Summer is here, it’s time to swim

There is a fat fish swimming next to me on the countertop in a foreign, but very kind, kitchen. It is shiny orange with black flecks and fins. It waddles through the water with little twitches of a tail that seems mildly obstructed by the large stomach hanging below and looks for food. Even though he wants for none, though the fish sinks quickly to the bottom of the tank when he doesn’t swim, he climbs to the top of the water, searching. He pokes his nose into the bedrock, sucking up pebbles in the hope that they are not what they seem. Either that or he cannot tell the difference between a rock and a piece of food, which is also a reasonably valid possibility. And it’s like “hey! Mr. Fish, swim with your friends, take a hard lap, enjoy those plants and that fun coral structure. The food will come eventually, no need to worry!” 

Right now I feel a bit like this fish. I have all the time and the resources in the world (quite literally as I’m about 20 minutes from the library of congress), and it would be very easy not to take advantage of them, to simply keep saying “I don’t have the time” or “oh, I just have to wait until I get ______ and then I can start working.” It is always possible to make an excuse, but now I just start swimming. I’ve been reading Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work and it’s been enlightening. For a while it’s been the non-creative aspects that take priority and I think it’s because they often have definitive ends. Creative work ends much more ambiguously so it’s easier for me to postpone it. Well I have no more procrastination tools, so the ultimate and universal creative weakness has been thwarted! Let me know if I’m cut out for humor writing and stay tuned for the process when I figure out what it is.

Here’s to the first clumsy stroke and a weird fish metaphor.


What’s Up Next?

Welcome to the end of March (not the Middle, don’t get too excited). Students know this time to be exam-and-paper-filled. People in Real Life see this as the beginning of spring (maybe? I’m not sure, I’m not in the real world yet. Let me know). I fall into the former category and so am searching desperately for pockets of time to read. In light of spring I thought I’d share the list of books I am excited to read next–willing more reading time to come. Some are new, some are old, some are in between.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

Can’t and Won’t: Stories, Lydia Davis

10:04, Ben Lerner

More to come next week. Enjoy the thawing Earth and read on!

P.S. New Instagram account! @bookstomark
For pictures like this: IMG_2966

Salty Bookstores-KY

Hemingway on the Beach in KY

Hemingway on the Beach in KY

The island of Grand Cayman has a population of approximately 53,000 people and almost as many tourists per day including cruise ships and hotels. Even so, that’s roughly 100,000 people on the island at any given time, which is only slightly larger than my home county in New Jersey. Nevertheless, there are two bookstores on this island and on my visit last week I could not pass on the opportunity to visit one of them.

In an outdoor mall full of restaurants and boutique swim shops, one would hardly expect the largest store to be an independent bookstore, but Books & Books in the Camana Bay shopping center was a neat and sleek spot. Shelves curved up the walls from floor to 30’ ceiling with books along every inch. Each genre has its own cove and the islands of books by local authors gave the modern and slightly commercial aesthetic an indie vibe.

The selection of literary gifts was impressive as was the collection of eclectic birthday cards, of which I wanted to stock up on many. However, I found myself in yet another bookshop that did not have Keroac’s On the Road. I have been to three bookstores in the Boston area including two secondhand shops and none of them has this book. By all means if anyone wants to send me a copy, please email me, I’d be delighted and surprised if you could find one.

Indie Bookstore Day is coming up on May 2, so I will be celebrating with the Harvard Bookstore. They have lots of cool events planned for the week leading up to the big celebration. This month also has lots of authors coming into town here. I am going to try to get in to hear Lydia Davis read and maybe a couple of others. It looks like April is going to be a busy month for books!

As you can tell, last week I was lucky enough to get away to a warmer climate with family, which was wonderful after the horrid winter we’ve had here in Boston, and that people have had all over the North East. I read Hemingway’s In Our Time on the beach and on the plane and it was wonderful. It has been fun recently to notice how authors have been influenced by each other and to recognize certain techniques used by many and to compare how each author uses those tools. I find myself writing “DFW” or “Salinger,” among others, in the margins every so often. I am now in the midst of A Farewell to Arms, so I’ll be writing on that next week.

In the meantime it looks like spring is really approaching. Read on and go to your local bookstore!


