I would take creative writing with the legendary Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. He is easily one of the most influential writers of the last century, and his work drastically expanded the possibilities of what fiction could do. Most of his stories are under twelve pages and it is rare for one to surpass twenty, yet they have such brevity that they can focus on all possibly reality and make you wonder why anyone would consider Atlas Shrugged or Anna Karenina good writing. There are some other authors whose work I prefer, but I think Borges would provide more insight into creative writing than anyone else I can think of. He is best remembered for the Borgesian Conundrum which asks: “Do writers write their stories, or do the stories write them?”
Tag Archives: Literature
The English Honors Society publishes an annual collection of student writings, and I submitted my poems The Wild Hunt and Ballad of William Walker to them. This back in like February, but I recently received notification that they would be published in this year’s anthology and on Wednesday everyone who made it will be presenting their work. This coupled with getting hired by the school paper are significant steps towards realizing my dream of being a professional writer. While these will greatly increase my audience it is you, my faithful Friends, who were my audience first.
Here are the poems:
Well last night I was at home to get a haircut for my job interview and my mom was kind enough to DVR the opening ceremony for me. I must say, it was probably the most impressive one I can remember (certainly of the Winter ones) and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Russia has such a long, storied, complex, and frankly awkward national history and I think that the Sochi committee did a brilliant job at covering all that in such a concise manner. Being a Nonwestern History Major and having took a Russian Lit class last semester really made it possible for me to appreciate what I was seeing; as having context always does. During the Cyrillic acrostic segment I was familiar with every item listed, though I would like to know poor Tolstoy was forced to share T with television (every other letter only got one item). The Thousand Years of History in Three Minutes short was also very good, starting with the Varangians and ending with right now (but the writers of this short didn’t seem to think anything notable happened in the last century). My personal favorite scene in the whole ceremony was when Czar Peter the Great sailed to what would later become St. Petersburg. I could recognize everything that was being shown, so I really didn’t like the fact the announcers had to explain every damn thing that was shown. I know The Bronze Horseman when I see it. I did a face palm during the ball dance, because it brought me back to the dreary experience of braving through Anna Karenina, so I laughed heartily when the train appeared later. Over all I would say that the opening ceremony was everything it should be, save for some egregious omissions. It was certainly better than the London 2012 one, which was very, well, British. The only thing missing from the Sochi ceremony was Putin wrestling an almasty.
The most recent book I have finished reading is The Master and Margatita by Mikhail Bulgakov. It tells the story of the Devil showing up in Moscow one day, some time in the late 1930s and follows him and his entourage across the town as they cause a number of outrageous incidents. While the satirical elements may not resonate with those unfamiliar with Stalin-era Soviet history (such as the Apartment Crisis), the events and characters will definitely compensate. The titular Master is a novelist who is writing a novel within a novel, which tells the story of Pontius Pilate and creates an amazing juxtaposition between modern Moscow and ancient Jerusalem. This overlaps with a retelling of the Faust legend. What makes the novel so brilliant are all of the characters, including the Devil who is shown as a stage magician and professor of the occult, a witch who is always naked, a dwarf vampire, Jesus, and giant talking cat who gives Garfield and the Cheshire Cat a run for their money. Oh, and accordion playing chimpanzees show up at one point. This is the best book I have read all year. You should read it. You shouldn’t be disappointed.
I have just finished reading Stray Dog Cabaret, an anthology of Modernist Russian poetry translated by Paul Schmidt. The anthology takes it’s name from the Stray Dog Cabaret (or Cafe), a short lived St. Petersburg restaraunt (open from 1911 to 1915) where many poets met to share their works. What is interesting about this collection is how it is arranged, poems are not organized by poet or linearly by appearance. You would have to go ahead and read it to see what I mean. The three major movements in Russian poetry are represented, the Symbolists, Futurists, and one uniquely Russian: the Acmeists. Some of the poets included are Anna Akhmatova, Sergei Esensin, Osip Mandelstam, Vladimir Mayakoysky, future Nobel Laureate Boris Pasternak, and my personal favorite Alexander Blok. I know most people probably haven’t heard of any of these writers, neither had I before reading this (except Pasternak), and many people don’t read poetry at all, but you should give this one a chance. It captures the essense of post Tolstoi pre Lenin Russia.
After one long month, I have finally finished Anna Karenina. While it is the most cited candidate for Best Novel Ever, I find it very difficult for me to assess it. Parts of it were absolutely enthralling, such as the scene where Levin scythes grass with with the serfs; while other parts I couldn’t help but skim through. My problem was that I had two read two Parts a week and keep up with a 35 page a day minimum quota lest I fall behind. Combined with two or three other books for different classes, it made reading Anna Karenina a chore. Being a novel grand in scope and covering all the hot topics of 1870s Russia, I feel that I would have needed to read it at my own leisure to get the most out of it. Taking two lit classes has really shown me that reading literature for a course is a two edged sword. You are able to discuss the material thoroughly with your peers and a paid expert; but you need to juggle it with so much else and cannot give the books the attention the need and possibly deserve.
