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.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"Coraline" and "The Better Part of Darkness"

Yesterday, I read Coraline. I've seen the movie probably half a dozen times -it's a great, great movie. My boyfriend got it for me for my birthday. He spoils me. :)

I had never read the book, though, which I considered an egregious error on my part. I always try to read the book first. Plus, it's by Neil Gaiman, who is one of my favorite favorite favorite writers in the entire world. I could write an entire post about how great he is. Also, follow him on Twitter if you get the chance.


It's short. I am not exaggerating when I say I finished the book in 45 minutes. I had 15 minutes to read before a couple of my classes, and I finished the rest of the book in the half hour before I went to sleep last night. It is a fast read, which is great if you need a book for a doctor's appointment wait or are looking for something that will suck you in but won't keep you from getting work done.

It's a really fun read. It's creepy, it's sweet, it's scary and it's well-crafted. I am an avid fan of well-written books, and Coraline totally fits that bill.

One of the things that surprised me was that the character Wybie -one of my favorite characters from the movie -is not in the book. Coraline is almost totally isolated for the entire book, which somehow adds to the psychological creepy-factor. Wybie helps divert some of that frightening feeling of the book just by his existence. In the book, Coraline is all on her own, and that is very intense.

If you're even a little bit interested in Gaiman's work, Coraline is a good place to start.

The Better Part of Darkness

This is a book I won a few months ago, but just now picked up. I've had a lot of academic and other reading sort of butt in between when I won it and when I decided to actually crack it open.

It was totally worth the wait, and I'm kicking myself for not tearing into this book earlier. I started it around 9:30 this morning, and after a solid hour of reading, I'm about 1/3 of the way through it. It is a kick-ass thriller/mystery/fantasy+science blend, and I cannot put it down.

It has a nearly pulpy feel at times, other times it almost delves into romance novel territory (the word "throbbing" was not used, but was absolutely implied) and above all it just a great romp through a world that has largely stopped making sense for Charlie, the main character. She's died and been brought back, she's divorced, she's trying to figure out who's dealing a deadly drug called ash -oh, and two parallel realms have been discovered, and their inhabitants have begun to live in our world.

This is one book that I'm really hoping has a sequel. There are a million places this story could go, and I am thoroughly enchanted.

Monday, April 26, 2010


I'm taking a nonfiction creative writing workshop this quarter. I haven't had a creative writing class since last spring, and that's been really hard. My creative drive kind of went pbbbbbtt as a result, which was really interesting, in several ways.

I Don't Like People

Amazing, but true. As a general rule, I am anti-social, misanthropic and live like a hermit. I stay in my (roommate-free) dorm room, and most of my associations are with people on Twitter (not Facebook, anymore). I am not a people person, a social butterfly or the life of the party.

I adore watching people, eavesdropping and generally being nosy, but put me in a group, and I clam up almost immediately.

However, it seems that I need to be uncomfortable to write. For whatever reason, it really helps me to be involved in a group where I am forced to write creatively and actually share my work. I've started feeling creative again, which is not something that writing for Demand Studios inspires (that just keeps money in the bank).

Group Work

Normally, I don't like group work. I find that working with other people generally loads responsibility onto one person (often me, because, let's face, I don't like failing). Workshops, however, are totally different. Everyone is responsible for their own work, and just listens to and comments on everyone else's. That's a great environment.

As much as I love Twitter (and trust me, I love Twitter), it's not the same environment as a workshop. The #amwriting hashtag is excellent for inspiration and connecting with other writers, but 140 characters doesn't give you much room for writing creatively, unless you write in haiku (which I've seen, and which is genuinely pretty neat).

Why Workshops are Great

Workshops are important for writers (and readers) for a couple of reasons.

  1. They force you to share your work, often out loud. It's impossible to overstate how helpful it can be to read your own work out loud, or hear someone else read it. The cadence in your head might not translate when read aloud -your syntax might be off, or your voice might not come through. Reading out loud helps you find rough spots in your writing.
  2. Working with other writers helps you develop your own writing. If you only ever read what you write or read published writers, you're going to notice the dichotomy between your rough drafts and a polished, published manuscript, and it will make you feel bad eventually -even if you don't realize it. Working with other writers helps you keep a good perspective on your own work. Everyone is constantly developing, and seeing other writers work through their frustration can help you work through yours.
  3. It's fun. Writers are solitary beasts by nature, and it's really nice to go to an environment where you're surrounded by similar beasts. Even if you contribute little to chit-chat or non-writing discussion, it's just enjoyable to be around people with the same inky passion.
  4. You can steal other people's ideas. Seriously. All great art is stolen, used and made new. Originality comes from putting your seal on something, not coming up with something no one has thought of before (because someone, somewhere has already thought of it).
Finding Local Groups

This can be hard, if not impossible. I'm lucky enough to be in a university setting and engaged in a major where I am required to take at least 3 workshops (one fiction, one non-fiction and one poetry). There are also on-campus writing groups and other writers I can meet up with when I get into a rut.

