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Santa Barbara, California and OCD Lectures on Reading the Right Way

People love literature. People love traveling. These are not odd things to grow a fancy for. Many of my friends and family, however, have found my interest with literature and traveling together to be a peculiar obsession. To me, though, the connection of these two things makes perfect sense and to be honest, I find it somewhat peculiar that more people aren’t obsessed with the idea.

This past Tuesday I traveled to Santa Barbara, California and spent two days there. Initially, the reputation of the Santa Barbara beaches fed my skepticism for SB as an ideal reading environment. But what I quickly realized was that I had traveled there during the week (which I had never done before) and the beach that I remember so dearly as a crowded, college-kid-infested sand box, was actually void of all potential reading-ruiners and was fairly empty, quiet and peaceful, much like the best beach on planet earth, Manhattan Beach.

West Beach in Santa Barbara is attached to the Santa Barbara Harbor where you can treat your eyes to the view of many beautiful boats on the water (not to mention it’s a pretty solid spot to pick up on some surfer eye-candy or if you’re lucky, even live out the ultimate fantasy of finding a fellow beach bum bibliophile to woo). While on this vacation I read John Green’s Paper Towns, which happened to be a great book for this particular location. It made me want to do adventurous things like run in the water with my jeans on, despite my very strong preference of dry clothes. I also had a strong urge to go ask the cute guy if I could hitch a ride on his boat, but alas, my awkward social skills in the face of good-looking men seemed to cloud my underlying charm yet again.

Okay, okay, getting back to my point before. Every reading experience is far different from the next. Thus, how could one possibly imagine reading every piece of wonderfully crafted literature in the same place? A place such as: my couch. “Your couch” is the perfect reading environment for a SUITABLE piece of literature like, say: a textbook. If you are reading anything BUT a textbook on your couch, I call this unacceptable and I dub you the Queen or King of Choosing Crappy Reading Locations. Take that title and stomp on it. Tell me I’m wrong. Go explore. Expand your creative capacities, your adventurous mind. You see, how could I possibly expect my John Krakauer Into the Wild reading experience to reach its full potential unless I give it the nature-filled environment that it deserves? If I am reading a suspenseful thriller, like one of Stephen King’s, I would need to read this in a completely different place than a romance, like Gillian Flynn’s (haha…ha…heh…). The best way to paint a picture of this: you wouldn’t watch a scary movie during the day with all the lights on and the volume low while you surf the web for funny memes. This would ruin the entire suspenseful and frightening experience. If you’ve done this: Congratulations, you’ve ruined, RUINED a perfectly good scary movie AND the opportunity to, for the following week, see a death ghost every time you close your eyes and run full speed into every room in your house because something may be following you. No, you would watch this movie correctly, with all the lights off. You would watch it at midnight. You would watch it by yourself. And you would watch it with the volume cranked all the way up. Only then do you get the best scary movie watching experience complete with scary ghost faces on the backs of your eyelids and one-man stampedes from the bathroom to your bedroom. This is the way I feel about reading. Books MUST be read in the right environment.

A Look Into the Typical Bibliophile’s Handbag

One of the best ways to discover who a person really is, is to see what they carry around with them every day. Peek into a bibliophile’s handbag and you will most likely find a book, a journal, a unique writing utensil, and many receipts from coffee shops. Today, we take a look at the typical bibliophile’s daily essentials.

1. Leather Journal- this particular leather journal was designed and made in Italy and can be found at Barnes and Noble. It contains 106 lined pages.

2. Pen or Pencil- a writer doesn’t use just any pen or pencil. Most writers use a pen or pencil that means something to them–their favorite pen or pencil. The ones I always use are my wooden pencil (there’s nothing really special about this pencil, I just like the way it looks) and my Sharpie pen, which usually lends the most comfortable fit for my fingers as well as my neatest handwriting. I recommend this pen and pencil for anyone who enjoys writing.

3. Sunglasses- because let’s face it, if you’re reading or writing, you’re probably outside.

4. Cell Phone- so you can check up on your favorite blog, The Daily Bibliophile.

5. 642 Things to Write About– this inspiring journal by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, published by Chronicle Books has helped me through many “writer’s block” moments.

6. Books I’ve Read– this adorable and nifty journal published by Potter Style (an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House) is my favorite book to jot down my personal book reviews and an excellent way to keep track of all the books I’ve read.

7. Letters to my Future Self– this book published by Chronicle Books contains 12 pages that take the form of old fashioned letters (complete with old mailing stickers), the perfect way for anyone to get that feeling of nostalgia while writing their own personal time capsules.

Of course there are many more nifty items that we bibliophiles carry around with us most days, but these are current favorites of mine. What are your favorite bookish things that you take with you everywhere?

On Writing

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”

-Benjamin Franklin

Writing is often a cure-all, a prescription for life. I believe that everyone should write often no matter who they are. Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, always write.

Writing helps us understand life. Often what we can’t understand becomes completely clear once we start writing about it. It is miraculous. When we write we discover things we never would have when using only our brains. Sometimes we have to stop thinking and let our fingers do the work for us. And even if we believe that our writing is irrelevant, what we have to say is important to somebody out there. What you have to say is exactly what someone else needs to hear, and no one should deprive the world of their knowledge and insight.