Because of these reasons I cannot give it a rating, though I can see why it is one of Oprah’s Favorite Books, lol. I was rather hestitant about having to read it because of its length and because of the long Slavic names that all sound the same. Actually, once you understand how Russian names work (and with the internet there’s no reason you can’t learn) it’s really not that bad and the usage of given, patronymic, and family names can actually help keep track of how everyone is related. Trust me. However, there are so many characters that it can be difficult to keep track of them all, which is usually the case with any work with loads of characters. Many readers of Tolstoy and Dostoevski keep notebooks cataloguing the full names of all the characters, fortunately the translation my class read had that provided in the index. This particular translation is highly praised. It was done by Richard Pevear and and Larissa Volokhonsky, who are a husband-and-wife team with the advantage of one being an Anglophone while the other’s first language was Russian. There work is highly praised, so if you decide to read Anna Karenina I recommend reading their version.
Hopefully someday I will be able to reread Anna Karenina when I have time to do so at my own pace. Now I really want to read War and Peace, and NOT just to say that I did.
All easy classes are alike; each challenging class is challenging in its own way.
I have finished reading Inferno. No not the Dan Brown novel, I read the original poem by Dante Alighieri. It is easily the most rewarding thing I have read in quite some time. Reading it is part of a school course as I did is probably the best way to read such a work, that way the full meaning (interpretation anyway) of the text is dissected. That is necessary because of The Divine Comedy is a culmination of roughly five hundred years of Catholic thought. It was written during the hight of the Gothic era, though many view Dante’s work as the first step towards the Renaissance. Of course, eras are divided much later after the fact and when one starts and ends is a matter of opinion and not fact.
Much is made of the elaborate layout of Hell in the poem. While that is rather fascinating I find the language of the poetry to be what makes it so amazing. Every canto and tercet is meticulously written, and the lines are worded brilliantly. No wonder Dante’s output of writing became the basis for modern Italian and made Florence and Tuscany the center of Italian culture.
As much as I hated getting to the end it was comforting to know that the next item on the course was Purgatorio, the second part of the Comedy. We have read the first three cantos and so far so good. Hardly anyone has read Purtatorio, let alone Paradiso (the last part); which I think is a shame because Inferno is merely the first part of the sequence. It would be akin to read the Fellowship of the Ring and giving it praise and meticulous attention without bothering with The Two Towers and Return of the King.
If you decide to read it, make sure you pick up an annotated copy; you probably won’t know the names of 90% of the individuals appearing in it or alluded to. The edition I read was Mark Musa’s translation for Penguin Classics, although apparently they now have a more recent one.
This week I finished reading a book most of you have probably never heard of (unless you are from West Africa), The Epic of Sundiata. It is Mali’s national epic and is a fictionalized biography of Mali’s first emperor, Sundiata Keita. He turned Mali into the strongest empire in the region, creating a formidible trade power profiteering off of Mali strategic location. Because his story passed orally from generation to generation, many obvious embellishments exist within the narrative. Western scholars have dissmissed oral accounts as being unreliable, however any discerning reader should be able to sort fact from fiction and The Epic provides a rare look into life in 13th century West Africa.
The entire narrative follow’s closely with the Hero’s Journey as described by Joseph Campbell. For those of you not aware, the Hero’s Journey is a lazy ass formula used in multimillion dollar franchises such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Matrix, recently with the Hunger Games, and too many other stories to count. One noted example is Lion King, which some Sundiata readers have even accused Disney of copying from. I and many other classmates noticed the resemblance, however there are a couple major differences which lead me to conclude they are merely to monomyths set in Africa. Sundiata’s father was known as the “Lion”, so I guess he was a literal Lion King.
I really enjoyed the Epic of Sundiata. It is a quick read at only 85 pages, so it is well worth your time.
I have finished reading another book for another one of my classes. That other book was Fathers and Sons (also translated as Fathers and Children) by Ivan Turgenev. Once considered one of Russia’s foremost stylists, Turgenev has largely been overshadowed by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. I find that rater unfortunate because I really enjoyed Fathers and Sons and would like to read some of his other works when I am able to. A far cry from the obese volumes the other two are famous (or infamous depending on who you ask) for, Fathers and Sons is only 160 pages long; a sensible length for most people.
It tells a story of a recently graduated college student named Arkady, who returns home with his friend Bazarov. The two embrace the radical philosophy of nihilism, which brings them into conflict with their elders and the more conservative (or less radical) members of their own generation. The setting in Russia in the 1850s, right before the serfs were emancipated. Though it is not a novel of action or excitement, it is a strong character driven story made excellent by well crafted dialogue. While the plot itself is very easy to follow, do be warned that you MUST print out the Cliffnotes page for the cast of characters; each character is referred to by three different names, their given name, patronymic, and surname, as is Russian custom. Also, be sure to pick up a copy that contains footnote; the entire books is filled with mentions of various events, customs, individuals, and so on that you will not have heard of. If you take my advice, the book has the potential for a very enjoyable read.
I highly recommend Fathers and Sons to anyone interested in Russian history or dynamic character development.