Thoughts on Reading Lit and Writing: A (Long) Conversation with Mr. A

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A really long post lies ahead… you’ve been warned, unsuspecting visitor! When I began this book blog, my boyfriend (henceforth to be referred to as Mr. A) asked me something along the lines of “Can I be in it?” to which I answered affirmatively. We’ve bonded over stories of different kinds over the months and years. I certainly don’t regret it but I’ve always wondered how different my life would’ve been if I’d studied English in college instead of History. Mr. A had some enlightening things to say about life during and beyond his English Major years:

  • You read a lot as a kid. Which books did you remember reading multiple times and loving?

I remember reading a lot of Fantasy novels. The series I probably re read the most was Harry Potter. I was in the first grade when my parents bought me a copy of The Sorcerer’s Stone and I probably read that book hundreds of times. After the Fellowship of the Rings came out in theatres I grew enamored with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Calvin and Hobbes is a series that I’ll never get tired of either. It’s so relatable and humorous no matter how old I get. My dad always used to take me to Barnes and Noble. After I did my homework I’d be allowed to read for a few hours. He’d always make me read classic novels before I read anything I wanted though. Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, War of the Worlds, Gulliver’s Travels, he made me read all of these before I was even 12. I’d always complain when he first picked out the books, but I simply couldn’t put any of them down.

  • When you were choosing your major, did you have other subjects in mind or was english your one and only preference? Why?

When I was first picking out my major it was a toss up between English literature and History. This changed pretty quickly after I took my first American Literature and History course during my first semester of college. I was bored out of my mind and spent most of the classes playing vs matches of Pokemon on my laptop. I still got a B+ in that class, but it was clear to me I did not want to be a History major.  I also considered Psychology as my major with English as my minor. Learning more about how people thought and acted fascinated me. Then I took some classes and realized that there was a lot more statistics and pedal pressing rats than I cared for. So ultimately, I decided to be an English major with a Psychology minor.

  • I love reading your stories and poems. Besides prompts, what inspires you to write (and when)? Can you share a little poem?

Thanks gorgeous, glad to know you like my writing so much. Different things inspire me to write. Sometimes I use my writing to  express how I’m feeling when I feel like I don’t have any other outlet. Occasionally I’ll think of a line or two and I’ll extrapolate that into a full poem. Other times a character or plot will wander along and I’ll write a little bit of their story. It’s very random and spontaneous, but I really ought to take more time and just write even if I’m not feeling inspired. Also, sharing my writing is a tad embarrassing but I will for you.

Somedays I just want to

Sleep for ten thousand years

Under a blanket of starlight

Dreaming into the future

A vast expanse

Unknowable

Uncountable

To be gone and forgotten

And wake up where no one

Knows me. After the end

In the stark silence

(Side note: Let it be known that, depressing and heady as this poem is, Mr. A’s  romantic poems & stories are absolutely enchanting and scintillating) 

  • You really enjoyed teaching at one point of time but later became disillusioned with it. Now you’re working in sales. How do you feel about that transition?

I find sales and teaching to be very similar in certain regards. Both jobs depend a lot on being able to understand what someone wants and needs. Being a teacher is very rigid in certain ways. You are the authority in the classroom and you need to own that position. Students acknowledge your authority and most will usually do as you say. Sales is different in that you do not start off in a position of authority. You have to persuade the customer to your way of thinking by leading the conversation and controlling the flow. I’m a somewhat introverted person by nature and sales doesn’t really come naturally to me. But I do like how I have to maintain a positive and outgoing attitude to be successful at my job. I feel that I’m slowly improving my skills and that I’m getting out of my shell bit by bit.

  • When you were studying english, what were your favourite or most memorable classes/modules?

While I was studying English, my favorite course I took was the 400 Level Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. Seminar. My Professor was the world’s foremost expert on Oliver Wendell Holmes and we spent the entire semester reading through The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. Although it’s a slim book, the story is filled with an absurd amount of references to all manner of subjects including history, science, mathematics, philosophy, and literature. It’s a difficult book to get through because several of the allusions are quite obscure. My professor himself reflected the novel. He was unyielding, intelligent, and extremely well cultured. He never failed to call us out on our wrong answers, but if he praised you it was genuine and well earned. I learned something new and interesting in every one of his classes. The book was not annotated at the time I took the class so every homework assignment required a good amount of research. For our final project we were each given 20 pages to annotate. It’s the most amount of work I’ve ever done for any class and I spent a good 40+ hours on my portion of the project. In the end it was completely worthwhile and rewarding, our class had done something that had never been done before. The annotations are actually the first result on Google for “The Annotated Autocrat.” 

  • Do you think that critically analysing and deconstructing a text takes away some of the enjoyment from the story?

