Month: December 2011

Distractions : New Year’s Edition

I’m not recommending an all out bender like Faulkner or downing some strange absinthe-gin-concoction that Hemingway was so fond of, but The Atlantic has offered up 12 Hangover Cures From Famous Heavy Drinkers. This list includes both authors and entertainers who boozed like real professionals. I’m amazed that they lived as long as they did if you take a gander at what each of them consumed on a regular basis.

So, if you wake up on New Year’s Day with a pounding headache, you can always try one of W.C. Fields’s remedies and dine on Hungarian Goulash and a coconut custard pie.

The Fragmented Brain of a Writer, or why I need a personal assistant

I don’t think I’ve met any writerly type whose brain wasn’t being pulled in several directions at once. It comes with the territory. As someone who has chosen to taken this insane path in life, I constantly find myself working on multiple projects and due dates at once. I don’t have a 9 to 5, so I am more or less responsible for making my days structured.

As of late, my brain feels broken. I do freelance work and had three articles due in the same week recently (as well as the going back and forth with the editors for each piece). For the past two years, I have been working on a novel and besides the actual writing of the book, it requires me to do research.  For the month of December, I was tied down with an annoying cough that finally was remedy by a trip to the doctor and a course of anti-biotics.

And the real kicker came this past week.

Right before I left for a week-long vacation in the Hudson Valley, I received an email saying that the 15 January due date of a translation I’ve been working on has been moved up a week to 9 January. I had lucked out in regards to receiving the email before I left, giving me enough time to grab my work, but I had to scramble and work on something I had planned to take the week off from especially since it’s holiday season. I had no intention of even taking the slightest glance at a German-English dictionary, allowing myself to veg and work on the occasional bit of the novel project (and squeezing in some much needed daytime television viewing).

Alas, my plans were slightly altered leaving me with a broken brain.

I try to keep myself organized with a calendar on my phone, virtual sticky-notes of lists on my computer desktop and other such tried and true methods. But then I started to think back to two of my years in graduate school…

I worked as a research assistant to a historian who was writing a new book. The research was interesting and the job itself did not take much of my time. I really only had one big project a semester and the rest of my time was relegated to picking up and dropping off library books and to the occasional annoyance of looking through databases for specific articles. I always wondered: “Couldn’t he do this himself instead of waiting for me to get around to it?” Of course, he wasn’t paying my wages–the university was–so it didn’t much matter to him.

I look back on this moment with a different opinion now: What a great idea! I should have an assistant also! But I suppose my wish will have to wait for the day when I’m no longer a poor and unimportant writer. Perhaps, I can even call myself an author and command my assistant to trek to the library during a freakish snowstorm in October to retrieve a most important book for me. Until then, however, I’ll just have to pull my snow boots on, one foot at a time, and bury my face deeper and deeper into my scarf as I walk through a Nor’easter before finally reaching the heated stacks of the library.

Now that I have finished complaining, I have decided to let my mind rest for the remainder of the year (maybe even go see a movie!) and resume the fragmentary life of a writer of no importance on 1 January. Fingers crossed that my brain won’t explode before I submit my translation to the powers that be.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

woman in whiteFinally! I have completed my first book in the 30 Day Winter Break Reading Marathon. I’ve wanted to read the Woman in White for so long and now, I’ve done it. The book was written by Wilkie Collins who first had it serialized and then published in full in 1850.

The novel is separated into sections with various characters’ narratives featured throughout. At first, I was unsure why these “documents” were being compiled (structure of novel). The answer is slowly revealed and the compilation is collected to help reveal the many secrets within the novel. Seriously, there is a new mystery around every corner but they are all connected.

The novel was long, yet incredibly enjoyable and is perfect for this time of year. No better reason than a chilly day to give one an excuse for sitting by the fire and catching up on a 19th Century sensation novel.

I was naive to this terminology prior to reading the novel but it seems that there are distinctions made to this sub-genre. According to an article by Patrick Brantlinger, he describes qualities that define a sensation novel.

click to enlarge

If you would like to see the whole article, it can be purchased at jstor.org for $12.00 OR if you are affiliated with one of the participating organizations, the article can be accessed for FREE.

