How Short Could a Short Story Be if a Story Could Be Short?

Last week, I debated whether Twitter could be literature. I didn’t end up with a clear answer, essentially concluding that the difference between words and literature is only based on the subjectivity that is intention and interpretation. In other words, if the author meant it to be literature, it is, and if the reader understands it as literature, it is.

This, of course, is not very helpful. Perhaps that discussion can be continued and furthered, then, by looking at an accepted shorter form of literature — the short story.

Neil GaimanI’m finishing up the illustrious Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning right now, a collection of “short fictions and disturbances.” I’ve loved Neil Gaiman’s novels for a long time; American Gods and Good Omens (written with Terry Pratchett) are two of my favorite books. Yet despite my enjoyment of Gaiman’s novels, I have always been more fascinated with his short fiction. As he puts it, they are often “disturbances,” seemingly small pieces of a puzzling whole that is always just out of my grasp.

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Can Twitter be Literature?

On previous Quote Tuesdays, I’ve talked about how quoting something might say more about the person quoting than the literature itself. The choice to take out a tiny part of a whole and use it to make your point is an artistic choice in itself. Along the same lines, a quote can never fully represent a piece of literature, or anything, for that matter. You wouldn’t want a quote of one thing you said to entirely represent you as a person, would you? Quotes are extremely useful and necessary ways to talk about and analyze writing, but they have limitations.

However, it is not the length of the quote that limits it; it is the lack of its entirety, its context. For example, six word stories have become quite famous, as supposedly inspired by Ernest Hemingway:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.Classic_baby_shoes

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Words are Witchcraft

I was browsing the deep dungeon that is the lowest level of the Hopkins library yesterday between classes, and I discovered a couple interesting things. First, I found a section of great movies I never knew we had. Second, I found a book by Sir Walter Scott called Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft. Turns out the famous novelist and poet was skeptical both of the supernatural and of “new science.”
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I perused through the brokenly bound book with morbid curiosity. It was mostly accounts of fantastical illnesses, sights, and happenings, but Scott reasons through a lot of philosophy and psychology by way of explanation as well. Going through a history of the belief in demons, Scott starts with explaining a possible misinterpretation of the Bible, in which the line “men shall not suffer a witch to live” might simply be “men shall not suffer a poisoner to live” depending on one’s translation. The connotations and translations of a word carry power and serve to justify and authenticate power as well, especially in terms of the Bible. Continue reading

“We perished, each alone”

Following up on my recent musing about Virginia Woolf, I want to talk this week about a quote within a quote. In Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse, Mr. Ramsay, a well-read man obsessed with (especially female) admiration who has lost his wife and two of his four children, is traveling toward a lighthouse that existed before his losses. As he sails with his remaining, mutinous children, he repeats to himself, “‘We perished,’ and then again, ‘each alone.'”

Ramsay is quoting a poem called “The Castaway” by William Cowper, the last verse of which reads:

Hovhannes_Aivazovsky_-_The_Ninth_Wave_-_Google_Art_ProjectNo voice divine the storm allayed,
No light propitious shone;
When, snatched from all effectual aid,
We perished, each alone;
But I beneath a rougher sea,
And whelmed in deeper gulfs than he.

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Guest Post: The Value of Need in an Increasingly Materialistic World

My dearest reader,

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As I’m sure you will probably be able to tell as you continue read this, I am NOT the usual writer for this blog. I am, in fact, her boyfriend, a book recommender extraordinaire and general companion in her pursuit of all things literary. As I’m sure you will discover over the course of this post, I also have a little less eloquent of a writing style than my esteemed colleague that goes to school up the road at Johns Hopkins. Rather, I go to the United States Naval Academy (yes, I have driven a boat to see her), and I am a history major there. Honestly, I’m more of a person that’s obsessed with history, so I’m sure you’ll find that I tend to look at things through more of an historical microscope than a literary one.

I threw around many ideas for my first blog post over here on More Story. To be completely, transparently honest here, I developed a bunch of ideas, with full outlines and many different ways in which I could develop each idea. But then I sent them into the extremely capable hands of my loving editor up the Chesapeake, and she determined that they were all too broad of topics for posting here. To be clear, I was having a hard time ensuring that the things that I was writing about included enough valid literary context to post here (the history-lover syndrome strikes again), but once I really started thinking about the things that I needed to look for to write about, the more I began to obsess over what we as humans consider to be needs and how we determine their worth. Continue reading

A Sorority Novel and Binary Female Characters

While I’ve been savoring the “Short Fictions and Disturbances” in Neil Gaiman’s new Trigger Warning, I also flew through another book this weekend. Dirty Rush was a quick and absurd read about a girl’s crazy experience rushing a sorority. Normally, this is not my kind of book at all, but it was recommended to me for its hilarity and entertainment, so I gave it a try.

Yeah, the cover is ridiculous; I know. As a disclaimer, I am actually part of a sorority myself, but it’s at Hopkins, a school of intelligent overachievers, so my experience with a sorority has been that of a very tame social club, essentially. Compared to my college experience, this book seemed crazier than insane.