Featured image: Coffee at South West in George Town, KY

Bike4Books: Not Just a Doctor’s Appointment

So I’m not a workout fiend. Once or twice a week I will go to the gym, do my thing, low stress. In-season practices are usually my physical activity, but recently one of my teammates and I went to an indoor cycling class. I didn’t fall off the bike and I made it to the end of the class, which was a pretty serious accomplishment, trust me. But at this class they happened to be advertising a charity indoor cycling event called Bike4Books taking place this past weekend. We were super down to participate in this event. All donations went toward Project READ, which provides books to Cambridge Health Alliance facilities to give to the children who receive care and their families. I never really considered connecting medicine and reading, but I realize that they support each other. If a child receives a book when he goes to the doctor, then not only does he have a book, but also he has positive connotations of the doctor’s office. Similarly, being able to read is an integral part of socialization and development, which are both developmental and health concerns.

The event itself was fun! Also challenging because they asked us to bike up several hills. The instructor was excited about 90s music and there was a clear spectrum of participants; some were wearing biking gear and for others it was their first spin class, but everyone was spinning and having a good time.

We were really excited to be able to participate, here’s a photo (post-spin). Go check out the Bike4Books page and donate if you can!

The Literary Icebreaker Complex and Ben Lerner

Sometimes I think it would have been easier to live in a much earlier time. However, for the same reasons that living in an earlier time would have been simpler, it would also have been far more difficult. Before cell phones, the Internet, before I could address an international audience with the click of a button, the world was slower, less stressful maybe. However it was far more difficult to communicate and to travel and learning was not as convenient (though they probably had more time for reading since they did not have BuzzFeed). Additionally, there were far fewer works of great literature for people to read. Two hundred years ago I might conceivably have gotten through all of the books I would like to. I often find myself so caught up in the great works of the past that I forget there are great works of the present. When I happen upon these I worry for future generations who will have an astronomical amount of reading to undertake. It’s much like that icebreaker name-game during which each person has to say his name as well as the names of everyone who proceeded him: mildly anxiety inducing, but it forces you to pay attention.

This is a very long-winded way of saying that I have just begun reading a wonderful modern work that I cannot put down; it has astounded me. My english class this semester  is called “The American Novel: From Dreiser to the Present” with Philip Fisher. The reading list features headliners like Salinger, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Cather, but there are several modern authors as well like Marilyn Robinson and Ben Lerner. It is Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station which has caught my full attention.

Set in Madrid, Leaving the Atocha Station, follows the narrator through his poetry fellowship and his struggle with barriers of many kinds. He relies on the language barrier to seem mysterious to his friends and to his girlfriend. He questions the power of art and his own competency as a writer. However, I am finding that in his efforts to seem genuine (rather than fraudulent, as he feels), he actually fabricates who he is. This corresponds with the larger idea of reinvention in an unfamiliar and temporary place, to which Professor Fisher drew our attention. Lerner’s narrator speaks to the uncertainty of identity that all people harbor, at some level, in addition to our curiosity about altering our identities. Half-way through this novel, the narrator is confronting the consequences of arbitrary reinvention. These human concepts are communicated with sentences like: “But most intensely love for that other thing, the sound-absorbent screen, life’s white machine, shadows massing in the middle distance, although that’s not even close, the texture of et cetera itself” (16). There are these lovely synesthetic aspects to the text that draw the reader’s focus and force him to reflect and really consider what is going on.

Perhaps more to come on Lerner; he has also just published a second novel, 10:04, which has been on my bookshelf since the summer. It probably will not be there for very long.

Read on and happy Tuesday,

P.S. Shoutout to BB.

4,279 Pages (10.7lb) later

Kelsey here,

For the last three months I have read the work David Foster Wallace almost exclusively. It began with little (ha) essays. And then longer essays, short stories, longer stories. Infinite Jest. Brief Interviews. And now I am finishing up Pale King. When I was organizing my schedule for this semester I essentially rearranged many things so that I could take this course and I’m glad that I did. Despite the insane number of pages and the new muscle in my shoulder from carrying IJ around for a month this has been a really great experience. I have never committed to reading the entire works of a single author at one time before. I wasn’t really sure how it would go, if I would get tired of him, or bored of him. But I found myself becoming more interested and honestly more attached to his work.

In September I knew that DFW had written Infinite Jest and that he had died tragically in the not too distant past. I also knew that I had identified with his speech “This is Water” more than I think I even understood. When I read the Editors’ Note at the beginning of Pale King, the work he was writing at the time of his death, and read Michael Pietsch’s reflection on the construction of Pale King I was very moved. Suddenly, Wallace was no longer an author about whom I had come to learn a great deal, he was a real person. He wrote notes and had half of this book ready to go. I thought about all of the letters we had read in class that he wrote to his friends about writing and about how difficult it had become for him. I remembered all of those interviews we watched and how it was so much easier to read his work when I heard him reading it out loud or when I read it in his voice. Reading Pietsch’s near-ode to Wallace put him in the context of the real world. Like, he left people behind too and not just this giant, beautiful mess that became Pale King.

