Books and Reading: My Best Reads of 2013

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Being an English  Literature major means that I’ve begun to read some very interesting novels.

My World Lit professor this past term was very fond of European avant-garde works. We read a lot of banned books and fiction written by authors who went against convention, and in some cases, the party line, to tell their stories. I want to share a few of my favorites with you.

  1. The Master and Margarita. Mikhail Bulgakov.
    • This novel features the devil in Moscow. A thinly-veiled satirical critique of the arts society in Marxist Russia due to Lenin’s rule of “creation for support of the Communist Party” which discouraged anything that wasn’t pro-Communist. This novel is a hoot: it features not only the Devil, but his comrades are a shady jester, a human- sized smart-mouthed cat, and one of the creepiest and weirdest thugs (Azazello, the fanged man in the bowler hat) that I’ve ever encountered in fiction. True to much modernist fiction, there are subplots a-plenty, including one of the writer’s account of Pontius Pilate, a black magic theater which goes awry, and a love story between a married woman (the Margarita) and an author placed in a mental asylum for “going against the grain” (the Master). Margarita will do anything to return to her lover’s side, including making a deal with the devil. A funny and insightful novel full of hidden symbols that expose the hard life for artists in Soviet Russia.
  2. We. Yevgeny Zamyatin. 
    • Thought by many scholars of European literature to be one of the precursors to dystopian fiction, and inspired other books in the genre, such as 1984 by George Orwell. I read this book for my research essay in World Lit on the advice of my instructor, one of the professors I came to admire my first term and who came to know me well enough to know that I would like this bizarre, futuristic science fiction story. We is such a critical expose of Soviet Russia that the book would not be published there until the 1960s. The story takes place in the One State, ruled by a totalitarian figure known as the Benefactor, and aided by a KGB-type secret police called Guardians. The citizens are known ciphers and given a combination of letter and numbers for names. Imagination and dreams are considered mental illness and individuality is punishable by forced lobotomization or death. The protagonist, spaceship engineer D-503, finds himself in turmoil after meeting the revolutionary woman cipher I-330, whom he is sexually obsessed with, despite her rebellious ways. I have to say this is now one of my favorite science fiction books of all time.
  3. All Quiet on the Western Front. Erich Maria Remarque.
    • One soldiers intimate account of the horrors of World War 1, this novel was one of the first books targeted in Adolf Hitler’s book-burning campaign after he came to power. It was banned in Germany and elsewhere throughout its history of publication, sometimes for the rough interpretation of war and for language that today we would consider mild. Still, you won’t view war the same way again after reading this novel.
  4. Steppenwolf. Herman Hesse
    • A truly bizarre novel that serves as a critique of the bourgeois society. One of the many novels I read that focused on individuality and freedom of expression. Reading this novel is a treat that has to be experienced. Harry Haller calls himself The Steppenwolf, a wolf of the Steppes, a self-styled gloomy loner who is uncomfortable in society, yet suffers from intense loneliness. He believes that if he can’t find an end to his suffering before he reaches middle-age, he will commit suicide. Then he meets an oddball assortment of characters that put on a Magic Theater just for him (with the warning “Not for everybody. For madmen only”), to show him how to not take himself so seriously. Does it work? Read the novel.
  5. The Street of Crocodiles. Bruno Schulz. 
    • A  beautifully surreal, magical, and bizarrely painted portrait of childhood and memory. The ugliness of industrialization is the underlying message in this Polish masterpiece. This is not a long book, a little over one hundred pages, and if you needed to teach a lesson on what an unreliable narrator is, this is your book. Told through the eyes of a little boy, this story follows his life with his merchant father, who is dead at the end of every chapter yet alive again at the beginning of the next one. It is a tale of trauma and grief seen through the memory of a child. It is a weird, and wonderful little book.
  6. Ragtime. E.L. Doctorow. 
    • Doctorow gives us an unabashed glimpse of life in 1920s America. Early labor movements and American socialism are covered, as is the topic of race relations and the mistreatment of African Americans. Unfortunately, the film is not as good. It focuses on the racial story, but sidesteps the struggles for worker’s rights and the early feminism of characters like Emma Goldman. Nothing wrong with telling the racial story, but the other elements of the book make for a much more complete account of the complexity of the era and its subcultures, early activism and immigrant flavor in a burgeoning melting pot.
  7. Ferdydurke. Witold Gombrowicz. 
    • By far one of the strangest books I have ever read, and I’ve read a lot of strange books this past year. This is also a rare book, you might be able to get a used copy from Amazon, but you’d spend less for a new one. The plot of Ferdydurke (Polish literal translation: Thirty Door Key) is the main character’s denial of adult responsibility and the return to the devil-may-care individuality and irresponsibility of youth. The story begins when 30-year-old Joey is “abducted” by his former schoolmaster and sent back to school. He boards with a socialite family and becomes obsessed with the wealthy daughter. He has various absurd and fantastical adventures with one of his classmates. All in an attempt to deny responsibility. This book is full of funny weird prose, and plots, subplots and insanity. Two seemingly unrelated stories are tucked in, chapters 4 and 5, about  A Child in Filidor, but looking beneath the surface of them, they definitely are part of the whole. This  book wants to kick you in the ‘pupa.’ What does that mean? Read it.
  8. Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies. ed Mark C. Carnes. 
    • When you watch a Hollywood film that is “supposed” to be about an actual historical event such as Patton, Bonnie and Clyde, or Glory, how do you know if what’s on the screen is what really went down? This book of essays by historians, which was sort of a textbook used in my Film and American History class, explains the importance of knowing the difference between historical fact and creative license. Each essay breaks apart a historical film and tells you what really happened and what the producers added for “entertainment value.”

