Friday, February 17, 2012

I'm glad February is the shortest month because it has been a disappointment and I would like it to just end already thanks

I have hair like Sylvia Plath's hair. We do not look the same-- my face is not nearly as wicked. But we have the same hair. My hair does not know it's 2012. My hair thinks it's 1960.

I read some things. Flannery by Brad Gooch. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. The Adults by Alison Espach. I'm still working on Sylvia Plath's journals but honestly that book is really big and hard to carry around, so it might have to wait for summer.

I love reading biographies, but I tend to get caught up reading so much fiction that I don't read as many as I would like. I've actually been meaning to read Flannery since it came out a few years ago, when I saw the New York Times book review on it. By the way, if you're interested in the book and don't already know a lot about O'Connor's life, don't read the NYT review. It ruins everything. It's fun to be surprised, even in a biography, and it's much more enjoyable to be guided by Gooch's narrative than the breakneck facts of the review, which spends more time talking about O'Connor's life than the quality of the book itself.

It's a very good book, benefiting from a fascinating subject. O'Connor's presence dominates the book. I could sense her on every page, hear her voice drawling out the many quoted letters, conversations, etc. She's a formidable character. If I took anything from the book, it's that I'm not sure if I would have liked Flannery O'Connor the person (as opposed to the writer), but I sure as hell would have respected her, had I known her.  Gooch covers a lot of ground in a not-huge book (unlike most biographies of writers, which tend toward tomes). The only thing that caught me off guard was how brief the section about O'Connor at Iowa was because I expected it to be more than a focus, but I suspect that was more about a balance of information and what was important rather than a stylistic choice on Gooch's part for any reason.

If you have any interest in biographies of writers, this is a really good one to check out. You might want to get a copy of O'Connor's collected stories while you're at it because reading the biography makes you want to discover/revisit her writing in a big way.

The Adults by Alison Espach is a book that I heard about all last year. It's kind of a big deal, reviewed everywhere, the whole bit. I came across a copy in the library the other day, snatched it up, and read it in a day. I had my concerns when I started. There's a lot of voice going on. I was worried that it was going to be all voice, all look how clever I can be, isn't everyone so quirky? Thankfully, the book did a lot more than that.

The Adults follows Emily Vidal, a young woman living in a wealthy Connecticut suburb (and later Prague). I personally enjoyed the section about Emily in high school more than I did the rest of the novel, but overall I really enjoyed it. Emily was lost, screwed up, compelling. The language throughout the book was stunning. No one really talks like people in The Adults talk, but that's a good thing. It's simultaneously how you wish your life would work and the last way you want your life to work.

I would review this more, but seriously, everyone did already. Everyone. If you want reviews, go read those (NYT, Washington Post, etc). Better yet, go read the book. It's good, I promise. You'll like it.

I am reading other things now! I am, as usual, reading so many things that I can barely keep track. I would really like to be one of those people who starts one book and goes until she finishes it, then starts the next. I have yet to succeed at that plan. Right now I am reading:

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (I read half of this last semester, and I'm trying to finish it up. I don't know why it's taking so long. I really like it. Reading Flannery made me want to read all sorts of southern writers from that time period.)
Ayiti by Roxane Gay
The Raising by Laura Kasischke
Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum

I'm also reading Here on Earth by Alice Hoffman and a bunch of Jane Eyre criticism, but that's all for my independent study so it doesn't really count.

If you like writers and blogs, you should read my writing soul-twin's blog. Her name is Joellyn and she is fabulous, also a writing student, all that good stuff. She's been published places. Check it out. She's also the one who loaned me Ayiti because I have no money to buy it, so I have to thank her for that too.

Especially Freeing

Okay, so that's all.

-Taylor

Monday, February 6, 2012

Updike Though

"Another couple, younger, was walking down the beach like a pair of creatures, tawny, maned, their movements made stately by their invisible effort to control self-consciousness. One had to look hard to see that they were naked. A summer's frequentation of the nudist section up the beach, around the point from the bouorgeois, bathing-suited section where the Maples lay with their children and their books and their towels and tubes of lotion, had bestowed up the bodies of this other couple the smooth pelt of an even tan. The sexual signs so large in our interior mythology, the breasts and pubic patches, melted to almost nothing in the middle distance, in the sun. Even the young man's penis seemed incidental. And the young woman appeared a lesser version of the male - the same taut, magnetic stride, the same disturbingly generic arrangement of limbs, abdomen, torso, and skull.

