What Do Your Books Say About You?

This morning, I got to do something I haven’t been able to do in a long time. I woke up on my day off, turned on the light, picked up a book from my bedside table and read. The luxury of simply reading for the love of reading is one I have struggled to find time for since university.

What do your books say about you? (I don’t mean behind you back.) The books currently sat on my bedside table could tell you a lot about me.Bookshelf


The Unknown Unknown, Mark Forsyth

Where did I get it? Received this in the post, adorned with a post-it, which read, “Thought you might enjoy reading this. Granny x” After receiving said delightful little package, I rang my Gran. She said it reminded her of my blog, the way I ramble, tangents veering off.

The tagline reads: “Bookshops and the delight of not getting what you wanted.” Do you know what a good bookshop is? Forsyth does. I haven’t been in a good bookshop since I was in New York and my wonderful aunt took me to a little treasure trove, where I discovered Verlyn Klinkenborg.

While I would happily tell you more about this little beautie, I’m concerned I might ruin the joy of an “unknown unknown.” It took less than an hour to read, and made me laugh out loud several times. Clever and witty without trying to be. Delightful in its purposelessness.

Bookmark: A page torn from my notepad at work. It is the beginnings of a short story I started writing during that last useless hour of a work day. Between half 4 and half 5, when no one really does anything but wait for the day to end. The Twilight Hour.

I have since continued writing the story on the computer at work – typing gives the impression of doing something productive – and I’m hoping to extend this into a collection of short stories. Might post a snippet on here at some point.


Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes

Where did I get it? Waterstones, Oxford.

This is one of the classics that follows you around. One of those epic, brick-like monstronsities that act as an adequate book-end until you work up the courage to dig in. Our friend Forsyth puts it thus in The Unknown Uknown:

“Tolstoy, Stendhal and Cervantes, these men follow me around. They stand in dark corners and eye me disapprovingly from beneath supercilious eyebrows. And all because I’ve never got round to reading their blasted, thousand-page, three-ton, five-generation, state-of-a-nation thingummywhatsits.

I’m taking on this monster. About 6 months in and I’m half way through. The adventures of the deluded knight, Don Quixote and his hapless copanion, Sancho Panza. It makes one giggle in a “Droll, Cervantes, very droll” kind of way. But there’s also the odd Dick Joke, which is nice.

Continue reading

The Perfect Pen

As a writer, I have certain conditions in which I like to work. According to my new writing guru, Verlyn Klinkenborg, creating conditions for your own creative process will only become barriers in the long run.

“Anything you think you need in order to write –
Or be “inspired” to write or “get in the mood” to write –
Becomes a prohibition when it’s lacking.
Learn to write anywhere, at any time, in any conditions,
With anything, starting from nowhere.
All you really need is your head, the one indispensable requirement.” (80)

As much as I see the reason in VK’s “short sentences”, I am struggling to follow through on this. There is a specific pen I like to write with. I recently lost that pen and bought a replacement today. Thankfully, it is stocked in most highstreet stationers. What’s so special about this particular pen? Well, for starters, it is the perfect shade of blue. I find page upon page of black biro a depressing spectacle. Blue offers a far more pleasing aesthetic, but it is not too bright of a blue as to be overstimulating… As I’m writing I’m starting to see how picky this sounds. But I shall continue anyway. In addition, this pen has remarkably little resistance on the page. My hand can glide along each line and a beautiful river of letters transfers effortlessly onto the crisp white paper.

page 1

And it’s not just the pen. I don’t like starting a new notepad. I like being able to flick through previous pages, read the occasional paragraph and think, “Man, I write some good stuff.” Those previous pages are a comforting, midnight-blue blanket of prose. Those paragraphs give me the confidence to turn to the dreaded empty page and begin. As a result, there is an old notepad I refuse to throw away because some fantastic essays began in those pages.

