As an avid reader of paper books (its crazy that I even have to specify that) I love hearing this kind of news! Reading sharpens my mind, pumps up my creativity, as well as calms my mind and body. When I read as a writer, I’m not only enjoying the story but picking it apart, studying it, learning from it, and I believe that works my mind harder than the average readers.
This article by Rachel Grate, published by Mic.com, summarizes a recent study that proved readers of paper books showed better comprehension than readers of e-books. The first paragraph of the article is below, see the full article here. Enjoy!
It’s no secret that reading is good for you. Just six minutes of reading is enough to reduce stress by 68%, and numerous studies have shown that reading keeps your brain functioning effectively as you age. One study even found that elderly individuals who read regularly are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than their peers. But not all forms of reading are created equal.
Do you read paper, e-books, or both? Do you find it more difficult to understand/remember the story when reading e-books?
“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” ― Charles William Eliot
I hope you enjoy this nonfiction writing prompt based on Grace (eventually) by Anne Lamott.
Think of a situation when you had no choice but to relinquish control. Write about it. In whose hands did you leave the power and why? Were you reluctant to do so? How did you feel and what did you do immediately after?
After you’ve written about your no-control situation, think about a time you escaped from your daily routine or a busy/stressful day. What did you think about or realize during this time away? Weave this moment into your original piece of writing. How does it affect the mood/theme of the piece? Do you like the changes? Are the moments related? If not, what makes them work well together?
*Please share your writing with me if you complete the prompt! :)
Anne Lamott has a way of letting her thoughts unravel in a way that initially seems scattered and shallow but by the end you wonder how she could tie together such different ends of a spectrum so seamlessly. Her nonfiction essays in Grace (eventually) are real and relatable. She willing admits she is not a saint yet she faces her challenges head on, drawing from the strength she does have. Like all humans, she slips, but unlike most of us, she shares her mistakes with the world to spread a little hope and strength.
**Check in tomorrow for a writing prompt based on Grace (eventually)!!
Lamott does not beautify faith or grace. She shows her readers that it is a struggle, a struggle that needs the support from the outside. She draws this strength from her friends, her family, and her religion.
I would not place this collection of essays in the religious section of a bookstore. Lamott expands the parameters of faith. She does not solely discuss religion or even her faith in a higher power that will make everything lovely if only you ask. She talks about faith of all the kinds; faith in oneself, faith in humanity, faith in goodness and internal beauty, faith in one’s support system. It makes me wish that the word “faith” did not have such strong religious connotations, because it really is as vast as you believe it is.
I recommend this book to anyone who, like myself, immediately associates the word “faith” with religion. Lamott’s essays expanded the word’s meaning for me and I think it can for you, too. Also, all nonfiction lovers will appreciate the excellent writing and depth of Grace (eventually).
Have you read any nonfiction essays lately?
If that’s out of the ordinary for you, did you like the change?
I am a writer, said Picasso. I make my own letters.
I love when a writer, in the midst of a novel, slips in a short chapter or section that although it is relevant to the story, it does not progress the plot in any way but is interesting and often poetic. These stand-alone chapters will have a unique structure, tone, point of view, or something else that sets it apart. They can be used to recapture a reader’s attention during a slow section of the plot or they can reinforce a theme.
Below I have transcribed one such chapter from Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet. Another example of this type of mid-novel poetics is this paragraph from The Storm at the Door by Stephen Merrill Block. Although the topics are consistent with the larger piece, aspects such as the mood or the method of delivery stagger.
The Flame Alphabet is written in first person but as you can see below, this chapter doesn’t elude to a narrator (in first person or otherwise). We have no indication of our character finding or thinking about these quotes and none of the famous names mentioned in the chapter are relevant to the rest of the story. I believe this chapter is present to grow the theme of the book, to inform the reader that our narrator is not the first person to believe language is evil.
In his early writing, Thoreau called the alphabet the saddest song. Later in life he would renounce this position and say it produced only dissonant music.
Letters, Montaigne said, are a necessary evil.
But are they? asked Blake, years later. I shall write of the world without them.
I would grow mold on the language, said Pasteur. Except nothing can grow on that cold, dead surface.
Of words Teresa of Avila said, I did not live to erase them all.
They make me sick, said Luther. Yours and yours and yours. Even sometimes my own.
If it can be said, then I am not interested, wrote Schopenhauer.
