Literary News | Confessions, Harper Lee, Little Women

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Enough About Me (The Atlantic)
“For a growing number of essayists, memoirists, and other wielders of the unwieldy ‘I,’ confessional has become an unwelcome label—an implicit accusation of excessive self-absorption, of writing not just about oneself but for oneself.” When personal revelations turn into desperate confessions, do essays and memoirs still have a place on our shelves?

Harper Lee’s Abandoned True Crime Novel (The New Yorker)
For over 40 years, the Radney family has been awaiting the release of Harper Lee’s book, detailing an Alabama murder trial. They’ve yet to give up hope.

Why Can’t A Smart Woman Love Fashion” (Elle)
As written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “A fellow aspiring writer said of one faculty member, ‘Look at that dress and makeup! You can’t take her seriously.’ I thought the woman looked attractive, and I admired the grace with which she walked in her heels. But I found myself quickly agreeing. Yes, indeed, one could not take this author of three novels seriously, because she wore a pretty dress and two shades of eye shadow.”

There is a ‘Little Women’ Remake in the Works (Elle)
Here’s to hopping Meryl Strep somehow finds herself on this screen.

Female Thor is outselling the Old Thor by 30 percent (The Verge)
“…despite the protests of some angered comic book readers who vocally opposed the new superhero lead when the news was announced last summer.”

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How to Talk to a Hunter

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We receive our relationship advice from friends and pop psychology books. We compare our past relationships to our current relationships. And we reduce genders to stereotypes, hoping to justify our partner’s behavior.

Pam Houston’s “How to Talk to a Hunter“, is a critic of our relationship culture. It reads like an article from Cosmo that would be torn out of a magazine, found posted on the wall of a twentysomething-year-old. The sentences are simply stated. Dictating scenarios, which are universally recognizable.

 “He’ll say he’s just scared and confused. Of course this isn’t exactly what he means. Tell him you understand. Tell him you are scared too. Tell him to take all the time he needs.”

But, this isn’t a Cosmo article. You’ll find yourself falling for these short, static sentences because of all that resides behind those words. There is “some significance implied beneath the surface of the flatness,” as stated by Vikram Chandra, “It is not about what you say. It is about what you leave out- and the intelligent reader will be able to sense the weight of all that’s been omitted.”

Houston provides us with precise vivid details, which propel the story forward. The woman clings onto the fact that her lover refuses to use “gender determining pronouns” when describing a visiting friend. And a tin of candy is turned into a grotesque representation of the couple’s relationship.

What’s most powerful about this piece is that we, the reader, are at the center of this relationship. Houston uses second person point of view to draw the reader into the torment. Like the narrator, we are willingly subjecting ourselves to emotional destruction.

The question is why. The narrator is keenly aware that her significant other is cheating, but she continues to see him. She continues to play the role of the doleful submissive female, which can be hunted and preyed upon. Is it his fault for cheating, or is it her fault for staying and allowing his behavior to persist?

 “Your best female friend will say, “They lie to us, they cheat on us, and we love them more for it.” She’ll say, “It’s our fault; we raise them to be like that.”
Tell her it can’t be your fault. You’ve never raised anything but dogs.

Houston calls into question the roles of men and women in relationships. Critiquing what we have been told to tolerate and expect. The story has a lyrical quality. It is filled with rhythmic parallelism, which becomes entrancing, reflecting the feeling of being trapped in an unhealthy relationship.

How to Talk to a Hunter is a guide on how to exercise control in a situation where you feel utterly powerless. It is told by someone completely relatable, but entirely unreliable.

Celebrating Women’s History Month One Book at a Time

How many books have you read by female authors?

It’s International Women’s Day and though we should be reading books by female authors every month of the year, we now have the perfect excuse to read a few more. Below I’ve created a list of some of my favorite books by female writers and have also included a list of authors I intend to read this month.

My challenge to you should be quite simple. Chose a female author whose work you already admire or who you’ve yet to be introduced to. Let everyone know what you’re reading in the comment section below. This way we can share and discover new inspiring work!

