Tag Archives: books

Sandboxes Aren’t Just for Kids — Writing as Pure Creation

When we were kids, there was the sandbox, filled with toys and friends. We’d build things, destroy things, and then start all over. It didn’t matter how small it was, or how quickly we could dig to the bottom of the box. We had total power over the sand.

Then, when we reached our 20s, we played computer games, and that sandbox we had as little kids showed up again, this time complete with a monitor and a mouse. It didn’t matter if we weren’t running the fastest machine out there because, once we put the disc of The Sims or Roller Coaster Tycoon into the CD-ROM drive, we were kings once again. We had total control and could create anything we wanted. A roller coaster that crashed every time? Why not? Two neighbors who hate each other at first and then fall in love and raise a family? All in the span of an hour? Sure.

But those sandboxes have limits and rules. You need a computer to play the game, or the box in which to actually put the sand.

When we put words on paper or, in the modern world, on a screen, the power comes rushing back. But there are no strings attached this time, no rules to play by, and no objective to beat. We just have pure creation.

At first, there is only darkness. But with four words, “let there be light,” we can see each other. Do you see what I did there? I wrote some words and changed the environment.

Writing is creation and change wrapped up in one simple action. By putting words down, an environment is changed. An environment that can be visited again and again both by writer and reader. Our imaginations are linked by the cyclical act of writing and reading. I can envision something and write it down, and you can see it.

Writing is the ultimate sandbox. We carry over what we learned from our previous sandboxes. Instead of Sims to play god with, we create fleshed-out characters with lives of their own. Instead of sandcastles, we build stories. And while we still can find a certain satisfaction in destroying a story, we know it’s more enjoyable to share it with others.

But we’re not kids anymore, and real life doesn’t have the same rules computer games did. Just because we write something doesn’t mean we get paid in points or dollars. All that freedom and expression isn’t guaranteed to put food on the table.

I got the chance to major in writing. But I found that, after four years of writing classes, I began to lose sight of the sandbox. Each semester, I had to adjust to a new professor with different rules of what was acceptable and what was not. Some assignments were pretty open-ended, while others were quite exact. Sometimes, writing for a grade wasn’t fun.

Luckily, I discovered National Novel Writing Month.

“NaNoWriMo,” as insiders call it, has as its main goal pure creation. Participants are tasked with writing 50,000 words in 30 days. It doesn’t matter how bad those words are because, by December 1, there are 50,000 more words than there were on November 1. This is a competition, but you’re not up against the other writers. You’re up against yourself for bragging rights. Can you silence your inner editor long enough to reach the goal?

November 2011 was exhilarating. I created with total freedom, something I hadn’t felt in a long time. I mostly wrote by the seat of my pants. There wasn’t any outlining beforehand. I just set off with an idea and started writing. I was creating again, and this time I didn’t have to cater to professors or assignments. Finally, I was writing something that was wholly my own.

I found my sandbox again. And I’m never losing sight of it this time.

–My contribution to Before You Quit Writing Read This!, a collaboration by The Literati Writers and available on Amazon right now.

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Yes I have a Kindle but…

While the traditional vs E-Book debate wages on and at times turns to a heated war, I tend to stay out of it and just keep reading.

Same goes for Amazon vs Bookstores in general. While I lamented the loss of Borders (Over a year and I still miss the School Street Store!) I just switched over to Barnes and Noble, even becoming a member. I have bought books through Amazon as well, especially certain Star Trek books that are easier to order online instead of walking into a store that may or may not have them.

However I’m not firmly in one camp or the other. I do enjoy just browsing in a store, even if I already have a book in my bag I’m currently reading. (There’s been a couple times where I actually still bought something) Weirdly enough I find myself turned off by those second hand booksellers because of their lack of organization. What most find cozy and imitate, I find overwhelming.

I am relatively new to the world of Kindle. I have used the iOS app on a small screen before, but I didn’t get the real deal until March of 2012 or so. My mother won a Kindle Fire in a charity raffle and gifted her old Kindle Keyboard to me. Around the same time I had bought and started reading The Company of the Dead by David Kowalski, a heavy alt history novel coming in at a whopping 750 pages. It was a great premise but at times a bit of a slog, and commuting to work with a 750 page book wasn’t fun. So I actually bought the kindle version as well and finished reading it digitally. Once I switched I definitely started to enjoy the story more as I didn’t have to worry about the heavy book. I could actually read on the bus.