When told to explain himself, a criminal in Arthur’s court simply pointed at the large embroidered alphabet that hung above the king.
Poets need a new instrument, said Shelley.
If I could take something from the world, said Nietzsche, and take with it event he memory of that thing, so that the world might carry on ever forward with not even the possibility that thing could exist again, it would be the language that sits rotting inside my mouth.
I am a writer, said Picasso. I make my own letters.
Shall I destroy this now, or shall I wait for you to leave the room, said his patron to Kadmos, the reputed inventor of the alphabet.
Kadmos is a fraud, said Wheaton. Said Nestor. Said William James.
Do not read this, warned Plutarch.
Do not read this, warned Cicero.
Do not read this, begged Ovid.
If you value your life.
Bleed a man, and with that vile release spell out his name in the sand, prescribed Hippocrates.
No alphabet but in things, said Williams.
Correction. No alphabet at all.
Some books are not meant to be picked apart;
some books are simply meant to be enjoyed and shared.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is one of those books. Winner of the Newberry Medal and the British Carnegie Medal, The Graveyard Book is a brilliant story that young and old can both enjoy.
If I did pick this book apart, I would have nothing but great things to say. The characters, the plot, the suspense, the relatability, the dash of fantasy, and the scattered illustrations… everything was perfectly simple. There was nothing overpowering or complicated about the book, yet it kept me interested and smiling the entire time.
Although the story was not complicated, it captures Gaiman’s creativity and imagination. The main character is a human boy, named Nobody Owens, who is raised by a group of ghosts. The ghosts were all buried in the graveyard where the story is set and Nobody grows up. The ghosts took him in as a toddler to protect him from a mysterious group of “Jacks” who killed the boy’s entire family and are still trying to find and kill him. Gaiman keeps this dark plot lighthearted and fun, the boy is relatable and the ghosts are charming, always fascinated by their own histories. The writing is straightforward and simple, like most children’s books, but also smooth and poetic. I feel its very important that children’s authors never write down to their audience, that although they may use a simple approach to telling their story, they should never dumb it down, and I felt Gaiman succeeded in that area. The Graveyard Book puts readers in a world that all ages can get lost in.
The Graveyard Book is a 5-star read!
Although the official moto of Minnesota (my home state) is the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the Association of Writers and Writers Programs (AWP) has renamed it the Land of 10,000 Presses in its article published this morning. Why? Because “many consider the Twin Cities, with their concentration and variety of publishers, literary organizations, and related businesses, second only to New York City in literary activity.”
Check out the AWP article here:
Minnesota is book country
As a young writer, exploring all the literary opportunities and events in the Twin Cities area is something I am truly grateful for! And outside the literary community, its a beautiful, friendly state with so much to offer.
The Prestige by Christopher Priest will have you clueless and confident, astonished and suspicious, charmed and furious, all at the same time.
The Prestige is a two-sided story of a pair of feuding magicians in the late 1800’s. The story is told two generations later as their grandchildren read the magicians’ journals. The feud begins when Alfred Borden interrupts a fake séance of Rupert Angier’s, revealing him as a fraud. The event enflames a life-long feud as both magicians rise to popularity. Continuously trying to disrupt one another’s performances, the feud pushes the magicians to the very boundaries of magic, deception, and life itself. As the story encounters many twists and turns, so do the lives of Borden and Angier.
The unique structure was my favorite part of the novel. The magicians’ story is told through their journals and interweaved with the present story of the grandchildren who are now in their 30s. Borden’s journal comes first, covering many years of the feud in a linear fashion. The journal reveals some of Borden’s secrets and provides our first impression of his rival, Angier. After we are told the entire story from Borden’s point of view, the story jumps back to the very beginning and is retold from Angier’s point of view.
Even though the reader is already aware of what is going to happen, Priest does an extraordinary job at exposing new secrets and Angier’s insights to keep the story fresh and exciting.
Old Story, Fresh Point of View
As the reader is introduced to Borden first, and is told the story from his POV, one is driven to take his side and believe his view that Angier is a petty, sometimes cruel man who will not let go of a silly, old grudge. But once the narrative changes to Angier’s POV, that belief muddies. The reader becomes aware that every story has two sides, and depending on who tells the story, the “facts” and the attitude behind them changes drastically. There are multiple points in the second retelling of the story that things that initially seemed unreasonably dramatic make sense once both sides of the story is told. Once the story flips to Angier’s point of view, we realize he had strong reasons for acting the cruel way he did. Slowly but surely, Angier becomes the character I wanted to trust and wanted to come out on top of this feud.