And beyond the raw materials, the environment has to be right too. Firstly, excellent light. Not yellowy, low-energy lamps, whose rays fail to chase away the darkening sky as you toil into the night.  Of course, a desk and comfortable chair are a must. And then there’s the noise factor. Everybody likes to work differently. Some people want absolute silence. Others blast heavy metal through their headphones. I need the right amount of ambient noise. Not silence, not heavy metal, but somewhere in between. I want friendly chatter, but not raucous laughter. A reassuring, indistinct melee of noise. I want to hear that buzz of life that reminds me there is existence beyond the realms of the word counter. The ground floor of UEA library was my perfect work zone. Having visited some local libraries recently, I can now say I miss university more than ever.

I am currently battling with drama school applications and that means Personal Statements. Yes, that dreaded task has rolled around again. There is already a post dedicated to my hatred of this task – the whole concept in fact – so I shan’t rant any further. What I will say is this: I have just acquired a visitor’s pass to Reading University library and a brand new pad of paper. I now sit with an old notepad, a new notepad, borrowed wifi and my favourite blue pen. Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.

And so, with a hint of panache and some abbreviation, I can now say…

P.S. You Are My Bitch.

screenshot 2

 

cropped-absy-logo-large-1-bold-small-s.png

Book Review: “Several short sentences about writing” by Verlyn Klinkenborg

Several Short Sentences About Writing

by Verlyn Klinkenborg

book 1

“The question isn’t, can the reader follow you?
That’s a matter of grammar and syntax.
The question is, will the reader follow you?” (128)

I’ve never written a book review, but I think it goes something like this: a brief description of subject, author and intended audience; list good and bad points; and a couple of pithy quotes.  I shall largely adhere to this format.  Though do forgive me if I find the implied rules of this genre too confining for my wild artistic tendencies.

So, to begin: a brief description of subject, author and intended audience

This is a book written for writers by a writer about writing.

Too brief, perhaps.

While this text is applicable to writers of any experience or style, I think it is particularly useful for those at a turning point in their career as a writer – professional or otherwise.  You might be taking on a new genre, or adapting to an alternative medium – you wouldn’t write an internet blog like you would a private diary entry, for example. Or you might be moving from school to university, or university to the working world, and experiencing the imperative to evolve as a writer as well as a person. It is this last writer to whom I particularly recommend this book.

I have personally struggled with the step up from school to university writing. It is a transition that leads to anxiety. Be more mature, be more sophisticated. Be “better”. While university is the place to improve and mature, a better writer grows, not by anxiously reaching, but by exploring and experimenting. Don’t be bogged down by the “rules” of writing as they were dogmatically put to you in the early years of education. Respect the rules, of course, but don’t be afraid to challenge them. Verlyn Klinkenborg is emphatic on this point. “And yes, you may begin a sentence with ‘but.’” (119)

(From here-on, I shall refer to the author as VK. Younger readers: feel free to insert drinking puns.)

A revised brief description: this book is for the reader who is struggling to find her voice.

good and bad points

I am loath to tritely fulfil this requirement.  I shall rather offer a few points of interest:

On VK’s style: he really does practise what he preaches. Expect many short sentences about writing.

Don’t be precious about clichéd notions of “what it is to be a writer”. In fact, don’t be precious about clichés, full stop.

“A cliché is dead matter.
It causes gangrene in the prose around it, and sooner or later it eats your brain.” (45)

He isn’t a romantic. There will be no coddling.

VK follows the recent trend of using “her” as the generic pronoun in his text. I’m trying it out. I still find it odd on the ear, but then perhaps I’m antifeminist.

His style isn’t for everyone. He makes no exceptions and allows no excuses.  But he does not patronise you.  His is a clear, forthright voice.  He does not seek to trick or beguile, and though witty at times, his humour is curt at best. Some may find him abrasive, others, refreshing.

At times you will feel like you are back at school. But, as I have already discussed, re-examining the confining and sometimes misleading rules of English school teaching is crucial. This is how you extinguish anxiety and allow your own voice to emerge confidently.

and a couple of pithy quotes.

How about just one:

“You’re holding an audition.
Many sentences will try out.
One gets the part.
You’ll recognize it less from the character of the sentence itself
than from the promise it contains – promise for the sentences to come.” (101)


Reference:

Klinkenborg, V. Several short sentences about writing (New York: Vintage Books, 2013)

Further Reading:

“Several Short Sentences About Writing” Reviewed by Vinton Rafe McCabe (New York Journal of Books, 2012)