Archives for posts with tag: reading

I have recently had the pleasure of reading Chuck Palahnuik’s Invisible Monsters.

Flip this cover over and you get a sad old lady with a head injury.

Flip this cover over and you get a sad old lady with a head injury.

The name probably sounds familiar because he is also the writer of Fight Club.

There is actually a funny bit of history when it comes to Invisible Monsters and Fight Club. See, Chuck wrote Monsters first and got rejected because the publisher said that the book was too graphic and disturbing (they might have had a point).

So, Chuck, in a fit of spite, wrote Fight Club as a kind of “fuck you” in order to show them just how graphic and disturbing a novel can be.

Of course, the publishers loved it and Fight Club became wildly successful and pretty much catapulted him into the spotlight. Naturally, they gave Invisible Monsters  a chance.

And I’m glad they did.

Invisible Monsters is a remarkable book. Told in the first person, it follows a supermodel whose jaw gets blown off in a bizarre turn of events.

Of course, there’s nothing to be done to repair her face, so she pretty much just walks around with her tongue hanging out of her open throat hole.

Because nobody wants to look at the horror that is her face, she calls herself an invisible monster and soon teams up with a transgendered woman and her insanely attractive male companion. The three of them then tour the country stealing pills from the houses of wealthy people.

I know the plot doesn’t sound like much, but that’s because I’m explaining it linearly. The narrator jumps around from past and present, making things much more interesting as questions are posed then answered. The plot is not the crown jewel of this novel.

Palahniuk has a gift for writing first person narration. It feels like I, the reader, am having a conversation with this character (even though she can’t talk, you know, cause of her jaw…). She’s telling me her story. And even though she skips around and gets side-tracked, I’m hooked.

The cast is colorful, from the narrator’s bombshell transgendered mentor, Brandy Alexander, to her paranoid parents who can’t get over their gay son’s AIDS related death.

Chuck does a great job of weaving a common thread through such a diverse crowd- everyone suffers from self-inflicted wounds, caused in part from an effort to reinvent themselves.

Identity plays such a huge role in this story, as the characters are constantly changing their names and background stories. They mutilate their bodies in an effort to adapt themselves to the image the have for themselves. Some even do it just to stave off boredom,unwilling to live an ordinary life.

All of them are trying to reinvent who they are. All of them are trying to write their own stories.

And it’s a breeze to read. I mean, I would sit and knock out fifty pages without even realizing it. The writing is just so damn accessible. And Palahniuk does a great job of teasing readers with questions and answers. I kept reading because I wanted to know who these people really were and the flow of information came at a trickle until the very end.

Overall, this was a great book and I was glad that I read it. Did I like it more than Fight Club? No, but it’s a great read in its own right. If you liked Fight Club, I would definitely recommend it.

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For those of you who don’t have their fingers on the pulse of quality television, a universally hated character was killed off last night.

There was rejoicing all over the internet. People were psyched that this actor pretended to die on their screen.

But things go further than that. If you were to see this actor on the street, you would probably feel hate bubbling in your stomach with volcanic intensity. You can’t separate the character from the actor.

Skyler White- one of the most reviled characters on TV.

Skyler White- one of the most reviled characters on TV. Not to be confused with actress Anna Gunn.

This association is the product of two things- the talent of the actor and the skill of the writers.

Seeing this on-screen death and the resulting internet excitement has made me realize how important it is to write convincing characters. Characters that makes the audience suspend disbelief to the point where they forget there is any disbelief at all.

Intellectually, this may seem obvious. But it’s another thing to internalize.

We try to make our characters seem as human as possible. A lot of the time, writers miss the mark. Sure, we write believable characters, but they don’t inspire reactions that make the internet explode with rage or adoration.

There’s got to be some kind of secret recipe to make an audience connect with a character.

In cases of hate, it seems that the best course of action is to keep villains safe from karma’s clutches. No matter how bad they are, how depraved or violent they become, have them get away with it. The longer they go causing harm, the more audiences will despise them and become emotionally invested.

With good guys, it’s a little trickier. Anti-heroes are vogue. Think about Walter White. Frank Underwood. Donald Draper. These are not good men. Some would call them fucking sociopaths. It’s complicated as to why audiences like them. They’re in on their secrets and want to see them get away with it. Maybe some love to hate them and want to see them fail.