What I found really engaging about The Woman in White is the fact that Collins did not disappoint in answering the many mysteries that he plotted. When he was on the brink of revealing important information, I thought the easy and expected answer would be given (and the characters often thought this as well), but he always went several steps further.

Of course, because the book was written in England during the mid-19th C, it did suffer from the notion that women could take ill from merely standing outside in the middle of the night or needed to convalesce because they were probably suffering from the vapors or whatnot. But, I am an able to forgive this aspect and give a favorable review!

What’s the Opposite of Writer’s Block?

I’m not sure if there is a term for the opposite of writer’s block but I think I have it. Let me explain.

For the past two years, I have been working on the same novel. A writerly friend once told me that an author said to her that it takes five years to get through your first 50 pages. I was skeptical but now that I’m two years in and still working on the first 50, I understand what he means.

What I planned was a slim, little absurdist novel that involves a quirky narrator set in present day NYC. The only thing that remains is the quirky (somewhat off-kilter) narrator and the main plot thread that ran through the narrative. The characters’ names remain the same and their relationships to the narrator are still intact but everything has become more complicated!

There is much more research than I originally envisioned, I have so many redrafts of those first 50 that I need to consolidate into one file folder and the characters have become much more fleshed out. Since I first started, I knew the plot from beginning to end, and many of the key points remain the same but everything is even more specific–events have changed and people have switched sides…

The reason why I say I’m experiencing the opposite of writer’s block is because I’m not having a shortage of ideas to write about or no project to work on. I have countless notebooks filled with my scribbles; my character profiles alone keep changing moment-to-moment.

How do people accomplish National Novel Writing Month?!? I know that the novels written in November are just first drafts and need to be worked on further but come on. I can see why professional authors employ research assistants. A corner in my bedroom is just library books.

Scrivener is helping me organize myself and not lose track of where I am in the manuscript (besides a ton of historical research, there are no chapters to divide the narrative). I was speaking with an aspiring playwright and she told me she uses a program for her “daily targets.” The name of the program escapes me but I also think this is a good idea.

Perhaps, in February, when I have nothing important due (I say that now), I will dedicate the month to my own version of NaNoWriMo. I just need a clever acronym or whatnot.

Have I Gone Over to the Bookish Dark Side?

In between eating an obscene amount of homemade Christmas cookies, I’ve been reading–a lot. I would have read regardless of my most recent bookish event, but I admit it, probably not as much. Yes, you might remember an earlier post titled, “Fahrenheit 451: What’s the Temperature at Which E-Books Burn?” In that post, I was undecided about which side of the divide I landed on. Because I had no experience with e-readers and am a lover of books and bookstores, I concluded that my interaction with this new book technology would be relegated to my future and not my present.

However, this has all changed. A recent gift from my mother in the form of a  Kindle Touch has led me to expand and reinterpret my opinion. I made an evaluation considering both sides and I happen to agree with my original opinion: I love paper books and will always love them. If I want a copy of a book that I am very passionate about (for example, a work by Kafka), I will always purchase the book copy, flip back-and-forth through it, underline great passages and make margin notes. For books that I do not require copies of and have no real attachment to, I have decided to put them on the Kindle.

I first started thinking about it when I read the post, On Papers and Electrons, over at Multo (Ghost). Besides the secret trashy book element to an e-reader, adding classics from the public domain was a real winning aspect. So far, I have added 7 books to the Kindle and my grand total: $0. Instead of lugging around my 600+ page copy of The Woman in White with me, I downloaded it and according to the Kindle, am 80% through the entire book. Another feature which I definitely approve of is providing two dictionaries. You tap on a word and can read the definition, which is particularly handy when you are reading a classic work and the term might be archaic.

