The Written World by Martin Puchner


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On the surface, The Written World looks to be a history book on the topic of literature. I discovered it was something deeper, far more delightful.

Author Martin Puchner has a love for books much like my own; this book is his journey to find the soul of literature, the source of her power, the reason she can change the world. Its reflective nature made it more powerful than a history book. Because the author included himself as the explorer, the journey feels romantic.

I have always had similar reverence for the power of reading. There is more to any book than symbols on a page; the classics, for example, have become immortal for a reason. Something about them reached into the soul of society; something about them survived, while other manuscripts vanished into history, only a few to be discovered later.

From this memoir, I gathered something I already knew: give someone the gift of literacy and they will never be helpless. Teach a child to read and you never know what they will achieve. They will discover topics that fascinate them; they’ll find their vocation, and perhaps go on to win Nobel prizes.

Of course, it suffices that they read. The power is, in the end, to read.

Once upon a time, books were expensive to own. Only the wealthy could afford to build a library. Books are more accessible now, but do people recognize their value? It is not the same to download a file off of the Internet. Books were expensive back then because of their power; let us not lose sight of that power now that they can be obtained for free.

The prices of books have changed; their value remains the same. A book can still turn the world upside-down. It was worth reading a book about books to put this into perspective. It was worth reading The Written World so that I could understand my place as a writer. It opened my eyes to the great power I have: I can read, and in doing so, I can change my world.

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens


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After one month in its pages, I have finished The Pickwick Papers. It is part of my 2019 Classic Novel Challenge, one of the longer ones on the list. I’m unable to critique writing by my favorite author. How can I nitpick the gripping prose, the humorous twists and turns, the delightful poetry?

I cannot criticize work by Charles Dickens, so instead I will continue wishing I could write like him.

If I were to write like Charles Dickens, I imagine I would focus on the characters. There are so many, and the author follows many of their storylines. This way, we can see him weaving an elaborate world. How could I follow so many characters at once? If I wanted to write like him, I would need to practice having an eye on each and every one of them.

There would be a past for every traitor, a flaw for every hero. I would make readers hesitate to judge anyone harshly. I would give even the most unlikeable characters their humanity. Dialogue would be a treat to read because of my attention to dialect, the nuances that separate one protagonist from the other.

With enough detail, the most fantastic main character will feel real.

I would use words to bring out the chasm between the wealthy and poor, the places no one wants to go and the places everyone wants to be. I would show readers the homeless and destitute, how they are forgotten but still human. Men, women, and children in factories and poorhouses would have their voices heard.

My prose would have to be so graceful that the words melt into poetry. I would paint pictures in which the walls, the carpet, the tea kettle all play a part. They would be like blended colors. With my art, readers would drink in the paragraph without complaining about its length. I would immerse them so that they don’t remember how long the book is; they are part of the story.

I cannot criticize Charles Dickens. I can only hope that one day I will write something with such immortality. His works can be heavy because of their length. These novels have many chapters because they were first published as serials. Oh, to go back in time! What a delightful thought: a world in which people all went to the news stand, looking for the next chapter of their favorite story.

Maybe one day, that trend will return to life. For now, I will read these stories and bask in their light.

I’ve found time to read historical fiction this year, modern works I haven’t included in my reading list because they’re not classics. I’m doing this for research: the novel I’m working on is historical fiction. There is no better way to know the time period than reading stories about it. However, the titles on the 2019 Classic Novel Challenge are priorities.

My next classic read will be My Antonia by Willa Cather.

I hope your springtime has been pleasant; what are you reading now?

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy


thomas_hardy-the-mayor-of-casterbridgeThe first book I read for my 2019 reading challenge, The Mayor of Casterbridge, is compelling because of its characters. Though there are many, it focuses on a man named Michael Henchard, a man none of us would envy. It is the story of a mistake he made as a young man and how this mistake haunted him, even when he achieved success and power.

The first chapter in which he made the mistake stood out to me in color. Henchard’s great mistake was to sell his wife and daughter to a sailor for some coin. Word choice made the drama play out before me in shades of brown and gray. It is one of the best introductory chapters I’ve read, setting a consistent foundation for the novel to follow.

