Skunk and Badger #1 by Amy Timberlake | Book Review

Author: Amy Timberlake

Illustrator: Jon Klassen

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Published: September 2020

Genres: Children’s Fiction  

Pages: 136

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“Not everyone wants a skunk.”

– Amy Timberlake, Skunk and Badger #1

Animals paint an unlikely, but possible, analogy for humans in countless fables. Personified, they hold up a mirror to the reader, showing our imperfect nature. The animal kingdom, of course, is fraught with unforgiving tooth-and-claw indelicacies. Sometimes, Skunk and Badger teaches us, nature can be forgiving. Badger is a rock scientist and excavator who lives in his Aunt Lula’s brownstone. His work is solitary and all Badger requires is silent execution. A knock on the door interrupts his study, from rose-colored Skunk who is in need of a home and is offered room and board at the brownstone from Aunt Lula. Playful misunderstandings, magical hard science, and whimsical madness ensue for the curious roommates in the picturesque home ground of North Twist.

The characterization and onomatopoeic burbling of instincts are thoughtful and familiar. Badger and Skunk use the brownstone out of necessity, but the first’s austerity contradicts the latter’s audacity. The subtle ironies too (Skunk does not clean, but recycles) are welcome, unexpected spins on the all-work and all-play duo’s dynamic before they balance out. Amy Timberlake with Jon Klassen share a similar synergy comparable to Roald Dahl with Quentin Blake: stark, solemn, and remarkably silly. A poignant and palatable sense of change as good, or that anyone can change, and the contagions of cynicism, criticism, conformity, and complacency, Skunk and Badger paves the way for doing the right thing and for meaningful and respectable friendships, even with ourselves.                

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Green Rose

Bradbury Beyond Apollo by Jonathan R. Eller | Book Review

9780252043413_lgAuthor: Jonathan R. Eller

Illustrator: V. Tony Houser; Ray Bradbury Literary Works

Publisher: University of Illinois Press

Published: August 2020

Genres: Biography, Literary Studies, Science Fiction

Pages: 376

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“Science Fiction was an armature for Bradbury to place his explorations of the human heart, and his desire to see humanity properly launched into the larger cosmos.”

– Jonathan R. Eller, Bradbury Beyond Apollo

Is it enough to know someone you never met only found by time? Predicated on love, conviction and a healthy supply of dreams share the answer in this third installment from the biography trilogy by Jonathan R. Eller, Bradbury Beyond Apollo. The autodidactic author from Waukegan, Illinois lived a mixed albeit remarkable life of a man and a myth. He is a celebrated cultural commentator and liaison for humanity who had the preternatural understanding of the mysteries of life and death before he was literate. From being an autograph hound over the walls of Hollywood studios to convention-bending and genre-breaking writing, Ray Bradbury has gone far beyond his understated status as a storyteller using his past and pulled back the curtain of reality as a visionary to reach the future.

In the latter half of Bradbury’s career, the expense of celebrity and craft were in conflict and complicated his creativity, a condition of careful consultations with his childhood loves and creative control of his story adaptations for film, stage, and television. This transition into new mediums began after his first twenty years in the literary mainstream, starting with his popular pulp tales from the 1940s. With the short-lived Apollo missions starting in 1969, his moonward mission with the Great Tale of the Space Age became spiritual and political, social and personal, as the need for exploration off the page became greater than on the page. Public engagements, humanitarian causes, editorial specificities, and the refashioning of stories for anthologies and the mass media audiences made it difficult for Bradbury to pen anything original. What can be salvaged, however, is the belief in reinvention as rebirth, a means to never end a project by writing it in more than one format, for more than one audience. Meanwhile, Bradbury was able to weather these production storms through the denouncement of labels, dangers of fame, the fear of unrequited love, and the unfettered, ego-centric tunnel-vision and detachment from progress that denies all human potential and history, forward and backward.