My favorite writers are the ones who can take something seemingly insignificant or minuscule and make it into a profound story and something we can ponder for days after reading it. If Jane Austen or George Orwell or F. Scott Fitzgerald, or any of the big classics writers would have resisted writing because they found their stories insignificant, they would have deprived us of the beautiful art we get to enjoy today.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from writers about writing.

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” – Octavia Butler

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”  – Maya Angelou

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” – Ray Bradbury

“If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.” – Ray Bradbury

“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of. ” – Joss Whedon

“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” – E.L. Doctorow

“If a story is in you, it has got to come out.” – William Faulkner

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway

“You can make anything by writing.” – C.S. Lewis

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” – Ernest Hemingway

“A word after a word after a word is power.” – Margaret Atwood

“Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.” – Neil Gaiman

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” – Jack London

“So what? All writers are lunatics!” – Cornelia Funke

A Vacation for the Penniless

For those of us who don’t have time or can’t afford to travel to beautiful coastlines over the summer, we are forced to stay cooped up in our homes and daydream about residing elsewhere for a brief time. There are, however, many things we can do to make our stays at home feel a little more like vacation.

1. First and most important, choose a book to read. A few that are on my summer reading list are: The Hobbit (second time reading) and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (which I bought one hundred years ago and never got around to reading it), and The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (which I bought two hundred years ago and never got around to reading it). I am still adding to this list and am open to many suggestions.

2. Gather a collection of all your favorite fruits. Watermelon and pineapple scream summer vacation.

3. Make gourmet lemonade (I actually just made regular powdered lemonade, but for purposes of feeling more tropical, I pretended like I was a professional lemonade maker . . . and honestly, it could have passed for something gourmet with how delicious it was).

4. Occupy a body of water. For most of us broke writers, this will be a pool in someone’s backyard (it would probably be better if you know the person).

Although I am a faithful lover of all things winter and cold weather, summer lends us this wonderful opportunity to relax and start crossing titles off our reading lists. We introverted winter lovers need to stop being so stubborn and embrace the warmth that makes us want to do nothing but read.

First Words

We’re always waiting to hear what a baby’s first words will be. We repeat words to them over and over in an attempt to get them to speak. The anticipation causes us to open our ears every time this child makes even a small noise. We wait with our video cameras and when that first word finally exits the baby’s mouth and makes its way through the air and into our ears, we celebrate and we make it known to everyone out there that our child has spoken his first words ever. We make note of this moment so that when the child grows up, we can replay all of it.

Usually, every baby’s first words will sound the same, and will follow the universal uttering that resembles “mom” or “dad.” But there are always those babies who like to show the others up and stray from the repetitive first words that are “ma-ma” and “da-da.” One baby, for instance, the son of a basketball coach, will utter the first word, “ball,” likely lowering his parents’ self-esteem at the thought of their first child being more influenced by a big orange circle than Ma-ma and Da-da. Or perhaps this will intrigue and excite them. Perhaps they will try to get him to say the word a few more times. “Ball.”

A while back I was watching a movie that would later become one of my favorite movies. Released in 2012, Stuck in Love, written and directed by Josh Boone, contains some of my favorite quotes about writing, about love, and about life. During a scene in this movie, published author Bill Borgens gets caught reading through his son’s journal:

Bill Borgens: Okay, okay. I wasn’t reading your journal. I… I flipped it open to check the dates like I always do and something jumped out at me and-and-and grabbed me. I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry.

Rusty Borgens: What?

Bill Borgens: May I?

“I remember that it hurt. Looking at her hurt.”

That’s it. If that was the opening line of a book, you’d have your reader hooked. They would have to keep reading. I had to keep reading. Sorry.

Rusty’s first lines of his journal entry, “I remember that it hurt. Looking at her hurt,” are also the opening lines of the movie, which conveniently proved Bill’s claims that he “had to keep reading,” because I had to keep watching.

Firsts are everything to us. First words, first lines of books, movies, plays. For us, this is what determines whether or not we will keep reading, keep watching, or in the baby’s case, whether we will beam with pride at our child’s first words or laugh from embarrassment and lie to our friends and family when they ask what he or she said.

First lines of books have always interested me. I wonder what the writer was thinking when he or she wrote them, if they intended for those words to actually be the first words, or how many times they may have attempted to perfect this particular sequence of words to ultimately create the beautifully strung first sentence of the book that has kept the world reading for years and years.

Often when trying to convince someone to read one of our favorite books, we will use the settlement of, “Just read the first chapter. Then, if you still don’t like it, you don’t have to read it.” We say this because we know it will usually work. Because if the first words, the first few sentences, or the first chapter are anything odd, peculiar, or profound, the rest of the book will likely be finished. Here are some of the first lines of books that rarely get the credit they deserve and perhaps are the things that have contributed most to the book’s success.