While we were reading Infinite Jest, my professor took us on an Infinite Jest walking tour where we stopped at various landmarks in Boston/Cambridge that were mentioned in IJ. We went to DFW’s apartment, followed Joelle’s walk through Boston Common, the Father and Son Market and finally the locations of both Enfield Tennis Academy and Ennet House. That made it very real, too.

I know more about DFW than I know about any other author and that is pretty fun. There is obviously a lot more to know than I do, but following the trajectory of his work has been an engaging way to try and figure him out. Style things that seemed really cool and unique to me in September have become normal and almost jaded. So I understand what he meant when he wrote in a letter, “I am tired of myself, it seems: tired of my thoughts, associations, syntax, various verbal habits that have gone from discovery to technique to tic.” I am not tired of Wallace, but I can see the repetition and it feels less intentional, it’s less exciting in his later work.

“Good Old Neon,” Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and certain things from Girl With Curious Hair have been my favorite works. And whenever I push through the boredom in Pale King to get to a “golden nugget” of prose it is incredibly rewarding.

4,279 pages is a lot of pages. It’s been an adventure, and I don’t think its going to be over when I close Pale King. There are infinities in Wallace’s prose that could take a lifetime to understand.

Many thanks to Professor Warren, Will, and my fellow DFW ‘hideous people’ (just kidding you are all wonderful).

And now, another word:
Aha, I’m back! Just when you thought I had disappeared into the world that is college, I reappeared! If you are reading this, thank you, you are thee best. Stay tuned for more regular posts and potentially some videos. Yay :) “Pass it on.”


Read these: My favorite quotes from Wallace
“I’m trapped in the present. If I drank, for instance, some Tang, it wouldn’t remind me of anything—I’d just taste the Tang.” (PK 156)

“Every love story is a ghost story.” (PK 314)

“Little bits of Los Angeles wink on and off, as light gets in the way of other light.” (GWCH 4)

“In June, in a car without air-conditioning, I keep the windows rolled up for the sake of her photo. What more should anyone be required to say?” (GWCH 153).

“My chest bumps like a dryer with shoes in it.” (IJ 5)

“I do things like get in a taxi and say, “The library, and step on it.” (IJ 12)

“You seek to vanquish and transcend the limited self whose limits make the game possible in the first place. It is tragic and sad and chaotic and lovely. All life is the same, as citizens of the human State: the animating limits are within, to be killed and mourned over and over again.” (IJ 84)

I could go on.

The Darkest Minds Brightens My Outlook on Fantasy

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

It has been a long time since I’ve been this excited about a series, but here we are. Alexandra Bracken’s The Darkest Minds is fantastic. It has danger and romance and amazing characters, which is the winningest of combinations. Here’s the other thing, I am not usually into dystopian novels, but I could not put this one down. 

Set in a modern, yet seriously messed up, America the book tells a story of a world in an economic black hole, rampant with crime and devoid of children. For six years, the country has been tracking down and collecting all children who managed to survive the youth plague-thing called IAAN. All survivors were left with special abilities of varying degrees from exceptional memory to mind control. The government has been collecting the survivors in concentration camps designed to contain, control and even eliminate the threat of these exceptional kids. Our main character, Ruby, manages to escape. She then teams up with a group of rogue kids who travel together. What follows is a journey of learning to trust and to survive. It turns out that those two learned instincts might be the ones that get Ruby into the most trouble. 

I came across this book at BookExpo Bloggercon. Alexandra Bracken was on one of the panels I went to and a copy of her book was included in the gift bag. There was also a great book bag that says “Let’s carpe the hell out of this diem,” which I think is really funny and was one of the more notable lines in the book. 

What I liked about this book was that it was a new idea. It’s fantasy and dystopian society, but it was different from anything I’ve read recently in those categories. The characters are also detailed and not cliched. They are the mix of characters required for every group setting, but it didn’t seem like it. They are all very layered and have really great progression throughout the story. I also like how Bracken reveals information. She is good with timing. I really appreciated that I had an actual emotional reaction to some of the things the characters did. It’s been a while since I’ve been that invested in the story. 

While I’m on the subject of fantasy… I would also recommend The Name of the Star which is the first book in a series. The second one goes on sale in the fall, but I read the galley and it is quite good. These are both unique fantasy series that are super compelling. Christine (AKA PolandBananasBooks) has a really fun video about The Darkest Minds, go check it out! 

I am now embarking upon the journey (journey) that is Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Maybe I will finish it before I go to school. 

Read on!