In a local setting, it can be really challenging to locate a group unless you know someone who's in it. Your best bet is to hit up the local library and any small indie coffee shops that may be in your area. Ask the librarians and baristas if there are any writing groups that meet and when. Check group postings on library and coffee shop bulletin boards for notices about groups.

If all else fails, start your own! Advertise it on Twitter, with your library and indie coffee shops, and get your friends and strangers involved. Starting your own group gives you a great amount of control over the direction and rules of the group, whatever they may be, which is often a good thing to have.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Leaves & Flowers

Some of you are familiar with my literary journal, Leaves & Flowers. I'm pleased to announce that the second issue was published today! It's a very gorgeous journal -this issue has artwork in addition to the cover art and a whole slew of great poetry and stories by a group of really great artists.

L&F also has its own blog, where you can check out feature posts on the writers and editors, and purchase a PDF copy of the first issue at a reduced price.

Check it out!

Saturday, April 24, 2010


"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and had to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to."
-Joseph Heller, Catch-22

Originally titled Catch-18, Catch-22 is a book that everyone should read at least once. The phrase Catch-22 has essentially come to mean "damned if you do, damned if you don't," and that's basically the premise of the entire book. Everyone is trapped in their own little contradictory, absurd course of action, and no one quite knows how to get out of it.

I haven't read Catch-22 since high school, and I grabbed it on a whim while I was home last weekend. The book has a strange effect on me. I really resist picking it up, but once I have convinced myself to start reading, I'll knock out 50 or so pages at a clip. I'm about two-thirds finished.

One of the best parts about re-reading this book is noticing what I noticed on the first go-round. I underlined things I liked, made notes in the side (most of which were comparisons to books I'd read or films I'd watched for a class on existentialism. Has anyone seen Cool Hand Luke? If you've seen that and read Catch-22, you'll understand); this time, I am pausing at a lot of those moments and reflecting. I'm also noticing quite a lot more than I did the first time.

It's hard to overstate how good Heller's writing actually is. Most writers couldn't maintain this level of frustrated absurdity within a plot and not lose every single reader. In addition to how utterly annoying the events are -for the characters and the reader, by proxy -the book is extremely funny. I have laughed out loud almost every time I pick the book up to read it. Heller has humans to a T in the book.

The absurdity of life, bureaucracies, war and a number of other topics are all addressed by Catch-22 (often as a Catch-22). It's impossible to read the book and not be changed by it in a significant way.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Why I Gave Up Facebook

I don't know how many of you know -or care, really -about the new privacy changes Facebook has made (again), but you should. Link 1, Link 2 and Link 3.

The Rant

For those of you who don't want to read the links, I'll sum it up briefly: the new changes mean that if you "Like" (instead of "Become a Fan" of) pages and certain links, advertisers can store your information. Forever. Additionally, anything you "Like" that your friends "Like" or that they tag you in is also open to advertisers. Forever. Even if you set your privacy meter to "schizophrenic paranoia" like I have and make it so that your friends can't link to any of your personal information, it can still get out there. Pictures, notes, comments -advertisers now have essentially unlimited access to everything.

I have a problem with that. I realize that yes, it's the information age and there really is no privacy (Googling my name yields several hundred thousand results, most of them associated with my writing, blogging, past spelling bee shenanigans and other achievements). A dedicated stalker could find out whatever he wanted to know in about 5 minutes.

However, the whole premise of Facebook used to be that you made connections with the people you wanted to connect to, and no one else could have access to you if that's how you chose to operate. You can't find my Facebook account if you Google it, because I set my privacy settings that high. I put more personal info on Facebook than anywhere else on the internet, because frankly, Anonymous Internet People scare me, Corporate Advertising Schemes annoy me and I'm just not comfortable with having that much of my information out there.

Every application you allow access to your account -everything from quizzes to games to adorable bumper stickers -can now store and sell your information indefinitely.

So, a few days ago, I posted a notice stating that I would be leaving Facebook. This morning, I deleted almost all of my personal information from my account. I removed every single application from my account, and I logged out. I removed the quick-link-tab thing from my bookmarks bar. And I'm probably not going back. You may notice, and rightly, that I did not actually delete my account. I'm holding out. Perhaps Facebook will regain some integrity and stop selling its users information to advertisers. I'm not holding my breath.

What Does that Mean for You Readers?

It's actually a good thing. Now, the 2-ish hours I spent on Facebook every day can be devoted to something else. I had my first Pavlovian impulse to check Facebook about 15 minutes ago -the slight twitch of the wrist, heading for the slot where the link used to be. I was not working on anything, so why not check Facebook? It's what I have done for months. In between articles, homework, phone calls, online Scrabble games, I'd get on Facebook.

Now, I don't have that distraction. To satisfy the impulse of doing something for the sake of doing it, which is the main reason I used Facebook anymore, I wrote. I wrote this.

What I'm saying is, without Facebook, I'll be blogging more.

Every time I have an impulse to get on my account, I'm going to replace it with something constructive. Reading a chapter of a book. Writing another article. Working on my literary journal (which is going to be published soon, by the by -check out its blog). Working on the blog. Doing my homework, cleaning my room, editing my latest novel, organizing my get the idea.