So, whether or not I have crossed to the dark side might not actually be a quandary worth contemplating over. The important points to take away are that I think with both my collection of paper books and e-books, I will be reading so much more (finally, my life long dream of reading the collected works of Leo Tolstoy on the subway can now be complete!) and saving money. Those public domain books that booksellers usually charge between $3-$10 have become free to me and I can also access the e-book collection of the New York Public Library.

Regardless of what venue you enjoy your books in, I hope you always have happy readings.

The Muppet Christmas Carol

I consider The Muppet Christmas Carol one of the best, if not, the best adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Regardless of what you believe in or celebrate, can you really argue with the idea of Michael Caine playing Scrooge in a full-length Muppet film? Please. I rest my case.

post script, Because it is the season of charity and goodwill, may I also suggest a writerly good deed? I know I use Project Gutenberg all of the time and consider it one of the most valuable bookish things ever organized. Perhaps, consider giving a small donation to the keeper of all public domain books (in text form AND ebook–all for free!).

Hold My Place, Please

It really takes a lot for a New Yorker to think someone is crazy.

Yesterday seemed like the last day that the temperature would be above 50 degrees F, so I walked to one of my favorite coffee shops in my neighborhood. I ordered a coffee then sat at a table outside. I cracked open my book, taking short breaks to glance up at the beautiful church across the street, when all of a sudden the guy at the table next to me says, “You dropped your playing card.” It took me a few beats to realize what he was talking about and when I looked up at him, it was clearly written across his face that he thought I was a nutter. Granted, I didn’t have a deck of cards in front of me nor was I dressed like a magician or a Vegas blackjack dealer, so I quickly explained to him that it was my bookmark. His face changed back to normal and I think he was at ease with knowing the fact that it was my bookmark and not my calling card that I leave at the scene of the crime.

Much to my dismay and my brain’s, I usually am reading at least two books at once. I need multiple bookmarks because of this and because of my bizarre habitual misplacement of said bookmarks. For the longest time, I’ve been using playing cards from a deck that somehow lost a few of its comrades years ago. They are sturdy and the perfect size for almost all books. There’s no losing your place with the always reliable ten of hearts.

I went to Etsy and searched for the term ‘bookmarks.’ A massive number came up with the results: 33,512 items found! There are some really crafty and unique bookmarks listed. I particularly liked this Wizard of Oz inspired one.

I know this post is a little on the lighter side, but who needs a brain buster on a Friday, right?

Allusions in Literature

As most of you know, I am reading The Woman in White (a real page turner, by the way). The book was originally published in its entirety in 1860. My copy is the Barnes & Noble Classics edition so it includes a lot of extra scholarly information: essays, timeline, footnotes, etc.

As I was reading the book last night, I would glance to the bottom of the page every now and then to see what little tidbit was being explained to me. Of course, any one of us could read this book without additional informational aids and enjoy it, but it is nice to know  that jog-trot acquaintances are habitual, routine acquaintances, not close friends [77].

However, there was a footnote to a reference about the Siren song. I thought this an easy one, especially, if you were educated in a Western school (I’ve read the Odyssey countless times when I was in school/college) and wondered why the editor would feel it necessary to include it.

It got me thinking about my academic past. I remembered that my fantastic senior year English teacher in high school emphasized how important mythical and biblical allusions are in literature and that everyone should know the basics. When I went off to college, I studied creative writing and classics. My focus in the classics department was Greek mythology and gender in society of ancient Greece (for three semesters, I even translated sections of the Old Testament in to English). I am the opposite of a religious person, but I think it very important to know stories from the Bible. I really enjoy academics and continued to take additional classes about southeast Asian religions and Islam while an undergrad.

I tried not to be a snob about the whole Siren song footnote and thought that I was just incredibly lucky in my high school schooling and in my own choices when I was a college student. I must admit that it’s been a number of years since I read up on any myths, but I really need to to keep my mind sharp. We can’t always know everything, but wouldn’t it be nice to really understand what’s happening in Faulkner’s  novels.

