curl up in them. View my previous posts here:¬†Part 1,¬†Part 2,¬†Part 3.

The porch

“I do not, indeed, commend it for any beauty, per se, but as being an honest, well-intended shelter¬†and resting-place, which could be grafted upon many an old-style farm-house, with bare door, and set off its barrenness, with quaint,¬†simple lines of hospitality, that would add more to the real effect of the home¬†than a cumbrous series of joiner’s arches of tenfold its cost.”

From “The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste” by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams

Have I mentioned how much I love porches? (Because, I really love porches). They’re beautiful architecturally but also important socially: a town with porches is a town where people talk to each other. And houses with porches are inviting; they allow mobility. They’re open.

No wonder those European nobles liked to build castles instead.

Bonus Reading:

This interview with Paula Wallace, author of Perfect Porches (hee!)

Porch Appeal, an article by architect James M. Crisp

How did the front porch become so popular?

Reading Spots, Nooks, and Spaces (Part 3)

Discovered this nook in the art building at my college the other day. It’s freezing cold in the winter, but has some of the best natural lighting, gothic architecture coziness (does that even exist?), and great views out over the campus.

Escape and Awareness

*This is an article I wrote recently to show to a local magazine*

I’m fascinated by my youngest sister’s character. We’re 8 years apart, but sometimes it feels like I’m several generations older. It becomes clearest when we’re talking technology: she’s never known a world without computers or television, but when I was a kid, my family owned neither.

She’s also into fantasy, something I worry about. I’m not gonna lie; I judge anime fans. Not because I think anime is bad in itself, or because I’m a product of a society that looks down on any costumed culture that doesn’t involve barely-dressed women posing as nurses or playboy bunnies; No, I’ve arrived at a general unease with anime culture very slowly, over the past six or seven years, and through various friendships and acquaintances¬†with [some very good] people who are anime or fantasy fans. My distrust comes from the insular, protected “bubble world” that many fans create, settle into, and rarely leave– a world that has very little contact with reality, and that expands beyond¬†any one series to whole cybercommunities with fanfiction, fan art, and other forums that blur the line between watching, reading, writing, and living. It’s a world that cares little for social action, much less social justice: a cozy little bubble that doesn’t challenge its inhabitants; it indulges them.

I’m not arbitrarily hating on anime, which is something that many Americans do. To these people, anime stands as a symbol for an “East Asian” takeover of American culture and commodities. These people will likely find it very difficult to admit that the escapism that anime provides for many American adolescents is no different than the escapism that American television offers– which affects¬†far more American adolescents than anime ever has.

It would also be a mistake to group my bias with our general cultural distaste for what we have deemed “nerd games” — Dungeons & Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, Second Life, etc.* That’s just a symptom of America’s need to preserve an [increasingly fragile] ideal of the socially-adept independent man. (Yes, “man”– how often do you see girls in mocking portrayals of D&D?)

So, I use anime as my first example because it has been most visible in my friendships with fans. But my distrust of anime is the same as my distrust of Harry Potter, and any series that spawns conventions, internet alter-egos, fanfiction, fan art, etc, etc. Basically, my gripe is with the escapism itself.

In many ways, the escapism into mainstream television is worse, because it doesn’t carry the social stigma that anime and fantasy do. However–partly because of that stigma–fantasy and anime are more prone to creating self-contained worlds on the internet or elsewhere, devoted to their dramas. This is changing, of course; I’ve read more bloody posts about Dancing with the Stars/So You Think You Can Dance in the past two days than I hope to ever encounter again.

This may sound like nostalgia for a time that I never knew, but I don’t think that this applies to fantasy from more than 30 or 40 years ago. Lord of the Rings definitely spawned a subculture, costumes and alter-egos included, but with less-developed mass-marketing techniques and the lack of internet, LOTR never created the full, daily, and self-supporting fantasy facade.

My sister doesn’t “do” anime, but she reads a lot of fantasy, and not much else. She’s a voracious reader (which is something my 12-year-old self can identify with), but the vast majority of her reading material is fantasy series. When I pester her to read non-fantasy, she complains that the Young Adult sections of the bookstores are all about sex, boys, or vampires. …Okay, fair point. The writing in the Twilight series is nearly as bad as HP fanfiction written by a 14 year old. Also, I’m a bit proud that she hasn’t branched from fantasy to vampires.

However, even after reading some books I recommended [The Joy Luck Club, Fahrenheit 451, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime]**, my sister seems to have a clear aversion some basic literary tenets: unhappy (or ambiguous) endings, any narrative style that doesn’t start with a description of a medieval-esque village, any regular ol’ coming of age story… etc.

Some of this is just her age– and of course I felt the same way at her age. You want to believe that your own life will have a happy ending, so you read up on them. But my sister has an option that I didn’t have: of¬†staying in that fantasy world way into her adolescence, into her adulthood. And yeah, that scares me.

I mean, okay, I read Dealing with Dragons in 2nd grade and definitely had a brief love affair with ass-kicking princesses, but then I displaced my mystery/fantasy attractions onto Celtic and Irish culture (cultural “oops!” moment), and then was kicked into reality when my family filed for bankruptcy. And I don’t think you have to stop playing dress up when you’re an adult– but at 20, you can dress up for a multitude of awesome reasons (themed party? mood elevator?) that do not involve impersonating¬†a comic character.

Then, the other day, my sister said something that clicked: something along the lines of “I don’t want to read a violent book.. then it’s just like watching TV.”

Oh. Duh.