Eller marks Ray Bradbury’s centennial birthday with the publication of this timepiece of a man who was a timepiece. Many of Bradbury’s readers knew his early work best, perhaps to the detriment of his later installments as a poet, playwright, and screenwriter. A first impression is rarely a last impression and his unique, amorphous path from stardom to the stars is a testament to the subversion of self in favor of the selfless. Bradbury Beyond Apollo does not pose a life after Bradbury, it witnesses and celebrates life onto another ad infinitum, with Bradbury’s vision for the future: a mirror to show you and I as us. The life of Ray Bradbury cannot be missed as much as it can be said in this sense: Ray Bradbury never died, he lived.

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Hieroglyphics by Jill McCorkle | Book Review

Flat JacketAuthor: Jill McCorkle

Illustrator: Steve Godwin

Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Published: July 2020

Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Pages: 320

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“A story is easier to fall into than your own life…”

– Jill McCorkle, Hieroglyphics


Memory and history share a disingenuous and diverting crossroads, much of which becomes a diluted and dilatable personal history. Hieroglyphics by Jill McCorkle, recounts the elder couple, Frank and Lil (look to the past), the first a history professor and the latter a dance instructor, from Boston, Massachusetts. They possess an unsaid understanding communicated on the visage of blunt and esoteric notes that last into their retirement in North Carolina. The younger couple, Shelley and Brent (look to the present), a stenographer and car mechanic, have an unofficial divorce, leaving this mother and wife to rear her unenlightened and impressionable son, Harvey, in North Carolina. Frank has unfinished business with his past and to complete it, he must visit Shelley’s home, his childhood home.

Two tragical epochs, Boston’s Cocoanut Grove fire of 1942 and the Rennert, North Carolina train wreck of 1943, challenge these tragical couples as they overlap each other in a time-bending way through mementos, keepsakes, notes, and personal effects. Much of Hieroglyphics is headspace work, a tedium that promises and processes mundanity. In this sense, memory is made a personal history where the past catches up with the present and vice versa. The innate truth (the absence of identity) and the adaptive truth (the loss of innocence) create a transformative internal conflict. The value of Lil’s hording tendencies and her hair-splitting plurality is not without its sincere reasons, as notional as they often are. Frank is a believable history buff, lost in times not his own as he comes to terms with a rocky childhood and an avalanching adulthood. Similarly, Shelley’s and Harvey’s inappropriate but wholesomely exaggerated use of escapism leave the mother and son stilted and siphoned as a family unit.

McCorkle’s novel succeeds in its sparsity or narrowness but also suffers from it. Circuitous paths lead to an ineffability, one that poses memory, however unreliable or indelible, as akin to living beyond any timeline’s marker. The bottleneck then, and a necessary one, is knowing what to part with and what to hold onto. The trouble is knowing and remembering the fragility and mystery of words said or written and unsaid or unwritten. Deciding between meaning and meanings, death’s forgetfulness and life’s displacement or life’s forgetfulness and death’s displacement, for posterity. Hieroglyphics leaves more unsaid than said through memory as history, leaves the pieces behind to be picked up again by the impromptu historians, and runs out of track long before the train has left the station.

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The Lightest Object in the Universe by Kimi Eisele | Book Review

Eisele_LightestObject_PB_HR_rgbAuthor: Kimi Eisele

Illustrator: Pete Garceau, Steve Godwin

Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Published: June 2020

Genres: Fiction, Sci-Fi

Pages: 352

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                       “Everything returns to its origin… Ready for repurposing.”                                            – Kimi Eisele, The Lightest Object in the Universe


Nothing is everything and everything is nothing in the grassroots, post-apocalyptic world of The Lightest Object in the Universe by Kimi Eisele. Similar to Jose Saramago’s Blindness, with a world that looks but does not see disparity past one’s nose, and unlike Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, with its bleak sparsity and savagery, here Eisele presents human nature at a crossroads with nature. The global economy and digital grid society depends on have failed; no more internet, American government, military, big pharma, corporations, transportation systems. Bartering is the new currency and modern medicine, an outbreak of the common flu (pre-COVID-19) ravages populations, wagons replace cars, and the only means for communication is a pack of cyclists, a rumored cross-country mailing service. Out of this blackout comes a return to basics with activists ready for revolution, teachers holding on to the past and reaching out to the future, friends and strangers made familiar and new, and star-crossed lovers defying the hard times from separate coasts.