Richard suppressed a grunt. Silence attended the two nudes, pushing out from their advance like wavelets up the packed sand into the costumed people, away form the unnoticing commotion and self-absorbed sparkle of the sea.

'Well': a woman's exclamation, from underneath an umbrella, blew down the beach like a sandwich wrapper. One old man, his dwindled legs linked to a barrel chest by boyish trunks of plaid nylon, stood up militantly, helplessly, drowning in this assault, making an uplifted gesture between that of hailing a taxi and shaking a fist."

-John Updike, "Nakedness"

How good, though? Seriously.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

I have not been blogging because I have been reading for long, uninterrupted stretches but I am reading so many things that I'm not finishing anything in a timely fashion and I've also even been writing more than usual.

This is a strange point in my life. It's only the beginning of February, but it's like I can already feel the pull of the term winding down. Like there isn't much time left and then I have to change the way I live.

I have so many things to write this semester to fulfill all of the commitments I've set for myself. It's a little scary, but it's actually going well. I feel good about the material that I have so far.

Like I said I've been reading SO MANY THINGS:

-the Brad Gooch biography of Flannery O'Connor. I like it, though I'm not sure that I would have liked her, based on the way Gooch portrays her anyway. So, so Catholic.
-I also got her collected stories because it's impossible to read a biography of a writer and not want to see their work. I've read a good number of her stories already, but they're no less engaging in re-read. She's got this way of seeing people that I'm not even on the same planet with.
-The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I read this for about three hours straight the other night, totally caught up in how passionate and ridiculous it is. I'm still only about a third of the way through, and I'm pretty sure it's only going to get crazier.
-Sylvia Plath's unabridged journals. I own and read the abridged version back when I was about sixteen or seventeen, about the same time that I read Ariel and The Bell Jar. I hate it when I read abridged things. Of course, this isn't a normal abridging situation. In any case, I'm having a good time revisiting the sections I've already read and going through the new material.
-I got out Robert Lowell's letters because he plays a big part in the O'Connor biography and seemed like a really interesting person. I also got a book of his poetry because I haven't read much of it at all. Just got those today so haven't read much, but his letters to Ezra Pound when Lowell was 19 asking to go study with Pound in Italy were pretty hilarious.

No program news yet. The waiting game continues. I'm hoping to be a real writing/reading machine this semester. Who knows what I'll be doing after school ends.

-Taylor

Monday, January 23, 2012

Guys I Totally Finished the Marriage Plot

So I finished The Marriage Plot, and it is probably the last contemporary work that I'll read for the duration of the semester, excluding a few novels that I have to read for my junior seminar. Of course, I say that, and I'll probably be reading something else new next week. Right now, though, it's all about the 18th and 19th centuries. I'm just starting Zolfoya by Charlotte Dacre for my independent study. I'm super excited because I get to reread Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, which makes me sound like a hopeless nerd, but it's true. Love me some Bronte sisters.

OKAY I'M ABOUT TO TALK ABOUT THE MARRIAGE PLOT NOW AND SO IF YOU HAVEN'T READ IT YOU SHOULD STOP READING THIS POST. OKAY.

Anyway, about The Marriage Plot. I'm a bit late to the game and there are about a billion reviews of this online already, so I'm going to try to make it brief. It doesn't help that I am pretty confused when it comes to my feelings about this book, so this post might be even less coherent than usual.

I liked The Marriage Plot... I think. I'm pretty sure I liked it. I read it all the way through, so that says something for it. I think my main issues with it were: 1) most of the characters were terrible (not terribly done, just terrible people) and 2) there was this weird thing with the timelines that kept tripping me up.

Madeleine, the female protagonist of the novel, drove me out of my mind. She was absolutely insufferable, and so was her boyfriend/husband Leonard. But I'm not going to talk about that too much because it's more of a personal thing and doesn't have very much to do with the merit of the book itself. Mitchell, the protagonist I thought I would like the least going into it, actually turned out to be the only one I could stand.