How Priest Keeps an Old Story New
By switching narrators halfway through the novel, Priest pulls out a lot of tricks that need delicate balance. The contrasting personalities of the two men adds interest to the retelling of the story. During each magician’s telling, we must not only learn new, interesting things about the same story but also connect with each narrator at the time of their telling. The deception that magicians live with in order to become successful on the stage is a perfect cover for this structure because in order for a retelling of the same story to be successful, certain secrets must be unknown by each narrator.
Angier’s story, the second journal, extends past the point where Borden’s journal left off. This is another necessary choice by the author to keep the reader interested and the story moving forward. The novel ends where it began, in present time with the grandchildren of the magicians. Although the grandchildren’s story starts off as a slow way to give context to the journals, it ends with a flash of action that ties the entire novel together in an unexpected twist.
5 stars! The plot, the characters, the structure, the mystery, the suspense, they all deserve 5 stars. I specifically recommend the book to all writers because unique, creative structures are something every writer should keep in their “tool box.”
The Prestige was adapted into a major motion picture in 2006 staring Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman. Although the movie does vary slightly from the book’s plot, it stays true to the major themes of the story. The acting is excellent. The movie and the book are both worth one’s time. If you are a fan of the movie, read the book! It varies enough to keep you interested but you will still enjoy the same main premise.
Earlier this week I was walking my dog when I crossed paths with a stranger on the sidewalk. It was one of those (awkward) moments when my dog was really determined to sniff a particular parcel of grass so I was standing stiff as the man approached me head on. Here’s what happened next:
At first, I thought he was bald but as he came closer I realized his blond hair was cropped very short. His freckles creeped all the way across the top of his head. Although his clothes were clean and neat, they looked well-worn and possible picked up from the Goodwill a few blocks away.
“Shitzu?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“She is thirteen years old,” I said proudly.
“Thirteen, really?” he said. “I would have guessed five or six.”
My dog, Ginger, deciding the new human was more interesting that particular parcel of grass, approached the man.
“May I pet her?” he squatted, revealing a shabby military surplus backpack slung over his shoulders as he held out the back of his hand to my 13-year-old dog I still consider a puppy.
“Uh, of course,” I mumbled, not immediately comprehending what he had asked.
My dog has never had much interest in strangers and even less in other dogs. When we pass neighborhood dogs on our walks, their owners reeling in their leashes as the dogs bark, growl and buck on their back legs trying to get a sniff of Ginger, she gives them a quick look of curiosity and continues walking forward. So after a quick sniff of this stranger’s hand, she continues walking down the sidewalk. The man stands as I begin to follow my leash.
“Have an excellent day,” he waves an open palm at waist height.
And that was that. But what if it wasn’t? What if my dog had instantly fallen in love with this guy and stayed to let him pet her? What would he have said next? What would I? Maybe we had a mutual friend or worked in different departments of the same large company. What if we discovered we lived on the same street and he invited me to a neighborhood BBQ he was having next week? The possibilities were endless and it made my mind spin like a child’s imagination when playing with an unlimited amount of Legos.
So, here is the writing prompt:Think of an interaction you had with a stranger (or keep this in mind for the next time you do) and continue the conversation beyond the point that it ended.
So here is what could have happened, backing up before the goodbye…
“She’s beautiful,” he said.
“Do you live around here?” Ginger leaned into his hand, digging deep below her ear.
“Yes,” I said, almost saying the specific street but deciding against it, “do you?”
“Not really,” he said. “I live a couple miles away but got off the bus early to walk. The bus was stuffy.”
“Mmm, I agree its too beautiful a day to waste.”
He looked up at me from his squatting position—I couldn’t believe my dog was staying with him so long—she rarely lets me scratch her ears this long. His smile was quiet and genuine, showing no teeth. “I’m Jamison,” he said, standing up.
“Weird,” I smiled as I shook his hand, “I’m Tequila.”
After such a quiet smile, his laugh was louder than I expected. It was one of those rare laughs that you only come across a handful of times in your life, the type of laugh that makes everyone within earshot smile and everyone in on the conversation laugh along. And I did.
“In that case, I was thinking about stopping at El Loro on my way home, care to join me for a happy hour margarita, Tequila?”
I laughed again at his casual use of my made-up name.