The Lightest Object in the Universe has vulnerable and likeable characters, more tolerable than despicable too. Even the more suspicious faces, like a self-proclaimed preacher toting salvation, are not without reasonable persuasion. South American civil activist, Beatrix Banks, and Carson Waller, a Pennsylvanian high school history teacher, create a liminal backdrop for a seemingly dystopian end. It is only after the couple lose contact that their true nature withstands their fears and complacency. Headstrong as she is, Beatrix learns she cannot fight the good fight alone, so she joins and fosters a community in her neighborhood. Carson Waller chooses to leave his city and travel west to document the global collapse and to be with Beatrix. While there is no single antagonist in Eisele’s debut novel (the occasional uncivilized gang or slightly unhinged lost soul), minor and tame as they are, she does offer one sure villain at the end of the sidewalk: unpredictable, sometimes unpreventable, loss.

The loss of normalcy and the self that society could never define before and possibly never had a grasp of. The loss of things and people taken for granted and overlooked. Our scatterbrained and slapdash answers to loss, in the form of grief, self-importance, commercialized distractions, flag-waving, or simply suggesting the “right” suggestion or solution, makes another inadvertent and possibly irreversible consequence, an unnecessary heaviness. In these moments, the destruction becomes a form of creation, a new page to write and rewrite upon. Small gestures of kindness, love, and good deeds are challenged and welcomed in these times of uncertainty, which ultimately gives more connections than disconnections, an unexpected lightness. Eisele has wonderful pacing, adding time and awareness where it has been lost, savoring the ordinary and laying it bare. The journey breathes through its remarkable and endearing encounters, short-lived but never gratuitous, and chokes at its destinations. More than a timely precautionary and predictive tale, The Lightest Object in the Universe demystifies the rarely seen, too often mythologized and heavily advertised, subtlety in humanity with waves of ease and vigor.

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Green Rose

Prairie Fever by Michael Parker | Book Review

Parker_PrairieFever_pbk_HRAuthor: Michael Parker

Illustrator: TK

Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Published: May 2019

Genres: Fiction, Western

Pages: 320

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“Words written are said to mean more than words spoken.”

– Michael Parker, Prairie Fever

Literature about the late 18th and early 19th century American West attempts to capture a rustic yet robust era and culture in transition. A place too that lived beyond dictation and was possessed by the fortitude to expand the western frontier through ideas, some bad, others better, and few good. In Prairie Fever by Michael Parker, a boundless charisma conjoins two sisters from Lone Wolf, Oklahoma, head-in-the-clouds Elise Stewart and nose-to-the-grindstone Lorena Stewart, until a reported murder in the Kiowa County News and their retentive and inscrutable schoolteacher, Gus McQueen, jeopardizes their sisterhood. Elise is the younger sister who arguably never learns, turning facts into fantasy while personifying the family horse, Sandy, and its escapades. Lorena being older has no time to bend words, always precise in her speech and actions, as part of her wont to be prude. At the schoolhouse, Mr. McQueen is the outsider from Hibriten, North Carolina inexperienced in the teaching profession, numbing his sociability and sensibilities. The natural coercion between these three creates an inescapable, at times humorous, fractious trust and distrust in each other. They slowly realize their natures are both a fixed and fluid transitivity of love and cruel-to-be-kindness.