BUT JUST ONE MORE THING ABOUT THIS: So, like I said, I found Leonard pretty much insufferable, so by far the worst part of the book for me was the part where we had to go back and hear the blow by blow of Leonard's depression. It was painful to say the least, and I honestly didn't care.

The thing that bothered me the most, though, was the fact that we kept getting sent back in time, basically, to catch up on what happened with the other characters. Not that this isn't done in other books, but the problem with this one is that we kind of keep having to go through events that we either already know or can infer have happened. The clearest case of this for me came at the end of the book. Leonard and Madeleine see Mitchell at the party, and then they leave the party and break up. Then we go back to when Mitchell was still in India and have to retrace everything all the way back to the party. It just got tiresome and unnecessary.

So yeah, The Marriage Plot, I have feelings. I'm not 100% sure what they are, but I know they're there.

-Taylor

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Halfway through The Marriage Plot and BOOK LIST OF DOOM

This post is going to be about two things: my progress in The Marriage Plot, which I was hoping to have finished by now, and my love of making book lists.

On The Marriage Plot:


This book is everywhere right now. Because duh. I thought I was going to have to wait for three months on a library hold list, but I got lucky enough to grab a copy on one of the new-fiction tables at my local library. Woohoo!

I'm a little more than halfway through. I was sitting in my senior seminar earlier this week and Irina Reyn was like, "The first half is great and then the second half is terrible." And I was like, why would you tell me that halfway through? So that happened.

I like this book. I have a confession to make, though. I've read The Virgin Suicides (when I was fourteen or so after a surgery on my arm), but I haven't read Middlesex. I know, I know. I will. People get really upset when they find out that I'm a writer/lit major and I haven't read it. I really have no reason why. Anyway, this is slightly relevant because I'm heard from a few people that some people who really love Eugenides and Middlesex don't like The Marriage Plot and a lot of people who haven't read him before like the book a lot. I don't really know how to evaluate that because I've read one of his books and was excited for the new one but didn't get too hyped up or anything.

I really don't know why it's taking me so long to get through the book. It's not that long, it's not that dense. The characters try me a little bit, but the writing is good and I'm really interested in the subject matter. I have to admit that Eugenides scored major points with me when he started talking about Madwoman in the Attic. That's basically the way to my heart.

We'll have to see how it goes. I'm going to try to finish the book this weekend, at which point I'll actually share my feelings about it instead of just pointlessly rambling about how I haven't finished it yet and I maybe like it. One thing I will say, though: this is the kind of book that will make you want to read books. It is a book about books in a lot of ways, and it will definitely give you things to add to your list.

Speaking of book lists:

Guys. Guys. I love making book lists. It's one of my favorite things to do. I just love the possibility of new books, of possibly finding some new book that will become a favorite. Book lists have so much potential, and they give you the opportunity to feel productive when you cross off books you've finished. The new semester is underway, and I have a ton to read, especially for my independent study. For some reason, having a bunch of serious stuff to read just makes me want to read more serious things, which is probably counterproductive. Being in school just makes me ambitious about reading. When I'm on break I still want to read quality stuff, but I tend to go for the lighter stories. To give my brain a break.

So here's some lists. I named a lot of the things I am reading for my classes in the last post, but I'll list those in full. Then my independent study list. Then the huge personal book list of doom that I made in the last few days, which basically contains all of the books I want to have read by the time I enter grad school and some other stuff.

Yay lists!

What I'm reading for class:
1. The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2011
2. Things That Pass For Love by Allison Amend
3. Mansfield Park 
4. Jane Eyre 
5. The Secret Garden 
6. Atonement
7. The Remains of the Day 
8. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
9. Northanger Abbey
10. North and South
11. a bunch of poetry from The Norton Anthology of English Literature (the Romantic and Victorian versions)

I think that's it. I'm also reading a bunch of political writing, including essays, political philosophy, and fiction, for my history class, Comparative Views of Freedom 19th and 20th centuries. This is my third time studying Jane Eyre in a class, and I'm also using it for my independent study. This is my second time studying Northanger Abbey in a class, and I'm also using it for my independent study.

