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Best Summer Reads

By Sam Levenberg, Staff Writer

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“summer reading” by Ruminatrix

Hello again!

So, I walked into my kitchen earlier and saw, sitting in a little bowl on the counter, the first summer tomatoes from my dad’s garden. As I sat down to enjoy a few lightly salted tomato slices (you should try it—it’s surprisingly delicious), I remembered some of the other small things that make summer simply delightful: eating dinner on the porch, lounging by the pool, playing summer nighttime games like capture the flag or manhunt, and, most especially, taking the time to sit down and read a good book.

Being an English major, I am required to read a lot of books, some of which are enjoyable, some of which are not. Often the books I read for school are not the ones I would pick up in my spare time. Ever since I was a little kid, I have enjoyed reading good adventure stories because they are always amazingly fun to read and can usually be finished in a day or two. As I have gotten older, the stories shifted from young adult to mature fiction, but my love for adventure stories has not diminished. So without further ado, here are some of the books, authors, and stories I have been reading this summer.

Fables: This is not technically a series of book-books, but a series of graphic novels. The story lines they contain are so intricate and wonderfully original that I have literally spent hours reading and re-reading the series. In short, magical creatures called Fables, kicked out of their own world, end up in moving into ours. The series is about their struggles to live among humans, or “Mundies” as they call us, while still keeping their own lives in check. If you’re interested in a new spin on storybook characters such as Snow White, Prince Charming, The Big Bad Wolf, Cinderella, Jack (from “Jack and the Beanstalk” fame) and others, then this is a must read.

Amberville: This one is definitely interesting. Set in a world exactly like ours, except populated by anthropomorphic stuffed animals, Amberville is a gritty, dark mystery novel that does not disappoint. While the mystery itself was not all that spectacular, the characters in the story are what sold it for me. If you’re interested in reading something wayyy out of the ordinary, then this is definitely for you.

Percy Jackson: When I say Percy Jackson, I mean the whole series, not just the first book (read the book, DON’T see the movie—the book is way better), because it features a genre and a story arc that are personally right up my alley. Having had to read canonical literature for most of the last eight months has been grueling, so picking up this series and reading it cover to cover in two weeks was a nice break. As well, being a fan of mythology, I was pleased to see how Rick Riordan incorporated almost every Greek myth and story into his books in various ways. These are nice and easy reads, but they’re still fun and engaging all the while.

Roald Dahl: This man is my favorite writer by far. Many of you have probably read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda as well as a number of his other children’s stories. Yet, what I love most about his writing is his short stories. While mostly dark and humorous, all of them are simply amazing to read. Consequently, his stories cover a lot of the darker topics his more popular fiction does not, and yes, there are quite a few—murder, art, sex and humanity’s insanity are some of the more common ones, but this topic list has an extensive range. If you get a chance, I strongly suggest you pick up a copy of The Best of Roald Dahl. My personal three favorites are “Lamb to the Slaughter,” “Skin,” and “Pig,” but if you do read his stories, let me know which ones you liked. I can talk about his works for hours upon hours upon hours.

That’s it for now. I wish you all a happy day, and happy night, and a happy everything. Feel free to contact me with any of your good summer reads, as I am running out of books to read and could use some mighty suggestions.

With summer restlessness,

Sam Levenberg
Yorick Magazine

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The Portrait of a Physicist as a Good Writer (Maybe)

Dear Readers, Writers, Megalomaniacs, and Respected Ministers,

So there’s always advice pouring from writers, editors, agents, and other haphazard insectoids. I would argue that some of the greatest universal advice comes from non-writers.

Specifically scientists.

Even more specifically, physicists.

If you go to a university and talk to most physics majors about writing, he or she will throw a brick at your face. However, what these science-oriented brick-monsters do not realize is that their pursuit for the greater understanding of our physical universe entails many of the same ideals we writers also strive to conquer.