Then there are the Ned Starks. The ones who are good to a fault, whose morals lead them down the path of destruction. Audiences become invested in them because they so desperately want to see them succeed in the face of insurmountable odds, knowing in the back of their heads it’s hopeless.

What resonates with an audience is an impossible thing to predict. It’s a ghost. Something that only exists in retrospect.

But it’s clear that success lies in writing characters that audiences can become emotionally invested in, either through loving or despising them.

It’s rare to read a book that makes you want to go out and write. Most of the time, this motivation comes from how terrible a book is. There are instances few and far between where a book is so good that it makes a writer strive to write something half as good.

William Gibson’s Neuromancer is one of the small number of books that fall into that elusive second category.

First Edition Cover

First Edition Cover

I can’t succinctly explain why I am so enchanted with this book. It could be that it’s a seamless blend of Sci-Fi and Noir, two genres that are very dear to my heart. This combination is described as “cyberpunk” but I don’t think that really does the blend justice, and Gibson himself has tried to distance himself from the term, so I mention it here with some hesitation. Neuromancer is, at its heart, a thing of its own.

It could be the vivid description of this futuristic Earth in slow decay as people distract themselves with sex, drugs, and the endless sprawl of the matrix (a crazy, immersive version of the internet).

Oh yeah, let me mention that this book was MILES ahead of its time. Neuromancer was published in 1984 and written on a fucking typewriter. Yet Gibson predicts things like widespread use of the internet, body augmentation, and cryogenic storage.

Then there’s the plot. On top of everything else, the reader gets a tight heist/mystery with more than a few twists and turns.

And the characters…I was really blown away with how well rounded they were for a novel that appeared on the surface to be completely driven by plot. And I couldn’t believe how fucking sad I was when everything was over, because things didn’t turn out the way I wanted or expected.

Finally, the writing itself is nothing short of spectacular. Maybe that’s why Neuromancer sports one of the most famous opening lines in the history of modern fiction:

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

I don’t think there’s a better way of setting the scene for the madness and bloodshed the reader is about to witness. All packaged in a simple description of the sky.

Yeah, so I guess I’m done gushing. Neuromancer is an amazing book and everyone should read it. Get it here.

I recently had the pleasure of reading Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges. It was unlike anything else I have ever read.

Ficciones

First edition cover in the original Spanish

 

If I were compare Borges to any other writer, I think the closest match would be Kurt Vonnegut. Not because they have a similar genre, or wrote on the same themes, but because they are both authors who have a voice and style that is wholly their own.

The comparison to Vonnegut is still kind of shaky. Fictions was translated into English in the 1960’s, making it appear as though the two writers were contemporaries. Really, Borges first wrote this collection of short stories in the 1940’s, beating Vonnegut by almost three decades. If I were to compare Borges to any artist (artist being a term that includes writers, painters/visual artists, musicians, and actors)  the best match that comes to mind is Salvador Dali. Both of their bodies of work were bizarre and visceral, simultaneously simple and complicated with a rich undercurrent of thought and meaning.

Borges writing was very high concept. I could summarize many of Fictions’  short stories in a sentence or two. But I often found myself reading through several times in order to fully understand them. They were deeply nuanced, even with the handicap of being translated from Spanish. I should note here that this collection does not read like a translation. It is beautifully written and engaging. I thought at first that Borges was the one who translated his work himself and was shocked to find that it was translated by the very talented Andrew Hurley.

I definitely recommend this read. It’s kind of dense, but I got a lot of enjoyment combing through the words and considering the ideas Borges was illustrating. Here are a few of my favorite stories:

The Circular Ruins:  A man attempts to dream a human into existence.

Funes, His Memory: A paralyzed man is cursed to remember every detail of every moment of his life.

The Secret Miracle: A writer about to be put to death finishes his magnum opus through divine intervention.

Three Versions of Judas: A religious scholar considers the notion that Judas may not be as bad as he is made out to be.

My summaries hardly do these stories justice. Often, there is a twist ending. Really, it’s the way these stories are presented to the reader that make them so damn entertaining. Borges had a style that was all his own; he would communicate works of fiction as fact, sounding more like a critic than a story teller. Definitely one of the most remarkable writers I’ve read in recent memory. If you’ve got time, definitely give him a look.