Here's the list for my independent study. I put this one together myself. It's massive, but a lot of it is rereading, and many of them I am rereading for the third, fourth, fifth time. With those, it will be more of a quick review to make sure that I have what I need for my project.

1. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter (reread)
2. Red as Blood or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer by Tanith Lee
3. The Mysteries of Udolpho (reread)
4. Northanger Abbey (reread)
5. Zolfoya by Charlotte Dacre
6. "The Yellow Wallpaper" and "Why I Wrote the Yellow Wallpaper"
7. A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott
8. Wuthering Heights (reread)
9. Jane Eyre (reread and also my favorite book)
10. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
11. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (reread)
12. Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier (reread)
13. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
14. Frankenstein (reread)
15. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (I can't believe this is happening. I never thought I would put that book on a list, but there you go).

I am going to read an update/adaptation/sequel for Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Rebecca, I just haven't selected them yet. I am also going to read at least one other young adult contemporary novel with Gothic themes, but I haven't picked that yet either.

Here are the main critical texts I am going to use:
1. The Madwoman in the Attic Gilbert and Gubar (mostly rereading)
2. The Female Gothic Juliann E. Fleenor (I am using basically every article in this book. It is the greatest find.)

I am super excited about all of these books because many of them are my favorites, so I will try to remember to post the stuff from my reading responses as I do them.

And finally, here is my personal book list. I know that I probably won't read all of them because it's a pretty heavy list, but here's what I want to read in the near future (only a few are rereads that I want to remember to return to). I culled these mostly from other lists, so they are thematically or chronologically linked at points:

1. Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
2. The Way We Live Now by Trollope
3. Sister Carrie
4. Indiana by George Sand
5. Hope Leslie by Catharine Sedgwick
6. The Hidden Hand by E.D.E.N. Southworth
7. Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner
8. Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
9. Possession by A.S. Byatt
10. Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
11. one of Marilynne Robinson's novels
12. Bleak House or something else by Dickens (I have to confess that I haven't read a Dickens novel in full since I was a child and my mother read me A Tale of Two Cities. I hated it. But I feel like I owe him another shot).
13. Dracula (reread)
14. Anna Karenina and War and Peace (So I took a class in Russian short stories and it was a terrifying experience. Ever since I've been a little traumatized and unable to read anything by Russian authors. I need to get over that, so I tried to include some Russian novels on the list.)
15. Middlemarch (I just started this. Dorothea is so freaking crazy.)
16. Madame Bovary (reread but I read it when I was twelve or thirteen)
17. Vanity Fair 
18. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
19. something other than "The Yellow Wallpaper" and Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
20. Portrait of a Lady (I tried to read this last year but only got about fifty pages in. I honestly can't remember why I stopped.)
21. The Awakening 
22. Far From the Madding Crowd 
23. The House of the Seven Gables (I want to read something else by Hawthorne because I hate The Scarlet Letter. I don't care what anyone says; I hate it.)
24. The Great Gatsby (this is one of those books that I really should have read by now and haven't. I don't know why I wasn't assigned it in high school.)
25. Lolita (There are three books that I have attempted to read in my life and had to stop because I was so disturbed: Brave New World, Invisible Man, and Lolita. Lolita is the only one that I feel up to trying again. I feel like it will be okay now that I'm not a fourteen year old girl.)
26. As I Lay Dying or The Sound and the Fury or something else I haven't read by Faulkner
27. Sons and Lovers
28. Mrs. Dalloway (I've only read Woolf's non-fiction, mainly her journals. I feel like I should probably read some of her fiction.)
29. Slaughterhouse-five
30. A Passage to India
31. one of Hemingway's novels
32. one of Edith Wharton's novels
33. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
34. The Bell Jar (reread, but I haven't read it since high school)
35. The Sportswriter by Richard Ford
36. All the Pretty Horses 
37. The Big Sleep
38. Gone with the Wind
39. Lonesome Dove 
40. one of Updike's novels
41. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
42. Moll Flanders 
43. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
44. Crime and Punishment 
45. one of Balzac's novels
46. Love in the Time of Cholera
47. Villette 


Oh god that list is so long. This post is so long.

