Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Short Stories are Sexy

In my head, all forms of literature have a distinct personality. Poems are anti-social, novellas are excitable, anthologies can't make minor life decisions. Not every form of literature has a strong pull towards one trait or the other, but short stories? Short stories are sexy.

Last week I may have bemoaned the growing popularity of bite-sized blogging, but short stories will forever be held in the highest esteem in my mind. Far from being the product of laziness, well-crafted short stories are the bewitching mistresses of literature, enchanting in their brevity but breathtaking in their scope. A good short story will only take a dozen minutes to read, but it will linger like traces of spice on the tongue.

Anne Enright, editor of The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story, asks in her insightful and occasionally humerous introduction, "Is this another aspect of the short story we find unsettling: its promiscuity, its insistence on being partial, glancing, and various?" Indeed, it is the rebel nature of the short story not to tell but to hide that makes them so alluring. Short stories are often extremely thematic and leave no room for error in their storytelling, for each line has been polished and examined under a jeweler's glass until there are no cracks-- unless they are intentional. Far from a drag-out fight to the finish, a short story is a glancing blow that leaves the reader reeling.

Those who have not read many short stories before may be put off at first by their coldness, their unwillingness to reveal truths to the reader. Don't be discouraged, for the nature of the short story is to make you work, and think, and reread. If you don't understand a certain leap in action, reread-- and do so carefully. If you finish the story and it seems like there was absolutely no point to what you have read, put on your metaphor glasses and reread. Nothing in a well-written short story is revealed without reason. No action, character, or setting is unimportant.

If I have made a seemingly poor case for reading as many short stories as you can get your hands on, think again. While novels are the comfortable date who talks about themselves the whole night, short stories wear a seductive smile and make you sweat and strive for approval. But when you get to them, when you can undress the cloaked meaning and solve the enigma, is that not all the more satisfying?

To ease into the short story world, consider reading a short story by someone considered the master of that art form in the Jazz Age: F. Scott Fitzgerald. There are a plethora to choose from, most of them available online, but if you want something you may already be familiar with, give The Curious Case of Benjamin Button a whirl (yes, the inspiration for the Brad Pitt film). And tell me what you think.

If that sits well, your local library is more than likely well-stocked with anthologies of short stories. Also, libraries are magical book-havens where book nerds go to die, so support your local library as often as you can.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Proper Punctuation

If there's one thing you learn about me from the hallowed archives of this blog, be it that I am an avid researcher of esoteric tidbits. This trait is amplified when the subject pertains to writing or literature.

As former NJCL President and current owner of this blog Elliot posted on his Facebook in the wee hours of the morning, "I just found out that the city of Liège was spelled Liége until September 17, 1946, when the accent was officially changed from an acute to a grave, and nothing could possibly be more fascinating." (I smiled to myself upon reading it, too.)

That's my life in a nutshell. The very least I can do to make the hours spent trawling through the source links of Wikipedia article after Wikipedia article worthwhile is write about itand yes, this sentence led me to Google "trawling vs. trolling" (and, yes, I have used the correct word). In case the structure of that last sentences confuses or annoys the reader, let me explain: one of the most frequent topics subjected to my inane research is correct uses of esoteric or commonly abused punctuation.

It always starts with a question. I am a devout fan of jumbled, quirky, or structurally peculiar sentences. (I am also a fan of the Oxford comma, so pry it from my cold, dead, and stubbornly typing fingers.) Often, and especially concerning blog posts or other informal writing, I find I have too many varied ideas to fit into one regularly-constructed sentence, so I employ a vast arsenal of punctuation ammo to help me piece together sentences that seem schizophrenic in their subject.

In my younger days, this usually meant sentences swollen with commas and running off into the distance cackling madly. Now, I have dashes, ellipses, parentheses, square brackets, semi-colons; very few sentences escape without at least one of their number tagging on an unrelated idea, unnecessary expansion, or snide remark. It's a problem. I'm seeking help.

In the meantime, however, I figured the least I could do to make my habit as unobtrusive as possible in my writing was to learn how to wield my weapons wisely-- and correctly. For instance, until a couple of months ago, I erroneously used hyphens to denote dashes (-- or —). Though I can't remember a time, I'm sure I used to place punctuation on the wrong side of parentheses (it goes on the outside if it's a partial sentence). I only confirmed my knowledge of square brackets this very afternoon.

Google, like most users of the Internet, is my friend when I need answers on these questions, and mostly I defer to The Chicago Manual of Style or Purdue OWL to make sure I am following proper convention for my area.

Often it is a simple rule, but even the simple uses of punctuation work wonders to drive a muddled sentence towards clarity and focus. And what is writing but a convening of sentences?  If a beautiful building is composed of shoddy bricks, the whole beautiful mess will come crashing down.