Three parts make up this pastoral and pictorial novel, each with a sense of depth equally distributed to both exteriority and interiority. Parker elevates the losses and denigrates the ego to consider the trepidations and triumphs in the landscape of life’s choices. He does this best in the enigmatic word choices, careful and deliberate as they are, hinting at the tumult and temperance of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era respectively. A confidence in communication and information also bodes translucent beliefs and disbeliefs in a tone as lilting as it is loud. Prairie Fever also does well to cast respites and rebukes with a multiperspectivity reminiscent of Small Island by Andrea Levy. Every word is held onto with conviction and gumption before they are challenged by and float away in the elements that change them and rarely return them. Words distort and sculpt, deviate and delineate, betray and justify actions. Those actions, those supposed scripted choices, easily meet an erasure and redrafting against the stubborn and spellbound hand’s desires. Prairie Fever is an oxymoronic trip, imbibed with dread-tinged hope, through the voice of time, seemingly invisible and slightly audible, that relays an ever transmuting historiography of human error, erudition, and efficacy.

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The Best of Greg Egan by Greg Egan | Book Review

TBoGEAuthor: Greg Egan

Illustrator: David Ho

Publisher: Subterranean Press

Published: October 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy

Pages: 736

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“The wormhole makes tangible the most basic truths of existence. You cannot see the future. You cannot change the past. All of life consists of running into darkness. This is why I’m here.”

     – Greg Egan, “Into Darkness” in The Best of Greg Egan

Science fiction fans will be happy to note that there is no such thing as “the best.” This is the appropriate irony of this collection, as it unwittingly, clumsily, and carefully challenges the idea of an idea of an idea into infinity and beyond any foreseeable, preventable, diagnosable end. Time, existentialism, number theory, artificial intelligence, naturalism, simulated reality, metaphysics, human consciousness, religion (consistently battered, bruised, and bullied into a biased, likeable unlikelihood), quantum mechanics, and the existence of frontiers without the capability of definition, except through jerry-rigged laws and yet-to-be-believed theories in their place and paces, make up these thirty years of hard science fiction. Between the seasoned fact-checkers and mathematical zealots to the lighthearted space opera goers and speculative enthusiasts, there stands a haughty anomalist who comes from the nineteen-nineties (it would be criminal and oxymoronic to call him an Australian science fiction writer at this point) Greg Egan who has a hunch for what his best (so far) is, and what a hunchback he has (or not, since keeping up appearances is not his thing, and neither is Google).

From Subterranean Press, The Best of Greg Egan collects cybernetic think pieces with remarkable haptic situations. His depth of field is diverse and perverse, foreboding and familiar, experimental yet elastic. Although these stories manage a clarity that confounds itself as it grows more curious, a lot is still to be questioned despite the seeming disconnects threaded and plot holes filled. Characters are painfully aware and disturbingly made unaware of their second class citizenship and the capitalist and commercialist gains forced onto them in stories like “Learning to Be Me” and “Closer.” The willful ignorance and digital dire straits following the forgone autonomy for transhumanist robot bodies and plastic replicas, the literal turning over of the human brain and body to technology is all cause for concern, but never in time to admit the mindless reliance placed on these drawn-and-quartered alternatives. Before any digital dust kicks up, there are some novella-length companion pieces that bid for the noninvasive engineering of the human spirit. “Oracle” and “Singleton” share a skewed timeline between worlds not too foreign from one another that both raise the question posed by Alan Turing of whether or not a computer can think. That and if a computer can impersonate human behavior, social cues, and desires that may or may not be able to alter the visible and invisible universe, like in transcendental and nature-bending tales, “Unstable Orbits in the Space of Lies” and “Chaff” or “Luminous” and “Dark Integers.”

A few one-off stories also hold their own merit in this short story collection, bringing a singular, personal lens to the unnatural made natural. From a man’s brain being kept alive via blood from his wife’s uterine walls to the cultish outbreak of a dermatological disease worse than leprosy that burns the underside of the entire body’s skin, to the acts of faith put to work for an ocean-cultured boy placed on dry land and a chemical engineer and Iranian, Muslim girl inventing a breakthrough her country never knew it could have, it is etymologically more than possible Egan is a lionized substrate of a tin man made human rather the opposite way around. The guesswork is cleaned and polished yet still gets its nose gritted by the grindstone. The outlandishly unorthodox remedies to change the fallible into the infallible, the overwhelming indecision and limitations of physicality are these stories bread and butter or quarks and neutrinos. Whether he be man, machine, both, or none of the above, readers can be certain, and linguists can determine, that Egan is not without the remnant of a heart.