-Taylor






Friday, January 6, 2012

What I'm Taking This Semester

New semester (last semester!), new classes. Here's what I'm taking:

1. Senior Seminar in Fiction

This is the capstone class for my major, and the main goal of it is to complete a senior "thesis" in fiction. For us, that means 50 pages of either connected short stories or a novel excerpt. The stories can be connected through character, setting, or theme. My section is taught by Irina Reyn, author of What Happened to Anna K. I'm pretty excited about it. I am going to use a story that I wrote for my grad school applications and branch off from those characters (siblings) to write a few more stories. I know a few people in the class from previous courses, but there's definitely not as much overlap as in my previous writing classes, and I'm happy that I'll get to see some work from new people. My biggest hope for the class is that because it's a senior capstone and a small class, everyone will take it seriously and strive to create the best work possible.

We're reading short stories from the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2011 Allison Amend's book Things That Pass For Love. Allison teaches at Pitt as well, and she's going to come in to talk with the class near the end of the term.

2. Writing Well, Grammar and Style: Sentence Workshop

This is my wildcard class for the semester. It's taught by Lois Williams, who lead a brief workshop I attended last semester. The whole class is focused on writing amazing sentences and using grammar, style, and punctuation to experiment with sentence structures. I'm taking it with one of my best friends in the program, and I'm hoping that it will be my low-stress class for the semester. One of the best parts about it is that the only required text is a $15 course packet, which is great because I am broke and can't technically afford my books this semester.

3. 19th Century British Literature

This is a historical period course that is required for my literature minor. I'm not very happy about having to take it because even though I love 19th C. Brit. Lit., we're not really reading that much that I'm into. We also have to buy two Norton Anthologies, which just pisses me off because I pretty much hate Norton and don't want to give them any money. So yeah. We started off the class by watching an incredibly dull British documentary from the '70s about the relationship between Romantic painting and poetry. I would probably drop this class if I could, but I need it to graduate.

4. Junior Seminar in Literature: English Country Houses

I am taking this class with Marah Gubar, who made one of the best first impressions any professor has made on me. She was so enthusiastic and friendly and made us all feel really comfortable and familiar even in the first class. The reading list in this class is astounding: Mansfield Park, Jane Eyre, The Secret Garden, Remains of the Day, Atonement, and How I Live Now. This is the third time I will be studying Jane Eyre in a class; it's my favorite book. I am ridiculously excited for this class.

5. Comparative Views of Freedom, 19th and 20th Centuries

I am taking this class with Leslie Hammond. This is my third class with her, and she is easily the best history professor I have ever had. This class is fulfilling my final general education requirement.

6. Independent Study

I am working on an independent study with my adviser, Lori Campbell. It is a hybrid literature and fiction independent study that focuses on the legacy of 19th century Gothic fiction by women. It's basically an excuse to read a bunch of my favorite books.

In other news, today was a really good library day. Here's what I got:
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
A Writer's Diary by Virginia Woolf
On Secrets, Lies, and Silence by Adrienne Rich
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

I haven't read any books in about a week because I have been absolutely obsessed with reading journalism on longform.org. It's basically the best thing ever.

Hopefully soon updates on some of the books I listed and my current writing projects (of which there are many. Perhaps too many).

-Taylor

Friday, December 23, 2011

YOUNG ADULT and Young Adult

So, my plan for this post is to write about the film Young Adult, which I saw in today, and then to discuss young adult fiction that I've been reading that has been self-published for Amazon Kindle. Hence the title. I can't use italics in the title, so I had to capitalize. I just wanted to lay the plan out because I'm usually pretty literary fiction/academia/program focused around here, and there will be none of that in this post. I not only love reading quality young adult literature, but I also care a lot about the genre and its development. 