I recommend these books to any reader’s “to-read” list.

What good books have you read this past year?

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Six Degrees of Thankfulness…

Common Blackbird (Turdus merula)

Image courtesy of © mch67 – Fotolia.com

Another Thanksgiving has come and it’s time to evaluate the months gone by and give credit where it’s due.

It’s been a year of triumph and failings…I’m equally grateful for the failings because they’ve helped me to learn and grow.

Here’s my list of thankfulness:

  1. My friends. Especially you, Kathy, who helped me transition in my move from my old decrepit mobile home to my  chic antique apartment closer to school. You not only helped me to move, you provided me with lodgings at your place before the move, when I lost my AC in the trailer and was too hot to study and read material for my classes. Also, my former boss at St. Petersburg College and friend, Jessica, who helped in the move and provided me with a great reference so I could get re-hired at the college in my current position as writing tutor. My friend John, for walking me home from my night classes. Linda, former co-worker, for encouragement and coffee. My online friends, those of you I have not met, you are the best friends in the world for encouraging me. You don’t know what your support means to me. You keep me going.
  2. Chance encounters with friendly strangers. As an introvert (Jungian type INFJ, I just discovered), I don’t find talking to strangers to be that pleasurable, but I find myself doing it more often than you’d think for an introvert. I remarked to a lady at the store while picking up my pre-cooked turkey breast that I was up to my eyeballs in work for school and I could kick myself in the ass sometimes for going back to college at my age. She said “I did it, too. You can do it. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Just keep moving forward.” I don’t know who she was, but I needed to hear those words just then. So, thank you, Kind Lady.
  3. My health. Rotten as it is, I’m still alive. And there’s cause to believe it is getting better. I moved downtown not just to get closer to school, but also to get closer to shopping and all the other great things downtown has to offer. Downtown St. Petersburg is a very walkable city. I gave up my car and moved here in order to get into better shape. It’s working. Just two days ago I wore a pair of jeans that would not fit me three months ago. So yes, body, thank you for being patient with the abuse. I promise to do what I can to make it even better.
  4. My education. I know I’ll be paying for it eventually in student loan payments, but I am thankful to be learning more and more each day. I’m thankful to have the open and free use of my mind and imagination. Sadly, we have seen just this past year that there are unfortunately places still on this earth in 2013 where a woman can’t receive an education. As troublesome as America can be sometimes politically, I’m still glad I’m here. I earned my associate’s degree this year and am now working on the bachelor’s. Upward and onward. Keep moving forward. That’s the plan.
  5. Family. I know I don’t see them a lot, but I’m still glad they are there. Soon the Xmas cards will start coming and I’ll be reminded of them. I’m friends with my Aunt Leona on Facebook, so I keep in touch with her rather closer than anyone else. They are on my mind all the time and I miss them, the ones still here and the ones departed. I love and miss them all.
  6. Writing. I haven’t been writing a lot of stories lately, but boy, I’ve been writing academic papers every week. I’ve had to begin to comprise a portfolio for some of my academic work, which I may share with the online world once it’s all set up. I’ve gotten some inspiration from the Muse for some poem and short story ideas,so maybe I’ll try penning one when this  term is over.

I know there are other things I must be thankful for, but it’s going on noon on this chilly Thanksgiving day, and I have essays to write and a meal to cook and enjoy.

