Friday, April 25, 2014

Adiós, Maestro

I feel as though any words I write about the passing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez will seem cheap compared to the brilliant writers who have been writing, posting, and offering their thoughts regarding this great mind.

I will not do the "internet familiarity" thing and speak as though I know him.  This is another way to cheapen Marquez's work.  Instead, I want to take a moment and thank Gabriel Garcia Marquez for teaching me to take creativity to another level.

My first Marquez novel was One Hundred Years of Solitude.  This was my first experience with magical realism, although I felt I had already been living it.  To me, as a seventeen-year-old aspiring writer, there was one way to write about magic:  fantasy novels (I consumed them as a teen - I think Mercedes Lackey and Patricia C. Wrede helped me navigate the first two years of high school).   I didn't think one could juxtapose magical elements into a "traditional" piece of fiction.  Marquez had handed me a gift.  A very pretty gift, wrapped in phoenix feathers, sprinkled with fairy dust, and delivered in a basket on my front porch, probably from the Easter bunny, or some reading fairy who knew I needed this novel (reaffirming my theory that books show up when you need them most).

After One Hundred Years of Solitude came Love in the Time of Cholera, next Chronicle of a Death Foretold...years later I became an English professor and began to assign "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings."  My students think I'm crazy, but they always leave class excited, as though they discovered some sort of literary treasure. And they did, in a way - Marquez just provided the map.

My obsession with surrealism and magical realism grew with Francesa Lia Block's novels, Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow (BEST opening line ever: "A screaming comes across the sky"), Umberto Eco, Salman Rushdie, and Don DeLillo.  Even when I read Jorge Luis Borge, I thought of Marquez and my first experience with magical realism.  The stories one could tell, the stories one could read - and it all came down to imagination.  REAL imagination - the kind they try to remove from you in your early years.  It is one thing to be imaginative; this is the purpose for innovation. But it's another to consider what trees would say if they talked or to imagine Mack Trucks as dragons (I said this once to a friend and she told me that was a "bit odd" and shouldn't repeat that).  It was okay to be weird, as long as one was brave enough to stand behind your words.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez was that brave, and he taught me to be that brave.

Like other literary greats, Marquez was good for sound bites, but for those who read his books, they became a battle cry.

Señor Marquez, thank you for your imagination.  Thank you for teaching us to think beyond the mundane.  And thank you for inspiring the rest of us.  Que tu biblioteca en el cielo se llena de libros.
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Friday, April 18, 2014

Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

Sometimes, Furious Readers, it seems as though Mr. Bueller couldn't have been more right. As hours slip by unnoticed, and the days just don't feel as long as they once were, it can sometimes be hard to keep pace with all the books on our shelves. Some days the only thing we can make time for is something with a little more brevity. But rest assured we need never sacrifice quality for length. There are some works out there that can do just as much in twenty pages as others can do hundreds. 

So for those of you looking to find a quick read, we are going to be putting together a few posts just for you, filled with short stories and novellas worth taking a little literary detour to enjoy.

I'm up first, and here are my selections:

Ursula by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba
Clocking in at just 72 pages, this graphic novel could easily be read in a single lunch break, and what better time to do it. Ursula is a contemporary fairy tale filled with romance and magic. The perfect escape from the office break room. And though it's one of the twin's first graphic novels, you can easily see why they've grown to become such popular artists within the contemporary comic scene.


Six to Eight Black Men by David Sedaris
There are countless David Sedaris stories that could have made it on this list, all of them hilarious, none of them needing more than an hour to read. But there's something about Six to Eight Black Men that makes it stand out from the rest of his work. The way Sedaris captures the American abroad, fish out of water, mentality is as endearing as it is absurd.



The Mire by Becky Cloonan
Since it's only 24 pages, The Mire, like most comics, is the type of story you can pick up and read in no time flat. But The Mire is also the type of book you could spend hours flipping through, getting lost in the artwork.  The second in a trilogy of stand alone comics written, illustrated, and self-published by Cloonan, each one comes highly recommended. In fact the followup, Demeter, was just nominated for an Eisner award for best single issue. So that should speak to the quality of Cloonan's work on these comics.

EPICAC by Kurt Vonnegut
A story of unrequited love the likes of which only Vonnegut could tell. EPICAC is equal parts heartwarming and tragic. The story of a computer tasked with writing poetry to help one of his technicians win the heart of a co-worker only to fall in love himself. Like most of Vonnegut's work, this is a modern day parable that strikes at some really heavy themes using some rather atypical tropes.

Nicholas Was... by Neil Gaiman
Nicholas Was... is part of Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors collection, and truthfully there are a lot of stories in the book that could have made the list. Even within the introduction he tells an incredibly haunting love story about a young married couple. But for all the great choices we have, if you're going for brevity you can't go wrong with a story like this. And as it's only 100 words, I won't say much more, to avoid spoilers.


Brave and the Bold #33 by J. Michael Straczynski
To fully appreciate the impact this single issue of Brave and the Bold can have, it's important to understand its context. And for those out there familiar with The Killing Joke by Allan Moore, Brave and the Bold 33 will be a punch in the gut like you wouldn't believe. Starting out as just a fun Superheroin's night on the town, it becomes a heartbreaking look at how even the strongest among us can feel weak in the wake of unavoidable tragedy.

Americca by Aimee Bender
For anyone unfamiliar with Bender's work, Americca is a perfect example of what makes her such a great writer. It tells the story of a family being reversed robbed by unknown forces, and how they deal with random items appearing in their house with no explanation whatsoever. Bender's writing has a great carefree quality to it, while tackling a lot of really interesting themes.