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Apple, Tree: Writers on Their Parents by Lise Funderburg | Book Review

Apple, Tree

Author: Lise Funderburg

Illustrator: Nathan Putens

Publisher: University of Nebraska Press

Published: September 2019

Genres: Biography, Nonfiction, Memoir

Pages: 232

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“I suppose there’s a pleasure in that wistfulness too–in remembering the way something was and holding tight to what will also one day be a memory.”                     – Lauren Grodstein, “Around the Table” from Apple, Tree

Childhood is reverse parenting. Growing up takes on the responsibility of becoming, which is found in the adults who rear the child. Growing down however leads one to becoming what is else, what is more, what is unexpected. Apple, Tree: Writers on Their Parents by Lise Funderburg explores the adolescent trappings and developments of its contributors, starting from the root and out to the branch where gravity took a hold of them and plotted them in front of the parental gaze. Far pass Freudian theory, this collection on child rearing and family dynamics informs the writer’s life as something both undesirable and desirable as bath time. The dichotomous relationship of the apple (child) and the tree (parent) can be felt first in the bifurcation by the comma in the book’s title. Difference within or between family members is not always apparent, but as the tree holds the apple, the parent holds onto the child, until the child notices just how far out of reach the parent is and vice versa. The proverbial fall experienced by these collected writers attempts to find out if this transition into adulthood should be a rude awakening or a heedful reminder.

A running theme in Apple, Tree is the child who believes to possess large philosophies while the parents have small ones. It is not until they have aged that they realize it is the opposite. In some cases, these philosophies are challenged. Reading Shukree Hassan Tilghman’s piece, “Lies My Parents (Never But Maybe) Should’ve Told Me,” one finds the impossibly delicate veil that lies between humoring a white lie and the, sometimes, harrowing truth at the end of its punchline. In Avi Steinberg’s “Household Idols” and Donna Masini’s “What We Keep,” stories of heirlooms are rummaged for in what would be the unmistakable home of an accidental, sometimes purposeful, hoarder. Some authors here have struggled with identifying with their parents, sharing similar appearance (“Sisters” by Ann Patchett) or judgment (“One Man’s Poison” by Kyoko Mori). A chance to pervade rather than drown in the genetic pool still exists yet. From her story, “Unlived Lives,” Laura Miller writes that parents “can be the most familiar people in the world and total strangers; they have a dark side like the moon, that’s invisible to us as long as we remain locked in the fixed orbit of the parent-child bond” (87). Dissidence and denial delineates and loosely defines the duality a parent and child share. Daniel Mendelsohn’s mother has a neat-freak personality, for example, causing her to chase the life she could have had by keeping her house a spotless sheen in the hopes that time lost will return to her. It is behaviors like this, the need to meet perfection, that leave both the parent and child less than imperfect.

Funderburg mentions in her introduction that Apple, Tree is an exploration of “the space between the apple and the tree…” She also quotes John Freedman as saying that this exploration of family is a “love [that] is in clarity, not sentiment” (Funderburg xii). Perhaps there is no one answer to all the unanswered questions children may have for their parents. Parents too, may not know or have all the answers themselves until their children come up with better questions. The theory that the apple does not fall from the tree must have some truth in it. Maybe the answers present themselves only in practice? Here is one more attempt to answer a proverb with another: when the apple is ripe, it will fall.

