The Reading Corner is a place where books of all genres are examined and reviewed. Comments, questions and disagreement are welcomed. Grab some coffee and a comfy chair and make yourself at home.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Slave and academic frustration

Robert Silverberg is fast becoming one of my favorite sci-fi authors. I've read his book "The World Inside" and it is a really fabulous look at what could potentially happen to humanity. It's a bit like "Brave New World" in some ways, and it does all of the things science fiction should do -it entertains and it makes the reader examine his or her own life in comparison to an imagined future.

"Unfamiliar Territory" is a book of short stories by Robert Silverberg which does essentially the same thing. His writing style is learned without being unnecessarily erudite or scholarly, and he occasionally throws in some humor to lighten the dark path down which he thinks we're heading. He examines a lot of our social mores through the use of poetry, music and sex; in the futures Silverberg imagines, sexual mores are much more communal than they are now, and our own writing is often in a form that has become incomprehensible and limited. People are trapped by their own inaction, by the societies they created or help sustain, and by some connection they feel to the way things are now.

He's a really fascinating writer, and I would advise anyone with even a passing interest in sci-fi to check him out.

Academically, I've just begun reading the book "Slave: My True Story" by Mende Nazer. I'm only about 30 pages in, but so far I'm enjoying it. The writing is simple, but descriptive, and it makes the reader think about how privileged we are in Western society as compared to most other parts of the world. Mende spent her childhood (before she was abducted into slavery) growing up in Sudan, where she spent several hours a day helping gather firewood and cooking or finding food for her family. Her tribe did not have access to clothing for most of her life before her abduction, and when the rains failed to come, people starved.

As far as the book itself goes, I am enjoying it. I would probably not have picked it up if I wasn't taking the class I'm reading it in, so I give the class points for that.

However, allow me a moment to complain about the class itself. Writers out there will be able to identify with the things I'm about to say. I am a junior in college. When I signed up for an upper-level writing class (Women and Writing is the name of it), I was anticipating learning about the ways women have written, the history of women and writing, feminist writings, women in writing...stuff like that.

Instead, what I got was a teacher whose specialty is African writing and chose (seemingly at random) books by 3 women from either Africa or the Middle East. I have no problem with that. What I have a problem with is the total disconnect between a class on women and writing and the class I'm taking, which is about books that just sort of happen to have been written by women.

On top of that, apparently my teacher is under the impression that no one in the class has an intellect above that of a 4th grader. She has us drawing posters and doing fill-in-the-blank poetry. My first piece of writing was 4 pages long, double spaced, and she claimed I had written "a novel!" and asked that I try to be more brief.

That, by the way, is the only critique I have received. In 4 weeks of class, approximately 2 dozen pieces of writing/drawing/filling-in-of-blanks, I have not received a single constructive comment that could in any way improve my writing.

In addition to that, my professor frequently makes ridiculous spelling and grammatical errors on her instruction sheets, which I find insulting -she's a writing professor, she should know better -and she is one of the most disorganized teachers I have ever had. She's had to revise the syllabus once already because she can't keep things in order.

As a woman, and a writer (primarily a writer), I am beyond fed up. I am sitting in this class knowing that if I write something I wouldn't be embarrassed to share with a critique group, it will be considered to be too long. So my only other option is to write something so short that it is in essence undeveloped. I'm okay with writing flash fiction pieces, but we're supposed to be working on memoir writing. How are 1-2 page (double spaced, mind you) pieces of writing supposed to contribute to my ability to write memoir?

No. I am stagnating. I feel like I'm losing my talent as a creative writer, not improving it. The class is a waste of my time, and the time of everyone else in it.

Has anyone else had an experience like this?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lynne Truss and Shakespeare

I am currently reading Lynne Truss's book "Talk to the Hand" and it is every bit as good as "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" -although I did catch a grammatical mistake in it that made me cringe. For someone who wrote a book about grammar, that did kind of bum me out.

However, Truss's humor is every bit as sharp and to the point as it was in ES&L, and that's its saving grave. TttH is about 'The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door" (its subtitle). I am all for staying home and bolting the door normally, simply because I am antisocial and prefer my own company to the company of most other people. Thanks to Truss, I now have excuses to stay in.

She makes good points. So far, I'm only about halfway through the book, but I find myself nodding sadly at each point she makes, and chuckling ruefully at her jokes.

What has happened to politeness? Where are the people who say please, thank you, sorry and generally act as though they are aware that they are sharing public space with other human beings? Perhaps it's because I live on a college campus, but it seems to me that politeness is in short supply -short enough that I actually remember it when someone holds a door for me, or thanks me when I hold it for them, or does something genuinely kind, whether it's for me or not. I think it's sad that something that was once called 'common courtesy' is now so uncommon as to be noteworthy.

Truss places a lot of blame on the technological age, and I find it hard to disagree with her. The internet has made us solipsistic and shallow, directed more by the choices we are offered than the choices we make. That's a problem.

During my reading of TttH, I make it a point to turn off my computer for a little longer each day and actually do something. I tried it yesterday and found myself at a loss. What was I to do without the internet to distract me? I read. I wrote a little for pleasure. I savored a cup of coffee instead of sipping at it distractedly and burning my lips in the process. I relaxed.

And it was really quite nice. It forced me to get my work done more quickly and more efficiently, and believe you me, there is nothing wrong with that. Obviously I have no intention of dissociating myself from the internet completely (my job is on the internet, after all), but I think taking more frequent breaks -and even days off -will do me a world of good. It would do us all a world of good.

As far as academic reading goes, the only book worth commenting on at the moment is Shakespeare's "As You Like It." I like it as it is. It's funny. I'm only 3 acts in, but I am definitely enjoying it. What are your thoughts on it, reader?

I'll be watching the Kenneth Branagh film in class come Wednesday (and am I ever happy about that -my mom and I both have a thing for KB, if I'm not mistaken), so I'll report on that as well once I've read it.

That's it for this week. :) Next weekend I'll probably have more to write about, but we'll see! Stop back and check.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I like making lists and schedules. It helps me think and accomplish whatever it is I need to get finished. However, I haven't really put in a time slot for blogging -shame on me, I know.

So here's the deal. I am busy. I am really, really obscenely busy. My first week of winter quarter wore me out to the point that I was crawling into bed by 10 almost every night. I'm taking 5 classes as well as writing 4-10 articles every day in an attempt to pay off my tuition (it's not as bad as it sounds, but I'm still busy). Blogging has fallen to the bottom of my list of priorities.

However, that also sucks. I enjoy blogging, even if I get very few readers or comments. It's a nice outlet. It's more creative than most of the other writing that I do, and it's a way for me to connect with other readers.

Therefore, while I was washing my dishes, I made a decision. Instead of updating 5 times a week like I can (but rarely do) in the summer and my less busy times, I am going to update once, maybe twice a week. It will probably be on the weekends, since I have more free time Friday-Sunday.

In addition, I am refining the focus of the blog. I'm not just going to blithely talk about whatever I feel like regarding books and publishing and coffee, I'm going to blithely talk about those things in a more specific way.

College involves a lot of reading. What I will offer you here is a critique of the things I am reading both personally and academically. I will also update you on my caffeine addiction (which is currently telling me I need some coffee, like, NOW).

I'll be giving you overviews, snapshots, reviews and quotes from whatever books I happen to be reading for pleasure, as well as the books I am being instructed to read by people who are older and (presumably) more knowledgeable than I. That remains to be seen in at least 2 of my classes, but be that as it may, I still have to read what they assign.

Check in next week for the first installment of the newly improved Reading Corner.