Using the Kindle full time never really took off for me, probably because I believe it’s beginning to show its age. I noticed that sometimes when I am trying to highlight a long passage or something that stretched onto the next page, I will have to wait for the cursor to catch up. A few times the Kindle has frozen and I have had to restart it. Lately I will leave it hibernating for several days and discover that the battery has emptied and I must charge it to use it. Perhaps I should get in to the habit of turning it completely off before I leave it.

But if the old Kindle breaks, it’s not the end of the world, especially since most of my small digital bookcase is on Amazon’s “cloud” already.  And actually that helps me as I will send samples of books to try to my iPad app instead of my Kindle.

For Christmas I took a trip out to Chicago to visit my Grandparents and brought with me The Night Circus which I was in the middle of, plus my Kindle, iPad and another book. I ended up just finishing The Night Circus and then using the Kindle app to finish the revised edition of So You Want To Be A Wizard  by  Diane Duane. I left the Kindle itself in my luggage the whole trip.

There are so many different ways to read these days. All that’s missing for me is to get into audible books as well. I just don’t know when I’d have time for that! Happy reading!

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Life of an English Major: Post College Edition

Question: What does an English Major read after graduation?

Answer: Whatever she wants.

I have to admit that I’ve enjoyed my reading life post college. Until I go back to grad school, I don’t have to deal with any assigned reading. And in the last seven months I haven’t necessarily gone out of my way to read stimulating intellectual books.

Some highlights of what I’ve read recently:

  • The Hunger Games (Book 1 of the Trilogy) Yes, I did just read it because of the upcoming movie. But I loved the dystopian world that was painted. It was an exciting read. I look forward to the movie in March. I have the next two as kindle files on my iPhone so I’ll probably read them soon.
  • The Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan. This novel is what the movie the Town is based on. The movie was exciting, especially as a resident of Charlestown, but I found the book to be better. There were more characters fleshed out than in the film, and for the main characters – Doug and FBI Agent Fawley- they were deeper.  Another interesting difference is that the novel, though it was published in 2004, is set in 1996. The snapshot of the Town, even only 15 years earlier, is very different from today. There is a lot more Townie/Toonie friction in the novel that doesn’t show up as much in the film. And of course the ending is different. I will not say exactly what happens to avoid spoiling both the novel and the film, but one was realistic and the other Hollywoodized. I’ll let you figure out which one is which.
  • The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska by John Green. Okay time to admit it, I watch the vlogbrothers videos. I guess you could say I’m a nerdfighter (so DFTBA). I picked up John Green’s first book (Looking for Alaska) his summer and really enjoyed it. Green is a YA writer who writes well. You can’t tell from his writing style alone that he’s a YA writer. After watching John struggle to sign 150,000 sheets for his new book, The Fault in Our Stars, and enjoying his first book so much I pre-ordered his latest book, ensuring one of those signed sheets would be put in my own copy. TFIOS as it’s known on the interwebs is beautiful. Well written with an engaging protagonist (or two), it’s a very sad read that will still make you smile and laugh at times.
  • Good Omens Absolutely hilarious and enjoyable. This should be on a list of must read books.
  • I’ve also continued to read science fiction. There was a trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer (author of Flashforward) that was very good. Though I might be a little biased because a) it was my first foray into non-media-tie-in SF and b) the teenage protagonist spelled her name the same way I did. That was primarily the reason why I picked the book up over a year ago. (The premise of an emerging consciousness on the internet seemed interesting as well) But I didn’t crack the book open until sometime after graduation. By the time I finished the second book, the last one was out, but in hardcover. I weighed the cost of the hardcover against the suspense of waiting for either the paperback release or one to turn up in the library. Of course the second book had a cliffhanger ending so I bought the last book at a science fiction bookstore I found in central square.
  • And finally I’ve read a couple of Doctor Who novels that were great. I haven’t gotten back to any of the Star Trek novels (which is annoying since I bought a quartet and stopped mid way through the second book) but I did start reading the Doctor Who ones. They’re a lot shorter, and probably geared to a younger audience, but enjoyable reads. You don’t need to read them in order (unlike the Star Trek novels) but it does help to be familiar with the show since these books are supposed to be taking place in-between the episodes.  I was most impressed with Dead of Winter by James Goss, which was told primarily through letters a minor character wrote, and then Borrowed Time which was just an enjoyable romp that barely took two days to finish.