Chapter one makes Henchard look pathetic, rather than evil. The colors in word choice reveal that he is not taking the quarrel seriously. He thinks it’s one of many others he’s had with his wife. By the end of the chapter, when Henchard wakes up to find his wife’s wedding ring on the pub floor, I did not hate him. I pitied him.

Consumed by remorse for his great mistake, Henchard achieved power but never shed his chains. His jealousy of competition, his desperation to regain the trust of his daughter, and the defeated manner in which he ended his life—it all made him real. Though I wanted to hate him, I had the sense he needed someone to love him found no one willing.

Sometimes the protagonist of a great novel is not himself great or impressive; sometimes he’s a man you wouldn’t trust with your life, your money, or an ounce of your time. Memorable characters are defined by flaws. They become famous because we want to slap or hug them. The best characters tap into the saddest aspects of humanity.

The novel has a depth I’ve noticed in many classics which began as serialized publications, such as Dickens’ work. The Mayor of Casterbridge was long enough to keep me immersed, but not so long that I wanted to fling it away and read something else. It pulled me into the amusing society aptly painted by Hardy’s word choice. Punctuated with love triangles, humorous mistakes, and the ever-present threat of gossip, it was never boring.

The Mayor of Casterbridge has made it to my list of favorite novels, along with Swann’s Way and David Copperfield. These books are about more than characters. They’re about setting and time period, prose and morality. An attentive read of these books reveals why they made it to the title of classic. Written at a time when life was slower, these novels have elegance that will never grow outdated.

I have already started my second read for the challenge, The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle. This trip through literary history is being enjoyable as I had planned. Wait for a post about King Arthur in the next week or two.

The 2019 Reading List


In this post, I spoke about my New Year’s Resolution: to read 30 classic novels—or at least attempt to read them—in order to work through my bookshelf. Collecting books is a beautiful thing, but that’s only half the fun; the magic is in reading them!

I said I would post my reading list when it was assembled, however there has been a change.

The original plan was to read 30. While planning my reading list, I took into account the length of some of these books and the time I will have available. I also reminded myself that, following the death of my grandmother, I’ve been having problems sitting down to focus on a book.

The number has therefore been lowered to 25, and I’m not going to beat myself up over it if I can’t read them all. The point is to be trying.

I have already finished the first book on the list—it was The Mayor of Casterbridge, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. A post about the novel will follow. I took copious notes of the first chapters but stopped halfway through, when the book became too gripping to jot my thoughts every ten pages.

Here, then, is the list. The books are to be read in no particular order, and I have chosen these titles on the basis of owning them; there is no theme, even though you can tell classic literature is my favorite category. Also, some of these books are novellas or anthologies; they are thick books I haven’t gotten through yet.

  • The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • Dubliners by James Joyce
  • Heart of Darkness & Other Stories by Joseph Conrad
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
  • The Sagas of Icelanders (anthology of folklore)
  • Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
  • The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • Complete Short Stories of Franz Kafka
  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  • Tess of the d’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy
  • Russian Fairy Stories (anthology of folklore)
  • The Story of King Arthur and His Knights
  • The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
  • Sons and Daughters by D.H. Lawrence
  • Adam Bede by George Eliot
  • My Antonia by Willa Cather
  • The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  • TBA

I have left one spot empty because I know myself, and I know a classic will pop up sometime in July or September that should be in this list.

I am not limiting this year’s reading to the books listed above. I’m positive there are other lighter works that will provide modern respite. The point of this challenge, in the end, is to make progress, know literary history, and develop my vocabulary. Most of all, I look forward to doing something I enjoy. Reading old books has always been a favorite pastime of mine.

Have you set any goals this year? What are they?

Around the Literary World in a Year


A new year always brings with it pressure to come up with a resolution. Though setting goals often feels like a trend, I don’t like ignoring a clean slate. I don’t plan to do anything mind-blowing this year, but I know where I hope to be when roaring 2020 comes in.

Writing-wise, 2019 will see me focused on one novel. Usually I plan on completing two a year, but I’ve realized that I take more time editing than writing. It means I won’t finish any books if I tell myself I’m supposed to crank out a second one after I’m done with a first draft.