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To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf | Book Review

51uTxSbMjDL                                                                                                       Author: Virginia Woolf

Illustrator: Liz Demeter

Publisher: Mariner

Published: 1927, 1955 (renewed), 1981 (foreword)

Genres: Modernism

Pages: 209

 

“She was trying to get these tiresome stockings finished to send to Sorley’s little boy tomorrow, said Mrs. Ramsay. There wasn’t the slightest possible chance that they could go to to the Lighthouse tomorrow, Mr. Ramsay snapped out irascibly. How did he know? she asked. The wind often changed.” – Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse 

Reading Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse left me aimless and uncertain of what the novel was intending. The first fifty pages were a slow climb but the intimate knowledge her characters have and think they have about one another and themselves kept my interest. Each character is dynamic and belongs to a hive mind, making the narrator seemingly uninvolved because of the seamless thoughts and actions that are capable of narrating themselves. Knowing that the novel’s purpose is something of a transitory timepiece made the experience more fulfilling in the end as well. Woolf’s goal of writing realist fiction instead of realism shows; her novel stands to reason that any novel does not need the conventions of plot or ordered chronology that have provided a basis and a rhythm for writers to be a complete novel; it only needs Time. To the Lighthouse uses the past of its characters to define their present and, to an extent, their futures. Mr. Ramsay for example does not know what to make of his academic endeavors in relation to the great writers of before, namely Shakespeare and his relevance over time. Much of the novel is it at the dismay of Mr. Ramsay who keeps the family from visiting the lighthouse. Mrs. Ramsay is the family’s saving grace and the center of their universe, quite literally in time and space. The dinner scene is the momentous occasion for readers to witness a “discrepancy” that allows Mrs. Ramsay to “[see] things truly…” (Woolf 83).

Whether it is Mr. Ramsay’s stubbornness to understand the void of fame or Mrs. Ramsay’s surreal beauty with unassuming simplicity and attentive reasoning, Woolf is mentally and emotively aware of the social interactions and expectations of human affairs. Her essays “Modern Fiction” and “The Mark on the Wall” are personal examples of how she avoids realism (the subjective) and approaches realist fiction (the objective). Charles Dickens understood that a book is a profitable commodity and his books were entertaining, but he had the eye and detail of a journalist to show readers the wallow of poor living in blacking factories and workhouses. Woolf similarly aims for the objective but does not let the subjective be solely entertainment or a third person omniscient narration. Her book is not a commodity in the traditional sense for readers. Its aims are not subjective means to an objective ends. To the Lighthouse only emphasizes the subjective means commercially taken to reach objective ends that defines reality for people. This definition of reality in Woolf’s view is perfunctory and not true, and is more rather a definition of realism. Reality for her is speculative and not something anyone, even a narrator, would ever or could ever fully know backwards and forwards. Modern fiction has no solitary or right “method” but, as Woolf argues, “every method is right, that expresses what we wish to express… that brings us closer to… what we prepared to call life itself [and] suggest how much of life is excluded or ignored [convincing us] that there are not only other aspects of life, but more important ones into the bargain” (“Modern Fiction” par. 6). Without harboring on the irony of having to rely on subjective means here, that is our reality, and as writers and readers too. Woolf does not shy away from but does not completely enjoy this subjective process to understand the objective world.

In “The Mark on the Wall,” the subjective is unknown but is filled with possibilities, which the history of the mark on the wall and Woolf’s inferences highlights. The objective is known but is finite closure, an end to speculation, an end to reality’s definition. The true definition of reality is not all-knowing but all-flowing for Woolf, which makes the conventions of realism in art, literature, and fiction unreliable representations of the objective world. She then relies on appearance over representation to expunge the historical and temporal distractions that become our false definition of reality; the same way abstract art only relies on the three factors of significant form: lines, color, and form. Woolf does not want us to see a book as a square fold of leaves. She wants us to see past the boundaries of a page, a word, a taut canvas. This struggle and strain of the subjective world in order to reach the objective world is in the same vein as Lily, a guest at the Ramsay summer house, and her painting of Mrs. Ramsay and her service and support as a mother, wife, and friend. The vanity of it all is also prevalent as Time, the true narrator of the novel as suggested in the foreword by Eudora Welty, is the intangible secret of life kept from us. Time is an important theme in relation to reality since no one can foretell where or when one will be or what one will become. Realism tells us we cannot tell ourselves this. Much like a game is not a game anymore, it has to be about winning, it has to be the objective reason for playing: winning. It is the meaning of winning that counts, not the completion of the act itself. That is, without speculation or imagination in fiction, without the subjective process, the objective world or life becomes an intangible vanity game rather than a multiplicative mantra with meaning.