“I actually have someone waiting for me at home.”
“Ahh, of course. You’re too beautiful and funny to be single.” Normally a comment like that from a stranger would have me running in the other direction, but the way he said it was so cool, and casual. It was not a threat, not even a flirt, but simply a compliment, and he did not pause before he continued, “And in that case, I’m having a get-together at my house on Thursday. Just a few friends and neighbors grilling in my backyard. You and your boyfriend should come, and bring this little girl as well,” he said, reaching down and giving Ginger one last scratch behind the ear. She was ready to go now, pulling on the leash I kept short.
“Oh, well, I can ask my boyfriend if he’s free that night.”
“Perfect,” Jamison said, “I’ll give you my address.” He pulled a small notebook and pen out of the cargo pocket on his shorts and scribbled down his address.
“Thanks,” I said, taking the paper he ripped from the notebook.
“Come anytime after six. I promise it will be really casual—bring drinks if you like—and a big enough crowd not to feel like an outsider. Maybe 30 people.”
“Okay.” I pocketed the paper. “Ready to go, Ginger?” and she galloped forward as I let the leash out. “Nice to meet you.”
“And you as well.”
And we both walked our separate ways, both wondering if we’d see each other on Thursday, or ever again.
In One Summer, author Bill Bryson recounts an in-depth look at a single summer in American history, 1927. With an extremely wide range of topics, lots of backstory, and many follow ups to cover where the events of the summer led. I’ve decided a more appropriate title for the book would be One Summer Plus a Decade in Each Direction. The story doesn’t actually cover two decades but at times it certainly felt like it. It was, in turns, fascinating and deathly boring. The information is certainly overwhelming, especially on the topics that I knew little to nothing about. Yet, at other times (mostly in the second half) there were parts that really captured my interest.
Some of the Topics covered:
Aviation race and Charles Lindbergh
Henry Ford and the Model T
Babe Ruth and the Yankees
Famous murders throughout the 20’s, including murderer Ruth Snyder
Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly who sat atop a flagpole in Newark, New Jersey, for twelve days
Lead-up to the Great Depression
Jack Dempsey and the popularity of boxing
The rise of “talkies” and the “The Jazz Singer” was released
The creation of Mount Rushmore
Invention of death by electrocution (and its failures)
Uprise of television and popularity of radio
As an avid reader of fiction, this nonfictional account of history often threatened to lull me to sleep. As I listened to the book on audiotape, I can assure you that if I had been reading it on paper, I never would have finished it. There was simply not enough to keep me interested for the long run, not enough hints at what was to come and not enough cliff hangers.
I would have preferred the multiple story lines to interweave more throughout the plot, as they did in real time. The beginning consisted of large chunks of a single event and its backstory, which failed to keep me interested. Near the end of the novel the story lines do interweave more, but if Bryson had incorporated that throughout, I would have been more intrigued. I also never got a grip on what order these events occurred. Sure, we got a lot of dates, but unless I had made myself a timeline, I could not piece that together mentally.
“So as July dawned on America, in the week that Richard Bird and his team splashed down in France, that New York suffered its first heat wave, that Calvin Coolidge celebrated his 55th birthday by dawning cowboy apparel, that Charles Lindberg took off for Ottawa, that Henry Ford’s minion prepared his apology to Jews, and that the world’s leading central banker was assembled in secret conclave in Long Island, the story that preoccupied the nation was how fit and eager Jack Dempsey was.”
This quote struck me because of one simple fact: same then as today, the media will focus on what the people are interested in, not what is most impactful on the world/economy/ect.
Bryson clearly gathered a lot of his information from newspaper archives as he often cited the large city newspapers. He often referred to what was on the front cover of the New York Times as well as took direct quotes from various articles. Newspapers are surely a good source of what is consuming the majority but its not always accurate or objective and I tried to keep this in mind while reading Bryson’s account of history.
I would recommend One Summer to any and all history buffs, specifically people interested in aviation, Charles Lindberg, baseball, and Babe Ruth. Although the topic and writing style of the book were not of my particular interest, it was well-written and sure to be a big hit for individuals interested in said topics. 3 stars.
This is an interesting post from Boost Blog Traffic. In a sort, it is a book review of Stephen King’s On Writing. The author of the post, Jon Morrow, takes King’s advice and spins it into advice to specifically target blog writing. The post and On Writing are both a great read for any and all types of writers.