Let’s celebrate Women’s History Month by honoring some amazing female authors!

 

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

Like the main character Elly, I read this story when I was a freshman in college living in New York City. The novel is semi-autobiographical, which spans a six month time period, focusing on Plath’s twentieth year. It covers her spiraling mental illness, but presents it in such a way that you may find yourself questioning your own sanity.

 

Play it As it Lays, Joan Didion

Joan Didion is a renowned writer and public figure that has served as the inspiration for many contemporary authors. This particular story is one of her fiction pieces, which covers the life of a California socialite struggling with her acting career and recovering from a mental breakdown. Didion is also well known for her nonfiction pieces and essay collections such as, Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The Year of Magical Thinking.

 

How to Build a Girl, Caitlin Moran

Another semi-autobiographical book, How to Build a Girl, chronicles the life of a blunt, fast-talking teenager from the outskirts of London. We follow her into adulthood as she learns some of the more brutal facts about life. Recommended for fans of Lena Dunham or Miranda July.

 To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

This is a classic by a brilliant and timeless author. It’s a modernist novel with stream-of-consciousness style of writing, which allows the reader to really delve into the minds of the characters. We follow the lives of the Ramsay family and their visitors over the course of 10 years. This is a book that begs to be read more than once, and each time you do you’ll surly discover something new.

NW, Zadie Smith

“A word can paint a thousand pictures.” I could not afford to set down my pen while reading NW. I found myself constantly jotting down quotes and re-reading passages, which were written so perfectly and expressed so much truth. Smith is a brilliant writer and you couldn’t go wrong with any of her stories.

 

— More Female Authors —

 

Sweetness

 

 

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Are we to blame a mother for mistreating a child, if the mother had honest intentions? Are we to blame a child for refusing to speak to her mother years after the mistreatment has occurred? These are questions that arise in Toni Morrison’s new short story, “Sweetness,” published in the New Yorker this February.

Structured in the form of a plea, Sweetness is begging for forgiveness. But from whom, we’re not sure. One answer is to argue that she is begging for forgiveness from the daughter she mistreated. The other answer is a bit more ambiguous.

To further complicate this issue, Morrison douses familial disputes within the context of race, as it applies to society in both past and present generations. Morrison addresses race in America, not just between blacks and whites, but also within the black community. She traces these grievances through generations, examining the impact of race on how individuals view themselves. The psychological ramifications of racism transcend generations, and Morrison makes this clear within the context of one family.

We have a grandmother who, due to her lighter skin, chose to pass as a white individual. We see the mother, who could also pass as white, but chooses not to and pays a price for that decision. And we have the narrator, also with light skin, who gives birth to a child that is “midnight black, Sudanese black.” Morrison traces the thoughts of a mother attempting to justify and rationalize the disdain she felt for her child from the moment she was born. As if shunning her daughter was a form of protection.

“I wasn’t a bad mother, you have to know that, but I may have done some hurtful things to my only child because I had to protect her. Had to. All because of skin privileges.”

The mother’s actions are contemptible, but they are clouded in an ignorance that is fueled by truth. It is true that the color of ones skin meant justifiable mistreatment and oppression. It is true that we still live in a society where the amount of pigment in ones skin is an excuse to view them with contempt.

But, as Morrison pointed out, societies perceptions are improving albeit slowly. “…she needn’t worry like I did. Things have changed a mite from when I was young. Blue-blacks are all over TV, in fashion magazines, commercials, even starring in movies.”

Opinions will only truly change once we sever the negative perceptions we have of one another, and of ourselves. That is the plea I believe Sweetness is making. A plea for our views to adapt. So other mother’s need not be concerned that their children will never be fully appreciated due to the color of their skin.

A Year in Words

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2014 was the year I realized my love for language and my fascination with how it can be crafted and constructed. This was the year I realized that my desire to spend hours in the library voraciously reading was not merely a hobby. This was the same year that I looked back upon countless journals with renewed interest. And it was the same year that I realized my most used app was the one for Dictionary.com.