Virginia Woolf is not only a realist writer, but a proteiform writer, one whose writing presents not a means to an end, but many ends to many means. Lily is one of the guests at the Ramsay house who paints a picture explaining the liminal process between the subjective and the objective world. Woolf also shows the discrepancy in the act of painting and the painting itself. To the Lighthouse delineates discrepancies of time by using mental detours to propagate a path of a choice, not convention. There are “other aspects of life” left unsaid and they are just as important as the ones said, which is why significant form works, not because it is monotonous but because it is multiplicative, like in parodies; it gives us a new association not yet explored and not yet completely explored (“Modern Fiction” par. 6). Lily cannot decide what to make of her painting but knows she wants it to be an exact whole but also an amalgamation of abstract pieces. John Milton does the same in Book I of Paradise Lost, where he compares Satan’s size and spear to human things knowing that Satan and his spear are unfathomably too large or too small to comprehend with the human mind (1.284-287, 1.292-294). The struggle in Woolf’s writing is between the finite (objective) and infinite (subjective). To know or attain the objectivity in the world is not desirable if what is known has only a singular meaning; knowledge can in this moment feel disappointing or even unenlightening. To think or to speculate in subjectivity gives many associations and opportunities but not necessarily a complete meaning. Time is relative to whoever experiences it, just as it is relative to whoever reads Woolf’s timepiece.

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Top 5 Childhood Authors

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Almost every day after school, I was at the library doing homework but more precisely picking out my next book to read. It all started with the Bob Books, then came Little Bear, Henry and Mudge, Frog and Toad, No Fighting, No Biting! and many others I cannot begin to list. While I  enjoyed everything I read, these are the authors that kept me reading.

5. Tedd Arnold

tedd-arnoldWhat drew me into Tedd Arnold’s books were his watercolor illustrations. The colors fold into a mix that makes the characters come to life. Parts and More Parts are his most memorable books, teaching readers about the body. The protagonist is a bit of a hypochondriac but he learns jumping out of your skin is not only an idiom but the most normal thing about you.

4. Dav Pilkey

Dav-Pilkey-KaiSuzuki-photoOne day the word “underwear” was shared and got a huge laugh in class but not from the disapproving teacher. That same day, an undressed hero was born. Dav Pilkey shows that reading is nothing short of fun and his books are that and more. Knowing how he has struggled with dyslexia and ADHD, it is nice to know he is having fun while teaching his readers to question things through his satirical storytelling. Some of my favorites are Kat Kong, Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot, and of course Captain Underpants.

3. Andrew Clements

andrew_clementsAin’t ain’t a word! Actually, it is and so is frindle. Andrew Clements classic story about calling a pen a “frindle” instead has stuck with me ever since I started writing book reports. His stories have taught me there is a world of multiplicity out there, one where your creative side is someone’s welcome mat. His books that inspired me include Frindle, Lunch Money, where a student writes and sells his own comic books, and No Talking, where a class makes a running bet of no talking after a lecture on Mahatma Gandhi.

2. Daniel Handler

Lemony_SnicketThrills and treachery from a mysterious and sarcastic narrator makes for the perfect series of unfortunate events. Daniel Handler, also known as the aloof Lemony Snicket, wrote the first book series I read to completion recounting the lives of the Baudelaire children, A Series of Unfortunate Events. The dark charisma he musters in his writing reveals a world of believers in the face of deceivers. Handler returns with a new prequel series of noir called All the Wrong Questions.