I won’t pretend to know the contexts of these quotes. In fact, most quotes on the internet are inaccurate misattributions to famous people. Nonetheless, they’re great quotes. You’ll encounter some of the same advice you’ve heard already, but shut up, you’ll like it.

1. Write Simply – Albert Einstein

Einstein is usually the “last but not least” to mention in these lists, but today he’ll be the “first but not least.” He was a German physicist who first worked in Sweden, and then escaped to America to eventually collaborate on the Manhattan Project. He said this, at some point:

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.

Think about all the long and droning books you’ve read. Think about the plot. How many characters were involved? How many characters showed up and didn’t matter? How many plot twists occurred, without any ounce of breadcrumbs to lead you down those paths?

Sometimes, complexity doesn’t amount to a smart read. Long back stories, strange connections between characters that seem outrageous, yarning plots that span eons of time. After reading those books, did you really enjoy being a pseudo-historian? Did you brag to your friends about the illustrious history of Mrs. H. Y. Wonderpots and how many weird ties she fictionally has to the Kennedys? If you find accounts of the ridiculous to be funny, then go ahead and have a 1,000 page laugh.

Einstein indirectly proposed that the simpler an equation, the more depth, timelessness, and, therefore, genius it holds. The same applies to writing. While writers like Hemingway and Bradbury will be remembered for their fluid and memorable classics, Mrs. H. Y. Wonderpots will only be remembered in a Master’s thesis on obscure literature.

2. Read a Lot – Eric Allin Cornell

Cornell is a living physicist who discovered the Bose-Einstein Condesate with colleague Carl E. Wieman in 1995, winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2001. Pretty cool guy. Whatever the hell Bose-Einstein Condesate is. However, he had this to say about reading:

My head was always bubbling over with facts and it seems to me this had little to do with my paying close attention in school and more to do with my voracious and omnivorous reading habits.

Think about your style of writing in correlation with your reading habits. How often do you read? What do you read? Do you write after reading? These questions matter when considering your voice, considering convention, and considering what publishers want.

Confirmed by successful authors I’ve met, reading what you want to write seems to help an awful lot. If you’re a fantasy writer and you want to work with Tor, an imprint of Macmillan, you may want to pick up a few copies of their bestselling list. You’re not going to want to gorge yourself on Tolkien’s canon before you write. As great as Tolkien was, his brand of fantasy has already been done. In a bloated market like fantasy, your writing has to be savvy to current trends. However, you may also choose to read the classics so you know what not to include. Using clichés that were originals from Tolkien’s work is just as incorrigible as writing like Tolkien himself.

Knowledge of the market doesn’t come from what you’ve learned is right, according to Cornell. This knowledge comes from research, having a comprehensive understanding of the expectations around you, and having the ferocity to formulate this understanding. So when you’re attempting to write a fictional account of the Kennedys’ lives, read that novel about Mrs. Wonderpots and develop an idea of what horrible alternate-universe Kennedy fiction entails.

3. Small Details Contribute to Big Stories – Paul Dirac

Paul Dirac was a brainy theoretical physicist who predicted the existence of antimatter with his self-named equation and won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933 with Schrödinger and his cat. Interestingly enough, Dirac seemed to hate poetry, essentially saying that poetry and physics are diametrically opposed. Funny, since his quote is dramatic and literally flowery:

Pick a flower on Earth and you move the farthest star.

Think about every detail you encounter in a story. Think about how each detail relates to the characters, the plot, the setting, and even the tone. What details are these? What significance do they seem to pose? What the hell does a flower have to do with a star?

Everything. Every detail counts in a story. Raymond Carver’s minimalist alcoholic husband stories, for example, all exhibit objective narratives with no emotion. Why was he a successful author, then? He set along his stories emotional triggers with landmines set meticulously throughout, all leading to the climax. This climax may just be a gesture, but it’ll sure make you wonder.