The Last Musketeer by Jason
Jason has been using his distinctive brand of anthropomorphic storytelling to bend genres for over a decade. Along the way he's created some really memorable graphic novellas. The Last Musketeer takes the classic Alexander Dumas story and mixes in a healthy dosing of aliens and robots.



The Skylight Room by O Henry
O Henry wrote somewhere around 600 short stories which makes it kinda hard to pick a favorite. So instead I picked one of his lesser known stories that I thought really embodied all the things I liked about his work. The Skylight Room isn't New York City at its best, but O Henry still makes you want to be a part of it and join everyone else on that stoop before turning in for the night. And his signature twist ending in this story offers just enough optimism to assure you things are going to be okay.


Deplayed Replays by Liz Prince
The followup to her award winning Will You Still Love me if I Wet the Bed, Liz Prince's Delayed Replays reads like a dysfunctional newspaper comic strip in the best way possible. It captures the intimacy and absurdity of life in your twenties, those moments that are easily relatable (even if, in some cases, we won't always admit to them).
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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Finding Time to Read Furiously

When I was a kid, my favorite activity was reading.  Maybe that's an understatement - my favorite activity was reading everything in my path.  Books, TV Guides (especially TV Guides, I really miss them), newspapers, Avon books, street signs...you name it, I read it.  I read as though I couldn't get the words into my brain fast enough. My mother would send me to clean up my room and she would catch me, two hours later, in a pile of stuff on the floor reading a book that I found under the bed.  Although I come from a family who reads, it drove my mother crazy.  But I couldn't stop; I always needed more books to read:  The Egypt Game, the Goosebump series, Judy Blume, The Babysitters Club series, Tuck Everlasting, A Book of Mermaids, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, etc. We never had a lot of money, so my saving grace was the library.  I would take out so many books that we created a designated library tote bag.  I was proud of that tote bag - I insisted on carrying it myself, all the while thinking about where these books were going to take me.

Fast forward to high school and I was still reading everything I could get my hands on.  I fell into a group of friends who loved reading as much as I did; soon, we were in a book club that consisted of us eating lunch in the school library and reading silently (occasionally, someone would pause and read a line aloud to the rest of the group - quietly, of course). Together we discovered, among others,  Francesa Lia Block, David Sedaris, the Jessica Darling series (Megan McCafferty's mother was our home economics teacher!) and Perks of Being a Wallflower.  

Going to college was terrifying - my biggest fear was I could not decide what books to bring with me (oddly enough, one of my students is transferring to another college next year.  It's far from home and she needs to live on campus.  She sat in my office and kept asking, "But which ones do I bring?  How do I choose?"  In the next beat she says, "Well I have to take Perks."  Some things never change, thankfully.  Don't worry - we made a tentative list of books, which I'm sure she will change in the coming months.  I know I did.).  Another fear had been that I wouldn't find a roommate who loved books as much as me.  Luckily, I brought the right amount of books and my roommates loved to read.  Some of my happiest memories are all of us lying about our one bedroom apartment (for five girls) and reading.  The patio door would be open, a breeze would be blowing in, and we would be sprawled like cats reading our books and magazines.  As I began to try my hand at film, my reading experience expanded to screenplays and graphic novels.  One of my favorite writing professors, Dan Pope (author of In The Cherry Tree) was known to hand out books to students.  When he stopped teaching, he continued to send his previous students boxes of books to read (I mean, a BOX of books, super heavy and super worth carrying up the many flights of stairs to my apartment...I still have every single one).

Today I still consider myself to be a furious reader (for all the obvious and not-so-obvious reasons).  However, my furious reading comes in waves - some days I am too tired from reading student papers to even think about picking up a novel.  Other days I want to binge-watch a new show on Netflix.  What had been so easy for me as a child, a teen, and a college student has now become another bullet point on my list of things to do.

But that's the problem, isn't it?  It is on the list, but it isn't a priority on the list.  Most of the time I'm thinking about what else needs to be done - laundry, dishes, student conferences, oh Lord, did I forget a paper somewhere, preparing for a conference presentation, visiting family, which job do I need to go to today? - while I'm reading.  Can I consider this to be *me* time? Am I allowed to take this moment to celebrate reading furiously?  

According to our current cultural norms, absolutely not.  We need to keep moving, we need to keep constructing the City upon the Hill.  And that city does not need more books.  My favorite lie to tell myself is that I will read furiously when I have time.  Guess what, my furious readers?  We will NEVER have time to read unless we make the time to read.  And why not?  It's just as important as going to the gym or making ourselves a healthy meal.  Reading is food to the soul; it tames the mind and enlightens the spirit.  Don't we feel that way after a good walk or a good meal?  We are told that children should read twenty minutes a day, yet we never think about how many minutes an adult should read every day.   I think the twenty minute rule should continue to apply, even as we enter our busy labyrinth of adulthood.  

I still read a lot (between 75-100 books a year), but I want to make reading a priority.  A real priority.  Twenty minutes a day is  good start;  I'll still allow the amazing days of binge-reading, but I won't wait for them to present themselves.  Twenty minutes is doable and it can be done every single day. It's time for a revolution - grab a book, take a seat, and begin to read.  It may not be as simple as it used to be, but it is still worthwhile.  

Twenty minutes.  Each day. Seven days a week.  Four weeks a month.  Twelve months a year.  Every year.  

Go forth and read furiously.>
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