What else would explain the rise of all-encompassing escapist media cultures? Not only do they offer the option to leave your own life behind and enter into the lives of characters, but you can rewrite their lives and plots to bring your personally preferred ending into “reality.” In a sick, sort of ironically American way, we’re bringing up a generation that’s more saturated with “reality” than any before– in the sense that they’re being exposed to mindless sex, mass violence, and all sorts of subtle visual and psychological messages about the meaninglessness and futility of the world, way earlier than any other generation of Americans.

Sure, television in the 1950’s was a facade as well, serving to reinforce all sorts of gender and racial stereotypes. But at least then a kid came face to face with reality through a personal experience–actually having awkward unsafe sex, getting in a physical fight–instead of having it ingrained from birth by both TV/movies as well as the news, which supposedly covers real life.***

For me, this was an important message for me as a writer. It’s dangerous to write too sentimentally (readers will not be able to reconcile the text with their own lives), but it’s also dangerous to indulge in violence and meaninglessness in the name of “realistic” writing. For my sister (and, I assume, most American kids born after her) there is another, far more appealing option just waiting on the computer.

I highly recommend “The Future of Reading: Digital Versus Print,” an article from a series in the New York Times about “how the Internet and other technological and social forces are changing the way people read.”

The good news is that my sister seems to be embarking on a fascinating quest to balance escapism with awareness. When I introduced her to I Love Lucy, she became obsessed. She even tried convincing her science teacher to watch it– though the teacher, a 30-something who would have grown up with the more contemporary relationship to technology, claimed she “didn’t like things in black and white.”

The even better news is that when my sister and I watch I Love Lucy, we laugh hard and then yell in protest when something ridiculously sexist happens. Has anybody seen the episode where Lucy starves herself to be thin enough to perform in Ricky’s show, and has to be carried off in a stretcher at the end? Yes, hilarity. It used to be just me pointing out all the sexism on the show, but lately my sister has been bringing things up as well.

Makes me proud, it does.

__________

*Although I struggle with an underlying distaste for these game cultures in general, my hunch is that this is more of an internal struggle with growing up under the “nerd” label, and with my own desire for escapism.

** (yeah, she’s sort of an advanced reader)

*** I’m clearly underestimating the detriment that white racist sexist heteronormative television had on earlier generations. I only want to point out that it may have been better than today’s media culture in at least one way.

Reading Spots, Nooks, and Spaces

My family is… how do you say… Chronically Chaotic, and it’s made me a better person.¬†When my WASP-y friends come to visit, they find my family a refreshing change from their ubiquitous (read: boring) Quiet Clean Household. They exhale. They spill. When I visit their families, I savor the silence.

It seems that everything I do is in response to having grown up in chaos. I love quiet places; I am always searching for peace. I especially love nooks– little places to curl up and hide from responsibility (or from messes, crying/fighting children, and so on). I’ve always kept my dorm room clean, probably because it was impossible to keep a clean room at home.

IMG_1014

I’m spending a week at my parents’ house, so lately this has been my favorite place to work/read. It’s a sitting room that I painted and redecorated for them over Spring Break. Whenever I visit, I take this room on as my responsibility– to keep clean, to curl up and read in the sunlight.

IMG_1020

I spent the last few days at my cousins’ farm– which meant, any time indoors was spent on this day bed. For good reading spots, windows are a must. A good green view makes daydreaming easier, and sunlight is easier on the eyes if I’m reading a book. Also required: squishy pillows and a harmonious color scheme.

Cover Art Collage

Even as I settle into the beauty that this summer promises, I’m having to plan ahead for my Honors thesis, which I’ll begin in the fall. My reading list is double the size of regular English majors, so… in lieu of actually working, I decided to procrastinate with a pretty collage!

Honors Reading Collage

I judge a book by its cover (don’t lie; so do you). Sort of the same way that I [used to] buy shampoo in the prettiest bottle. Cover art is so interesting, particularly the way that it evolves with each edition. In a¬†Children’s Literature class that I took at Hollins University, we examined the evolution of cover art for The Great Gilly Hopkins— Gilly’s appearance ranges from childlike to adolescent, from tomboyish to very strange sort of hip femininity. I always preferred the original “face obscured by bubble gum” cover. It allowed the imagination to color in the rest.

It’s also always amusing having to read old books that are being re-designed and marketed as chic modern reads– like the Barnes and Noble “Classics” edition of Robinson Crusoe. What is that cover– a mysterious romance novel, perhaps?

 

Key to the Collage:

1. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
2. Complete Fiction of Nella Larson (I’m assigned Quicksand)
3. Shell Shaker by Leanne Howe
4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
5. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
6. The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
7. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
8. Song of Myself by Walt Whitman
9. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Marie Borroff trans.)
10. Paradise Lost by John Milton
11. Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope
12. Way of the World by William Congreve
13. A Good Man is Hard to Find (and other stories) by Flannery O’Connor
14. The Life and Times of Michael K. by J. M. Coetzee
15. Turn of the Screw by Henry James
16. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
17. Henry V by William Shakespeare
18. Arcadia by Tom Stoppard
19. Sonata Mulattica by Rita Dove
20. Middlemarch by George Eliot
Not Included (but which I still have to read):
Poems of W.B. Yeats
Selected lyric poems by Ben Jonson
Poems of Geoffrey Chaucer
Poems of Anne Bradstreet
Poems by  Theodore Roethke
Shakespeare’s Sonnets: 29, 30, 55, 73, 116, 129, 130, 144, 146

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