Young Adult is by Diablo Cody, the writer of Juno and Jennifer's Body, both films that I enjoy (I actually find myself defending Jennifer's Body a lot, I feel like it is an under-appreciated movie). It is directed by Jason Reitman, who directed Thank You for Smoking, Juno, and Up in the Air. I have to admit, I had pretty high expectations for this movie, and they weren't really met. I'm a sucker for a good preview, and this one really got me. I also thought (and still think) that the casting of the three main roles, Mavis (Charlize Theron), Matt (Patton Oswalt), and Buddy (Patrick Wilson). The basic plot rundown is as follows: Mavis Gary writes young adult novels for a prolific series that bears comparisons to both Sweet Valley High and Gossip Girl, though perhaps more of the former. She is actually a glorified ghost writer, as the creator of the series gets the cover credit, and she is working on the final book of the series. She receives the birth announcement of her former high school boyfriend Buddy Slade's first child, and it bothers her to the point that she decides to go back to her hometown to try to win him back. Once there, she (re)meets a former high school classmate that she ignored (Patton Oswalt) and enacts her plan to seduce Buddy away from his wife and child. 

I have to say first that the movie looked exactly right. Charlize Theron hit the perfect combination of beautiful former-prom-queen and hot-mess, slightly-aging alcoholic. The setting, suburban Minnesota, was also just right, especially the KenTacoHut (KFC/Taco Bell/Pizza Hut).

One of the things that probably hurt the film the most was the expectation that I had going into it based on Juno, Reitman and Cody's previous collaboration. I don't think that I was alone in expecting the same sort of atmosphere, the same snappy, slang-full dialogue. In fact, the film seemed incredibly sparse for something by Cody, with very little dialogue in comparison to her other works. Also missing was the distinctive soundtrack of her other well-known works (including her television series The United States of Tara, which was very unfortunately cancelled this year after three seasons). Most of the music in the film is what is actually playing in the narrative-- otherwise we are left in the buzzing quiet, which, while jarring, did in some way contribute to the awkwardness that pervades the story.

Charlize Theron's character seemed to be a similar type of protagonist as Juno MacGuff: quippy, sarcastic, more than a little cynical, but still the kind of person that you want to be around, if just for the air of "coolness" they exude. Mavis Gary, though, just didn't manage to endear herself to me the way that Juno did. There were moments of sincerity and vulnerability for her character that I believe were some of the film's best, but I just wasn't convinced. The film reminded me of Bad Teacher, which features a similar protagonist, played by Cameron Diaz. The problem that I have with both of these films is that the protagonists, who are, for lack of a better term, complete bitches, seem to be vindicated at the end of the stories. There is the implication that some sort of personal growth might have taken place, but their old behaviors are also defended. It didn't necessarily stop me from enjoying either movie, but it gave me pause. 

On a smaller note, I think that the secondary tension of Mavis's creation of the final book in the young adult series was underdeveloped, and the potential that it had to provide a strong parallel to the central narrative was wasted. The viewer gets to hear a few harried voice mails from Mavis's agent at the beginning of the film, but the pressure of the deadline gets forgotten pretty quickly. Definitely a missed opportunity to create a more emotionally complex narrative. Mavis's connection to her writing and her career after the end of the series is not really addressed. 

I'm still not sure how I feel about Young Adult overall. Just writing this review has had me teetering back and forth between positive and negative views on a number of points. For now I'll have to go with I don't regret seeing it, but I feel like it's weaker than the other major efforts of both Reitman and Cody.

Well, that was longer than I expected. I also want to write briefly about Kindle self-publishing and young adult novels. I wasn't really aware of the crazy phenomenon that is self-publishing via Amazon until earlier this year, when I stumbled upon a story about Amanda Hocking, the poster child for the trend, a young adult author whose self-published books have been wildly successful and who has since been picked up by a major publishing house. I just downloaded one of Hocking's books today (and for free, which is one of the big perks of Kindle), so I can not yet make any judgments about her writing. I'll post my thoughts on Hollowland, the book I downloaded, when I finish it. But I have read through a lot of Hocking's blog as well as interviews with her throughout her rise to "fame," and I have to say that I like her and the image she is presenting. She seems to stress commitment to and love of writing over all other things, and it is clear that she really did put in the work, both in creating her many novels and in marketing them. And not to get too incendiary, but she seems a lot less crazy than Stephenie Meyer. 

I recently realized that I don't actually need a Kindle to read Kindle e-books, I can download them to both my computer and my Ipod Touch. I'm completely broke, as usual, so I've been spending my time since I downloaded the Kindle app looking for free books to download. I've also been doing this because I'm really interested in what kind of material is being put out there by self-published authors. Self-publishing (at least in this specific outlet) is losing its stigma, and it is encouraging, for me at least, to see people putting the work in to write, format, and promote their work, as well as support other writers. A lot of these self-published Kindle authors sell their books for  $.99 or $2.99 (or offer them for free), as Hocking did before she became an internet sensation (though some of her books are still available for those prices, the ones that have been picked up by her current publishing house are now selling for $8.99). 

I was, of course, skeptical about the quality of the self-published literature I would find on Amazon, and it has taken a lot of sifting through listings and reading the chapter samples to find things that interest me enough to give them a try. I've only started a few of the books, but I have been impressed by one in particular. I am 20% through Eternal Eden by Nicole Williams, and it's pretty much blown away my expectations of what I would get in a free, self-published Kindle book. Especially a young adult paranormal romance, which is a shaky genre for quality to begin with. That is not to say that the book is some epic, classic work of literature, but it's solid, and it hits all the right notes for its genre (so far, anyway). It's conventional, but that's common with YA and not really a problem for me if it's done well. There is the protagonist with a dark past and her emotional shields way up, the love interest with a dark past and some kind of mysterious paranormal connection (I actually don't know what it is yet), and even the romantic rival. I think what I have been most impressed by so far has been the quality of the writing, the pace of the narrative, and the editing. Williams is certainly guilty of falling into the typical patterns of YA description every once in a while (one character is described as having "turquoise eyes," and the protagonist, Bryn, definitely gets a little swoon-y about her instant love connection with William), but the writing is solid and, most importantly, not distracting or confusing. Also, I haven't caught any typos or other errors yet, which is incredibly impressive and uncommon for a self-published work. I saw on the Amazon page that Williams updated the version at some point to include some edits, which I applaud her for. Of course, the book could take a nose dive at any time, and I'll make sure to update once I've finished it. But right now it's great fun, and I have a feeling I'll be shelling out the $2.99 for the sequel. 

So, yeah, Kindle self-publishing. Feelings? If you have them, let me know. Right now, mine are pretty positive, but I'm still in tip-of-the-iceberg status. All I know right now is that I needed some relaxing fiction for the winter break before I get back to serious, school-type stuff, and I've found some (and for free!). 

Long blog post is long. My other main project of this break has been to read as many online lit-mags as possible to find what I like and try to establish a regular roster of things to read every time a new issue is released. I'm also looking for places I want to submit to. Submission is scary. I'm also working on a new project while trying to get ready for the projects that I have to tackle next semester. Lots going on, and that's the way I like it. When it comes to writing, that is.

Merry Christmas if you celebrate, Merry Just-Another-Sunday if you don't. I hope you get presents regardless. Because presents are awesome.

-Taylor

Friday, December 16, 2011

Light at the End of the Tunnel

My last post was published right around the time that I started focusing on my graduate school applications. It has been a long, long, long process, and not a very positive one. But it's very nearly out of my hands, and I'm pretty damn excited. I mail all of my documents tomorrow and will also submit my final online applications. Then all there is to do is wait.

I wrote a lot this past semester. A lot. I also read a lot, almost all for school. I have never been more stressed in my life, but I think that it was worth it. I'm proud of the work I did, and I'm looking forward to my work next semester, particularly an independent study that I'm doing on the Female Gothic genre. That being said, I'm really excited to be at home for break and have some time to relax. I've been home since Tuesday, and I've read two books already, just for fun, which has been really nice.

My dad surprised me earlier in the semester by having the new Stephen King book, 11/22/63, sent to me at my apartment without me knowing. My dad and I definitely bond over Stephen King books. Pet Sematary was the first book that my dad read on his own for fun. I didn't have time to read the new book until now because I was busy with school work and it's, well, huge, as most Stephen King novels are these days. Quick plot rundown: an English teacher from Maine is shown a portal to the past (1958 to be exact) and is convinced to go back and stop the Kennedy assassination. The book is about his attempt and his consequences.

As I pointed out before, the book is long, and while I enjoyed it, it was the first Stephen King novel I've read in a while that I felt went on for too many pages. Most of the book is devoted to Jake Epping's four-ish years in the past as he waits for the fateful date to arrive. I was personally much more interested in Epping's personal relationships with characters from his "past life" than his surveillance of Lee Harvey Oswald and his associates. I think that has to do with my opinion that Stephen King is at his best when he is exploring everyday human relationships-- even if they're twisted a bit by the supernatural. His deviation into the world of alternate histories and conspiracy theories (or lack thereof) gave the novel a good timeline and element of suspense, but the sections were on the whole less interesting for me. I also feel like the story got a little stunted by King's obvious glee at getting to delve into late 1950's-early 60's society. I totally understand that impulse, but it was pretty transparent and took me out of the story somewhat. His prose, always simple and not really the point of reading a King story, was a little less on point in this book than in other recent efforts like Duma Key, which benefited from its strange and haunting setting. Overall, I liked it, and despite any small criticisms, I enjoyed getting the view into the past as much as King seemed to.

I found Room by Emma Donoghue at the library and figured that I should probably read it already. It was a very quick read, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. It was affecting, that's for sure, and I was very invested in the safety of Jack and his mother. I also think it's an accomplishment on the author's part that she stayed in such a difficult voice for the entire novel without it becoming stilted or annoying. That being said, I'm not sure that I understand all of the accolades and attention the book got. It gripped me pretty hard when I read it, but I have to say that I think it was more the content than the writing, and of course anything that sensational will do so. I was also possibly so invested because of my knowledge of recent events that bear similarities to the narrative (Donoghue has been quoted as using the Fritzl case as partial inspiration for the story). Also, the book has not stuck with me much since I put it down. I have to say, though, that while I was reading it, I didn't want to put it down, and that's definitely a credit to Donoghue.

I checked out a few other books from the library that I want to tackle in the next couple of days. I've started Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt. I also got The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, which I started this semester but didn't get to finish, and a Victoria Holt novel because I have to get ready for tons of Gothic intrigue next semester.

I'm hoping that now that my applications are over, I can blog regularly again, both about what I'm reading and what I'm writing.

-Taylor

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

S-P-AAAAAAAACCCEEEE!

Recently read "Something Gordon Never Thought Himself Capable Of" by Sal Pane, which is over at jmww. I would go into what I thought of it, but Sal Taught Me Things, so there is much bias. I will just say that I liked it very much and if you are reading this blog post and don't already know Sal (unlikely at this point), you should read his stuff. I love getting to read stories by people that I know because I can see the parts of them that come through in their fiction.

Here's some quotes from some things I've been reading:

"This pelting rain! The kind of rain that hammers at your head like unwanted thoughts."

"You tried to speak and he'd suck out your breath."

-from "So Help Me God" in The Female of the Species by Joyce Carol Oates

"Why are writers obsessed with math when we generally aren't very good at it?"

-from PANK blog

"Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know."

-from A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

I'm just going to keep reading A Moveable Feast over and over again and ignore all of my other Hemingway-related frustrations. That's my plan.

-Taylor

Monday, June 6, 2011

oh god oh god she said to him I can't handle this anymore

I'm painting my nails with gold glitter nail polish. Not that it matters right now because my hands are still gnarled and ravaged by eczema, which I just figured out is really difficult to spell. I need to go to the doctor, but for some reason I find going to the doctor the most inconvenient thing in the world, so I've just been living like this for months, my skin all fucked up. I need to go the optometrist too. My dad doesn't understand why I have trouble scheduling and keeping doctors appointments because he is the most organized and methodical person I have ever met. He doesn't have the trouble I do executing typical daily tasks.

I like having my desk lamp on, but it makes my room really hot.

I'm writing this to avoid my working-writing. Can you tell? I've been reading good things. I'm reading Affliction by Russell Banks. Slowly. I'm reading this book of Vogue food features too. I love food writing.

At my job, there are Areas of Responsibility that are divided between Sales and Execution. Sales is assisting customers and Execution is maintaining the floor set and things like that. At work, I'm probably better at Execution than Sales. But in the rest of my life, that's not true.

Shit needs done. I'm not a good executor.

-Taylor