So I began this blog, admittedly with no clear direction, but truly with one goal: to write and to write well. I cannot say with one hundred percent certainty whether I have met this goal, but I can honestly say I am enjoying the process. And I look forward to continuing this process into 2015.

To recap the year, I decided to share a few articles and books that greatly contributed to my realization. These works dutifully detail the craft of writing and reading in a way that I hope inspires others.

I regrettably stumbled upon the “By Heart” series mid-way through 2014. I say regrettably simply because I am upset for not discovering it sooner. Each month The Atlantic featured interviews from prominent authors detailing their love for the craft of writing, all the while bestowing wisdom for us to dwell upon and hopefully put to good use, as these authors certainly managed to do.

Fortunately, The Atlantic was privy to the fact that there would be readers only recently discovering the series, so they’ve provided a summary for 2014. The summary, “How to Write: A Year in Advice from David Mitchell, Yiyun Li, and More,” included highlights from interviews, each of which is humorously enlightening and effortlessly inspiring. The authors so graciously provided insight into their writing habits and philosophies, which not only benefits aspiring writers, but anyone looking for greater insight into the complexities of language and critical thinking.

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Towards the end of 2014 I also had the pleasure of reading Stephen King’s On Writing, in which he detailed his experiences with publishing and shared his wisdom on the process of crafting stories. He managed to convey powerfully inspiring information in such an upbeat, casual tone, that it felt as if you were receiving a private lesson right in your living room. For those interested in the process of writing, King’s On Writing comes highly recommended.

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On the same note, avid readers and those aiming to read more critically (in hopes of bettering their own writing) should also try Francine Prose’s Reading Like a WriterThis book comes riddled with passages from acclaimed works presented in a critically engaging manner. She delves into essays by Virginia Woolf and novels by James Joyce, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, among others, to explain their exceptional use of literary concepts.

It is evident that the works of these selected authors genuinely fascinate Prose, and her earnestness carries the reader through to the books conclusion. She gives us the tools to recognize their prowess; whether we can replicate them as poignantly is another story.

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Not That Kind of Girl

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We seek validity, affirmation, and a sense of truth wherever we can. When we’re young we look for it in the comfort of our parents; believing their presence can calm all worries and their words can sooth all pain. Growing older we seek understanding in the relationships we create, and in the ones we lose.

This quest for understanding is the crux of Lena Dunham’s new memoir, “Not That Kind of Girl.” Riddled with passages detailing sexual escapades, crudely juxtaposed against essays detailing an innocent, yet privileged childhood. Dunham’s memoir provides a holistic account of a young woman’s life that is both relatable and painstakingly unique.

As a twentysomething myself, and an avid fan of Dunham’s work as the writer, director, executive producer, and actress on Girls, I ardently awaited the release of her memoir. I would also be amiss if I were not to point out the string of controversy surrounding these essays. Since the release of her work, Dunham has been accused of sexually abusing her sister and criticized for not reporting a rape—one in which she was the alleged victim. Though I have to admit, this influx of accusations further fueled my desire to read Dunham’s work.

Dunham immediately throws the reader into her life with an essay titled, “Take My Virginity (No, Really, Take It).” Surprisingly enough, this was one of the more ‘innocent’, relatable stories. College student goes to a party, meets a guy at the party, has sex with said guy, later learns that the guy is gay… oh wait. Another Dunham curveball. You’ll find these curveballs carefully peppered throughout the memoir. But what one may label as a curveball, another may simply call life.

The entire first section of the book is devoted to love and sex (and every section thereafter if I’m being honest). But Dunham does incorporate a few stories recounting her youth, which provide some much needed perspective.

“I had a lucky little girlhood. It wasn’t always easy to live inside my brain, but I had a family that loved me, and we didn’t have to worry about much except what gallery to go to on Sunday and whether or not my child psychologist was helping with my sleep issues.” Embedded midway, this passage encapsulates the entire premise of the memoir: a young woman, with a privileged childhood, attempts to navigate life by throwing herself into the arms of others hoping their lives and experiences will give credence to her own.