There is a lesson to be learned here, readers: if you are going to write with abandon-- and I wholly encourage doing so-- please, do it with correctly.

Friday, July 26, 2013

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Welcome to the first weekly book review Friday!

Those who were expecting a straightforward single-character narrative clearly didn't read the subtitle for this novel: An Oral History of the Zombie War. I don't know about you, but how often do you read the history of an event from a single point of view? In fact, if you have, what you were reading was not truly the history of something. WWZ: An Oral History of the Zombie War is absolutely what it claims to be.

This novel by Brooks, the author of the hugely popular The Zombie Survival Guide (and also the son of Mel Brooks- who knew?) follows much of the incredible detail of the Zombie Survival Guide without much of the humor (in fact, some of the interviews are harrowing and somewhat discomfiting). 

The first thing you should know is that Brooks thinks of /everything/. If you are expecting merely a blow-by-blow action adventure of the 'major battles' of the Zombie War, you will be disappointed. If you are expecting the plucky survival story of a sympathetic character as he or she lives through the Zombie years, you will be disappointed. But if you are looking for a complete scope of how Brooks imagines a Zombie apocalypse will 1) come about and 2) affect the world during and after the battles, this book will not disappoint.

Told in ever-shifting interviews with people affected by the Zombie War around the world, World War Z covers almost every aspect of the world that is often changed by world-wide warfare, but with the obvious twist that really highlights Brooks' imagination- how would that be different if the enemy combatants were the undead?

The format may not be for every reader, however. While the interview format might throw some people off at first, it becomes much easier to get used to- and it's worth noting that as the book goes on and the stories get wilder, the interviewer character sits back more often and lets the interviewee speak for pages at a time, so it reads more like a traditional narrative. Honestly, though, I enjoyed the format and the emphasis it really put on nearly independent point of views, with the interviewer acting as a mostly neutral party. 

The voices of the characters are a tad off sometimes. Occasionally they seem similar to one another, especially the various army/navy characters, which is to be expected from Brooks' real first foray into a fictional narrative instead of faux-informational style. I enjoyed his attempts at making regional dialect, mostly present in the differing names people had for the zombies--Zed Head, ghoul, Zack-- even if at times they were a bit too heavy-handed. 

The writing itself is generally strong, though his style didn't stick out to me as especially laudable. Sections of the narrative were truly horrifying and what Brooks lacked in really clear and purposeful prose at times he made up for in impressive insight into the thoughts of people trapped in situations that we can barely imagine. 

Brooks looks at the initial outbreak, the political impact of the world having a united front against evil, the aftereffects and a world rebuilding, the environmental impact- he even takes the point of view to an orbiting space station. WWZ is exhaustive and endlessly interesting. Brooks is a master at writing what he is an expert in and this book adds to his reputation as possibly the one person who has thought more about the zombie apocalypse than the average teenager on the internet.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Inspiration Wednesday

I'm not quite sure how this segment is going to go, honestly. I had a piece about short stories in mind, but my mind is a bit fried to the crisp from too much sleeping, computer, and being alone, so it's being put on the back burner for next week. Instead, I'm going to showcase one of my favorite non-writing blogs, and also one of the most reliable places for me to get inspiration for writing and other projects alike.

You may have noticed it listed in the Blogs I Love tab, but in case you never checked it out, I encourage you to now: go check out breanna rose. She is a freelance designer and part-time blogger, and right now her blog occupies the most honorable first spot in my Blogs bookmark folder.

Breanna runs a blog that certainly talks about the ups and downs of freelance design, but more importantly she writes simple posts on everything from tips and tricks of the freelance design biz to straight up "Inspiration," which is usually a well-designed photo post either taken from images she has on file or pictures from her life. Couple that with short and sweet posts about the design process, helpful collections of webfonts for bloggers and webdesigners alike, and moodboards from her previous clients that serve both as an interesting glimpse into her designing style and as a pretty visual to stir ideas or even just the creative mood, Breanna Rose's blog is hopelessly addicting.

For most people, inspiration is a visual feeling. Whether you get inspired by the colors of leaves or the clean lines of a building, everyone can appreciate something well-thought out and designed. That is where Breanna Rose's blog comes in handy; even just the simple layout and images she has accompanying her posts are like a breath of fresh air, especially if you have a cluttered chest of a mind like I do. I find her moodboards help jump-start my creative process not by giving me a structured concept to start with, like looking at a straight photograph might, but by evoking an emotion that I can weave into a story or use as a basis for characterization. At the very least, looking at something successfully created always drives me to seek out that kind of creative power myself.