This year I will finish writing and editing my mermaid novel, writing poetry on the side for the collection I hope to release. I won’t be posting most of my new poems on this blog. What, then, will I be using it for?

My website is going to be a reading journal. The goal is to read at least thirty of the classic novels I own so that they’re more than a pretty collection on my shelf. I’ll be posting about them as I go. For longer books, you might get multiple posts. I can’t promise there won’t be spoilers.

They say that the person who loves to read lives hundreds of lives. We see the world through different perspectives, becoming the main character as well as the audience. I believe it; everyone who loves to read knows this is the truth.

I will be drawing inspiration from this list but not limiting myself to it, as there are many on there I’ve read recently, and some that aren’t on it. Part of the fun is going to be putting together a reading list of my own, and when I’m finished with that, I’m going to post it here.

I’m hoping to run a book blog rather like a journal, making commentary like I did with David Copperfield. I want to show you that there’s more to a good book than words; there can be magic between the lines.

I hope you will join me, and maybe together we’ll find a new favorite book.

David Copperfield: Escapism and Books


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Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield is, in many respects, autobiographical. Readers see the protagonist in bleak situations, many of which take root in things the author himself experienced–child abuse, poverty, instances when it was difficult to count one’s blessings.

As a reader and writer, the following paragraph stood out to me. It describes Copperfield as a child, seeking refuge from his ill fortune by vanishing into books.

It is astonishing to me now, how I found time, in the midst of my porings and blunderings over heavier themes, to read these books as I did. It is curious to me how I could ever have consoled myself under my small troubles (which were great troubles to me), by impersonating my favorite characters in them–as I did–and by putting Mr and Miss Murdstone into all the bad ones–which I did too.

I’ve written books where my characters were similar to me in some ways, sharing habits or speech nuances. This has always happened by accident. I never sat and told myself this character will like the same music or we will enjoy the same foods. No, these things crept onto the page; later, I found them and smiled.

In the above paragraph, David Copperfield describes escaping dark times by reading books. He became the hero and identified the villains in his life. I wondered if Charles Dickens did this knowingly, to increase the book’s autobiographical nature. Was it strategic, or an accident? Did he later reflect on his character and realize he and Copperfield shared this trait?

Once writers master the art of escapism, we know the skill for life. It becomes a part of us, so when we spin stories of our own, we write ourselves in without meaning to. We don’t notice until later that bits of us have slipped in between the lines.

Excerpts like this show why it’s interesting to learn about the author as well as the book. When you know the circumstances in which they lived, it enhances the experience. It’s why I always read introductions when they are available. Often, when I finish reading, I do research on the setting (time period, customs, etc.)

When you read a good book, there’s more going on than your brain registering words. You’re immersing yourself in a journey through time. You become one with the characters. You might even find that you and the author have things in common–habits, opinions, hurts. Any well-written novel has this power. All you need is a bit of patience to get through longer works.

Find a sliver of spare time, and you will travel far.

With people seeking entertainment elsewhere, I fear the beautiful art of reading might one day be forgotten–the kind of reading that immerses us, escapism. Each form of entertainment has its benefits; however, let’s not overlook the joy that can be found in a book.

Reading is a superpower, and we can all learn to use it. If you haven’t been reading much, find a book and start now. There’s a book for everyone, and best of all, there’s always time.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten


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Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girlsthe book title was clever. I’m not sure what I expected to find once I started reading. This is a good thing. Any book title is used to draw readers in: it makes them want to lift the cover and glance at the first page, where there should be a hook.

This book title was strong bait indeed; it cleared the way for me to be pulled into the page-turner.

Since I have not read many thrillers, I can’t comment on plot devices used. I enjoyed the read, and it made me consider reading more thrillers in the future. This post is not so much a review as it is a musing, my impression as a reader.

How far would you go for revenge? How broken must a person be to pull off the perfect murder? Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls features one of the darkest characters I’ve read; she’s dark in her brokenness.

I believe this would not have been possible if the protagonist, June, had not been such a contrast. Comparison is a powerful way to write a memorable story. Black and white – shadow and light – June and Delia are a dark, sad balance.