You can pick up Fictions on Amazon here.

Recently, I wrote a piece of spoken word poetry called “Void.” I performed it at the NU Write Club Open Mic. Here is a ridiculously high quality video of me reading said poem. I wish I had memorized it before going up on stage, but whatever. Not all performances can be perfect. The full text of the poem is below the video, check it out if you want to read along.

(Thanks to Tom Viccaro for filming this)

Void

I’ve got some bad news for
Those of you who think they’re important–
That the universe holds you in a special place
in its heart and watches out for you.
You’re not important.
You’re not special.
You don’t matter.
You are not some beautiful mind
the world has failed to recognize.
It is true that you are a unique
and wonderful snowflake,
but you fail to realize that
in spite of their subtle differences,
snowflakes all look pretty much the same.
The world does not owe you a damn thing.
And while it’s true that you didn’t ask to be here,
it is equally true that the world
did not ask for you.
We like to tell ourselves
there’s a plan, and that things work out
for the best, but we know in the back
of our monkey brains that it is sink or swim–
that it’s been that way for the past
8 billion years.
Sink or swim. Live or die.
It’s a simple choice, really.
I think I know what you all would pick,
based on the fact that you’re all still sitting here, breathing.
The problem is that there is an asterisk
attached to every breath you take:
“The end user agrees to be responsible
for maintaining their own existence, including:
eating, sleeping, and hydration.
The end user agrees to take responsibility
for any such other physical, mental, or emotional demands not detailed above.”
Always read the fine print, because
every time you inhale you are signing
on the dotted line
and dating at the bottom.
I’m not saying this to be a harbinger of doom and gloom.
And I’m no Tyler Durdan trying to subvert the capital system with nihilism and anarchy.
Rather, I’m your friendly neighborhood Spiderman,
swinging by on his web
to remind you that you are the master of your domain.
The world doesn’t care what you do.
There’s two sides to this coin–
You can either go crazy like
some super villain megalomaniac, become lonely and depressed when your career as a Bond villain doesn’t pan out, and off yourself out of spite, living your life like some stupid cliché.
OR there’s plan B:
You realize how liberating it is that the universe doesn’t give one iota of a shit about you.
It doesn’t matter what you do.
Go nuts!
You’re free to do what you want.
The universe doesn’t care.
The only caveat is that you have to do it yourself.
So go forth and build.
But know that you have to put on the hard hat and get your hands dirty.
You have a dream. You have a vision.
Leave something behind to make this world slightly better for those who come after you.
But don’t ever forget about the apathy. Glance periodically at the thermometer to remind yourself of how cold it is.
Do not be like Ozymandias carving your name for mortals to gaze on and despair, because those lone and level sands of time are abrasive and will
rub your name clean from any stone.
Create to inspire. Create to challenge.
It doesn’t matter if you’re painting a picture, or
designing a can opener, or birthing a baby.
As long as you’re putting your heart in it and
your mind to it.
As long as you accept the fact that there will be struggle. As long as you look that ugly monster in the eye and bare your teeth, knowing that no one is going to fight this battle for you.
Never stop pressing forward.
An object in motion stays in motion, so keep your pace and momentum.
Because even though you aren’t special or important, you have potential.
Potential to build something of importance and beauty in an otherwise cruel and careless void.

Every now and then, when I’m feeling bored or need something to spur a new idea, I do a writing prompt. Back when I was a member of the NU Write Club, I used to do writing prompts weekly. Writing prompts are a great way to get those creative juices flowing, especially if you’re feeling stuck. Sometimes, you write something worth continuing  and end up expanding it into something bigger. At the very least, they’re a good way to get all of the bad writing out.

I have decided to start posting some of these prompts here, since most of them are just sitting around gathering dust anyways.

This is the first prompt I’ve chosen to share:

knife

Write from the point of view of a character who has committed a murder. Do not mention the murder.

Should I feel bad?

I guess a normal person would. Aren’t I a normal person, though? What is normal anyways? Normal is a function of large numbers, an illusion that only exists at the peak of a bell curve. In individuals, there is no normal or abnormal. There only is.

I don’t feel bad. I really don’t. And I guess that’s kind of scary to think, let alone say out loud. What does that make me? Am I a bad person?

There I go again. Applying terms to an individual that can only exist relatively. There is no good or bad. There is only me.

Still, I can’t help this feeling. My hands haven’t stopped shaking. I feel my eyes being drawn to the door, as though someone could burst in at any moment. Paranoid, I know, but I can’t fight it. I suppose it’s best to pour of cup of tea and sit down. Maybe try to get some reading done.

Nothing is going to happen. There’s no way anyone will ever know. But no matter how many times I repeat this mantra, my eyes still avoid the mirror.

I don’t see my face as I know it. Instead, I see it pale, the skin stretched over it like rubber. I see blood. I see rot. I feel the creeping cold calling me.

I’m afraid. Afraid…my will isn’t as strong as I hoped it would be.

It’s dark. So, so dark. My light bulb burned out, leaving me only with the glow of the streetlight. All the stores are closed. I’m going to have to wait until morning.

I can’t sleep. Every time I close my eyes, I see it. The unspeakable thing of black and cold and doom.

It’s waiting for me.

It knows what I’ve done.

I just recently finished reading a book written by Aldous Huxley called Island. You may remember Huxley as the writer of The Doors of Perception and Brave New World.

“Armaments, universal debt, and planned obsolescence - those are the three pillars of Western prosperity. If war, waste, and moneylenders were abolished, you'd collapse. And while you people are overconsuming the rest of the world sinks more and more deeply into chronic disaster."

“Armaments, universal debt, and planned obsolescence – those are the three pillars of Western prosperity. If war, waste, and moneylenders were abolished, you’d collapse. And while you people are overconsuming the rest of the world sinks more and more deeply into chronic disaster.”

Island is similar to Brave New World, in that, it addresses many of the problems that exist in our world. However, it is not a dystopian novel, as it is not presenting the reader with a stylized version of our society. Instead, Huxley shows the reader an ideal society, a utopian world where the citizen’s freedom and happiness are maximized.

I have to say that I didn’t read this book quickly. The ideas were very interesting and important, but were also overwhelming. But I guess that’s how things always break down, you either get a good story without much substance, or something substantial without any bells and whistles.

This book did get me thinking about how our society works though. Huxley emphasizes this concept of a fully functional human being throughout his novel. The goal of his fictional society is to foster the growth of a fully formed human- a emotionally mature, self-aware, productive member of the community.

This, in turn, got me thinking about our society and the human beings that we shape. I don’t think we’re very good at making people in this part of the world. I look around and I see so many who are maladjusted and angry and unhappy. So many who don’t understand their unhappiness and rage against everything around them. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t count myself outside of these numbers. After all, I was raised in the same environment.

There was one line in Island that really resonated with me:

“One third, more or less, of all the sorrow that the-person-I-think-I-am must endure is unavoidable. It is the sorrow inherent in the human condition, the price we must pay for being sentient and self-conscious organisms, aspirants to liberation, but subject to the laws of nature and under orders to keep on marching, through irreversible time, through a world wholly different to our well-being, toward decrepitude and the certainty of death. The remaining two thirds of all sorrow is homemade and, so far as the universe is concerned, unnecessary.

More than half of all of our problems are homemade. What a thought. It’s almost funny until you realize how true it is. But that’s just the way things are. That’s the way the world works. That’s the cosmic joke that’s being played on humanity- we have all of the tools to make ourselves happy and free, but instead we choose to make ourselves suffer by our own hand.

But how do we make things better?

Huxley prescribes meditation, compassion, and early knowledge of the facts of life. In his fictional island of Pala, the citizens combine medicine and psychology and spirituality to create a utopia. Of course there is still work and unpleasantness, the 1/3 of suffering that comes with being human, but on the whole everyone seems happier.

Yes, this is a work of fiction. But I think there’s a lot to be taken away from this book. Especially with respect to how to look at ourselves and how we raise our children. It’s not very long, under 300 pages. It is dry, but the message is important and worth hearing. Give it a read if you’re looking to think.

Pick it up off of Amazon here.

I know, I know.

It’s been too long since I’ve posted.

I apologize for leading you all to believe that I’ve kicked the bucket, or worse: have stopped writing. I assure you that these reports are greatly exaggerated.

I’ve been very busy wrapping up some loose ends and have now entered a new stage in my life, a stage where I will get to frequently update this blog.

In the spirit of my unexplained absence, I want to talk about a special type of art called blackout poetry.

Blackout poetry is special because it is the manipulation of an already existent text. The artist does not add any words of their own. Rather, they take what they have been given and change the meaning through the process of omission. By removing certain words, the meaning and context of the text is changed, creating a new piece of art in the process.

The easiest way to go about this is by just using a marker to cross out the words that you want to omit. I’ve found it’s best to read through the text first and decide which words you want to keep.

You can make a blackout poem out of any type of written text, though I’ve found that old, worn books tend to bring the most character. It’s probably also better to use a book that you don’t care about, since you’ll be ripping pages out of it and blacking out the words.

Here is an example of a blackout poem I made a few days ago.

This poem started life as a page from The Divine Comedy

This poem started life as a page from The Divine Comedy

Try your hand at making a blackout poem yourself.

Six months ago today was a very special day.

To all of you, it was Christmas.

To me, it was the day I released my first collection of poetry: The Greatest Man Who Never Lived.

Today, I release my second collection of poetry called Heart of Fire.

Cover by cxxdesign

Cover by cxxdesign

It’s available for free for a very limited time.

After that, you may purchase an electronic copy for the princely sum of 1 dollar.

Check out the page to download a copy here.

 

Science Fiction will always hold a near and dear place in my heart. I think it’s a shame that this genre doesn’t get the recognition it deserves in literary circles. There are many works of Sci-Fi that are thoughtful and whose sole purpose is to make the reader consider humanity’s role in the universe. My life and my way of thinking have been irreversibly shaped by Science Fiction. So, naturally, I had some high expectations when I picked up Dune, one of the best-selling pieces of Science Fiction ever written.

First Edition Cover of Frank Herbert's Dune

First Edition Cover of Frank Herbert’s Dune

I have to admit, when I first started reading this book, I wasn’t enjoying it. To me, it blurred the line between Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I don’t know what it is about Fantasy. When I first began reading books, Fantasy was my wheelhub. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve lost my taste for the fantastic. Even in the midst of the wild success of Game of Thrones, my interest in Fantasy is as tepid as ever. Even though Dune is a Science-Fiction novel, it has many influences from Fantasy. Frank Herbert built an entire world complete with its own language and culture.  I was immersed in this world and didn’t want to be bothered with learning about it. There were too many ridiculous made-up names and places that were difficult to keep track of. Even when I was three-quarters through the book, there were characters that I kept confusing with one another because their names were stupid and made up.

Despite my distaste for Dune’s Fantasy influence, I came to enjoy reading it. Very early in the book, I realized that Dune was a book that was going to make me think. On the fifth page of book, I ran into a quote that really resonated with me:

“Animal consciousness does not extend beyond the given moment nor the idea that its victims may become extinct. The animal destroys and does not produce. Animal pleasures remain close to sensation levels and avoids the perceptual. The human requires a background grid through which to see his universe. Focused consciousness by choice, this forms your grid. Bodily integrity follows nerve-blood flow according to the deepest awareness of cell needs. All things/cells/beings are impermanent. Strive for flow-permanence within.”

This passage stuck with me because it so eloquently summarized a personal belief of mine- that our animal impulses are destructive and that the only way to avoid extinction as a species is the power of focused conscious thought.

And as I kept reading, I came to enjoy learning about the world of Arrakis. Frank Herbert did an amazing job of making the reader want more. There was a unique blend of dramatic irony and genuine mystery, which kept me guessing in the best of ways. The culture of  the Fremen was fascinating and rooted in logic. Because Arrakis is a desert planet, water is held sacred by the natives. This detail in the novel also connects to one of my favorite books, Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, where water is held in a similar elevated position.

There was only one thing I didn’t like about Dune after I finished reading was that I felt it didn’t end on a very conclusive note. I suppose everything was wrapped up, but I didn’t feel satisfied when I read the final line. But, I guess that’s because Dune is the first part in a massive series of books, so the ending of the first book is really meant to lead the reader into the rest of the series.

Overall, Dune was an amazing read and I’d recommend it to anybody who is looking for an exciting read that will entertain and inspire thought. Go ahead and get it off of Amazon here.

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