Yes and no. I think that the first impression you get from a story is very important. In some ways it’s fun to shut off your brain and consume a piece of media. You take in the story and let it pull you along its trajectory. Not knowing the plot ahead of time can allow you to enjoy the twists and experience the development at a natural pace. You can enjoy the flash and pizazz of the surface appeal. On the other hand, critically analyzing and deconstructing a piece of work lets you enjoy the deeper workings of the story. It allows for multiple readings and interpretations, almost like getting a different story each time. You develop an eye for technique and skill. You begin to look at how the story was put together piece by piece. By taking in a story without thinking about it you’re allowing yourself to feel as the author intended. By analyzing the story, you begin to look at how the author makes you feel what you do.

  • What are you favourite genres and themes in novels and why?

I’m a big fan of Fantasy and Sci-Fi. I like stories that explore the impossible and the improbable, that stimulate your imagination and takes you to wonderful places that could only exist in your imagination. I also enjoy stories that are heavily character driven, that really delve into a person’s motivations and desires. I always want to know why someone acts the way that they do, and media is a great way to explore that.

  • Final question – Can you address your beef with Charles Dickens? 😛

Haha. I don’t really despise Dickens as much as I say in our personal conversations. I just don’t enjoy reading most of his work. His novels are often great character studies and wonderful snapshots of the time he lived in. They can also be very dry and a slog to get through. My big issue is that there’s a lot of filler that could be cut out to make for tighter stories. The man was literally paid by the word so he had incentive to milk out stories for all they were worth. I don’t like padding for the sake of padding. Not going to lie, I do like A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist. Who doesn’t?

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American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse (Review)

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American Fire is a strange book about a fascinating topic: arson. That’s a sentence I never thought I’d string together but it’s true! I remember being obsessed with True Crime documentaries on YouTube when I was younger and having horrendous nightmares afterwards. But I never stopped watching them, stupidly. Cue to me having bloody nightmares over and over again. More recently, Mindhunter (which is literally everything and more) has made me very interested in criminal psychology. If you haven’t watched Mindhunter, you’re missing out!

So, the topic that Monica Hesse broaches is probably a well known case in America but I had no prior knowledge of it. While reading it, all I could think was “is this real life?” because honestly, Non-fiction books aren’t supposed to be this entertaining. Hesse examines the story of two arsonists in love named Charlie and Tonya and specifically analyses why and how they burned down 80+ buildings in the county of Accomack, Virginia.

“… the fire itself is the motive. An act that becomes its own purifying absolution, its own reason for being.”

It’s a terrific page-turner. Monica Hesse’s exploration of Accomack’s rise and fall in the economic sphere and its changing topography is done excellently. This leads into the discussion about crazy love and crazier crimes, how both Charlie and Tonya created a hell on earth to deal with their everyday problems and emotions. American Fire is a book I’ll keep thinking about because even though it’s not about some gruesome murderers, it is equally frightening (in a different way). What I really appreciated in this book was how succinct the writing is: it grabs your attention right away and doesn’t clamber for attention. Read it, read it, read it!

Autumn Readathon: Update

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Challenges completed: 4 (out of 4, with 2 bonus challenges)

Books completed: 2, total pages: 573

Enjoyment level: 100% (of course)

Interestingly, the weeklong Autumn Readathon began on a Sunday. Most of my Sunday was actually spent reading books for the Dewey’s 24 hr challenge. On Monday, I started The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James on my kindle. It was a bit slow so I continued reading it until Thursday! It completed the challenges 1 (read a spooky or gothic book) and 4 (read a historical novel). Review here.

Cheekily, I thought I’d count this same novel for challenge number 3 (read novel set in a cold location) but it was set in England during the summer. So, there was no snow. Next, I read American Fire by Monica Hesse and devoured it within two days. I need  m o r e  true crime nonfiction in my life. I have ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Copote on my shelf and I’m super excited now. Anyway, American 🔥 fulfilled two more challenges: 2 (read a non-fiction book that is ‘autumnal’) and 3 (book set in cold location) because Tasley, Virginia gets really cold during winter when the story is set. Review to be posted here soon. 

I’m really happy with how I spent my week. I’m still undecided about participating in Nonfiction November (hosted by Olive and Gemma). I have no idea if i’ll commit to it a whole month! It’s a noble reading challenge though. I’ve gone on a tangent now, forgive me! 

Happy Reading, bookworms! ☕❤︎

The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James (Review)

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This was a lovely little read! The Haunting of Maddy Clare is a historical paranormal-romance set in England during the 1920’s. Maybe I’m overreaching but I’ll use Simone St. James’ novels as palate cleansers in the future as her other works sound just as cozy and easy to get through as The Haunting of Maddy Clare… I don’t usually pick up paranormal novels but I do love ghost stories, especially at this time of year.

Sarah Piper is a young woman looking for work in London. Through the agency she works for Sarah is hired as an assistant to Alistair, a self proclaimed ghost-hunter. He writes and investigates ghost hauntings around England. The village of Waringstoke beckons them with the strange case of Maddy Clare, a servant girl who ‘lives on’ as a poltergeist. They (along with Matthew, Alistair’s other assistant) investigate Maddy’s past, as something clearly tragic occurred. I won’t spoil one certain aspect that I loved in the plot, but I felt like Simone St. James was paying a nod to Daphne du Maurier.