I am going to miss Facebook. I know that. But I'm hoping that it will be a positive change for me, for the blog, and in general.

Whether you choose to take a similar path is your decision -this wasn't meant to be persuasive. It is meant to make you think a little, though. What exactly do you use Facebook for? And is it worth having them sell your information to anyone who is willing to pay for it?

I'll be back soon with an actual update on books -the impulse to get on Facebook won't stay gone for long.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Carl Sagan

This is going to be a brief post -I've got quite a lot going on this weekend academically.

My wonderful boyfriend bought me a copy of Carl Sagan's book Cosmos, and wow. I have always loved reading about planets and outer space and that sort of thing, and Carl Sagan is the perfect author for that. His enthusiasm for knowledge is infectious, as is his deeply genuine pleasure in connecting with readers through his words.

Sagan died 14 years ago, and I'm just now discovering his writing, which is sad to me. I'm already a huge fan. I've bough his book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it as well.

Sagan is the perfect author for the science dilettante. He gives the reader a huge amount of technical information in a simply eloquent way that makes it accessible to any reader, however basic their understanding of the actual science being discussed. Cosmos is a truly inspiring book for an examination of the worlds around us, and every time I read it, I get a thrill.

The Demon-Haunted World is slightly broader in its topics. It is a collection of essays based on the importance of science, which includes dispelling scientific myths. Sagan does so in his characteristically pleasant way. Even when he is writing about something that would be offensive to, say, a Biblical literalist, I think it would be impossible to actually be angry at him. He writes in such a calm, placid way that it's like reading a song.

I cannot recommend his books enough to anyone who has even the barest interest in the sciences.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Joseph Campbell: The Power of Myth

It's a Latin phrase that means "Books have their own fates." I will probably be posting more pictures as it heals more, since there's still a bit of purple in the white ink.
The inspiration for the tattoo came from the excellent book "The Library at Night" by Alberto Manguel -check it out if you get the chance.

While I was home over break, my grandma came up to visit. She, my mom, my sister and I all had sushi (first time for Grandma!) and she brought books for both me and my little sister. Indicative of how well she knows us, she brought my sister religious devotionals and she brought me books that examine religion from historical and scientific perspectives.

She is one savvy lady.

I just finished reading "The Power of Myth" (PoM from now on) by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyer. The whole book is a transcription of a series of conversations the two men had over a 24-hour period. Apparently there's a 6-hour PBS special out there somewhere from this period, too. I'm not sure whether I would be able to watch all 6 hours, but it would be worth a shot.

PoM is a really interesting book in a lot of ways. Joseph Campbell is obviously a brilliant man. He's very well read, and has a broad, deep understanding of the mythological significance of many religions and stories and cultural ideas from all over the world. Reading this transcription was fascinating -I would shoot through 60 pages over lunch and hardly notice.

Campbell was a professor, a lecturer, which accounts for his ability to hold an audience captive. I've never read anything he wrote, but if he writes as well as he speaks, I would say based on that alone I'd be willing to read it. He is engaging, able to draw connections between ideas at the drop of a hat and just excellent at thinking on his feet. I have no idea how much research or preparation he did specifically for this conversation, but Campbell's intelligence and understanding were nonetheless impressive.

I also like the central message of many of Campbell's views: follow your bliss. What a great sentiment, at its core. Do what makes you happy. I would add a caveat: Follow your bliss, but do no harm to others in seeking it.

All that being said, I did however stop at multiple points during the book and cry "Bullshit!" I realize the man understands way more than I do about world mythologies, but it seems like somewhere between being brilliant and reading myths, he forgot that most people don't think the way he does. Reading Campbell was, for me, like riding a train with sections of the track missing. I'm with him on this point, on the next point and for the next four or five points and then suddenly he's off the rails and I'm left clutching my head, wondering where the logic went.

Perhaps it's me, reading it from my atheistic perspective that I see a huge disconnect between saying myths are great metaphors while living in a world where people see those metaphors as being really literally true and using that as a justification for murder and hatred. It seems as though, in his academic worldview, Campbell neglects the millions of people who see myth as reality (and sometimes it seems like Campbell himself sees myths as being actually true -it's hard to know where the line is in his view, because he waffles quite a bit between arguing that myths are simply metaphors and that myths are actually true in some fundamentally literal way), and who would interpret his words as either a horrifying attack on their beliefs, or a justification of them.

For me, that made the book frustrating at times. Campbell argues a number of points about religious myths that, in their mythical metaphorical way, do a good job of telling a story -but he doesn't ever look beyond that at the faces of people who are saying, "These aren't stories, this is history." There's a huge gap between Campbell's interpretation of myth and the religious interpretation of myth that never gets addressed. It doesn't necessarily have to be addressed, and I'm not saying that majority rule makes one interpretation right as it's possible to interpret myths in about, oh, 6 billion different ways, but it makes the read irritating every now and again.

On the whole, though, PoM was an excellent introduction to Campbell's work. I'm hoping that, as I continue to explore his writing, I'm able to come across a place where he addresses the questions I had about his interpretations of myths vs. established religious dogma. More than that, though, I'm looking for more encouragement to seek out my bliss.