They are both struggling. The difference is this: June lacks the nerve to pull off the feats Delia gets away with. June is the follower in this friendship. She is the weakling, though Delia often pretends otherwise. She is a toy to help Delia feel powerful.

June seems designed to grip the target audience, channeling their weaknesses. The author plays with your mind from the moment you see the cover. She’s not finished, though–once you’ve started reading, she uses your insecurities to help you connect with June! Like her, most of us struggle with insecurity. Most of us have a desire to fit in.

As you see, my commentary focuses on the characters. June and Delia are a fantastic example of characters used strategically. June and Delia–opposites attracted to each other, and not a good pair at all.

However, this must be said: June was not always weak. My favorite scenes featured her trying to grow despite the sadness on her shoulders. There were times she stood in the name of friendship to find out what happened to Delia. It helped me remember, as an insecure reader, that nothing keeps me from standing in the midst of a storm except my own fear.

The plot, pace, and characters were arranged so you will remember them. I finished this book in a day, pulled into the atmosphere, the mystery, the struggle. Whether or not you enjoy this book, I promise you won’t forget it.

On Dusty Bookshelves


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Last year in August, I started a reading journal. It is literally a list of books I read and when I finish them. As the list started to grow over passing weeks, I realized that when I pay attention–real attention–to what a book is saying, there is a lot between the lines that a skim would never reveal.

I began to take notes of passages I loved in my journals. Some things I wrote are so profound–a paragraph or an allegory–I could spend hours meditating on them. I could write essays on them. And I began to think, if only other people would see these beautiful words. If only reading were as popular as it used to be–the whole idea of reading together, discussing, and pointing out beauty.

I’m only one person, so I can’t ignite a fire for books. I can’t ask people to take the time and taste what they’re reading (instead of just seeing it)–but instead of keeping my musings to myself, I can find a way to share them. Someone somewhere might be interested in what I’ve found. They might realize how exciting it is to dig into the history of a novel, its impact on society, the influence of the author.

So today I created a Facebook page where I will share my thoughts on books, their history, why they are wonderful. I might occasionally share a paragraph, explain why I think it’s lovely, and hope that it’ll persuade someone else to read the book. It’s a little spark in the hopes of spreading a love for books that I’m afraid has started to die out.

If you want to read my thoughts–I, a simple fantasy author and obsessive reader–and discuss my findings with me, you can follow my reading blog here on Facebook. I’ll post longer musings here, because some books are larger than life…a Facebook post won’t cut it. Expect interesting historical videos and relevant links, as well.

Books are more than words on paper. Books are dreams that never die, and I think they are beautiful enough to merit discussion again. I hope you can join me–and if you don’t, I hope you’ll still find your favorite book again and crack it open!

3 Reasons I Want to Read Slowly


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A while back, I was obsessed with learning to speed-read. I tried all these iPhone apps that supposedly help you read faster. I timed myself whenever I opened a book. I gave up on those weird apps almost at once, but over time did learn to speed-read.

Though I’m not the fastest reader I know, I surprise people with how quickly I can finish a book. In many ways, it is a useful skill. However, sometimes I have to slow down and enjoy the novel I’m reading, word-by-word.

It’s an exercise of patience, but when I’m reading a good book, it’s not too hard. Sometimes you love a book so much, you don’t want it to end.

We’re not all the same, and things might be different for you, but here are my motivators for learning the art of reading slowly:

1, I want to remember more. One of my favorite things about reading is when I can remember a story long after finishing it. If I can’t do that, I don’t feel that I’ve gotten all I could from the book.

2. Magic survives into reality. Everyone knows that crash that comes after closing a good book, the shock when all the magic is gone and we are back in real life. When I speed-read a novel, the crash comes faster. If I take the time to better experience the adventure, it isn’t so hard–magic follows me.

3. It improves my writing. When I read slowly, I’m able to pick up tricks the author used. I learn new words, get swept away in description, and put away plot bunnies to work on later. My writing is improved in ways I don’t realize until I work on my own projects again.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t speed-read; we’re all different when we write stories, as well as when we read them. In the end, there is no right or wrong way to enjoy a book. As long as it takes you to another world, the rest is just preference.

How fast do you read? Do you enjoy a story more when you read quickly, or take your time? Maybe you do both—let me know in the comments!