Dirac commented on how the smallest action makes the biggest impact. Probably in context with one of his science-things. But a map of minute details helps the reader achieve an extraction of the psychological depth you dug out in your story. If Dirac returns among the living and ever reads a story and says, “Wow, that’s a piece of worthless shit; nothing happened!”, then (I trust your writing skills) you’ve probably done something right.

4. Strange Observations Lead to Great Stories – John Archibald Wheeler

Johnny Wheeler was another American theoretical physicist, famously coining the terms quantum foam, black hole, and worm hole. Cool. Very cool. But he also had some unintentional advice for his unintentional students, those who didn’t study under him at Princeton, gleaning his physics wizardry:

If you haven’t found something strange during the day, it hasn’t been much of a day.

I have met many people that say their lives are uninteresting. I’ve also noted that these people are interesting in themselves and do not realize how weird they are, or that these individuals are, in fact, surrounded by the most perplexing situations I’ve seen, but just don’t see it. Think about your own life. Are you a weirdo? Admit it. If not, are you surrounded by constant freakshows and quirky phenomena?

Either way, that’s great. These odd  happenings are the foundation for many great tales. Kafka’s surreal The Trial takes a lot of stock from the writer’s late nights in the law firm. Stephen King’s “The Mangler” was inspired by his occupation at a laundry-folding company. If your perception of life comes into with conflict with Wheeler’s insinuations, you may have to open your eyes just a little bit more.

Although I’ve never written about her, I’ve definitely seen Mrs. Wonderpots. She lingered in Kmart when I worked there and frowned with a furry lip when I told her I couldn’t find a wooden L. Then she barked and stumbled away. I hated working at Kmart. It’s sometimes horrifying. But it’s definitely given me a multitude of ideas.

5. Write it All Now, Worry About Perfecting it Later – Austin O’Malley

All I know about the late Dr. O’Malley was that he was a physicist and that he died in 1932. I also realize that his quote is so vague, it could be applied not only to writing, but to football, war, gardening, cooking, and any field that involves some kind of effort:

A pint of sweat will save a gallon of blood.

Alright, so this quote may be a little gross for cooking. But for everything else, including writing, this makes sense. When you start a piece, whether it’s a short story or a novel, how far do you get before you say “No, I hate this. It’s not good enough. No one will ever like it”? Admit it. You’ve abandoned projects because you thought the idea was unintelligible, too simple, too contrived, or whatever. I’ve done the same. But you cannot think that way.

Write it all out. Don’t stop. Okay, take breaks so you don’t get a weird floating Carpal Tunnel jitteration. But don’t stop, especially if you think the idea is awful. You can decide that later—after you’ve written it. By stopping short, you limit the potential of having a great work, a diamond in the rough, or even a wonderful character you could extract like a good heart and put into a new and better body of work. You lose so much by giving up on yourself.

Although I’ll never know who Dr. O’Malley really was, unless I do another twenty minutes of thorough research, I’ll take his vague quote to heart. Put in the morale-reducing effort in now, and you’ll save yourself the pain of realizing that you never published anything in your life.

Scary thought, right?

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed it, tell me. Or like it. Or something. If not, enjoy a vague life in my new novel about the saga of Austin O’Malley and his odious fiancé, Mrs. H.Y. Wonderpots.

Cheers!

Alex, Editor-in-Chief

Sowing your Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates ruminates on poetry, characters, and other Oatesian delights. For a longer discussion, click the link below. Oates reads from “The Gravedigger’s Daughter,” Oates’ 36th novel, published in 2007. It’s a thorough discussion, but if ye be thorough too, ye be ready.

http://fora.tv/2007/06/07/Joyce_Carol_Oates_Gravedigger_s_Daughter

Stephen King Eats a Wild Baboon

An interview with the dying Borders enterprise (hell, it wasn’t dying back in ’08). King mentions a few great pointers about the art of short story writing, though there’s an odd cut-off at the end. Pay no heed.

Credit: bordersmedia