That's all for this inspiration post. Obviously, I was not paid to write an endorsement or anything of the sort; I honestly enjoy her blog as much as I have written and, I should add, she has no idea I exist.

I promise Friday's post will be nowhere near as scatterbrained.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Blogs in a Short-Form Society

As this is the inaugural content post on my new shiny blog, I figured I should start with something close to home for this "I am obsessed with..." post. In case it wasn't immediately obvious, I am obsessed with blogs.

In addition to the blogs I have started and killed (there are many), I have an extensive reading list of other people's blogs that I check nearly every day. You can see some of my favorites in the Blogs That I Love link list in the sidebar, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Fashion blogs, foodie blogs, design blogs, writing blogs, blogs about online games, blogs about punctuation. I collect them all in my handy bookmarks bar and horde them like a mama dragon.

If any of you are nodding your head in agreement or recoiling from how familiar an image I paint of my blog-obsessed habits, I breathe a sigh of relief- for I am terrified that the long-form, content-driven blog is being phased out. I may sound older than my time, or reluctant to accept the new fads of Tumblrs and Vines and Twitter and all the other sound-byte social media b/vlogging apps, but in truth I am not bothered by the other additions to the blogging scene. I often find that condensing my thoughts to 160 or 140 characters or whatever is a fun, if needless, exercise. I've had multiple Tumblrs in my time before I decided it wasn't for me, and I found the sheer number of ideas and content bandied about astounding. No, I am not mounting a crusade against short-form blogging.

Instead, I am merely hoping that long-form blogging will continue to operate in its niche. To me, long-form blogging is reminiscent of newspapers and classic books collecting dust on bookshelves. Long-form blogging, where a post picks a topic and expounds upon it and picks it up and inspects it for holes in the light- that leaves no room for casual browsing and snap reading. It rebels against the idea that people cannot be bothered to sit down and turn their full attention to a subject for even just the few minutes it would take to read these several paragraphs. It posits that people can remain interested in and keep coming back to a source of information or entertainment that doesn't necessarily vie for their attention.

On the flipside, long-form blogging also proves that people are willing to put forth effort into the content they create. When you take every witty thought or idea and immediately tweet it without further ado, you lose the chance to explore, edit, and see if the idea has anywhere else to go. I could have tweeted "I am afraid long-form blogging is going to disappear!" and gotten the same general idea across, but that is so one-dimensional that it serves absolutely no purpose, and I would have lost the chance to pull that sentence apart and see why I really hold long-form blogging dear to me.

Like a newspaper, my blog will simply sit here and serve as a placeholder for my thoughts, and the traveler-by may pick it up or pass- but the traveler does not have the option of glancing at it and gleaning, from that glance, everything important in its content. It requires scrutiny and at least a few minutes of actual attention. And if, through research and editing and hard work, I can make these posts worth a few minutes of actual attention, well, I wouldn't give that up for all the cute cat gifs in the world.

(I already have most of them, anyway.)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

An Introduction

Allow me to introduce you to The Litterateur's Notebook, and yes- litterateur. What a strange word: "a literary person; especially a professional writer," via the Merriam-Webster dictionary. My first post on this blog, and already a blatant lie! 

I'm no litterateur, insofar as the professional writer part goes. I've been paid a total of around $350 for my writing over the course of my (albeit short) lifetime, and most of that went hand-in-hand with other internship duties. Despite my success in NaNoWriMo last year, I've yet to finish a novel. But I'm only 18 (as of tomorrow), an embarking college freshman with a myriad of other things to worry about. Why should I expect to be a litterateur, or even name a pretentious blog after the word?

Well, for one thing, let me assure you: I am a hipster. I mean, there was that time I listened to a Zooey Deschanel song and didn't even hate it. I'm also a word nerd, and I can appreciate an uncommon word enough to appropriate it for my blog title.

For another, it is never too early to secure a good blog title. I mean, in a couple years I could have been kicking myself for not snatching up this blog title before it was taken by some ghost blogger who decided to leave their blog to rot (who takes and then doesn't post? People who want to watch the world burn, that's who).

And there's one more thing: I fully intend on becoming a true litterateur. Maybe not during the course of this blog, but the written word vocation has been humming in my blood and soul for as long as I can remember. This blog is one of my stepping stones. This blog will keep my fingers limber and my mind ticking as I work through college and, hopefully, prove entertaining in the meantime.

Personal introductions aside, I will be updating this blog (mostly) every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Almost every other day there will be content here, personal issues notwithstanding. Tentatively, Mondays will pertain to current events or "I am obsessed with..." posts, Wednesdays will either be inspiration bits or thoughts on writing, and Fridays will be book reviews. 

Only time will tell for this wannabe litterateur, but hopefully you stick around to see me make it. 

Cordially yours,