Yet as much as I found myself disgusted with the girls’ antics, as I continued to read, I also realized how judgmental I was being. It reminded me of an article I read called “The Girl Myth in YA Fiction (And Beyond),” which I highly recommend you read here. It had always bothered me that even the worst of male characters, if they were charming, could be loved for their complexity (the bad boys definitely have a fan base) while female characters who are imperfect are more often summed up as unlikeable or not relatable.  Continue reading

Who Gives a F*** About an Oxford Comma?

While the Vampire Weekend song that opens with the title of this article is extremely catchy, the answer to that question is that I do care about the Oxford comma. Also known as the serial comma, the Oxford comma is what goes before the conjunction in a list of three or more things.

There is debate among sources of publications and grammar, however, on its use. The Johns Hopkins News-Letter, for which I copy edit, follows AP style, forcing me to step over my beliefs and take out those brave little Oxford commas every Wednesday night.

I am a firm believer that Oxford commas save lives and dignity. For example, it is what prevents cannibalism in the phrase “Let’s eat, Grandma.” When you have a party, there will be a huge difference between “We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin” and “We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin.”  Continue reading

The Symbol of the West

This Quote Tuesday I wanted to talk about a symbol that I realized has been cropping up in a lot of the quotes I like recently. The West has long been a symbol for exploration, the unknown, the destination towards which you ride in the setting sun.

Doesn’t get much more Western than this…

I’ve always loved Annie Lennox’s song devoted to Lord of the Rings, “Into the West” (Howard Shore is also a genius). She takes the idea that Tolkien created of races like Elves taking ships to a land of immortality as the age of men gets into full swing in Middle Earth, and she weaves it together with the calming imagery we often associate with the sea and the sunset to create a sense of “home.”

Indeed, if you have read The Silmarillion, the Elves are returning closer to their homeland, the immortal paradise to which they once had access. In Lennox’s song, however, she also elaborates on time; “all will turn / to silver glass” indicates an eventual calming of worldly troubles. The song hints heavily at death as well, however. Continue reading

Haruki Murakami and the Idea of “Light Reading”

This past week, I wrote an article for The News-Letter about Haruki Murakami’s book Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I wrote the article intending it as a simple “Lit Bit” book review with a simple opening and closing introducing it as a book I chose to read over the summer that opened my thoughts.

By jgoge [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

After I finished my hurried writing, however, my mind was stuck on the idea of what summer reading was supposed to be. In my article, I had taken for granted the idea that beach reading should be “light.” It shouldn’t be difficult, and we should be able to finish it quickly. But why should more challenging reading not be enjoyable? I was reminded of John Green saying that he didn’t understand why we were willing to spend endless hours trying to complete a single level of Angry Birds but refused to voluntarily pick up a long book. He makes a good point.

And then, of course, my mind, in its endless love for allusions, flashed to Hermione crashing an enormous tome down on a library table in front of the boys, saying, “I checked this out weeks ago for a bit of light reading…”

http://bffsinparis.blogspot.com/2013/09/scene-from-hp-1-light-reading-and.htmlI find myself agreeing with her death glare. Why should something easy and less interesting or applicable to my life be better? If I am happily simmering on the sand on the breaks between wonderfully exhausting myself in the ocean, why wouldn’t I also want the same for my mind? I started to wonder if it wasn’t better to exercise my mind with something rewarding and delighting, something like Murakami.

I’ve attached the article both as a recommendation to read Murakami and as a demonstration of the point of embarkment of this new train of thought. What do you read during the summer?

Over the summer I do a lot of reading. I’m not bogged down with readings for class, and becoming absorbed in a novel on the beach gives me a sense of satisfaction and calm that I rarely get during the semester. This past summer I read one of Haruki Murakami’s books, having heard his name quite often but not knowing anything about him. I’ll spare you the hyperbole, but I was shocked.

Murakami is a Japanese writer who began publishing in 1979 and still publishes works today. His books have become bestsellers and award-winners in more countries than just his own. While his novels are originally written in Japanese, they resonate with a broader audience since Murakami was raised with a lot of Western influences on his life, especially in terms of the literature he read.

Murakami’s books have been classified as surrealist, science fiction, magical realism and more. This genre confusion certainly applies to Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, which I read. The book is actually so confusing and crazy that giving a summary seems impossible, but I will try to sketch the basic ideas. Read More

Virginia Woolf and “Feminist” as an Insult

I’m currently taking a course titled “Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury” at Hopkins because, believe it or not, I had never read anything by Woolf before. I avoided being assigned A Room of One’s Own in high school English, ironically due to taking honors and AP English, and I had never taken the initiative to read her work on my own.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? @ the Booth Theatre on Broadway

Now that I am finally reading the works of Woolf and her friends and family, I am simultaneously amazed by her writing itself, her insights into people, her self-education, her privilege, and the degree to which her works are autobiographical. Beyond reflecting her own life and experiences, they address the issues she was concerned with as a human and as an English woman to an astonishingly thoughtful degree.

The other day in class we were discussing The Wise Virgins, a book written by Virginia’s husband, Leonard, shortly after their marriage. Leonard’s work was even more autobiographical than that of Virginia; everyone he was close to was offended, and, coincidentally or not, Virginia suffered her worst mental breakdown (and the only one that included anger, rather than just depression) right afterwards. Talk about a rough start to a marriage… Continue reading