Yet, somewhere through all of this yearning and confusion emerged a woman who can look back on her life with clarity. And I believe that is something we all strive for. We all hope that the madness of our experiences or even the mundane routines of lives will contribute to a greater sense of self.

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At the age of 28, Dunham has lived through experiences that have undoubtedly shaped her sense of self. She should certainly be lauded for her ability to gain a greater perspective and for sharing her insight so that as readers we can put our own lives into context.

“There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman.” Does Dunham realize that she is talking about herself?

“As hard as we have worked and as far as we have come, there are still so many forces conspiring to tell women that our concerns are petty, our opinions aren’t needed, that we lack the gravitas necessary for our stories to matter.”

Dunham’s story does matter. Though everyone may not find her stories relatable, that is often the case with personal memoirs. Dunham is completely herself and we cannot blame her for being unabashedly her. It is quite admirable, some may even say inspiring.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

On the subject of love, I don’t quite understand what it is. I don’t think anyone ever truly understands what love is until they’ve experienced it. And even then, who’s to say your experience of love is the same as anyone else’s experience with love.

When you ask someone who’s never been in love to answer the question, what is love? You’ll often receive a response that’s simply a reflection of what they’ve read in a book or seen in a movie. That love is a thousand splendid suns or comparable to a summer day- whatever that means.

As someone who has never experienced love, the descriptions I hold onto the most are the simplest. Love being the way they look when they wake up in the morning. The way they walk into a room. Or my favorite, love existing as an emotional tether–

“It’s that thing when you’re with someone, and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it but it’s a party and you’re both talking to other people, and you’re laughing and shining and you look across the room and catch each other’s eyes but – but not because you’re possessive, or it’s precisely sexual but because that is your person in this life. And it’s funny and sad, but only because this life will end, and it’s this secret world that exists right there in public, unnoticed, that no one else knows about. It’s sort of like how they say that other dimensions exist all around us, but we don’t have the ability to perceive them. That’s – That’s what I want out of a relationship. Or just life, I guess.” (Frances Ha)

And I just finished reading this piece by Raymond Carver, an expert from What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. And it was perfect because it captured many facets of love in their simplest form. It questioned the various ways in which we love. Because my expression of love may not be the same as yours, but it doesn’t mean I love you any less. It captured the fleeting nature of love and how love can turn into hate without consent.

This vignette was necessary because it paradoxically talks about our inability to properly talk about love. Yes, we can attempt to describe a moment or shed light on an instance, but that only takes us so far. And no analogy or metaphor can properly replicate this emotion.

So what are we talking about when we talk about love? According to Carver, no one truly knows. But if admitting our ignorance means that we are on the path to understanding, then surely we’ll figure it out.

All Eyes are on Ferguson Tonight

Suppose there had been silence in Ferguson. Instead of violence, from both protestors and law enforcement, imagine that there had been complete and utter silence.

But, had there been silence in Ferguson, there would have been silence across the nation.

Systemic oppression would have persisted unnoticed. And the life of an innocent boy would have remained unknown.

Though I do not agree with the violence and destruction of property, I understand why it is occurring. When you have been routinely silenced and oppressed, moments such as this should be seized.

Ferguson, you have our attention.

I See How it Can Happen: Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Originally published on Medium.

Descending down the staircase of yet another party, the only discernible difference between this place and the last was that I gripped the railing a little longer, stumbled a little harder.

There is the same student-come-DJ, standing behind a Mac, hitting shuffle on an iTunes playlist. And the same shelves lined with empty bottles, broadcasting expensive names.

Glancing around, the division is apparent. Those who are sober, those who are drunk- and those feigning sobriety to win the trust of the drunkest. The latter, are often the guys hosting the party, looking to lay claim to the drunkest girls they can find. Leaning their weight against the wall, as if their sheer presence were embedded in the foundation. As if we would all crumble without them.