I wish all my friends and readers out there a very Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Chanukah, and Happy Holidays ahead in December!

Writing Prompt #56: On the Rooftop

Image by © Aaron Kohr - Fotolia.com

Image by © Aaron Kohr – Fotolia.com

Author confession time.

I’m not crazy about heights. This sort of view would  freak me the hell out. Just looking at this image makes me uncomfortable.

This week I’m offering up my acrophobia for your writing pleasure.

Come up with a tale or poem about this view…what is going on here? A jumper? Lovers enjoying a balcony scene a la Romeo and Juliet? It’s up to you.

Happy writing!

“The Apprentice’s Mother” Published in Sunday Snaps Anthology

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Sunday Snaps front cover via Chuffed Buff Books.

My latest short story “The Apprentices Mother” appears in the anthology “Sunday Snaps” published by Chuffed Buff Books. Sales from the book will go to benefit the Canadian Red Cross Homecare Services.

Susan May James of Chuffed Buff Books is the creative force behind the inspiration for “Sunday Snaps.” It got started when she started posting photos on her website as writing prompts. The image below served as the Muse for my story.

door knocker

Image courtesy of Susan May James.

Here’s the cover blurb for the project:

“This colourful and quirky collection contains short stories, flash fiction, vignettes and poetry of various styles and genres. It developed over the course of 52 weeks in 2010/2011 whereby a series of ‘Sunday Snaps’ were posted online as a creative writing exercise. Writers were invited to use the snapshots as inspirational writing prompts. The result: an eclectic assortment of light-hearted comedy, romance, dark tales, tragedy, slice-of-life stories and expressive verse. While the spires of Milan Cathedral and a café in Toronto provide the backdrop to romance, elsewhere a marriage is arranged, children grapple with loss, and a woman rushes to the side of a life-long friend. With a bit of French cuisine, a spiteful kitty, a mother’s pact with the devil, a birthday kiss and a dash of supernatural revenge, this unique collection offers a tale for all! Stories and poetry by: Sam Adamson, Kim Bannerman, Cath Barton, Dominique Boller, Juliet Boyd, Jodi Cleghorn, Sandra Davies, Miriam Dunn, Rebecca Emin, Annie Evett, Stacey Faulkner, Wendy Ann Greenhalgh, D A Volpe Herskowitz, Stephen Hewitt, A J Humpage, Steve Isaak, Mandy K James, Susan May James, Maria Kelly, Mari Lee Kozlowski, Lisamarie Lamb, Shannon Lawrence, Tyrean Martinson, Tony Noland, Linda Olson, Roslyn Ross, Tony Schumacher, and Ren Thompson. Proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to Canadian Red Cross Homecare Services. For details on the Canadian Red Cross, or to donate without purchasing a book, please click: Canadian Red Cross Homecare Services.”

You can order the print edition from Amazon.com at:  http://www.amazon.com/Sunday-Snaps-Susan-May-James/dp/190885801X/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1368636263&sr=8-3&keywords=Sunday+Snaps.

And you can get it from Amazon.ca at http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/190885801X/sr=8-1/qid=1368636517/ref=olp_product_details?ie=UTF8&me=&qid=1368636517&seller=&sr=8-1

If you’re in the UK, it can be found at Book Depository…they offer FREE WORLDWIDE delivery: http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Sunday-Snaps-Stories-Susan-May-James/9781908858016

Also for readers living in the UK, it can also be ordered online at Foyles for in-store pickup or for delivery: http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/sunday-snaps-the-stories,james-susan-may-9781908858016

And, of course, It can be ordered from the Chuffed Buff Books website – http://www.chuffedbuffbooks.com/bookshop/sunday-snaps-the-stories/.

Susan May James from Chuffed Buff Books has said that the kindle edition is in progress and will be available in the future.

Writing Prompt #55: What Are You Lookin’ At?

© Benji87 - Fotolia.com

© Benji87 – Fotolia.com

“Yeah, you just aim them peepers somewhere’s else, bub. That’s it, keep walkin.’ Nuttin’ to see here. Oh hey, you gots food? Hey, come back here, I’m talkin’ to ya’s!”

Your job this week is to write a story, poem, whatever you like about this inquisitive-looking seagull.

As always, if you do come up with something inspired by this prompt (and I hope you do) and you post it on your blog, please come back and let me know. I’d love to read it!

Happy writing!