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Book Post Revisited

Over a year ago I wrote about a prep school giving up it’s library of books and switching to a digital library. As a Bibliophile, I was offended.

Now, Boston Globe revisited the school to find all of its students suddenly using the library and loving the change. They did retain couple book stacks. But the students come into the library to do homework, to research on computers (the teachers also started using e-books in class to make the transition easier) or just to hang out. Before the switch no one seemed to use the room of books, but now the school had to hire another librarian to help with the increase demand.

Big picture wise, this is good for the students because they are ahead of the game in digital literacy. But since the school had to remove so many of its books in order to switch over, does that mean these same students will loose valuable skills in researching from a traditional book? I don’t claim to have the library of congress classification memorized, but I do know how to find a specific book with relative ease among the library stacks.

Sacrificing one side of the coin for favor of the other is not a good idea. Librarians have had over 10 years maybe even 20 years, to integrate the digital world with the world of books. Schools should let them do their job to educate students in BOTH worlds of  literacy.

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The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

I heard about this newest book from Philip Pullman (Author of His Dark Materials) during a homily. The priest at the English Speaking Mission spent most of his homily talking about this new book. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ offers a retelling of the New Testament stories with a twist: Mary gives birth to twins, one named Jesus and the other nicknamed Christ.

Of course because the Catholic Church views Philip Pullman with such disdain because he’s proud atheist, the priest didn’t view the book very highly. I think the Church feels threatened by the works of Pullman (and The Da Vinci  Code by Dan Brown) so they feel obligated to put these works down and attack them. The thing they fail to see though, is they are works of fiction. If it’s a story, should it matter that it’s anti-religion? If it’s a work of fiction, why should one get offended at the contents. Yes I am aware that there’s slander and libel offenses, but can you really use those charges once you enter the world of literature and fiction? What the reader gets out of the book can be entirely different from what the author intended. I know that’s a staple of poetry, but I think it can also be applied to fiction and even some nonfiction.

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Is it Mixing? Or Plagiarism?

Last weekend, while I was busy trying to solve the EU’s problems with a potential unified military force – I was at Harvard National Model United Nations – I came across a short NY Times article that struck a nerve.

Helene Hegemann is just 17.  But she already has a play and a movie under her belt. Her first book, about a 16-year-old who enters Berlin’s drug and club worlds after her mother dies, has climbed the bestseller lists and is a finalist for a $20, 000 award. But the book and author are in the middle of a huge plagiarism dispute.  It turns out the author has lifted pages from another book without many changes.

The Awards jury was aware of the charges when they made the book a finalist. And one member was even quoted as believing the mixing was a concept of the book.

The author identifies herself as a

representative of a different generation, one that freely mixes and matches from the whirring flood of information across new and old media, to create something new. “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,”

I totally disagree with both the author, and the awards jury for selecting this book as a finalist. I have no problem with mixing, when the artists are forthright and say they mixed. But this author tried to get away without saying anything. That’s plagiarism, and she got caught.

Mixing is most common in music, when DJs produce new tracks by throwing a couple old songs over new beats. But I’ve never really seen it in books before. I just don’t think it goes well with such a static medium as books. The whole point of books and printed words in general is that it is the original thought of the writer, which goes against the philosophy of mixing.

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Real Life Vampires

In honor of New Moon’s release, I thought I would do some digging and find some unusual Vampire news. I didn’t need to go any father before I found a link from boston.com.

A Boston University Religious Studies Scholar, Joseph Laycock,   has published a book called Vampires Today: The Truth About Modern Vampirism where he discusses people who believe that they are actually vampires. They don’t bite peoples necks (that’s unsanitary) but most  feed of of people’s energy. A few will occasionally drink a few drops of blood obtained by a syringe.

Interestingly enough, Catholics have been called Vampires because of their belief in transubstantiation (that the wine and bread become the blood and body of Christ during the Mass)

Read the transcript of the interview here. There’s also a few related videos.

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