1. George Orwell- 1984

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

2. Jane Austen- Pride and Prejudice

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

3. Herman Melville- Moby Dick

“Call me Ishmael.”

4. Sylvia Plath- The Bell Jar

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”

5. F. Scott Fitzgerald- The Great Gatsby

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”

6. Franz Kafka- The Metamorphoses

“When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed into a monstrous vermin.”

7. J.R.R. Tolkien- The Hobbit

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

8. Charlotte Bronte- Jane Eyre

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.”

9. Harper Lee- To Kill a Mockingbird

“When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.”

10. Ray Bradbury- Fahrenheit 451

“It was a pleasure to burn.”

11. Lewis Carroll- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, `and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice `without pictures or conversation?’”

12. J.D. Salinger- The Catcher in the Rye

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

13. Leo Tolstoy- Anna Karenina

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

14. Charles Dickens- A Tale of Two Cities

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

15. Fyodor Dostoyevsky- Notes from Underground

“I am a sick man . . . I am a wicked man.”

16. Joseph Heller- Catch 22

“It was love at first sight.”

17. J.K. Rowling- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

“Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

18. Emily Bronte- Wuthering Heights

“I have just returned from a visit to my landlord–the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with.”

19. Mary Shelley- Frankenstein

“You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.”

What are some of your favorite first lines?

Seeking Solitude

  
Happy End of May, Readers!

During the month of June, I encourage everyone to embrace solitude and to explore more. I get some of my best reading and writing done when I leave my house without thinking about where I’m going and simply go. Solitude brings out profound ideas in us that we may have never thought of when surrounded by other minds of distraction. Of course our biggest supporter of solitude is the lovely Emily Dickinson. Many of Emily Dickinson’s poems dealt with her isolation from the rest of the world and even more intriguing, her preference of isolation. If we look up the word ‘solitude’ in the online dictionary, it says:

Solitude

[sol-i-tood, -tyood]

noun

1. Emily Dickinson

2. the state of being or living alone; seclusion: to enjoy one’s solitude.

3. remoteness from habitations, as of a place; absence of human activity: the solitude of the mountains.

4. a lonely, unfrequented place: a solitude in the mountains.

Okay, so this particular website doesn’t actually define solitude as Emily Dickinson. But, the very fact that it gives us this example of the word: enjoying one’s solitude, tells us that Dickinson is exactly that: one who enjoys her solitude.

In one of her most famous poems, I’m Nobody! Who are you?, she makes this love of loneliness very clear.

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

Dickinson may be a little more extreme than most of us in her love of isolation and “Nobodyness,” but for the purposes of reading, writing, and finding one’s creativity and personality, we must learn to take note of what Dickinson explores here in her poem. Dickinson became one of the most famous poets in the world, and remains so even today, over one thousand years later. She may have battled this issue for most of her life, both suffering and thriving from it, but there is something we can all learn from her: in moderation, isolation and solitude can bring out our most creative capacities.

I encourage all of us to ride our bikes or drive our cars, by ourselves, in any direction and to stop where we feel called. This place will bring us to our most creative capacities.

Where Do You Read Flannery O’Connor?

“I am not afraid that the book will be controversial, I’m afraid it will not be controversial.”

-Flannery O’Connor

I can’t truthfully vouch for everyone who’s ever read Flannery O’Connor, but I personally find it very easy to fall in love with her words. One of the reasons I find her writing so moving and enjoyable is because of this very logic that the words must cause controversy. Flannery has a way of bringing out beautiful conflict and yet remaining subtle with her views (and yes, I like to think that she and I are on a first name basis). My favorite piece by Flannery is A Good Man is Hard to Find, and perhaps has remained my favorite because it was the first piece I ever read by her. I found her writing subtle but shocking, beautiful but controversial, both profound and outstanding, creative, thoughtful, and quite intriguing. It is difficult for a Flannery lover to cease compliments and loving rants, but I suppose I shall at the expense of boring my readers. Scholar Tony Petersen and fellow Flannery lover says, “I dig Flannery O’Connor! She is a model for writing in a way that lets faith–in her instance, her catholicism–permeate every aspect of her stories without it being very explicit. She writes wonderfully about the South, race, and other things, and in all of it, the underlying thread that holds it all together is her understanding of Christianity.” Well said, my friend.

Usually I like to read Flannery O’Connor in odd or mysterious places to fit her signature theme. However, to my surprise, I recently read her work in a couple of places in Los Angeles and I found the atmosphere to make for a very enjoyable read.

Manhattan Beach, California

Of all the beaches I’ve visited in my lifetime, which have been strictly confined to California, but have nonetheless been abundant, Manhattan Beach has been one of my favorites to visit. It is also one of the quietest and most peaceful beaches I’ve been to. The lack of human noise with the profusion of noise from nature makes for a perfect setting for some Flannery O’Connor.

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Point Vicente Light, California

The lighthouse itself and the pathway that leads to it are both full of wonderful reading aura. Also, it’s never a bad idea to read by large bodies of water, which generates an inevitable feeling of peacefulness.

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You can get Flannery O’Connor’s complete stories here for a pretty good price.