1. Roald Dahl

roald_dahl        The one writer that always made it on my reading list is none other than the wonderful wordsmith Roald Dahl. There is no one sweeter than this sweet tooth storyteller! From the unnerving witchcraft of The Witches and the ugly that can fester inside us from The Twits to the hidden potential of a psychokinetic sixth-grader and an orphaned boy and his giant peach, it is no wonder he has been deemed one of the world’s greatest storytellers. There is never a dull moment with Dahl! 

How Reading Fast Slows You Down

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On to the next book!

“It is not just about being well-read, it is about reading well”

Writing a book and literary blog has me thinking if I will have time to read all the books I want. I know I still can but it requires enough time management to pull off. How will I ever balance the time I spend reading with the time I spend writing? Simple, just learn how to speed read. Speed-reading is a straightforward practice. By extending the landscape of your peripheral view and minimizing the information or “skimming” for the most important information written on a page, you are on your way to being a speed-read demon! Read again.

When you read this sentence, as a reader, you cannot predict the following sequence of the message being told without having to see and read each and every word. Are there certain phrases you can notice based on diction and punctuation that serve no other purpose but to be an aesthetic and transitory choice? Most certainly, but not every sentence is worth skimming. This is not new age flash fiction. One word makes all the difference to the meaning presented versus the one personally given. Of course, the point of speed-reading then becomes less about sensibility or memory and more about tangibility or information.

I thought I would be able to devote more time, and in effect more quality, to my writing if I could just get from cover to cover in the least amount of time possible. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, my writing suffered. Speed-reading restricts a complete understanding of a text by acknowledging only the information it provides and not the expression of it. What does reading mean for me if I am just flipping pages as fast as I would recite the alphabet?

Speed reading proves ineffectual if you intend on retaining and comprehending what you read. Otherwise, it is a remarkable feat to see how fast you can turn a page without receiving a paper cut. Your writing on a subject will be a reflection of how well you read that subject too. It is not just about being well-read, it is about reading well. Friends of mine tell me how fast they read, some coming in at less than a few hours. I cannot help but wonder why they read so fast other than to get to their next book as soon as possible. Now I am not saying it is not possible to retain a story’s characters and events within such small amounts of time, but memory does not always end up being 20/20 hindsight.

To get through every page without skipping a word (and I do falter and have to back track to words, even sentences, I missed if I am not careful) is a challenge but it does not have to be. Why bother reading fast if the margin for error is higher than your comprehension? While it seems the only benefit speed-reading has is surveying the page for grammatical errors and typos, it is a potential malpractice we can correct. Instead of measuring the pages to minute scrutiny, find the right pace.

Pacing allows you to read at the speed where you will best comprehend a text. Staples tests how fast you can read with real pieces of literature and my results were 282 words per minute which is close to the average of 300 for adults. Staples’ test also shows you how long it would take you to read certain pieces of literature after the results. I do not know if the test is giving me the benefit of the doubt or adding insult to injury, because I do know it took me a month to digest the brick that is Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, and that was with devoted hours set aside every Thursday through Sunday.

My general rule of thumb tends to be lenient with a chapter or more for reading and a page or more for writing each hour. I do this with the same attitude as Anne Lamott’s “small assignments” from her book Bird by Bird. Lamott says to read and write in balanced and gradual amounts, enough to fill a “one-inch picture frame,” to avoid getting bogged down by the rest you have to read or have to write (17). A paragraph is much more manageable than a whole page, let alone an entire book.

I am satisfied with my pace and it may be slower than yours, but reading the fastest is not what is important. Reading to comprehend regardless of when you finish reading is. Challenge yourself, read something unfamiliar to you; I would not have thought twice about reading Bleak House given its intimidating length but I was better for knowing the difference between Lord Doodle and a Dandy (by the way, not so different).

Slow and steady is the approach I take and I may not win the race of time. What I do win is the pleasure and quality of reading long after having read.