More Resolutions

I posted a status to Facebook that people liked about some more 2013 Resolutions that occurred to me. I’m going to re-post that here.

More ressies:

  1. Write. For me. Write the stuff that makes me happy. The rest will follow.
  2. Take care of #1, because no one else has my back but me.
  3. Stop caring what other people think. Individuality has always been under attack in our cookie-cutter, white-picket fence nation. So I will embrace individuality and paint big, red anarchist A’s all over conventions and norms, because deep down we’re all individuals and society will never change that, no matter how much they try. As an artist, I am always and forever outside the tight lines they draw and serve to remind others how constricting it is inside the box. Give them the keys to free themselves. The keys are words.
  4. Keep breathing and keeping it real. Keeping it real is important. Breathing, even more so.

Also, I’m setting a new reading goal with Goodreads to try and read 50 books. I almost accomplished that last year. Here’s to reading! 😀

A love of reading.

A love of reading.

2013: Adaptations

© Redshinestudio - Fotolia.com

© Redshinestudio – Fotolia.com

Here we are, this year coming to a close and staring down the barrel of a new one.

2012 was a great year. Many good things happened. I won some awards both for academics and for writing. I didn’t publish as many short stories, but I feel like the ones I did publish were better stories. I got paid for my first story, Nowhere Land, and that story got some great reviews. I had my first reprint: my story The ABCs of the Apocalypse was reprinted in The Best of Friday Flash, Volume 2. I had a vampire story, The Bloodletter’s Tale, published in the Flashes in the Dark e-zineI have a story called The Apprentice’s Mother, being published in the Sunday Snaps anthology soon.

I ventured into journalism, writing a story for the school online newspaper about President Obama’s visit to one of our campuses.

I was nominated by my school for the All Florida Academic Team. I had a short story win two academic awards.

I did not do everything I planned to do in 2012. I’m still working on getting my book of short stories finished and out there in the world.

That being said, my list for 2013 contains some items of old business.

There are also some major changes in store for me in 2013, some life adaptations that I’ll be making. But as a friend of mine, Sophie Solitaire once told me: “You have to adapt or you will die.” Sophie is a character in my post-apocalyptic story Sophie Solitaire: Confessions of an End-Time Girl. 

2013 Goals:

Writing/Publishing Goals:

Kill the Crow — Get the stories that are going in it finished, get them all assembled in anthology format and find beta readers for the book. Find out how I can publish to both Smashwords and Amazon. If anyone reading this can help me with beta reading or publishing suggestions, please comment. I need all the help I can get.

Quellseek: Army of Empaths, Book 1 — This is the novel I started for NaNoWriMo this year. I want to finish it and let it sit for a bit before I start editing. I’ve also begun note-taking and planning the second book of the series: Blood War. 

Blood War: Army of Empaths, Book 2 — The second book of Army of Empaths. I won’t give too much away, but Quellseek ends with some cliffhanger stuff. I want to start work on Blood War right way, while the momentum and juices are still hot and flowing.

Army of Empaths, Book 3 — I want to begin planning what’s going to happen in the 3rd book while I’m writing the 2nd book, taking notes as I go along on anything that might be a loose end that would need wrapping up. We don’t like loose ends.

Short stories  — I’d like to get some short stories written, I don’t know if I’ll have time. If I get invited to write another eMergent story, I’d definitely say ‘yes.’ I love working with Jodi Cleghorn and the eMergent crew.

I’m also planning a children’s fantasy about a dragon princess, but it’s just in the beginning/tinkering stages right now. And I’m playing with the idea of putting  a volume of poetry together.

The Were-Travler My first year as a fiction magazine publisher went pretty smoothly. Ever since the mag was listed on Duotropes, the submissions have been pouring in. It may be that I’ll need someone to help me with it eventually, but I’m having a lot of fun with it and definitely plan to keep it going.

Academic Goals:

Find a new school. In May, I will receive my Associates degree. I need to make up my mind about what university I’m going to attend to get my Bachelors. I need to make this decision soon. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve applied for some scholarships, we’ll see what happens. 

Awards. I’m trying to get another short story ready for Phi Theta Kappa Regional Awards for this year. I’m also entering a poem.

Survive Spanish 2. I need to pass this class in the Spring. It will count toward my BA. I haven’t been able to practice my Spanish much since I took Spanish 1 in the summer, so this will be hard. I may have to get a tutor. 😦

This is what I hope to accomplish for 2013. If I can achieve a fraction of it, I’ll be happy.

I wish everyone a successful and happy new year ahead!