  • Mythology by Edith Hamilton Originally published in 1942, many people consider her book to be a good intro to classical myth. I hold the same opinion and think it’s a must have. This book has been around for decades and  you can probably find an incredibly cheap copy.
  • Theoi Greek Mythology I’ve only perused this sight for a few minutes but it seems to be jam-packed with tons of info and pictures. It also looks like the webmaster has taken great care in organizing all of the information.
  • Allusion in Prose and Poetry Some brief, yet, important examples of Biblical illusions in literature. At the top, there is also a great image of Jonah being swallowed by a whale.

Is That a Fish in Your Ear? by David Bellos

courtesy of NPR

With the subtitle, Translation and the Meaning of Everything, this book felt like just that. I found David Bellos’s new book about translation an incredibly fascinating read not only as a newbie to literary translation but also as an etymological nerd. Any lover of words and languages would enjoy this book.

Is That a Fish in Your Ear? was easily accessible for even the layman.  This book is so well-thought out and information is presented about translations and words and languages that I had not even thought of before (think: UN interpreters, etc.). On a basic level, after finishing Bellos’s book, I feel more confident in departing from the word-to-word translation that the German writer of the story I’m translating wants and make it more fluid, natural, and well, literary. A bad translation is verbatim is what I’ve heard from a couple of professional translators working in all different languages. I mean, I’m the native English speaker; I know when the prose sounds stilted and awkward in English! If you feel in the mood to jump through some syntactical hoops, just take a gander at some German sentence structure.

Chapter 23 of the book (“The Adventure of Automated Language-Translation Machines”) reminded me of one of the first posts I wrote for this blog: One Brief Defense of Literary Translation. The verdict is yes to the necessity of literary translators.

Another thing that I really enjoyed about Bellos’s book was the little anecdotes throughout about translating some of George Perec’s works. Perec wrote with constraints and was a member of Oulipo.  I can’t even imagine undertaking such a task. I’ve only read one thing by Perec, An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris but after reading Bellos’s book and because of the recent death of the great writer and translator, Gilbert Adair,  I feel motivated to finally pick up A Void. The original title of the book is La Disparition  and is written in its entirety without the letter e. Adair took up the task and produced an English translation without the letter e as well.

But now I’m starting to get sidetracked. What I’m trying to get at is read this book! It was a real page turner. For more info, check out this author interview at NPR’s website.

Fiction Addiction

courtesy of Fiction Addiction

There are so many reading series in NYC. So, I wasn’t surprised that I hadn’t yet heard of Fiction Addiction. I was speaking to the organizer and she said that the series has been around since May 2011. As one of the many who usually finds themselves bored at readings and generally, attends these events either as a reader or as a friend of one of the readers, the latter is what happened last night.

To my pleasant surprise, last night’s reading was highly enjoyable. There were four readers, each reading prose that was engaging and easy to follow (I have trouble when people read at me; I’m a visual learner). The problem with most readings is that the readers like to hear the sound of their own voices, but thankfully, there has been a trend in NYC for readers to limit their time to 5-10 minutes. Usually, when long-winded readers prevail, the audience gets antsy and the numbers dwindled to about half by the time the whole ordeal is over.

On a side-note, I was asked to participate in a 2 minute genre reading series. It was fantastic. It made the readers pay attention to time and also, prepare a little nugget of wonderful prose. All-in-all, it was an extremely fun experience . I’m glad these “abbreviated” series are becoming more popular. When you avoid the long-winded, the crowd is usually packed and in good spirits throughout the entire reading.

Besides the quality of the readers, what made Fiction Addiction stand out was the fact that they hold the readings in the second floor lounge of 2A, with the walls mostly consisting of glass windows that face the streets. Outside of the wall of north windows, you can see where they project the entire reading on the side of the building across the street. You can see the pedestrians below stop and figure out what’s going. However, the readers were taken aback at first when they noticed their faces being beamed onto the side of a four-story building.

25 Avenue A | New York, NY | 10009

Sorry for the crummy photo but I took it on my cell phone with the fire escape and this girl's great facial expression blocking the view of one of the authors being projected on the adjacent building.