I loved the atmosphere – small village, secrets, the forest – and of course, the relationship between Sarah and Matthew is swoon-worthy. I also enjoyed reading the descriptions of Alistair’s and Matthew’s experiences as soldiers during WW1. Now these are aspects of the book I didn’t vibe with: the “mystery” was quite an easy one to solve and during the ending, Sarah got very close to ‘damsel in distress’ territory. Despite these minor flaws, I enjoyed reading The Haunting of Maddy Clare immensely! 

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (Review)

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I’ll say it: The Other Boleyn Girl is straight up historical chick-lit. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with chick lit or romance, they’re just not my genres of choice. I picked up a second-hand copy of The Other Boleyn Girl many years ago with the intention of reading it soon. Indeed, I was still very excited when I started reading it. As I’m sure everyone is familiar, the novel is set in Tudor England and is about the Boleyn family’s rise to power under King Henry VIII.

Despite being set in the 16th century, the language Philippa Gregory uses is extremely simplistic and easy. As a reader, I didn’t feel transported to that era. There was very little talk about the Tudor culture or politics. The plot mainly centred around Henry VIII’s relationships with Mary Boleyn and later, her sister Anne. Philippa Gregory paints her characters in very black and white terms & there are no nuances. The King is represented as a child-like tyrant, Mary is fair-haired and follows the rules (a quintessential good girl) whereas Anne is dark-haired, ambitious and arrogant – she pays for this dearly later on. 

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I get it, women led pretty shitty lives back then and family ambitions trumped personal happiness. The thing is, The Other Boleyn Girl didn’t have to be 700+ pages long. A huge chunk of it could have been edited out because there were tons of repetitive scenes and dialogues. We get it Anne, you hate your sister! In the end, the plot became a tiny bit more fast paced and interesting with more darker themes such as witchcraft. Overall, this novel was surprisingly monotonous and bereft of any sense of the 16th century.

Side note: Having seen paintings of Henry VIII, he’s certainly not a looker and in his later years he was obese and suffering from health issues. But, I actually laughed out loud at Philippa Gregory’s descriptions of Henry in the latter part of the novel as having “piggy eyes” and being “a fat invalid”. I wish I was making this up… *cringe* 

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Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon (Oct 2017): Update

It doesn’t matter how much you read, it matters if you’ve had fun. This was my first ever 24 hour reading challenge and I had a blast! I’m a slow reader and given to re-reading paragraphs over and over again if I enjoy them. It was weird to race through the book and not keep going back to previous pages. Here’s how I spent my 24 hours:

(In my time zone, the challenge began at 5:30 PM on Saturday)

Saturday morning: I began reading The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (from page 400-ish) to get a head start. It has a total of 735 pages in my mass paperback edition.

5:30 PM: The challenge begins and where am I, you ask? I’m at my friend’s place getting progressively tipsier. Great.

6:30 PM: I get home and begin to read The Other Boleyn Girl… or do I?

8:00 PM: Oops, I just spend all my time on YouTube watching Graham Norton episodes. I officially start reading now, I promise!

9:00 PM: On page 500 now. The plot is monotonous as hell…

9:30 PM: I have a little dinner: delicious Thai green curry and rice. I continue reading while enjoying a cup of flavoured yoghurt.

12:00 AM: Some painfully slow reading continues (on page 544) and I’m tired so I go to bed!

8:00 AM: I wake up and talk to my beau. The reading can wait!

8:30 AM: I start reading The Other Boleyn Girl again.

9:30 AM: Page 560. The plot is finally progressing and getting more fast paced.

11:30 AM: Page 640.

12:30 -1:30 PM: A glorious nap is taken. Later, lunch and a break!

3:30 PM: Page 680

4:30 PM: I finish reading my novel (I’ll link my review for this soon). I start with Last Sext by Melissa Broder, a short poetry collection.

5:15-ish PM: I finish the poetry book. Feeling confused but being glad to have understood and enjoyed a handful of poems.

Fin. Thanks for reading!

Autumn Readathon TBR 🍁

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So many exciting readathons! I’ve been looking forward to Mercy’s reading challenge all month. It takes place between 22nd – 28th October. Here are my picks for the Autumn Readathon challenges:

(1) Read a gothic or spooky book: The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

(2) Read a non-fiction novel that is “autumnal”: American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse

(3) Read a novel set in a cold location: Same as 1. I believe it’s set in England during the wintertime

(4) Read a historical novel: Same as 1.  It’s set during the 1920s, haha!

Additional challenges:

(5) Read a short story collection: I’m going to choose between The Dead Husband Project by Sarah Meehan Sirk or Helen Oyeyeami’s What is Not Yours is Not Yours!

(6) Read an adult novel with young female protagonist: The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss (I started this one recently, but finding it a bit slow atm)

I haven’t decided if I’ll be posting my updates periodically or all at once at the end of the week.

In the meantime, happy reading! ☕