But then, there they are, short dresses, smoky eyes, and salacious grins. Yearning for recognition from the ones holding up the wall- unaware of possible dangers.

Dangers that have become ever more apparent.

Standing along the stairs, looking down at a party filled with college students like myself, I see how it can happen.

I notice the girl standing in a circle with friends, drink in hand, precariously bringing it to her lips, and forcing a smile, as if a swig of Captain Moran didn’t burn her throat. And I see as she later stumbles back to the bar for another cup, unaware of the guy along the wall who has been counting each drink.

I understand how it can happen.

It’s been a long week and you finally get the chance to go out with friends. The thought of crowding into yet another hot, smoky basement doesn’t sound very appealing. But, the thought of a few shots and dancing away stress, trumps all else.

Plus, it’s your right. As college students we have the right to walk into a party, have a good time with friends, and leave the same as when we entered. Both males and females alike.

But why is that not happening? Why is one gender being targeted? Leaving a party, not as a student, but as a survivor of sexual assault. And why are Universities not taking it upon themselves to ensure justice is served?

We’re living in a society that prioritizes punishing academic cheaters, rather than sexual assailants. This recent Rolling Stones article concerning the gang rape of a freshman student, as well as all schools under Title IV investigation, are finally shedding light on an issue that has been flying under the radar for far too long.

Entering my freshman year, I naively thought that assaults on campus were not happening. That date-rape drugs were only present on TV shows from the 90s. That sexual predators were strangers hiding in dark alleys.

Two years later and I have the insight to know I was wrong. The stories emerging from student victims have left me terrified and confused. But most pressingly, they have left me outraged.

Knowing that other students are entering their freshman years with wide eyes and innocent mindsets leaves me concerned for their safety. Knowing that the University would make their lives hell if an assault were reported, leaves me infuriated.

A Universities refusal to properly handle these cases is a reflection of the morals and standards of our society. A society that abhors rapes occurring in other countries, yet sits by idly while it happens on our own soil. And our refusal to demand repercussions allows the system to persist.

Now, this isn’t me telling you to write a strongly worded letter to your local congressman demanding change (though I won’t protest), this is me asking why, and in turn, requesting you to ask why.

Why the hell are these assaults occurring? Why the hell is no action being taken?

A slap on the wrist in the form of a semester-long suspension is not action. Mandatory counseling for the assailant is not action. A victim should not walk into class the next week and see their assailant sitting in his seat, as if nothing ever happened. Universities should not silence the victim’s voice to protect the schools funding or reputation. The victim should never feel as if their voice is not being heard.

If their voices are being stifled, then we need to raise ours.

 

Writing for Clarity

Recently, I was on the phone with my brother discussing my life —particularly how I have absolutely no idea what I want to do with it. In the midst of my rambling, he stopped me and said, “I know what you’re saying, but you have no idea what you’re saying.” This was so painfully true.

The answer is there, but it is simply muffled behind a wall of confusion that my mind is preventing me from interpreting. My brother’s advice was that I stop simply thinking about what I want, and actually write it down.

We need to get out of our heads.

“I don’t know what I’m thinking, until I read what I said,” declared Faulkner* This is the idea of codifying to find clarity.

Reflect back on your years of schooling when every teacher and professor emphasized the importance of rereading your essays to check for errors. Many even took this a step further and urged us to read our papers out loud. These are methods that should still be in practice. But now, instead of reviewing an essay for english class, we’re reviewing an outline for an idea or a proposal for a five year plan. The stakes are higher. The need to write is higher.

Thinking about thinking is incredibly inefficeient. It is not until we express these thoughts in a tangible way that real progress is made.

Take what’s in your head, throw it on paper, then read it with fresh eyes.

Codifying our thoughts provides objectivity. There is a bit of dissociation between yourself and words that you’ve written or spoken. Once they’re out in the open, we are able to examine them from a different perspective. And it is this distance that will allow us to work through confusion- and maybe even reach a conclusion.

*as cited in On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis